Archive for September, 2013

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the power of words lately.  I’m re-reading just about everything written by Seamus Heaney, immersing myself in the poems again, but also in one of his seminal works, The Government of the Tongue.  I’ve written about Heaney before on my blog, and I likely will again because he is a guiding force for me in a poetic, creative and imaginative sense.   I guess, though, that I’m pondering how it is that words weave us so closely together, even when we haven’t met. . .or if we haven’t heard from a friend in a long time and receive a note or email.  How can so few words, strung together into sentences on a page or screen, make us feel connected, even after years apart, or at least having been at a geographical or emotional distance of some kind?

I had a rubbish-y week last week.  No doubt about it.  Some health struggles.  Some blips in my universal GPS.  Some ‘oh, crap, what were you thinking?’ conversation going on inside my mind.  Come Friday afternoon, though, I wandered into the main office to find a fat envelope in my mailbox.  Seeing the writing, I flipped out with glee.  Here was a package from Dr. Jack Healy, who had been my M.A. thesis supervisor, on Heaney’s poetry, back in 1994-95 at Carleton University in Ottawa.  I knew, without opening it, that it was to do with Heaney’s death.  Only Dr. Healy could understand how close I felt to Heaney’s poetry and philosophies.  I ripped open that package and found three wonderful books, and an article reflecting on Heaney’s life.

The letter was handwritten.  I miss that.  So very rarely do we see letters on paper, with ink that seeps into the fibers and marks itself with a sense of permanence.  Why not, I wonder….In any case, hearing from Jack was like hearing from an old friend.  It has been too long and I don’t know why we do that to ourselves as humans. . . how we leave people we honoured and learned from behind in our lives in favour of ‘new’ ones.  I think we need to cultivate and honour those older friendships and connections, and writing letters is one way to do it.

The next reflection on the power of language and words comes from my participation in a writers’ circle.  I’m meeting with a group of five women every Tuesday night and we just think, write and share our work.  Having to show up to that circle every week keeps me focused on my creative writing, which often takes a backseat to things like school work.  It also means I need to come prepared to honour my gift, and to bring work with me to the meetings.  It’s a commitment to myself, and to my soul’s work.

Then, on the way home, I stopped off at The Fromagerie (yeah, you guessed it….they sell exotic and otherworldly cheeses!) to buy a copy of my friend Ric deMeulles’ new novel, Hickey’s Dead.  I feel honoured to have read through some of his initial work and now I have the finished novel in my hands.  I’m so looking forward to reading it this weekend.

So….all of these facets of language…and of how our relationships to the written word really do extend far beyond the ink on the page.    Sometimes, I know I forget how amazing it is to be able to write down a story or poem, but it takes my reading someone else’s work to be amazed at the power of language.  Heaney would speak to that, how language (and poetry especially) has the power to change a person’s life, both personally and politically.  I also think of Susan’s MacMaster’s work on poetry and peace.  We, as poets, have the task of shedding light on injustice.  We cannot simply write love poems or pretty floral pieces….we need, instead, to point out places where the darkness lives, and then we need to let the light shine in and dispel the dark.  I know, I know, it sounds biblical, but it makes sense.

Anyway, these are my two cents tonight, before sleep, regarding the power of language—to connect, question, debate, rebel, inspire, transform and transcend.

So, until we meet again (Lawrence Welk?!), spend some time reading a poem or two. You’d be surprised by the beauty and the revelation.




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People who read this blog regularly will know I’ve recently moved homes.  I’ve moved out of my family’s old neighbourhood, affectionately referred to as “The Minnow,” and moved into what is still called “The Hospital Area” (even though the hospital is currently being demolished and turned into condos next to Lake Ramsey!).  That huge move, physically and emotionally, happened in early July.  Then I jetted off to Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand for a good chunk of August.  Now, I think I’m doing something called ‘nesting,’ which involves frequent, unnecessary (and often expensive) trips to places like Bouclair, Homesense and Pier 1 Imports, assessing potential curtains or choosing artwork for the basement flat I inherited when I moved in here.

Both neighbourhoods have their own unique fingerprints.  I miss the man on Weller Street who used to ask me how my day was when I l walked the dogs in The Minnow.  I miss my old neighbourhood store and my friend, Nancy, who works there.  (I randomly drop in there still, at least once a week, because it’s almost a part of who I am.)  For me, the whole essence of The Minnow is resilience, tenacity and spirit.  It also embodies my childhood, youth, and reminds me of my family. Some of the lovelier things that happen here, though, are that my new neighbours welcomed me with open arms and great kindness.  One woman across the street welcomed me with a card and a plate of home-made cookies.  Another one stops me when I walk the dogs and offers me random strawberries.  (It was in July, I should say, so the strawberries are long gone now, sadly.)  The man next door warned me about potential racoons in the rafters of the garage.  He also told me that, regardless of how pretty the green ivy looked against the red brick, I should pull it down to prevent it from invading the attic and ruining the roof.   He has a beautiful rock garden at the back of his property, just beyond his fence.  I admire it at least three times a day and covet his hardy plants.

