Archive for March, 2019

The first time I met Monique Legault was at a Sudbury Arts Council meeting in October 2017. She had been commissioned to paint one of my poems, which, oddly, had been commissioned by the Arts Council for that past summer’s Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts awards. I had heard of this whole thing before, a sort of ekphrastic initiative whereby a painter is present at a concert, but never one who would paint as (and after!) I read my poem to the gathered Arts Council members. I was, to be honest, a wee bit nervous. I shouldn’t have been, though. When she turned the canvas around at the end of the meeting, I nearly wept. Her work was beautiful. Her eyes sparkled. We hugged. And we’ve been friends ever since.

Last year, while I was in Kingsville, Monique messaged me and asked if she could paint one of the photos that I post on a daily basis on Instagram. She had been moved by the one I’d taken in spring, in early April, while I was out hiking on Point Pelee, along the marsh boardwalks there. It had reeds and lily pads, and the light was beautiful. (On my dying day, I’ll remember that view, that beauty.) So I said yes.

When I was home in Sudbury for the staged reading of my play, Sparrows Over Slag, in May 2018, she and I met and talked about a collaborative project. She proposed that she would paint my photos, and then I got to thinking that I would also write poems to go with them. We would, we decided, create little triptychs. We started off small, with only about four in our heads, but as I got a bit better at taking photos while hiking, we shifted to seven. Through the fall, we batted ideas and notions back and forth via email and Facebook messenger. When I was home again in early November for Wordstock, our literary festival, she and I met again, sitting perched on chairs at the back of her beautiful little gallery and studio on Elgin Street.

The result of this new friendship (which just started as a collaboration, really) was our collaborative exhibition, “Tracing Our Wild Spaces: photos, poems, paintings,” which ran from January 23-March 8 at the Fromagerie on Elgin Street. Our launch date was amazing, and my friend Sean Barrette offered to sing a few songs, which added a bit of ambience. I read the poems while Monique highlighted the paintings. We never, ever expected to sell four of the seven triptychs on that opening evening. It was snowy–a snowstorm really–so it was amazing to see a packed house. Further, it was amazing that my friend Gisele, whom I’ve known for over twenty years, decided to buy the one of my boots on a Killarney ridge hike. That one is dear to me because my friend Brad Blackwell, who is the coordinator of the Sudbury Catholic District School Board’s outdoor education program, let me borrow those big rubber boots on a very muddy day when we were hiking with kids in October 2017.  It was Brad, and my friend Jen Geddes, who helped me to love being outdoors in the last few years. As I’ve lost weight and gotten healthier, stronger, those two have been like little angels, guiding me along, teaching me to trust myself, and knowing, somehow, that I’d bloom because of being out in nature. I can’t even begin to explain how hiking has changed the way I write and see things in my head…

The title of the exhibit, “Tracing Our Wild Spaces,” comes from something I read in one of Robert Macfarlane’s books, The Wild Places. Macfarlane’s work is important to me, and it reflects so much of what I believe in, in terms of how I create my work, from walking, hiking, and canoeing through natural landscapes. What he has done, in raising awareness of the environment, and in terms of encouraging people to preserve and maintain wild areas around the world, is so important. He’s a sort of ‘light worker,’ in my mind and heart. He is a bit of light, as a writer and thinker, and then he’s the stone that’s thrown into the pond, a catalyst that causes a ripple of change to move outwards. Too, though, the title speaks to how I see women in the world, and how we have creative and wild spaces within ourselves. I’ve found my wild spaces by being outside in nature, so it’s all woven, all interconnected, in my mind and heart. So many of the poems in my new book, These Wings (Pedlar Press), are about how I’m woven into landscape, and how it’s woven itself into me and transformed my world view.

So: the show is over at Fromo, but there are still three triptychs for sale at Monique’s gallery on Elgin Street. Her gallery and studio is long and narrow, and full of beautiful things that she’s made. The triptychs will find their homes there for now, so if you didn’t get to see them, or didn’t get to read the poems, then you can drop in to say hello to Monique and see them. They’re still for sale, too. They’re one-of-a-kind pieces, and whoever buys them will have unique pieces. (We’ll likely do another collaborative project…because we work well together…but for now, I’m just enjoying the wonder of having my photos shown in public for the first time, and I’m also proud of the poems I wrote to go along with them. Beyond that, though, I’m constantly amazed by the beauty of my friend’s paintings. She is truly gifted.)

