A line comes to mind, an image, a quote, a throwaway comment, an intriguing word, and a poet realizes a poem has to come out of it. At least that an attempt must be made. What the poem will be, its shape and content, even its theme, might be unknown. The poem starts to be made, another line, a word follows, coming as if out of the air. If I have an idea for a poem and know where it is going, I might as well forget it. My interest is gone.
This isn’t how all poems are made, but it’s an interesting way to work. Underneath all the thinking and making, a poem may end up being about something deep in the subconscious, something important that has been waiting for a platform.
But since a poem is a made thing, it can be approached in many ways, the way a child looks at the materials available and without thinking, begins to make or build. We grow out of it; as adults simple playing can be embarrassing. Adult play sometimes narrows to games of one sort or another.
The poem at the start of the rabbit collection, ‘where language forms’ had several beginnings. I’ve written poetry for many years in the Japanese forms of haiku and tanka, among others. In three or five small lines, the poet often is conscious of using juxtaposition, of not following a thought in what many would consider a logical way. Something magical can happen by having a reader or listener make their own leap between two written concepts.
Another ‘brick’ in the building of this poem is my collection of pretty well anything that comes to my attention, via book, facebook, conversation, television or radio, basically I’m like the bird that collects things becaus they are blue or shiny. I collect words in various arrangements.
When I started writing lyric poems like this, it confused me. How do such disparate sets of words seem to work for me. They didn’t seem to work for some in a critique group. But some juxtapositions took hold ‘in my gut’, and insisted on staying together.
In this case, the poem started with the second verse, a quote from Lewis Carroll, and when it came to continuing the adventure, I decided to play and find lines that were noteworthy, colourful, or lines that I wanted to read over and over. Well, I’d think, let’s put that into a poem, see if I’m still interested in what I’m making.
It reminds me of Mary Dalton’s Hooking: A Book of Centos, and being astounded how lines from other poet’s work fit together because the poems ask readers to use their own intelligence and sensitivity to make meaning from a poem. Because I wanted to make my own leaps, and my own meaning.
So it was that ‘a hint of the philosophy behind the southern drawl/ sweet and delicious as falling into butterscotch’ from the mystery writer Barbara D’Amato, was so delicious and buttery that it need something to ‘stop the story’ because ‘the lens of our mother tongue changes it’, a quote from Czeslaw Milosz.
In the same way, singer/songwriter Adam Lambert’s ‘broken pieces break into me’, is true to Shakespeare’s ‘this our life, exempt from public haunt’.
The critical point is when all the pieces are in the right position, and the maker realizes what the poem may be about, discovers a central meaningful idea. Here the flexibility of language, the freedom of it, how curious it can be, how what a biologist with expertise in parrot-ology has to say is of equal merit to that of a well known poet or philosopher, how the one expression can deepen the richness of another all spoke of shadows, memories, the everyday realities we live with.
The first two lines are mine and they came after the rest of the building blocks had rearranged themselves into a comfortable room in this language house. As ‘poem’ comes from the Greek poíēma, meaning a ‘thing made,’ and a poet defined in ancient terms as ‘a maker of things’ it’s comforting for me to remember that a poem is a strange thing which operates as nothing else in the world does.
Yehuda Amichai’s lines about an old toolshed, saying so much about how we can ‘read’ a toolshed as a toolshed, or spend time to read more deeply, and discover that a toolshed is love, and a great love at that, leaves me with so much more to consider about language and ways a great love can be dismissed or discovered in the most unlikely places. I also like his lines there, to hand every time I open this collection, so I can read them and appreciate them as often as I want to.
Next time, I’ll try to figure out why a more narrative poem in the collection went where it went, and why, and why I wanted to keep it. Because a narrative poem, too, is a made thing.
So here is rabbit, taken from the last long poem in this collection. rabbit is my very own leporid.
Every once in a while, you get the feeling that things are meant to be. Take this rabbit. I mean the one in the poem, the last long poem in the collection. rabbit just hopped into my life and meant something more to me than I realized, until something happened to make me realize it.
Many of us have rabbits in our yards. They are ubiquitous, in quiet colours, make hardly any sound, so why do we like them so much. Why then write about one, and deem it important enough to name a collection after it. All I know is that one particular rabbit was important, and it took writing about it to know why.
I may write about that in a later post. This is more about putting a group of poems together. What’s interesting is when you end up with a terrific editor who has suggestions and you look at, in this case, his suggestions, and you ponder, and you respond to them. When you have Allan Briesmaster as that editor, you quickly become aware of his alertness and sensitivity to the poetry, to the content, to his author, and to our readers. It is a very alive time. You feel listened to by someone with more than a poetic mind, someone who is looking at a whole book and how it fits together. Your book.
I am stubborn, ask anyone, but when it’s about a poem or a cover, I will offer reasons for that doggedness, always believing that I am right and that I have the best argument. It must have been hell for Allan at times, because he is, on top of everything else, a gentle man, and alert to his author’s delicate ego. I, on the other hand, have had very many years of building up to this moment. Like a three-year-old I pummel my fists and pound my heels on the floor, it’s my book! But, mostly, once he suggested where it could be improved, I usually quieted down and thought, well that’s exactly how it should go!
One question was whether it was a good idea to have so many different styles in a collection. We came to the conclusion that we both liked the idea. At first I was just so pleased to have him as editor as well as publisher that I was okay with every dropout suggested, especially as he always gave a reason for his suggestion. Some poems I fought for, and others were dropped. Then I found that I cared more than I thought I would. At times I had to argue my point more strongly, and to give Allan credit, he was impressed by a good argument, something to remember if you are lucky enough to publish with Aeolus. But be ready to back up your stance. Very ready.
I was surprised at how I dug my heels in a couple of times. It made me think more than I usually do about what I do and why I do it. What words I write and how I put them together and why. We get so little chance to talk about our own poems. As a member of two excellent critique groups, The Other Tongues and The Ruby Tuesday group, I benefit from having other poets’ eyes on a poem, and from feedback. I then benefit from looking at the work of others, and bending my lazy mind to understanding and expressing what I think and feel about the poems of others. It’s excellent practice.