In late July, I heard tell, from another person across the street, that there was a guerilla gardener in the neighbourhood.  “What?” I thought, “Doesn’t this kind of thing only happen in places like Toronto or Vancouver”?  I have seen people raid gardens, sadly, but never to plant new things.  This was all new to me.

Every time I walked through the area, I looked for signs of random gardening.  For a long time, nothing.  Then, this week, with me back to school and teaching full-time, I noticed that the guerilla gardener had struck behind my fence!  There, with little piles of rich soil around their roots, were two bunches of hollyhocks—one burgundy and one white.  I cannot tell you how excited I was to see that she had graced me with her creativity and spirit!  Speaking to my neighbour yesterday morning before work, just after the morning dog walk, he told me that his entire rock garden was the result of this one woman’s work.  How amazing!

I’ve been reading about guerilla gardening for the past week or so, trying to figure it all out.  In the process, I found a great 2010 article by Leah McLaren in The Globe and Mail.  In that piece, McLaren writes about the origins of guerilla gardening, which ‘sprouted’ (yes, the pun is intentional!) in New York City in the 1970s.  Who would’ve thunk it?  Initially, the whole practice might have been more about beautifying an area, but now it’s more about urban ecology and environmentalism.  Either way, in my mind, it’s a gift.  The spirit of the whole movement seems, to me, to speak about compassion, kindness, and connectivity.  We live in such a disconnected world, tied to our cell phones, laptops and iPads, that I find great joy in the planting of a solitary hollyhock stem in a sort of ‘secret’ way.

I like the mystery of it all, actually.  I keep peering out my back patio window, trying to catch this gifted gardener in the act, but I never do.  The fact that she chose the back of my wobbly fence as the most recent place to plant things is a bit thrilling.  (I don’t know if this speaks to the more meditative speed of my life during these September days, or if I’ve begun to really be more mindful of the beauty of the world around me, in all of its little ripples and oddities.  Either way, I feel much more aware of what is going on around me and not happening to me.  I think, as a poet, I’m looking outwardly, observing, all with a hope of better understanding the world within and beyond me.  It’s all compost for creativity, I think.

Beyond all this, though, the whole guerilla gardening thing makes my heart fill up with joy.  Some might be offended by a hollyhock planted without approval, but I’m not.  It’s like a “welcome to the neighbourhood” greeting and it makes me feel as if I’ve finally come home….after a long time of worrying and wandering.  I’m part of a greater whole.  Less separate.  More connected.  Those hollyhocks have power….they build bridges and link us, one to another, so that we remember what it means to chat with neighbours, to hear laughter in our streets, and to value our human experience on a very basic, but very genuine, level.

Tonight, I’m grateful…for hollyhocks, for new neighbourhoods and neighbours, for shih tzus who sleep curled into feathery piles, for Glen Hansard playing on the stereo while I write at night, and for the life I’m leading.





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Anyone who knows me well will know I refer to myself as a hobbit.  Most probably think it is self-deprecating but, in my mind, it’s magic!  With my curly hair, well, I think I am some outcrop of the hobbit race….thankfully, though, I do not have big hairy feet.  Imagine my delight when I learned that a visit to Hobbiton, in The Shire, would be on the itinerary for my visit to New Zealand!  I was beside myself with glee!  I could not wait to see the place where the great director, Peter Jackson, a Kiwi through and through, had created a life-like vision of Tolkien’s world.

You begin in Rotorua, and board a bus marked “Hobbiton” in gold curly script.  The driver tells you the tale of Jackson’s love of New Zealand, and how he was drawn to the place owned by the Alexander family, who still farm the land.  When you arrive, there is a little building, with a tiny shop, and then you board another bus, one which takes you up a windy road, past what look to be roughed out hobbit hole doors.  I craned my neck forward with great intensity, looking for The Party Tree, or a glimpse of a path that would lead to The Shire.  Finally, after about five or ten minutes, the bus pulls over and you are at a gate.  Walking through that gate is like slipping into Narnia; you pass from this world into one that you’ve read about.  As a fan of Tolkien’s work from about the age of twelve, I’ve always been drawn to the place where people have curly hair like me.  (I don’t often see people with the same crazy hair….so I guess I knew, even then, that I might be adopted….)   Also, I love anything with wizards and otherworldly creatures, so it’s my cup of tea, literarily speaking….if that’s even a word!

