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Cerulean Odyssey ................................................Cerulean Odyssey.pdf file
epic sketches of a long distance voyager
by Gerrit Verstraete

© 2005, Gerrit Vincent Leonard Verstraete

The poetry of Gerrit Verstraete

During the late sixties, Gerrit Verstraete began to develop his writing skills in addition to his fine art talents. Poetry was the thing he wrote most. Gerrit's mother Cornelia ( born Cornelia van Dam in 1918 ) was a writer of children's stories when Gerrit was very young. She was also a teacher. She used to read her stories to her grade school class in a small school in a picturesque Dutch village near the city of Zwolle . "Regrettably," says Gerrit, "when my mother died in 1987, any whereabouts of her stories, both published and unpublished, disappeared as well." Gerrit Verstraete's poetry has appeared in a number of publications including, Coach House Press , Quarry Magazine , the Poetry Institute of Canada , as well as a private publishing of a selection of 30 of his poems, titled, "Mid-Seventies Crisis." In 1998, he began work on an epic poem titled, "In Search of the City," a lengthy poem totaling to date some 27 writings, each dealing with his own personal spiritual journey as husband, father, artist, and poet. Portions of this epic poem have been read at poetry readings on Vancouver Island , British Columbia . In 2005, he completed his 200 verse ( he calls them “sketches” ) epic “Cerulean Odyssey.”

Introduction: who is Cerulean?

Cerulean is a person who undertakes a long journey in search of a place he has never seen but longs for in his heart. For as long as he can remember, he has enjoyed travel, especially long distance driving. He was especially drawn to specific places along his travels. These were places that for unknown reasons stirred Cerulean deep in his soul. It gave him a passion and reason to return as often as he could to those same places. Some accused him of not being a real adventurer, and he should travel different roads as often as he could. Instead, Cerulean drove the same distances again and again. Only he knew that when a certain turn in the road would bring him to that view, that special place, it would bring tears to his eyes as he caught a glimpse of what he was looking for. These long distance voyages took a decisive turn when Cerulean began driving across Canada from east to west and back again. To this day he knows exactly the places where he had to stop to control the tears that flowed from deep wells of emotion. It has been many times he has traveled across Canada, and always in search of what he spoke of as “the city not built with human hands,” a place of peace and fulfillment.

I am Cerulean, a name that means “sky blue.”

Cerulean is a bright colour, a kind of typical Canadian sky that can capture the human spirit and send it on fanciful flights of hopes and dreams.

During the early sixties, I began to develop my writing skills in addition to my fine art while a student at the Ontario College of Art & Design in Toronto . Dr.Remkes Kooistra, who was pastor of the church I attended as a student, began encouraging me to write poetry. He arranged to have one of my earliest poems published in 1964. On a cool wintry day in December, 1967, he married Alice and I. The church was filled with friends, family and all my long-haired art college friends.

Poetry was the art form that began my creative journey as early as 1960. My mother Cornelia ( born Cornelia van Dam in 1918 ) was a writer of children's stories when I was very young. She was also a teacher. She used to read her stories to her class in a small school in S'Herensbroek, a picturesque Dutch village near the city of Zwolle . Regrettably, when my mother died in 1987, any whereabouts of her stories, both published and unpublished, disappeared as well. My poetry has appeared in a number of publications including, Coach House Press , Quarry Magazine , the Poetry Institute of Canada , as well as a private publishing of a selection of 30 of my poems, titled, "Mid-Seventies Crisis."

In 1998, I began work on a lengthy poem titled, "In Search of the City," totaling some 27 writings, each dealing with my own personal spiritual journey as husband, father, artist, and poet. Portions of this epic poem have been read at poetry readings on Vancouver Island , British Columbia .

It was one such cerulean skies, in the Fall of 2004, that prompted me to begin writing the epic Cerulean Odyssey , in the form of sketches, as a narrative of thoughts and feelings of a journey towards that mysterious place I longed for so much.

The Reader's Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary of 1966, defines epic as a “long, formal, narrative poem in elevated style, having as its subject heroic exploits and achievements or grandiose events.” Cerulean Odyssey is definitely long, but I exchanged formality for informality. The epic is a narrative poem but more abstract expressionist than elevated in style. Heroic exploits, achievements and grandiose events are an overstatement. However, finding the “city” is no small event. It is the substance of my entire life's journey.

Cerulean Odyssey has two principal sources for imagery used in writing the epic's two hundred sketches or stanzas. One source is the natural surroundings of my home and life on the west coast of Canada , specifically the majesty of Vancouver Island . The other source is the barrage of daily newspaper headlines over a period of nine months.

My method of writing Cerulean Odyssey is spontaneous. I began each sketch with a thorough soaking in my surroundings, starting with early morning ferry trips from Gabriola Island to Nanaimo , often the first ferry off the island at 5:45 am . Not only that, I'd be in the lineup by 5:00 am to begin the task of waking my sleepy thoughts. After coffee in town and some time of sketching coffee shop people, I got in my van and usually headed “up island” for a long drive. I have driven every paved road and a few infamous unpaved logging roads as well on Vancouver Island , again and again, year after year. Each drive birthed a myriad of impressions. I wrote these down and they became my poetry. The images often appear as metaphors with strong mythical intent reflecting the deepest emotions of my soul and feelings in my body.

Newspapers are the printed voice of our unsettled modern times. I decided to take complete editions of daily newspapers, and deconstruct every headline into fragments of sentences and words, only to re construct them again into abstract poetry. Composite verses created from fragments of newspaper headlines were intended to demonstrate and capture a fragmented world of confusing voices in a reconstructionist prose. After six months of reconstructionist work, I returned to the spontaneous writing that marked the beginning of Cerulean Odyssey , to bring the epic to an end.

Cerulean Odyssey was written from November 7, 2004 to July 31, 2005 , a period of nine months. Writing the epic caused both joy and pain, but throughout it all, it has reinforced my personal faith in the fact that the city of God is real and the ultimate destiny of my human journey.

Some special notes accompanying Cerulean Odyssey are at the end of the epic, on page 95.

Gerrit Verstraete, Gabriola Island , July 31, 2005

Cerulean Odyssey

“Writing has been my other passion since I first began the lost journal of my bread route years. The year was 1960, and I was fifteen years old. Every week I faithfully wrote my daily impressions as a young boy when I worked on a bread route, delivering pastries, pies, cookies, buns and bread, to rural communities around Wallaceburg, Ontario, together with my boss, Gord Spiering. My journal was a heavy sales book with endless blank pages Gord had given me. He didn't need the extra book. The journal was stolen from me two years later.”
( September 7, 1962 )



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