But talk about our own poem, where it came from, why it is in the form presented, the motives behind it and what we actually thought we were doing when we put those words down, why our lines end where they do and the reason for the distribution of white space, any philosophy or personal histories that brought us to this point, well, there isn’t enough time to do that thoroughly. And I couldn’t do that, you say to yourself. It’s so self serving, isn’t it? And really, there’s no time for it all to be about me. But there are times we want to say more, times we are exploding with it.
Because there are times when reading someone else’s collection, we are wondering about those particular things. When I read an essay about a poet and their work, I am pleased to see a little more elucidation, something about a poet’s background, whether the garret had an electric heater, what they thought about sex. Something about their educational background, or the history of the period in which they lived.
It’s like knowing why a cook uses olive oil instead of butter, or how the colours of an oil painting have changed in the past centuries. In understanding the clockworks, or why a poet uses an expression like ‘Charlie bit me!’, the context makes the poem clearer and more accessible.
So I’m going to talk about this collection. And maybe a little about me. Horrors! You might choose to unfriend me or unfollow my blog. Better do that now, because the next post is going to be about MY poems, and why. Just wait until I start writing about making gas from coal. Oh, sorry, that’s my next collection. Right now, it’s all about rabbit.
Before I close this post though, a short tale. Once I knew Aeolus was going to publish rabbit, I started to think of cover ideas. That very day, on facebook, I saw a photograph posted by a ceramicist friend in readiness for a craft fair: it was a little rabbit sculpture, and the rabbit looked so vulnerable, so fragile and breathtaking, that I needed to bring it home immediately, and ask Allan if it could be on the cover. I messaged that I wanted to purchase the rabbit and I did. The artist is Lanark’s Molly Forsythe and her email is in the book. I am so happy about this! A professional photo was made and cleaned up (three hours!) by Chuck Willemsen of Merrickville, a close friend and the husband of one of my dearest friends, Lesley Strutt, poet and Young Adult author. I feel wrapped in friendship with this sculpture on the cover of rabbit. Thank you. You are all such very special people.
But back to me. Beware. Next post will be all about me and MY poems. And my rabbit.
The highlight that happened on February 29th, 2020, was composed of fifteen poets willing to go along with me as facilitator, suggesting things to do with words, ways to manage words, ways to wrangle with sets of words on the page, arrangements of words and white space, and risk with phrases. The highlight was a highlight because of several elements. The first big one was the welcome in the home of poets Angela Leuck and Steve Luxton, though Steve was away that weekend. The second was savouring this little village in a hilly area of the Eastern Townships, when the snow was thigh high, and the whole world there white and clean and illuminated by sun. It was cold, but even in the dark, the air was so clear, it sifted through a person leaving a more refreshed being.
What else to say. The cliché of crackling fire, food, oh the food. And this was the day before the workshop, poets sitting around, one from Montreal, one from Ottawa and me from Carleton Place, west of Ottawa. Before I left, I was my husband Ted wondered why I would travel for four and a half hours in winter for one afternoon workshop, but I sensed somehow that those nine hours of driving would bracket an amazing experience, and I was right. You have to be a writer to understand, I suppose.
When the poets started to arrive, they were welcomed with some blessing cards made by Sheryl Taylor, which fit in beautifully as a welcome, and because we would be composing a blessing poem later, though Sheryl hadn’t known that. The room we were to work in was a writers’ muse in itself. Long, with many windows, the view, the trees around the property. It was a room partially walled with books, floored with warm wood, filled with interesting tables and places to sit. Part of the room can be seen in the first photo, but not the sunny warmth. And I think my serious/sour look gives the wrong impression. As long as the other poets look happier, and they do.
I’d been to a workshop given the weekend before by Mark Tredinnick of Australia (see the post before this…)who’d suggested we could write a poem about fifty words for snow as one of the constraints. (another constraint had been to write it as a ten-line poems, with ten syllables in each line, which I never managed to accomplish, though others did…) but the idea of fifty words for snow hinged itself into my brain, and on coming home from that workshop, I was too wired to sleep and found myself listing words for snow, many of them outrageous, silly, unsuitable; I couldn’t sleep until the list was 12 notebook pages long. So I thought I’d read some of this list to open the workshop, to show how fluid this idea could be, to show that the imagination could take over and create fantasies, how rhyming elements can stir ideas..
So after introducing ourselves to ourselves I started: glister snow, crow snow, lawful snow, awful snow, hipster snow, moon glow snow, wet sock snow, boot snow, cute snow, blown snow, store window snow, snow globe snow, fractious snow, glazed snow, ankle-biting snow, igloo snow, melting snow, about to melt snow, pelting snow, snowball snow (you get the idea snow).
My list ‘poem’ was so ridiculous, and the chanting element caught on. I suggested they start their lists with as little thinking as possible, and quick writing. After a few minutes I suggested we read in round-robin one after the other, if they wished to join in, and they did. The sound was joyous and fun and relaxing. I inveigled one poet to send her list to me and, with some joint editing, Carolynn Rafman came up with:
hints of snowflakes
hint of snowflake snow
blowing on river snow
snow squall snow
fast highway driving snow
windshield wiper snow
blinding blizzard snow
invisible car snow
morning after snow
snowmobile track snow
snowy woods snow
snowshoeing through woods snow
snowshoeing in mountains snow
snow track snow
winter wonderland snow
whispering pine tree snow
alone in deep woods snow
snow day snow! …
…which is glorious! And rhythmic and mind-loosening. (I am not including the whole list as she may want to publish it and showing the whole poem means it would have been published. It makes a difference to some journal editors that only take unpublished poems.)
So the workshop started with an explosion of unusual ideas and language, and I hope the poets continue with their snow word list poems. It was time to knuckle down, because these poets were good, and they were up for more meaty work, even the vegetarians.
Next I let each choose a box from my bag. It didn’t matter what kind of a box it was. Boxes from tea, clear boxes from pens bought at Indigo, little ring boxes lined with velvet. I was The Voice, and the participants were to imagine they’d awoken to find themselves small enough to sit inside the box, cross-legged, in a corner, their head just touching the cover with the lid not completely closed. How did they feel finding themselves in that Kafkaesque situation. They were to jot down only fragments, short phrases, and write them quickly. The questions and suggestions followed one on top of the other. Stretch your arms. What can you touch. How does it feel? How do you feel. What can you see? Are there textures. What are you thinking? Are there colours. Sounds. Smells. Start to get up, kneel, look outside your box. What do you see. Etc… Then write a poem using some or all of those jottings.
