rocking on slow waves
a passing ferry
Sometimes I’m asked:
What is poetry for me?
Poetry is translation, transplanting from one realm (feelings, thoughts, experience) to another (words). It is exploration, going beyond the known. Like the early explorers who thought the world was flat and feared falling off the edge, yet were driven to go on, there is for me, in writing poetry, both exhilaration and anxiety. Will there be nothing beyond the edge, or will I discover that island in the ocean, the right words, crack open the coconut, drink the refreshing water? A sip of joy!
Most exciting is to realize you’ve taken something hidden along—a stowaway, a tree frog, perhaps a few rats.
The door opens.
Poetry slips in
wraps itself around my throat
digs in with claws of contentment
My voice strums the hazard note
grapples with breath
backs into the forest
to limber, stretch, arch,
learn to see in the dark.
I’ve always known
something struggles in the woods
torch of swamp cabbage
a rough tongue
Why do I write poetry?
That is a bit of a mystery, since I didn’t write poetry for most of my life. My first poem—I was in my early sixties—took 3 years to write. It was about my father who had severe heart problems. There is a scene that has always stayed in my mind: my father walking up and down a long tree-lined lane, to ward off death, to counter pain. There is something about him in that image I wanted to capture —awareness of his fragility, his longing for life, his tenacity. Adding, somehow, his abiding love of music. For the longest time I couldn’t find the right words to say all this in a way that felt right.
I write to do that.
What do I write about?
I write about moments, experiences, memories that stick in my mind and don’t let go, as in my very first poem.
Happy moments, sad moments, reactions to the world around me, its beauty, its devastations, and the dislocation I sometimes feel on seeing soul-shattering events on TV while sitting at home on a comfy sofa.
Sometimes about art that reflects the dilemmas, shimmering, dark, of our existence,
How do I write?
There is a lot of stumbling about. That is why my first poem took three years. I thought it would be my last. But new ideas kept coming. I felt possibility. Working initially with the sextant of instinct, that ancient instrument, I gradually added, through workshops, courses, books, and wise poets, more navigation tools.
I still feel every new poem might be my last, and am grateful when it isn’t.
Who influenced me?
Whenever I read a beautiful poem I think: Please influence me, please influence me.
Poems by such magnificent writers as: T. Tranströmer, Monty Reid, Karen Enns, Eve Joseph, Arleen Paré, Douglas Burnett Smith, Pamela Porter, Yvonne Blomer, Ilya Kaminsky, Anne Simpson, John Thompson, Wysława Szymborska, Patrick Friesen, Jane Munro . . . .