Leonard, weren’t the scones wonderful!

The flavour of the place is already evident on the ferry where the coffee is served with the biggest welcome, and the bulletin boards publicize things like the “Chase the Ace” event in Joe Batt’s Arm.

20161005_1714040_resized_1No fuss about font or lack of a Copy Expert store; just straightforward marker on board, in a bright orange, plunked up for all to see. What you see is what you get on Fogo. The people you meet there are easy to meet, eager to make you feel at home whether it’s in an art studio or a restaurant.  The longest drive you can take is three-quarters of the way around and through the island to Tilting, and my B&B, Foley’s Place, owned by Tom Earl. Though I generally don’t like the word ‘charming’ to describe a place, this time the word is apt.  Fog island and its residents are charming.

This is the view from the back windows of Foley’s Place.

20161004_075056_resizedThough he hasn’t been the owner for long, already Tom’s breakfasts are legendary.  I got my first taste of the also legendary partridgeberry in his scones.  You, Len, have had them many times before.

So we proceeded to explore, going back to the town of Seldom and its old cemeteries. We found that we couldn’t get to Wild Cove any more unless with a guide as people were relocated south into the town in the 60s. Next time we’ll plan an excursion through the bush to where your family’s house was, and your school, to the rocks you walked on there. But didn’t we enjoy tea with Florence Budgell, now Florence Eveleigh, and her husband. She would be your second cousin I think, though too young for you to have met her. After all, your last visit here was many years ago.  Partridgeberry pie and muffins with lots of raisins in them. We should have gone back, where does the time go.

At the Library I read some of your letters to a mixed audience, two women visiting from Boston, island residents, and a troop of cub scouts and their leaders. They loved your writing, asked so many questions afterwards.

Not far from the B&B, a small museum based in the oldest house at Tilting, with clear evidence of the changes it has gone through, the extra floor space, the extra floor, the stairway built by a cooper, like climbing in a spiral inside a keg, and under the wallpaper, the bumps where the barrel stave construction is easily seen. In the stairwell, feel the irregularities with your fingers, and in the next room, the outer curve.  Here is the docent looking up at me.

A stairway built by a cooper
A stairway built by a cooper

She told me of the space under the floor where an indoor fire pit had been, and the story of the terrible priest who did not like the little church the local people had built, and how he’d had everything from the church thrown away.

St. Anne and her daughter Mary
St. Anne and her daughter Mary
Altar artifacts saved and stored
Altar artifacts saved and stored

Here in the back room and in the ‘attic’ are some of the rescued items, statues with bits broken off, old blackened silver crucifix. A pair of boots hangs on the wall downstairs with a sign saying ‘boots made from the last cow on Fogo’, which made me realize that I hadn’t seen any, nor had I seen goats or horses.  Lack of horses is sad, but once roads came, they weren’t needed and they are expensive to keep once they couldn’t roam. Len missed seeing goats. He liked goats.

A pair of boots hangs on the wall downstairs with a sign saying ‘boots made from the last cow on Fogo’, which made me realize that I hadn’t seen any, nor had I seen goats or horses.  Lack of horses is sad, but once roads came, they weren’t needed and they are expensive to keep once they couldn’t roam. Len missed seeing goats. He liked goats. Told stories of his favourites and how clever goats are compared to sheep. I think this was Len’s greatest disappointment, not seeing any more goats with wooden collars to stop their going through fences.

I loved this museum for its human connections. Nothing fancy and put behind glass, all left to further gently disintegrate. Museum curators would have a bird.  Here a crib and the sign that says whose it was, how long it had been in use, and that a particular child’s teethmarks can still be seen on it.  Len and I could TOUCH, feel the stories through our fingertips.

A crib with young Margaret's teethmarks still on it.
A crib with young Margaret’s teethmarks still on it.

But Fogo is taking this whole preservation thing seriously and intelligently. there is a fine marine museum at seldom, and Zita Cobb’s Shorefast foundation has enabled small business, arts and crafts to flourish.  So you find a studio, an ice cream business called Growlers, a restaurant, the older houses being built or restored. The island is attractive. Wherever you look there are the hills and berry patches, old cemeteries,

The old Catholic Cemetery at Tilting
The old Catholic Cemetery at Tilting

houses brightly painted, anything to do with the fishing industry freshly painted, decidedly picturesque. Here there is a balance between letting time show its toll, and saving the past for the future.