Again, I’d love to show some of the poems written after that. I would insert them later if they are still on their way to me. For some, this was a difficult and even frightening exercise. I’ll have to take that into account if I ever decided to do it again with a group.
Some poets had wanted comments on poems written before the workshop. They sent them to me and I’d pencilled in possible edits, comments, general suggestions. Before the break, I asked if they wanted to read the poems to the group, but they wanted me to read them aloud, so I did with commentary. It was a good opportunity to talk about shape and space in poems, line length and endings, effects of enjambment, of short and longer lines, and to bring out the gems I’d found in the poems. The poems deserved more than this, but there was time to have individual discussions during the break. They all wanted those marked-up poems back. I hope they could read my messy writing.
Marjorie Bruhmuller has let me include her edited poem here. Again, for the same reason, I only give part of it:
Deep into ‘Cowboys and Indians’ in the 60s
we never thought about
shooting off our guns.
Ours were magical, couldn’t kill a fricking toad.
But now I imagine my mother watching
from the kitchen window
as we played; the aim, the fire, the KABOOM!
The hit, the roll, us dead on the lawn
with a tongue out.
She told us later how after leaving her house
one day as a girl in England, she noticed
as she rounded the corner,
a whole block leveled, the people gone in their sleep,
despite the air-raid sirens,
a nightmare becoming fact.
How war had outlasted the toilet paper, sugar
and egg rations, outlasted the young men
in the villages, who never returned.
Outlasted everything but hope—
This was a poem that she reorganized after discussing form, and it works beautifully. I love the use of the word fricking and the details like dead on the lawn/ with a tongue out.
You can tell by now the spirit and creativity in that room. I was flabbergasted by what they were coming up with.
I read excerpts from Mark Tredinnick’s A Gathered Distance, for rhythm among other things, and discussed the in percentage terms the relationship of ‘setting’ to ‘emotion’.
It was time for translations. I gave them a poem of Tomas Tranströmer in his original Swedish, and explained the rational of writing their own translations.
FRÅN MARS – 79
Trött på alla som kommer med ord, ord men inget spark
for jag till den snötäckta ön.
Det vilda har inga ord.
De oskrivna sidorna breder ut sig åt alla håll!
Jag stöter på sparen av rådjursklövar i snön.
Språk men inga ord.
None spoke or read that language. They had such inventive minds, and after a round of sharing, I gave them the following Japanese tanka in romaji:
Kasasagi no Wataseru hashi ni Oku shimo no Shiroki o mireba Yo zo fuke ni keru
Tsukuba ne no Mine yori otsuru Minano-gawa Koi zo tsumorite Fuchi to nari nuru
Emperor Yozei In
…and suggested they translate either one. These poets were such good sports! Again, marvellous things were shared.
And finally, I’d brought a memoir with me, The Organist, by Mark Abley of Pointe Clare, Quebec, that focused on his life with his parents. His father had been a well-known organist. Mark had included a poem about the father/son/mother relationship as he’d seen it in 1964. It begins:
Mother and Son
You are the voice in the kitchen singing;
I am the smell of new-washed linen
in a summer bedroom with the window open
before drowsiness tucks me in and silence falls.
You are the ladies’ book club member;
I am the furtive reader of Anatomy
of a Murder . You are the steady
towel beside the bathtub…
My suggestion was to write a similar poem about any personal relationship. I wish I had some of the poems written for this; they were very good. Fortunately Bernice Sorge sent me an edit of a poem read out that day:
this witnessing involves a pickup truck
four men, a grandmother
her 14 year old granddaughter Aisha
a policeman who was driving the pickup
to a stadium in Somalia
the granddaughter who was raped
in a small village
and maybe the radio program
I heard when working in studio
interviewing a man
who lost his arm in a car bombing
helping Mandela in the anti-apartheid
did I mention that the stadium
could hold one thousand people
its playing field covered in sand and grass
with stones lying about
the pickup is part of this story…
Her poem ‘Aisha’, which had been quite long with very short lines, needed some breathing space, especially as the content was so emotionally gripping. She is still working on further edits. Poems like this leave me without words…
I was delighted when another poet wrote of the relationship of two sides of herself. Poems read out were between sisters, brothers, partners, parents. Those who wished to, shared their poems; the emotions and insights that poured out were varied and exciting, with not a cliché in sight, and these poems happened at the very end of a long afternoon. These poets gave of their all, and then some.
I gave out the actual translations for the poems above, in case anyone really wanted them. I was left with a feeling that the poets had written themselves out, but in a good way. They were incredible people to work with.
We headed for the kitchen and a pot luck spread that dazzled the eyes. How could we ignore our eyes that were bigger than our bellies? It was really beyond description because the flavours and textures were so memorable, and I have no idea how these dishes were created. These were no ordinary vegetable curries, salads, quiches. I drool thinking back to them. A three star pot luck dinner! And then…I’ve been watching what I eat for a couple of months, no sugar, no dairy etc. etc. etc. But for the second weekend in a row, the meal ended with my favourite dessert of all time: Pavlova.
And, with no thought to manners, I asked if I could finish what was on the serving plate, and scraped it clean for the second Sunday in a row.
Our host, Angela, is an angel. Pavlova! The weekend included walking along those plowed streets. Just walking and looking at snow. It was heaven. So you see, it all ties up.
I would like to thank Angela, the participants, who gave so much of themselves and their talent, especially Bernice Sorge and Carolynn Rafman who stayed over which added great conversation to the time I was there, also Mike Montreuil, another friend, participant, publisher and visitor, who took care of groceries, shovelled snow and cleared snow off cars, and is a whizz in the kitchen, Angela again, who offered crêpes on Sunday morning.
This workshop took place north of Val des Monts, Quebec, on the weekend of February 21st to 23rd. Lise Rochefort and her husband Adrian Jones were our hosts, and Lise’s cousin Christine was the cook. For 18 people! We filled three houses by the frozen lake, neighbours to a circle of ice fisher people out on the snow-covered ice. Two of the houses are owned by Lise and Adrian, and the third, a neighbor’s who was away for the winter, was rented for the weekend. Mark Tredinnick and his partner Jodie are here from Australia which led to many a discussion of the devastation there. The food was incredible. I may have to mention the food again.
