‘Bonded relationship’ to 120-year-old house at centre of new poetry collection

Catherine Owen explores themes of ownership, rootedness, and history

What makes a home? What is the importance of rootedness? Catherine Owen explores these questions in a new collection of poetry, Moving to Delilah. The poems recount the experience of Owen’s move from an apartment in Vancouver to a house in Edmonton, and the new and surprising aspects of owning a home, growing a garden, and participating more deeply in community.

These poems also emerged “from feelings of rupture and sacrifice as I left the city I had spent most of my life in, becoming an economic itinerant in a sense, and realizing that nothing in the process of moving from one province to another is simple,” says Owen.

One central theme these poems grapple with is ownership. “I know no one really owns anything. But a temporary and healthy claim to rootedness on a particular piece of earth can have so many benefits,” says Owen.

“As a renter from 17 years old, I had been frustrated because I could never repaint my walls or change the light fixtures and, in most places I lived, I couldn’t grow a garden. Dealing with landlords also always made me feel anxious and aggravated.”

With the purchase of the house, Owen now has the ability to inhabit space freely. Built in 1905, the house, affectionately named Delilah, is the oldest in its neighbourhood. Upon moving into it, Owen delved into its history, which was sometimes difficult to find.

“One of the things that surprised me was how little information there was about the years 1905 to 1908 in the microfiche,” Owen says. “So, the favourite bits of history I’ve learned about Delilah have been from neighbours and through accidental discoveries. Delilah was the house on the site of a dairy farm and that’s why there are no other homes of her era nearby.”

The poem “Uncoveries: haibuns on renovating a garage” describes an old leather wallet Owen found, “stiffened by over 60 years of abandonment inside the rafters,” filled with identity cards and photos of a woman. Other poems track the garden’s progress, explore the house’s idiosyncrasies, and map out the neighbourhood’s history.

Catherine Owen
Catherine Owen

Owen believes the old-fashioned nature of the house lent itself to the structure of the poems in this collection, which bounce between formal styles, like villanelle, and free verse.

“I have written in forms like the ghazal and the sonnet for many years and always find it fascinating how an ancient form or one from another culture can be wrangled to converse with contemporary or North American content. The interplay between form and subject matter has always been crucial in my work,” says Owen.

“A poet is a maker, and making anything requires a shaping from chaos into a form that can sing in the blood.”

For Owen, the relationship with Delilah is crucial. “I imagine that my bonded relationship to this 120-year-old house will keep evolving over the time I live here. Becoming aware of the history of anything deepens one’s capacity for love.”