A lure of pheromones for anglers
Susan Musgrave serves up an omnibus of wit as delicious as any recipe from her Masset-based bed 'n' breakfast.
December 08th, 2015
More than a 340-page cookbook, Susan Musgrave’s A Taste of Haida Gwaii has 125 photos of nature and island life, as well as her unparalleled humour.
Self-dubbed the ‘solemnizer’ since she became an accredited marriage commissioner on the side, here the poet, editor, novelist, critic, essayist and humourist, Susan Musgrave takes a typically amusing detour from cuisine to talk about salmon fishing:
“The English poet Ted Hughes, who came often to northern British Columbia to fish for steelhead, had a theory (widely held, it turns out) that salmon are sexually attracted to female anglers. Because the biggest salmon are cock fish (old word for male Atlantic salmon – one I am so glad I have discovered!) they are naturally attracted to a woman’s pheromones, which transmit themselves to the water when she smears them on her bait or lure in the process of handling her fishing tackle. Old Ted told me he frequently went fishing in Ireland with a friend who tied his salmon flies using his girlfriend’s pubic hair.
“I’ve yet to find a fisherman friend who has begged me to rub his flies in my knickers (that sounds complicated) in order to give him an edge, but I experimented once by wiping a lure through my hair (public, not pubic) when Jim Fulton and I went to the place he called the Meat Hole on the Tlell River. He caught a whopping big Coho on his first cast; I don’t know if it was my pheromones, or the Meat Hole living up to its fecund reputation.”
by Keven Drews
In her latest literary feast, A Taste of Haida Gwaii: Food Gathering and Feasting at the Edge of the World (Whitecap Books $34.95), readers are able to savour recipes for Shipwrecked Chicken Wings or a famous politician’s Rustled Beef By Gaslight. We can learn how to bake her coveted sourdough or hear the tale of a local fisherman who offered an exotic dancer 50 pounds of shrimp to spend the night with him.
“Our mistakes make the best stories, and that’s why we should not think of them as failures,” says Musgrave.
Musgrave bought the Copper Beech House from her friend, David Phillips in 2010. The building was moved to its current site in the early 1930s.
Inside, heirloom-quality furniture has been replaced with the kinds of things Musgrave says guests can sink into, and a glass curio cabinet displays soapstone geese, an ivory tusk, a rodent skull and a plastic smurf.
Covering the walls are the works of Haida artists, an African penis gourd, antique fishing rods and a sardine can depicting The Last Supper.
Filling the shelves are the books of David Suzuki, Margaret Atwood, Graeme Gibson, Douglas Coupland and William Gibson, all guests of Copper Beech House.
“I can’t say I was cut out to be an innkeeper,” says Musgrave. “I feel uncomfortable most of the time, charging people for a place to lay their head.”
Perhaps, it’s because, as Musgrave says, her father would charge, “you’re so useless you can’t boil an egg,” every time she began to prepare a meal as a child.
“At Copper Beech House breakfast is often a leisurely all-morning-long event,” she writes. “If there are more than four guests we don’t set the table—everyone sits in the living room with a plate on their lap. The informality leads to wonderful stimulating conversations and lets our guests get to know one another without having to worry about which knife or fork to use, or if they spilled stewed rhubarb on the white tablecloth.
“We serve what I have humorously taken to calling an Off-the-Continental Breakfast (Haida Gwaii is about 100 km (60 miles) off the coast of Canada, as Islanders like to say when they refer to mainland British Columbia) which includes many kinds of coffee, every kind of tea, orange juice laced with elderflower cordial, fresh fruits (including local wild berries, when in season), homemade granola, yoghurt and Susan’s 3-day Sourdough Bread… Guests usually go for the bread, partly because it takes me so long to make they would feel guilty if they didn’t eat it, especially after I have reminded them of all the time and effort involved.” 978-1770502161
QUICK REFERENCE BIO:
Born in 1951, Susan Musgrave has been one of the most prolific, hard-working and written-about writers of British Columbia. She is a fourth-generation Vancouver Islander who has spent extended periods living in Ireland, England, Haida Gwaii, Panama and Colombia—always outside the mainstream. In one of her brilliant and amusing personal essays, she writes, “In our culture, these days, there is no core, no authenticity to our lives; we have become dangerously preoccupied with safety; have dedicated ourselves to ease. We live without risk, hence without adventure, without discovery of ourselves or others. The moral measure of man is: for what will he risk all, risk his life?”
