I’ve thought a lot about the beheadings of the journalists, aid workers, and tourists in the Middle East lately. I’m a proud member of PEN Canada, which is related to PEN International. The organization is made up of writers who envision a world, as the mission statement says, “where writers are free to write, readers are free to read, and freedom of expression prevails.” Living in Canada, it’s almost too easy to take these freedoms for granted. You forget sometimes how blessed we are to live in a country where it’s okay to read what you want to read, or write about what you want to write about. These barbaric beheadings just pull me back to the realization that writers have the power to speak up, and out, about issues that aren’t always popular. Even if you disagree with a blog or newspaper article, you have the ability to access and read it, for the most part. For people in some countries, like China, Iraq, Syria, and many others too numerous to name, the act of thinking, questioning, researching, and writing can spell out a time of great torture, or even a horrific death sentence.

The first time I heard of PEN Canada, I was working on my Master’s degree in Literature at Carleton University in Ottawa, way back in 1994-95. Moving from Sudbury to Ottawa was a wake up call in terms of consciousness on a more global level. I met people from everywhere, opened my mind up to new ideas and questions, found my infant sea legs as a poet and writer, and was able to hear a number of well-respected writers read their work on campus and in local bookstores. It was a buffet of ideas for my mind. As I began to publish my own poetry, I applied and was accepted into PEN Canada’s folds. It was important to me, to become a member of PEN. The more I read about the injustice done to writers and thinkers in other countries, the more upset I became.

Before I even joined PEN Canada, though, I read Seamus Heaney’s collection of essays titled The Government of the Tongue. Part of its deep impression on me actually led to the naming of this blog. In the collection, Heaney wrote of Eastern European poets who had struggled with oppression. There is one essay in that book that speaks of a writer who had to bury his poems in milk bottles in his back garden, so that people wouldn’t rifle through his house, find his writing, and imprison him for questioning his government’s dictatorial and cruel policies. That stuck with me. For over twenty years, the image of a poet burying poems, all to avoid persecution, still sends shivers down my back. I can’t imagine living in a place where the words I put on paper could be so threatening. Still, all the more important for us to realize the sacrifice those journalists made in covering wars and humanitarian crises in places far from home. They knew that just shedding light on certain dark corners of inhumanity could help to dispel it. Not in a magical, instantaneous way, but in a way that made people around the world more aware of what happens in other places. Sometimes, growing awareness is the start of spreading light.

Some of it seems so hard to believe, to see those men silhouetted against desert and sky, speaking words scripted for them when that is the last thing they would have chosen to do. They would never have spoken those words without being under duress. I can’t imagine the dread they must have felt, but I am impressed, every time I see those horrible clips on the news, without ever seeing the act itself, with the calm they seem to embody. How could they be so very calm in the face of such horror?

Each week, it seems, there are others named…threats sent across the Internet or television. For each man, for each aid worker or journalist or tourist, there are families of people who love them dearly. I pray for them. So, today, in the face of all the chaos in the world, I am thinking of the brave work that James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and David Haines did. I will also think of Herve Gourdel, a French tourist who was kidnapped and then killed as a pawn in a deadly game. How this will end is anyone’s guess…but I’m afraid it will continue. There seems, lately, to be less and less compassion in this world, less humanity. (I can’t imagine anyone’s creator would want any of this to continue.)

As readers, we must continue to pick up and read books that others might think are controversial. We must fight against any crusade to ban books, speaking up for the words that convey thoughts on paper. As writers, we must stand united with organizations like PEN International and PEN Canada. We must try to support fellow writers who simply cannot speak up because of fear of torture and death. For we know, as writers do, that our words are powerful and dangerous, but we also know, with hearts full of sadness and hope, that our words might someday change the world in some small way. Ripples move outward from the centre, and so we must cast our words out from our own quiet, sure centres and then watch the ripples extend–lighting up dark spaces and minds, forever hopeful that speaking up, that the seemingly simple act of writing down our thoughts, in the face of terror, is something worthy and important to the world.

Below, I’ll leave you with PEN’s statement on the executions. It speaks for itself; powerfully so.


