Archive for December, 2012

A friend of mine, who went to high school with me years ago, and who now lives in England, asked me this week about the Idle No More movement. How could I explain it? It seems more awful when you see it on CTV News every day, every hour on the hour. The images of her, looking more and more weary (and wary), huddled with other First Nations leaders, and occasionally meeting with potential Liberal leaders, just makes me feel sad.

All she wants is to open a dialogue between First Nations people and Stephen Harper, our Prime Minister. I know he says that he doesn’t want to set a precedent. My question is: do you want/need to set a precedent where someone dies, just trying to meet you? I cannot understand why he does not sit with her, in open conversation, to discuss the issues our First Nations peoples face. One only needs to remember Attiwapiskat, and the poor state of events with housing, health care and education, to understand that Chief Spence’s concerns are very real ones indeed. That there is a form of apartheid happening in this country is undeniable. It needs to be addressed and then fixed.

How much longer does this drama need to go on? I worry that some morning I will awake and find she has gone….disappeared in her hunger strike….and that we will be a less humane society in this country.

I pray I’m wrong. I pray Harper meets with Chief Spence. I hope it happens soon.

The alternative is frightening and is simply unacceptable.


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First Year

The first year without someone you love is raw and painful. There is no doubt about it. You think of dates during the previous year when they were still with you. You think of events, conversations and things left unsaid. You wonder why they left you when they did. You wonder why death comes at odd times, and how it births new beginnings even when you don’t feel you’re ready for them. You also wonder at how you’ve lost friends, people you thought you knew and cared about, who now disappear. They don’t recognize who you’ve become. You don’t fit into their puzzle any more and that’s okay because you have evolved, which is a good thing. ūüôā

I don’t have any smart answers this time round. I only know that a year has passed since I lost my father. I miss him dreadfully. I berate myself for having not been with him when he took his leave of this world for the next. I know, though, on some level, that he chose to leave in the way that best suited all of us — himself, my sister, myself. The soul knows things we cannot ever hope to understand.

Now there are new days, new hours, time without memories, a place in space where new beginnings can now flourish. The first year has passed, thankfully. The wound has broken open and now begins to heal.

I started a new story this week, a novel perhaps, if it chooses to weave itself into that form. I only know that I need to write. Alone, usually. With dogs nestled at my feet, definitely.

Here begins a new story….a new chapter….


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My friend, Susan Rich, is a brilliant poet who lives and teaches in Seattle. She asked me to take part in this writerly game of tag. So….I shall now attempt to answer the following questions, the same ones which other writers are now answering on blogs around the world. You can visit Susan’s amazing blog at http://thealchemistskitchen.blogspot.ca/

I am tagging my dear friend, amazing Sudbury-based writer, Melanie Marttila. You can read her blog, Writerly Goodness, at http://melaniemarttila.ca/

As I only just embarking on a new collection of poems, and beginning a novel over this Christmas break, I will speak to my most recent collection, The Narcoleptic Madonna, which was released here in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, on December 7th of this year.

Here goes….

What is the title of your book?
The Narcoleptic Madonna

Where did the idea come from for your book?
My grandmother, Alice Ennis, had a special devotion to the Virgin Mary. I found myself intrigued by stories of Marian apparitions around the world. I wrote the title poem for this collection while taking a night course. I was sleepy, as usual, and got to looking at a religious icon of Mary holding the baby Jesus. (The night course was at a Catholic school, which explains the imagery!) I imagined what it would be like if the Mary in the painting would wink or smile at me. A poem was born!

What genre does your book fall under?
Poetry, naturally. ūüôā

What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
As the long lost love, I would cast (hmmm….difficult one here!) David Tennant. As the grandmother figure, I would cast Brenda Fricker or Maggie Smith, depending on availability. ūüėČ There are others, I’m sure….but the poems act for themselves, so I’ll leave it them to speak their minds on paper.

