A culvert anchors a key scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The 39 Steps and a scene in Two for the Road starring Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney. Culverts appear in books by Tony Burgess, Dennis Cooley, Alice Munro, Annie Proulx, and Virginia Woolf. Culverts called to Brenda Schmidt’s imagination as well. As a child she played in and around their steel dark openings and took risks. In the daring poetry and prose of Culverts Beneath the Narrow Road the risk-taking continues. In her journeys, she asked people from all walks of life — construction workers, farmers, biologists, writers, musicians — about their culvert stories. Their recollections of experiences with or near culverts, both dark and light, gave voice to her own experiences, providing another sense of the connections we share and the way stories emerge and flow. Schmidt does this by using the stories as a jumping off point when they call up her own memories. She expands on interview quotes, stretching and bending them to create new stories and poems.
Brenda Schmidt is a naturalist and visual artist living in Creighton, a mining town on the Canadian Shield in northern Saskatchewan, where she explores creative paths between the natural and digital worlds. Author of four books of poetry, including More Than Three Feet of Ice (Thistledown, 2005) and A Haunting Sun (Thistledown, 2001), as well as a book of essays, her work has been published, performed, shown and broadcast across Canada and was part of a poetry installation at the University of Exeter (UK). A past reviewer of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry for Quill & Quire, she founded the Ore Samples Writers Series in 2016 and currently serves on the Sage Hill Writing board of directors. Her work is included in The Best of The Best Canadian Poetry in English: Tenth Anniversary Edition (Tightrope, 2017). She is the seventh Saskatchewan Poet Laureate (April 2017 to December 2018).
The far culvert failed a couple years back thanks to a flood, I think, and now points upward at the same angle as the Air Farce chicken cannon. That comparison dates me, I know. I don’t know what causes the rust. That morning, like most winter mornings, a crowd of cattails wearing toques of snow stood next to the culverts, so the water quality can’t be too bad, though I have no idea what cattails can tolerate. Their stems might carry the rust all the way up to their heads. I could almost feel the fuzz as we drove by. On days that cold a cattail feels like a lint brush, but the temperature was expected to rise 10 degrees by midafternoon. Stroke it then, eyes closed, and you would
feel once more
as a girl.
With my forehead against the passenger side window, I pictured Alice Munro doing the same, her forehead melting the frost, her eyes taking everything into the darkness and sending it forth with a rush into the light. Such brilliance. I’d been thinking about her and her work a lot since she won the prize. Imagine what she could do with this place. The off-kilter culvert, the road with the arm to keep us out, the mining complex beyond, the smokestack standing there like it had too much Viagra
top of the Canadian
curves are covered
with the usual
blanket of snow.
— from “Culverts beneath the Narrow Road Through the Deep North and Other Travel Stretches”