“Since March 2011, well over 100 citizen journalists have been killed in Syria, most by government snipers, or as a result of torture. Increasingly, they are being targeted by armed opposition groups like Islamic State. Dozens who have done nothing more than to witness, report, film, and photograph acts of violence have been arrested and many have been subjected to enforced disappearance. Writers and journalists are amongst those at risk of political and sectarian violence from government forces, pro-government militias and armed opposition groups, both in Syria and neighbouring countries.

PEN calls on all groups detaining journalists to immediately release them. Freedom of expression is particularly important in times of war, as only through access to a wide spectrum of reporting can people come to understand the reality of what is happening. Without the evidence that journalists gather, documentation of human rights violations including war crimes and potential crimes against humanity is made more difficult, leaving victims and their loved ones without access to justice in the future.”


One of my mother’s oldest and dearest friends died last Friday. So, after work today, my sister and I went to the wake. It was a bit of a memory trip, to be honest. Frieda Squires worked at the gift shop my parents owned in the late 1970s and early-mid 1980s. She, along with the women of Cedar Gift Shop, Mrs. Fox and Ora, spent a lot of time mothering us as we grew up while our parents worked long hours in retail. The original store sat where Peddler’s Pub now sits. Somewhere near that front bar, there is a wide set of stairs that was covered over, stairs that led down to a plethora of parkas. They were popular in the gift shop trade back in the day, covered with fluffy furs and beautiful beading. Stacy and I weren’t supposed to, but we often scuttled down into the centre of the coven of circle racks, feeling the fur collars and cuffs, surrounded by bright colours and warmth. Parkas were the thing back then, but they were also very expensive, so we had to use stealth mode when we wanted to play hide and seek down there.  (We both knew the back hallway leading to the freezing cold bathroom must’ve been haunted, so we avoided going there without one another.  We weren’t stupid.)

The other thing I remember are the German chocolate bunnies wrapped in foil at Easter, and the marzipan candies at Christmas.  They were leftovers from the previous owner, a man named Mr. Sloan.  I remember meeting him once, but I was more impressed by his marzipan, his sharp German accent, and his love of (and respect for) Hudson Bay blankets and parkas.  Then there were the soapstone carvings, the moccasins, the Canadian kitsch.

Above all of this, though, I remember Mrs. Squires.  She had a fabulous laugh, a kind and warm smile, and when we were old enough to work at the shop when it moved to Southridge Mall in our early to mid-teens, she trained us on cash and the art of dusting.  She had an eye for display.  I think, looking back now, that my love of art and beautifully and uniquely crafted things was born in my parents’ gift shop.  Mum and Frieda dusted consistently, creating little vignettes of crystal vases, or gatherings of little paintings.  They were artists.  Best of all, though, were the Christmas windows on Cedar Street.  Mum and Frieda would plan and plan, ordering big ornate sparkly snowflakes that they could hang from the ceiling in mid-November.  There were cotton ball snowdrifts, little twinkly faery lights edging the window, and a heavy European nativity scene.  Each seasonal change meant a shift in the window-scape.  They would sit with coffee and cigarettes in the downstairs office, gossip about having caught a chronic downtown shoplifter, talk sales, share news of their kids, and plan out the new window design.  It was a kind of art, really, their friendship.

After Mum died in 2008, I reconnected with Frieda.  We often shared telephone conversations, and she shared her memories of Mum.  When Dad died in 2011, she called more often.  They had shared the same birthday, she often said, so she felt very connected to him.  While we spoke together, we grieved, we laughed, we reminisced.  It was tumultuous, but I’ll remember those conversations for the rest of my life.  Sharing my memories of them with her made them seem less distant from me, less far off.

