Archive for December, 2017

This is the end of my second self-professed “Year of No Fear.” The third is about to begin. Here, though, are some of the lessons I’ve learned in 2017, some of which have trickled over from 2016. (I’m imagining there is a pattern here and that 2016 has rippled into 2017, and then all of that energy will ripple, logically, into 2018. Energy doesn’t disappear, after all!)

I have learned that the most important gift you can give yourself is to “step into yourself.” It’s taken me such a long time to actually love myself in a genuine way. I had always thought I was unattractive, physically, and that I was not very much of a presence in the world, that maybe I didn’t deserve to take up too much space. I had always felt that I didn’t belong, and I often still feel that I’m living in the wrong dimension or time period. I’m old fashioned at heart, an anachronism, a poet and romantic whose heart is often broken by the way the world works. I’m sensitive, too sensitive perhaps. I’m honest, and I say what I think, and this often puts me at a real disadvantage. I’ve lost friends because I’ve said what I thought in a truthful way. (Sagittarians are like this, I’ve learned, as I’ve begun to look at astrology more closely in the last couple of years. Sagittarians are known to be blunt, and this can be a deficit in a world that would rather lie to itself than tell itself the honest truth. Sagittarians are rooted on the earth, but reach for the stars…which can definitely be a precarious sort of tension when you are, in fact, a Sagittarian.)

I’ve continued to take good care of my physical and mental health in 2017. I’ve been much more physically active, walking on a daily basis, hiking in the bush, canoeing around Killarney and Sudbury with my friend, Jen, doing Zumba about four times a week, and keeping at a fairly regular yoga practice. The result of all this activity has been a healthier body that makes me feel strong and graceful, when I never have before. I’ve shrunk from a Size 14 in Spring 2016 to a Size 10 in Winter 2017. It’s not about size, though, or weight for that matter. Instead, it’s a matter of me feeling lithe, strong, and active. I’ve kept stripping away at the layers of fat that I used to use to protect me from interacting with the world, and people, in a meaningful way. (Some days, I think it might have been easier to stay hidden, to hide under the fat, but then I go for a long walk and think ‘Nope…this is divine’ because I can breathe and not feel like I’m carrying a small child on my back.)

Feeling graceful and strong has also led me to feel beautiful, too, and I have to thank my photographer friend, Gerry Kingsley, for his help in making me view myself differently. I didn’t want a lot of makeup on in my photos, because I don’t wear a lot on a daily basis, so Dana Lajeunesse did a good job of making me look myself. The author photos Gerry took of me in May made me realize my own beauty. My thirties were dominated by major depressive disorder and taking care of my parents. That decade of my life nearly disappeared to suicidal ideation. It’s scary when you know that you almost erased yourself, but I somehow managed to survive that quagmire. What’s happened now is that I feel more driven to live fully, to tell people that they are important to me when I feel something must be said, and to put my energy into creative and artistic projects that I truly believe in. I feel like a strong, beautiful and creative woman, something I’ve never felt like before in my entire life. That makes 2017 a year of chrysalis breaking celebration of sorts.

I’ve had some deep heart pain recently, though, that’s brought me back to some old wounds of grief. In early December, my oldest dog, Sable, had what looked to be a stroke. She fell off the bed early one morning and then couldn’t move her legs. I took her to the vet’s that morning, fully prepared to have to put her down. I was broken. I was an emotional mess at home and at work, and I’ve been struggling all through these last four weeks. (The poor guys in the Math office have not known what to do with me!) I’ve pulled in, turtled, spending time at home with her while I still have her. She has vestibular disease, which means that she may have a lesion on her brain. There’s no way to know, though, and I know the vet has told me that I’ve got a bit of ‘borrowed time’ with her. She tilts to the left now, walks with a wobble and uncertainty, and can no longer jump up on the sofa or climb stairs on her own. She sees the world from an angle that I cannot understand; she’s teaching me to see the world from a different angle, too, surprisingly. But she still loves cuddles (maybe even more now) and having her food, and nosing around in the backyard snow, so she’s well enough to stay for a while longer.

I know we (Sable, Gully and me) are waiting for the other shoe to drop and, for people who are in couples, or who have kids, well, I know they can’t really understand the pain I’m experiencing. For me, this dog is the dog that chose my mum back in 2004. This was just after my mum’s open-heart surgery, and before my world changed and I became more of a personal nurse and caretaker for my parents, rather than my own person, for a big chunk of my life. This dog was my mum’s dog, and then my dad’s dog after my mum died. This is the little shih tzu who ‘speaks’ by grumbling, and who gives ‘head hugs’ between your shins if she wants a bit of love.