What is the one-sentence synopsis for your book?
A collection of poems that speaks to life’s journey, of love and loss, of discovery and rediscovery…an awakening of spirit and self.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
The poems were written over a twelve-year period. The actual construction of the manuscript took one full week, in a rented cottage on Manitoulin Island, overlooking “Big Water”, amidst sacred Northern Ontario space, just outside the village of Manitowaning. There was plenty of wine, a laptop, paper copies of poems, cursing, and a couple of friendly shih tzus involved. The CBC also played a key role in the manuscript’s conception, as voices and music served as soundtrack to poetic organization. ūüôā

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My father, Glenn Fahner, was especially instrumental in nagging me to get this book to press. He left us last December 28th, but even in his final weeks he was encouraging me to “get on it.” (My mother, I’m sure, was rooting me on in spirit, from beyond and above.) The book is dedicated to their memory.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
It documents a journey, from light, through darkness, and re-emerges into light in a new and more vibrant way. It documents strength of spirit, in a quirky, observational and conversational way.

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It’s been four years, tonight, since my mother died. Her leaving shifted my world, my being, so that nothing remained the same. This is to be expected, given the metaphorical umbilical cord that joined the two of us for all of my (then) thirty-eight years.

I attended a Christmas memorial prayer service last Friday at my school and part of the service was to write down a memory of a lost one. I honestly couldn’t remember. I turned to my friend, Brenda, and started weeping. “I can’t remember. All I can remember is her ending….” It was, for me, so heartbreaking. My mother deserves better. She deserves to be remembered from the time before she was ill and dying. It’s been four years, but my mind still dwells on the ravages of illness, on the cruelty of how awful her dying process was through the last few months of her life. She was bedridden for the last year of her life. It was a bleak ending, which is perhaps why I cannot forget it, but why I sometimes find my brain has blotted out the most devastating parts of that futile journey.

So, tonight, I will write of what I remember, from before she was ill….the things I loved about her, about her personality quirks, her smile, and her sense of humour. I will also remember her compassion, her concern for others, especially for her own mother, siblings, husband, and daughters.

She taught me how to cut lilacs, so that I wouldn’t decimate a woody branch, and how I should cut the stalks of flowers on an angle. (I’m not sure why, but I still do this in spring, when her poppies, peonies, and lilacs bloom.)

She taught me about the beauty of music, as she would play selections on the ancestral piano that sat in the kitchen. I recall her singing us to sleep at night, when we were little, songs like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Que Sera Sera.” She had a beautiful voice, but after we hit our teen years, she rarely sang. She did, however, expose my sister and I to ABBA, Cat Stevens, and Gordon Lightfoot. I still love to listen to them now, as the act of listening conjures up her spirit.

She drove badly. Slowly and cautiously, hunched over the wheel with intensity, especially when she was faced with icy Van Horne hill in her vintage orange Beetle, she always arrived at her destination (if a bit late!)

When she laughed, her whole face lit up. She had a beautiful smile and a wicked sense of humour. She loved the silly gags on the Just for Laughs show from Quebec. This programme highlighted pranks set up on the streets of Montreal and, although set in Quebec, the actors would not really speak very often. It was purely based on physical humour and the element of surprise. She would laugh until tears rolled down her cheeks. It was wonderful to watch and it was contagious.

She loved her mother. She loved her father. She loved her sister and three brothers. When gathered together, her brothers Peter and Terry often teased her about her early dating life on Wembley Drive. They told us stories of how she dated a man who once drove his car across the wooden footbridge that spanned Junction Creek at the foot of Kingsmount Blvd. They also told us stories of how, when Mum first started dating Dad, she would bring him home to 350 Wembley and sit in the front living room. My grandmother’s room was on the same floor. Dad was Protestant. Mum was Irish Catholic. My grandmother expressed her upset by banging her dresser drawers open and closed. It was 1966 or so. Dad thought this was hysterical. He hung in, became Mum’s friend, courted her, and wooed her. Finally, she said yes and they married in November 1968. I came along in 1970, and my sister arrived in 1972. She loved Dad and she loved us. We were blessed to have her in our lives.

