Welcome to CollingWord, the place to learn about poetry and the spoken word in Collingwood. As a literary form for people of all ages and backgrounds, poetry can be a source of inspiration and help us express what matters most to us as individuals and as a community. We look forward to adding information and creative output to these pages as our community’s connection to the written and spoken word grows here in CollingWord.
Introducing Collingwood's first Poet Laureate, Day Merrill
Day will serve a two-year term as Poet Laureate from May 2018 to April 2020 during which she will be a champion for poetry and literary arts in Collingwood. Day studied literature and poetry in university and holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and Education and a Master of Arts. “I see my role as 'poetry advocate'," said Day. "I’m looking forward to championing projects that have the potential to help all residents experience the power of poetry as creators, not only consumers.”
Applications for Collingwood’s Poet Laureate position were garnered through an open call for submissions and a jury comprised of members of the community selected Day.
Contact Day: email@example.com
This Spring we invited some local writers to select a park in Collingwood where they have a connection and create a poem about it. With the ability to fire our imaginations and bring to life the sights, sounds and character of a place, who better to highlight some of the parks in Collingwood than local poets! The result is a unique storymap developed by our in-house GIS Specialist that includes videos of each poet reciting their poem in the park. We would like to thank our five poets who helped us pilot this project: Gloria Kropf Nafziger, Jake McArthur, Day Merrill, Brenda Miller and Susan Wismer. We hope that this is just the first phase of Place Holders and that in the future we can expand our reach to include other places in Collingwood-both the notable and the unnoticed. Here is the link to the storymap >>.
New this year at the Collingwood Art Crawl on September 21 is the Literary Arts Lounge!
Whether you are a poet, novelist, raconteur or memoirist, I’d like to invite you to join us at the first Literary Arts Lounge taking place during the upcoming Collingwood Art Craw on Saturday, September 21st. The event at the Simcoe Street Theatre will run from 5:00 pm-9:00pm; here are the details:
5:30–6pm: Screening of the Awen’ Gathering Circle Dedication including Dr. Duke Redbird reading his poem “The Power of the Land.”
6:30–7pm: Screening of Place Holders, an initiative of local poets reading their original poems about special places in Collingwood.
7:30–9pm: Well Chosen Words, an Open Mic event of live readings, recitations and performances by local literary luminaries, including YOU. Come listen and/or sign up for a slot to read/recite an original or favourite work–any genre.
Please let me know if you would like to participate; there will be a sign-up sheet that day so you can secure a 5-minute time slot.
The Poetry Booth returned to Side Launch Days Harbour Festival on August 12. We connected a tablet to a vintage typewriter-style keyboard called a Qwerkywriter and provided prompts to help get people started. Here are some of the impressions, thoughts, feelings and inspirations that we collected.
Cool summer breeze
blowing across the harbour
lifts flags and spirits
It is malleable
soft as each new day coming
Another drop falls
Later in the day
the sun is still bright but the
children are drowsy
Three oceans ring our nation
Five lakes gird our border
Thousands more dot every province–
Water is the taste of Canada
When I look up I see her face in profile tipped slightly upwards and turned as if she is receiving some celestial advice from the penny moon that patiently hangs in the starry sky with the tip of its arch pointing to Jupiter, a planet that if it had a voice would surely be soft and low and round and full in a way that expands you and softens your edges to lull you toward the sweetest death and the delight of new beginnings.
The hue began to rise
in the distant view
on the horizon, the sun, gold on blue
the warmth appeared a stranger, too
I really liked sitting at home
With you watching Game of Thrones
Although some scenes made me want to scream
You remind me of ice cream
I know that out time together is never near its end
In you I’ve found a forever friend
Mad Lit Poem:
So much depends
the inner ear
functioning in harmony
with the body
I’m thinking about the time I was with the birds.
They were hopping around and flying into the trees
and I wanted to go with them!
There are two blind goddesses, Fortune and Justice
along the sidewalk like
gaily proclaiming who was here
if not why,
other than to revel in the warmth
on one of the last weekends before fall
Here are some of the entries from the 2018 Poetry Booth:
Ho Ho Ho off to Collingwood we go.
Hey, hey, hey, where it's always a beautiful day!
Ley ley ley lets go jump in the bay
Ra ra ra there's no other place to stay!
No place better in the world to be
Collingwood Harbour shoreline with cool breeze to the lee
Terminals watching over us all
It's so big, it makes us look so small
Boaters, paddlers and boarders too
Something for everyone of you
I love you like April wine
So please tell me what's your sign
You're eyes they look so kind
So please tell me let's waste some time
In a world of our own, I'm not alone.
Surrounded by Earth's driven beauty
comfort and company in a world that may seem empty.
In a world of our own, I'm not alone.
Be not afraid to face what may challenge you.
Finding your light, beyond the night.
Far amongst the dimensions of what may or may not be.
In a world of our own, I'm not alone.
- Melanie Vollick
This is a story about a small town called Collingwood,
where hard working men and women built ships out of solid wood.
Majestic they stood, oh what a sight!
These ships fought in the war with all their might!
So let's be proud of the rich heritage
and not forget that Golden Age!
- Priya and Sachin Patkar
Hot Summer Night
It was a hot summer night
and the fireflies were out in plain sight,
busy collecting the midnight dew
never knowing that time flew.
So fast and not of sight
on a hot summer night.
- Janine Cubias
The beauty of this day
can be seen with our own eyes
The time we share together
is bonded with love's ties
The kindness in our deeds
without hesitation when we give
In Collingwood we feel it
it's part of how we live
My home where I was raised
as well my children have grown
I am proud to live and work
in such a magnificent home
Love and beauty is abundant
in the kindness of people we meet
The glorious heritage of our home
the pride and history of our streets
I'm so proud to be Canadian
and live with pride every day
Collingwood is my home
and here is where I'll stay.
- Jodie Plummer
Collingwood, you make me happy
When I sit by the water and think
Wow it'd be nice to have a drink
The water is so blue
I can almost hear the cows moo
as I sit with my person and say I love you
There once was a town on the bay
Far far away
Where two walker lovers
Chatting about their future
Dreaming on better days
We went on a bike ride in the afternoon sun
with our good friends, we had lots of fun
Our goal was the water to see all the kites
pedalling fast with all of our might.
The walkway and boats were wonderful to see
Collingwood in summer is a great place to be.
Entertainment at Blue Mountain will round off the day
After Side Launch festivities down by the bay.
Gentle breezes blow
Scents of summer in the air.
Sounds of gulls overhead
Wish these days would last forever.
- Debra Watkinson
we hold hands
and new lives
blessed by grandma's request
that a wedding happen
before her time comes
we walk hand in hand
and remember that the dreams of the past
the dreams of our ancestors
As we stumble upon the trail
we discover the cool breeze of summer air
The scent of summer sun glistens
across the Georgian Bay
Reminding us all that we are one.
Like flocks of birds, they cluster–
hugging the shoreline and each other,
sipping and nibbling, chittering like sparrows,
calling like gulls, strutting like peacocks,
dancing along the water's edge like sandpipers.
Under such a sky, how could we be anything
but avian today?
- Day Merrill
Open the path from the mind to the heart
and the world itself opens to you
Infinitely spiraling outward and in
All falls away and only the vibration remains
The body the mind the soul–
only lenses of expression
within a vast infinite sea of Void and infinity
I AM the all, I AM nothingness
Creating and destroying
from one moment to the next
The water and mountains speak to my soul
The mountains are my church
the water's personality changes by the minute,
just like us.
Blue, eyes, lake, my soul
Beyond the horizon, I see orange
like a butterfly's wing.
I will sing, my mind's fog will lift,
my spirits too.
This is me. My life.
As it is now, until the winds
change direction and I seek
A new beginning
- T. Felgner
A common thread
between all people
do not forget Her
- Brett Plummer
People who stop by remark on how cool the booth is.
I tell them, "It's not just the shade and the breeze.
Poetry is the coolest genre there is!"
- Day Merrill
Participants were invited to select a card form our Poetry Jam jar and compose a poem incorporating the 3 words on the card they picked. Here’s one using wave, tree and cup:
It's early morning and the waves are high,
Having a cup of coffee in the sun
with green trees blowing.
Waves, tree and coffee on my mind.
- Lisa Nell
Can You Haiku?
This popular form of 3 lines of 5-7-5 syllables was also popular.
Turquoise hued waters
a playground for all enjoyed
Skies match the drama.
- Chris Marin
Here’s a Haiku "conversation" between Day Merrill, Poet Laureate and Erika Engel, Collingwood Today Reporter:
Trickster sun–your bright
summer rays give more light, yet
cast deeper shadows.
Do we need shadows
to reveal the light that lives
inside summer rays?
Young Author Contributions
Once there were three ninjas who started a club.
They had lots of cool swords and stuff,
but no one wanted to join.
So they became super ninjas.
Once upon a time there was a cookie.
This particular cookie wasn't just any cookie–it was a warrior cookie.
Warrior cookies are the most delicious kinds of cookies and they can turn into any kind of cookie you want to make even more tasty.
This cookie was the last of them but the tastiest because she was a cookie princess.
She was the last warrior cookie was because her parents died trying to protect her.
Now EVERYONE is trying to eat her so she tries to survive
and she has the will to survive.
We even got a couple of limericks!
In August there's always the hope
that I will be out on a boat
to catch some fish
without even one miss
then have them set upon applewood smoke
There’s a place I know in Ontario
where fish drink beer and eat cheerios
It's a wonderful place
to put a smile on your face
everyone loves Collingwood
- Coen Noel
Fan Mail: What a wonderful day, Day. Thanks so much for your conversation and charm. I love words that can be spoken or put down on pages. It seems to me the ones we jot down on pages seem to come alive, more so than the spoken words. Not a poet, just a thinker! Thank you for allowing me to share.
As the festival winds down, my heart fills to the brim, overflowing with the words people have shared over the past two days. I am happy to say with confidence that poetry is alive and well in Collingwood and has very much enjoyed coming out to play! The Poetry Booth will be back; we’ll let you know where and when it will make its next appearance so you can come out and play with words.
Collingwood Arts and Music Festival 2019 is a one day event taking place in Creative Simcoe Street between Ste. Marie and St. Paul Streets in downtown Collingwood on Saturday, June 29. Poet Laureate Day Merrill had lots of fun creating poetry with the young and young at heart.
A simple blanket
tells a riveting tale
one of grand voyages
big dreams, and soft cuddly kittens
a lifetime of memories
woven into a cozy tapestry
each square a piece of history
take a peek inside my life
every time you seek solace
under this patchwork quilt
The Raptors win
A Ring is made
A nation united
The taste: delicious
The rainbow is a prism,
a bright curtain behind
which the sun sets
like a bright toy.
We went on a hike
at the forest of downtown
and I saw a cow
-Ashley & Cora Maher
The Town of Collingwood celebrated National Poetry Month this April with a series of creative and fun activities.
“It’s great that there’s a month to celebrate the joys of poetry,” says Day Merrill, Collingwood’s Poet Laureate, “Just as April sees new life springing forth, this is a time for words to do the same.”
Collingwood’s Poetry Month activities:
- Collingwood StoryWalk® featured a book called Poetree by Canadian author Caroline Pignat. The StoryWalk is located along the Train Trail starting at the Station Museum, 45 St. Paul Street. Follow the Train Trail and read the pages of Poetree, displayed along the path under plexiglass. The StoryWalk is a collaboration between PRC and the Collingwood Public Library.
- “Poetry Kits” were placed at the Collingwood Museum and Centennial Aquatic Centre. Each kit was loaded with ideas and tools for anyone to build their own poem.
- Poetry Month Display showcased one of the newly installed display cases at Central Park Arena with poems by Canadian and international authors as well as a “spontaneous poetry wall” for anyone wanting to share their prose and musings.