For example, on Saturday evening, there were tortieres in honour of Quebec, and Pavlova afterwards to honour the world down under. The setup was awesome. What a word to use. We were all comfortably housed, and getting from one house to another was made easy by Adrian’s having plowed so many pathways.
Mark had copies of his newest book, A Gathered Distance, and he orchestrated the weekend sessions around it. We had been asked to write a poem before the weekend, a response to one of his poems. We shared and discussed those poems on Friday afternoon for three hours. We were assigned homework: a choice of three prompts, and some reading to do, three poems each night. Of course, by the time we finished talking and eating the glorious food, the delicious desserts, it was already late, but we had to do the reading and write a poem to share the next day, and same thing on Saturday night.
By the time we got to our rooms to do our homework, we were fried before we started. A few hours later, some few hours of sleep, and back to sharing our poems and learning about poetry. Each session began with two participants reading from our fave published poets, and discussing those poems. Mark has a way of doing general critiques that suggests things, but makes the poet feel they have accomplished much already in their attempt. The poems got better as we went on. He had hours of things to say about what makes a good poem…
We learned to write sijo, a Korean form, for one session, and were asked to write a sijo over lunch, so we spent as long as we could in the sun, not wanting to waste a minute of it, and sat back in the ‘classroom’ counting syllables on our fingers. ‘Classroom’ with fireplace, brand new kitchen, wall-to-wall windows, view of the lake. The silence while we were counting.
Tredinnick’s breadth of knowledge, his familiarity with poetry from all over the world, is daunting, but broadening for us. He knows lines and poems, and has met many poets, as he has travelled read, and workshopped from China to Peru. So much learning for us in two and a half days. In between the sessions we could walk to the lake, only a hundred metres away, or wander the plowed paths. Saturday night at 11 o’clock Mark, Jodie, Lise, Adrian and I were standing in a foot of snow at the edge of the dock, looking at stars. During the day, birds, otters and fishers explored the property too.
I am replete. But I must not forget: we had goodie bags! And and a super pair of long fleece-lined socks from Christine whose sewing group had had little labels made, and sewn onto each pair, that said ICE & FIRE 2020. The socks had little rubber pads on the soles so everyone was wearing them like slippers all weekend.
I didn’t want it to end. For such an incredible event, we were so intensely occupied with conversation, writing, listening and sharing that no one took photographs, not even of the Pavlova! Or the lemon meringue pie! The carrot cake! The African peanut soup! The chili! We are fortunate that someone woke out of our intensity at the end to take a couple of group photos. That’s why we all look a bit stunned. Stunned by poetry. Stunned by what Lise and Adtan put together. Stunned by Mark Tredinnick.
Every morning I get help making coffee. Desirée is a rescue bird, a Green-Naped Rainbow Lorikeet with whom I’ve shared my home for nearly nineteen years. She is in charge of my daily routine, with her no-nonsense timing for meals and petting. But in May I had to leave her with my husband while I flew to Vancouver for our annual Haiku Canada Weekend, our conference and AGM.
You might conclude that we are a bit crazy. Perhaps. This is Pat Benedict Campbell and Vicki McCullough after their dramatic presentation, ‘A Dialogue about Haiku Reviewing’ written by Paul O. Williams. It was so much fun as well as full of information. Pat and Vicki nailed it.
First a shout out to Vicki McCullough and Lynne Jambor who organized this whole weekend plus, including University residences, food, our Western style banquet (My, that food was good!) the programme, before and after events, and so much more. You were always there for us. You are wonderful, both of you.
Vancouver is gorgeous in the spring. The gardens around The University of British Columbia brilliant with colour.
We stayed in residence which was no hardship at all. Here is a night view from my window.
But we really did meet there to work on haiku, which may seem like another reason to consider us a bit mad: three days and a good part of two nights given over to these tiny poems.
Our annual anthology, at the water’s edge, was presented on Friday evening, and introduced by one of its two editors, Devin Harrison of Coquitlam, BC. Mike Montreuil, the second editor was not able to attend. Then the Weekend race was on, with the AGM, presentations by Rich Schnell of Plattsburgh, NY, ‘Rockwell Kent, a Pacific Northwest Thoreau?’, the reading of Eartshine, by Chuck Brinkley, and another presentation by Chuck on ‘Re-re-rewrite’, one of the most illuminating and courageous presentations, as he showed how he worked on his own haiku through the years and suggested a list of ways to edit our poems. Nick Avis, of St. John’s, Nfld, explored haiku under the intriguing title of ‘Naked Haiku’, and whowould want to miss that. He discussed the cultural and literary contexts that are often layered in haiku.
Kathy Munro told us of her trip to The Frankfurt Book Fair, Jacquie Pierce introduced ‘Between Mountains: Haiku and Japanese-Canadian Internment Camps.’
Claude Rodrigue launched his Tanbun From Old Deer House (catkin press, 2019) which is introduced by Larry Kimmel who invented the form. Claude also enlightened us with a history of Haiku in Comic Strips. Michael Dylan Welch fascinated with the publishing history of Anne McKay, and GAVE us her beautiful last collection, the journey, passed on to us through Angela Naccarato from a dear friend of Anne’s.
Calgary’s Magpie Group, (Pat Benedict Campbell, June Read, Liz Gibbs, Meghan Elizabeth Jones, and Mary Vlooswyk) shared their work in a lively reading from their third anthology A Pebble in my Shoe, and Pat Benedict Campbell also launced her Alchemy of Tea (catkin press, 2019). My she has a way with presentation!
There was a unique experience in listening to ‘Women Echoing Women – A Haiku Enchamtment’, with Alegria Imperial, Josephine LeRo, Isabella Mori, Rachel Enomoto and Tracey Wan in which we heard haiku in several languages.
A ‘Town hall’ hour was with special guest, archivist Lara Wilson, Director of Special Collections, University of Victoria, where our haiku Canada Archives now reside, in which there was great audience participation as everyone is curious about how the archive works and how to contribute to it.
Angela Naccarato presented ‘Preschool Haiku’, and Edward Zuk followed with ‘Haiku and Surprise’, and we were impressed by this quiet poet’s energetic argument, and the poetryAngela has done with small children.
Bob Butkus displayed his Photo-Haiga, Julie Emerson talked about the ‘Haiku Gumball machine’ and Carol McRury read ‘How To Write a Haiku’ a piece written by Naomi Wakan.