This incident with Sable has made me go back and somehow re-grieve my mum’s death. It’s been very, very rough. A few good friends have been here for me, and I’m thankful (as always) that they’ve called, texted or emailed, or just stopped by for a cup of tea. I’m also glad they know that there are times when I just really need to be alone. These two dogs are my family. For me, December is a month of great pain. Mum died on December 18th and Dad died on the 28th, so my Christmas is always painful and I fight against it, walk through the emotional molasses of it, and am thankful that my closest friends know it’s natural for me to pull in. I can’t find the energy to pretend I’m okay anymore when my heart hurts. (People pretend too much these days, anyway; they want everyone to think they’re fine, even when they’re not.)

I think it’s okay to actually admit that you are struggling with your life and emotions. I can’t hide it. My face is too transparent. It always has been. If I fancy someone, my face reveals it through blushing, I get quiet and nervous, and my eyes drift constantly to the floor, even when I wish I could stop myself. If I am sad, or angry, or hurt unexpectedly by someone’s words, my eyes pool up with tears so that I have to turn my head and pretend to be fascinated by the pattern in the rug under my feet. I turtle. I can’t stand conflict. I wish I could be stronger, wish I could hide my emotions a bit to protect myself, but it’s fine. I think, in some ways, my emotions being so close to the surface is what allows me to write poetry, but that’s a whole different blog post.

I’m taking second semester off from teaching this next year to write for a while in southwestern Ontario. I love the birds, the trees, and the water there. It all makes me feel small, but more connected somehow, to a larger network of meaning. I’m going to work on the first draft of my second novel, to complete and revise some plays, to work on some non-fiction pieces, and to put together the start of my next book of poems. I want an absolute writing retreat, outside of my comfort zone, where I can see how my writing will likely shift in terms of imagery and metaphor, and away from any distractions here at home, and to also be close to Point Pelee National Park, where I intend to walk as frequently as possible. It’s a place that has become a part of me and I love to be there on my own. It’s like the landscape gathers me in, so I feel comforted somehow. It makes for a good place to write, to breathe, for a while. I’m also going to be able to explore southwestern Ontario, a place my dad loved, including Stratford and more plays (!). I want to spend more time in Detroit, because it intrigues me on many creative levels. Then, I intend to spend another chunk of time on Pelee Island, and I’m planning on spending some time with three good friends, Dawn, Fe, and Lena (and Lena’s two amazing kids, Athena and Alex, whom I love to bits and bits!).  As well, I’ve never really experienced a true spring, and I’d like to…because who knows when you might be hit by an ore truck. So, for once at least, I’d like to see things grow in April instead of late May or early June.   🙂

Taking months of time, away from the North, to work on a novel…well…that is a terrifying thing. It would be more comfortable to just stay in Sudbury and try not to be distracted. But I love Lake Erie, and I want to walk along its shores on a regular basis. Whenever I’ve written down there, in Kingsville or on Pelee Island, I’ve written quickly and I find my writing is different, stronger somehow. I’m curious to see how changing my geography will shift my style of writing. My work changes there. It’s an experiment, in pressing against fear, in believing that I can really write, and in gifting myself with the time and space to really devote myself to it. I’ve written in other places before, but for much shorter time periods. I squeeze serious writing projects into holiday blocks, hoping and praying that something half decent will emerge. (The fear, I suppose, is that I won’t do well with my writing, or that I won’t write as much as I’d like to in five or six months…or maybe even, on the other side of things, the fear that I might find out that I’m more a writer than anything else…and how that might change my life.)

In 2017, I’ve also learned more about friendship. I value it a great deal, not having a big, close family anymore. People with families, or who are in couples, won’t get this. I understand. You still have big groups of people who love you, unconditionally, so it’s easy to feel connected and part of something. You have a familial net into which you can fall if you struggle, or if you need someone to say they love you, or at least care for you. It’s hard to be strong on your own, and so I choose my very small network of close friends carefully. They gather me in, and I hope I somehow gather them in, too. (Also, they know there will often be random drive-bys with gifts of flowers or Irish soda bread…or a book…or something. I like giving, but I do know, too, that I need to get better about receiving and being more vulnerable. I’ll work on that in 2018.)  🙂

I’ve learned, too, that you can’t make yourself less than who you are to suit other people’s requirements. If you’re told that you are ‘too much,’ or ‘too intense,’ or that you should maybe ‘dial down’ your spirit or personality so you don’t frighten people off because you might be too bright, or too smart, or too creative, it hurts. When you’ve nearly erased yourself nine years ago, you won’t make yourself smaller to suit anyone else’s requirements. When you’ve managed to survive mental illness, to get well, and then thrive, you have to cultivate it, mind it, guard it. Casting off good health is not in the cards.