- “Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 18 encouraged folks to select a poem, carry it, and share it with others to brighten their day. Those who recited their poem to staff at the Collingwood Museum or Centennial Pool and received a pass for a free swim or skate.
- Pints & Poems was held on April 23. “Much like beer, poetry is an acquired taste.” Pints & Poems saw us sampling both! Hosted by Side Launch Brewing Company, and emceed by our Poet Laureate, some poets seasoned and new alike, read their original poetry and shared some favourites while sampling some of the area’s finest brews.
The Collingwood StoryWalk® book ifor April is called Poetree by Canadian author Caroline Pignat and was selected in honour of National Poetry Month. The StoryWalk is located along the Train Trail starting at the Station Museum, 45 St. Paul Street. Follow the Train Trail and read the pages of Poetree, displayed along the path under plexiglass.
Poem in Your Pocket Day is an international movement that encourages everyone to put some poetry in their daily lives. It takes place during National Poetry Month, April each year. Activities are held to encourage people to select a poem, carry it all day, and share it with others. In Collingwood, if you recite your poem to staff at the Collingwood Museum or Centennial Pool you’ll receive a pass for a free swim or skate. You never know, Day Merrill, Collingwood's Poet Laureate just may stop by!
A community word-art installation at the waterfront promenade during Sidelaunch Days 2018 that invited festival-goers to “Write the waves” with a word, phrase or quote that expressed their view of Collingwood. Thanks to FRAM for use of the wall.
What a beautiful day to invite visitors and residents to pick up a marker and write on a wall. We didn't have to ask people twice! Inspired by the waterfront views, sunny skies and festival fun, it wasn't hard to see that folks had lots to say about their day, in 12 different languages too! Thank you FRAM for letting us use your wall and thanks to everyone for "writing the waves" with us.
The Songwriters who made Elvis Presley a Legend
During the Collingwood Elvis Festival, July 27-29, 2018 Writing for the King™ posters were displayed in the windows and storefronts of downtown businesses. Each one featured a songwriter whose music and lyrics helped make Elvis the King™ of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Beneath all the glitter and glam, Elvis Presley was an intuitive, intelligent musician who embraced a wide range of music that included gospel and jazz as well as rhythm & blues and good old rock & roll. Would you be surprised to learn that that despite his passion for music and his singular singing talent, Elvis wasn’t a songwriter? While many of his greatest hits originally credited him as co-writer, this was a practice that enabled a singer to collect royalties on the songs they made famous. In fact, Elvis didn’t write a single one of the 700+ songs he recorded in his lifetime!
That doesn’t matter to his fans, who make pilgrimages to Graceland, Presley’s former estate in Memphis, Tennessee and here to Collingwood, Ontario, site of the internationally recognized Elvis Festival. Even though Elvis didn’t write any of the songs he recorded, his vocalization style and highly personal interpretations have kept fans enthralled to this day. Many of his hits have been covered by other artists, but there’s something about an Elvis recording that makes him unique as a performer and unmatched as an artist. He will always be the King™ of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
This year, Collingwood’s Poet Laureate chose to pay tribute to the songwriters who made the legend possible. Throughout downtown Collingwood, twelve different Writing for the King™ posters were displayed in restaurants and storefronts showcasing a few of the songwriters behind the throne.
|Otis Blackwell||Mac Davis|
|Wally Gold||Florence Kaye|
|Leiber & Stoller||Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman|
|Jerry Reid||Aaron Schroeder|
|Winfield Scott||Billy Strange|
|Sid Tepper||Ben Weisman|
You can also check out Ken Sharp’s book Writing for the King™ for a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse into the politics, money, inspiration around Elvis and the songs others wrote that he turned into classics.
Thank you to the following participating businesses:
|The Lively Olive||Espresso Post||U-Pick Parties|
|Soapstones Natural Skincare||Robinson's Paint & Wallpaper||Read it Again Books|
|Potato Factory||NakdBasics||Graphic Wearhouse|
|Collingwood Public Library||Blue Mountain Music||Leuk|
|Blue Mountain Foundation for the Arts||Elaine Dickinson||Dr. John Miller/Dr. Sam Goodman|
|Simcoe Street Books||Pita Pit||Huron Club|
|Clerkson's Home Store||Collingwood Business Development Centre||OneLove: Global Local Eco|
|Blue Mountain Tea Company|
In this section, you’ll find a running list of literary events that may be of intertest. If you are planning such an event and would like it posted here, please let us know. We’re always happy to spread the “word.”
- September 26, 2019: Open Mic, 6-8 pm, Sidelaunch Brewery hosted by the Blue Mountains Writers' Group. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
- September 22 & 23, 2019: Quarter Century Theater presents Collected Stories of Hearts and Minds
- May 12, 2019: Collingwood Public Library Annual Literary Coffee House
- May 4-11, 2019: Quarter Century Theatre presents Miss Julie and A Doll's House
- May 1, 2019: Opening to the Mystery
- April 23, 2019: Pints & Poems
- April 18, Poem in Your Pocket Day
- April 13, 2019: Day of the Poets 2
- September 23-26: Quarter Century Theatre presents Black & White & Grey All Over
- September 8: Words in the Woods, Dunedin Literary Festival
- November 2-4: Words Aloud Festival. Owen Sound and Durham. wordsaloud.ca.
- October 27: We Love Words, Blue Mountain's Writers' Group, Craigleith Heritage Depot
- October 13: 25 Year, A Young Life in Poetry and Music, Simcoe Street Theatre
- August 18: How to Get Published: An editor & a literary agent tell all with Paige Sisley, Collingwood Public Library
- July 1: Poetry Tent at Collingwood's Festival for Canada Day
- June 14: Author Heather Tucker discusses her novel Clay Girl, Collingwood Public Library
- June 10: Simcoe Street Books In the Writers' Studio with Genevieve Scott and Sarah Selecky, Simcoe Street Theatre
- May 15: Playing with Words: A Poetry Workshop with Poet Laureate Day Merrill, Collingwood Public Library
For anyone who would like to read more poetry and maybe even start writing it, the resources in this section can help. Drop us a line if you have any resources that you’d recommend so we can share them on this page.
The mission of the League of Canadian Poets is to enhance the status of poets and nurture a professional poetic community and enlarge the audience for poetry by encouraging publication, performance and recognition of Canadian poetry nationally and internationally. Anyone can access the website; members of the League are professional poets who are actively contributing to the development, growth, and public profile of poetry in Canada.
Canadian writing guru Brian Henry is a book editor, writer and creative writing instructor who leads writing workshops throughout Ontario, including on occasion at the Collingwood Public Library. Brian also publishes the Quick Brown Fox blog and monthly newsletter full of helpful information for writers. To subscribe (it’s free), email email@example.com. Be sure to include your location, as Brian creates different newsletters for different locales.
MANUSCRIPT Magazine is a quarterly digital literary magazine completely devoted to books, authors, reading, literary news, fandom and more.
The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, is an independent literary organization committed to discovering and celebrating poetry and making it available to a wide audience. The site contain numerous resources including Poem-of-the-Day, a free subscription.
Poem-a-Day is a free daily digital poetry series featuring over 200 new, previously unpublished poems each year. On weekdays, poems are accompanied by commentary by the poets with classic poems on weekends.
LinkedIn hosts an open forum called Poetry Editors & Poets Group with members from all levels of poetry writing/editing and all parts of the world. The group exists to encourage poetry editors and poets to talk about all styles and forms of poetry and the creative work of writing, revising, editing and publishing poems. Free to join with a basic LinkedIn account, also free of charge.
Welcome to my blog, which I call Symbol & Drum to reflect my dual role as your Poet Laureate. As a poet, I’ll be using symbolism, metaphor and other literary devices to create poems in a wide range of forms on the topic of Collingwood– what it means, both as a place and as a community. In addition, as a poetry advocate, I’ll be “beating the drum” to promote the written and spoken word as an art form that has been underrepresented in our area compared to the visual arts, music, theatre and dance.
I hope you enjoy reading it, and I look forward to hearing from you what you’d like me to be talking about.
September is back-to school month here in the Northern Hemisphere. Even for those of us who have been out of school for years (or decades!), there is something about September that calls us “back” from the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. So in honour of school days and seriousness, I’m focusing this month’s blog on the building blocks of all literature– words.
Let’s start with the word “word” itself. While fairly straightforward in its origins and original meaning, this little noun has grown legs if not wings over time. The Oxford English Dictionary notes no fewer than 12 different “definitions” for word ranging from the prosaic “single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing” to the ethical as in “his word is his bond” to the pugilistic “them’s fightin’ words” to the permissive “just say the word.”
If there are this many denotations and connotations derived from this basic element of speech, is it any wonder that linguistic confusion arises over more complex words? Add to that the nuances of culture and you can get chaos. When I moved to Canada from the US, I discovered that we were two countries separated by a common language. I was passingly familiar with the King’s English from having studied Brit Lit in college (which in the US means an institution of higher learning where you can get a 4-year degree that doesn’t have any doctoral programs). But Canadian English that straddles the border with its neighbour/neighbor to the south while remaining somewhat connected to Mum across the pond was challenging to analyze/analyze. Definitely not black and white–more like 50 shades of grey/gray.
Here’s how a simple difference in a word’s meaning can lead to, well…having words! At the consulting firm I joined, we had regular meeting to talk over process issues and client challenges. I had something I wanted to bring up at the meeting and asked my manager to include it on the agenda. Laconic at best, he replied, “I’m going to table that for this meeting.” Surprised by his apparent dismissal, I pressed further for the topic to be included. He said somewhat testily, “I said I was going to table it.” I felt rebuffed, as this was an important issue. I tentatively responded, “Yes but,” when it occurred to me that I might be missing something. I asked him what he meant by “tabling” an item and he replied that it meant including. I apologized for my truculence, explaining that in the US to “table” something means to set it aside for another time. Whew! Communication problem solved/war averted!
Despite its many challenges, those of us who love language do so because it is endlessly fascinating. We look up word origins for fun (learning early on the distinction between entomology and etymology). We savour a good turn of phrase like a sip of great wine. We memorize bits and prices of other people’s words and we pen words of our own, in both cases marvelling at what can be created out of thin air. Mostly we play with words–we love clever wordplay, jokes that depend on a linguistic twist and yes- puns. We learn the plurals of species (a murder of crows, an exaltation of larks) and revel in new language created to describe emerging phenomena. We are grammar freaks and punctuation police, abjuring the Dangling Modifier almost as much as the Grocer’s Apostrophe–both seen as an attack on linguistic propriety.
If we are fortunate, this love of words leads us through a realm of literature that includes all genres. And if we are very lucky, we find a home in language distilled to its sweetest essence: poetry. For us the lyrics of the Beatles song The Word resonate at a very deep level:
Say the word and you'll be free
Say the word and be like me
Say the word I'm thinking of
Have you heard the word is love?
For people like us, language is glorious. It’s “so fine, it's sunshine.” From ancient words we can barely translate to familiar words we grew up on to emerging new linguistic forms that delight us, we love words. And we hope you do too. On Saturday, September 21st we’ll be playing with words as part of the Collingwood Art Crawl. In addition to the art and music you’ll find up and down Hurontario and Simcoe Streets, words will have their own venues.
- Look for our 5 interactive “Progressive Poetry” sites posted along the event and add a line of your own to build a community poem.
- Take a crawl break and join us for some inspiring words at the Literary Arts Lounge located at the Simcoe Street Theatre. We’ll be screening both the the Awen’ Gathering Circle Dedication featuring Dr. Duke Redbird reading his poem “The Power of the Land” and Place Holders, an initiative of local poets reading their original poems about special places in Collingwood.
- From 7:30-(;00, we’re hosting an Open Mic session on stage for anyone who wants to share a favourite or original piece of writing, so come read or listen.
The Literary Arts Lounge has been named one of the Art Crawl’s “unmissables” so be there or be square. Word!