Speaking with her daughter today made me miss my youth.  Those years were hard working ones for my parents, but they were also full of laughter and shared storytelling.  I wish I’d known then that things would not always be so simple.  I might have valued that time more, if I had known.  Talking to Frieda’s husband, Ronnie, was like being pulled back in time.  “Is that you?  Kim and Stacy?  Look at you two, all grown up and pretty.”  Then, he went on to tell us about the time the four of them had gone to the casinos of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  “Your mum was there, sitting next to me, quiet as a little mouse, playing the slots.  Then she won the $5,000!  She was so excited!”  What? She won big money?!  All of those years that I spent, driving Mum and Dad to early morning bus pick-ups, or collecting them late at night before going to work at 7:30am, she never once mentioned winning it big.  :)

So, there in the middle of the funeral home visitation room, I laughed out loud, squeezed Ronnie’s hand and told him we were sorry about Frieda’s going.  In the midst of that sadness, of missing a woman who was like a second mother figure to us, I felt more connected to my own mum than I have in a long while.

It’s funny, when you get to thinking about it, the little ripples of memory and serendipity that tug at the heart when you least expect it.

I figure, based on Mum, Dad, and Frieda’s long-term friendship, they’re off somewhere having a drink and a laugh.  Maybe, just maybe, they’re winning it big.  I hope so.  Missing all three tonight, but feeling them in my heart.  Solidly so.  Thankfully so.

peace, friends. .and remember to hug the ones you love.


I’ve been sitting on this post for a couple of days now. I always know I need to write when something niggles at me, nudges me to speak out. Goodness knows that there has been more than enough written about the death of actor and comedian Robin Williams this week. Some of it seems written in tribute to his body of work, which is fair and just. Much of it speaks to how we deal with depression and mental illness as a society. What has struck me most, though, is the multitude of voices that seem to speak of mental illness, depression, and suicide as a “choice” that is “selfish” and even more about a person’s “need to escape.” I find all of this reprehensible.

I’m not a therapist or psychiatrist. I don’t pretend to know the clinical terms. I do, though, deal with depression on a day-to-day basis. It’s a black dog that I know all too well. It’s forced me, at times, to take medical leaves from my work as a teacher. It’s broken me, baptized me in new ways, and made me, somehow, more thankful for the small moments of grace in my world and life. It is, though, nothing to make light of in conversation or writing. It is a torture. It is a trial. Often, it is about clinging on to small moments of grace so that you don’t feel you’re going over a virtual edge.

All of this social media buzz, about how some people say that Robin Williams made a “choice,” makes me feel angry and ill inside. If people knew the depth of depression, of that void of emotion, they would not make these generalized, whitewashed assumptions. When you’re in such a dark space, as I have been in my life, you know that it becomes so dark, so devoid of light, that you cannot imagine there being a place in space where you will feel even content or peaceful again. There is no emotion there, not even the supposed sadness that people speak of so casually. The mental anguish is intense. It offers no respite, when you are at your worst with a disease that does not give you a moment’s rest. Sleep is disturbed, which often means that you aren’t thinking clearly. Most likely, you already aren’t thinking clearly, which is why you can’t sleep. Thoughts are repetitive, your own self-talk intensifies and becomes very negative. You pull into a hermit-shell, avoiding friends, losing friends, unable to stand being around large groups of people. You isolate yourself because you cannot handle anything else. In fact, anything else, outside your small space of home, takes too much energy. Those who battle with severe depression or other forms of mental illness often use every little bit of energy pretending to be okay. Being with others drains you. Pushing energy outwards, to look as if you’re okay in public, ultimately means that you end up making yourself worse at home, where you are truly alone. It’s a vicious cycle.

And here’s the kicker. It doesn’t go away. Whether on medication or not, in therapy or not, it haunts you, in true black dog fashion. I’ve had three major episodes in my life thus far, that I’m aware of, but I know the warning signs of when I’m at risk of encountering a new wave. It’s then that I have to do the most work, being more and more mindful of my every thought and action, questioning my motives and mind, wondering if my brain will do a two-step on me and crush me with heavy boots. Even when you’re out of the dark shadow of depression, it still lingers, so that you are constantly monitoring your own mental health. It is, to be frank, absolutely exhausting.