Patrick Gallagher led us on a Raw NerVZ treasure hunt, a tribute to Dorothy Howard and her creation and editing of the journal. How grand to hear her editorial choices in the voices of poets at the conference.
Marshall Hryciuk and Karen Sohne again led the ‘not-too-late’ renku on Friday and Saturday nights, and performed the completed kasen on Sunday near the end of the Weekend.
After the revealing of the winners of the Sea to Sky sort-of-ginko, the Jocelyne Villeneuve Award and the Betty Drevniok Award, we almost said goodbye.
As you can see, anyone can see from this report how the business and fun of tiny poems can fill the days.
Of course, when it was over, it wasn’t really over. Haiku is never really over…so those who could stay longer went to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, with guide, Jacqie Pierce, and then afterwards we had a meal at a Chinese Restaurant.
I especially want to thank the volunteers who made the whole experience run smoothly, organizing the silent auction (over $700 raised!) and book tables, talking care of registration, sewing beautiful hand made notebooks, designing the graphics!!!! A million thank yous are on their way to you.
It took a few days to wind down from this time with some of our favourite members of our Haiku Canada family. And so, on to my next gallivant to the opposite side of Canada, St. John’s, Newfoundland, where The League of Canadian Poets held its AGM and conference.
I was terrible at taking photos during the presentations, but some of the highlights were the launch of Thirteen, New Collected Poems from LGBTQI2S Writers in Canada (a League Chapbook), at The Eastern Edge Gallery, and the launch of John Barton’s latest essay anthology, We Are Not Avatars: Essays, Memoirs, Manifestos. (Windsor: Palimpsest, 2019). The Sheri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award went to Andea Thompson who slayed us with three of her Spoken Word Poems. The Pat Lowther Award was presented to Kara Du Plessis for Ekke (Palimsest Press, 2018).
The Feminine Caucus Panel moderated by Sarah De Leeuw, featured Kara Du Plessis, Andrea Thompson and Sharia Shazia Hafiz Ramji. A new Chair of the caucus, Ayesha Chatterjee, was elected to continue the initiative and work of Anne Burke.
I was not present at the Grant Writing panel, but heard good things about it, and about Edmonton’s Billy-Rae Belcourt who gave the Anne Szumigalski Lecture in a voice recitation.
Our National Council meetings (the representatives of Canada’s regions, and the Executive Committee) were lively and productive. A great Thank You to Michael Andrews, our new Treasurer, for coming to St. John’s and for having the answers on finance, and also to Lesley Fletcher, Nicole Brewer and Madison Stoner for your organizational skills, and for being there so we could know your faces and friendly efficient personalities.
An unexpected delight was Mary Dalton. Poet Laureate of St. John’s, who joined us for several presentations, and at the Ship Pub after John Barton’s launch. Spending time with her was a highlight.
Of course, we didn’t end the conference there either, for several of us went out to spot whales and puffins, rented cars and drove around the island hunting icebergs and exploring some enchanting villages. The magic of Cape Spear. I think I know at least one person in love with Brigus and its tiny library.
I’ve not said anything about other hunts, like for the World Award Winning products of breweries and distilleries of the island. Oh yes, oysters, and mussels, and carousing on George Street, during which one of our number sang on stage in a bar with accompaniment.
On our trip around a peninsula, and the western shore of Trinity Bay, I kept calling Old Perlican, Old Pelican. So much for teaching reading for forty years.
For me, a treasure was spending an afternoon at the home of Nick Avis with Tom Dawe who has been named to The Order of Canada. I had met him when we had our Haiku Canada Weekend in St. John’s a few years back. He has been the Poet Laureate of that City and has taught literature at Memorial University for many years. Tom writes haiku as well as lyric poetry and one of my prizes is a copy he signed for me of his latest publication, New and Collected poems: Tom Dawe, (2019, Breakwater Books). I could spend months listening to his voice and discussing all manner of things in the universe.
My last hours were at The Rooms, the city’s magnificent Library and Archives, where I had lunch with poets Gwen Brooker and Maureen Dunne, who gave me two of their writing group’s anthologies, and whom I enjoyed very much.
Yes, I did tuck some Iceberg Gin into my suitcase. Who could resist?
The first clue: after half an hour just trying to get this image to be right side up (yes, I used the edit functions, yes I renamed it, yes I tried various other image variabilities) it’s going to stay this way now.
At the beginning of this little project I thought that’s great, I’ll learn how to do make a video and post other poems on my blog…
Backstory: A poem was accepted by Vallum for its ‘Chase’ theme, Issue 15:2, and I agreed to make a video of the poem for Vallum’s digital issue.
The experience was not a happy one, at least I wasn’t happy with the results after trying about twenty versions. What fun it is to think you’ve got it, then the video makes you look like a loon on funny drugs. Or you get halfway through the poem and screw it up. Read the wrong word. Skip a phrase. I managed to do things like that quite a few times. (recalling how, in grade three, I was a really great oral reader…)
And don’t I look terrified! I realize the light is wrong so move downstairs, laptop, accompanying cords, mouse and mouse pad…Try again as the parrot is asleep and Ted is out so it’s quiet. Go through the whole miss-a-word, add-a-word, forget-a-phrase sequences until finally, it’s going well…and Ted walks in and Desirée the parrot starts to sqwawk.
And it’s only a little poem!
Here I am banning my husband from his own house and shutting an innocent little bird into the bedroom. For about a minute’s poetry that will remain somewhere in the universe forever and be seen by perhaps seven people, all related to me, or who owe me favours. Or who just are too kind. Or who do not want to see me cry.
Result: Not great, but it is what it is. Thank you Vallum, for suggesting that I try this and for the digital publication. No pain, no gain. Sometimes pain and little gain…But I did it! That much I can be proud of. (insert apology here for saying I’m adding a video without following through…)
And now that I’ve written this post I find that I am not able to add a video to my post. So I will send it separately on Facebook, even though the process was excruciating.
Probably someone knows the trick to inserting a video into a blog post. All I know is that I will not be giving any workshops on how to do it. Not yet, anyway.
Trees will thank these poets who came out on a night when an important election in the States was happening, and when there were a hundred other things going on in Ottawa. We had a brilliant time, at least I did.
