Jason Kenney’s stolen reading material struck me as interesting enough to call for a bit of exploring, and I wasn’t disappointed. The path led me to a thoughtful poet-diplomat I’d never heard of before, whose observations about our times and Canada’s place in the world are well worth considering.
I’d already heard of Mark Helprin, whose novel Winter’s Tale was in Kenney’s pilfered bag. It makes instant sense that Kenney would be interested in Helprin, a conservative commentator, as well as an acclaimed fiction writer and essayist. He wrote speeches for Bob Dole during his failed 1996 U.S. presidential bid. Helprin also served, long ago, in the Israeli military. Interesting blend of ideological, intellectual and artistic credentials.
But I wasn’t familiar with David Manicom (there’s a bio note and photo if you scroll down a bit on this page), whose 1991 poetry collection Theology of Swallows Kenney was carrying. Manicom works in Kenney’s department, as a top Citizenship and Immigration official in New Delhi. He’s an accomplished poet, a finalist for the 2004 Governor General’s award for his book The Burning Eaves.
I also turned up the text of a speech Manicom gave when he accepted an award in 2003 from the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, which includes this thought-provoking passage about the need to think rationally in the post-Sept. 11 epoch:
“We live on the edge of the Empire, at a great hinge between eras. Do you ever feel like the Enlightenment is slipping away, and the age of superstition is making a comeback?
“As a global society we focus relentlessly on microscopic risks like school playground equipment and one-in-a-billion Mad Cows and SARS and terrorism, in a world where tuberculosis kills 8,000 people a day and no one seems to give a damn and the eradication programs are underfunded. You can’t fight TB with a cruise missile, baby.
“Terrorism is a tiny threat? You bet it is. 9-11 tragically killed 3,000 Americans; many times that number have now died in the counterproductive wars in response; murder kills 20,000 Americans every year and man, that ain’t a priority; war in the Congo kills 3 million… and Sudan….”
And Manicom had these inspiring words to say, ostensibly about the work of a Canadian immigration official, but really about what the country should be:
“Our files are people. We deal in dreams, and disappointments, ambition and fraud, brilliance and lies, day in and day out. The people want to come to Canada. I sometimes think, and dare to hope, that they want to come to a place where holy warrior is an oxymoron, where there is no city shining on a hill, where the truths aren’t black and white, and where perceptions have some explaining to do.”
Seems to me it’s a good idea to have a few poets scattered through the public service.