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Broken Ghosts, Roger Moore

Roger Moore

Roger Gerald Moore is best known in the local community for his teaching, research, and coaching careers, which, along with a personal affection for the region, has kept him based in Fredericton since 1971. Born in 1944 on The Gower in Wales, to William, who was an accountant and MBE, and Kathleen, who was a secretary, Roger Moore attended primary school in Wales and then went to England for public school, spending seven years at Wycliffe College. Upon completion, he spent time between France and Spain before receiving a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Bristol in 1966. He then immigrated to Canada to study in Toronto, receiving an MA in Spanish Language and Literature from the University of Toronto in 1967 and a PhD in 1975. He returned to Spain for two years on a Canada Council doctoral fellowship, and in 1971 moved to Fredericton, where he spent his first year lecturing at the University of New Brunswick. The rest of his career was spent teaching Spanish Language and Literature at St. Thomas University (STU).

In 2007 he received a Teaching Certificate from the Institute for the Advancement of Teaching in Higher Education in Ottawa, and he spent two years as STU’s Director of Teaching and Learning. His thirty-seven year career at STU was recognized by an Excellence in Teaching Award (1996) and a Special Merit Award for Research (1996). He also was awarded a Distinguished Teacher Award from the Atlantic Association of Universities (1997) and a 3M National Teaching Fellowship in 2000. St. Thomas named him Professor Emeritus in 2010.

Moore’s early creative work was in poetry, for which he received first prize at the Stroud International Festival of the Arts in 1962. However, it wasn’t until 1978 that he published his first collection of poems, Last Year in Paradise, and it was another five years before his poems saw publication in Canadian journals. His second collection of poems, Broken Ghosts, was released in 1986; it was the last of his works to go through a publishing house for more than a decade. Next, he self-published a series of six chapbooks beginning in 1990, each linked to STU’s Writes of Spring event. Those chapbooks are Idlewood (1990), In the Art Gallery (1991), Secret Gardens (1991), Daffodils (1992), Iberian Interludes (1992), and On Being Welsh (1993). His manuscripts “Still Lives” and “Alban Angels” received the Alfred G. Bailey Prize in 1989 and 1995 respectively. In the next decade he published mostly with Mount Saint Vincent University Press: Sun and Moon: Poems from Oaxaca, Mexico (2000), Though Lovers Be Lost (2000), Fundy Lines (2002), At the Edge of Obsidian: A Book of Hours, Oaxaca, Mexico (2005), Obsidian 22 (2007), Land of Rocks and Saints: Poems from Ávila (2008), and Monkey Temple (2012). He also continued to self-publish chapbooks: Granite Ship: Lines from Ávila (2006), M Press of Ire (2008), All About Angels (2009), and Dewi Sant (2010).

Broken Ghosts was the first of Moore’s works to be formally reviewed, and met with mixed response. David O’Rourke praised the discipline, craft, and intelligence that its poems display, but also suggested the discipline becomes overbearing, leading to detrimental emotional restraint and a plodding pace. In contrast, Brian Vanderlip found spirit, attractive imagery, and an underlying strength of emotion in Moore’s work, while bemoaning “a bitterness that ties the spirit to craggy rocks under the surface . . . so that the whole world is seen from a half-drowned and defeated perspective” (38). Terence Craig called the collection’s meditations on European history and culture interesting subject matter, but went on to say that “the topics suggest more than the language delivers. The gift of poetic language is lacking here, leaving structure and idea forlornly supporting themselves in their inadequacy” (18). In contrast, Moore’s later work, Land of Rocks and Saints (2009), received unqualified praise from Michael O. Nowlan, who called it “a special little book in which words and expressions meld in a wonderful manner” (C4). Michael W. Higgins similarly described the collection as “sensitively crafted,” one that draws on historical and mystical tradition while at the same time grounding the esoteric in images of nature. Higgins concluded that “in Land of Rocks and Saints, [Moore] has given us a treasure of ‘weighted words’ and we are the better for it” (G6).

Moore’s creative works are not limited to poetry, and although he has yet to publish a collection of short fiction, twelve of his stories have appeared in Atlantic journals beginning in 1990. “The Key” was a finalist in the CBC short story competition in 2010, and in the same year “The Weavers” won first prize in the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick short story category, while People of the Mist, a novel, was runner up for the WFNB David Adams Richards Prize in 2011. One of Moore’s first published stories, “Birthday Suit,” later became the basis for a script that Moore turned into a film.

