By Carley Dangona
WEST SPRINGFIELD – Local poet Laura Chagnon can’t read her own poems, but that hasn’t prevented her from compiling a book of her work.
During a visit to Boston, Chagnon, then 26, was left for dead after a stranger brutally assaulted her. The incident left her legally blind and quadriplegic. Her parents were told they would have to institutionalize her.
“It was a senseless act of violence,” Chagnon said. “I never had any anger. I don’t really understand that emotion. If I weren’t in a wheelchair, I would have missed out on so many things. I’m grateful I’m in this situation. My fate wouldn’t be what it is today.”
She explained that she might not have become a poet and would not have met the friends she has if her life had it gone differently. One lesson she took away from the incident is to enjoy life. “Love your life, it’s the only one you have,” she said.”
Now 50, Chagnon writes everyday with the help of her parents and caregivers. She has written more than 5,000 poems and now serves as the church poet for First Park Memorial Baptist Church in Springfield. She has been published in the Springfield Journal, The Republican and Prime Magazine. In the 1990s, five of her poems were featured in a United Way of Pioneer Valley campaign.
“I’m thrilled. It’s been a long-time dream [to be published]. One of the biggest goals in life was to share my words with the world,” she said.
Chagnon’s eyesight is such that she has to memorize her poems in order to read them at events, a difficult task since she suffered short-term memory loss after the attack. Her goal is to take all the poems she has memorized – 30 so far – and perform them all in a single poetry reading.
“My whole life I was a writer, but [American poet] Mary Oliver opened a whole new world to me,” Chagnon said. “Writing is powerful and very necessary. I can’t imagine life without writing. It’s how I travel – the possibilities are limitless.”
Her faith in God provides the most inspiration for Chagnon’s poems. She also loves to sit outside in the summer and get ideas from the natural landscape surrounding her, especially at twilight.
All of the proceeds from the book will be donated to Chagnon’s church. She will not be accepting a penny from the project. She said it’s the least she could do to support a place that has brought her such joy.
“Before I started going to church, I always felt God’s presence, but even more since the accident,” Chagnon commented, adding that many of the poems she wrote prior to the accident were about God and spirituality.
She said, “I very grateful, very honored [for my ability to write]. It’s like God is with me always.”
Rev. Janet Sandquist-Skagerlind, pastor First Park Memorial, said, “Laura is incredibly special. There’s so much I could say … here is a women that had this profound tragedy and she’s always saying good things about everybody. It is rare to find someone than you know the spirit of God is with them – Laura wears it on her sleeve.”
She added that the congregation is “blessed” to have Chagnon as a parishioner and that her poems “bring people together and build fellowship.”
Chagnon credited her parents Wayne and Carole for their support and love. “My parents mean the world to me. They’ve sacrificed a lot and given me a lot,” she stated.
“In the beginning, my mom typed everything,” Chagnon said, noting that she has hundreds of notebooks full of poems.
“My dad is an angel, I swear. He’s the first person I see every morning,” she said.
Thomas Damoulakis has served as Chagnon’s primary caregiver for many years. The two have known each other since 2000. He assisted Laura with the selection of the poems for the book and helps promote its release. Damoulakis wrote the biography for the book and came up with the title.
“The best thing you can do in life is give. What you give, you get twofold. It’s satisfying to help connect the dots [for this project]. She did the hard part,” he said.
“Never Touched a Pen,” will feature 60 of Chagnon’s poems. Illustrations by Scottish youth pastor John Morris will accompany Chagnon’s poetry.
The book is available for pre-order online at www.civinmediarelations.com/Laura-Chagnon-Never-Touched-a-Pen.html
. She is scheduled to appear on “Mass Appeal” on May 12.