Susan Musgrave has taken risks. While married to Victoria lawyer Jeff Green, she became involved with one of his clients, an accused drug trader. She later married Stephen Reid, a convicted bank robber, in 1986. After she rescued Reid from prison and gave him a literary life, he reoffended and was incarcerated again. Their story was front page news.
Unfortunately this public side of Musgrave’s risk-taking threatens to obscure her record of excellence as an irresistibly thoughtful, clever and entertaining author of more than 30 titles. It does not help that no particular Musgrave poetry collection or novel stands out as superior to her other works and she has yet to win a major prize for a particular book.
Although Musgrave has been largely out of the public eye in the 21st century, her remarkable range and wit as a poet, editor, novelist, critic, essayist and humorist endures. Along with the experimentalist bill bissett and logging poet Peter Trower, Musgrave has been the embodiment of the maverick, unclassifiable, non-university-coddled B.C. literary tradition that is far more attuned to Haight-Ashbury than Yonge & Bloor. Like Anne Cameron in Tahsis, Musgrave has veered away from urbanity, away from anything “safe.” Meanwhile her novels The Charcoal Burners (1980), The Dancing Chicken (1987) and Cargo of Orchids (2000) and her noteworthy poetry collections, such as Songs of the Sea-Witch (1970), Grave-Dirt and Selected Strawberries (1973) and A Man to Marry, a Man to Bury (1979), will likely be anthologized for many years to come.
In 2014, Susan Musgrave was honoured with the $20,000 Matt Cohen Award from the Writers Trust to mark a writing career that spanned 30 years and produced 27 published works of poetry, fiction, non-fiction and children’s literature.
FULL REFERENCE BIO:
Susan Musgrave is easily one of the most humourous writers in Canada, if not the wittiest. Born March 12, 1951 in Santa Cruz, California (of Canadian parents), she is a fourth-generation Vancouver Islander who spent extended periods of time living in Ireland, England, the Queen Charlotte Islands, Panama and Colombia.
The story goes that Musgrave was in a psychiatric ward in Victoria at age sixteen when the eccentric poet and professor Robin Skelton visited her and pronounced that she was not mad, simply a poet. With Skelton’s managerial involvement, her first poetry collection, Songs of the Sea-Witch (1970), was released when she was still a teenager. Skelton’s comrade for his flea market quests, critic and poet Charles Lillard, referred to Musgrave’s second poetry book, Entrance of the Celebrant (1972), as “the first attempt by a woman to merge poetically with the landscape.”
While married to Victoria criminal defence lawyer Jeff Green, she became involved with one of his clients, an accused drug trader, Paul Nelson. When he was acquitted due to Green’s diligence, she and Nelson went to Mexico together, eventually resulting in her second marriage. Her daughter Charlotte Musgrave was born in 1982. After Nelson was incarcerated for a previous smuggling charge and he found God, Musgrave divorced him.
After convicted bank robber Stephen Reid sent her a manuscript from Millhaven Penitentiary in Ontario, where he was serving a 20-year sentence for his career with the Stopwatch Gang–so-named because they relied on efficient planning for their 90-second bank heists-Susan Musgrave became enamoured of Reid while serving as his writing tutor. They were married in Kent Prison in Aggasiz in 1986. With her assistance, Reid was released in 1987.
