First published at the age of 72, Alberta writer Joyce Harries is a beacon of hope for aspiring writers of any age.
It began at the Strathcona Seniors' Centre in Edmonton one January day in 1996. Joyce Harries took her seat in a creative writing class offered by retired University of Alberta professor of English Jack Bilsland. It was the first time she had tried writing anything besides lists and letters since finishing grade 12 a mere fifty years earlier.
A Writer's Life
After Harries' initiation into the world of creative writing she "had so much material" - essays, memoirs, poems, stories - that she attended a writing class at Lakeland College called "Almost a Book." The instructor, Saskatchewan-born writer Edna Alford, reviewed Harries' eclectic portfolio and declared, "No publisher will print this conglomeration."
Undeterred, Harries continued in Alford's class and turned the future of her almost book around in her mind. When the title "A Wise Old Girl's Own Annual" came to her, Harries shared the idea with Alfred, who, according to Harries, said, "I think you've got something there." So Harries continued to write and put her pieces together alphabetically, creating what she calls in a recent email interview a "knock-off of the old Girls' Own Annuals that were published in England between 1879-1942."
Standing at the Bar
Some time after her course with Edna Alford, Joyce Harries attended the Canadian Authors Association's national convention in Edmonton, Alberta where she had a conversation with a man (now retired president of Lone Pine Publishing, Grant Kennedy) while standing at the bar at the Faculty Club. Harries describes the encounter:
"The man next to me said, "You're a writer - what have you written?" I said, "I have a manuscript called "A Wise Old Girl's Own Annual," and the dear fellow said, "I love it - I used to get "The Boy's Own Annual" every Christmas when I was growing up. Can you have lunch on Thursday and bring your manuscript?" Less than two years later, in October 2000, when Harries was 72, Lone Pine Publishing released her first book.
Girdles and Other Harnesses I Have Known
Harries' annual took the title of the opening memoir - "Girdles and Other Harnesses I Have Known." The book is a mixture of memoirs and essays about her life from the 1930s to the 1990s, including modeling in Edmonton, being the wife of a professor/rancher/politician and the mother of 6, becoming a widow, aging. Short stories, poems, recipes and family photographs are also included. Together the pieces tell the story of a fascinating woman that very well could live next door.
Twice in a Blue Moon
After Girdles and Other Harnesses I Have Known was published, Harries did not sit on her laurels. She continued to write, attend workshops, and submit pieces for publication. Another collection developed, and Spotted Cow Press picked it up. Twice in a Blue Moon, a delightful, meaningful collection of poetry that expands on the themes and stories of Harries' first book, was published in 2007, three months after her 79th birthday.
Keep on Going
Twelve years after her foray into writing, Joyce Harries has two published books and a third waiting review from a publisher. She is active in writing and arts organizations and has her own webpage. She says that she has "forgotten how to parse a sentence, [doesn't] know Chaucer, Shakespeare, Greek myths, bible or much of what many writers do know, [but] I continue to muddle along enjoying the trip" of writing and exploring life and the world through words.
-- Review by Melissa Morelli Lacroix
"That is no country for old men." Or for old women either. A great opening line by W.B. Yeats that could double as the conventional wisdom on who has the right to write poetry. Consensus grants it to the angst-saturated young.
Enter Joyce Harries, 79 years old and launching her first book of poems, Twice in a Blue Moon. Like Robert Currie and Gary Hyland, Harries has reached the stage in her life when she can look back at it all. But not wallow in it. Her book tumbles quickly through Beginnings, Middles and Endings, reserving its major space, aptly enough, for Goings On.
How to respond to her efforts? Applause. The poems are interesting, accessible, carefully crafted and brimming with a variety of subjects ranging from MacIntosh Toffee to bras to Ebay to George, her imaginary parrot. Some poems explore autobiographical terrain such as the life of a child, joy of young love, death of a husband, marriage break-up of a daughter. Other poems plunge eagerly into the poet's present life -- the aches, pains and pleasures of aging treated with honesty, humour and zest. Subject range is matched by the range of styles -- short tight lines, long luxurious ones, prose poems.
One poem asks the question "how much do I really care?" and answers "less than when I was young." A gently ironic confession -- for while Harries may care less about what people think, she retains a wonderful attentiveness to her own thoughts.
What emerges from this collection is the ringing authenticity of the poet's voice, her perspective that life is so full and important that it deserves to be written with clarity, wit and delight. The title of the final poem in this most engaging book is "Worth A Try." Good advice for any potential reader.
-- Review by Glenn Kletke
- These poems spoke to me, and often moved me. This genuine voice is clear and strong. The with and humour and humanness are profound. Really loved this book of poems.
- Twice in a Blue Moon is a lovely blend of humour and wisdom as the poet explores the vicissitudes of life, love and growing older. Lovely images abound.
- Joyce Harries allows us an intimate glimpse into her life as she contemplates her past with new insight and experiences the inevitable process of aging with grace and wry humour.
-- Comments of Judges for the 2007 CAA Exporting Alberta Award
Just as the moon moves through its cycles, so too, does life. In Twice in a Blue Moon we are invited to follow Joyce Harries as she cycles through seventy-nine years of living. This lovely collection of poems about love, loss and the tenuous trials of aging is written with courage, humor and an unflinching honesty.
The poet calls up aromatic memories as she looks back at the joys of being a daughter, wife, mother of six and grandmother of seventeen. Widowed at fifty-eight her poems tell it all -- nearly all. From her beginnings, middles, endings and then, like a blue moon, beginnings again, Harries graciously shares the wisdom of her years. We are grateful for her spunk and her willingness to embrace the day and keep dancing to the beat, beat, beat even while contemplating selling her cat on e-Bay or getting a parrot named George.
This is a tender book where the poetry falls as delightfully as the delphinium petals dropping on her kitchen table.
-- Diane Buchanan, author of