Private Eye Poet At Large

By Judee Fong

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What is a private-eye/poet to do when stopped by a policeman for speeding? "Read him a poem, of course," smiles Wendy Morton, speaking from experience. "If you're lucky, he likes it and won't write you a ticket!"

A non-drinking, non-smoking, vegetarian, Wendy seems the unlikeliest-looking detective. She describes herself as an insurance investigator who looks into personal injury claims. "That's all I do. I don't skulk around," she emphasizes. "There's a paper trail, but there's a human-trail, too. I basically talk to people - friends, neighbours and the injured party themselves." Smiling, Wendy adds, "People don't mind talking to me since I sort of look like Miss Marple. My job is to find out what this person was like before his injury." Laughing, Wendy says, "No, I didn't answer any ads. My ex-husband was an insurance adjuster. I started helping him with his claims and I learned about the business, so I decided to get my provincial private investigator's licence. Twenty-seven years later, the work has been okay!" Thoughtfully, Wendy adds, "I can't talk specifics, but this is the most interesting job anyone can ever have. Sometimes, it feels like I'm in the middle of a novel!" In her memoirs, *Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast*, Wendy writes, "I know a lot about dog grooming, diamond drillers, S&M establishments, green chain workers, cruise ship entertainers, the nature of head injuries and soft tissue damage. Sometimes, I call myself a 'reality checker' but the realities I have discovered, have gone far beyond anything I could have imagined."

Wendy's poetry saves her from viewing the world around her with a cynical eye. Her S&M file inspired her cheeky poem "Spanking With Cabbage."

"Being a poet is similar to being an investigator. I try to make sense of things by observing," says Wendy, thoughtfully.

A few of Wendy's books, *Private Eye*, *Gumshoe*, *Undercover* and *Shadowcatcher* have sold quickly because her descriptive, storytelling short poems paint a perfect vignette of the world she sees around her and the people she meets who inspire her. The titles slyly point to her other profession.

Believing in the impossible, Wendy says, "My poetry has become a currency for me. It's OK if someone says 'no' to being a sponsor. You never know until you ask." In her memoirs, Wendy writes about her incredible journey of spreading her poetry in unexpected places across Canada, sponsored by an airline, a luxurious hotel chain, a vitamin company, a camera store and a major car company.

In 2003, while promoting her book, *Undercover*, Wendy happily passed out free poetry books, read a poem to strangers or wrote a short personal poem for a new-found friend. She called this "a random act of poetry."

"Each time I read a poem to a stranger, I felt a connection. I believe a poem is the shortest distance between two hearts." From this spontaneous experience, Wendy realized how much poetry meant to people and she set about organizing poets from coast to coast, who would do random acts of poetry in their cities. This will be the sixth year for this event. Victoria READ Society, Canada Council and Abebooks supports the October event, which has expanded to a celebration of literacy where poets visit ESL classes, adult literacy and schools.

Wendy cheerfully tells the story of Glen Sorestad, Saskatchewan's Poet Laureate who wrote a poem for his waitress. "After he read it to her, she ran into the kitchen and shouted, 'I've been poemed by the Poet Laureate! We now pass out stickers that says, 'I've been poemed!'"

Demonstrating poetry is fun; teacher Lynne Lott and Wendy held a two-day workshop with students from Bayview Middle School and Lau Welnew Tribal School. From that first enthused workshop, the students' poems were compiled in a book, *We Can Say This*, and currently used in schools across Canada. To show the diversity of its students, some of their poems were translated into Filipino, Vietnamese, Italian and Chinese. Since then, a second book has been published with a third in-progress.

Wendy is quick to agree that poetry may not appeal to everyone. "Poems should be read aloud. It should make you sing or laugh or feel," she declares. Wendy launches into her "Rosie" story: "I met Rosie when she called me from CBC to discuss doing some podcasts. When she said, 'My name is Rosie Fernandez,' I immediately said to her, 'If I had a name like Rosie Fernandez, my life would have been entirely different.' I wrote this fun poem for her and we became good friends." Last December, Wendy received a phone call that made her poet's heart sing. A small winery in Ontario requested the use of "If I Had A Name Like Rosie Fernandez" for one of their Poet's Series labels. Laughing with delight, Wendy says, "That was one of the highlights of my poet career. Of course, I said 'yes!' Now, Rosie's famous on bottles of Cabernet Merlot!"

In July 2009, Wendy's latest book, *What Were Their Dreams* will be launched at Port Alberni's Forest Fest. "I think this is a pretty important book about the First Nations and the early pioneer families. There's a lot of history in the archival photographs and journals from the Alberni Valley Museum," Wendy says.  She is also rewriting an updated version of her out-of-print *Earth Market Cookbook*, published over 20 years ago.

With book tours, private investigations, Planet Earth Poetry nights, school tours, random acts of poetry and organizing the November Patrick Lane's Poets' Retreat, Wendy's smile says it all. "I wouldn't be doing this if I wasn't having fun and enjoying myself. You see, you have to believe in impossible things and work to make them happen."

For information on Wendy's books or Patrick Lane's Poets' Retreat, e-mail 
Planet Earth Poetry Nights are Friday evenings at 7:30 p.m. at the Black Stilt Coffee House, 1633 Hillside Ave.



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