Written by Penny Dunning
In Once, There was a Canal, Indianapolis poet Liza Hyatt tells the story of Indiana’s Irish immigrants who built the Wabash and Erie Canal. When completed, the Wabash and Erie was the 2nd largest canal in the world, connecting the Ohio River at Evansville to Lake Erie at Toledo, and opening the new state to commerce and settlement. Through narrative poetry, Hyatt weaves the voices of her ancestors, especially her great-great grandparents Daniel Heffernan and Catherine Meehan, into the frontier tapestry of 19th century America. During their lives as canal workers, Daniel and Kate traveled much of the path of the canal. They arrived, separately, in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1827, met and married in Lafayette, and followed canal work to southern Indiana, where they purchased farmland in Daviess County and raised a family of 12 children.
To imagine and write the story of her ancestors, Hyatt traveled the canal’s path through Indiana, conducting research and consulting with historians specializing in Indiana’s canal history. Her research for this project was funded through a 2016 Indiana Arts Commission Individual Artist Project grant.
Hyatt also developed poetry and Celtic harp performances (in the bardic style of old Ireland) based on Once There Was a Canal. She first performed her work at historic sites on the canal path as part of Indiana’s 2016 Bicentennial celebration. Many who attended these performances loved how the harp and poetry brought the canal era to life.
Liza Hyatt is the author of The Mother Poems (Chatter House Press, 2014), Under My Skin (WordTech Editions, 2012), Seasons of the Star Planted Garden (Stonework Press, 1999), Stories Made of World (Finishing Line Press, 2012), and Art of the Earth: Ancient Art for a Green Future (Authorhouse, 2007) an art-based eco-psychology workbook. Liza is an art therapist (ATR-BC, LMHC) who facilitates classes, workshops, readings, retreats, and therapeutic programs for numerous Indiana organizations.
This book will be available for purchase during Liza Hyatt’s performance of A Braided Story for My Irish Great-Great Grandmothers on Saturday, November 4, 2017 from 7 – 8 p.m. at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center. The storytelling performance inter-weaves both great-great grandmothers’ stories with her own.