There is, always, the link between creativity and mental illness. It’s unavoidable. At a recent writing retreat, I had a brief conversation with a couple of other writers regarding the connection. We all found some truth in that premise. When you are creative or artistic, you see the world in a different way. For a poet or writer, the world seems ripe for the taking, images and characters painted in your mind transport themselves to page in ways that even you can’t explain, as a writer. In fact, one of the other conversations I had at Sage Hill revolved around the notion that if writers were to think too much about the creative process, too often, it would drive them a bit around the bend. We recognize, I think, that the act of writing is a gift, but also a craft and art. You may not know how you get these ideas in your head, but you know that it takes a lot of time shaping them into something worthy of sharing with others. Besides all of that, though, writing, as a creative act, requires you to spend a great deal of time on your own. Friends of writers must know that we are not always the most consistent of friends. It is not because we don’t love our friends and family, but because our heads are almost too busy inside themselves. Maybe this is why creative types are more apt to deal with mental illness. Again, the academic literature is out there, and I know there is great debate among creative types, but this is sort of how I view it all. I personally don’t create well when I’m dealing with an episode of depression. It usually shuts my creative side down, so I don’t subscribe to the “I’ll be a better writer and creator if have to struggle and suffer” school of thought. It’s too simplistic. It’s also too damning. Found this little interview online, and it speaks to the complexity of the relationship. Interesting to consider, if nothing else.

My dance with depression is sometimes elegant and balanced, but at others, when things get too intense, it looks like a mad tango with the devil. No one in their right mind wants that.

So, when people write that Robin Williams “chose” to do something “selfish,” to “escape” and “unburden his family” of his pain, I shake my head and get very, very angry. Of course that is how some must view it, but restating such nonsense only serves to reinforce the stigma that mental illness arrives with in our lives and in our society. I don’t think I’ve ever written more honestly about my struggle before, on my blog. I may have alluded to it in small ways in previous posts, but I feel it’s crucial that we speak up and out, to banish that stigma that — at times — seems even more dangerous than the very black dog that torments us. I had thought that Clara Hughes and her cross-country tour of Canada this year would have helped to decrease stigma, but from what I read online, I’m not so sure anymore.

I am saddened that mental illness and severe depression has taken another victim. He walked in darkness, tried to fight the black dog, but left us with a legacy of light and joy. If anything this week, I wish all of my fellow friends, seekers, and creators, those who are walking within the shadow of the ancient black dog….I wish you peace and contentment, at the very least.


My friend, Brian Vendramin, started an amazing blog in July. He spent the month speaking about his 30 Days of Vulnerability. Then, to usher in August and the fall, he envisioned a blog where guest bloggers could each post reflections on what positivity means to them. So, at his invitation, I wrote a piece to submit to his blog. I’m re-posting it here, with a request that you consider visiting his amazing blog, 100 Days of Positivity, which you can read at http://brianvendramin.wordpress.com/

It’s refreshing to find someone who shares his views on his blog, his journey, and then opens the blog to other guest bloggers. It’s also refreshing and inspiring to read of others’ struggles, trials and tribulations. If we only connected to one another more often, perhaps the world would be a better place. (I know…idealistic poet-girl speaking…)

Here’s my guest post:

Positivity, for me, is about connecting to the place where hope lives. I’m an English teacher by day, but my soul’s work is to write creatively, so I’m continually feeling torn by the routines of a daily work life and that rich internal space where I can create with words. I’m Sagittarian, so this tension between this world and another, isn’t altogether surprising to me.

I’ve been through many dark spaces in my life. I’ve taken care of my ailing parents, and then watched them die within a health care system that frustrates me to no end. I’ve dealt with major depression, and then have supposedly slain those dragons only to find they’ve repeatedly resurrected themselves without warning. From that struggle, from all of that pain, I’ve learned that there is great beauty in what seems to be the ‘ordinary’ rhythms of the world. I now know that, to see and appreciate light, you need to be okay with being in the dark for a while. It’s not pleasant, but it’s a soul teacher. (I’m fond of Leonard Cohen’s piece, “Anthem,” which says, profoundly: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Yup. That’s why he’s a poetic genius and truth teller!)