This is a wonderful compendium of poets’ writings about trees across Canada. I don’t know whether such an across-Canada anthology has been attempted so thoroughly before. It’s not quite the same as an anthology in which poets from across Canada are invited to submit. There are few geographical gaps in this collection as the regional representatives did their parts so well.
And of course, it is different in that the collection was conceived as a fundraiser for The League of Canadian Poets’ national activities.
The idea for such a collection came when Lesley Strutt acted on a suggestion by Diana Beresford-Kroeger that the best thing she could do for trees in Canada was to write poems, which blossomed into Lesley’s thinking What if poets across Canada wrote poems about trees????
It took little cajoling to get the Regional representatives on board, each of whom edited a section. Then Lesley ‘donated’ hundreds of hours of her time handling the marvellous herd of cats that makes up the Council of regional representatives, and especially in the get-down-and-get-dirty editing process. The other major ‘donors’ to the project are the members of the League who gave the gift of their poems. Certainly the overall result is powerful as well as masterful.
Th evening started out with a surprise musical performance by Chris White and Brenda, whose last name I don’t recall. I apologize Brenda, and I’ll edit this when I get that information. You have a very lovely voice, which works so well with that of Mr. White. They actually got us (me!) to sing along with them!
Lesley Strutt, principal editor of Heartwood, did a sterling introduction to the evening speaking of how the project started and came to fruition, and then the poetry began. (But so quiet, at the side of the spotlight, was Chuck Willemson, who took the photos that illustrate the cover and inside title pages. All he’d done to that point was take the photos on a trip across Canada with Lesley, come early, cart in loads and loads, with Lesley’s help, of gear and required tecnology to show the film Call of the Forest later in the evening. Then he just sat there, listening and supporting throughout the evening. Only that…)(Oh, he’d also come up with the title…)
Susan Atkinson was the first up, still full of energy after her day of teaching :
and since I don’t remember the order in which the poets read, I’ll simply add the photos which were taken by Grant Savage, for which Lesley and I thank him so very much.
and all the way from Toronto, Lois Lorimer.
It was a delight to have you as part of our evening, Lois.
Luckily Lois was able to piggyback the reading onto a visit with her brother who lives in the city, and who came to hear her presentation.
Poets read their own contribution from the anthology, along with an extra poem or two if they wished, and a poem by Louise Carson was read as she was unable to make it to Ottawa.
The film, of course, is incredible. We’d like to thank Diana Beresford-Kroeger for creating it and making it available to us, and great thanks go out to The League of Canadian Poets who supported Lesley so well, and to all the regional editors.
We left Lesley and Chuck to carry out all the equipment. Not intentionally, but they ushered us out, practically pushing us out the door so they could finish up the last- minute details with The Vimy Brewery. It is a lovely venue, and we appreciate being able to have our launch there.
Oh, by the way, the beer was great! Thank you so much, to the readers and to those in the audience who came to share the launch with us.
Further copies of Heartwood: Poems for the Love of Trees are available on Amazon. It’s the perfect gift for anyone who cares about the environment.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted, so to kick myself into gear, I’m posting something written a while ago on a midsummer day.
Reseach and Findings: genealogy and dustbunnies
At the end of March in 2013 while on a golf trip in South Carolina, Ted had two minor heart attacks which led to two small strokes. He lost most of his ability to talk.
I plugged in the vacuum this morning. It’s noteworthy as I don’t do this very often. Behind the old trunk in the bedroom I found a ‘holy picture’ of St. Joseph. On the back is a prayer: CONSECRATION TO THE MOST PURE HEART OF ST. JOSEPH. I collect these pictures, a habit from childhood. We exchanged them like baseball cards in that time of innocence.
The Catholic belief is that Joseph never had sex with Mary. The Angel Gabriel had taken care of that, yet there have been books written about the brothers of Jesus, actual brothers, not spiritual ones. There are arguments for both sides. It took me so long to start figuring things out.
Books were miracles that let me escape but as an eight year old I had to walk for a very long time to get the library, for once I realized what was inside one, I was hooked. It’s why our house today might fall down if we remove my books, literally and metaphorically. Before I discovered the public library, there were no books in our house. Every once in a while my father would bring home a newspaper. I never saw my mother read anything before I went to school when she had to help us memorize Catechism questions. On the way to the library, there was a field edged with pink roses on bushes.
I move the old repainted trunk by the bed, steady the pile of books there, The History of Devon England, home of a branch of ancestors. It’s Devon’s fault that I’m in here with this noisy machine this morning. I glanced up from the History last night and saw the dust under the armchair. If it had been an armchair with a skirt, I wouldn’t have noticed the dust. So now I’ve chained myself to this old Filter Queen, sold to my husband Ted a thousand years ago by a brother in a salesmn phase.
Under the old schoolroom bookshelf with doors I find two backscratchers. Now my back needs to be scratched, so I do that. Behind the bookshelf that now shelves various kinds of paper for bookmaking, is a door about 18 inches high and two feet wide. If we had a safe, we could hide it in there I suppose. The smaller grandkids like to push away the shelf and peek into the scary space. It’s probably full of dust too, but Filter Queen can’t, or won’t, reach.
Push aside the boxes of files about genealogy, the ones that have stood in as table for a lamp, beside my reading chair. The files once proved my father’s line goes back to Charlemagne, and now there’s evidence that the same line goes back to Flavius Afranius Hannibalanius, a Roman Senator and military officer appointed Consul of Gaul in 292 C.E. You may offer your allegiance when we meet.
Nothing in these papers shows a predilection or even a talent for housecleaning, my justification for feeling like a saint today. We are ‘noble’ and nobles don’t sweep floors. I’ll have a card made up. I don’t do windows. There goes the lamp…
The research has been wildly exciting, and shows that most of these ancestors were literate. Since writing and research is what I do, I dig, and find that the Afranius branch goes back, though the links are fractured beyond 292 C.E., to members of the family, who, while most were soldiers famous enough to have fought with Pompey and Caesar, and to have coins struck in their image, admits to a family member who tutored (and was executed by) Nero, and the playwright Lucius Afranius who wrote during the 1st century B.C.E. Forty-two of his plays are still available to be staged.