A wedding in the arena
A wedding in the arena
Arena decorated for a weddin
A wedding venue
The groom performs the Island ritual
The groom performs the Island ritual

Two more things I will mention and then you just have to go to Fogo and see for yourself: The Partridgeberry Festival, a festival like none you have ever been to.  It was held in the Arena at the center of the island, and decorated not only for fall, but also for a wedding. Saturday at 3:00 pm, the bride was escorted from a side door, the groom was waiting in front of the fall colours and hay bale setup in the middle of the floor. Hundreds were there, and it wasn’t easy to see what was going on.  All we could see, as in the photo, was the groom’s head as he was taller than most of the people there. Also, a secret visitor was there, so secret that he was pleased no one recognized him. Along with his retinue, Prince Albert of Monaco mingled, enjoying his anonymity.

The arena was filled with craft tables, food tables, (mostly jams), displays of paintings, displays and demonstrations of rug hooking, quilting, needlework. The geologist in residence at the Fogo Inn had a table with his charts and rock samples, the Fogo Inn chef in residence for the weekend (from Becta in Ottawa!) made exquisite sliders using Fogo Island seafood; there was a large children’s area where various activities went on all weekend. It was wonderful that here the children could handle a drill with adult help, hammer nails, make their boats and paint them. There were items made of seal skin selling for peanuts. I saw the same items in St John’s for three times as much. There were dancing displays, music for adults and children. It was a lively place…And on Sunday I got to read there.

A blurred photo of me before reading at the festival
A blurred photo of me before reading at the festival
A rug with three dried cod
A rug with three dried cod
A boy with his boat
A boy with his boat

I could write about that festival for a long time, about how the groom had to shoot a gun (outdoors) to finalize his marriage vows… and so many other craftspeople.

The last thing I’ll talk about are the trails. There is one to Brimstone Head, one of the corners of the Flat Earth. Another out of Tilting called Turpin’s Trail that leads up to one of the famous studios, another on the east side of Tilting, Oliver’s Cove Trail. There are fourteen hiking/walking possibilities; most of which I didn’t have time for. They are remarkable. A geologist can tell why and how, and I loved hearing about it from the resident geologist at the Fogo Island Inn while I was there, but there is also the quiet peace of these trails, their seaside vistas, the varieties of plants and rocks and rock formations as we walked.

20161007_102219 20161007_111536 20161007_113850

Mr. Green, over 90 years old, back in Fogo after working all his life elsewhere. This is his daily resting place.

Mr. Green, over 90 years old, walks the trail every day. He has come back to Fogo after a career away.
A reminder near Oliver’s Cove of tragedies on the sea


We were on one of the last ferries from Fogo when the hurricane weather hit the East coast. Len, you were my courage on the drive back to St. John’s, four hundred kilometres in driving rain. Not long after we passed, the main road was closed with great craters at Terra Nova and Clarenville. I’m so glad you were with me for hundreds of reasons. I loved seeing Fogo through your eyes, sharing all its wonders. Weren’t we both exhausted when we got to our hosts’ house by the harbour. Didn’t we keep talking about it all over a few pots of tea in Beth and Stan’s kitchen…Didn’t we talk about next time.

continuing a tour backwards

At Church Lake
At Church Lake
Laddie at home at Church Lake
Laddie at home at Church Lake
the small dock
the small dock

I’m going to the end of my tour and doubling back, because this is about writers and readers, and when I got to Halifax I was met by one of these writers, Janet Barkhouse, who writes poetry and children’s books. Her latest had just come out, called Keeper of the Light. It was exciting being in on this new book at its early going-out-in-public stage. Among the best things about this book are the main character, a young girl who takes care of a lighthouse in an emergency in the early 1900s… and the illustrations by Thérèse Cilia, but most of all the writing. It’s available from the Formac Publishing Company in Halifax.  When I saw it, I needed to have a copy immediately even though I don’t have children. I’ll read it to grandkids when they visit, but for now, it’s MINE.

Here I am being met at the airport, feeling like a queen with my own papparazza, Janet.airport-halifaxFor I was certainly treated like a queen byJanet and Cynthia and Les. Les carved a chicken raised by Janet that could be entered for plumpness in the Guinness World Records. A gigantic succulent fowl beautifully prepared by Jan’s husband Greg.

20161012_183357Other Nova Scotia highlights were the market in Mahone Bay, a Market among markets, full of food and colour and activity.  A handkerchief skirt/boots outfit that appealed to me,

High fashio
High fashion

20161013_105920 20161014_182830 20161013_105712

From the mushroom stall
From the mushroom stall

and much more.

The colourful houses of Lunenberg
The colourful houses of Lunenburg

We revelled in Lunenburg’s bookstores, basked in the weaving of Marrie Berkelaar in her shop called the Double Whale.