What has lifted me up, above all else, is my love of poetry. I read it, write it, speak it, and breathe it in each and every day. For me, poetry is a form of prayer. The words come from beyond my physical form, but I help to shape them. That act of creation, of crafting art, is both empowering and uplifting. So, when my days and nights are darkest, I find comfort in the way words nest on a page. My purpose, I believe, is to write, to share those ideas and images, to lift other spirits who may have their own dragons to slay.

Spending time at the Sage Hill Writing Experience this past July, in Lumsden, Saskatchewan, had me in the company of forty other writers and poets. It was, in every possible way, a place in space where I felt such great gratitude. Somehow, the universe knew I was yearning for creative community and friendship. Whether I was talking about poetic forms, viewing a Mary Pratt exhibit at the art gallery, or drinking too much wine with other writers in a room overlooking the beauty of the Qu’Appelle Valley during a fierce rain storm, I felt at home within myself.

My advice, in terms of finding positivity and gratitude, is to open your eyes wide and see the world in new ways. Too often, we rush ahead–paying bills, checking email, and attending meetings–when all we really need to do, in the very simplest of ways, is to sit quietly and be thankful for the small moments that populate our days and nights. Then, I think, positivity will bloom.

Positivity = poetry = prayer = peace.


This title is meant to be quirky, not morbid, just so you know….

I’m down here in St. Jacob’s/Waterloo, on the way to see two Shakespeare plays in Stratford tomorrow. Just a weekend whirl and then back to writing poetry and maybe a short story or two during the two weeks before I return to work in the last week of August. It truly has been a summer of writing, ideas, meeting stimulating new people of creative ilk, and a widening imagination, so for that I’m most grateful. (I’m also extremely grateful for two of the best house/dog sitters in Sudbury—Karen and Annette. Without them, I’d be a bit limited in terms of travel. Luckily for me, my two shih tzus are well-behaved and quite cuddly!)

So…a few things have crossed my mind this week….on we go!

First up….A few people close to me, when I told them I was coming to Stratford, were a bit surprised when I said I was going to be on my own. They seemed slightly shocked. The thing is, though, when you’re single, I think it’s important that you live your life to its fullest. I don’t see being single as an impediment to taking part in the world. Instead, it’s kind of more and more empowering each day, as I get older. I often think of Tanya Davis and her “How to be Alone,” which I show to my English students at school each and every year. You can listen to it here.

The girls balk at me, saying that I go to movies on my own, or have supper out by myself occasionally. They don’t get it. They think I’m something like a social anomaly, and it makes me laugh. I used to think, too, that people needed to do things in groups, but then I went a bit bonkers with my own life….If I didn’t go out to things on my own, whether poetry readings, or plays, or choral concerts, or art galleries, or crazy day road trips with me singing to extremely loud music, well, I think it’d be a sad life, indeed. (My mother, though, would have fits, thinking that I’ve been driving around, or flying around, like a bit of a renegade poet. I personally think it’s about time this poet got a bit more renegade! :)

. . .”and a two,” as Lawrence Welk would say….Driving down this way, coming through Cookstown, Alliston, Shelburne, and down into Mennonite country–more specifically through Arthur, Alma, and Elmira–has brought up fond memories of my dad today. Last time I was down here was in 2009, before he fell and was paralyzed, and he and I were on our way to London, to settle my great-aunt’s estate after her death. We came ‘the back way,’ as Dad said. It never fails to amaze me how beautiful the back roads of Ontario are, especially when the corn is up.

I am both blessed and cursed with a sort of photographic memory, so driving down here today was bittersweet. I can remember snatches of conversations I had with Dad from that trip back in early summer of 2009, based on driving through certain towns or areas. He always had the greatest respect for those who farm the land. His grandparents were farmers, so he spent time on farms around both Park Hill and Exeter, where the Fahner clan settled when they first moved over from Germany such a long time ago. He loved the Mennonites, regaling me of stories of how well they kept their farms, and how hard they worked, all the while having a deep faith in God. Dad was hardly a holy roller, but after my mum died, and nearer to the end of his life, he became a Little Buddha sort of figure to me and we had grand conversations about life, love, and death. He also taught me so much about the value of good, hard work, and about the ability to make the world a better place through volunteerism.

