Archive for September, 2012

Some will think I’m obsessed, and perhaps I am.  I love Dr. Who.  Yes, I’m 41 (almost 42!) and I can recite Whovian phrasings and trivia with the best of them.  On a day trip to North Bay today, with my fellow poet and dear friend, Melanie Marttila, we spent a good half hour debating the best character traits of past Dr. Who actors and mourned the fact that David Tennant is no longer on the show.  (He and Tom Baker will always be my favourites….but Tennant is much sexier than Baker…. 😉

So, some will ask, what’s the big deal?  You watch a show about a Time Lord, the last one of Gallifrey, and a painted police box that transports him to different worlds and dimensions.

There are just some of the life lessons that Dr. Who teaches us on a weekly basis:

1.  Life is precious; gather your companions near to you and value their contributions to your life.  (….and when they go, as the Ponds did tonight, weep for their passing, but smile for having been part of their lives….)

2.  Don’t blink.  (Weeping angels are terrifying, even if not supported by modern day physics!)

3.  Remember to conserve your energy.  (…especially if you are thinking of regenerating any time soon… 😉

4.  Honour your closest friends and loves with warm greetings.  (“Hello, sweetie!”….and “Yowzah”, if the scenario calls for it!)

5.  Know the importance of eggs and milk to making souffles, especially when visiting a Dalek asylum.

So….if you don’t watch, you won’t know what the hell I’m talking about here.  That’s okay.  I can only tell you that the writing is brilliant each and every week.  (“A Town Called Mercy” is a perfect example of this, when the Doctor informs someone that their horse’s name is actually Susan….and that “she asks you respect her life choices.”)  It’s witty, intelligent repartee….and I’d love to write a script for Moffatt….but I fear I would hardly come close to his, or Russell T. Davies’, sartorial brilliance.

By now, if you watch, you will know that The Ponds, Amelia and Rory, have been dispatched….in a very bittersweet manner.  I will miss them both terribly.  I only hope the next companion will be thought provoking, witty and warm.  Whenever The Doctor regenerates, or a companion (or companions, in the case of Amy & Rory) moves on, I get weepy and reticent.  Why, I wonder, do things have to change, even on Dr. Who?  Why not just let me continue to feel as if I know them all….as if I could have a pint with them all in a pub and hitch a ride in the TARDIS?  But, as Dr. Who serves as a commentary on human behaviour (even when he deals with alien races like Daleks, Cybermen, or Weeping Angels!), I know the answer even as I write down the question:  change is inevitable.

So, as I move through my own life, struggling with new ideas, shifts in being or thought, pondering what’s next for me, I see that journey paralleled in the weekly episodes on Space.  While The Doctor journeys through dimensions and visits far off planets, he still — at the core of it all — loves the fragile beauty of humanity, and fights to protect it.  (As a poet, that resonates with me; he is eternally hopeful for humanity’s sake….regardless of which incarnation and body he lives in….)

That’s probably why I’d like to write and ask Moffatt if he’d consider me for the role of next companion….sigh.  I’d even wear shorter skirts and buy a pair of tall boots….whatever!  Imagine how amazing it would be to traipse across time, hand in hand with “The Raggedy Man”, side by side with River Song, and maybe—if time travel actually works—I could maybe even supplant Rose Tyler’s spot and travel with David Tennant himself!

….wishful thinking, all….




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Love Song for Beara

Here in this place, where the Skelligs sit off shore,

cows dance, ducks speak, faeries scuttle, the dog speaks,

and the Ring of Kerry rises, but never bows down.


Paths swivel and surprise,

birds natter and gather,

ivy tangles trees, rooting itself in moss.


Sky moves, landscape shifts,

transforms itself with beams of sun–

paints green gold, warms & brightens day,

sweeps away rain.


Slow boat putters out of Coulagh Bay,

trails silver in its wake, disappears behind the headlands,

finds its way home now that the sky has begun to lift.


Pluck and taste ripe blackberries, bushes bountiful at edges of lanes,

next to fields owned by coal black cows and tiny horses made by God.

Traipse through bog near strand and wonder if

you will be found, the next day, after having fallen in.


Walk out on strand, feel sand shift under feet, hear water lapping,

slipping inwards with tidal pull.  Watch dogs race against wind.

Kneel down, gather water in cupped hands, in gratitude, taste salt of sea.

Try to find your way home, a new way, but discover a single cow

standing solid, blocking, chewing cud, where sea meets land,

where seaweed ribbons meet marsh grasses.


Church bells at noon and six, peal out to mark divisions of day.

Houses painted the colour of crayons, never to be erased.