Jan's gorgeous find at the Double Whale
The Bluenose, Lunenburg
Jan's gorgeous jacket from the Double Whale
Jan’s gorgeous jacket from the Double Whale

and had lunch near the harbour where the Blue Nose was.

A little out of order here, but my reading at the Margaret Hennigar Public Library in Bridgewater was a dream in every way. So many people had put their hearts into its organization and into publicizing it. Jan Barkhouse was wonderful, the spearhead, and all the seats were filled. Timothy Gillespie promoted and attended. It was a delight to meet him. I met people who had connections with Labrador, with Arctic Twilight, with so many of the concerns that Leonard Budgell had. Valerie Hearder was there, a photographer who had taken one of the pictures I used found in Twilight. She did some work at Them Days oral history magazine and I found the pic in their archive in Goose Bay …I answered questions afterwards, signed books, felt wonderful and complete and Leonard would have been so happy that so many were there. A little side story: I was hosted in Whitehorse by Gail Roberts and her husband. The lovely lady in the photo below is Gail’s sister!!!

Posters for the library event!
Posters for the library event!


Arlene and Leighton Davis of Mahone Bay were kind enough to be in this photo, taken by Karen Geddes-Skelik
Arlene and Leighton Davis of Mahone Bay were kind enough to be in this photo, taken by Karen Geddes-Selig.

So much happened in Nova Scotia. I have to tell myself that it’s impossible to say everything I want to say in one post, but on Saturday, Cynthia drove me and Jan to the Luckett Vineyard on Grand Pre Road in Wolfville, or Grand P R E as the GPS has it, and treated me to wine and lunch and dessert and views that are superb.

Pile of pumpkins bright in the fall day.
Pile of pumpkins bright in the fall day.


20161015_153244There20161015_140902 is a

A feast!
A feast!
My son thought these two women were quite fetching. Here's the fetching one in the pink jacket...
My son thought these two women were quite fetching. Here’s the fetching one in the pink jacket…
... and here's the fetching one with the short hair!
… and here’s the fetching one with the short hair!

British red phone booth in the middle of the vineyard and anyone can call anywhere in the world for free. There were tiny red pickled peppers and Jan bought a humongous jar of them to add to Cynthia’s pantry. It was beyond wonderful, and the trip through the leaves and through pumpkin displays almost sent me over the top. Over the top was picking up Basma Kavanagh and taking her home with us!

When we got back to Cynthia’s at Church Lake, E. Alex Pierce joined us and we had a glorious dinner and pyjama party, sort of, feet up, glass of wine, good talk, things like that… Heaven.

On Sunday we were joined by Carol Laing, artist and writer

Carol's bouquet and madeleines on a Sunday-blue cloth!
Carol’s bouquet and madeleines on a Sunday-blue cloth!

for brunch and for a writers’ meeting. It was grand, all so grand. More talking and talking poems and talking prose and life and cabbages and queens. Next post I’ll go backwards again, talk of Fogo and readings and all the small things that make up life.


len and claudia: the journey continues, photos taken and not taken

Highlights of coming to Helen’s caboose have to include the flicker sitting calmly on a sign warning people to keep vehicles on the road from that point. a photo op missed, except in memory.20160927_093315_resized_1

Helen is at the far end of the East Coast Trail. the road is terrible; it’s a good thing Helen has a good vehicle. But once arrived at the caboose, all that seems irrelevant. The view is pristine, the air clear, the waves roaring. The next day we start climbing the trail.You are well aware Len, what a lazy wimp I can be. Nothing stops you, or Helen, and besides, there are partridgeberries to pick, and me to train as a picker.

You know what a lazy wimp I can be. Nothing stops you, Len, or Helen, and besides, there are partridgeberries to pick, and me to train as a picker. The trail starts just up the hill above where the lighthouse used to be. When Helen shows me the photo of the beautiful old building, we are all sad because of the ways of modern humans, sad because the lighthouse does not exist anymore, that it was beautiful and supported a family. Another photo I haven’t taken, that bare area where the house used to be.There’s a plaque at the start of another trail that shows where there had been a church. Seven pews, that’s all. I saw a photo of it in a book at the Pouch Cove Library. The area is rich in the preservation of its history.

But we started to climb to the trail with its beautiful views, stepping over roots, over twisted dry tuckamore roots, until Helen discovered partridgeberries. Well, wasn’t our climbing slowed down after that; our eyes were peeled to the ground for more patches, until we came to a cove, which ordered us to stop and take notice. We climbed higher until we could look down on Biscaan Cove and the caboose, Mad Moll flashing in the cove.