This month’s poem is one I wrote about language in relation to the tragic events of September 11, 2001. As you read it, ask yourself what do you want new language for?
Sometime in August, the light begins to change. Days may still be warm–brutally hot even–but a shift occurs. As plump apples slip to the ground and sunflowers open their faces to the sky, little signs of fall start to appear. I see it first in the birch tress, among the earliest to release yellow leaves that flutter in the breeze like tiny prayer flags before drifting onto the grass. The calendar tells us that summer ends mid-September, but we sense otherwise. And as much as we look forward to cozy sweaters and pumpkin lattes by a crackling fire, we feel sad.
Have you ever noticed that we humans seem to be much better at beginnings than endings? Beginnings–a new life, a new love, a new job, a new home–seem so full of promise! Over time, the bloom inevitably fades from all the roses, but the endings hit us the hardest. Contrast the feelings evoked by the birth of a baby and the death of a loved one, a wedding and divorce proceedings, getting hired v. getting fired, moving in and leaving.
Perhaps some of our perspective is formed by the one characteristic that separates us from the rest of creation: foreknowledge of death. Once we are old enough to realize that everything, everyone including ourselves will die, our lives always contain– sometimes at the edges and sometimes at the centre–a tinge of melancholy. Unlike the joyous bird the 19th century English poet John Keats describes in his “Ode to a Nightingale,” we humans are unable to “sing of summer in full-throated ease.” Despite our attempts to keep it at bay, we never “quite forget what thou among the leaves hast never known,” the unavoidability of death.
It has always seemed ironic to me that as humans we are poised on the dual-edged sword of foreknowledge. While we may not know the day, the time, the place or the circumstances, we do know that at some point we will die. How do we live with this knowledge? As best we can. In the poem “They Are Not Long,” Ernest Dowson (another 19th century Brit) states, “They are not long, the days of wine and roses,” a realty that prompted 17th century British poet Robert Herrick to advise “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” Finding moments of beauty and meaning in a life we are aware is inexorably hurtling toward an appointment with death is an act of courage.
And there are plenty of those moments, as the 20th century American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti says in his poem “The Coney Island of the Mind,
The world is a beautiful place to be born into… the best place of all
for a lot of such things as
making the fun scene
and making the love scene
and making the sad scene
and singing low songs and having inspirations
and walking around
looking at everything
and smelling flowers
and goosing statues
and even thinking
and kissing people and
making babies and wearing pants
and waving hats and
and going swimming in rivers
in the middle of the summer
and just generally
'living it up'
Even though Ferlinghetti ends the poem with the stark reminder that “right in the middle” of life comes “the smiling mortician,” we can capture moments–in memories, in pictures and in poems. The two poems I’ve posted this month are related to death.
The first is in honour of Alex, a homeless transgender teen who took his life in February. Alex was profiled in Collingwood Today writer Jessica Owen’s 2018 series on youth homelessness in our community (https://www.collingwoodtoday.ca/local-news/homeless-teens-treated-like-g...) and subsequently in No Home in Sight, the recent Collingwood Youth Film Club documentary on the issue (https://www.collingwoodtoday.ca/local-news/team-of-teens-produces-docume...).
The second poem is for Collingwood native Kenneth McAlpine, whose own Amazing Race came to a tragic end this month when he was killed in a hiking accident. Accomplished chef, church elder, fierce competitor and committed fundraiser for local causes, he died on his 28th birthday, doing what he loved (https://globalnews.ca/tag/kenneth-mcalpine/).
Life may be short; embrace it.
Before the Bridge
Before the bridge, the river flowed down into the lake.
Turning its face to the sun, it poured itself into the waiting.
No roads then, no paved walkways, no paths.
Just the river, the banks, the sun.
Deep pools and twirling eddies. Cool spots where trees
bent down to kiss the river as it danced its way home.
Any dark places forged by nature in her wisdom, not by man.
Tumult from storms, thunder and lightning, not gunshots.
Ecstasy from the simple act of creation celebrating itself.
You sit before the bridge and seek solace, or is it redemption?
No matter, it is affirmation both sought and given by you and the river.
If I could, I would unroll the bandages of your life,
Uncover the source of hurts that have been done to you,
that you have done to yourself.
Winding back the years, exposing
the bare flesh of your life to sun and light
until you were like that baby in the manger,
Tiny, new and perfect.
Then I would swaddle you in something strong enough
to last your whole life through.
I am no miracle worker. I do not know how to keep you safe.
So I knit you poems with prayers stitched into every line,
Asking only that whatever god may be hold you
in the love you have always deserved.
Falling Up the Mountain
for Kenneth McAlpine
August 26, 1991–August 26, 2019
tiny points of light that
sizzle across the night sky as if propelled,
fireworks tracing a bright arc before fading away.
Where do they come from, these stars?
And where do they go after their short flight?
Questions as unanswerable as why is it
that the best seem to be the ones taken from us?
We learn that all bodies are subject to the laws of gravity–
the obstinate pull of the earth that
holds us safely in place
yet claims us when we stumble,
and the figurative sense that
both making grave men of us all.
A few must be ruled by a different force: levity–
a lightness of body, soul and spirt that
defies physical laws and logic.
Gleaming as brightly in day as night,
they require no dark sky to show their brilliance
nor do they flame out with nothing left behind–
steadfast, they inscribe the heavens with an indelible radiance.
For every moment they are visible
and beyond, they shower the earth
with luminosity and ignite in others
a fire of inspiration.
And when their ending time arrives,
while it may appear that
they have fallen down, in truth
they have but risen up.
“The world needs more Canada.”
On July 1st, we get the jump on our American cousins and celebrate our country. The anniversary of Confederation isn’t just a time to look back on 1867 and the coming together of 4 disparate areas into a nation, over time to be joined by 9 more. Canada Day is also an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be a Canadian today and imagine the future for our country.
While this is true in the US as well, and we share equally in a love of hot dogs, fireworks and summer fun, Canada is, well…different. Like our language, we straddle the gap between Americanism and Briticism, with French thrown in and an increasing degree of input from the more than 250 origin cultures swelled by our vibrant immigrant populations (not to mention our indigenous roots).
We have been formed by our languages and our geography, and this is reflected in everything we see, do and have–including poetry. At this point, “Canadian poetry” encompasses poetry written in or about Canada in the official languages of English and French, a growing body of work in Indigenous languages and contributions influenced by the cultures new Canadians bring with them when they settle here.
Here’s a brief history of our poetical journey:
- English Canadian poetry began to be written soon after European colonization started. Early works, primarily written by visitors for a European audience, often described the new territories in glowing terms, like Robert Hayman's Quodlibets, composed in Newfoundland and published in 1628.
- As English language communities grew toward the end of the 18th century, poetry for local readers started appearing in the newspapers. This poetry was highly referential to English poetry of the same period, like Oliver Goldsmith's The Rising Village, which he wrote in 1825 as a response to The Deserted Village by his great-uncle and namesake Oliver Goldsmith.
- Many of Canada’s first celebrated poets come from the mid to late 19th century. The first post-Confederation book of poetry published in Canada was Dreamland by Charles Mair (1868), followed by works from a group of poets known as the "Confederation Poets." Drawing on nature and their own experiences, Charles G. D. Roberts, Archibald Lampman, Bliss Carman, Duncan Campbell Scott, and William Wilfred Campbell were joined by at least two women: Isabella Valancy Crawford and E. Pauline Johnson, who wrote poems based on her part-indigenous heritage.
- French Canadian poetry, primarily from Quebec, also flourished in the 19th century, later to move through Modernism and Surrealism to develop a passionate and political “voice” characterized by vibrant imagery.
- As the 20th century dawned, a number of poets penned Kipling-esque verse on topical events, like Robert W. Service’s Songs of a Sourdough about the Klondike Gold Rush, the first “blockbuster” volume of Canadian poetry that sold over three million copies .
- The Great War inspired many poems including one of the most well-known war poems ever written, "In Flanders Fields" written in 1915 by John McCrae while he was serving as a surgeon in the Canadian Army. Marjorie Pickthall also received critical acclaim in this period.
- After the war, much Canadian poetry returned to a focus on “the poetry of place.” Newfoundland poet E. J. Pratt wrote poems about maritime life and the struggle to wrench a living from the sea. The Canadian Poetry Magazine, founded in 1936, celebrated the traditional verse that “sold.”
- As the 20th century unfolded, Anglo-Canadian poets embraced European and American poetic innovations. Prairie poets such as Ralph Gustafson and Raymond Knister were moving away from traditional verse forms.
- The 1920s and 1930s saw the development of “modernist poetry” via young poets such as A.J.M. Smith, A.M. Klein, and F. R. Scott. Their "new poetry" signaled a shift in focus from human emotions and descriptive language to more cerebral topics and forms that valued intellect over sentimentality.
- Following World War II, a new breed of poets (James Reaney, Jay Macpherson, Leonard Cohen), emerged onto the scene writing for a well-educated audience. Older poets such as Irving Layton, Raymond Souster, Harold Standish and Louis Dudek branched off in a different direction, adopting colloquial speech in their work. While both Toronto and Vancouver developed as important poetry centres, due to its exposure to both English and French poetry, Montreal became a veritable cauldron of poetical progress via movements such as the Montreal Group and Les Automatistes.
- The 1960’s celebrated 100 years of nationhood and inspired a renewed sense of Canadian identity. Familiar published poets like Al Purdy, Milton Acorn and Earle Birney were joined by new voices: Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Eli Mandel and Margaret Avison.
- In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, poets such as bpNichol, David UU, Joe Rosenblatt, Steve McCaffery, Judith Copithorne and bill bissett engaged in greater experimentation and the TISH Poetry movement in Vancouver saw innovation from Jamie Reid, George Bowering, Fred Wah, Frank Davey, Daphne Marlatt, David Cull, and Lionel Kearns.
- Later in the 20th century, poets embraced a full range of forms and movements, including Modernism, Confessional poetry, Postmodernism, New Formalism, Concrete and Visual poetry and Slam, always turned to a uniquely Canadian frequency.
- In the 21st century–just when poetry was presumed dying if not dead–Indo-Canadian poet Rupi Kaur revived the genre to become the fastest growing sector of the publishing market today. If you Google “21st century Canadian poets” you will have hundreds of entries to choose among.
- Finally, in the later 20th century and beyond, a growing awareness of Native identity coupled with the struggle for Indigenous rights has recognized and supported writing by Native Canadians, this land’s very first poets.
Like our country, Canadian poetry spreads far and wide, embracing new forms while still cherishing the old. Unlike our neighbours in the US, we Canadians prefer to celebrate v. minimize our differences, combining them in unique ways rather blending them into a “Melting Pot.” As a result, our country (and our poetry) is more like a beautiful and sturdy patchwork quilt fashioned from many diverse pieces. That’s the imagination I employed when asked to write a poem for the Citizenship Reaffirmation Ceremony that has become part an annual highlight of Collingwood’s July 1st celebrations. You’ll find it in the Poetry Corner; Happy Canada Day!
"We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race…filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for."
Moon, spoon, June; sprawled on a dune, the cry of a loon, over too soon. Maybe one of the reasons we associate the month of June with love is because it rhymes so nicely with all these “love-ly” words! Or perhaps it’s because we’re aware (even unconsciously) that June is named after Juno, the Roman goddess of marriage and wife of supreme deity Jupiter. Given that, it’s no surprise that in ancient Rome, the month of June was seen as favourable for weddings. Given that June contains the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, there are plenty of long days for nuptial celebrations.