All of this collaborative creative work…feels rich and diverse to me. It feeds me, fills me up, and makes me more creative inside. I can’t thank Monique enough for being open to working collaboratively with me. She’s a bright light, and someone who has begun to teach me how to learn to value my work, in terms of assigning it a monetary value. That’s new to me. She’s a good guide. More than that, though, I have a new friend whom I love…so I feel blessed.

Here are the images that are still up for sale, in case you’re curious, and in case you feel like you might want to think about buying one. 🙂

IMG_2971.jpgThe Colchester tree photo and poem is dear to me because I took this photo while I was lost down near Harrow. (Well, maybe ‘exploring’ is a better way to say it!) I was in love with the Victorian house that stood on the opposite side of the road, and had pulled over to just moon over its architectural beauty, but then I turned my head to look out the passenger window and saw this. It looked like something out of one of Tennyson’s poems. I love his Arthurian pieces, and “The Lady of Shalott” is one of my favourites, so I could imagine her in her boat, like the Waterhouse painting I love, and I took the photo. It was such a moody, eerie day in early spring. I wasn’t used to not having snow in March, so I was quite taken by it all, the romance of it.

IMG_2970.jpgThis photo was taken during that same fall hike in Killarney. I was standing off on my own, away from the crush of giggling students, just wanting to take in the beauty of the view. From here, you can look out over Collins Inlet and see the shape of Manitoulin Island in the distance. It feels ancient, especially if you let it into your bones, into your soul. I remember standing there, and the clouds were shifting in the sky above me, and the sun came out in a bright beam. It made me catch my breath. That’s really how beautiful it was, how brilliantly it pierced my heart. The reflection of the beam, in the puddle of last night’s rain…well…it was a poem before it wrote itself.

IMG_2972.jpgAnd…for a switch…and so you can see Monique’s beautiful work…here is her painting of my Point Pelee marsh photo. If you go to her studio/gallery, you can see the original photo and the accompanying poem. Dawn walks at Point Pelee are something I miss a lot these days. Thinking of it, writing this, makes me get emotional. I want to cry because there’s a smell to the earth there, to the marsh, and to the lake, that I love. It’s the one place where I feel absolutely myself. I hardly ever want to share those walks with anyone, and only two friends have walked with me there in the last three years, since the first time my friend Dawn took me in August 2016 when I was down writing in Kingsville. So…this Point Pelee triptych pulls at me…body, mind, and soul. (My heaven would have parts of County Clare, Newfoundland, Vancouver Island, Lumsden, Manitoulin Island, and Point Pelee. My heaven would be full of hiking trails and changing skies and bodies of water that reflect my heart’s weather. But that…well…as Hammy Hamster would say…that’s another story.)

I do need to thank Demetra Christakos from the Art Gallery of Sudbury, who let me know about OAC grants for framing of exhibition works. We were lucky to apply, and get a small grant, that covered the cost of framing the photo-poem pairings. I also want to thank Leslie Morgan and Jane Cameron from Sudbury Paint and Custom Framing on Elgin Street, as well. Jane and Leslie are old friends of mine, and I love them both dearly. Leslie is my “go to” framer for any original art that I buy when I travel. Then, when I walk by a piece of art that’s in my home, I can think of the trip I took, whether it was to Spanish Point, or to Newfoundland. I’m blessed to know such artistic and gifted women. They’re everywhere here in town…you just need to know where to find them!

Sudbury friends: do go and see Monique some day soon, and let her know that you read about the three remaining triptychs here on my blog. She’ll tell you her side of the collaborative story. I only know I’m glad we’re friends, and I’m glad she’s in my life, and I feel blessed that the Universe has conspired for us to meet. Kindreds, after all, are really hard to find…especially the creative ones.

peace, friends.