Another day and another part of the trail, this time after rain which enhanced colours.  A little mushroom that looked like a rose… moss on a rotting log.mushroom-roseSpruce bark in the witchy wood captivated me, as did all manner of berries and rocks.

best-witchy-barkYou and Helen great at pointing out the different berries, saving eight late blueberries for me.

Then came the evening when the solar energy system stopped with a terrible whining sound. Gerry Skinner came round and fixed the problem, leaving Helen with more tips about the system, and the two of us with story upon story, from the illegality of solar power anywhere in the province where there is access to electricity. He’s a grand storyteller and we enjoyed the time he spent with us. Here he is, and Helen taking a pic of teh solution before she closes up the bench over the batteries or teh storage cells or whatever they are…


Leaving was hard, saying goodbye to Helen, and to the tiny pink buds of the crawling juniper.jumiper-buds-3

But then we had to go, and set off on the road to Fogo.  I was early for that ferry. I didn’t mind a bit. I had stopped by the side of a road and found a tiny wild orchid that is, perhaps, galearis rotundifolia, which was exciting. I know I wrote about this before, but it was on my mind again today, such delicate loveliness among the weeds.

What’s not to love about driving on a ferry and being asked, “Got yer ticket, my darling?” The ferry is huge, and as always with ferries, I am intrigued. I love the play of shape and light wherever you turn when the sun is going down. ferry-1Early on I catch sight of, in the dying light, The Fogo Inn. I’ve been interested in it, in seeing it, in watching videos about it, in its owner, ever since I first heard about it. And there it was, on the rocks, barely lit. Like a holy thing on an altar. The light shifted and I was driving in deep dusk among, supposedly, caribou.

Fogo Island Inn
Fogo Island Inn

Caribou. They are supposed to be all over this island, but I can’t catch sight of one. Two people staying at this B&B claimed to have seen Winston J. Osmond, local painter, proprietor of The Herring Cove Studio at Shoal Bay (pronounced Shawlbee) and carver, also known for his bakeapple, marshberry, partridgeberry and blueberry jams, walking along the road carrying the head of a caribou, just hunted, but the sign will probably be all I will ever see of a caribou. Or else this little bobblehead, sighted on the dashboard of a man who looks as if he’d hunted them for the past hundred years. His toothless grin when I asked permission to take a photo.only-caribou-im-likely-to-seeMany interesting things here, like The Flat Coffee Café and Roastery, Brimstone Head, Fogo’s Brimstone Head is supposed to be one of the four corners of the flat earth.  The café is closed after tourist season, but its roasted beans are sold all over the island, at the Fogo Inn and on the Ferry. Good stuff.

flat-earth-museumAnd on to Foley’s Place at Tilting where owner Tom Earl is known for what he produces in his kitchen… partridgeberry scones, and on special occasions, seafood meals of cod, shrimp, scallops and crab taken from waters right here at Tilting, and garden produce from local gardens. It’s a great place to be washed up, right at the start of Turpin’s Trail, and a museum full of surprising things. I posted pics from the trail last time because I was so struck by its beauty, but there is so much more to it and this area. Len feels he is very close to his roots here, and is happy.

More next time…Have to get to bed so I can wake sooner to those scones…






The 2016 Journey of Arctic Twilight in Newfoundland

So here we go Leonard Budgell; you wanted us to travel together so now we are, my spirit and your spirit. I met a second cousin of yours, Florence Eveleigh, known as Flossie. She and you have the same eyes, bright and warm.

Okay, here is our travel diary so far: First our reading with Helen Forsey at the Writers’ Guild in St. Johns. We heard writing that was stimulating.  You loved the Newfoundland accents from the Avalon and Berens peninsulas. I did too.

But coming ‘home’ to Biscaan Cove up at Cape St, Francis was so special; the caboose, even the excitement when Helen’s solar power system died. We plugged our ears against the whine of it. There was a fire in the stove and a Coleman stove for tea and soup and we were all quite content. You enjoyed Gerry Skinner’s tales so much when he came to repair the system that he told tales for hours and did not want to get paid.

Mad Moll just a little bit mad
Mad Moll just a little bit mad

The Cove. Didn’t we sit on the pillowy grass that is bent from the wind, and spend a morning with Mad Moll.  You and I know that Mad Moll is just a huge wave breaking on a shoal in the Bay, but she became almost a person as we watched her try and try again to get over that shoal. Actually Len, I’ve gotten an email from Helen who says Moll was quite put out that we left. You can’t win, can you; we had to go.