June's birthstone is the pearl, a gem believed to signify purity and beauty, making it the traditional choice for brides. This has been the case since the time of the Ancient Greeks who believed that pearls were the tears of the gods (one reason why we cry at weddings?) The official flower for June is the red rose, an ancient flower with a long cultural history. In ancient Greece, the rose was closely associated with Aphrodite., the goddess of love, who protects the body of Hector using rose oi. The flower itself is supposedly red because while supporting Adonis (Aphrodite got around), she wounded herself on one of its thorns and stained the flower red with her blood. Later the rose came to be identified with the Virgin Mary, a symbol that has endured in the rosary
Love poetry seems very appropriate for June, as it is often significant events that prompts us to read or pen a verse to take a step back and make sense of deep emotion. Whether it is new love found, love’s labour’s lost or any other variation, poetry enables to mediate the immediacy of experience through the lens of language. Poet Omar Sakr notes that while “emotions are battering rams that do not wait for you to describe them prettily,” poetry corrals heightened emotions and transmutes them into images, metaphors, words. Poetry seems particularly well suited to love (and its all too frequent companion pain), among the strongest of human emotions.
Poet and retired professor Robert Mezey once remarked, “Prose is an opening form. Poetry is a closing one," so whatever the genre, good poetry should provide “linguistic closure.” Even if the narrator leaves the poem’s topic unresolved, there is “a finality of language–a satisfying precision, throughout the work and especially in the poem's last line.”
Here are some of my favourite last lines from a random selection of love poems. I’ve noted the titles, so you can look up the full poem if you’re so inclined. And check out our Poet’s Corner for another heartfelt tribute to the enduring nature of love by local poet Sandra Parsons.
“i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)”
[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in] by e.e. cummings.
“The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours –
And the songs of every poet past and forever.”
Unending Love by Rabindranath Tagore.
“You could make this place beautiful.”
Good Bones by Maggie Smith
“The words I love you could never be enough.
I suppose we’ll have to invent new ones.”
Untitled by Cristopher Poindexter
“My mother told me when you find the perfect woman,
You gotta do whatever it takes to make sure she stays next to you.”
To the Girl Who Works at Starbucks by Rudy Francisco
“There we two, content, happy in being together, speaking little, perhaps not a word.”
A Glimpse by Walt Whitman
“Break me, I am bread. I will be the water for your thirst.”
To the Desert by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
“If love leaves, ask her to leave the door open.
Turn off the music, listen to the quiet, whisper thank you for stopping by.”
“When Love Arrives” by Sarah Kay & Phil Kaye
Spring is Sprung!
The spring is sprung, the grass is riz.
I wonder where the boidie is?
They say the boidie’s on the wing.
But that’s absoid. The wing is on the bird.
Ah, Spring! April brings longer days, warmer weather and the unmistakable signs of Springtime: harbingers like the robins returning North and the first snowdrops pushing their way up out of the thawing earth. April is also National Poetry Month. Our blog this month is dedicated to all the activities that we’ve planned to celebrate poetry. Here’s the lineup:
April 1:Take a gander at the water tower. For one day only, the Town of Collingwood agreed to let us rebrand as “CollingWord.” Here’s a pic in case you missed it; that climb up to the top with the bucket of paint was a real challenge! (Photoshopped water tower pic for April Fool’s Day : )
April 2:Today is a day for ranting–Rant poetry that is!While Rant poetry comes in all shapes and sizes, it’s most commonly defined as a free-verse prose poem about an exasperating subject. I’ll be leading a workshop on crafting a Rant poem for students in CCI’s FLEX program. Look for their creations in a future Poetry Corner.
All Month:Take a stroll along the Train Trail and see the latest StoryWalk installation, featuring the acrostic poems of Canadian author Carolyn Pignat from her book The Poetree. The Train Trail begins at the Station Museum at 45 St Paul Street. and the pages of Poetree are displayed in cases along the trail. StoryWalk is a collaboration between the Collingwood Public Library and the Parks, Recreation & Culture department.
The library is also featuring poetry for all ages in the display case near the circulation desk, so take a look.
“Poetry Kits” have been placed at the Collingwood Museum and Centennial Aquatic Centre. Each kit is loaded with ideas and tools for anyone to build their own poem.
Check out the Poetry Month display in one of the newly installed display cases at Central Park Arena. There are poems by some Canadian and international authors featured as well as a “spontaneous poetry wall” for anyone wanting to share their prose and musings.
April 13:Orangeville’s first annual Day of the Poets is an event all about poetry: reading, it, writing it and listening to it. There will be some workshops in the morning and all afternoon, local poets will be reading their poems from the Orangeville Library (yours truly will be appearing live-via-Skype at 12:30). And all over town, you will find poems in store windows. Check it out here:
April 18:Poem in Your Pocket Day! Carry a poem in your pocket, recite it to staff at the Collingwood Museum or Centennial Aquatic Centre and you can get a pass for a free swim or skate I’ll be prowling the streets of Collingwood with poems in my pocket, so stop me if you like one. If you share one with me, I will pay any outstanding library fines!
April 23:“Much like beer, poetry is an acquired taste.” Come to our first Pints & Poems evening and sample both! Hosted by Side Launch Brewing Company, this 19+ event is your chance to try your hand at creating a poem, reading some of your original poetry or sharing a favourite published poem while sampling some of the area’s finest brews.
Poetry all month long–a great way to welcome Spring. Here’s my favourite poem about spring by e.e. cummings, a poet who shed capitalization and punctuation like unneeded toques and mittens. And look in our Poetry Corner for a lovely poem about returning home to the area in Spring from local poet gloria kropf nafziger (who also eschews capital letters!)
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
whistles far and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's
when the world is puddle-wonderful
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
The Rhymes They Are A Changing
In its most recent survey, the NEA foundsteep increases in poetry readership across the board, but especially among women, minorities and adults with only some college education. Poetry has also gotten a major boost among rural audiences: almost twice as many people from non-metro areas read poetry in 2017 than in 2012. So if this who is reading poetry, what are they reading?
These days, poetry is far more than words printed on a page, bound into volumes and sold in the poetry section of bookstores or tucked away in obscure corners of libraries. A major reason for poetry’s growing popularity is that its definition has expanded.
One writer classifies poetry today as “broader, more viral and musical and culturally expansive, and therefore much harder to define and also harder to imagine going extinct.” If you look at Rupi Kaur’s books (milk and honey andThe Sun and Her Flowers), you’ll notice that she has combined words and images both on the printed page and on line, leading to her moniker as an “Instapoet.” Folksinger/songwriter Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literaturefor his “poetry.”In her short story,” English author Zadie Smith makes an oblique reference to Kanye West, saying, “He is one of the newer poets–the musical kind–and so his words tend to go everywhere, floating between our towers, rising above the city.”
And it’s not just how poetry is being written, but how’s its being accessed. Rather than settling into armchairs in stuffy clubs to read the classics with cups of tea, poetry fans today are accessing poetry via a range of social media. I subscribe to two daily poem feeds, one from the Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazineand Poem a Day from the Academy of American Poets (www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem-day) Indolent Books (https://www.facebook.com/indolentbooks/), a publisher of poetry books and online projects has published a few of my poems and I receive regular updates on new submissions.
Various online literary magazines also appear on my email and Facebook feed and friends send me poems, often via social media (now that Facebook “knows” that poetry is one of my interests, all kinds of poems pop up on a regular basis–thanks, algorithm!) In addition, I get what I think of as poetry “bites” on my Instagram feed (to get started, here’s a link to 12 Instagram poets worth looking into: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/12-instagram-poets-to-follow_b_58fbc278e4b0f02c3870eb05. Even Twitter has gotten in on the act; @BestCdnPoetry (https://twitter.com/bestcdnpoetry?lang=en) will take you to a comprehensive list of the Best Canadian Poetry of 2018. Truly an abundance of riches!
Because poetry is meant to be experienced, not just read, there are now ample opportunities to engage other senses as well. Button Poetry (https://www.youtube.com/user/ButtonPoetry) broadcasts poets reading/speaking/performing their poems on YouTube. Live poetry readings/slams/spoken word events are all the rage in settings as varied as classrooms to bars (look for our upcoming Pints & Poems event next month). And poetry is not only being spoken, it’s being talked about. Last year PBS aired a series called Poetry in America on its stations and online. The show features wide-ranging and rich conversations about poetry with various celebrities in a format that expands the notion of poetry by marrying words and images to bring the genre to life in a new way.
The who, the what but what about the why? One of the reasons poetry matters again lies in its intrinsic nature–language compressed and intensified. Poetry has the ability to convey and comment on the sense of urgency many people report feeling in these turbulent times. All over the world, people are thinking and talking and debating about who we are and want we want to become (or return to). In an age when words are used as weapons, we seek clarity, comfort and hope in whatever words of wisdom we can find. When you pair this yearning for meaning with the availability of instant communication, it’s clear why poetry has been liberated from the halls of academia and the slick world of traditional publishing. Poets today live in and embrace what one reviewer terms “the fast-paced, democratizing, hyper-connected culture of the internet.” No longer the purview of the educated and affluent few, poetry is now available to all.
This may explain why so many of today’s poets as well as consumers of poetry are people marginalized by mainstream society: youth, women, immigrants and refugees, indigenous peoples/people of colour. When times are tough, they’re even tougher on those who are most at risk, and a result most likely to be involved in social protest and online activism. As poet Jane Hirschfield told the New York Times last year: "When poetry is a backwater, it means times are OK. When times are dire, that's exactly when poetry is needed."
The rules have changed, as our response to poetry no longer bound by academic dissection, as if we are meant “tie the poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it…beating it with a hose to find out what it really means” as poet Billy Collins says in “Introduction to Poetry.” At the same time, poetry invites us to slow down, to look/listen/think/feel–a refreshing break from the demands of the instantaneous "Like” response we’ve gotten used to on social media.
At their best, poems prompt as many questions as answers, generating uncertainty and mixed feelings. When we wish for easy answers to complex realties, poetry reminds us that its value lies as much in what it does to us as what we “do” to it. Next month is National Poetry Month. Let’s take the opportunity to celebrate nuance and ambiguity–the stuff of human existence–and set aside the blunt instrument of a black & white/either-or/right v. wrong mindset. For this ubiquitous contemporary ailment, poetry may be the best remedy.
Take a look at Poetry Corner for a short poem that tackles a challenging subject with candor and courage.
The January blog outlined 5 emerging trends in poetry with the promise to explore each in more detail. This month, the focus is on the rising popularity of poetry, especially interesting as pronouncements that “poetry is dead” were being made as recently as 2015! Back in 1992, a major survey indicated that 17 percent of Americans had read a work of poetry at least once in the past year. Just 20 years later, that number had dropped to 6.7 percent. This decline was unique to poetry among the literary arts and represented the steepest decline of any literary genre. By 2015, the downward trend didn’t show any signs of abating.
In 2016, something happened: the number of print poetry books sold in Canada in 2016 grew almost 80% and then grew again in 2017. Last year, two of the Top 10 bestselling Canadian titles were Milk & Honey and The Sun and Her Flowers by Indo-Canadian poet Rupi Kaur and the final book of poems by Leonard Cohen became a best-seller when it was published posthumously in October. A similar renaissance is occurring in the UK and the US, meaning that poetry is now one of the fastest growing genres in the publishing industry worldwide.
What’s going on? Let’s look at the demographics for starters. Much of poetry’s growth is being driven by young readers, who experts say “hunger for nuance amid conflict and disaster.” In the aftermath of shocking world events, the words that spread are often not the words of politicians but those of poets. Susannah Herbert, director of the Forward Arts Foundation, which runs the Forward prizes for poetry and National Poetry Day says, “Almost everything a politician says is incredibly forgettable. There is a hunger out there for more nuanced and memorable forms of language.”
In a recent article in The Guardian entitled “Poetry sales soar as political millennials search for clarity” provides one explanation, Andre Breedt, of the polling firm Nielsen, confirmed that sales were booming. His theory is that in times of political upheaval and uncertainty, people turn to poems to make sense of the world: “Poetry is resonating with people who are looking for understanding. It is a really good way to explore complex, difficult emotions and uncertainty.”
