Red Deer resident Floyd Van Slyke has discovered a terrific new means of self-expression via his poetry, and he’s launching a new collection July 12 at the Red Deer Public Library.
Van Slyke will be reading selections from The Hammer Strap during the event, set to begin at 7 p.m. in the Snell Gallery in the downtown branch.
Van Slyke, 86, was encouraged to begin writing by his friend and renowned author, the late Robert Kroetsch. Both men were born and raised in Heisler, Alberta and knew each other since childhood. They always stayed in touch until Kroetsch’s death in June of 2011.
“My book is really about two boys growing up – Robert Kroetsch and myself,” explains Van Slyke during a recent chat about his book. The two graduated from high school in Red Deer in 1944, and Kroetsch went on to earn several degrees and garner a reputation as an accomplished novelist, poet and non-fiction writer.
Van Slyke married in 1948, and he and his Laura established a farm and started raising their family. The years were busy as he was active in the community in several ways including serving local cooperatives. And along with grain farming, he and his family focused on egg production as well. Over time, Van Slyke became increasingly involved with egg marketing organizations at the provincial, national and international levels. He was active with the family farm until recently.
And that’s about when the idea to start writing was sparked.
“Over the last few years, we would talk about the old days,” he recalls of conversations with Kroetsch during the initial stages of developing his new creative outlet. “He would say ‘Floyd, you have a lot of good stories and you had better start writing them down.’
“I told him that I didn’t write – maybe a couple of limericks now and then,” remembers Van Slyke with a warm smile. But Kroetsch began to tutor his friend and a gift for sharing stories and impressions in poetry form began to surface. (One of the book’s poems, the engaging Old Home Town, is dedicated to Kroetsch).
“He told me I had a good way with words, and that I should keep my words simple; use everyday language and get my feelings in there also.” To Kroetsch, it was all about writing from one’s own base of experience; one’s vantage point in life.
Another acclaimed local writer, Leslie Greentree also helped Van Slyke as he carefully honed his skills. He also credits his daughter Wendy Klassen with helping him bring it all together as well.
There is no question he has a knack for painting pictures with his words. Right from the collection’s first poem, The Hammer Strap, readers are carried back to images of Van Slyke’s childhood on the Alberta prairies. That ‘picturesque’ sensibility continues with such fine highlights as Haying Time and the compelling nature of Early School Years which also touches on the appalling realities of war.
The impact and at times downright devastating effects of ‘development’ are also explored and questioned within the descriptive, raw tapestries of Precious Farmland and Mother Nature’s Way. And the reflective, heartfelt poignancy of Laura’s Trees reveals an even more personal side to Van Slyke.
Meanwhile, he’s found writing poetry to be a wonderful new means of expressing himself. “I write from my emotions,” he explains, and describes how The Hammer Strap taps into a range of experiences and subject matter from politics, childhood memories and growing old to pain, romance and love.
“It’s a way of expressing some of my feelings, my hurts and my happiness. I can put it on paper. I’m not sure how clear it all is, because poetry can be a bit nebulous – but that’s what makes it interesting.”