I figured out that the insect we saw at Po and Bob’s house was a crane fly. Here’s Po’s picture of it. And afterwards that double rainbow over Shoe Cove! I’ll have to see if Bob got a good photo of that…

Carne Fly by Po Chun Lau
Crane Fly by Po Chun Lau

Such memories of the reading at Pouch Cove, of ‘knowing’ now that Pouch is pronounced ‘pooch’…the room full of people who loved your writing, your stories, your knowledge, your respect for First Nations people. They got you, you see, got your very spirit and wanted more. So much more that all the books of Arctic Twilight sold out, and I had none for the rest of the tour.  I made emergency orders the next day, books to come here to Foley’s Place at Tilting, and some to Nova Scotia for the Bridgewater reading.

Cake to honour Len Budgell's Arctic Twilight. Thank you Pouch Cove!
Cake to honour Len Budgell’s Arctic Twilight. Thank you Pouch Cove!

Here’s the caboose, a reminder of that lovely place, and of lovely Helen, our host.  Wasn’t she great?  She is a pioneer type, knows everything about her environment, how to scavenge for berries, clamber trails, stack wood, gather rainwater.

Original Caboose from the Newfoundland Railway
Original Caboose from the Newfoundland Railway

Enough maybe for tonight… I’ll do another Diary entry when I get back from the Change Islands and Summerford libraries where your words will have their usual effect on listeners. They will be entranced by stories of Maggie, the war horse at North West River, your knowing boats and water from such a young age, your stories about the nurse who embarrassed you no end when you were a 12-year-old behind the Hudson’s Bay Company Store counter, and about Israel Williams and the owl.  It’s a bit complicated getting to these places because of ferry schedules, but you have always loved being on water. We’ll chat, as we always did. Maybe about the next book.


More soon…

Arctic Twilight: Taking Len Budgell Home

arctic twilight cover

How many times did Leonard say to me, write to me, that he would love to show me the Labrador, that he wished he could take me to visit his seagoing friend in Nova Scotia who was building a yacht, that he could take me back to the places he’d been.  They are countless, and I know this because you can do it all on the computer, right? Go into the manuscript and find them, and count them.

In the precious twenty-two years of his life that I knew him, he wrote about 7000 pages of letters, to me. He wrote thousands to other friends, but I think our connection was so close that he wrote more to me than to any one other person.

Now I am taking him home, not to the Labrador this time, but to where he went to secondary school in St. John’s, to Nova Scotia, to Fogo island where his father was born.  If Len had had his preferences in life, one of them would have been never to leave the Maritimes; another would have been to have had a life on the sea.

Arctic Twilight is edited  from the first four thousand pages he wrote me. Three thousand of those pages were of his family whom I knew, and who knew me. I heard of each new tooth a grandchild had struggled with, of a daughter’s gardens, of his wife Muriel’s Alzheimer disease.

The other thousand were of everything else he loved, mostly the people he treasured, native people he called, as they did back then, Indians and Eskimos; seagoing men, and women. he thought women were much higher in the scheme of things than men. He wrote of his Arctic postings with The Hudson’s Bay Company, of animals, of dogs and ospreys and owls and whales and seals. Goats. An early reader said his writing was magical, that once you get into it, you can’t put it down.

Unofficially he started working for the Company when he was twelve, behind the counter in North West River, Labrador, and driving nurses and doctors by dog team to distant locations on the Labrador. His official start was at Cartwright when he was 18 years old.len at 18

It’s a wonderful photo, isn’t it, Len at 18; it was once on the cover of Them Days Magazine as he often wrote for this oral history publication and was close to editor Doris Saunders. (He wrote many, many letters to her too, of course.)

So I will bring Leonard and his writings to Newfoundland and to Nova Scotia, reading in five libraries and several other venues. I could read for weeks never stopping, as although I’ve been taking him to places like Whitehorse lately, his writing is always alive to me, and I find it hard to stop reading his words aloud when the audience still seems to want more.

On Fogo I will be staying where he had lived for that seminal year when he was a boy, finishing the sequel to Arctic Twilight.  I can’t wait to have my feet walk the places he walked. I can’t wait to bring his words to more places. Places that will be the richer for them.

I love being able to say that Arctic Twilight: Leonard Budgell and the Changing North is one of the best books anyone can read, that every Canadian should know his writings, because I didn’t write this book, Leonard did.  It can be found on Amazon, also available on e-readers. It was published by Blue Butterfly Books, but is now under Dundurn Press.


To everyone ‘down east’, I’m looking forward to seeing you soon!

hans jongman’s ‘swooning’

I love the books I publish at catkin press. The latest is a wonderful memoir in haibun by Haiku Canada member Hans Jongman, with a section by his wife Farida.