Eight miles to Kilcatherine, over loping hills and round curled lanes,

a two hour walk from there to here, from ancient bone-yard

to seaside pub with picture window, pints, and poets.


And it was there, in Eyeries, on Beara,

that I found myself:

out of darkness, into light;

and I thought of love, and lost love,

and life, and my lost ones.


Memory bound, this place, etched on heart.


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I can’t get this out of my mind.

A dear friend of mine sent me an email recently, the body of which was a poem.  There were no other words to explain or define the situation.   No friendly banter or “Hey, how are you?”  Just the poem.  It struck me as to how much a poem can convey without explanation or fuss.  It popped up on my phone at 1:10am, in the dead of night.  I was sleeping poorly, so I checked email.  The poem, I thought, seemed beautiful, full of Canadian imagery and smells and sounds, things I could relate to on a basic level, as poet, as traveller, as lover of this country’s wild beauty.

The piece was untitled, something not unusual for this poet/artist friend.  She is in her 60s, eccentric, and brave as brass tacks.  I am quite fond of her and am glad to call her ‘friend.’  She conjured up images of prairie, of coming mountains, of tall pines, of wind rushing.  It spoke of two women driving westward, from Sudbury, in Ontario, to British Columbia, on the west coast.  “A road trip poem!” I thought, with glee, as I always love the metaphor of journeying outwards to find yourself inside.

The last stanza was a doozy.  The final few lines spoke of a mother’s passing, and of a daughter, grown up and weary of death and loss of love, speeding westwards to be there.  I thought, immediately, of deaths I have known.  Some have been gruesome, some calm and uplifting, some mean, some holy, but all have been utterly heart breaking.  We could choose to dwell on the darkness of death, but it seems to me that that isn’t where the lesson, or the learning, is at in a universal, spiritual sense.

It made me think of how poets do write about death, but mostly with the intention to enlighten readers about life itself.  I am tired of people saying ‘Oh, poems are depressing…’ when I know, with a strong faith in language and poets as a force to be reckoned with, that poems speak of dark and light things.  Sometimes, we need to know the dark to better see the lightness.  In this case, the poem was full of life, and then ended with a sudden, unfussy declaration of departure.  Shocking in its structure, it made me think how artfully it was built….how the architectonics of the thing lifted it up off the screen of the iphone and placed it in my heart.

While I can’t share my friend’s poem about her mother’s passing, I will say that my all time favourite poem about loss is W. H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues.”  There is a music there, a rhythm, that draws me every time I think about it.  I don’t need to re-read it to feel its beauty; its already embedded in my heart.  If you’re up for it, you can read it yourself at  http://allpoetry.com/poem/8493081-Funeral_Blues-by-W_H_Auden




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This poem, “Vigil”, is based on a painting of the same name by an artist named Axel Mirel, who lives in the west of Co. Cork, Ireland.  (If you’re a Facebook friend, you can search for the painting amongst my photos.  It’s the one of an old Irish woman, in a church, lighting a votive candle.)


I come to you, in faith,

with certainty, knowing

you are here–

in stillness,

in silence.


I cover my head,

show respect;

drape fabric like a cowl,

enter into this sacred space.


So many candles,

so many prayers

lit to dispel the darkness,

to illuminate the world.


I come to you in faith,

with palms open,

with heart blown open

by sea’s wind,

by my own life,

even as my candle flickers.


From darkness into light,

this one offering to join others;

hopeful intention reaching

ever upward, towards sky,

towards heaven, by flame—

not one, but many together.

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Can’t sleep and I’m looking at news from Belfast.  It’s not good.  Martin McGuinness, head of Sinn Fein, the political arm of what was the I.R.A., is saying that the peace process in Northern Ireland is at risk because of riots that have occurred this week in Belfast.  The Loyalists rioted and now there is chaos.  Clips online show cars overturned, people huddled in groups, and it might as well be a flash back to an incident from The Troubles.  I’m left wondering how I could have only just visited that city last month.  At the time, I felt like an explorer, but there was always an undertone of uncertainty in everything I saw.  I loved the political murals, but they gave me shivers.  I loved them because I think art has the power to memorialize and transform societies and cultures, but I had shivers because it felt strange to see such different, walled off areas as Shankill Rd. and Falls Rd. still mark off Roman Catholic and Protestant areas.

