Mystery and Mischief in Poetry: Canadian Writer Susan Musgrave

Susan Musgrave
BY Bruce Stotesbury

The editor would like to thank Ursula Vaira, publisher of Leaf Press, for her kind generosity and assistance.

Of Susan Musgrave’s life, one that defies all conventions and definitions, where should we begin?

Raised on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Susan Musgrave “dropped out” of school at fourteen, was admitted to a mental hospital even though she was not “mad,” and published her maiden poetry book, Songs of the Sea Witch, at nineteen. She travelled widely and later married a criminal lawyer, after returning to the Queen Charlotte Islands from Ireland. This marriage lasted four years; through her former husband (who acted as one of the five defence lawyers), Musgrave met and fell in love with a convicted marijuana smuggler, who later became her second husband and father of her first daughter.

Despite turmoils in life, Susan Musgrave remains one of the most well-loved writers in Canada, devoted to leading a creative and profound life in all aspects.

One day after her second divorce, Musgrave received a manuscript from a convicted bank-robber, Stephen Reid, who was serving a twenty-year sentence at Millhaven Penitentiary in Ontario. She read the manuscript, fell in love with the protagonist, and married the author in 1986, while he was still in prison. His novel, Jackrabbit Parole, was published the same year. The couple’s lives were the subject of a CBC “Life and Times” documentary, The Poet and the Bandit, which aired in January 1999. Stephen Reid was released from prison on Day Parole, January 2008, after serving an eighteen year sentence for another bank robbery in 1999.

Despite turmoils in life, Susan Musgrave remains one of the most well-loved writers in Canada, devoted to leading a creative and profound life in all aspects. Author of more than twenty books, including the poetry collection What the Small Day Cannot Hold: Collected Poems 1970-1985 (Beach Holme, 2000); the novel Cargo of Orchids (Knopf, 2003); You’re in Canada Now… A Memoir of Sorts (Thistledown, 2005); and the forthcoming poetry collection Origami Dove (McClelland & Stewart, 2011), she has received numerous awards for all genres of writing, as well as for her work as an editor. Her prizes include the most recent Lifetime Achievement Award by Pandora’s Collective. Currently, she teaches in the University of British Columbia’s Optional-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Programme. She lives on Haida Gwaii, and also runs a beautiful guesthouse, the Copper Beech House, with her younger daughter, Sophie Reid. Visit www.susanmusgrave.com.


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