As soon as I started to read the manuscript I knew I wanted this for a catkin book, but as I continued reading, I was captured by story, the haiku between the prose, the sense of a long deep relationship. It is punctuated with pathos and humour, and wanders all around the world. Photos enhance the sections well, as in this one in which all his sixteen-year-old hopes and vulnerability on his first sea voyage are apparent.

sailor hans

Farida’s written contribution (as opposed to her part in the overall story) leads to the later sections and the possibility of resolving a longtime situation.

I don’t want to say too much, except that it is mystery and a bit of treasure hunt for the things that really matter in life.

Hans’ peripatetic life began in Holland in 1951, and before eventually settling in Toronto, goes to sea, takes flights, car journeys. It keeps longtime friends, falls in love, has children and grandchildren, as many do. But his and Farida’s together make an extra intriguing literary intertwining.

He gets out of the haibun form all that Basho meant the form to produce; haibun adds lightness and space and the opportunity for the reader to breathe, and to add their own connotations. The text has several titled sections, such as one called “The Most Beautiful Eyes”, and another, “To Sea”

When Farida (the owner of the beautiful eyes) writes, the tale is succinct, easy to follow. eyes 2

Not haibun, just good straight effective prose. She says what she has to say, what she wants to tell, cleanly. No flounces or purple language here. Though not known as a writer, I think she should consider writing more in the future.

Read this book also for a picture of what it was to be a teenager in Holland in the 60s, for the situation of a young woman who loses her mother and is cut off from family. This book isn’t only for those who know the haibun form; anyone who enjoys a good read will love it.

On the extra benefit side, the haibun form may, because of SWOONING discover a new cohort of followers when they find what an accessible form it is and how subtly the haiku enhance the overall writing.





there’s something

There’s something about deciding to create a short edition of little handmade books, the planning, the figuring out how what poem to use, how to lay it out.

20160724_150621_resizedYou decide on a set of flutter books. You want it to be simple, to be made from one sheet of paper, and you’ve done this before.

There’s something to choosing the poem, to thinking it’s ready to print, then editing and re-editing.

There’s something about the decision to use a cover illustration, deciding on the kind of image you want, and figuring out where to find it.

You don’t know how to use those graphics programs, the highly technical ones, don’t understand how to use its layers, so it’s back to one you acquired, around the time of the dinosaurs. It came with a camera in 2006, and is no longer available even online.

So you make do, print out proof after proof. Move the illustration a little higher, try a soft edge on it. Choose a title font. Try it in different points.

20160724_151001_resizedNow that you’ve printed proofs, you reread the poem. There’s something that isn’t ringing the way you want the poem to ring. Rewrite a line. Rewrite another. Reposition new text.

Refold the booklet, reprint using a better grade of paper. There’s something about the careful folding of it, and the one cut you have to make. There’s something peaceful about lining up the corners.

There’s something about signing, numbering, dating what you’ve made. There they are, ready. You’re not sure exactly, what they are ready for; it doesn’t matter.




writing in the yukon

It comes to this: haiku poets travel to Whitehorse, Yukon, because they are poets, because they are curious about the Yukon, and/or want to meet other haiku poets, because they want to broaden their knowledge of the world of Japanese-form poetry, because they enjoy conferences, (and this will be The 2016 Haiku Canada Weekend!) because, just because they look forward to rubbing shoulders with members of Haiku Canada who are are the best people to be around, ever.  They’ve been to one of these Weekends, or more, and just have to be at another, or they are intrigued by the idea that poets will travel that far, from New York, Quebec, California, New Mexico, to spend a weekend based on poems that can be expressed in ‘one breath.’

True, we are a bit crazy, but we also know that secrets/surprises will unfold during this weekend, and we want in on them.  So here’s what happened: many people got there early or stayed longer to see the area around Whitehorse. Some got all the way to Skagway and Dawson City to drink a Sour Toe Cocktail, and to experience the Alaska Highway and Kluane National Park. Some went on Elisabeth Wiegand’s wonderful Black Bear Adventures Tours. Some rented a camper. Some were billeted by the most gracious and generous hosts. All that alone was worth the trip.

Highway sign to Bean North Coffee
Highway sign to Bean North Coffee Roasting on the takhini Hotsprings Road

But we are writers.  Writers who know the difficulty of putting such a weekend together. This time it was Kathy Munro and her team, many from her Solstice haiku group, many from the Bean North Wednesday Writers who meet way out in those bear-filled woods at Bean North Coffee Roasting Ltd., a delightful café that’s been going for about 15 years. You’d never expect to find such a place, complete with its own roaster, with organic food and Free Trade coffee and chocolate and simple lunches so good you might dream about them later.