I used to be fearful of offending people, but now I’m not. I believe it’s best to have a very small group of good friends who know me on a deeper level, than to have a load of fair-weather ones who hover about. You can like a whole lot of people, can be friendly, too, on a surface level, but–as a creative and an introvert–you may not always have the space or energy to be close to all of them. To some, it might look like you are distancing yourself from them, but you are just doing all you can do, energetically, to be well, content, and creative inside. Sometimes, too, despite all efforts, you outgrow people, or they outgrow you, and I’ve learned to accept that painful lesson of letting go, too. We learn from one another, and that’s the key thing. We grow.

The most amazing thing that has happened to me this year, though, is that my friend, Jen, has introduced me to hiking and canoeing in Northern Ontario. For someone who has always been timid, for no apparent reason, I’ve surprised myself. I’m athletic enough now that I’ve canoed across the mouth of the North Channel of Lake Huron, hugging the shoreline and reaching out to touch the boughs of a tree hanging out over the water. I’ve gone leaping up onto those small Killarney islands in Collins Inlet in the middle of hot July weather, and then become what I like to call a “rock jumper.” Now when I go canoeing, I wear my swimsuit under my t-shirt and shorts and life jacket, and Jen and I look for islands or places along a river’s shore when we can jump off a rock and swim all afternoon. It is, to be honest, the most joy I’ve had this year. There is nothing like swimming into something that looks like a Group of Seven painting. 2018 will bring more canoe trips with Jen, I know.  For me, her gift of introducing me to hiking and canoeing now means that I have a new sort of spirituality that is firmly rooted in the natural world. God is reflected and embodied in the details of what has been created, and so that’s where I feel closest to the Creator these days. I also know that’s probably why I’ve been drawn to Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry for such a long time. I’ve grown into entering landscape, even though I was fearful at first, wondering if I’d be strong enough to lift a canoe or paddle for four hours in hot summer sun. (Sunscreen, yet again, has proven to be my best friend!)

What I’ve learned, in 2017, is that my second “Year of No Fear” is about realizing that what we fear…is really not to be feared. It is all an illusion. So, I intend to make 2018 my third “Year of No Fear.” Going away to write for a chunk of time (and coming back every so often to hike and canoe!) is a big part of that plan. This time, I can just write, be me again, and not be a busy poet laureate with a lot of projects. I’ll have more time and space. It also means that I’m trusting that I am truly worthy of giving myself the gift of time and space to work on my writing. It’s the truest love I’ve had since I was just a geeky outcast of a girl: words, and poetry, literature and art, and shuffling words around on paper until it makes a ‘thunk’ sound deep in my heart. We’ll see what else emerges. (And I still haven’t gotten my bird tattoos for my parents…so that’s a fear I have yet to manage…sigh.)

I tell my students, often, that we must venture out into internal spaces that are uncomfortable, go away from what makes us complacent, so that we can grow our souls. I keep doing this, in the smallest of ways, every day, and (so far) it’s working. There is fear, though. The thing is that I choose to look at it now, in the face, and say “Yeah, I’m terrified, but I’m doing this anyway…” An old friend of mine always said “Leap, and the net will appear.” That’s what I’m putting my money on, especially for my writing and my own personal growth, for this next year. I’m a rock jumper now, after all! 🙂

It all reminds me of one of my favourite Mary Oliver poems from her collection, Blue Horses. It’s called “If I Wanted A Boat,” and Oliver poses the question that most speaks to me:

What kind of life is it always to plan

and do, to promote and finish, to wish

for the near and the safe? Yes, by the

heavens, if I wanted a boat I would want

a boat I couldn’t steer.