Film and multimedia, in fact, mark another of his creative outlets. In the early nineties, following the death of his parents, he began to experiment with alternate mediums. In 1996, to begin, he enrolled in the Multimedia Studies program at the University of New Brunswick, receiving his certificate in 1999 (he returned in 2002 for a digital film and video course which led directly to his work with the New Brunswick Film Co-op). Aside from his own film, Birthday Suit, he worked on eleven other productions with the Film Co-op. This exposure to film marked the beginning of his experiments with media, in which he blended image and word in a form he calls the video-poem. Some video-poems, such as “Beaver Pond,” are made by marrying word to image, while others, such as “Black Angel,” are illustrations of existing poems. According to Moore, “certain emotions are verbal [and] certain emotions are visible,” and the video-poem allows the transmission of both (Interview with author). Although arguably more ephemeral than his print collections, the video-poems and other media-blends are as much an expression of his creative philosophy as are any of his chapbooks. These video-poems and other works can be seen on Moore’s websites:
http://moore.lib.unb.ca/
http://moore.lib.unb.ca/poet/

It is a long journey from the Stroud International Festival of the Arts to multi-media design, and Moore’s creative philosophy has evolved accordingly. He compares his creative method to Monet’s: hearkening to impressions, to changes in light, and attempting to both capture and evoke the moment (Interview with author). His prominent influences are Spanish, including poet José Hierro (his former professor), Antonio Machado, Luis de Góngora, Federico García Lorca, Octavio Paz, and Francisco de Quevedo, on whose work he is an expert. Moore is, however, Welsh, and therefore could not escape the influence of figures such as Dylan Thomas, Idris Davies, R.S. Thomas, Vernon Watkins, Alun Lewis, and W.H. Davies. Moore in fact grew up in the same town as Dylan Thomas, and two of his books derive their titles from Thomas’s work: Broken Ghosts and Though Lovers Be Lost. Of the aforementioned Welsh poets, Moore says that “they are among my favourite poets, and I think it is interesting that Wales, Ireland, and Scotland have produced better modern poets than England ever has” (Interview with author). Among Canadian influences, he lists Fred Cogswell and Peter Thomas (his first two editors), Richard Lemm, Patrick Lane, and Erin Mouré (facilitators at the Maritime Writers’ Workshop), and bpnichol and Chris Levenson. It is this mix of influences, backgrounds, and places that make it difficult to categorize him. Although his major works have all been published in the Maritimes, he has never considered himself an especially Canadian or Maritime writer, and he has remained largely unnoticed by the critical community.

Place, however, is very important to Moore’s writing, and to his life in general. He maintains a passion for archaeology and history because, in his words, “place is very different to me than it is to most people . . . if you are sensitive, if you can sense the spirit of the land . . . if you can feel the atmosphere of place, you can write about place differently because place has meaning” (Interview with author). The town of Avila, Spain, for instance, is a strong presence in Moore’s poetry, not just because of the deep personal connections he developed while working and visiting there, but also because of what is to him a palpable history that dates back to the 5th Century B.C. His heightened sensitivity to place enabled similar attachments during visits to Fundy National Park. Its similarity to his childhood landscapes in Gower, Wales prompted him to settle in New Brunswick and inspired his fifth collection of poems, Fundy Lines.

Moore’s poetry is episodic, emotional, and biographical, but at the same time deeply allusive, drawing broadly on his interests (history, archaeology, Spanish, French, Welsh, and Mexican literature) as well as his life in and travels throughout Europe. His poems meditate on the minute details of scene while charging those details with inference. Take, for instance, the poem “Dance Macabre” from Broken Ghosts (1986):

          Pebbles grind music

         Pipers and gulls

                                   peck time

          With pitiless beaks

          All tides turn

                                    the beach

                                    born from the death

                                    of a trillion shells

          As each wave breaks

          Soft stranded things

                                waltz

          To death’s dark drummings. (19)

The poem expertly evokes a scene, reflecting Moore’s philosophy of poetry as verbal photography and his idea that collections are akin to photo albums. But the title and imagery also tie the poem to Saint-Saëns’s orchestral piece of the same name and to Walt Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, thus recalling a longer history. For Moore, then, one of the prime requisites of poetry is that it works at two levels: the level of immediate verbal appeal, which in “Dance Macabre” is found in lyricism and imagery, and at a second level that connects the work to literary traditions and human history (Interview with author). Even Moore’s video-poems, which depart radically from traditional media, maintain these linkages. “Black Angel” is a video-illustration of a poem from the chapbook All About Angels, which reads:

          You cannot hide

          when the black angel comes

          and knocks on your door.