Her favourite books were Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet and Antoine de Sainte Exupery’s The Little Prince.

Mum loved nothing more than to read novels on the dock at camp, on the west arm of Lake Nipissing, a cigarette propped up next to her, with a beer by the lawn chair. She also loved, once she retired, traveling to Michigan with Dad. They visited casinos. They met new friends. It was a golden time….for a while.

When I did my Master’s at Carleton in Ottawa in 1994-95, she sent me handwritten letters every week, detailing stories of the backyard chorus of chickadees, or the antics of the family dogs. Anything to keep my mind off the stress of writing a thesis on modern Irish poetry. She was persistent in her love for both myself and my sister. In some cases, she should have received a medal….but didn’t.

If something went awry in the day, she would often say “Bad day at Black Rock” to convey her sense of upset. There wasn’t a gnashing of teeth and tears. It was a strong Irish sensibility, to deal with what came her way.

She wrote us letters from Santa and the Tooth Fairy in squirelly handwriting so we wouldn’t recognize it. One of my fondest memories is the Christmas morning when we awoke to find a piece of tin foil, covered with spray can decorative snow, and a trail of little elven feet crossing it on a diagonal to get to a plate of cookies. Stacy and I were convinced that Santa and his elves had been in our house. She created magic for us.

Later, as I wrote and read my poetry around the province, she and Dad would travel with me to North Bay or the Sault so that they could be there to hear me read. They loved it. She once told me that, if I hadn’t been a poet, she would not have know about how art and poetry could lift a person’s spirits. She thanked me. I thanked her….it was a mutual admiration society.

The one thing I miss the most, to be honest, is the sound of her voice. I’ve forgotten it. I knew it would happen. I dreaded it’s arrival, the place in space where the person’s face remains but the vocal imprint of soul vanishes. It bothers me more than anything else because her voice was musical. It rose and fell like a song, so that inflections dipped and soared, so that conversations were punctuated by belly laughs when something struck her as amusing.

I also miss her hugs. You do not know the value of hugs until they have left your life. These days, hugs are few and far between. What once seemed so natural now seems foreign. I worry that I’ll get too used to hugs again, that I’ll be more sad if they leave me all over again. Let me tell you that, if you have anyone nearby whom you can hug, you should do so. People underestimate the power of hugs. They find them fleeting, or cursory, in nature. They shouldn’t be. They are connections of body and spirit. They convey more of love and stability than any other gesture I can think of…they are proof of God’s embrace.

So, now that my diatribe on hugs is over….

I cannot stop missing her. Each and every day I think of her and wonder how she is, so that I talk to her inside my head, or out loud when I’m alone. There is no replacing a mother. The motherloss is overwhelming. The pain in my heart is sharp. Still, I try to recall her spirit, her smile, her reassuring words, even as her voice fades from my memory.

Four years. That night, Dad sang to her as she died. He told her she was beautiful, held her hand as she left us, and showed me what real love is all about. Now he’s with her, and that brings me peace. That night, large fluffy snow flakes drifted down and covered the world in a blanket of white. The lake looked like a snow globe scene. It was beautiful.

These are the things I remember…


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Some wouldn’t dare to venture to write something about yesterday, potentially because it could be too soon.¬† I fear, though, that not speaking about it would be an injustice to those lost to the violence.¬† As a teacher, this is my worst nightmare.¬† We practice lockdown drills often at school and it’s hard to get students to realize how real the threat could be.¬† I often reference Columbine, but then I realize my students were likely toddlers at the time.¬† The word “Columbine” still sends shivers down my own spine.¬† It’s the same sort of evil shudder that I feel when I recall the Montreal Massacre each December 6th.¬† There is no rhyme or reason to violence, especially when it has to do with guns and mental illness.