Driving through St. Jacob’s this afternoon made me sad. I remember the two of us trying to find a parking space, wandering into the various artists’ shops, and him having schnitzel at the local German restaurant. He was such a vast spirit, although I’m sure not everyone knew he had that rich, interior life. I miss him a lot. Tomorrow, on the way to Stratford, I’ll drive through Crosshill, Shakespeare, and alongside the bendy Nith River, where he and I often drove, and his memory will guide me. Today, seeing the Mennonite girls in their long skirts, dotting the fields and picking flowers (oversized gladiola blooms) to sell at the end of their lanes, or baskets of green beans at roadside stands, reminded me of driving with Dad, who always wanted to buy fresh vegetables to bring north.

…thirdly….well, I’ve been blessed to have reconnected with some old friends from my days on the Sudbury LEAF Person’s Day Breakfast committee. We worked together for about five years in the late 1990s. Being back together with Tannys, Joanne, and Christine for our monthly dinner and gab sessions has made me remember and rekindle those close friendships. I’m so grateful that we’re coming together again, and that time’s passage really hasn’t altered the friendships at all. It amazes me, this kindred spirit stuff…how it goes on through time and doesn’t really ever disappear…

…and, finally, I guess…for now!…I’m thinking longingly of the poets and writers I met at Sage Hill three weeks ago…and how they have wound themselves into my heart-space in surprising ways. I guess, when you meet kindred spirits, there will always be a place for them in your mind and heart. They helped me realize, too, that I am a poet and writer, even when I don’t so much feel like one, or when I doubt my own ability. It was nice to be with people who accepted me for who I am, and not for who I’ve become, or for what I’ve lost. That was a relief. As well, being with them made me energized, fired up to write more and more, to give myself more time and space to honour that creative part of myself. I also learned that I do love the prairies in ways that I couldn’t imagine until I stood on a road in the middle of a field and heard the voice of the wind.

The universe, as always, continues to surprise me. . .in the most miraculous of ways…

(and, as I proofread this entry, well, it seems to be the entry of the ellipsis, and for that I apologize, but I’ve had a glass of wine and an excellent spinach and quinoa salad for supper, so I forgive myself. :)


I’m coming to the end of my time here in Lumsden, Saskatchewan. I’m cherishing every sky I see, from the picture windows of the big glassed-in lounge, or on my twice daily walks on the long road. The skies are something I will miss when I return to Ontario later this week. It almost feels as if you are inside a ‘sky globe’ of some sort. The sky envelops you here. The clouds shift with the weather, making shadows on the fields below. I’m also going to miss the dragonflies on the road, even though I don’t like insects. I remember reading somewhere that dragonflies are symbols of transformation, and I can say that is true of this ten-day experience with other writers at Sage Hill.

What makes the place work so well? I think it’s largely due to the hard work of the Executive Director, Philip Adams, who shepherds people into Regina when they need things like toothbrushes and deodorant, or takes clutches of writers to see the Mary Pratt exhibit, knowing that even writers need breaks. He also, though, stays in touch with each writer, making each one feel that their work is worthy, valued, and important. Sometimes, as solitary creative people, writers need that reassurance. He often offers a quick, kind word to let them know that someone understands that drive to create, even if others (sometimes those who love and know us best back home) may not.

What I’ve found most amazing during my time here at St. Michael’s Retreat is that writers are similar souls with big brains. We sit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, always learning something new about what others are working on in different workshops. I haven’t had this much stimulating conversation with people, regarding writing, in a very very long time. By the end of the afternoon, people are yawning, their brains loaded up with new ideas for their writing. They’re also really very interesting people, are excellent story tellers (of course!), and they are so funny! I love it! :)

I feel very lucky to have been able to work with some great poets this week. Under the guidance of Ken Babstock, who has a keen eye for poetry, I’ve worked most closely with Dawn Kresan, Kathleen Wall, Margaret Hollingsworth, Bernadette Wagner, and Kevin Wesaquate. We’ve had one-on-one consultations with Ken, which have really made me see my work with new eyes, and then we’ve workshopped our poems as a group. What I’ve learned has a lot to do with editing and revision. I’ve begun to feel less attached to the poem, to sit back in an observational manner and let the poem tell me what it needs, or wants, to tell me. I also question it. I’ve begun to question why I’m doing the things I do, in terms of how and why I fashion my poems. I’ve honed in on image and line length, pushing at my own poetic wall. Evolving. It’s what I came here to do.