How do you break a cycle that doesn’t want to be broken?  In Derry, on a walking tour of the old city walls, the tour guide was a man with one Irish parent and one Chinese parent.  He mentioned how he believed sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, and in Derry in particular, would soon vanish with upcoming generations.  He did say he didn’t think it would happen very soon….which makes sense given this week’s upheaval in Belfast.  A city that has taken such pains to reinvent itself in terms of tourism, what with the new Titanic Experience centre and black cab tours of the Peace Walls, must feel worn down to see old angers rear their heads again.  Imagine being trapped in a historical spiral that leads back to the Battle of the Boyne in 1691.  How far back do we need to carry grudges, and how far forward are generations marked and punished for the sins of their fathers and mothers?

There is no one answer to this rhetorical and philosophical question….and it’s sad, even, that the question even needs to be posed in 2012, long after the Good Friday Agreement was signed and so many people have died unnecessarily.

peace to you all…and to Northern Ireland.




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I’ve been thinking a lot about the role art plays in my life.  For me, that includes visual art, storytelling, poetry, stories, and music.  Today, it struck me again…how very much art means to me in lifting me up every single day.  One of my favourite Canadian poets was (and is!) the late Bronwen Wallace.  She worked in a women’s shelter in Kingston, Ontario, and died much too young after a battle with cancer.  She often talked, in her essays, of “coming through” things, of facing difficult times or events in life, and of coming through as a much stronger person.  She also mentioned the idea of poets (and good poems) being able to see “the extraordinary in the ordinary.”  Poets, I think, see the world in a much different way.  Put a bunch of poets together in a room with cups of coffee or tea (or glasses of wine if it’s the right time of day) and just eavesdrop!  There are conversations about the value of art, music, politics, personal lives, and the rhythm of the universe.  Sure, poets still need to pay bills and take dogs to the vet, or drive their kids to college, but poets open their eyes a bit wider most days.

Today, coming home after work, with sore feet and a mind on fire with ideas, I opened my ratty black mailbox to find three lovely gifts from friends.  Two were thank you cards and one was a package from Seattle.  Two of the three items made me start thinking, again, about how important art and literature are to the life of my soul.

One of the thank you cards was, literally, a work of art.  My friend, Mary Green, is a Sudbury-based artist.  I’ve known her now for almost twenty years.  I met her through her partner, the late Sudbury artist Doug Donley, back in the mid-1990s.  I was a new poet in my early twenties.  I volunteered at the Art Gallery of Sudbury (at that time called the Laurentian University Museum of Arts and Culture I think….long title!) and Doug’s work was exhibited there.  I walked through the gallery one afternoon, in summer, while I was taking an art history course with Dr. Henry Best at L.U.  I fell in love with the space, the historic building, the story of Mrs. Bell’s ghost (!), and Doug’s paintings.  His exhibition was centred around the image of a green fish.  It was symbolic of a lot of things, that little green fish, but the whimsical nature of his work drew me in.  That fish was about Christ, was about something bigger, more symbolic and spiritual, and it hovered in the oddest and most juxtaposed of situations so that your brain churned as it sorted through the implications of Doug’s works.  I was drawn to a piece called “Eavesdropping,” which depicted a green fish in a little rowboat, looking out at a man (who looked a lot like Doug!) who was just over the edge of the boat, in the ocean.  It was a bit of a play on the story of Christ as a ‘fisher of men.’  As an Irish Catholic, I saw it, laughed out loud, and then walked on into the rest of his wonderful exhibition.  That was the first piece of art I ever purchased for myself, and it began my love affair with buying and collecting the work of local and Northern Ontario artists.  Even now, when I travel, I come home with loads of unframed art from places around the world.  (Now I need to get round to raising money to pay for the frames!  There are six new pieces from Ireland…they haunt me and beg for homes with frames!)

Before I knew it, I met Doug in the gallery office and we started talking about the creative process.  I would visit him at home and he would show me his new pieces and we would have tea and talk about creativity.  How cool, for me, as a young poet, to find someone who would entertain my questions about visual art and creative process.  I’m sure I was a pain in the ass, but he was continually welcoming and a great friend and mentor.  Before long, I met Mary!  She was working part-time as an art teacher here in Sudbury, and their house was a veritable wealth of lively discussion, music and art.  Doug introduced me to the music of Joni Mitchell.  Without he and Mary, I would never encountered the wonder that is Blue and For the Roses.  I first drifted into “A Case of You” and, sometime later, I even sang lead vocals for “Turn Me On, I’m a Radio” in a local garage band recording.  A conversation between the two of us became a conversation between three of us.  Shabba the dog joined in, too. 🙂

