Posthumous poetry book leaves behind precious gift for W.I. family

François Lemieux
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Anthology to be launched Thursday at Lester B. Pearson School Board office in Dorval

Linda and Jennifer Conn proudly hold the poetry book by late Peter Conn, written in the last five years of his life. The book will be launched at the Lester B. Pearson School Board head office on Nov. 15 at 5 p.m. Photo by Rob Amyot.

When 71-year-old Pointe Claire resident Peter Conn died of multiple sclerosis in September, a disease that crippled him for the better part of two decades, he left a precious gift behind to friends and family. For the last five years, Conn had been creating poetry about living with the disease.

He wrote about the simple things, the important things to a man with faltering health, the things we tend not to appreciate when we’re healthy; the interaction with people, the observations he made about human nature and nature itself, which he watched from his nursing-home bedroom window.

“Part of it is the things he saw from his window when he was isolated. The interaction he had with people, the way he dealt with his disease, the isolation, the pain he was in. And some are really happy things like the things he appreciated. The things we see every day that we don't appreciate,” said his daughter Jennifer who lives in Beaconsfield.

“It is a different perspective. It was a unique way of looking at the world and looking at things in nature. He was very interested in nature. He looked outside his window at the trees changing colour or at the flowers blooming in the garden... He wrote very movingly about these things,” said his good friend Jim Heywood from Senneville.

Conn’s writing turned into a poetry book published by Shoreline Press, which will be launched Nov. 15 at the Lester B. Pearson School Board head office at 5 p.m. The public is invited to this event. Conn's daughter could not be more proud.

“I'm very proud. And I'm very lucky that I'm left with a book about the things he was feeling and thinking that sometimes he couldn't convey to people because of his pain level,” she said.

The book, 'Daily Oddities and Miracles,' represents the last chapter in a busy man’s life who did everything in his power to stay active after the disease progressively took over his life. After he took a leave of absence his job as French-instruction consultant from the then-Lakeshore School Board 20 years ago, he took up photography and painting. When that was no longer possible, he began writing.

When he retired to a nursing home two years ago, the pain was sometimes so much to bear that he’d sometimes need 10 minutes to write a single word.

“He had general neuropathic pain on a daily basis.  Each word he wrote was laborious and it took him approximately three times as long as it would take you or me to write one word. This was mostly due to the numbness in his hands/fingers that got worse and worse as time went on,” Jennifer said.

The launch that will take place later this month would never have been if it wasn’t for Conn’s friend, Jim Heywood, who persuaded him to get his poems organized and published. Conn was reticent but Heywood insisted as he felt his friend’s writing deserved a wider audience.

“As I read his poetry, I began to realize he was really profound in many ways, very skilled and very interesting. He depicted a world of hospital sassing where he was bedridden but still able to see all kinds of things other people couldn’t see. His poetry is still very positive and enlightening. It demonstrates a good deal of insight into human nature. He watched people from his bed or wheelchair and he enjoyed interacting with people very much. From that kind of interaction, he began to write what I consider to be some really important poetry,” said Heywood.

Organizations: Lester B. Pearson School Board, Shoreline Press, Lakeshore School Board

Geographic location: Dorval, Pointe Claire, Peter Conn Beaconsfield Senneville

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  • Jason Miles
    November 09, 2012 - 21:37

    A touching story about a beautiful family.

  • Graeme Dunn
    November 09, 2012 - 13:35

    Hi Jen, lovely article. Has been interesting and touching to watch all your FB photos of Tia and your dad interacting over the years. It never fails to amaze me how much the MS patients at UCL Hosp still always manage to interact and input their character and personality into their surroundings despite their rehabilitating illness. Your pop looked like a lovely bloke! Well done on the book. Graeme! x