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I’ll be honest here. My worst subjects in high school were math, French, and science. In math, I tried so hard, but numbers never really settled into my head in the right way. In French, I tried to impress Sister Mildred, and she always smiled kindly, but I still only got low Cs. In science, God, to be even more honest…

In chemistry, I had a ‘mishap’ with a Bunsen burner and my lab partner’s hair caught on fire a bit when she leaned over to adjust the flame. I also recall holding a beaker with something and the stopper flying off across the teacher’s front desk and bouncing off the chalk board next to her. I can still see how she raised her eyebrow at me, as if I’d done it on purpose. Then, in biology, I remember that I started to cry when we had to dissect a frog. I didn’t like the smell of the formaldehyde, and I thought too much of what a frog’s life would be like on a daily basis. I figured it had parents, maybe some friends. I also really loved Kermit the Frog at that point in time, so I could only ever hear “it’s not easy being green” repeating in my head. Anyway, this is all just to say that I didn’t do well in science classes at Marymount when I was a student there. Not at all.

In Grade 13, in our World Issues class with Mr. Krys, we had to do a research project that focused on environmental issues. Most kids in my school, then, were really worried about acid rain. That was the big worry back when INCO didn’t really care about environmental emissions. Many days, back then, you could taste the sulphur on your tongue when you went outside in the morning, and you could see it mark the leaves of plants in the garden in silvery grey. You could also set your watches by the slag dump out over towards Gatchell. I used to watch that slag dump when I stayed over at my grandma’s house on Wembley, or at my great aunts’ house on Kingsmount. We would turn off the lights so that we could spot it through the window frame. I thought it was magic. It was, certainly, a very different time in Sudbury.

My uncle, Terry Ennis, was an entomologist. When I was little, I didn’t know what he did. He and my aunt, Rosalind, lived in the Sault, so we often visited one another. He was tall, very smart and funny, but quiet. When we visited them, he would take us, along with my cousins, David and Tara, to see the ‘Bug Lab.’ I remember being freaked out because I hated bees. In my mind’s eye, in my imagination, I pictured a building with corridors full of free flying bees. He laughed, reassured me, and then took us on a tour. Everything seemed very clean, and I recall there were bugs in vials, and posters of trees and bugs on the walls. I didn’t see any bees, for which I was truly thankful.

Terry helped me by sending me a whole bunch of research in the mail. He was studying the effects of the spruce budworm on the forestry industry. I just remember thinking that he had a very, very specific job and was one of the smartest adults I knew. I also knew that he was interested in trying to save trees and birds, and animal habitats, and that made me love him even more. He liked Dylan Thomas and poetry, and Irish history, so we had all of that in common. We also used to go fishing once in a while, so he loved the outdoors. (I particularly remember standing next to my two cousins, watching him as he gutted a silvery carp on an old wooden table on the edge of Lake Mindemoya one summer afternoon, after a day spent fishing in a boat. He insisted that it would be good fish, but its belly was full of garbage and it wasn’t flavourful, even though he’d seasoned it as best he could…)

I did well on my research paper that final year in high school. I didn’t like bugs, and I still don’t. (I prefer trees and birds, but I also love seeing butterflies in shadow boxes. The possibility for extended metaphor fascinates me to no end.) The other kids that year did their research projects on acid rain, and someone likely did water pollution, but I asked to do something on the spruce budworm infestation and I remember my teacher gave me an A. He was impressed that I had a scientist in the family. (Acid rain, back then, was overdone, anyway…)

Fast forward a lifetime or two, and I discovered the poetry of Alice Major in my mid-twenties. I was a young woman from Northern Ontario, going to annual general meetings for the League of Canadian Poets, and feeling really out of place. Everyone else seemed to be in their late forties or much older than that, and they all had reams of books published, while I had just published one very slim chapbook when I was 26. I was star struck by the Canadian poets I met at the AGM in Winnipeg, but that’s when I first met Alice. Then, at another AGM in Ottawa, years later, with Margaret Atwood as the guest speaker, I ran into Alice again. We’ve stayed in touch, somehow. She gave me the best advice I could imagine, in 2016, when I visited Edmonton after being at the Banff Centre working on my novel. As laureate, she said, I would need to guard my time, and I would need to learn to say ‘no.’ She had been the first Poet Laureate of Edmonton, so I knew she knew what she was talking about. I love her work dearly. I love that she writes about science and the natural world in a thought provoking and beautiful way. (I’m a fan girl when it comes to Alice’s work in Canadian poetry, but that would need to be another blog…for another day.)