After the couple was ensconced in her 900-square-foot seaside cottage near Sidney, built by Ernest Fern, a poet, in 1929, her second daughter, Sophie Musgrave Reid, was born in 1989. The Sidney residence has a 190-foot Douglas Fir growing inside. No less unusual was the couple’s shrine to the notorious Colombian drug cartel kingpin, Pablo Escobar, or Musgrave’s overtly conspicuous red car festooned with hundreds of attached figurines. Susan Musgrave and Stephen Reid were the subject of an hour-long CBC (Life & Times) documentary, The Poet and the Bandit, in January or 1999.
Dressed in a police uniform, Reid, with an accomplice, re-offended with a Cook Street bank robbery in Victoria on June 9, 1999, pointing a loaded shotgun at bank employees and bank patrons. The pair fled with $97,000. Reid reportedly fired at police with a 44-magnum handgun and held civilians at gunpoint after taking refuge in their apartment. On December 21, 1999, he was sentenced to another 18 years in prison. At age 63 in 2014, Reid was granted day parole at a hearing at William Head Institution in Metchosin. He has since revisited Musgrave in Masset.
Musgrave is one of the most prolific, hard working and written-about writers in Canada with a love/hate relationship with publicity. Musgrave has been nominated, and has received awards, in five different categories of writing: poetry, fiction, non-fiction, personal essay, children’s writing and for her work as an editor, but she has yet to win any major prize. The Charcoal Burners was a finalist in the Seal First Novel Competition and was shortlisted for a Governor General’s Award. Things That Keep and Do Not Change was included on The Globe and Mail’s Best 100 Books of the Year List for 1999 and made her a finalist for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize in 2000. A Man To Marry, A Man to Bury was shortlisted for a Governor General’s Award. Grave-Dirt and Selected Strawberries was shortlisted for a Governor General’s Award. Great Musgrave was shortlisted for the 1990 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. Nerves out Loud was shortlisted for the Norman Fleck Award. In 1996 she received the Tilden (CBC/Saturday Night) Canadian Literary Award for Poetry and the Vicky Metcalf Short Story Editor’s Award. Her poetry, essays and fiction have appeared in innumberable anthologies. As a columnist, she has appeared bi-monthly in the Toronto Star, Vancouver Sun, STEP Magazine (Vancouver) Cut To: Magazine, Victoria, Sidney Review (1988-1991) and in the Ottawa Citizen (Op-Ed page) September 2001- March 2003. She reviews frequently for the Vancouver Sun and Ottawa Citizen. She has served on dozens of writing juries and performed at hundreds of readings since 1975. Musgrave’s brilliant and amusing personal essays in You’re in Canada Now… are also irresistibly thoughtful. “In our culture, these days, there is no core, no authenticity to our lives; we have become dangerously preoccupied with safety; have dedicated ourselves to ease. We live without risk, hence without adventure, without discovery of ourselves or others. The moral measure of man is: for what will he risk all, risk his life?”
Increasingly at home on the Sangan River, ten miles from Masset, Susan Musgrave lives in a seven-sided house built of logs obtained by local beachcomber Paul Bower. After he died of lung cancer, she produced a modest but intense collection of reflections and “mindful blessings” called Obituary of Light: The Sangan Meditations (Leaf $19.95), mostly recording the natural world around her and her respect for a dying friend. “Some days just listening to him / breathe would be enough to suck / the breath out of sorrow. We all knew / he wasn’t ready to accept / the earth.