Having grown up in the US in the 1960’s, I can relate to that. Sometimes it’s hard to find the words to express the fear, anger and resentment that bubbles up and boils over in tumultuous times. Just as we marched for civil rights and against the Vietnam war, teens and young millennials have become reengaged in political issues ranging from gun violence to climate change, and they want to be heard. Now as then poetry seems a particularly effective form to express strong sentiments.
As Toronto poet Tara Farahani puts it, “Speeches are great, don’t get me wrong, but with poetry, every word is so intentional, every line you’re writing is intentionally building a story to make an impact.” David Silverberg, founder of the Toronto Poetry Slam, says that it’s not uncommon for poets who perform at the group’s twice-monthly events to draw on major world news for their poems, in part because of what he calls “the intimate, blunt nature of the medium.”
Slam poetry and spoken word pieces are just a two of the formats by which poetry can now be accessed. The form’s brevity and availability of technology means poetry can also be consumed on phones and shared on social media. Rupi Kaur not only leads the bestsellers list with almost £1M of sales, she also has 3.4 million followers on Instagram. Her message is one echoed by many young poets: “You tell me to quiet down / cause my opinions make me less beautiful,” she writes in Milk and Honey, the #1 bestselling poetry collection of 2018, “but I was not made with a fire in my belly / so I could be put out.”
While almost 30% of poetry reader polled are between 18-35, poetry has re-emerged as a form to address important issues for poets of all ages. Our Poetry Corner this month features a local resident “of a certain age” who uses her poem “This Angry World” to speak out on an issue of import to all of us who inhabit “this great blue sphere we all call home.” I hope you enjoy it and will consider raising your voice–or pen–to speak out on any issue you believe needs attention and send it to us for consideration.
Happy New Year! Each January, there are articles everywhere you look about starting the new year off “right.” Whether it’s “5 Easy Resolutions for Your Career” or “131 BEST New Year’s Resolutions” (yikes!), there’s no end to the advice available. Good news: this month’s blog is not one of them! When it comes to poetry, my only “advice” is “try it–you might like it!
That being said, I do have some thoughts to share with you on what’s happening in poetry in 2019. Here are 5 trends related to poetry you might find of interest. Over the next months, we explore each in more detail.
Here’s the big picture:
1. The popularity of poetry continues to rise
|The number of print poetry books sold in Canada in 2016 grew 79% over the previous year–the largest jump of any category–and grew again in 2017. In 2018, two of the Top 10 bestselling Canadian titles of theyears were books of poetry: Milk & Honey and The Sun and Her Flowers, both by 20-somethng Indo-Canadian poet Rupi Kaur. At the other end of the spectrum, The Flame, the final book of poems assembled by octogenarian Leonard Cohen, was an instant hit when it was published posthumously in October.|
|This is by no means just a Canadian phenomenon. In the UK, poetry sales went up by 15% in 2017 and in the US, a 21% growth in poetry sales occurred between 2015 and 2017, making poetry one of the fastest growing genres in the publishing industry. And people aren’t just buying poetry, they’re reading it: last year almost 12% of North Americans polled reported reading poetry–pretty amazing when a quarter of of them indicated not having read a whole book in any format in the past 12 months!|
2. The audience for poetry is changing
Of those polled who read poetry, almost 30% were between the age of 18-35. Saul Williams, a famous slam poet (more about this later!) noted the cyclical nature of poetry’s popularity, “It’s always engaged a new generation of youth who have brought it back to the forefront of culture and put new terms on it.”
The survey showed steep increases in poetry readership across the board, but especially among women, minorities and adults with only some college education. Poetry has also gotten a major boost among rural audiences: almost twice as many people from non-metro areas read poetry in 2017 than in 2012.
3. The definition of what makes a poem continues to expand
An attendee at a local poetry event last year told me, “When I was in school, the teacher said that all we needed to know about poetry was “Ta-da, ta-da, ta da-da; Ta da, ta da, ta da; ta da, ta da, ta da-da; ta da, ta da, ta da.” Wow-have things changed in the poetry world! Today, we’re approaching close to 100 recognized genres of poetry. Some of these forms have been “discovered” by Western writers in other cultures, like the Sijo (a Korean verse form related to Haiku but with more syllables) and the Ghazal (an Arabic verse form traditionally focused on love).
Conceptual poetry uses the placement of words and characters on the page so that the poem’s meaning is derived as much from its shape as its content. A genre that ‘s making a comeback is Prose Poetry, a composition often written in a “block” of text v. broken into verse lines (an early example is Hamlet’s soliloquy by Shakespeare). Leaping off the page is the genre of Spoken Word, a broad designation for poetry intended for performance v. reading (see an example at left from local writer Linda Hurley).
A related form is Slam Poetry, a live performance in which the poet expresses personal story/struggle in an intense and emotional style and is judged by a random panel on the performance. Yup, that’s a thing!
4. The focus of poetry is changing
Not only is the “what” and “how” of poetry changing–increasingly, so is the “why.” Addressing personal, social and political issues has always been a means of “speaking truth to power.” In these fractious times, poetry has stepped out of the libraries and off the pages to march, protest and call out injustice. From the the #metoo movement and the call for justice from indigenous communities to the demand for equality by the transgender people, poetry has emerged as a chosen form to address important issues.
While focused on different themes, many poets are turning their talents to speak to key social issues and empower the disenfranchised. Short verses are being used to further social change by appearing not in books or journals, but on social media to raise awareness, written on banners at protests, even as tattoos to literally “embody” an idea.
5. How we access poetry is changing
We think of poetry as something we seek to read, but increasingly, poems come to us. Poetry in the public eye–usually combined with visual imagery–is a growing phenomenon. From the large-scale “activation” entitled Something to Say currently on display in and around the Brooklyn Museum in New York (https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/something_to_say) to the interactive Write the Wavesinstallation we created on the hoarding at the end of North Pine Street right here in Collingwood, poetry is getting out and about.
|And while sales of poetry books continue to rise, many of us are accessing poetry the same way we get the news, the weather and updates from fronds and family–on our devices. If the medium is truly the message, Instagram has provided another platform where form and content are conjoined. Short enough to take in without scrolling down, these short texts–often laid out on a coloured square pleasing to the eye–mesh well with our 21st-century reading habits.|
If approached with an open mind, poetry can be delicious and satisfying. So I’ve got just one New Year’s resolution for you to consider: make a point to add poetry to your reading diet in 2019. If you’re not sure how to begin, here’s what the poet Eve Merriam advises in “How To Eat a Poem”:
Poetry–good and good for you. Enjoy!
November is a sombre and sobering month here in Southern Georgian Bay. Sombre in that the last vestiges of autumn have fallen–literally. The world is all angles of stark grey and brown until the first snowfall swaddles us in the soft white blanket of early winter. Sobering in that November is a month when we look back withlonging or regret–often both.
Gone are the lazy, hazy days of summer that burst onto the scene with such promise as spring crocuses and daffodils made way for roses and peonies, then daisies and hydrangeas and finally road asters and garden mums. Behind us now the fulsome harvest and our songs of Thanksgiving for the rich bounty this land provides us. The “holiday” we celebrate this month is Remembrance Day, a heartrending mix of gratitude and sorrow.
The homily at this year’s Remembrance Day ceremony focused on poetry as one way we try to make sense of war. We honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice to keep our land “glorious and free” by reciting “In Flanders Field”* (See links for the poems below). At the same time, we bow our heads in shame that “for every year of peace there have been four hundred years of war,” as Margaret Atwood points out in her poem “The Loneliness of the Military Historian”*.
Given the paradoxical nature of our response to war, poetry sometimes seems the only appropriate genre to address both aspects. Poetry often resides at the edge of experience as a border that is both boundary and meeting place. In “Vergissmeinnicht”* English poet Keith Douglas makes an encounter with “the enemy” very real and personal when he reminds us that in the dead German soldier– a photo of his girlfriend inscribed with “Vergissmeinnicht” (Forget Me Not) in his pocket– “the lover and killer are mingled who had one body and one heart. And death who had the soldier singled has done the lover mortal hurt.”. This liminal nature of poetry is illustrated in this modern interpretation of the poem “But You Didn’t”* by Merrill Glass (no relation that I know of).
Poems like these leave us thinking–and feeling. No wonder the day after the poppies come off we are so eager to “don our gay apparel” and turn our faces toward Christmas, even though it’s over a month away. Between now and then comes Advent, a time of waitingin the natural world as well as in the Christian year. Just what is it we are waiting for, and clamour to celebrate each December? Beyond any religious impulse, we are carried into and thorough the darkest days by the hope that this old world will keep on turning, and the warmth and light will return in due course.
As we wait, we are well advised to slow down, even stop our frenetic pace so we can take a breath, reflect on the past and begin to imagine a better future. Here’s how the poet Pablo Neruda describes this opportunity.
Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still
for once on the face of the earth,
let's not speak in any language;
let's stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about
I want no truck with death!
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with
death. Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead in winter
and later proves to be alive.
Now I'll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.
- Pablo Neruda
Does this poem speak to you? If so, think about responding with a poem or two of your own that we can share in our Poet’s Corner. This month we feature a beautiful seasonal piece by local writer Susan Wisner, whose poem “Waiting, Late Autumn” has been selected for publication by Your Daily Poem. Look for it on November 29th. Way to go, Susan!
And speaking of November 29th, I’ll be celebrating my birthday that day. If you’re near Collingwood and are so inclined, stop by the Huron Club after 8:00 PM to say hi and enjoy the great music of local band Bored of Education. After all, danceable songs are “poetry in motion!”
When I moved to Canada from the US in 1995, I was surprised to learn that not only do Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving, they do so in early October. I grew up in New England, literally descended from those stalwart Pilgrims that landed on the bleak shores of Massachusetts in November of 1620. With faith in the providence of the Almighty and considerable help from the indigenous people they encountered, they made it through the first winter.
A year later, they held a feast to celebrate their survival and to thank their hosts, without whose practical support they would surely have perished. In 1861, Abraham Lincoln declared an official day of Thanksgiving in late November and by the 1930’s, President Franklin Roosevelt established the third Thursday in November as the fixed date in the US.
Of course, feasts of thanksgiving are not uniquely American or even North American. By celebrating our gratitude, we are part of a long line of people worldwide. From ancient harvest festival rituals to thanks-giving celebrations referenced in the Judeo-Christian Bible, the Quran and many other holy works, most include prayers, songs– and food! While the origins of the holiday vary considerably from the American tradition, many of the fundamentals are the same: a time to give thanks and celebrate with family.
Those early Pilgrim ancestors of mine continued to live in peace and harmony with their indigenous neighbours until the colonialization of North America started in full forth, and we all know how the story goes after that. How exciting it is that nearly 400 years later, we have reached the point when we are reconnecting with the indigenous peoples whose presence preceded us by millennia.
Last month I had the privilege of attending the opening ceremony for the Awen' Gathering Circle in Harbourview Park. This stunning structure sits on the hill as if it has always been there. It is a tribute to the vision of the crafters of Collingwood’s Waterfront Master Plan in collaboration with a host of others including a team of indigenous architectural designers and volunteers from the visiting Steelworkers Union who pulled off a miracle and got the project finished just in time for the ceremony.
And what a ceremony it was! Participants from local indigenous communities contributed song, dance, words and ritual, to which all present were invited to join in as part of a larger community. Ancient, old and new Collingwood plus visitors, workers and people of all ages gathered in an inclusive circle. The event not only celebrated a wonderful new addition to our town but marked a tangible contribution to the unfolding truth and reconciliation process of that is knitting us together into a larger shared community.