I know many people find the long gun registry issue here in Canada both volatile and controversial, but I have, for a very long time, been in favour of such a registry.¬† What is the problem with registering a gun?¬†If you’re only using it to hunt, as so many do here in Northern Ontario, then that’s reasonable and you have nothing to hide, really, so why protest the registry?¬† It’s always puzzled me a great deal as to why there is such an uproar.¬† I think having a long gun registry was something that made Canada, well,¬†Canada.¬† It’s a shame, I think, that’s it’s gone now.

Don’t get me wrong; we here in Canada have had issues with gun violence, but not to the same extent or frequency¬†as our neighbours to the south in the United States.¬† We are quite separate from the gun culture that is prevalent in America and I think we need to maintain that distinction, more and more with each tragedy that occurs south of our border.¬† (I am not naive, though; gang violence is¬†on the rise¬†and the Eaton Centre shooting in Toronto this past summer is proof of that too.)

The Montreal Massacre, on December 6th, 1989, is the one tragedy that marks what was my first year of studies as an undergraduate at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. I had just turned nineteen.  I still recall the way the news of that horror, of a man shooting fourteen female engineering students at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, rippled through the halls of my school as people heard of the tragedy.  For many months, female students walked more cautiously, thought more carefully, and felt fear press up against them.  For all that feminism could bring us, it could not stop the bullets that killed those fourteen ambitious young women in Quebec and that was frightening.

There was the school shooting in Taber, Alberta, on April 28th, 1999, which followed closely on the heels of Columbine, in Colorado, on April 20, 1999.  Both of these tragedies involved high school students.  Both involved instances of mental illness in young adults.

What happened yesterday,¬†at Sandy Hook Elementary School,¬†in Newtown, Connecticut, strikes an entirely different chord.¬† No one ever imagines that little children, six or seven years old, will be murdered in such a cold and senseless way.¬† What amazes me, on the day after the tragedy, are the heartbreaking stories of heroism and sacrifice.¬† The tale of the little boy who watched the gunman shoot his teacher and then¬†rushed his friends right past the shooter¬†to escape¬†is beyond brave.¬† The little boy’s teacher, Victoria Soto, who died protecting her charges and who was only 27, was selfless and kind.¬† The six¬†adults who died protecting their pupils, physically putting themselves in the way of a gun, loved their students unconditionally.¬†They had no chance, and they probably knew that, but they likely saved lives by distracting him in his rampage.¬† They truly teach us, even now, about the value of love for others, and of how sacrifice is often painful and fatal in such situations.

I wish it had never happened.¬† I wish we could turn back the clocks.¬† I think, now, of W. H. Auden’s piercing poem, “Funeral Blues.”¬† He writes what I feel today:¬†“Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone. . .The stars are not wanted now; put out every one./Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,/Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;/For nothing now can ever come to any good.”¬† That’s how we will all feel for a while, most especially those parents who lost their children.¬† There is no comforting word that will make them feel better now.¬† This is the hardest of seasons for so many, but the senseless murder of innocent children is an even sharper contrast.

We must, as Emilie Parker’s father, Robbie Parker,¬†said today, “Let this inspire us to be better, more compassionate, and caring toward other people.”¬† He lost his six year old daughter yesterday, a young girl who loved to paint and make people smile.¬† In the face of that loss, he speaks of kindness and caring, of being connected to one another on a human level.¬† He teaches us, if only we all choose to listen.

Emilie Parker was six. . .

There is no rhyme or reason. . .

Only sadness. . .



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Hello to all ‘friends who follow’ The Republic of Poetry….