Given (Thistledown 2014) $19.95 978-1-927068-02-1
Cargo of Orchids (Knopf, 2000, trade paper edition, Vintage, 2001)
The Dancing Chicken (Methuen, 1987)
The Charcoal Burners (McClelland & Stewart. 1980, paperback by Totem in 1981)
Origami Dove (McClelland & Stewart, 2011)
Obituary of Light: The Sangan Meditations (Leaf Press 2009) 978-1-926655-01-7
What the Small Day Cannot Hold: Collected Poems 1970-1985 (Beach Holme, 2000)
Things That Keep and Do Not Change (McClelland & Stewart, 1999
Forcing the Narcissus (McClelland & Stewart, 1994)
The Embalmer’s Art: Poems New and Selected (Exile Editions,1991)
Cocktails at the Mausoleum (McClelland & Stewart, 1985; Beach Holme, revised edition, 1992)
Tarts and Muggers: Poems New and Selected (McClelland & Stewart, 1982)
A Man to Marry, a Man to Bury (McClelland & Stewart,1979)
Becky Swan’s Book (Porcupine’s Quill, 1978)
Selected Strawberries and Other Poems (Sono Nis Press, 1977)
Kiskatinaw Songs (Pharos Press, 1977. With Sean Virgo, illustrated by Douglas Tait
The Impstone (McClelland & Stewart, 1976; Omphalos Press, London, 1978)
Grave-Dirt and Selected Strawberries (Macmillan, 1973)
Entrance of the Celebrant (Macmillan, 1972; Fuller d’Arch Smith, London)
Songs of the Sea-Witch (Sono Nis Press, 1970)
More Blueberries (Orca, 2015) $9.95 9781459807075. Illustrated by Esperança Melo.
Love You More. Illustrated by Esperanca Melo (Orca 2014) $9.95 9781459802407. Board book
Kiss, Tickle, Cuddle, Hug (Orca, 2012) $9.95 9781459801639. Board book
Dreams are More Real than Bathtubs. (Fiction. Illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay. Orca. 1998)
Kestrel and Leonardo (Studio 123. 1990. Poetry. Illustrated by Linda Rogers)
Hag Head (Clarke, Irwin & Co. 1980. Fiction. Illustrated by Carol Evans.)
Gullband (J.J. Douglas, 1974. Poetry. Illustrated by Rikki Ducornet)
A Taste of Haida Gwaii: Food Gathering and Feasting at the Edge of the World (Whitecap 2015) $34.95 978-1-77050-216-1
You’re in Canada Now, Motherfucker. A Memoir of Sorts (Thistledown, 2005) $18.95. 1-894345-95-9
Musgrave Landing: Musings on the Writing Life (Stoddart, 1994)
Great Musgrave (a collection of essays and columns; Prentice-Hall 1989)
Editor for Thistledown Press (Saskatoon, Sask) short fiction, poetry and Y/A titles 1994-2003 (ongoing)
Editor for Justice James Clarke (Exile) poetry (1997-2001)
Editor for Gale Garnett’s Visible Worlds (Stoddart) fiction 1999
and Transient Dancing (MacArthur & Co, 2003)
Editor for Harbour Publishing, fiction 2000
Because You Loved Being a Stranger: 55 Poets Celebrate Patrick Lane (Harbour Publishing, 1994)
Clear Cut Words: Writers for Clayoquot, (Hawthorne Society for Reference West, 1993)
Breaking the Surface (Sono Nis, 2000): Winner BC2000 Book Award
Nerves Out Loud: Critical Moments in the Lives of Seven Teen Girls (Annick Press, Fall 2001; series editor)
You Be Me: Friendship in the Lives of Teen Girls (Annick, 2002)
Certain Things About My Mother: Daughters Speak (Annick, 2003)
Perfectly Secret: The Hidden Lives of Seven Teen Girls (Annick, 2004)
Force Field: 77 Women Poets of British Columbia (Mother Tongue 2013). 400 pages 978-1-896949-25-3 $32.95
In the Small Hours of the Rain, poetry published by Reference West (Victoria) 1991 (winner, First Prize, of b.p. Nichol Poetry Chapbook Award, 1991)
The Spiritualization of Cruelty, six poems with drawings by Pavel Skalnik, limited, lettered and numbered edition, 1992
PAMPHLETS & BROADSIDES
Many pamphlets (limited editions) from the Sceptre Press in England. From Dreadnaught 52-Pickup, #9 (1976): Between Friends. Taboo Man was published by Celia Duthie, 1981, in a limited edition of 50 signed copies. The Plane Put Down in Sacramento and “I do not know if things that happen can be said to come to pass or only happen” as broadsides, by William Hoffer. Desireless: Tom York (1947-1988) published by Slug Press, 1988; The Situation in Which We are both Amateurs published by Lazara Press, 1998.