What’s I’ve always loved about the Thanksgiving holiday is that it is not tied to any particular religion, or to religion at all. So whether you are thanking God, Jaweh, Allah, The Great Spirit, Mother Nature or what poet Dylan Thomas called “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” this post is dedicated to all that we as Canadians have to be thankful for. Something I am personally thankful for every day and in every season is our beautiful lakeshore. Here’s poem about my impressions of what October looks like here in Collingwood. I hope you enjoy it; just as important, I hope you enjoy the month. I wish you a joyous Thanksgiving, a Happy Halloween and a splendid October from start to finish.
October is all business down at the lake.
One day, it’s a navy blue suit paired with a freshly pressed sky,
tied together with the blinding red and white striped lighthouse.
When a board meeting is called, all is sober grey,
a single burnt orange maple the only pop of colour.
Night brings the corporate gala–
A sea of little black dresses festooned with ruffles of foam
dancing with a sky full of tuxes, starched shirtfront clouds offset by diamond stars.
Casual Fridays call for a cerulean blue Polo above the khaki shoreline,
and a line of leaf-bright tops that signal the weekend.
But at the end of the month, all bets are off.
Time to cut loose as Halloween blows through the harbour, tipping dinghies
and winding lake-surf like toilet paper around the larger boats.
The buoys ring like demonic bells into the night.
At the head of the harbour, the jack-o-lantern glow of the LCBO
promises treats to buffer the wind’s tricks.
For a poem about gratitude for the simple things in life submitted by a local writer, check out our Poetry Corner and remember to mark your calendar for 25 Years, the BMFA sponsored event at the Simcoe Street Theatre on October 13th featuring poems written by Collingwood poet/graphic artist David Conning (who is also the co-owner of Clerkson’s). This unique theatre event will pair poems David wrote for his daughter over 25 years with music by the subject of those poems, Laura Conning and her partner in the band Honeymoon Phase. Something more to be thankful for.
Maybe it’s because I spent so many years in the classroom– first as a student and then 8 more as a teacher, but for me the real “new year” starts in September. As much as I love summer, the final days of August often seem tired and worn out, and I look forward to the snap of fall that often occurs shortly after Labour Day, at least in Canada! September is a time of transition, as we shop for new clothes/haul out old fall favourites, stock up our kids with back to school items ranging from notebooks (or Notebooks!) to lunch box treats and celebrate the end of summer with camp/club/pool closing events.
Now is the time we begin to prepare for a new cycle to start all over again. Even if the weather is still warm, the locus of activity shifts from outside to indoors (although the barbeque stays out all year!) No matter what the thermometer says, we know it’s fall when the yellow school buses punctuate our morning commute and political candidate signs pop up on lawns to compete with bedraggled summer flowers. We root around for sox and find ourselves thinking about apples and pumpkin lattes v. watermelon and iced tea.
September is also a month of renewed responsibility. Each fall, our low-key, laid back summer selves pull it together and recommit to getting serious. While January 1st New Year's Resolutions seem more like making up for holiday indulgence, those forged in September– whether a new hobby, a class you’re going to take or home improvement project– all feel appropriate for this time of year. And our inner calendar is mirrored by the outer as community meetings and events that wrapped up in June often launch with a flourish this month.
In the midst of this excitement there is also some sadness, as we see the days getting shorter and we know that Winter is Coming. While we look forward to the joys of fall, we sigh as another summer passes into the past. Poetry provides a great way to mark some of the conflicting emotions we feel at this time of year. Here is a poem I wrote that delineates the difference a day can make, when the day is Labour Day and the next Back to School:
The sun’s pale yolk sizzles on a blue platter of sky,
pressing down on the earth like a heavy china plate
grabbed to flatten a single flower,
as if any dry, faded, two-dimensional form
could preserve or even recall its fulsome summer bloom.
I counted eleven watercraft in the harbour yesterday–
jet-skis shimmering across the waves like dragonflies,
sailboats dabs of white paint on a blue canvas,
the tour boat ferrying a load of Mennonites on holiday, the men in silent attention
as the captain shared local lore, the women gaggled in the bow.
As hot today as yesterday, but the waterfront is deserted
save for the flotsam of brown ducks in the shallows,
geese and swans finding refuge in the shady overgrowth along the banks.
Today is the day after Labour Day, and the humans have departed.
Living by the calendar and not the thermometer,
vacationers have vacated and sun-worshippers have returned to work.
Children have traded dog-eared backpacks carrying beach toys and sand
for new ones filled with supplies for the new school year.
There is no sound overhead but the keening of the gulls,
their cries seeming to say
gone back to work, gone back to school, gone home.
No wonder the cicadas drone a mournful dirge.
Summer is over.
For another seasonal offering, check out our Poetry Corner for the poem “Launched” shared by Val Losell, a poet and painter living in Barrie. Val recently self published a book of paintings and poems called Holding Up the Sky: 33 Paintings and Their Poems, available on Amazon and Chapters and Friesen Press websites as paperback, hard cover and e-book, or from Val directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may also want to mark your calendar for a BMFA sponsored event at the Simcoe Street Theatre on October 13th featuring poems written by Collingwood poet/graphic artist David Conning (who is also the co-owner of Clerkson’s). This unique theatre event will pair poems David wrote for his daughter over 25 years with music by the subject of those poems, Laura and her partner in the band Honeymoon Phase.
Finally, on Saturday the 8th, I’ll be kicking off Words in the Woods–the Dunedin Literary Festival co-sponsored by Rina Barone, owner of Simcoe Street Books and featuring an exciting lineup of writers. If you’re so inclined, spend the day at Dunedin Park where we’ll have an interactive Poetry Tent. Come play with words and maybe get published on our site next month!
As you head into this other new year, a month of new starts and fresh beginnings, I’ll leave you with one question: what’s your September poetry resolution?
A growing trend in the world of poetry is a phenomenon that places poetry–both written and spoken–in the public sphere. Cross-genre artists have been putting poetry in front of people in a range of visual and auditory formats all over the world. From Robert Montgomery’s spectacular works that include poems installed on billboards and words set on fire to Collingwood’s Planted Poetry installations in the Community Garden on Hurontario Street and the Library’s Garden Project on Simcoe Street, words are popping up in unconventional locations everywhere.
As your Poet Laurate, I am committed to putting poetry “out there” into the public realm and into the public discourse. For too long, people have been given the impression that poetry is something “highfalutin’” that belongs in a library or textbook. But poetry is infused in our culture in way we often don’t recognize: songs, TV commercials, inspirational posters and Facebook posts.
I want to make poetry explicit, and like Montgomery, I’m interested in the idea that “mythology is essentially a type of speech, and that speech defines a culture.” I believe that poetry can define and refine the dominant languages we have in today’s culture: advertising and news media on the larger scale and social media and texting on the personal.
This month, we’re initiating a new venture that not only brings poetry to the people, it gives people the chance to discover that they can be poets themselves. During Sidelaunch Days, we’ll be launching The Poetry Booth, a “pop-up” literary installation placed at the foot of North Pine Street. Passersby will be invited to join in a poetic exchange that exists in both real time and on-line. Our goal is to encourage, capture and preserve the poetic life of Collingwood while providing a fun and interactive means for the public–residents and visitors alike–to engage with the written word.
This booth is outfitted with a vintage typewriter-style keyboard called a Qwerkywriter, which makes a satisfying clattering sound reminiscent of the old-style typewriters that some of us remember. The keyboard is connected via Bluetooth to a tablet, enabling every keystroke to be collected and stored. Once reviewed by The Poetry Booth team at Collingwood’s Parks, Recreation and Culture Department, the output will be posted online at www.CollingWord.ca to be read, shared and commented upon.
While each contribution to The Poetry Booth installation can be its own distinct poem, we’re hoping that participants will also be influenced by what was written before them on the tablet. By using a new form of public dialogue, The Poetry Booth hopes to capture impressions of Collingwood–those gathered by the five senses (sights, sounds, tastes, smells and tactile elements) as well as those that spring from memories and recollections, current thoughts and feelings and sensed possibilities for the future.
Collingwood’s Poetry Booth is based loosely on The Typewriter Project, a program of The Poetry Society of New York. That initiative in turn was largely inspired by Exquisite Corpse, a surrealist writing game in which several authors contribute to one poem. We hope our installation furthers the genre of interactive public poetry.
If you’re around during Sidelaunch Days, come on down to The Poetry Booth and see what impressions, thoughts, feelings and ideas show up for you. Read what others have written, use our prompts for inspiration and then let your fingers do the talking. We can’t wait to see what you have to say! While you’re there, add your input to the adjacent Writing the Wave installation on the hoarding facing the harbour.
If you’re reading this post after August 12th, the Writing the Wave installation will be available for viewing until such time as the hoarding comes down. As for The Poetry Booth, check out this website’s Poetry Corner for submissions generated by the project, and let us know when and where you think The Poetry Booth should show up next.
We’d love for The Poetry Booth to become a member of the Collingwood community, one that can connect us though the power of the word. As Montgomery says, the goal of true art is “to communicate our innermost feelings to strangers.” And by doing so, we and they become less strange to one another.
Last month, thousands of Grade 12 students across Canada graduated from secondary school. For many, it may be the last time they set eyes on poetry. In an age when education is presented as a means (skill building) to an end (employment), any time not spent on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) or business subjects must be a waste of time, right? After all, what can poetry “do” for you? If you’re in it for the money, you’ve picked the wrong career, and even as a hobby, it’s vague and seemingly purposeless.
As one writer put it: “To devote a life to poetry looks to most people like a decision to ignore the benefits of modern life, in particular the power of money to effect any meaningful progress. It looks suspiciously like sulking.” Hard to argue with that perspective, but a renowned physicist (and poet) Dr. Iggy McGovern disagrees. His claim as a scientist is that “Poetry as an inoculation against rampant emotion is now more necessary than ever.” Huh? How does that work? Isn’t poetry all about emotions v. the “reality” of science?
Dr. McGovern explains that poetry is indeed largely concerned with our emotions, what he calls “the strange agents that operate on both sides of the brain-body border.” He notes that emotions are powerful stimuli that serve as both “our ‘emergency response unit’ and our own worst enemy.” This mixed bag is certainly evident these days, as emotions seem to be running high in so many aspects of life. Whether it’s politics, the economy, social issues–even our capricious Canadian weather–people are getting hot under the collar and bent out of shape. How on earth can poetry help?
Simple answer: carefully chosen and consciously placed words. Poetry uses language in ways that help us see the world with a bit more perspective. Employing literary devices such as metaphor (“hot under the collar” and “bent out of shape”), poetry has the ability to present emotions within a frame, “tamed, like the performing tigers in the circus” as Dr. McGovern’s simile suggests. Emotions recollected in tranquility v. experienced first hand are more manageable, able to teach us valuable lessons, “so that the next time the heart revolts against the head, the potential damage is better contained.”
As Dr. McGovern points out, “Science, on the other hand, doesn’t do feelings.” Science by definition is about building a strong wall between cool logic and messy emotions in order to maintain true objectivity. But there are truths in poetry that differ from scientific truths. It may be unscientific to refer to getting one’s heart broken, but anyone who has suffered the loss of an important relationship knows all too well that “broken hearted” is just what it feels like.
So, what can poetry “inoculate” us against and why is that even necessary? While one of the benefits of science has been useful knowledge that we can apply to make everyday life function better, too much tech can leave us feeling–well, a bit numb. From blurred vision from staring at a computer screen to texter’s thumb, we pay a price for our rampant addiction to the technological gifts that science has given us. One of the best uses of poetry is to get us off our screens and into our imaginations, more powerful engines of creativity than any machine, device or AI app.
How does poetry work its magic on us? The big difference between reading or hearing a poem and a scientific fact is in how the words are used. In an called essay Poetry & Science, Czech poet and immunologist Miroslav Holub argues that while science is based on a single logical meaning of a sentence or word, “poetry tries for as many possible meanings and interactions between words and thoughts as it can.” Think of it as the difference between designing a garden and planting a crop in straight lines; with a crop, you are looking for uniformity, maximum yield and no surprises. The joy of a garden (not to mention wild nature) is its variety, diversity and surprises (how did that tulip get into the middle of the lawn?!?)