I guess I’m at a place now where I have a boat that I can’t steer, and I’m not completely comfortable with this because I tend to like to have some sense of control (which is an illusion, too!), but I know that the water holds up the boat. For me, the water is about trust—trusting myself, my heart (and not always my too-busy, too-smart head), my writing, and my relatively newfound longing for adventure that will undoubtedly help me to grow my soul. The water will hold up my boat, and maybe even steer it without my knowing, and I’ll be richer for it in the end…

Here’s to a boat you can’t steer, friends. Here’s to a boat you can’t steer….and friends who will cheer you on. 🙂







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My time as Poet Laureate for the City of Greater Sudbury has been absolutely brilliant. I’ve loved meeting new people, and other poets and writers, at home, and then away in other places. Since early 2016, I’ve tried to focus on spreading a bit of what I like to call “poetic graffiti” around our town. As part of my work, I’ve put poems up on the glass windows at the airport, and popped poetry posters up on the windows and doors of local businesses, all the while trying to encourage people to think of poetry in a more positive, friendly, and accessible way. People who normally wouldn’t think they were poetic might now think again…or they might just think of poetry more positively. We have some new and emerging poets in town, and that’s lovely too.

I’ve especially loved visiting classes in local elementary and secondary schools, going as far out as French River to speak to kids (and their teachers) about their views of poetry, and speaking about the value of reading and writing creatively, in the classroom and beyond. For some kids, I know as both a writer and a teacher, literature, and writing creatively, can offer an escape and respite from difficult things in life. I’ve seen it lift kids up, given them hope and a greater sense of self-esteem. It’s why I’m so passionate about literacy initiatives, too. (I actually really believe that there should be more writers and artists in our school systems…or at least in terms of training in-service teachers…but that’s a whole other blog on the education system, isn’t it?)

My most favourite memory of visiting schools is of one particular little boy who had autism. He lit up as we talked about a David Blackwood painting from Newfoundland and was full of ideas about what was happening in the painting, and offering up words and snatches of lines for our little group poem. His teacher was surprised that he took such an active role because he normally wasn’t that verbal and didn’t traditionally interact. At the end of the afternoon, he offered me a big hug around the knees and said goodbye. It was a good day.  And then there was the day at Sudbury Secondary, early on in my term, when students actually drew my poems into being. It was an amazing afternoon, talking about how art and literature go together naturally, and I ended up seeing my work as a springboard for student art. That moved me a great deal because I love literature and art in equal bits.

The literary arts are important, I think, in helping people view–and live in–the world in a fuller, more vibrant way. Sometimes, our lives are so busy that we neglect to see the wonder that sits right in front of us, in daily rhythms and encounters with others. Poetry is everywhere, if you are open to seeing it. I think that’s been a fairly clear message in my time as laureate, or I hope so, anyway.

I’ve loved working alongside groups like the National Reading Campaign’s Reading Town/Ville Lecture, Wordstock (Sudbury’s literary festival), the Northern Initiative for Social Action (NISA) and Open Minds Quarterly, the Greater Sudbury Airport, Health Sciences North (HSN), and Project Bookmark Canada. There’s a lot I still wanted to do, but my time has run out, and someone else can take over now because I am—quite honestly—fairly exhausted and a bit burnt out. This job is one that has given me new energy, in terms of realizing how much you can do in one community with poetry and partnerships, but now I’ll look forward to pulling in a bit, rebalancing things, and writing more. I have always led a quiet life, with two dogs, reading and writing, walking out in the woods and near the water, yoga, canoeing, and doing lots of Zumba.

It’s been fantastic, meeting writers from around the world. I took a semester off from teaching last year and met really interesting writers out in Banff last April at a historical fiction writing workshop, and then down on Pelee Island in May, and in Kingsville last August.  Last July, I spent a couple of weeks in Scotland, where I worked alongside British and American poets in the Highlands, tramping over long roads in my running shoes and listening to curlews in tall pines. This year, I spent more time down in Southwestern Ontario, near Windsor, writing again on Pelee Island, and realizing that I love how Lake Erie makes me feel inside. I also loved immersing myself in a new kind of natural landscape, as so much of the creative work I do is driven by canoeing, or walking and hiking through the woods. Put me in amidst trees, on my own, or maybe with a dog or two, and I’m happy as a clam. I like the quiet, the birds, the sound of wind in trees, and knowing that there’s water nearby. It reminds me of Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese.” It makes me feel connected to something.

I’ve been honoured to have been Sudbury’s Poet Laureate for this period of time. I’ve learned so much about myself, and I’ve grown, and I hope I’ve made a positive difference – in some way – to this community in the work I’ve done. I have given up a lot of my privacy, and I suppose I hadn’t really expected that. I’ve been more than present in person and on social media, but in the last little while, it’s felt good to know that I can let go of that and focus on my own writing again.

