Poet Dorothy McIntosh Harvey gets inspiration from her Newfoundland surroundings

Melissa Jenkins melissa.jenkins@tc.tc
Published on March 6, 2014
Poet and writer Dorothy McIntosh Harvey has travelled the world, but settled in Freshwater after finding inspiration and comfort in her surroundings.
Photo by Melissa Jenkins

Standing on the front deck outside her cottage-style home in Freshwater, Conception Bay on Feb. 19, Dorothy McIntosh Harvey points east across the bay to the grey mist and layer of ice that blankets the ocean.

On a clear day, she explains, the view is picturesque and serene. It is a place she is proud to call home.

McIntosh Harvey moved to Freshwater four years ago. It was a place she chose to settle after briefly visiting Newfoundland.

"You don't fall in love with Newfoundland," she tells The Compass in her calm and peaceful tone. "Newfoundland falls in love with you."

As a writer she thrives off the beauty and ruggedness of Newfoundland's coasts, and has used it as inspiration for a series of poems she has written about life in the Northern Atlantic.

The walls of McIntosh Harvey's living room are covered in pictures she painted, and along one wall are photos of people she holds dear. It's cozy and warm.

She sits on a love seat and makes herself comfortable on the light brown couch cover. An off-white coloured fur throw is placed along the back.

Looking up at it, McIntosh Harvey says, "Yes, I believe it's real."

She then smiles a warm, welcoming smile.

Writing adventure

McIntosh Harvey travelled far and wide before settling in this province.

Born in Scotland, she moved to Canada as the daughter of a war bride. She has always appreciated her roots, and hoped to one day return to her homeland.

She began her career as an English professor at a community college in Northern Manitoba before she moved to Ottawa for a position with the federal Department of Manpower and Immigration - now the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.

After several years, she made a one-year stop in Seoul, South Korea, teaching English and helping locals with public speaking.

Her next stop on her round-the-world journey was something she would have never predicted.

"I went to visit a friend in New Mexico and I just stayed 10 years," she recalls. "I was provided a small cottage in the high desert mountains.

"It was my dream to live, as a writer, isolated somewhere in some beautiful little cottage, like all the greats. I just wanted that experience."

She found the barren and isolated desert an inspiration to her writing, which continued to develop and grow.

The next stage in her life was a brief stopover in Northern Manitoba, again to reconnect with family and teach in a native community.

"And then," she says, "I made my journey onward toward the sea."

Newfoundland grabbed her like nowhere else. She believed it was similar to Scotland, and took a chance on making a home here.

Returning to poetry

Although McIntosh Harvey's poetry is well known in the area, it was not something she practiced while making the transition from Manitoba.

"When I came to Newfoundland, I formed the Freshwater Writers Circle with Andrew Peacock," she explains. "He was doing short stories. I had done a number of those and I thought, 'it's time for me to try my poetry again.' And it just flowed."

She is a strong believer that poetry can be influenced by many things, and for her, the ambiance of her new community was beneficial.

"I believe in every writer there's a poet," she says. "And I think, for me, (the inspiration to write) has to do with my surroundings."

She has been writing poetry steadily for the past four years, and has been a regular part of an adult writing group that meets at the Carbonear Public Library. The group was encouraged by librarian Tracy Vaughn-Evans, and continues to welcome new members.

McIntosh Harvey has also been a regular guest to "Let's Talk Poetry," a session, also at the library, where local poets share their own poetry with an adoring audience.

The impact some of her poems have had on people led her to the next step of her professional life as an artist - releasing a compact disc of her poetry.

Gull sounds and ocean waves

The CD, called Tapestry, is a collection of her poems, being read personally by McIntosh Harvey. But the background sounds, she believes, tie it all together.

James Long wrote, performed and arranged the musical accompaniment and nature sounds for the cd of the 25 poems.

The sounds of ocean waves help bring the listener to where McIntosh Harvey was inspired - the north Atlantic. Gull sounds also echo throughout.

The music is peaceful, uniting with the relaxing tone of her voice.

Although it's a CD of poetry, she has been told on several occasions, if someone doesn't enjoy poetry, they can still enjoy the coupled sounds of nature and her voice.

"The bird calls, the ocean sounds, it just elicits in me some sort of poetic form," she says. "A short hand thank you to the world."

McIntosh Harvey will be heading to the United States in the coming months to promote her poetry, but this is only the beginning of an unknown road ahead. She hopes to continue to write and become inspired along the journey.

One thing is certain, she will return to Newfoundland after her tour, to where the rugged landscapes, ocean calls and vivid seasons are her muse.