At one point, when I returned from doing my Master’s at Carleton University in Ottawa, I was invited for a traditional Doug and Mary ‘art burning’ in their back yard on Bancroft, just down the road from my house.  Imagine this:  Doug and Mary, stoking the fire, tossing on new logs and scraps of wood and plywood, asking one another which piece of art was to be burned next.  There was, I recall, a friendly bottle of whiskey that was passed around and found some solace in our three glasses.  I also recall sitting there, so anxious and upset inside, because they were burning art!  “Wait,” I yelled out.  “I’ll take that!”  A painting with what I thought was great beauty was unceremoniously tossed into the flames, feeding the fire.  The two of them roared with laughter and smiled at me, shaking their heads.  “We don’t want them…they didn’t turn out.”  As if they were badly burned cookies on a pan rather than pieces of art….I think I saved a few little pieces that day, some of which still linger on shelves near my desk, but I learned a great deal that day about art, creativity, and the power of revision.  This wasn’t an act of destruction, but rather an act of turning over the creative and artistic earth so that new, greater things might emerge.  I couldn’t see that at the time.  I was too young.  Now that I’m 41, thinking back to my 23 or 24 year old self, I was totally green when it came to my ideas about creativity and the gift I’d been given to write with words….and to sing with my voice, as well.

Doug commissioned me to write a sequence of short poems that would speak to the symbolism of his green fish.  It was published in Arachne, a journal of interdisciplinary disciplines that was (for a time) published at the university.  Then he said he liked my voice, because I had a local Celtic music show on the university radio station, and asked me to read excerpts for the Bible.  He had created a series of paintings that focused on animals and fantastic creatures that were depicted in the Bible…and he wanted to layer my voice, in some way, with his work.  We stayed close, but I went off to do my B.Ed. at Nipissing in 2000 and we drifted, as sometimes friends do.  I began to work at the same school as Mary, so we all reconnected.  Mary retired, they sold their house, and moved out to Gabriola Island, off the coast of B.C.  It was to be an idyllic retirement, full of art and friendship and soul.  Imagine my shock, then, when I found out my dear friend Doug had died in a terrible accident just shortly after moving to B.C.  I still miss him, but Mary and I stay close, so I know he’s around too.

Mary returned to Sudbury and, after a while, we reconnected, sharing stories and memories of Doug.  First, she asked me to write a review of a posthumous showing of Doug’s work at the local gallery.  Then, she asked me to record a poem called “Red Roots,” a piece written by a poet on Gabriola.  It was beautiful.  Sound was layered over my reading of the poem….sounds of sea surf crashing, birds speaking, and wind chimes singing.  There was a sense of such loss, but such beauty.  It really seemed as if Doug was present in that poem.

That piece was played at an exhibition of Mary’s in North Bay in the spring of 2009.  Dad and I did our traditional day trip thing (as he was my buddy whenever I had a poetry reading or was singing somewhere) and soon arrived at the evening reception.  That night, Mary took what is now my favourite photo of my Dad and myself together.  We are both smiling broadly, happy to be at Mary’s exhibition, but what I didn’t know until Mary sent me the photo afterwards was that Dad is turned towards me and smiling proudly.  He was proud of how I’d used my voice to help Mary with her exhibition.  (He stood in that sound tent listening for a long time….so much so that I was a bit embarrassed and went out to talk with Mary.)  Who knew a guy from The Minnow would end his life being an expert about art and poetry?!  I loved that about him….and still do.

Fast forward to January of this year.  I had lost Dad on December 28, 2011.  Mary contacted me via email in the second week of January to express her condolences, but also to ask me to voice more poetry, this time hers.  We agreed to meet at a recording studio on Elgin (Cosmic Dave’s for those of you who live in Sudbury).  It was a snowstormy day.  It took us three hours for me to read the poems, all beautiful, and record variations on cadence and rhythm.  Who knew my voice could be so flexible?!

When I came home from Ireland in August, another email from Mary awaited me.  She was having a birthday celebration downtown.  I was invited.  She would give me a CD copy of the poetry I had read for her.  It was the loveliest little birthday celebration I have ever attended.  There were about eight of her closest friends and I felt so honoured to have been asked.  Mary is a gift for me, a blessing, and a link to my dear friend Doug, whom I still think of so very often when I walk by their old house on Bancroft.  Today, what came in the mail was the most gorgeous card.  Completely hand-made.  Watercolour kissed, inside and out, the sweetest thank you note from Mary.  It made me weep.

Sometimes, we forget how the relationships we forge are so beautifully and perfectly formed by the universe.  This card reminded me of how lucky I am to have known Doug, and then Mary, and how we are still all three linked….and will be forever.

