As a relative newcomer to Nanaimo, Greg Skala said he has a heightened appreciation and interest in some of the overlooked aspects of his adoptive hometown.
“What I’ve come to believe is that a lot of people who have been here a long time take things for granted,” he said.
Skala, who retired to Nanaimo 11 years ago after 36 years as a teacher in Sooke, recently published his first book of poetry, Sweet Home Nanaimo.
The book is a collection of more than 100 poems inspired by the city, as well as photographs and commentary.
Skala published Sweet Home Nanaimo through the Harbourfront Library and it is available at the Nanaimo Museum and Art Gallery gift shops, Well Read Books, the Nanaimo Visitor Centre and the Nanaimo Airport’s Connection Café.
Skala calls the book a “labour of love.” He started accumulating the poems after his wife founded the writers group Pens Ultimate Nanaimo eight years ago. He’s since had his work published in group anthologies, but Sweet Home Nanaimo is his first solo book of poetry.
“Maybe it’s partly because I’m retired but I just feel so comfortable and I’ve enjoyed the history and the geography and the people in Nanaimo,” he said.
Some of the photos in the book highlight that history and geography. Upon arriving in Nanaimo, Skala was interesting in learning about the city’s coal-mining past.
He said the poems vary in style and subject matter, with some centred on historical events he learned through word of mouth by asking questions as a curious “new kid on the block.”
“There is a lot of humour in this – I’m mostly kind of a whimsical writer – but there are some very poignant pieces,” he said. “I think actually the best single poem in there is not lighthearted and it’s about mining history.”
In one poem he elaborates on a story about someone mistaking Nanaimo for the site of the 1958 Ripple Rock explosion that blew the peaks off a pair of underwater mountains in the Seymour Narrows near Campbell River.
“I expanded that into a poem that takes off on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, about how Nanaimo, in a sense, has come of age if we have rumours and legends about us,” he said.
Skala said he has plans to continue his writing, but he’ll be taking a break from expressing his civic pride.
“In fact, what’s been growing in me since this one has been produced is to write a book about chess, that’s another of my interests,” he said, while conceding, “I suspect that that one may be mostly of interest to my friends.”