Prince Albert writers find their voice

Cec Bendle reads one of his poems at the library on December 3, 2018. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Storytelling has always come easy for Carrie Stene.

The Prince Albert teacher said it’s a way to deal with stress. When she moved to Prince Albert, looking for a new start, she started writing a novel. Looking for mentorship, she reached out to Lynda Monahan. That’s how Stene became a participant in the John M. Cuelenaere Public Library’s writer in residence program.

While working with Monahan, Stene never thought of herself as a poet.

One day, that all changed.

“Different things were happening in my life,” Stene said. “Suddenly, in the middle of the night, I would be writing poetry.”

Stene was one of several writers mentored by Monahan who read some of their work at the library Monday. The evening was a celebration of local talent and an opportunity for local writers to share their often deeply-personal work.

Stene read a poem she wrote as her mother was dying.

“I keep a notebook by my bed because I get ideas in the middle of the night,” she said.

“All of a sudden I was writing these mm poems while my mom was dying and then after she died. In the middle of the night, upon waking up, I would scribble them down.”

Over the summer, Stene typed up the poems written in her notebook and sent then to Monahan.

“She loved it,” Stene said. “It didn’t require a lot of work. It just came out the right way.”

Monahan was like that with everything Stene sent her way.

“Everything I’d give her _ children’s books, songs, poetry, creative non-fiction — she’s always encouraging, works with it, and helps me keep going,” Stene said.

“It’s so meaningful to have someone like Lynda who just listens and encourages you to keep doing it. She knows all my stories. Every time I bring her writing, it’s based on something that’s actually happened to me. I feel so connected to her.”

Monahan is happy to be able to provide that encouragement to other local writers.

“I’ve always loved to work with other writers, so this just gave me an opportunity to do more of what I love to do,” she said.

I see the value in writing. I know how it can save people’s lives, as I feel that it saved my own. It’s a chance to help people tell their stories. We are our stories … so I’m lucky to be able to help people find those stories.”

Monahan said she has been inspired by all the writers she’s met. The surrounding area is full of talent, she said, calling it a “privilege” to have had the time to work with the writers.

“Most people, if they want to write, they just need a little bit of encouragement,” she said.

One of those people is Cec Bendle.

Bendle is no stranger to rhyming verse, written word or public speaking. But until he met Monahan, he wasn’t one to share what he had put down on the page.

“I’ve been writing off and on for my own edification since high school — probably 60 years,” he said.

It wasn’t until 2014 that he stood up and presented it to an audience. Mostly, he writes creative non-fiction, such as stories, vignettes or character sketches. But Monday, Bendle presented poetry.

“I grew up on rhyming renaissance poetry,” he said. “Both my parents could compose a rhyming verse. My sister and I, we lived in a rural area. We’d walk a mile-and-a-half home from school. She would challenge me. ‘OK Cec, if you want a word with me it has to be in rhyming.’ Not only in rhyme, but the metre had to be there.

“I’ve done a bit of it all my life … reluctant to share it with anyone.”

It’s not that Bendle has been shy. He has enjoyed public speaking and acting in local productions. But sharing his own writing in front of others is a much different task.

“Often in our writing, we’re baring a part of our soul. It’s (overcoming) the reticence of exposing an inner portion of yourself. That’s the most difficult thing.”

For others, that sharing can be very empowering. Stene finds that by sharing her writing, she’s able to lessen the burden she carries herself.

“it sounds cliché, but the thoughts bleed onto the paper in a way. You’re holding all of this inside of you, and it seems like if you put it on paper, you don’t have to hold it all yourself anymore,” she said.

“Other people hear it and they hold it too. I don’t have to carry the entire burden of it. A way of dealing with the trauma in your life is to write it down.”

For Bendle, it comes down to the age-old question of “why am I afraid to tell you who I am?

“It’s strange, it’s hard to explain,” he said.

Often, when you write as an adult, you’re sharing some inner part of yourself. It’s innate.

“That’s what compels you to do it in the first place.”