In this technological age, we may discover we need poetry more than ever. Modern science pushes us to get the one and only “right” answer in an increasingly ambiguous and nuanced world. Social media has given rise to expression of unbridled emotions that have led to ruptured relationships, despair, perhaps even war. This is what happens when science can deliver our every thought instantaneously to a rapacious public of potentially millions via 144 ill-considered characters. Poetry allows us, invites us, even forces us to slow down, take a breath, read and then reread, ponder, imagine. The “word-space” of a poem can take us out of the logical, linear “single-vision” Newtonian world we seem stuck in
In a time when the planet seems to spin faster on its axis every day and “the world is too much with us; late and soon,” poetry is a great remedy. We may no longer live in a time when humanity talked about the world via thousands of lines of memorized song-poems. Those epics eventually dissolved into individual words – pieces out of the whole, like science reduced to smaller and smaller bits of matter, many unseeable, not just unseen. What we have in each area seems stingy by comparison, but poetry can help us reclaim the magic of true science: that what is known and knowable as well as our own emotions.
When we are experiencing the inconsolable loss of feeling alone in the universe or in our own lives, poetry can provide solace. In a verse entitled “The Stars once spoke to man,” Rudolf Steiner wrote that while it is “world destiny” that the stars are silent now and that “to become aware of this silence can become pain,” it is in the “deepening silence” that human beings can earn to speak y to the starts and “to become aware of this speaking” can become strength for humanity.
I read at least one poem every day: on the deck with my morning coffee, stretched out, feet up for an afternoon break with a cool lemonade, at a sidewalk café with a glass of vino, even on my phone under the dark starry night sky. Wherever I am, it’s great to know that every poem I read is inoculating me against the vagaries of the world. I consider it time well “wasted.”
Here’s my favorite summer poem, written by American poet Mary Oliver. If you had the good fortune to attend one of the performances of Quarter Century Theatre’s’ brilliant “Collected Stories for a Better World” in May, you may recognize the snippets that were included in the scene between the reluctant student and the jaded teacher. The latter was portrayed by fellow Collingwood poet and colleague jake MacArthur, whose own fabulous poem on weather is posted in the Poetry Corner. Check it out and think about penning a verse of your own “weather” or not you consider yourself a poet! Happy Summer.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
In 1992, a survey of participation in the arts determined that 17% of North Americans had read a work of poetry at least once in the past year; 20 years later that number was 6.7%–less than half. The conclusion at the time that poetry was “dead” was borne out by studies that determined poetry ranked lower than knitting as an activity people participated in, beating out only opera.
By 2016, something had shifted: poetry was evidently not dead, but alive, well and growing. According to a publishing industry annual sales report, the number of print poetry books sold in Canada in 2013 increased 5% over the previous year, another 8% in 2014 and 10% more in 2015. Incremental growth, but modest. In 2016, poetry sales grew a whopping 79% over the previous year–the largest jump of any subject category–and the most recent data indicates poetry sales were up another 116% between 2016 and 2017.
What happened? For starters, 2014 saw the publication of milk and honey by Rupi Kaur, a young (b.1992) Indian-Canadian poet/writer/illustrator/performer who followed up her debut book with a second in 2017 entitled The Sun and Her Flowers. Both of these wildly popular books comprise poetry, prose and illustrations hand-drawn by Kaur and others to help readers associate an image with each poem. So how popular is popular in the publishing world? Sales of both books have surpassed the 5 million mark and milk and honey spent 77 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list.
And it’s not just Kaur. Either we’ve changed our attitudes about poetry or poetry has changed. The answer is probably a bit of both. In a recent on-air interview with John Eaton, morning host of The Peak’s Talk of the Town, I shared my opinion that popular modern poetry was helped enormously by rap music, an art form in which the words take precedence over the tune. The connection is clearer when you look at the stunning collection The Rose that Grew From Concrete published posthumously by the manager of rap artist (and poet) Tupac Shakur. Thanks to artists like Tupac, we have become accustomed to hearing the spoken word standing on its own without any need of melody.
In addition to our changing perceptions, the topics explored in Canadian poetry have also expanded. In in a special last month to the Globe and Mail, journalist Russell Smith describes “Canadian poetry’s unlikely renaissance.” He notes the “fading of a certain kind of weepy folksiness” in contemporary Canadian poetry, the prize-winning poems of yesteryear which “tended to be about aurora borealis and the great noble sorrow of being descended from rugged settlers” supplanted by poems “flirt with the nonsensical” in poetry that walks a fine line between the lyrical and the experimental.
Carmine Starnino, a Montreal editor who hosts a blog for Vehicule Press concurs, arguing that Canadian poetry has entered what he calls a "steampunk zone." He comments that today’s poems of note are “neither formally avant-garde nor nostalgic” but vibrant and intricate. Combine this with the accessibility afforded by the Internet and you have conditions that Smith describe as making it “easier to read and share poems now, and people are actually doing it.”
Canadians are not only buying and reading more poetry, they’re also writing and publishing it in greater quantities with 25% more poetry titles in 2017 than the year before. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have a bestselling poet in our midst, but Kaur’s books didn’t start something–they are part of something that was already happening. What’s notable about the upsurge and growth of poetry’s popularity is a renaissance of to poetry in younger generations. A phenomenon that may account for this greater comfort with poetry: while we may live in a visual and auditory age with images and sounds blasting us from all sides, if you want to communicate with a millennial, you better learn to text! Suddenly, the written word is “in” again.
Even so, poetry is not always easy. Reading and writing poetry requires thought, feeling and attention, and we might assume that it’s “not for us” if we don’t “get it” right away. But poetry cares less about being “understood” than noticed, contemplated, savoured and shared. And it’s a form that is very helpful in navigating an increasingly distracted world. Lesley Fletcher of the League of Canadian Poets notes, “Right now, one of its great benefits is that (poetry) gives us a kind of stillness among so much noise and bombardment of aggressive rhetoric.” Unlike a short story or novel, poems demand that we slow down and patiently reach across the gap between our perspective and someone else’s experience. When we take the time to do this, poetry provides, as Fletcher says, a “kind of stillness hard to find now.”
So here we are in 2018, when, as Smith ironically observes, “the likelihood of a Canadian starting the day by reading a poem is greater now than it has been since about 1890.” If you’d like to get in on this growing trend, check out our resources section and learn how you can sign up to get a poem emailed to you each day and take a look at some of the poems by Collingwood poets posted in Poetry Corner. Long live poetry!
The Griffin Poetry Prize – the world’s largest ($75,000) prize for a first edition single collection of poetry written in English– is awarded each year to one international and one Canadian poet to “spark the public’s imagination and raise awareness of the crucial role poetry plays in our cultural life.”
Here are the nominees for the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize with a line from each poet; who would you pick as the winner in each category?
International Griffin Prize
Tongo Eisen-Martin for Heaven Is All Goodbyes (City Lights): “I guess we’re all city people now / And we roam around carving ‘still alive’ in people’s foreheads / (preaching gently)”
Susan Howe for Debths (New Directions): “A work of art is a world of signs, at least to the poet’s / nursery bookshelf sheltered behind the artist’s ear.”
Layli Long Soldier for Whereas (Graywolf Press): “But / is the small way to begin. // But I could not. // As I am limited to a few / words at command, such as wanblí. This / was how I wanted to begin, with the little / I know. // But could not.”
Natalie Shapero for Hard Child (Copper Canyon Press): “I don’t want any more of what I have. / I don’t want another spider plant. I don’t // want another lover.”
Canadian Griffin Prize
Billy-Ray Belcourt for This Wound Is a World (Frontenac House): “grieve is the name I give to myself / I carve it into the bed frame. / I am make-believe. / this is an archive. / it hurts to be a story.”
Aisha Sasha John for I have to live. (McClelland & Stewart): “I do. / I did it. / I did. / I had to. / I have to. / I have to live.”
Donato Mancini for Same Diff (Talonbooks): “Freedom is the freedom to choose. / Freedom is a right. / The cage is already open; you only have to walk out.”
Let’s face it: poetry is weird. Novels and short stories have the decency to proceed in an orderly fashion from beginning to end in structured sentences and paragraphs, filling one page before starting another. Poetry wanders around, paying little attention to any rules but its own.
Some poems rhyme, but others don’t. Some have a prescribed number of words, syllables or lines, while others jump all over the place. Poems take liberties with grammar, spelling, punctuation‒marching to the beat of their own drums. Some poems don’t even have the decency to stay in books where we expect to find them. They’re happy to have snippets of themselves displayed on greeting cards and posters and are even so bold as to expose themselves in public places like parks and the sides of buildings. Just who do these poems think they are?
Unruly as they may be, let’s see if we can come up with a definition: poetry is a form of writing that uses a distinctive style and rhythm to express feelings and ideas. A lot of the communication we’re used to‒written and spoken‒is to convey information (textbooks, instructions, articles in newspaper and on-line) or to persuade us in some way (ads and commercials, paid political announcements, opinion pieces). Poems on the other hand capture in a concentrated form some imaginative awareness of the poet’s experience by language chosen and arranged to evoke a specific emotional response through meaning, sound and rhythm. If non-fiction engages our thinking and novels and stories our imagination, poetry that works goes right to our core.
One of the most noticeable characteristics of poetry is economy of language. Poets are stingy about the way they dole out words. They carefully select language not just for conciseness and clarity but also taking into consideration how a word makes us feel, its musicality, its spacing, even its spatial relationship to the page. Like all artists, poets create something out of thin air. A poem can be described as a painting by an artist who uses words instead of paint, and the canvas is you.
The poet hopes that when you experience the poem‒whether reading it or hearing it‒you will feel intense emotion. It might be joy, sorrow, anger, release, love, even surprise‒one of those aha! moments when something snaps into focus and you see yourself, another person or the world differently.
Poems have a big job to do, and there are so many ways and forms they can take that it’s no wonder that they’re the free spirits of the literary scene. Once you get to know them, you’ll discover that poems these days are playing hooky from school, escaping from libraries and climbing down from bookshelves everywhere to make their way out into the world in their own unique way. You’ll be meeting a lot of poems on this site but keep your eyes open and you’ll discover poems cropping up in all sorts of unexpected places throughout our community. They will welcome your attention; just don’t try to define them too tightly. Keep in mind the words of contemporary literature expert Mark Flanagan, “Perhaps the characteristic most central to the definition of poetry is its unwillingness to be defined, labeled or nailed down.” As I said, weird‒ and wonderful.
Here’s a poem I wrote about the process of writing poetry. I’d love to hear your reaction.
Sugaring Off IV
Summer is the time for blooming,
spreading your arms wide as you lift your face to the sun.
Winter is for hunkering down,
drawing close to the warm fire and dreaming of the past.
But in the spring and fall of your life,
you may become aware of the shifting light
as the days stretch or shrink
in accordance with
the dance of the sun
and the whirl of the seasons.
If you notice, you may respond by reaching down
deep into the earth to discover an aquifer of words
waiting to be drawn up through your peculiar roots.
You have the power to transform
the water you find buried beneath your life
into barely sweet sap.
Do not stop there.
Tap that sweetness, gather it up.
Boil buckets of words down,
luscious, golden, thick.
until all that remains is
a lump of intense sweetness.
You are the author of nature’s alchemy:
water to sap, sap to syrup, syrup to sugar
This section is where you can share your poetry. Please submit any original poem you’d like considered (as a Word document attachment or in the body of an email) and send it to email@example.com. Let us know if you’d like to be acknowledged as the poet or be published anonymously. We’ll read every submission and publish what we can. We look forward to seeing your work!
Parts of Speech
The morning the towers fell,
I ran outside, sobbing and wild-eyed
into the arms of my neighbor.