In this epoch, I am one of the first of two large families to have finished high school, and it would be many years before I earned a degree; I, like wordsmith Lucius Afranius and the unfortunate tutor , Sextus Afranius Burrus, chose a degree calculated to keep me poor, unlike all those other Queen’s University students, the sensible ones in medicine, law and engineering who now ride around in restored Jaguars, many of them with chauffeurs. I took a Fine Arts degree: painting, sculpture, printmaking. It had little to do with words, except for Art History essays. I hadn’t written much before that or been exposed to Literature written, or Art created, before or during the twentieth century. The nuns were great at ignoring culture in our Catholic insulated world.
My mother, saint though she was, wasn’t good at housework; if she washed a floor I realize (only now) how far that was outside her comfort zone. Back then, our shoes just stuck to the kitchen floor and after the advent of the Electrolux and the excitement it generated, it lived out its dull life in the basement, coming out only for special occasions. If Dad’s co-workers at Shell were coming to play cards, for instance. Or for the bridal shower my mother held for me in which I was wrapped in toilet paper and blushed virginally as I unrolled it as every one of my comments was turned into an earthy joke I didn’t understand. What was so funny about ‘At least it’s soft…’
A few days ago a poet on Facebook shared a conversation with Edward O Wilson and Robert Haas from The Poetic Series. E. O. said the creative arts are the sharing of our inner desires and humanity’s struggle. Hass spoke of the paradox of stillness and motion in great art, desire appeased and awakened, Wilson of Science and Art having the same creative wellspring. I could argue that there is science in the old Filter Queen.
At the Black Squirrel book store I picked up Provinces by Czeslaw Milosz translated by Robert Haas. In the poem ‘Creating the World’, Milosz portrays the Celestial board members submitting design ideas: a hedgehog, a soprano, panties with lace. Obviously these designs would never come into existence. Too ridiculous. Would have been turned down flat on Dragon’s Den. Then Milosz laments ‘If only it all could last, but no way.’
Dust balls proliferate: Russia and the Ukraine, Israel and the Gaza, the lady on TV who writes love letters to her armpit, my sister who lives in a rural area drops by on her way to Walmart to buy a gun so she can pick off the squirrels at the bird feeder, and all those photos of wedding parties leaping into the air, blue of Caribbean in the background.
The kasen renga, a collaborative Japanese form of thirty-six verses, should aim to encompass the whole world. Subjects such as movies, sports, the arts, war, slang, sex and vacuums are the key to the success of the genre. It could be said that lyric poetry is the same. So I’ll unplug the Filter Queen to edit The Queen of the Night Straddles a Vespa, make it a better poem after last night’s comments from the critique group. Poems about Jesus in the Montreal subway? Why not. Juxtaposed verses. Yes.
What was that brilliant idea I had when I was vacuuming. The problem is concentration. Don’t think of Haas or Wilson when you are digging into corners. Whatever I’ve lost might have given depth and zing to The Queen of the Night. There was a prayer we used to say when we lost something. ‘Good Saint Anthony, please come round. Something’s lost and it can’t be found.’ I’ve neglected St. Anthony though, for years, so no luck there, although I must admit he still comes through when I am desperate.
Outside the air is soft and cool. I sprinkle fresh blood meal around the potatoes, cucumbers and potatoes that are growing well in containers. Squirrels hate the smell of blood meal. I’ve lost enough tomatoes to them. This break before I go back to write.
What a crazy morning. One wants to stop thinking, reading. In The Rapids, by Susan Gillis, she writes in a poem called ‘Glimpse: Poetry’, ‘…As for poetry, it lurks’.
We have done it again! Haiku Canada Weekend took place May 17 – 21, 2018, and one highlight was this presentation to editor Steve Luxton in celebration of a special anthology. On the cake was the poem silence, and a deeper silence, when the crickets hesitate, a haiku by Leonard Cohen. The carrot cake was baked by Angela Leuck, organizer of the 2018 Haiku Canada Weekend.
The anthology was of haiku on the topic of Mr. Cohen and launched on our Weekend at Bishop’s University, Lennoxville. In the photo is Mike Montreuil of Éditions des petits nuages, Montreal, who published the collection as Gift of Silence: A Haiku Tribute to Leonard.
You will note that we were not the cast of thousands of which many conferences boast, but we can boast of thousands of poems being highlighted, read, written and edited during these three or four days, for though originally the conference ran from Friday until Sunday noon, there were several events that took place after the conference, including some workshops and a hike up Mount Orford.
Anyone who has not been to one of our conferences, (and ‘Weekend’ instead of conference is intentional…) can have any idea of the poetry, the workshops (small book making, origami haiku lantern folding, haibun, tanka, haiku, publishing online, and many of these in French as well as in English), the distances travelled, the presentations, the long-into-the-night renku, book launches, cafeteria meals (Wonderful meals at Bishop’s cafeteria and thank you to the staff of that cafeteria! Stanford Forrester and Philomene Kocher at lunch).
There was a banquet and ginko walk, and the gift of just plain walking on that beautiful campus with its super presentation rooms, banquet facility and food, sleeping accommodations…The flowers! The venues, complete with grand piano and gigantic golden fan! Oh Angela, you have been a great organizer! Thank you!
Angela has been writing and publishing haiku and related forms for many years. The day before the conference, she’d just returned from a five-week residency teaching haiku in Labrador to students in elementary and in high school classes, yet spent the next day baking the cake. First of all, can you imagine that residency, during which she had feedback such as this from the coach of a sports team ― roughly the teacher said: I couldn’t believe it. On the bus to the game, the players were writing haiku!
Just to top things off, if you haven’t been taking haiku seriously, One of our haiku poets, Katharine Munro from Whitehorse, Yukon, has just been short-listed for the Vallum Chapbook award with her submission of a haiku sequence the distance!
When haiku poets get togther in local groups or at these larger events, the concentration is on writing better haiku and related Japanese form poems, three days, or in this case five days, of learning, and Kathy’s poems are the proof of it. We are serious about showing that haiku is not just a counting game for children, but the ongoing development of the Japanese form. Soon the lyric world will be taking us seriously too!
On to the fun! On Friday afternoon, there was a reading of Secrets du Femmes, a collection published in France, edited by Danièl Duteil, with the Afterword written by Janick Belleau.
A highlight of Friday evening is always the reading for the launch of our annual anthology. This year, editors Marco Fraticelli and Philomene Kocher decided to dedicate the collection to LeRoy Gorman, who has just retired from the volunteer position of Publications Editor which he took over temporarily 22 years ago.