I’ve tried, too, to create a sense of artistic community via my social media feeds, raising awareness of local art exhibitions, theatre productions, local musicians and visual artists. I like the idea of being a laureate who has raised an awareness of the culture that is so vividly present here in Sudbury, and in Northern Ontario in general. It’s time that we shed some of the old mining town stereotypes, I think, but we need to purposefully elevate one another, offering kind and supportive words whenever and wherever we can. Social media can easily be the place to do that, I believe. If you use it wisely, with purpose, it works well. Some people might disagree, might find it all a bit much, but from what I’ve heard from local artists and writers, it’s worked out all right. Now someone else can do it for a while…

One or two people have told me they are sorry I’m leaving the role of laureate, but I think it’s up to everyone in this community—not just one person—to raise awareness about what is happening here in the arts scene. Anyone can do this, if they truly believe in the value of the arts, and in the artists who work away quietly at creating art. Everyone is replaceable, too, so I know that I am…and I know that the next poet laureate will be fabulous! I know I’ve tried to use the role as a vehicle for promotion of the arts, and especially for poetry and literacy initiatives. I’m sure the next laureate will have their own passions and this will be reflected in the work they choose to do during their term.

I’ve learned a lot about human nature, too, though. For the most part, I’ve been thrilled by how warmly people have welcomed me as poet laureate. No one person or business ever said they wouldn’t take part in a project I set out to undertake. They all let me babble excitedly about my ideas, waving my hands around like a wild woman. One of my literary mentors and friends told me, when I first came into the role, that I should be careful to guard my writing time and privacy, and that I should say ‘no’ when I felt I needed to. He gave me good advice. As usual, I probably didn’t listen as well as I should have, but he still puts up with me.

I have learned that, if you take on a dignitarial role, and you make the most of using that role to raise awareness of social issues like mental health and well-being, palliative care, poetry, and literacy, you have to work hard at balancing parts of your life. You represent your city, so you need to think about what you say and do before you act. You need to be diplomatic. You need to be an ambassador for your city, and for what you love and believe in. I think it helps to stay grounded and genuine, too. As a result of my being in the role, I’ve gone to the Governor General’s Literary Awards (and felt like Cinderella for the first time in my life!), and I’ll be reading in Toronto in February, Calgary in March, and I’ve been invited to Northwords, a literary festival in the Northwest Territories, in late May. All of this, I think, has to do with the laureate work, and it dovetails nicely with my new book having been released by Black Moss Press back in October. I feel blessed. I do.

Suddenly, though, you’re a public figure instead of a private one. It’s weird, and a bit disconcerting if I’m honest about it. You’ll be in the grocery store and someone you don’t know will say hello to you, using your first name, and so you wonder if you’ve had a stroke, because you can’t recall having met them before. You haven’t. They know you, but you don’t know them. That happens more regularly than I would have expected it to in a city of just over 160,000. One person told me, a couple of months ago, in the grocery store: “You must be sick of yourself lately because you’re everywhere in this town…” Another person told me I should “dial it down” a bit or I might scare off potential suitors…even though I wasn’t even worried about suitors…and was more concerned about a revision of a play I’ve been working on!

Yeah. People say things that aren’t necessarily polite, and then you smile, nod, gather up your almond milk and oatmeal in your little metal buggy, and go home and feel a bit downcast.  Usually, I put on the kettle and hug a dog or two, or pick up Wendell Berry or Mary Oliver and try to forget that some people aren’t always nice. (I don’t ever intend to make myself less than who I am because I was very sick a long time ago and, having almost erased myself, well, you never let someone make you feel less than again, because you can recall it all too well in your own head.)

You’ll get weird people who phone you at home, as if they know you very personally, and some who show up to your door even, and then you have to think about changing your phone number and getting an alarm system. You’ll also get other weird people, sometimes men if you’re a woman, who are a bit intimidating and creepy. So, you learn to be warm and friendly, but also protective of your own personal space. Some people only want to be friends because of your role, and hopefully you can spot them right away, but sometimes you can’t, and then you get hurt and you feel stupid for months and months. Some people pretend to be friends just because you have the title of ‘laureate.’ You’ll recognize them because they aren’t in it for the long haul…and that’s okay. Better to have friends who will be present through good and bad times, through titled and non-titled times.

Having dogs helps. Having a few really good friends who understand the demands of the role, though, helps more. As I said at my book launch in October, I have felt spread a bit thin in the last two years, and those very close friends who have stood by me, understanding when I’m super busy or when I’m exhausted, have given me love when I most needed it. They know who they are, and I love them for being patient and supportive of my work and dreams. (They also put up with emails and texts that are excessively wordy, and know that I’m prone to drive-by gifts of Irish soda bread or flowers or books…just because I like to give gifts.)