There are other great faculty members here at Sage Hill this week. Larry Hill, Helen Humphreys, Merilyn Simonds, Wayne Grady, and Denise Chong, along with our poet-guru, Ken, have given so much of themselves. They’ve read endless pages of poetry, non-fiction, and fiction, pushed at all of us to go deeper and get better. The sign on the banner says “Sage Hill Writing: Helping Good Writers Write Better.” It’s done that for me.

At the end of each night of readings, Philip says “Now, go write better tomorrow.” I’m going to take that phrase with me when I return home to Sudbury on Thursday, reminding myself of my commitment to my own writing. I’m going to be sure to carve out time every day to write, read, or think about poetry. I may be a teacher, but I’m a writer and poet first. I wouldn’t be as good of a teacher, I don’t think, if I didn’t take the time to feed my own creative work. I like to think, anyway, that my work as a poet and writer enhances my work as an English teacher. That’s my hope, to be sure.

I’ve met some fabulous people here these last days, and I’m going to miss them. At home, I don’t often get a chance to “speak writing” with kindred spirits. Here, well, it’s been a buffet of writers. I’m going to miss conversations about the structure of sestinas, or the way metaphor works, or how to best title a piece. I hope to see at least some of these writers again someday, but if I don’t, I’ll know they’ve made an imprint on my heart, as has Sage Hill.

….and for this part of Saskatchewan, the Qu’Appelle Valley, well, what can I say? Its land, spirit, people, and skies have marked me. I know I’ll be back someday. It’s inevitable. If I could, I would write the prairies a love song…and try to find a tick-free hill from which to sing it loudly.

For now, I’ll work on revising another poem, gaze out at the valley, watching that collie across the way herd cattle from one hill to another. For today and tomorrow, at least, I’ll breathe Saskatchewan in.


Journey to Sage Hill

My bag, fondly named “Monster” by a Dublin cab driver two years ago, finally arrived this afternoon after being delayed by an onslaught of fog. Being without it left me a bit out of sorts today. I have never before found myself staring longingly out of a window, waiting for a delivery service. (You never know how much you’ll miss something until it’s lost in an Air Canada vortex, let me tell you!)

Arrived at Sage Hill late last night, so missed the opening get together. This morning, the first person who said good morning to me was Lawrence Hill, the author of The Book of Negroes, one of my favourite novels ever. It’s like being in a surreal film or something…

Meeting my poetry cohort was cool. They come from all over Canada, but they all share the same love of poetry that I feel in my heart. It’s nice to be in a place where people are like minded, where talking about line length, metaphor, and imagery in a stanza can be a discussion that lasts 25 minutes. In my books, that’s a cool thing. (It made me think about how amazing it would be to live, some day, in a commune of poets. There are retirement homes for actors, so why not the same for writers and poets?) Our guide is Ken Babstock, a Toronto-based poet who said, today, something that stuck with me. When in doubt, when trying to make the poem say something, he suggested that, instead, the poem will tell the poet what to write. “The line will guide you…” Loved that. Made lots of sense to me.

At meals today, I’ve met loads of cool writers…some are poets, some are novelists, some are journalists and others are memoir writers. I’m looking forward to hearing more of their work…the poetry I heard this afternoon was amazing, so I can only imagine that it will be a week of words and wonder!:)

The views from St. Michael’s Retreat House are stunning. Rolling green hills, over the valley, which is spliced by a motorway, with birds chirping just outside. I spent some time in the chapel this morning after breakfast, and it may just be the most peaceful place I’ve been in a long time. These Franciscans know how to create a sacred space for soul. This is not the landscape I’m used to, but I’m hoping it will crack me open so that some poems will spill out.



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