Remembering Maxine, a poem of sorts

Guest post by Ian Porter, producer on CBC Radio’s Information Morning from 1983-1988

“How Maxine Tynes came to Information Morning on CBC Radio in the mid-1980s”

We needed her but didn’t know it.

One morning, after the show, she came to Sackville Street* and, asking for the producer, made her splendid way to our cluttered corner, sat down, putting her cane to one side, and settled her smile on us.  That smile that seemed to reach to the horizon.

My memory is of being charmed, despite myself.
She wanted to read her poems on the show.
Just one, to begin with, but more could follow?

And if we didn’t think so,  then . . . what was Peoples’ Radio for?

Oh, yes, she knew what we needed better than ourselves.

New words, new images, new voices are oxygen for radio. Different voices. Accents and argot. Odd turns of phrase,  the speech of  streets and neighbourhoods.  The words of all those restless in their place.  

These are sounds of the times, for sure, of any times … but not much reflected in the confident, white, manly tones of the show back then.

So we needed her. And on radio her voice was unforgettable. Harmonious, clear, her words issuing from the
speakers with the urgent intensity of memories, images, feelings caught just so. The stuff of her poetry.

Do poems change anything?
Maxine came on the air in Ronald Reagan times, her voice filtered through an international screen of news and views of the push-back against the struggle for civil rights.

And so she spoke to those times, as a woman of African heritage, a Black woman who celebrated her legacy in poems about everything from hand-woven baskets at the market to the “cloud Afro” hair styles in Borrowed Beauty.  Her most marked loyalty, though, was to the “womanquest” and to – in her words – “the Saturday standing armies” of  Black  women working In Service to clean south-end mansions to sustain life and survival for their north-end families.

Maxine helped change the sound with which so many Nova Scotians start their days. Like  the school marm she also was, she reminded us of homework to be done, of debts overlooked, of respect to be paid.  But her tone, never harsh, remains an invitation to share her poet’s vision of a beauty come of age. 

* CBC Radio broadcast for many years from studios on Sackville street across from the Citadel Hill.

WFNS’s new Nova Scotia Poetry Award has been named in honour of Maxine Tynes. On May 13, 2021, the inaugural award was presented to Tammy Armstrong for her collection Year of the Metal Rabbit (Gaspereau Press) at the Atlantic Book Awards Gala.  Fundraising for the Maxine Tynes Nova Scotia Poetry Award endowment continues, and donations are welcome.

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