I wonder what Terry would think of what I’m doing now, especially since I’m working on a collaboration that links poetry to science in a more concrete way. (I would still fail the tests and experiments if you put me in a high school lab again, but I do love astronomy, birds, butterflies, and I am especially keen on advocating for the health of Canada’s bodies of water, especially the Great Lakes.) I can also see how writing about the natural landscape links to scientific pursuits. For me, my love of science is linked to how we can protect the environment. And stars. Because I have always loved stars, and the stories of constellations and myths.

Dr. Thomas Merritt is the Canada Research Chair in Genomics and Bioinformatics at Laurentian University. For six years now, he’s organized the SciArt exhibit at Laurentian University and Science North. Artists are invited to create work that is linked to science. He’s had people submit projects that include dance, sculpture, and visual art in past years. Last year, he asked me to take part by bringing in poetry, but I was away writing, down in the Essex region. This year, though, I’m back in Sudbury and so I said ‘yes’ to his kind invitation.  Now, there’s poetry to add to the mix. I’m always interested in collaborative projects. For me, poetry can build bridges where people assume there aren’t places to even put bridges. I work with visual artists, even though I don’t think of myself as a one. Now, well, I’m working alongside a scientist. My uncle would think that was funny, I know, because he knew me very well. He would’ve found all of this very ironic.

So! The SciArt Poetry Contest runs until Friday, March 23/19. Poets are asked to email their three (3) best poems to Dr. Merritt at tmerritt@laurentian.ca. The names of poets should not be on the individual pages of poetry. Rather, we’d ask that poets include a cover letter that includes personal contact information (name, phone, email, address), a short 30-word biography, as well as the titles of the poems that they’re submitting. Poets are also asked to write a sentence or two that describe how their poems are scientifically-focused. That means you’ll have one document with contact info and another document with three pages, with one poem on each page. We’d ask that you use a fairly traditional font (Calibri, Times New Roman, Baskerville).

Poems can be up to a maxium of 30 lines. The categories for judging are as follows: Gr 1-6 (Elementary), Gr 7-12 (Intermediate/Senior), Post-Secondary Students, and Community Members. All poets must be residents of Greater Sudbury. Poets are encouraged to submit their work in the language they are most comfortable in.

The judges in this poetry contest include myself, as well as the current Poet Laureate, Chloe LaDuchesse, past laureate, Tom Leduc, and noted francophone poet, Thierry Bissonnette. Prizes will be awarded in all four categories. Winners will read their poems on the evening of Tuesday, April 2ndat Science North, as part of an event called “Verse in the Universe: SciArt & Poetry.” There will be free admission, and after the prize winners read, the four featured poets will each read work that links to the competition’s central thematic focus of ‘science.’

April is National Poetry Month across Canada, and we’re very honoured to have received funding from the League of Canadian Poets (LCP), to fund the featured poets’ readings. This year’s theme is “Nature,” so it all seems that a bit of serendipity is at play.

I’m hoping that people who live in Greater Sudbury will think about taking part in this new SciArt Poetry Contest. I’d very much like to see it grow and flourish in coming years. Really, when you think about it, scientists and poets aren’t too different after all. They look at tiny things that lead to bigger ideas, and they document the beauty in the world around them in unique and carefully specific ways.

I won’t be writing poems about the spruce budworm, but I’ll always write poems that speak to wanting to honour and protect our waterways and natural landscapes. For me, my place in the world is defined by natural beauty. My uncle Terry would get that, and he’d likely be glad to know that some other scientist could see the value of poetry and art, too. I think that Terry likely would’ve written a poem himself to submit, if he were still around…so I’ll dedicate my work in this project to his memory. He left us too soon.

Please write poems, friends! And, then, please come out on the evening of April 2ndand hear the poets read. The world is so beautifully interwoven—from the way the lake freezes in late fall, to the way the sun rises over Copper Cliff in the early spring—that we’d best document the way we weave our worlds together, with poetry, science, and wonder.




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