In May 2010, Derrick La Saga moved to Yellowknife, leaving behind a relationship in Newfoundland that had left him feeling, as he puts it, like his “heart [was] being ripped out his ass.” He settled into a city where he knew no one. It was hard; upon his arrival he “went through really difficult feelings of isolation,” he tells EDGE. But his life steadily moved from chaos to discourse. He’s a fuel truck driver for Superior Propane, and now, a self-published poet with a glowing back-cover quote from NWT literary bigwig Richard Van Camp for his new book, The Quest for that Final Horizon. Last week he performed his first public reading at NorthWord’s open mike Flash event.
His book, a collection of work written over the last 15 years, is more therapeutic then traditionally poetic, and Derrick, not a traditional Northern literary figure, is happy to divulge the aspects of his background that fueled his writing.
His interest in poetry started in a high school literature class in Stephenville, Newfoundland, where it offered escape from a difficult home life. After graduation, Derrick enrolled into college in Cornerbrook to pursue forestry. It was a vocation choice made under his parent’s influence.
He spent nine short months in the program before dropping out. He described this time as a period of discovery. After growing up sheltered, under the watchful eyes of his parents, he felt like his time would be better spent exploring this new freedom, catching up on the experiences he missed out on and exploring his curiousity.
So he moved to Ontario, where he worked as a steel constructionist for five years and met a man 16 years his senior, with whom he entered into a realtionship. Even though he experienced a degree of homophobia from co-workers and families, it was the destructive social circle he found himself in that led him back to Newfoundland, where in March 2010 he completed his degree in construction and electrician.
The move to Yellowknife was purely motivated by career prospects. The first year for Derrick was difficult, financially and socially. He was barely making ends meet, getting his parents to sell his things in Newfoundland to send money his way. After a year, things began to look up. He met his wife, Lynn, entered a 12-step program for his alcohol abuse and sought diagnoses for his mental health. “Knowing is half the battle,” he says. Now he enjoys his time living in two, quite differing worlds: one of a Superior propane truck driver, and the other as a nascent writer.
His upcoming project focuses on his own experiences within the gay community in Ontario. “In that community there’s a lot of things based on looking young, and always being on the go, and sex is really overemphasized,” he says.
While Derrick is certainly not the usual Northern Literary Type, he has this to say about the scene: “The thing about YK is it’s a melting pot. But when art is only about the North all the time, it intensifies the remote or isolated feelings.” He finds the focus on Northern art is restrictive, but enjoyed his recent involvement with the writer’s festival: “you can share pieces about anything. The more people who get involved, the broader the arts community can become.”
What are your earliest memories of Yellowknife?
The earliest memories I have of Yellowknife are riding my bike. I didn’t have a vehicle then, so I’d hop on my bike and ride to work and then back. I just remember the scenery. Oh and when I began to drive my truck for work. The feeling when you were on the road and all you saw was the horizon, the sun never really set, it was so beautiful, and all your worries from home to your destination didn’t exist. I remember that.
What’s your favourite thing about Yellowknife?
All the opportunities. Down south you don’t really get that. Up here for example, I can have four or five roles in my job that otherwise would be split between that many workers in the south. There’s a lot of room for learning and gaining experience. A time to flex versatility.
Also, you can just get a lot more done with less competition. I just walked into the and told them about my book and they said “Great, we’d love to review your book” and I did the same with the radio station and got in for an on-air interview the next day. You just don’t get that down south. There’s so much more opportunity here.
What’s your least favourite thing about Yellowknife?
The wealth divide. Real estate and rent and the like are oriented for people who make a lot of money. But for those who don’t it’s hard to make it here. Unless you have a university degree or anything, you won’t get the wage to pay for rent and to eat.
How do you spend your winters?
I write a lot. Go to the gym. I like to torture my cat – not actually torture, you know – just cuddle up with her until she starts to feel nervous and then I let her go. But I usually spend a lot of time inside and write.
How do you spend your summers?
I write a lot. I’ve done my best writing during the summer. There’s this place that I go that looks over the water. It reminds me a lot of Newfoundland. I miss the scenery there. I miss grass and thick forests. I haven’t done much outdoors stuff in the past few years but there is something surreal about the rocks here. Just how barren and raw everything is. It’s real unique.
What kind of opportunities have you found in Yellowknife that you don’t think you’d find elsewhere?
To find myself. To really get to know myself. Yellowknife is very isolated, expensive and hard to make long-term good friends in. Being up here forced me to develop my interests and hobbies because of the lack of other options or distractions. In that time of developing my own talents and skills, I was able to find who I was professionally and individually.
Are you a Yellowknife Lifer?
I’m not sure. I would like to say yes, but it all depends on my wife. See, she has some career ambitions that might lead us elsewhere than Yellowknife. So for now, I’ll say I don’t know.