Kathy Munro had written to The Commissioner of Yukon, Hon. Doug Phillips, requesting that the week be called Haiku Week in the Yukon; he signed a proclamation, and it was so. Haiku Week in the Yukon! The Cultural Services branch paid for all the ads in the papers! The City of Whitehorse got in on the act, getting out the trolley a couple of days earlier than usual so conference members could be clanged through town to the Northern Front Gallery. The MacBride Museum of Yukon History hosted a related reading, as did the Library, which also gave space for a display (more on this later…) and a reading; bookstores gave discounts and one gave super window space to a Haiku Book display; a coffee shop too, had discounts. Newspapers and radio gave space.  CBC on the radio and on CBC Yukon’s Facebook page gave information on the weekend. Everything seemed intertwined, the paper maker and the reporter attending the conference, the novelist putting copies of her novel Ice to Ashes on the ‘Free’ table. (Yes, haiku poets always have a ‘free’ table! Imagine!) Haiku Canada was everywhere.

The Wednesday group is known also as The Whitehorse Poetry Society and Local Writers, associated with Yukon Writers Collective, but members sometimes refer to themselves simply as The Bean North Writers.

Jessica Simon. reporter/novelist at Bean North
Jessica Simon. reporter/novelist
at Bean North

They gather, some with paper, others with laptops, in the little perfectly-chosen-blue room up front, with big windows that bring that Big North Feeling into the room, into the writing. Haiku writers work on Japanese-form poems, prose writers work on novels and short stories and newspaper articles. Plans get hatched. Two writers, reporter/crime novelist Jessica Simon, and Kathy Munro came up with one of those ‘extras’ that made the weekend extraordinary: Why not send out a call for ‘crime haiku’ and display the results in the Whitehorse Library. No sooner hatched, the path to realization had begun. The final display on ‘Killer Ku’ was magnificent.

crime pic 2 vancouver haiku group

So there was a team, and all the parts of the Weekend came together. I haven’t started, and won’t because this is a blog and not a book, to mention all the people and the planning that made the Weekend happen. And a report of everything that happened at the conference, as well as the agenda, will soon be up on the Haiku Canada website.

There are a few quiet volunteers and donors who might be missed though; Laurel Parry, calligrapher par excellence, who also made opening remarks for the conference, gave hours to making calligraph, name cards on the spot, putting them into name-tag holders scavenged by Kathy’s husband at a geology conference, holders that are much more chic than what we normally call name-tags.

Helen O’Connor, paper artist, who curated an exhibit called Words at The Northern Front Gallery, (handmade paper art that included poetry or other word applications) was another team member as she and Ms. Munro collaborated to have the show opening sync with the conference and three haiku poets had pieces in the show. Ms. O’Connor also gave us paper-making, calligraphy and book binding workshops. She also donated hand-made paper for the name tags…

stinging Nettle Knickers, byHelen O'Connor
stinging Nettle Knickers, by Helen O’Connor, image from the WORDS exhibition catalogue

But I wanted to zone in on the writers who meet regularly, their spirit and the way they connect at Bean North, and how central they can be to setting cultural atmoshpere in a far away northern city. When they get together in that blue room, writing is simply in the air; you can almost see it, and you can certainly feel it. I was only there for a couple of hours, but the ease of camaraderie among these wordsmiths reminded me of that famous house in Toronto where members of the Group of Seven painters had their studios, how they would work, but also roam around, comment on each other’s paintings, have coffee.

This writers’ group acts as a think tank, some of the creative people of Whitehorse, who interact in various ways, who are connected through words, through Art, through book clubs. My feeling was if you have anything to do with writing, newbie or seasoned, you’re invited and included as part of the group. Whitehorse is an ‘alive’ place to be an artist or a writer, and since live things grow, and are dependent on supports of various kinds, this is the place to be on Wednesdays. The best part is that, though it is not formally a critique group, that can happen if a writer is looking for input.  So there’s no stress involved. You don’t have to ‘come up with something’ to share. But if you have something to share, you’re in the right café.

And if you want to know how to get things done, writers often have the skills and connections to make something happen, as witnessed by the whole of Yukon in the papers and on the radio. In all my years with Haiku organizations in North America, the Whitehorse experience made more use of the media, including social media, and of the cultural and physical aspects of an area than ever before, including respect and appreciation for the use Whitehorse citizens have of First Nations Land.

