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.



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.







Here’s the thing: good things don’t traditionally, or historically, happen to me. Close friends know this is true, especially if they’ve known me for a while. No need to go into details, just suffice it to say it’s a fact. So…when the invitation to go to the Governor General’s Literary Awards arrived a few weeks ago in my laureate email account, I was shocked. See…my parents weren’t wealthy, so posh events weren’t par for the course. Why would they be?

My dad worked in the copper refinery in Copper Cliff and carried a metal lunch pail to work each day. Then he worked in his trophy shop. Then he worked in summers for Labatt’s, selling beer to Northern Ontario fishing and hunting resorts. Then he managed the Sudbury Curling Club. Then he bought a gift shop. He was, to put it kindly, but in a frustrating way for my mother, “a jack of all trades.” She worked in nursing, social work, and then managed intake of clients for Participation Projects.

My paternal grandfather also worked in the refinery, but before that he worked out in Northern Ontario lumber camps. (I figure he must’ve helped my dad get into INCO, but no one is around to ask anymore…so that’s lost information.) On my mum’s side, my grandfather was in mine management at Garson Mine, and helped out with a mine in Petsamo, Finland, at the start of WWII. Later, he went out and became a prospector. On my maternal grandmother’s side, the Kelly side, things looked a bit more successful as my great-grandfather owned a general store out in Creighton and then built a lovely big house on Kingsmount when he retired. Before that, though, his ancestors came over from Ireland after the Famine. I thought of them today, mostly because one of them was a stonemason who helped to build the Parliament buildings in Ottawa. Those Kellys settled in this area.

So, when I knew I had to buy a fancy schmancy gown, I got a bit nervous…felt sick, even. I’m not what I’d call a ‘plastic chick.’ I don’t do fake nails, or high heels, or lash extensions, or use foundation. I’m kind of what my grandmother used to call an “Ivory girl,” who just uses soap, a bit of eyeshadow and mascara, and a wee bit of lipstick. I would rather walk in the rain, go canoeing or hiking, or read a book, or have a really amazing conversation than spend forever on appearances. Having to buy a gown traumatized me. I found one, though, and that was good. Wearing it, well, I felt a bit like Cinderella, which was actually kind of nice. 🙂

As a smart, fat kid, I never went to the prom. I never felt comfortable with myself, inside or out. Always an outsider and outcast. Not an easy time of high school, which is probably why I keep an eye out for bullies in classrooms and talk about making people feel welcome. I can feel when someone is uncomfortable, mostly because it makes me feel uncomfortable. Yup. Empath and introvert.

Walking into Rideau Hall tonight, I felt sick. I thought, “I won’t belong. These people aren’t ‘my’ people. They’ll call me out.” But I didn’t feel like that at all. I felt amazed and honoured to sit and listen to the various laureates who had won literary awards, and I felt proud of how much this country does to celebrate the literary arts, and I felt glad I’ve had the chance to be poet laureate for my town. (I’m not going into that now…I’ll write a post in a few weeks to talk about what I’ve learned from being a poet laureate person.)

I could feel my father, though, standing behind me. I could imagine him being pleased, to see me go further than he might have imagined. A girl from Sudbury, from Minnow Lake no less, from a mining family, wearing a gown to Rideau Hall. He would’ve liked that, I think…and I wish he’d been around to see it. That made me sad today.

Today is my birthday, you see…and maybe the first amazing one I’ve ever had. Life has not been simple or kind until very recently, which is perhaps why I am more aware of valuing friends and connections I make, and why I take risks where I never did before, and why I try to find ways to make each day sacred, to find bits of light, even if I’m struggling inside with something. I have a family of friends, but not a super close biological family anymore. I’ve had to be strong even when I didn’t think I could be, or at least try to convince myself that I could continue to exist. In the last two years, well, I’ve stepped into myself in more than a few ways.

One way I’ve done this is to love reading and writing as one would a partner. One of my first boyfriends once said I loved books more than I loved him. At the time, I thought he was just an asshole…but then, in retrospect, well, he might’ve been right. (He was still not very nice, though…and God knows why I fancied someone who would make me choose between him and writing…because writing is such a big part of me that you can’t separate it out, and I can’t give it up. It’s intrinsic. Besides, who really wants a partner who would want to change you to the point that they would want to jettison a major part of who you are?)  My life hasn’t given me space to get married and have kids. I spent my thirties being a caretaker for my parents. So, instead, I’ve given time to my writing. Now, it seems, it’s giving back to me, and it’s given me an energy that I can’t quite fathom…but for which I am most grateful.