Over the last two years, I’ve made new friends and acquaintances in the fields of writing, publishing, music, and theatre. For that, I’m extremely grateful. I don’t have a family, so my friends are very important to me. I’ve lost a few friends in the last two years, though, perhaps because I’ve given myself too fully to the work I’m doing, both as a teacher and a writer. I tend to be a workaholic in that I commit myself to whatever I take on in my life. I’ll write more on this in my end-of-year blog next week. It’s much too big of a revelation to talk about here.

I’m most proud of the work I’ve done with Health Sciences North, in putting up bits of poetry in the oncology, long term care, and palliative care units. That’s a selfish undertaking, I think. It’s all in memory of my father, for all the times when I had to sit next to him as he was dying, wishing there was something I could look at while we sat together talking, while he struggled with having to let go of his life when he didn’t really want to. I hope the poems on those windows at HSN distract one patient or family member from pain…especially at this difficult time of year.

Whoever gets this job next is lucky. It’s the kind of role that you can use to elevate poetry and, if you’re a poet, it’s the best (unpaid) job ever. I wish the next laureate great success and personal growth…

…and I just really want to thank the fine people of this city for the way in which they’ve embraced me, and supported me in all of my poetic projects. Your kindnesses have meant the world to me and I’ll never forget them.

Oh…and notes of thanks to a few places and people who have helped me make the two years of my laureateship more creative. For Melanie Marttila, my oldest and most steadfast friend, with thanks for your kind, calm voice and heart; for my dear friend, my soul sister, Jen Geddes, who introduced me to canoeing and hiking this summer…now I’m happily addicted; for Dawn Kresan of Kingsville, who first introduced me to Pelee Island and Point Pelee National Park in May and August of 2016, likely knowing I’d fall in love with both places for the birds and their murmurations, the sky, the water, and the trees; for Sandy Crawley at National Reading Campaign, who is a steadfast friend and mentor, and who is also great fun at evening literary soirees in Ottawa; for Larry Hill, for his mentorship and friendship, & for the Banff Centre and those glorious mountains; for Miranda Hill and Laurie Murphy of Project Bookmark Canada; for David and Denise Young of Bobcaygeon and Kawartha Lakes; for Marnie Woodrow, who helped me to believe in myself in a writer, and convinced me that I could write a novel after all; for Moniack Mhor, Scotland’s Creative Writing Centre; for Grant, Kirk, and Elizabeth Munroe, of Woodbridge Farm and Kingsville; for Marty Gervais, of Black Moss Press; for Lisa O’Connell, from Pat the Dog Theatre Creation; for Tanya Neumeyer, who introduced me to Hugh Barclay, and my first experience setting a poem on a letterpress in Kingston; for Gerry Kingsley, who made me find my own beauty for the first time in my life, in the author photos he took of me back in May; for Sarah Gartshore, Matt Heiti and Trish Stenabaugh, who are my little trinity of close creative sparks, and who encourage me to keep going…and especially for Sarah, who shows up for coffee or tea in her red jacket, and makes me laugh when I most need to, and offers me a hug when she knows I most need one; and for Matt, too, who says he will make me a poet laureate sash out of ‘burlap and Irish moss;’ for Jess Watts, who has made being laureate the loveliest experience, and who never balked when I said, “Let’s try invisible rain paint on sidewalks!” And for Jane Rodrigues, who phones me regularly to make sure I am still myself, taking over from where my Mum was forced to leave off nine years ago when she died. I am most grateful to my Jane…and love her dearly as my “second mama.”

I’m off to the Windsor-Essex area in early March, to spend six solid months working on the first draft of my next novel, to finish up a couple of plays-in-progress, to complete a non-fiction collection of essays, and to write more poems as they come to me. I want to totally retreat to a different area of the province and offer myself up in a committed way to my work as a writer, to see what might come of it. I need to give it, that part of me, the time and space it deserves, without distraction, and so I will.  And then…well…who knows…the Universe will guide and nudge me in the next right direction, I’m sure. It always does…and I follow my heart and intuition more and more often these days…

In terms of social media, you won’t see me at the @SudburyPoet Twitter account after December 31st, 2017, but you can follow me on Instagram or on my personal Twitter account @modernirish  My website is www.kimfahner.com so I’ll be posting up any upcoming readings, signings, or literary festivals that I might be attending. (I mostly Tweet about art, poetry, trees, or my dogs…and I mostly take photos of landscape and trees…so I’m rather bland, I think.  But I’m funny, too, so if you like funny…it’ll be there somewhere in the mix.)