“Why do they hate us so much?” my first response.
No rhetorical question, that, for an unthinkable event.
Unthinkable by me, at least.
By us, by a country unfazed by warning shots
fired over bows in Yemen’s harbor and elsewhere.
Blindsided is what happens when you look straight ahead.
You lose perspective,
see only where you are going.
You may remember where you’ve been,
but not what your being and doing did to those outside your story.
That was not in the textbooks for what was called, bizarrely, Social Studies.
I stand on the wrong side of so many dates:
Not just 09-11, but 1066 and all that ensued from that frank encounter.
1492 and the ocean blue that was really red with the blood of those pushed
to the margins or killed by sword, gun, disease.
The Crusades: rosy English knights in those improbable helmets,
parading across the story books of my childhood.
The Salem Witch Trails, an ancestor the Hanging Judge,
condemning wise women for the threat their knowledge posed.
The twin suns of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
Napalm and Agent Orange in the Mekong Delta,
decimating both us and them.
Us and them, always us and them.
And now Babylon again, the real weapons of mass destruction sown like bad seed
as we make others them over and over and over.
Brother, sister, where art thou?
Where is knowing each other as who, not what?
First person singular, second person familiar,
declined into he and it and them.
I want new language.
Rules of a higher order, interdependent, universal.
Grammar that holds us to lines
we must parse in parallel with No. 2 pencils mightier than any sword.
Exchanging the pluperfect subjunctive of “if only we had known, we would have”
for future perfectible, less tense than taut.
into tempered actions that plow the soil we share.
Planting together adjectives and adverbs that,
twining round each other’s hearts,
tell us who we are and how we can become.
The Quilt of Turtle Island
This quilt has been a long time in the making.
At its centre, its core is an ancient turtle,
rising up from the earth, still bearing dirt and plants on its back.
Woven around the turtle are patches of deerskin, pierced with porcupine quills
and decorated with slivers of mica so fine they look like tiny rainbows.
Next come the trees–the 7 Grandfathers ringing the turtle along with the 7 Grandmothers, the ancient animals that still call this place home.
Surrounding the skins is a border of hemp, rough-cut rope worn smooth
by hands hauling it over the sides of ships, now looped into a frame.
Shards of cotton, linen, muslin–softened by time and wear punctuated by
embroidery thread with names and words cross-stitched for practice and memory.
Now the circle grows, encased by tightly woven grain bags speared by hand-forged iron nails, bent into pleasing shapes with hens and chicks scampering around the edges. Next, a loose border of maple leaves rampant on a field of red and white, poppies bowing their heads, trilliums of all shades.
And more: pieces of rich silk from saris conjoined with Dickey overalls, the collar of a golf shirt rimming a Loonie like the flute of a white flower guarding its precious core.
At the outermost part, not a finished edge but a fringe, ready to add more as the quilt continues to grow over time.
This is our quilt; there are others all over the country–
our native or chosen land.
Each unique to the people and places that have informed its story.
Each the same as one section of a larger quilt that connects sea to sea to sea.
This enormous quilt is so beautiful and various and new that it shines like the beacon of a lighthouse, shimmers like the northern lights, glows like a city on a hill or in a vale,
a mosaic big enough to cover us all in this our home–Canada.
LOVE WILL NEVER DIE
As you lay your head upon your pillow
your dreams go silent as you lay still
your family stands waiting underneath the willow
as your spirit merges from over the hill
like a deer you run so fast to see their faces
you stop a distance so they know it’s you
you’ve come to stay forever at one of your favourite places
you realize it’s your final dream come true
although you’re sorry you didn't say goodbye
you never ever wanted to make them cry
please kiss the boys and tell them why
I’ll love you always, for love will never die.
During the month of April, Poetry Kits were placed at the Collingwood Museum and Centennial Aquatic Centre. A spontaneous poetry wall was also created at Central Park Arena with note paper and pens on hand for those ready and willing to play with words! Here are a few of the submissions:
New in Town
I have found this trail on a city map
along White’s Bay leading to an isle
called Hens and Chickens – a farm,
succulents? I am about to discover,
hoping for green, a glimpse of spring.
Pieces of ice break off with a crack,
Meld with the water, liquid at once.
Redwing blackbirds cling to branches,
screeching, proclaim their territory.
Wings of geese whistle overhead.
Mergansers bustle to and fro.
Willow catkins and moss by my feet,
velvety pillows greeting. All around
celebration, spring is here.
Abruptly, the path to the island ends.
A footbridge has been taken out
by ice and winter storms. Over there,
I see some mounds, homes of muskrats.
Water birds weave through the marshes.
A swan detaches from yellow grasses,
head held high, white wings pristine,
he floats through the gap a few paces
from me. He doesn’t care that I am there,
so sure of his domain.
if in the silence
there is no plea
to echo off the heavens
like waves crashing
against shallow tides
if in stillness
we listen to
the pounding of atriums
nestled amongst willows
if in this peace
fraught with transient eternity
anointed by a network
if such quietude
can abide ancestral quaking
rending sacred binds
millennia of aching rifts
tethering the hallowed to the lost
am I heard amidst the breathless chant of
Surrounded by succulent sweet crab apple blossoms
dripping in the wind, the ground a pink carpet, creeping flocks,
red yellow tulips alive and dead, deep purple iris,
a wicker chaise lounge cushioned comfort,
filled with memories, fields of wheat undulating,
unfamiliar beauty, wildflowers,
climbing above constant change.
The Bay calls me, the heat,
invites perhaps demands, jump,
like cool mountain streams at the end or middle
of those days welcomed toes and feet
filled with bygone knowledge,
Roman, medieval, visible ruins.
I walk now on land, remembering, that
where I walk…”Indian children used to play…”
called to be aware to notice, history here.
“ Jesus carried his burdens,” he said
she replied “ I am not Jesus, and he was not sixty.”
Yesterday, after the vegetable beds, were mulched,
and seeds were planted, the labyrinth was mowed and
dainty blues forget me nots were placed in vases,
I watched rain fall, glee filled,
holding knowledge of thunderstorms,
in the valley, on distant mountain ranges,
rain covers over packs, swelling stick clicks on earth,
petitioning for five more kilometres of grace.
You wave as you go by, “ welcome home,’
familiar comfort on your face.
I met him, for the first time at the airport,
heading to St. Jean, three meetings later, he fell
into my arms, a mountain climbed, descent accomplished,
we lost each other on day five.
She gave me my wedding album, forty three years ago,
I was nineteen, so young and wise,
Forty countries more or less
from their citizens.
my pack sits empty on the floor,
not put away,
- gloria kropf nafziger
I am my own arch nemesis,
bound to lead myself to death
In the time between now and then
I will use my heart, my courage, and my voice
to make my enemy
The world is angry, spitting fire and ash.
How many eruptions must it create?
Where must it next open earth and roar?
It’s had enough of our senseless squabbles.
Its threat is real, we should abide, revere its mighty roar,
fear its inevitable outcome, desist our squabbles.
One potentate after another trying to fight – not play.
To destroy – not create.
To pollute our destiny with destructive toys.
Cease and Desist!
We have what we’ve been given the use of –
not the right to
destroy each other,
mankind and its companion species,
inhabitants of this great blue sphere
we all call home.
Morning sun beams through the blinds,
warms my face as I gaze out the window.
My teacup nestles between my hands.
I raise it to my waiting lips and tip.
Its golden elixir slides smoothly
over my teeth, onto my tongue.
The sweet flavour runs down my throat.
I swallow. Breakfast tea.
I sigh, smiling at the pleasure
it brings me every morning.
Each day a good beginning.
The boy is gone; he’s launched
and left a gaping space
wet towels, drums and reeking rugby shirts
used to fill.
It’s too quiet now; the sparkle’s gone.
Gabe shared his joys and passions easily;
kept his sorrows and fears for his friends.
No more, “Hi Mom!” though truth be told,
we’d heard it less of late.
Now sometimes over skype,
him sprawled on his dorm bed,
I’ll say, “So, how was your day?”
watch him stroke his beard and calculate
what he’s willing to share (while
admiring himself in the camera).
Just a few weeks gone and he’s already
pitched a ticket home to catch
Viking Metal in TO. (oh ya,
and dad’s birthday too, I guess).
He’s already jamming at a friend’s,
prepping for open mike,
fishing in Ste. Mary’s River
and shaving with his KA BAR knife
by the campfire.
Yes, he’s launched.
I’m happy he’s so full of his own life now,
but I also wish he were still six,
and I were still the apple of his world:
As he will always be of mine.
for blessings, opportunities, challenges
for strength and guidance
my best always
to high ethics
with optimism, renewed energy, and commitment to service
Goals ahead, and no task beyond
I am thankful.
Life is full of peaks and valleys.
Mountain tops are barren,
in valleys find opportunity for true growth.
Talents, dreams, backgrounds, occupations.
Not exactly like anyone else,
these differences provide good for the common goal.
Peace, Tranquility, Freedom.
Giving thanks to be blessed with friends, laughter and fun,
a heart that is always grateful.
I delight in weather
I flow in the passage of weathers
I don’t wield umbrellas to ward off the rain
or deflect the brilliance of solar light and heat
I don’t live buffeted by the chaotic imagined vagaries of weathers
I revel in the stillnesses and breezes and buffets of true air flows
I don’t moan about the dim and damp of wet summers
I search for secrets and treasures in the shadowed picnics of the dark
I don’t shiver in the midst of winter blizzards, yearning for spring greening
I sing lullabies to sleeping embryos and cuddle the icebergs of silence
I delight in weather
I don’t plant cultivated gardens or water weedless lawns
I write symphonies for wildflowers and float blinded by oceans of dandelions
I don’t gasp in panic with summers passing and the turning, falling of leaves
I dance in harmony with the penultimate colours drifting to their birthing graves
I don’t listen to the manic meteorological dramatizations of media prophets
I watch cloud patterns, leaves and cows and open my nostrils to shifting scents
I don’t get worked up by weather
I flow with it
I delight in it
I’m grateful for weather … of any kind … on any day
affirming every moment …
© Jake McArthur 2009
Exasperated with the whines and complaints and sighs from people reacting to a summer of more than average rain; the emotional pot-stirring of media around weather forecasts and the endless cycles of complaining about the cold in winter, the heat and humidity in summer and the wishing for something else than what is. Stop … feel blessed!
Climb, refuse to
with nothing to admire
-G. Kropf Nafziger
And then the tide recoiled
when the urge to grow
wealthy as an ocean
was more futile than
the strength it took
And then the bicycle
on a breeze,
than the automobile
it took to arrive in.
Here are four of the poems generated at our recent Playing With Words poetry “playshop”. These poems were created on the spot using a “prompt” or starting point called Poetry Jam, which is a way to concoct a poem based on three nouns. If you’d like to try it yourself, pick any three nouns (person/place/thing), ask someone else to assign you three or use this handy on-line Random Noun Generator to produce three nouns for you to use: http://www.desiquintans.com/randomnoun. The prompts used for each poem are in bold.
Strangers always seem to find me.
This one’s heart glitters like gold, it’s blinding.
Only with another soul do I expand my view.
I hear a voice,
quite clear and direct.
I am in the church.
It comes from under
the frontal arch
and speaks of death.
I stand to run away
but decide to stay
and wait for it
to speak of life.
I walked the streets of downtown,
trying to make sense of the homeless souls
I saw living and dying on the sidewalk.
It wasn’t until I listened to the yarn
of a desperate grandfather
that I realized, anyone’s life can go
off the rails
and I could be him
instead of who I think I am.
Long awaited retirement.
I pin my hopes on my future,
my plans, dreams, adventures.
But here I am in hospital.
Life has stalled, every day the same.
Dreams fade and change.
A visitor comes by my window
with feathers ruffled from a
journey of wind and weather.
He sings his birdsong.
Hope is renewed, a new song.
I will rise and fly once again.