LeRoy brought the newsletter out of the dinosaur age of a page or two, typed, stapled containing some news of the very new Haiku Canada Association, to our current varied-part journal The Haiku Canada Review, with its French section along with English poems, its book reviews, its haiku from all over the world, its renku and articles, and its Haiku Canada Sheets. Thank you again, LeRoy. He was presented with a framed cover of the issue called a far galaxy with his haiku two hours/ to a far galaxy and back/ same old movie. Here is Philomene Kocher (editor), LeRoy, Claudia as cover designer and anthology publisher, and Marco Fraticelli, (editor).
The next morning and on Sunday morning the first presentations were the anonymous workshops, an important feature of our weekends. Unsigned haiku are dropped into a box or other container and these are pulled out and critiqued by the group without knowing whose poem they are working with. As the AGM took longer than usual, and those listed to handle the Sunday event were still at the AGM, Marco and LeRoy stepped in. We are that kind of organization, the personification of flexible.
All day the book room is open, the silent auction is going on, and other presentations continue. Poets relax in between sessions. We like each other.
Terry Ann Carter stepped down after many years as President and we served up a royal roast…(This on the day of the Royal wedding, but we had more fun).
Then some books were launched including Mike Montreuil’s collection of French Canadian Northern Ontario (Matawa) joual poems, Claude Rodrigue’s intriguing French haiku crossword book: entrecroisées haiku. He promises it in English as well next year.
. These are a memoir of sorts, how he remembers his grandparents speaking, the language he used with his friends, poems about hockey, food, family. Marco, Terry Ann and I also launched books.
Terry read from Tokkaido, I from fish spine picked clean (after which Terry played on that grand, the fish spine suite, composed after reading my collection, and I feel very special because of that. Thank you, Terry!) and then Marco read from One Thousand Years, a collection of haibun in which he ‘becomes’ Chiyo-ni for the prose, and follows with Chiyo’s haiku. You will probably hear a lot more soon about this collection!
Sunday morning we participated in the origami lantern workshop with Jeanne Painchaud at which we were allowed to try to make one of these lovely pieces. Some poets were very successful, and others of us, like me, were not, but the lanterns were hung and looked splendid! They looked enchanting strung in front of portarits, and with those umbrellas looking as if they were enchanted too.
Now, you’ve probably been to a making-small-books workshop before, the creation of small books perfectly suited to the collection of, or the writing of, haiku and other small poems. But you’ve never been in one hall with four masters of the art, given the time to see each one present her skills on how to make one or more specific books. Here are Terry Ann, Maxianne Berger, Ruth Mittleholtz and Marjorie each showing new ideas for these books, with some special creations.
More workshops on haibun and tanka: (Yes, Rubber Duck tanka. There’s no world like it.)
I should have taken more photos…There were so many wonderful things. Gifts of local cheeses and maple syrup for the presenters, the book sales tables, silent auction items, workshops by French haikuists, a presentation on science and the environment in haiku, one on haiku and mental health and an online course for those studying to be health care workers, the banquet, the ginko walk. We played hard, but we also worked hard, if we so wished. The traditional after-hours renku was read on Sunday by renku masters Marshall Hyrciuk and Karen Sohne, and the gingko prizes awarded to Sandra Stevenson, Luce Pelletier and Lynne Jambor!
The winners of the international 2018 Betty Drevniok and Jocelyne Villeneuve Awards were presented, as were the current executive, with new President (moi) new Vice President Claude Rodrigue, new Publications Editor Mike Montreuil, and returning Secretary Lynne Jambor, returning members’ Secretary Kathy Munro, returning Web Page administrator Luminita Suse, and returning Haiku Newsflash editor Carole Daoust.
You don’t see anyone bored at this conference; there was a river to walk to, poems to write, poets to talk with, tweets to tweet. Cake to eat! Sake at the renku, along with other treats like biscotti and squares and chocolate. And then there were the other small precious things, like this box of haiku ‘chocolates’ made by Kathy Munro and found on the ‘free’ table. I saw it there, fell in love, stole it, thinking that if it was free, it was mine. It turned out she hadn’t yet put up the little sign that said ‘Take One’ of the teeny tiny origami-like twists. But lucky me, Kathy came up at the end of the conference having refilled the cups and gave the box of ever-so-sweets to me after all.
Thank you, Pearl and Marco for several photos on this post. What would we do without those who actually remember to take pictures. Again, thank you Angela, and giving much praise for her stalwart sidekicks Steve Luxton and Carolynn Rafman.
Well, not strictly a formal found poem in that the found phrases used are not in the order they were found in the text of Silas Marner…This is more the story of an Art piece that sprouted at first more of a concrete or visual found poem. This is the context: I decided to make an art object from an old book that I found while perusing the offerings on a sale table at my local second-hand book store, which turned out to be Silas Marner, by George Elliot. Fifty cents, a done deal.
First I selected phrases from the book, printed them in a large font and cut them into strips before folding the pages to form sculptural shapes. This was an absorbing experience, watching teh forms emerge, deciding which folds would make a satisfying shape. Once the folding was done, I added the phrases so that they stuck out from the folded pages, and looked for various Elliot-related images on the internet to print out, clip, and add to the pages.
Reinforcing necessary pages with handmade papers, I added such things as small maps and larger fold-outs of the area where she lived, images of her face, book cover designs of more modern reprints, period clothing.
I’ve not mentioned yet how much fun I was having with this project. Suddenly (oh, that old saw, suddenly…) it occurred to me that the phrases that fluttered out as if they were the feathers or individual hairs of some exotic yet verbally-based imaginary creature could be made into a ‘found’ poem of sorts, and I surprised myself that I hadn’t thought of doing this until the poem pieces were already protruding from the pages.
Putting the poem together reminded me somewhat of one way to form a cento from other poets’ poems, and as in that process, I looked for what made a poem, but here that poem was a George Elliot poem, her words, her mind, her fascinating phrases. I leave you with an excerpt from:
the vixenish temper which is sometimes supposed to be a necessary condition
like a raven flapping its slow wing across the sunny air/ Silas would rather part with his life than with Eppie/ I’ve been up into the top attic, but there’s no seeing anything for trees/ an hypothesis which covered a few imaginary calamities
Making this little Art object/poem from an old book cheers my heart just a little, one less book in the landfill, at least for a while.