Walking the path, you suddenly turn a corner and find yourself right next to someone’s yard, with a tiny mailbox and, above the knoll, a chimney that pokes up above the green, or a half window that seems out of place and context….unless you imaginatively figure out the size and scope of the hobbit house underneath your feet.  (Like the Tardis, in Dr. Who’s world, hobbit holes are bigger on the inside than they seem, initially, on the outside.)  Fantasy worlds always have dimensional rifts and perceptions of space and time are often skewed….think of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia and its doorway, through the wardrobe, or J.K. Rowling’s platform in the London Underground, which only certain people can see and cross through.  For me, walking into The Shire felt like what it must feel like to walk into Narnia or Hogwarts.

I was most amazed by the feeling that I might *actually* come across an honest-to-goodness hobbit!  The garden was meticulous, with a scarecrow and a cat named Pickles.  You could see the little hoe and rake that someone had just put down to rest next to a furrow and you felt as if they had just popped home for tea and a little ‘feet up’ session.  Not surprisingly, the outsides of the hobbit holes are evocative, with windows that are populated with little knick knacks and cheery curtains.  When you do get to one or two that are open to the public, you realize it is all an illusion.  You can enter into a small space behind the door, but it goes nowhere really, unless it served the director’s purpose.  The internal sets were all built and housed elsewhere.  In your mind, though, hobbits populate the houses and you know they’re just in there hiding out, until the crazy tall humans leave the area.

The Party Tree is, above all, amazing in size.  It seems to hover over the entire space, protectively almost.  There is a little teeter totter near its base, along with a swing, so you feel, again, as if you’ve interrupted a hobbit’s party.  It takes all you have not to go and swing on the swing, but you mustn’t because you’ve been told by the guide that you shouldn’t touch things.  I had a problem, though, I must admit; when I was left alone for a few minutes, my mind began to twirl out of control….”I wonder if they would miss a fake apple, by that front door?” or “That little cup isn’t a big deal…surely that’s not needed….”  I’m not a thief, nor a kleptomaniac, but I have tendencies toward hobbit hoarding in my head, it seems.   What I couldn’t stop myself from doing was running up the path to one of the hobbit holes and ringing the bell that hung outside.  It just called to me….I was helpless.  As soon as I rang it, I thought “Oh, God, what have you done!? You never do things like this….and the guide has told you not to touch anything that’s a film prop!”  I turned bright red….but I will never regret that bell ringing episode for as long as I live.  🙂

My new friends, Sue and Rob, from Espanola, were alongside me for the tour.  I’m sure I was annoying beyond measure!  Sue, knowing I was a huge fan of Tolkien and of Frodo and Bilbo in particular, stopped me outside of Bilbo’s house.  Above the house, on the hillside, is a wonderful big green tree.  What the guide told us is that Jackson was unhappy with the original, “real” tree, so he had this one made.  The leaves were tinted the appropriate colour and never fell.  (Well, they didn’t fall often….but they did that day!)  Sue slipped me a fabric leaf.  I had been lagging behind the group, so hadn’t heard the story in full.  She had to explain to me that she had found a little fabric oak leaf on the path beneath Bilbo’s house.  I was ecstatic.  That leaf is now in a little antique vase in my house….so I didn’t have to snag a cup or fake apple!  After all is said and done, well, the leaf did fall on the ground on its own, and it needed a new home, so why not a Northern Ontario, Canadian home?  🙂

The day went much too quickly and was topped off by a pint of cider in The Green Dragon Inn.  Walking inside there is also a bit of a trip, if you’ll pardon the 1960s phrasing.  You enter through a wonderful old wood door, into a hobbit-filled world.  There are little notes posted all over, advertising hobbit events.  One hobbit is looking for a new gown, or a seamstress, while another hobbit is looking for someone to join his band, playing flute or tin whistle.  It is a completely illusory world….such that you really don’t want to leave.  Reality looks shoddy in comparison…much less light and fun.

I’ll be forever thankful that I got to visit Hobbiton last month, in Matamata, New Zealand.  I would love to go back again…and maybe I will.  I had hoped to find my ‘hobbit husband’ there, but it didn’t pan out.  (Shocker!) Still, I returned to my hobbit homeland and, as a result, now carry the spark of Tolkien, and of Jackson’s cinematic creation, in my heart.

I walk, now, with grateful hobbit spirit and spark….and I will carry it into my new school year!





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