Thanks for the support, Sudbury friends. You are all the best people I know in the whole, wide world. I love this place…where grit reveals beauty when you least expect it. There is so much beauty and poetry here…we are blessed. It’s been more than a pleasure…a real joy for me, to be honest…to have been your poet laureate.

How blessed have I been? How blessed? Amazingly so….




IMG_6736.jpgAt the Governor General’s Literary Awards (on my birthday, no less!) November 2017.

IMG_5882.jpgSitting on the floor at Health Sciences North, trying to get a shot of Tom Leduc’s poem on the window!

IMG_4896.jpgHanging out in Kingston in early August with Tanya Neumeyer and Hugh Barclay, typesetting one of my poems.

IMG_4382.jpgGiving an ekphrastic poetry workshop at Sudbury Catholic District School Board’s June 2017 PA Day.

IMG_4021.jpgStalking the caterer’s trays at the Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts, at the Sudbury Theatre Centre, with Sarah Gartshore, in May 2017.


Reading at Poetry at the Manor, in Windsor, in October 2017.

IMG_5608.jpgPhotos of people saying goodbye at the airport, under the poems.

IMG_0986.jpgA little one under my poem at the airport.

IMG_5746.jpgThat time Monique Legault painted something based on a poem I wrote. Fall 2017.

IMG_6581.jpgA thank you card from the kids at Walden Public, Fall 2017.


A trail poem about…trees…what else? 🙂 (Thanks to former poet laureate, Tom Leduc, for starting up this project in Sudbury, and for asking me to give him a tree poem!)IMG_6383.jpgReading at One Sky during Wordstock, November 2017.

IMG_0799.jpgHanging out at St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School, in Ms. Hodgins’s Writer’s Craft class, 2016. GK-KIM-PRINTRES-0027.jpg

One of Gerry Kingsley’s excellent photos of me.  (I’m pretty sneaky…he caught me.)

IMG_1195.jpgFun at my book launch on October 21, 2017.

IMG_1185.jpgIMG_5879.jpgA hospital stanza…in Palliative Care at Health Science North.   For my Dad…with love.


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I’ve been meaning to stop in to see this exhibition for some time, but my visit to Ottawa a couple of weeks ago, and an ill dog last week prevented me from getting there sooner. Finally, though, I managed to carve out a bit of time this afternoon to visit the Art Gallery of Sudbury and see Linda Finn’s show.

It’s called the War Letters Project and it’s fascinating and heart wrenchingly compelling. These are the words that are best suited for it, really. I recently went to see the War Flowers exhibit at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa and I kept thinking of how the two would be beautiful if they were ever exhibited together. They would dovetail in such a brilliant way, I think, but who am I to say…I just happen to love art. I’m hardly an expert.

In 2007, Finn found a box of letters that her grandmother had kept since the two World Wars. (Confession time: You should know that I love letters of all sorts. I especially love ones that arrive in the mail in the old fashioned way. I’m a poet and a romantic at heart. The notion of sending or receiving letters has great import in my mind, in a symbolic and metaphorical way. I know, yet again, that I am an anachronism.) So, the artist finds the box of letters.  Her grandmother, Essie Smith, lived on a farm outside of Beamsville, Ontario. She wrote to young men from her community, during WWI and WWII, offering them kind words of encouragement and friendship from across the sea. The result of her compassion is quite moving. The men, you see, wrote back, and what remains is proof of a relationship that transcended war and death.

As Finn notes, on the Art Gallery of Sudbury website, “The wartime letters represent a link between the women at home and the men overseas during both World Wars. Letters, parcels, and other ephemera are a part of this history, as are certain locales. By bringing these components together in assemblages and textile pieces, I present a different commentary for the viewer to read, one that sometimes expresses pain and suffering, but most often hope.” The notion of layering wisps and echoes of letters as they are laid palimpsest over images and photographs–and the sense of what is said and sometimes left unsaid when one writes or receives personal and private letters–is compelling. You feel as if you are intruding, somehow, but you are still drawn to read the paintings, leaning in towards the wall and almost holding your breath.