I wanted to just take¬†some time¬†to thank those of you who attended my launch at Thorneloe University last night.¬† You helped to make it very much a magical memory for me, and I am forever grateful.¬† Thanks, too, for purchasing the book and supporting local artists, including the amazing Trish Stenabaugh.¬† If you hadn’t seen her work before last night, I hope you’ll consider purchasing a piece to grace your walls…she is simply stellar.¬† Finally, thanks to the members of The Wild Geese, including Pat McGuire, Tom & Pat Ryan, Wally Kealy, Bill Wylie, as well as Ian and Rachel Gibson.¬† You were brilliant, as usual.¬† For those who want to see The Geese again, they hold a traditional Irish sessiun every Monday night at 7pm at Cinco Centavos on Durham Street here in Sudbury.

Also, here is a wee interview I did with Markus Schwabe yesterday morning, if you’re interested in listening to me read a poem and speak to my view of poetry and of my life teaching English.¬† ūüôā


Thanks again to everyone who showed up.¬† You warm my heart and soul….and mean the world to me….wherever you are.¬† You overwhelm me with your generosity of spirit and I am happy to know you all….





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Wow!¬† The last few days have been chaotic here in “Suds.”¬† I’ve been meeting with great reporters, writers, and radio hosts to do some media prior to my launch tomorrow night at Thorneloe University.¬† Somehow, my blog views have spiked.¬† ūüôā

First, thanks for reading my blog, folks.¬† It does my heart some good to know that people actually read this thing….and somehow find it resonates with them in some way, shape or form.

Second, here’s some local media from The Sudbury Star’s Laura Stradiotto and from The Northern Life’s Jenny Jelen.¬† Thanks, friends.¬† I appreciate the help.¬† ūüôā



Looking forward to tomorrow night’s launch.¬† It’s at Thorneloe University’s Ernie Checkeris Theatre at 7pm.¬† Parking is $6 in either the University of Sudbury or Huntington University lot.¬†¬† Music provided by my excellent Irish friends, The Wild Geese.¬† Amazing artwork provided by local artist, the brilliant Trish Stenabaugh.¬† ūüôā

Dropped off some copies of The Narcoleptic Madonna at Charmaine Kennedy’s great little store on Regent Street, Tree of Life North.¬† (She has brilliant little fairies and sun catchers, along with angelic gifts, for sale….plus, beautiful bit of jewelry.¬† There’s a Christmas sale on now, so don’t hesitate to stop by.¬† You’ll love her!¬† ūüôā



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Well, here we go….shameless self-promotion in advance of book launch this Friday, December 7th.¬† As an introvert, this is painful, but necessary.¬† (Still, some day, introverts will rule the world….and all will be well.)¬† ūüôā



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This week hasn’t been a friendly one.¬† Let me explain:

Last Friday, my wallet was stolen.¬† Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not really that materialistic.¬† (Let me clarify:¬† I dislike ‘logo people’.¬† ¬†I think excessive materialism is nauseating. I consider myself to be an activist in many ways, so I have marked and idealistic socialist tendencies.¬† I live in Minnow Lake, so I know I am not wooed by postal code or address designation.)¬† Losing the money in the wallet didn’t matter at all.¬† What mattered was bigger than what I’d ever imagined.¬† It sent me spiralling into a wee bit of despair for at least five days.¬† It had me missing someone I loved so very much.

Here’s the thing….inside the wallet, I kept a note my grandmother gave me when I was in my mid-twenties, about four years before she passed away in December 1998.¬† It was a small, slender slip of paper with her handwriting on it.¬† She had given it to me because she knew I loved quotations and because she was always my biggest fan.¬†¬†That quotation¬†became a touchstone motto for me as I grew up.¬† “Shoot for the moon.¬† Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”¬† (Les Brown).

The wallet was just some facsimile of leather.¬† It was a no-name Sears brand.¬† It carried my Writers’ Union of Canada card, the business card of an artist in Westport, Ireland, and the business card for the pub in Sligo where I encountered my poetic mentor, Seamus Heaney.¬† It carried credit cards, SIN card, health card, and debit card.¬† A litany of all sorts of cards.

