Posted by: John Looker | 6 April, 2017

First Landfall In Nova Scotia

My best wishes go to the Austin International Poetry Festival which opens today, and especially to the thirty or so poets who feature in the 25th anniversary anthology When Time and Space Conspire. Wish I could be there too. However, I can post the following poem which is one of seven of mine to appear in their anthology:

First Landfall in Nova Scotia

This was no earthly paradise
they must have thought grimly,
pressing against the gunwale
in their unwashed clothes,
lifting the smaller children
to get a better view.
They saw they had sailed
under a chilling delusion,
bidding farewell to the land
they had known for generations.

Behind them lay the terrors
of the great Atlantic crossing:
the storms, the head-wind,
eleven weeks at sea –
each family boxed in
with its square of bare boards
allotted below decks –
food dwindling, the shared
obscenity of dysentery,
and the infant deaths.

Where was the promised soil
aching for the plough?
The pasture? No homes
waiting them, not even shelter.
Nothing but tangled forest
crowding the shore – that and
the eyes of the native people,
their woodsmoke, their footprints;
all that and the wail of a bird
on a lake and autumn fading.

At first they sat in the forest and wept.
But then: some trekked on inland
by unenticing trails;
others stayed – gathering shellfish,
shooting moose; determined.
It was enough. Clearing trees
they constructed makeshift cabins.
Snow soon mastered all,
until at last the sun
returned – and spring crept in.

© John Looker 2017

The Austin anthology When Time and Space Conspire was edited by Dr Charles A. Stone and Becky Liestman. There are stacks of fresh and interesting poems in it from about thirty contemporary writers and the book can be found on Amazon at:


  1. Nice!

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wonderful images.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is fantastic!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A wonderful description of pioneers from England first confronting the forbidden challenges of Nova Scotia, John. As you know I’ve written some poems about that experience too and thought about it. Ethel’s father cleared his farm of forest when he was young, and although he was not a pioneer like his father and mother, who were among the first settlers in Marathon County in Wisconsin, I still heard some of his stories while he was still living.

    I can see why the anthology published the poem. I liked particularly the part about the trip over. I once wrote a story about a slave ship on a different planet, but the truth is that your poem is better. It gives a sense of what must have been a nightmare as they lived in a small room that never stayed still as it navigated tough seas.

    What I most like about your poetry, beyond the technical skills you have, of course, is your ability to reach for meanings that throw light upon the entirety of human experience. In this case the determination to hunt moose and follow a not promising trail inland helps to show us all what is one of the central parts of the human spirit, the unwillingness to give up in spite of difficulties and an unexpected environment that bristles with difficulties. This is just sound narrative poetry.


    • Thanks Tom, that’s most kind of you. I’m glad it works in your estimation, especially given your own close interest in North American history and of course in that of the First Nations. I’ve always enjoyed your own poetry in this spirit. Also, it is very interesting to learn of Ethel’s own family history – my word, that brings this vividly into light! For me to write this poem meant drawing on a vacation in Nova Scotia plus a lot of research, some familiarity with Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore, and some flimsy extrapolation from personal experiences! All the best to you both.


  5. As always, a deep sense of respect for we poor mortals in confident verse: check second line for dropped verbal “have”! Minor glitch in the steely description. See Milton in America where we’re given the religious dimension.


    • Thanks for pointing out the missing word, Tom, now restored and fortunately not missing in the published anthology. I’m grateful to you for your careful reading.


  6. Love the vivid descriptions. Our ancestors were a hardy bunch. Can’t imagine what they endured – both in the journeys and the landings here in the Americas.


    • You’re right Betty: they were indomitable! Inspiring to us all, I feel.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Interesting poem, John. I liked the third stanza in particular, which nicely evokes the forbidding environment and the awful disappointment of arriving. As you say though, they got on with it, impressively.


    • Thanks Andy – it’s nice to hear from you. I enjoyed your recent article in The Wagon by the way.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, John. I have enjoyed yours, too. And I have been meaning to thank you for the recommendation to the editor – cheers!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Trying to imagine the astonishment they would feel knowing a fine poet in the 21st century heralded their bravery … Smiles, John.


  9. Thank you Bonnie. Not as much astonishment as I felt thinking about them perhaps!


  10. I crossed the Atlantic, there and back UK to USA, by boat in1966 – it took nine days, My trip was in relative comfort and included laid on entertainment, but time hung, the nine days were enough! Seems a miracle that all my ensuing crossings only take 9 hours by air!
    I applaud you for the recognition gained by having so many of your works included in the Austin 25th anniversary anthology When Time and Space Conspire. I can well understand why, your work is both poetically beautiful and understandable bringing new perspective to ideas, events and concepts.


    • I’m fascinated to learn that you crossed the Atlantic by boat. Not many do that nowadays do they! My poem recalls the voyage of the Hector and its Scottish emigrants. Nine days would have seemed miraculous to them, but my true subject is their resilience, and indeed human determination wherever it is displayed. And thank you by the way for your very kind remarks.


  11. A wonderful poem about a change (not only the move to an unknown continent I think) so drastic in a lifetime.


  12. Splendid…brings forth the experience of what i couldn’t imagine.

    In the realm of synchronicity, it goes well with Norm’s post today for Thursday Door Challenge, the has photos of the viking settlements in L’Anse Aux Meadows – Newfoundland


    • Thank you for visiting, and thank you for taking the time to compose this comment. I’ve followed the link and read the post, and studied the photos, with great interest. It is awe inspiring to to picture those early explorers – especially the Norse adventures so many centuries earlier!

      Liked by 1 person

      • “awe inspiring” can be an over-used term, but for these people’s journey, it is totally appropriate. I am proud to say they are my ancestors in some form or fashion, but I sure didn’t get those particular genes. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

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