The second artistic gift came in the form of two books of poetry from my new friend, Susan Rich, a brilliant Seattle-based poet, and the woman who ran the ekphrastic poetry workshop I attended in Ireland last month.  I swear I’ve known Susan in a past life because I totally connected with her.  She is a soul friend (an ‘anam cara’ as they say in Irish!).  Her books made me smile, too…and I can’t wait to schedule a visit to Seattle to read from my next book just because I’ll get to hang out with a fellow kindred spirit and poet again! 🙂

Tomorrow, a third gift of art will arrive.  My old friend Rob O’Flanagan, a writer and artist whom I’ve known since the 90s, too, will be in town to display his paintings at The Fromagerie.  I haven’t seen him in a few years, so I’m looking forward to that.  He and his wife, Valerie Senyk, inspire me to no end with their creativity and spirituality.   I’m lucky to be going to the exhibition with my friend Trish Stenabaugh, another great Sudbury artist who has generously offered me an image for the cover of my upcoming book, The Narcoleptic Madonna.

All this to say that art plays a role in my life in a very real way….in how I see God, the universe, creativity, and compassion….and in how blessed I am to have met artistic souls who make me feel a little bit more at home in the world.   Sometimes, art comes in the people you meet.  Sometimes, you have to look for the art.  Me?  I’m blessed because I see the art in my friends’ lives and in my relationships with them….over time and space.




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Happy New Year!

As a teacher, September feels more like a “New Year” to me than January 1st does.  We all, whether we teach or not, can remember first days of school from our youth–of plaid skirts (or plaid velcro shoes, if you were born in the 1970s like me!), new book bags, Wonder Woman lunch boxes, the crisp scent in the air, the promise of leaves soon turning, and the sheer sense of anticipation and wonder.   This year, I’m thinking backwards as well as forwards.

So much has changed for me personally over the last eight months.  I lost my father on Dec. 28, 2011.  My world shifted.  I’m two-thirds of the way through my first year on the planet without him being here.  (Well, he’s still here with me, spiritually, but not physically.  It’s hard to hug a memory, even when that’s what you’d like most in the whole world…)  I know how pleased he was that I became a teacher in 2001.  I know he was proud of me as a person, and delighted that I became an honest-to-goodness published poet.  That comforts me.   Then, I tried a guidance position through the spring.  I now better understand how schools and school boards work.  I took the first part of my principals’ course.  I kept busy.  (All the better to avoid the grieving, I now see….or to rush ahead into change.)  I received notice from my publisher that my book would be published.  This summer, I went to Ireland and met new people….some were the most amazing poets I’ve ever encountered.  I reconnected with my ancestry, my poetry, my song.  I met Seamus Heaney, my most favourite living poet, in a random Sligo pub….and it was a bit like what I imagine meeting God would be like….if you could imagine that sort of thing!  I changed–spiritually, mentally, physically–and noticed that I was growing at the speed of light…I woke up and stretched my arms wide to embrace the new world.  I’m a different person now…and that’s been both strange and exciting at the same time.

Dad’s memory hovers over me a lot these days…but I think he’d be glad and proud of what I’ve done over the last eight months.  Hard to know for sure, but the picture of he and I above my desk (taken by my friend Mary Green) makes me think this is true.  His last directions to me, before he died, were:  “Write more poems.  Travel more.  Be happy.  Do what you love.”  I know I’m doing these things….with passion.

We are four months now from the start of the traditional new year.  I’m sure some will trumpet the Mayan prophecy as we move forward, but I think it is more about awakenings and raising consciousness of who and what we’re doing here on the planet than about revelations of doom and gloom.  Thinking of my own evolution so far this year, I know that I need to figure out what it is I am supposed to be doing here.  There’s a sense of impatience about it all…but I know it involves my writing somehow.  I have faith that God, and the Universe, will provide what needs to come to me, when it’s time….(This reminds me of one of my favourite Ron Sexsmith songs, “All in Good Time,” which I often listen to…)

While I know it’s a difficult new year for teachers, what with the uncomfortable political upheaval in Ontario, I pledge, for myself, to reconnect to the reason why I became a teacher….to serve others with compassion, to inspire students to see the beauty of words and language, to lift up, to connect people and their ideas, and to get students to think about and question the world around them.   If I can do these things, then I’m good with where I’m at right now.

I also pledge to be the best poet I can be.  It’s the core of who I am, so I need to let it shine through….I’m looking forward to reading my work on Saturday, Sept. 29th in North Bay at the 100,000 Poets for Change event alongside my old friend, the amazing Sudbury poet and writer, Melanie Marttila.  It’ll be a road trip to remember!

My new year has already begun….my resolutions are set.  How about you?  🙂



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