That ‘Killer Ku’ exhibit at the library will likely become a book, for example; the writers are already working on that project. So I would suggest, if for any reason you are going to Whitehorse, and are a writer, that you connect with this group. You never know what will come of it, and the least that could happen is that you meet some amazing people who happen to write. And if you are lucky, you will connect with Haiku Canada at http://haikucanada.org whether you write haiku or not.

I for one, recommend going to Whitehorse for many reasons, and my best dreams would be of being quiet among those sacred mountains. With all the creative and hospitable people that live there.




The beauty of short tanka

These tanka are from the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of Gusts, Canada’s Tanka magazine. I have a preference for shorter poems, revel in how so few words can say so much, and find longer tanka are often poems to which not enough thought has been given.

only had
one dream about
my father—
he walked
right past me

Stanford Forrester

in between storm clouds
there is hope
for a sunny day
with you

Mike Montreuil

for a heartbeat
let me breathe-in
the scent
of his hair

Huguette Ducharme

the glass—
a taste of lipstick
just before
the taste of wine

Colin Bardell

I’ll bury it
moon deep for now—
this longing
for a lover
like you

Paul Smith

child dies
of cancer
clouds shape shifting
white to black

Pamela A. Babusci

Emptying trash
the letter
I threw away
I throw away

Carol Purington

a contrail
stretching straight
toward the sun
I was watching it
until I felt lonely

Kozue Uzawa

Shinoe Shôda, who died herself in 1965 from an illness caused by the atomic bomb, depicts the tragic death from the bomb of children and a teacher who tried to protect them:

the big bones
must be
the teacher’s
the little skulls
are amassed nearby

Hiroshi Homura’s skillful and unexpected juxtapositions carry a powerful message of radiation and the fallibility of the human body:

at ground zero
of the atomic bombing
unwrapping soap
at night, naked

Yoshiko Takagi describes how children are given tablets to protect them from radiation of the thyroid after the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in 2011:

how cruel—
on a child’s
one pale red tablet
of potassium iodide

Sanford Goldstein says that variations keep readers alert—and appreciative:

tonight’s relief: /pie /deep /in a cafeteria/ booth         Sandford Goldstein

this child
night after night
and still
the stars

Christina Nguyen

I feel at home
in another life
I was a seagull

Joanne Morcom

you came back
little swallow
I am here

Huguette Ducharme

long line
at the coffee shop—
the perfect place
not to meet
anyone at all

Robert Piotrowski

yellow leaves
grey sky
the drip drip
of time passing

munira judith avinger

little by little
my yoga poses
little by little
I get to know him

Kozue Uzawa

listening to
the Missa Solemnis,
I try to imagine
orphic silence

Mary Kendall

haiku weekend
silk jammies
the narrow road
to the interior

Tom Lyon Freeland

only had
one dream about
my father—
he walked
right past me

Stanford M. Forrester

The image at the top of the post is a detail from the cover of a novel about Murasaki, early Japanese novelist and tanka poet, by Lisa Dalby.

To Vanuatu With Love


ni-vanuatu women
walk upstream
stone by flat stone
water sloshing at their ankles
to vanuatu with love

crunch click giggle
the sounds of snails
just-plucked and eaten raw
their cheerful symbiosis
with the natural world

down the cliff
into deep blue
the women’s fearless dives
into their own element
having floated certain leaves
over the reef
the old woman pulls out
from deep in the coral
the octopus she has stunned
the island of land dives
an old chief
gives me
a curled pig’s tooth

in another village
the greatest gift
for an honoured guest
a white clucking chicken
I hold it nervously
made of corrugated tin
the village guesthouse
a warning to lock windows
against devils
and men who ‘creep’

openem windo blong yu
he whispers at my window
me wantem creep yu
he wants into my bed
according to custom

sori tumas, mi bin talem
be mi marrit finis
mi marrit tu he says
be tede waef blong me stop
long narafala aelan

which means:

I am sorry, I say
but I am married
I am married too, he says
but today my wife
is on another island
the wise man, or cleva
is called to determine
who stole the money
it is, he said
a woman from Mele village

she admits the theft
of her fellow students’ money
she need the vatu
to buy me, her teacher
the carved dolphin
I will not make
another student return
to her husband
I unwisely say
to the Chief of Police

she must go he says
she and her children
are the property of her husband
deep purple bruises
on her brown skin
she names her child
Claudia after me
but uses my full name
when the child
talks too much

the small girl
i would have adopted
oh to have been
strong then
said yes to a partner’s no

The image is of Nelly from Ambae, a child stigmatized because of having an American soldier for a grandparent. I would have adopted her, and tried later when I no longer was with that partner, but she’d been adopted by then.