But it also carried a piece of my heart….in the form of the note my Gram Ennis gave me all those years ago.

Losing that slip of paper made me feel unbelievably sad.  It was like losing her again, fourteen years after her physical death.  I blamed myself.  Why had I left that paper in my wallet?  Why had I always transferred it from one wallet to the next newly purchased wallet for almost twenty years?  Simply because I wanted her to be near to me.  I wanted the memory of her heart, her generosity, her origin, in my heart.  It made me think of two poems.

I thought, in passing, of e.e. cummings’s¬†famous poem, “i¬†carry your heart with me.”¬† Tbese¬†are some of the loveliest lines ever written in poetry, I think.¬† He wrote:¬† “i¬†carry your heart with me (i¬†carry it in/my heart) ¬†i¬†am never without it (anywhere/i¬†go you go, my dear; and whatever is done/by only me is your doing, my darling).”¬† I love cummings because he is sparse and elegant in his poetry, and reminds me often of Auden’s style.¬† I am a fan of both men’s work.¬† In any case, this poem is beloved (by me) because it speaks of carrying¬†the heart of someone you love in your own heart.¬† I’ve faced a great deal of loss in my life thus far, probably more than most people my age.¬† I sit with sorrow sometimes.¬† We are old companions.¬† What brings me some peace in the midst of the pain of loss, though, is the notion that a heart, a soul, doesn’t just disappear.¬† My lost hearts, my lost ones, are all carried within my heart.

The poem that sat with me longer this week, though, was Elizabeth Bishop’s beautiful piece, “One Art.”¬† I thought of it immediately, the day after the wallet was stolen, when I felt my grandmother had disappeared all over again.¬† Bishop wisely advises:¬† “The art of losing isn’t hard to master;/so many things seem filled with the intent/to be lost that their loss is no disaster.”¬† She goes on to say that we should “Lose something every day.”¬† It makes me thing of the idea of attachment, of how we don’t want things to change even when change is all we can ever expect in the world.

This mental and poetic wandering from last Friday to this one has come full circle.¬† Last night at my yoga class, my teacher, Willa, spoke of the lunar eclipse and how it was a time of letting go.¬† She asked us to consider what we should let go in order to gain more space in our lives.¬† It made me think again.¬† Why was I so attached to a piece of paper with my grandmother’s writing on it?¬† Then it hit me:¬† I am a writer, a poet, a recorder of memory, love and loss.¬† I honour writing of any kind, so handwritten writing, from the hand of one of the most important people who ever shaped me, would¬†logically be almost holy to me.

Yesterday was my birthday.¬† My dog, Sable,¬†was at the vet’s for two nights, fighting a bout of pancreatitis, hovering on the edge of a precipice of very poor health, and I spent my first birthday without my Dad.¬† All of these things, along with the lost note, made me feel adrift and lost.¬† My sister rescued me, though, when she gave me two beautiful gifts.¬† One was a journal, the other a bookmark, and both were inscribed with the words of my grandmother’s favourite quotation.¬† I wept.¬† While¬†my grandmother¬†is gone, she will always be with me, whether the handwritten note is lost forever or not.¬† My cousin, Kelly, heard of my loss and mailed me a photocopied recipe for puffed wheat candy, written in my grandmother’s hand, all spidery and otherworldly.¬† It conjured up memories of Gram Ennis baking in the kitchen at 350 Wembley, and handing out baggies of puffed wheat candy to the neighbourhood kids at Halloween.

The convergence of gifts, from my sister and my cousin, has significance and has calmed me.

I have become the note.

I have decided that, to best honour my grandmother, I need to recognize that she is not embodied in the note that I kept in my wallet.  She is not lost a second time.  She has always been here, with me, as I carry her in my heart.  Always and forever.  My living well is the best tribute I could ever offer her, and all of my ancestors, and most especially to my parents.




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