National Magazine Award (silver) 1981
R.P. Adams Short Fiction Award (3rd prize) for “The Remains of
Edward’s”, published in Negative Capability, Mobile, Alabama, 1989
B.C. Cultural Fund Grant, 1991, 1994, 1998
b.p. nichol Poetry Chapbook Award (First Prize) 1991
Readers’ Choice Award for poems published in the Winter 1993 edition of Prairie Schooner
CBC/Saturday Night/Tilden Award for Poetry, 1996 (First Prize)
Vicky Metcalf Short Story Editor’s Award, 1996
Panty Lines: First Prize for Ice-Age Lingerie, 1999
National Magazine Award for “Personal Journalism” in Saturday Night, 2000: Honourable Mention
Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, Honourable Mention, 2000, for Things That Keep and Do Not Change
Gullband (produced and directed by Paully Jardine) was performed by the Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto (Christmas 1976)and by the Touchstone Theatre in Vancouver (Christmas 1977).
“Valentine’s Day in Jail”, adapted from a novel in progress, Cover Girl, was produced by Ruby Slippers in Vancouver, B.C. in their 1995 production of “Herotica”.
University of Waterloo, 1983-1985
University of New Brunswick, Summer Session 1985
Vancouver Public Library, National Book Week 1986
Festival of the Written Arts, Pender Harbour, B.C. 1987
Ganaraska Writer’s Colony, Fiction Workshop. June 26 – July 9, 1988
Sidney Public Library, Sidney, B.C. Short-term Writer-in-Residence April, 1989
Ganges High School, Short-term-Writer-in-Residence, November 1989, February 1991
George P. Vanier Secondary School, B.C. Short-term Writer-in-Residency, May 1991
Kaslo Summer School of the Arts, Short-term-writer-in-Residence, August 1991
University of Western Ontario, 1992-1993
Festival of the Written Arts, Sechelt, B.C. November 11-14, 1993, May 23-27, 1994
Writer-in-Electronic-Residence, 1991-1999 (ongoing) (writer online and writer/moderator through York University and the Writers’ Development Trust
Banff Centre for the Arts, November 1994
University of Toronto Presidential Writer-in-Residence Fellowship, 1995
Victoria School of Writing, 1996, 1998
The Ralph Gustafson Chair of Poetry, Malaspina College, Fall 2000
Arvon Foundation, Sheepwash, Devon, 1975: Instructor, with Brian Patten
Arvon Foundation, Lumb Bank, Yorkshire, 1980: Instructor, with Liz Lochead
University of Waterloo, 1983-1984: Instructor, English 335 (Creative Writing)
University of Waterloo, 1984-1985: Instructor, English 336 (Advanced Creative Writing)
Kootenay School of Writing, 1986: Instructor, Creative Writing Workshop
Camosun College, Victoria, B.C.: Instructor, Creative Writing, 1988-1999
Mentor, B.C. Festival of the Arts, 2001
University of Northern B.C., Quesnel, B.C. 2001-2003; Five-day summer (credit) courses in Short Fiction and Poetry
SELECTED RADIO, TELEVISION & FILM
Profiled on BCTV, December 1985 and October 1986.
CTV LIFETIME October 1986. CBC NEWS September 1987.
CTV LIFETIME Fall 1987. THE JOURNAL, Fall 1987.
BCTV, February 1988. CKVU TV, December 1989.