         

          “Wait a minute!” you say,

          “While I change my clothes

          and comb my hair.”

          But he is there before you,

          in the clothes closet,

          pulling your arm.

          You move to the bathroom

          to brush your teeth

“Now!” says the angel.

Your eyes mist over.

You know you are there,

but you can no longer see

your reflection in the mirror. (Online)

The poem is illustrated with photographs of “the Black Angel,” an ornament Moore bought in Avila that is, in turn, modelled after an angel in a sacramental triptych by Rogier van der Weyden, the original inspiration for the piece; thus, “Black Angel” the video-poem is wrought with linkages that loop back in on themselves, through the original text and the title, and through the additional layers of metaphor that the cognate media evoke.

In foregrounding experimentation while remaining devoted to and active in traditional print, Moore illustrates that the creative process is never static for an artist, but one that evolves and changes according to the medium of expression.

Greg Everett, Spring 2012
St. Thomas University

Bibliography of Primary Sources

Moore, Roger. All About Angels. Fredericton: Roger Moore, 2009.

---. At the Edge of Obsidian: A Book of Hours, Oaxaca, Mexico. Halifax: Mount Saint Vincent UP, 2005.

---. “Birthday Suit.” The Antigonish Review 81-82 (1990): 45-51.

---. “Birthday Suit: The Making of the Movie.” Fredericton: University of New Brunswick Libraries, 2007.

---. Broken Ghosts. Fredericton: Goose Lane Editions, 1986.

---. Daffodils. Fredericton: Roger Moore, 1992.

---. Dewi Sant. Fredericton: Roger Moore, 2010.

---. Fundy Lines. Halifax: Mount Saint Vincent UP, 2002.

---. Granite Ship: Lines from Ávila, July-August 2005. Fredericton: Roger Moore, 2006.

---. Iberian Interludes. Fredericton: Roger Moore, 1992.

---. Idlewood. Fredericton: Roger Moore, 1990.

---. In the Art Gallery. Fredericton: Roger Moore, 1991.

---. Land of Rocks and Saints: Poems from Ávila. Fredericton: Nashwaak Editions, 2008.

---. Last Year in Paradise. Fredericton: Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1978.

---. M Press of Ire: Poems from Ste. Luce-sur-mer Quebec. Fredericton: Roger Moore, 2008.

---. Monkey Temple. Halifax: Mount Saint Vincent UP, 2012.

---. Obsidian 22. Ed. Denise Nevo. The Oaxaca Trilogy 3. Halifax: Mount Saint Vincent UP, 2007.

---. On Being Welsh. Fredericton: Roger Moore, 1993.

---. Secret Gardens. Fredericton: Roger Moore, 1991.

---. Sun and Moon: Poems from Oaxaca, Mexico. Halifax: Mount Saint Vincent UP, 2000.

---. Though Lovers Be Lost. Halifax: Mount Saint Vincent UP, 2000.

Bibliography of Secondary Sources

Craig, Terrence. “Recent Poetry: Review of Broken Ghosts.” The Atlantic Provinces Book Review 14 (1987): 18.

Higgins, Michael W. “Land of Paradox: Fredericton’s Roger Moore shares the tangible ethereal world of Avila where asceticism and mysticism join together.” Telegraph Journal 28 March 2009: G6.

Moore, Roger. Personal Interviews. 22 February and 10 May 2012.

Nowlan, Michael O. “Local poet lures the reader with wonders of Spanish city.” The

[Fredericton] Daily Gleaner 25 April 2009: C4.

O’Rourke, David. “Dirty/Beautiful: Review of Broken Ghosts by Roger Moore, Killing the Swan by Mark Anthony Jarman, The Natural History of Water by David Donnell, and Troubles in Paradise by James Whittall.” Canadian Literature 120 (Spring 1989): 206-208.

Vanderlip, Brian. “Review: Broken Ghosts.” Poetry Canada 9.1 (Fall 1987): 38.