Yes. You read that right. I wrote “read the paintings.” This is, truly, what I found most magical about Finn’s “War Letters Project.” Entering the gallery, I found myself standing in front of “Essie,” which seems–from a distance–to just be the outline of a woman’s form. As you move closer, though, you see that Finn has used handwriting, excerpts taken from the many letters, to form Essie. Her essence is composed of words, both vertical and horizontal, all swirled out in cursive, and the notion of identity and how we communicate soon comes to forefront of mind. Essie, you soon discover, has written herself in more than one way. She writes herself, and the men’s thoughts and words write her, as well. It is eerily collaborative and touching.

How do we define ourselves? How do letters, handwritten and deeply heartfelt, connect us (despite our potential differences and geographical distances)? In my life, I have kept a box of letters that my mum sent me when I was doing my Master’s degree in literature at Carleton years ago. I only re-read them once in a while because they feel powerful and sacred. Her handwriting was like a fingerprint of soul to me. I have also kept old love letters and I shake my head when I read them, thinking back to two young men who coloured in the decade of my 20s. Each person’s style of handwriting is powerful and compelling, in how it lifts spirit up off the paper and seems to conjure them again, even if they’ve been gone from your life’s fabric for a while.

There were a few other pieces which pulled at my heart today. One was “Covenant.” It’s got a line of dried roses at the top. Those caught my eye. My grandmother used to dry hydrangeas in her darkened basement on Wembley Drive, so I’m always fascinated by what dried or pressed flowers seem to symbolize. (It’s also part of what so draws me to the War Flowers exhibit I saw two weeks ago in Ottawa.) In “Covenant,” there are handwritten works cut out, reminding me of bits of magnetic poetry tiles almost. The words that stood out were: ” home,” “love,” “joy,” and “peace.” Other little phrases inside the painting made my heart hurt. One letter writer spoke of it being “an age of high tension,” while another wrote “I’ve done my best.” Other phrases made me shake my head. “If I get back…” The words trail out into space and time, making you wonder how a soldier would feel, uncertain about his own life, knowing that his time would likely end before it should. And then, a phrase that sent chills down my arms. “…that we may go on…” Yes. They will go on, and in strong part because of art exhibitions like this one and the War Flowers one in Ottawa.

The gallery is bookended by two powerful pieces. At one end stands “Requiem,” a massive work that includes copies of letters sent to Essie from across the sea. On top of that rich fabric of story and witnessing the horror of war, the outline of a soldier is etched out in black. There are layers here, collages of meaning and echoes of history that haunt the viewer. At the other end of the space, there is “1917,” another prominent piece that takes up most of the wall. The background consists of sheets of text from the Bible, with tiny imprints of what seem to be the likenesses of toy soldiers stamped out on the paper. On top of that, layer upon layer, a handwritten quotation curling itself out in black ink. The effect shifts whether you are up close to the piece, or if you walk back to see the larger picture. Either way, you are struck by the intensity of it all. You think of what war means, how it is so often wrongly fought in the name of God, or in the name of a country or nationalism, but always at the expense of so many young men’s lives being lost.

The vintage briefcase set out on a table asks gallery goers to read the responses to the exhibition. You can leaf through what viewers have written. Here’s the thing: if you see this show, you’ll want to write something down. You’ll want to try to assimilate the meaning of it all, and how it overwhelms both your heart and your head at the same time You could give yourself hours to spend in front of these pieces, reading lines of letters sent across the sea. You could, but it would be hard. Perhaps this is the real beauty and legacy of Linda Finn’s War Letters Projects. It’s a tribute to a grandmother who seems to have been selfless and open hearted, but it’s also a tribute to the bravery of those who fought in Europe in the Wars. Beyond that, it’s a tribute to the power of letters and letter writing, and of gathering bits of ephemera to piece together meaning after people have gone without warning. Lost soldiers are somehow resurrected in memory when you read their words, captured and recorded in Finn’s stunning artwork.

One young man prayed that “we may go on” as he jotted down passing thoughts while his life was at risk. This exhibition ensures that quiet and hopeful prayer by making the soldiers’ voices come to life. Words written on scraps of paper near Vimy rise up and speak, echoing across time and inside a person’s heart. Finn’s work is beautiful, evocative, and reminds me of a storyteller who gathers together bits to form meaning.

So. Do yourself a favour and go see the War Letters Project. Give yourself enough time, though. It will affect you in a physical and visceral way, I think, so that you might find yourself muttering “Oh, my God” under your breath (as I did), or lose track of where your hands are as they fall to your sides. This will all happen as you read the words, as you see the images, as you let it all wash into and over you.







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