CANADA IN VIEW (CTV, April 1990)
The Shirley Show (CTV January 1992)
Front Page Challenge (February 1993)
Canada AM (March 1994)
CBC Life and Times: “The Poet and the Bandit” (January 1999)
Heroines (Bravo, 2001): Poetic-script for documentary film on Lincoln Clarkes and the heroin-addicted prostitutes of Vancouver’s lower east-side
“Where Did you sleep last night” (teenagers recruited into the sex trade) and “Truth and Betrayal” (the stress teenagers feel about being expected to keep secrets) – two 15-minute film scripts for the National Film Board’s “Teenagers at Risk” series, 1998
“Valentine’s Day in Jail”, a chapter from a recently completed novel, CARGO OF ORCHIDS, published in Fever and Best American Erotica, 1995 has been optioned by Back Alley Films to be adapted for a half-hour film for SHOWCASE: December 1998.
“Missing”- a song for the 61 Missing Women of Vancouver’s Downtown eastside – music by Brad Prevadoras, vocals by Amber Smith, 2003
MEMBER: Writers’ Union of Canada (Chair, 1997-1998); B.C. Federation of Writers; Canada Council Advisory Committee, September 1992-1993; Stephen Leacock Poetry Awards Advisory Committee; Writers in Electronic Residence Advisory Committee, and Executive Committee; In 2 Print (magazine for creative people ages 12-20 – Advisory Committee (poetry)
McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Songs of the Sea-Witch. Victoria, B.C.: Sono Nis Press, 1970.
Skuld. Frensham, Surrey: Sceptre Press, 1971.
Birthstone. Frensham, Surrey: Sceptre press, 1972.
Entrance of the Celebrant. Toronto: Macmillan, 1972.
Equinox. Rushden, Northamptonshire: Sceptre Press, 1973.
Kung. Rushden, Northamptonshire: Sceptre Press, 1973.
Grave-Dirt and Selected Strawberries. Toronto: Macmillan, 1973.
Against. Rushden, Northamptonshire: Sceptre Press, 1974.
Two poems. Knotting, Bedfordshire, England : Sceptre Press, 1975.
The Impstone. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1976.
Kiskatinaw Songs, with Sean Virago. Victoria, B.C.: Pharos Press, 1977.
For Charlie Beaulieu in Yellowknife who told me to go back to the south and write
another poem about Indians. Knotting, Bedfordshire, England : Sceptre Press, 1977.
Selected Strawberries and Other Poems. Victoria, B.C.: Sono Nis Press, 1977.
Two poems for the blue moon. Knotting, Bedfordshire, England : Sceptre Press,
Becky Swan’s Book. Erin, On: Porcupine’s Quill, 1978.
A Man to Marry, a Man to Bury. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1979.
Conversation during the Omelette auz Fines herbes. Knotting, Bedfordshire:
Sceptre press, 1979.
When my Boots Drive off in a Cadillac. Toronto: League of Canadian peots, 1980.
Tarts and Muggers: Poems New and Selected. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1982.
The Plane put Down in Sacramento. Vancouver: Hoffer, 1982.
I do not know if things that happen can be said to come to passs or only happen.
Vancouver: Hoffer, 1982.
Cocktails at the Mausoleum. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart,1985.
Desireless: Tom York (1947-1988). Celia Duthie, 1988.
In the small hours of the rain : poems. Victoria, B.C. : Reference West, 1990.
The Embalmer’s Art: Poems New and Selected. Exile Editions, 1991.
Forcing the Narcissus. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1994.
Things that keep and do not change. Toronto : McClelland & Stewart, 1999.
Cargo of Orchids (Knopf, 2000, trade paper edition, Vintage, 2001)
What the Small Day Cannot Hold: Collected Poems 1970-1985 (Beach Holme, 2000)
Origami Drive (M&S 2011). Poetry. 978-0-7710-6522-4 $18.99 Can.
Love You More (Orca). Illustrated by Esperanca Melo. For infants.
Kiss, Tickle, Cuddle, Hug (Orca). Illustrated by Esperanca Melo. For infants.
More Bluebeberries (Orca 2015). Illustrated by Esperanca Melo. For infants. $9.95 978-1-4598-0707-5
A Taste of Haida Gwaii (Whitecap 2015) $34.95