‘A poem is the shortest distance between two hearts.’ These are the words of Wendy Morton in response to her passion for sharing and encouraging poetry on all fronts. These words also encapsulate the spirit of National Poetry Month; a time when poets, lovers of poetry, or those who want to explore more, are encouraged to celebrate this rich literary form.
Photo: Left: poet Wendy Morton, Right: Northern Representative for the Federation of BC Writers Norma Kerby
It was therefore a great pleasure to meet Wendy at a poetry reading in the studio earlier in April. I would describe her as a women with incredible passion and chutzpah when it comes to her approach to writing. With twinkling eyes and a ready chuckle, she told stories of calling up WestJet Airlines, suggesting that she read poems for the passengers and write poems for them in exchange for flights. After some enthusiastic urging, she became WestJet’s Poet of the Skies. As well, her poem “If I had a name like Rosie Fernanez” appears on the label of Southbrook Wines as part of their Poetica series. She has turned her poems into currency in many other ways, which simply exemplify her belief in the power of poetry.
Wendy’s first 5 books of poetry, based on her work as a private investigator, took a transformative turn when she was asked to contribute something for the 150th anniversary of the Alberni Valley in 2008. Morton agreed, and wrote poems for the archival photographs and journals, which were displayed at the museum.
Inspired and touched by what she had learned, Morton met with many residents of the valley. With the creation of “What Were Their Dreams?” Morton came to understand for the first time the reality of residential schools and how much was taken from First Nations children.
This changed her life. She began working with students, training them to capture cultural narratives by empowering them to write poems and publish them in a chapbook. This is how The Elder Project, was created. The Federation of BC Writers is one of the partners that sponsors Wendy to continue with this vision. This reading was a short stop on her way up to the Nass Valley where high school students in New Aiyansh excitedly awaited her. She spoke of the importance of giving young people a sense of accomplishment and a sense of self when they see themselves in book form. As well, Wendy witnesses how deeply elders are rewarded when young people actively express interest in what they have to say.
Wendy has created 19 chapbooks through her work with First Nations, Metis and Inuit students and their Elders.
Her accomplishments, innovation, commitment, and community partnerships are recognized both provincially and federally. In 2018 the Federation of BC writers granted her the Honorary Ambassador Award. In 2017 she received the Meritorious Service Award from the Governor General and the Order of British Columbia for her work.
Along with the inspiring details of her many projects, Morton continues to embody a sense of pure delight in writing poems. Wearing a bracelet made of scrabble pieces saying ‘ALWAYS POEM,’ she handed out photographs with her writing attached. This was how she conducted the reading part of the event. Always fresh, always generous, and always with the spirit of creating random acts of poetry. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate National Poetry Month.