I spent this afternoon at the National Gallery of Canada. I wanted to sit and listen to Janet Cardiff’s “Forty Part Motet.” I knew it would move me, but I wasn’t prepared for the way in which it would shake me, and then break me open. Sitting there, in that Rideau Chapel, which feels as if you are moving into a different world, I felt my whole body shake. The sounds and vibrations from the various speakers positioned around the room rippled. Brilliant. Sitting there, I pulled out a notebook, jotted down some images and lines, and will likely fashion a poem out of them at some point. But I sat there, eyes closed for a bit and letting the sound rush over and through me, thinking of my Dad again. He never leaves me. I keep thinking, tears pricking my eyes a bit, of how much I miss him, of how much he would’ve liked to have seen all of this writing stuff shift for me, even in small ways, and in how grateful I am that he was in my life for as long as he was. Cardiff’s work will break your heart open in so many ways…and it did today.

I’m feeling as if it’s my first real birthday in my body…spiritually, physically, and mentally. I’m grateful for that. It might just be the best birthday gift I’ve ever given myself, and the longest one coming, in terms of its arrival. But, sometimes, just sometimes, there are things that are worth waiting for…and the lessons you learn along the way make you a much richer soul while you’re here on the planet.

And then, well, there’s this….

It makes me know that, while the first part of your life can sometimes be a fierce struggle, the next wave is up to you.  It takes hard work, awareness, mindfulness, and intention, as well as faith and trust that art, music, literature, the natural world, and a few very dear friends who stay with you against all odds, will help you to fashion a richly rewarding life.

Thanks for wishing me a happy first birthday, friends. I am blessed to have you…and I know my dad would’ve told me the same thing…so thank you for your kindnesses.




A poem for Gord Downie…

So far, I haven’t written anything about the loss of Gord Downie…and make no mistake…that’s what it is: a significant loss for this country of Canada, but an even greater one for those who love his poetry.

I don’t normally write letters to people who are ‘famous,’ but I did write one to him earlier this year. I emailed it off to Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, where I knew he was a board member, and they said they passed it on to him. I hope he read it, but I don’t know.  I had admired his advocacy on water rights and health for a number of years. In the last year, I’ve discovered my own great and passionate love for some of the Great Lakes, mostly Huron and Erie. Each one has its own spirit, personality, and vibrancy. I’ve even written a series of Great Lakes poems which are in my newest book, Some Other Sky, and I’m more than in love with these lakes because I’ve gone swimming, canoeing, and hiking along their shores this summer. If you were to tell me I couldn’t hike at Point Pelee National Park at least a couple of times a year, I’d probably weep. If you were to tell me I couldn’t go canoeing in Killarney, and swim into what feels like a living Group of Seven painting, well, I’d weep again, and likely lash out somehow. They are both that dear to me now.

I’ve always been a fan of The Tragically Hip, but I’ve been an even greater fan of Gord Downie’s poetry for nearly as long. When my second book of poems, braille on water, was released by Penumbra Press in 2001, I remember standing in a Chapters store somewhere in Ontario, my mouth open in shock because my first book of poems with a spine was right up against Gord Downie’s new collection of poems, Coke Machine Glow. I read that volume of his work voraciously, falling in love with a number of pieces that rippled with brilliant energy and imagery. My favourite poem of his is “Sailboat.” There are others, but I love the last few lines, when he writes that “the most you can do is / spend all your time / giving some of your time / meaning.” When Downie was named as an honorary member of the League of Canadian Poets this past spring, I thought, “Yes. About bloody time.”

I didn’t weep when I heard he’d died this fall. It struck me so viscerally, though, to think that he was gone, that I felt physically ill. I did finally weep, though, when I showed the CBC’s version of The Secret Path last week in my Grade 11 English class. It’s a class that contains literature written by First Nations, Metis, and Inuit writers. I just keep thinking of how he believed in what he believed in so strongly. Whether it was the struggle for truth and reconciliation and raising awareness of Chanie Wenjak’s story, or helping to bring attention to the state of so many northern Indigenous communities where there is–truly–a sort of cultural apartheid that is still happening, or the health of Lake Ontario’s water (so that you could swim in it, drink its waters, and fish in it), or just the intense natural beauty of this nation of ours, he fought hard for things he believed in.

I wept quietly at the back of a class of thirty sixteen year olds last week, poking at my eyes with a tissue, and then trying to explain why I was so moved. He had given of himself and his heart so openly throughout his life, and especially in a very public way in the last year or so of his life. That selflessness moves me. The students shuffled out of the classroom at the end of the period, hesitant to leave, muttering phrases like “It’ll be all right, Miss. Look at what he did for everyone…” And I stood there, trying to stop from crying even harder, knowing that it was seeing and hearing him speak in that documentary that set me off, just reminding me yet again of why I admire him so.

This world is a darker place without Gord Downie in it because he seemed, to me, to be someone who was genuine and true. I respect that in people because it’s getting harder and harder to find. Sometimes, I find, people don’t know what to do with those who are genuine or speak their truth with both conviction and kindness. He shone his light out, through poems, songs, interviews, and in his quiet, hard work on being on the Board for Lake Ontario Waterkeeper. He’s the kind of man I respect, and will always respect, for his quiet yet firm commitment to his voluntary causes.

This is the poem I wrote for him, as a gift to thank him for being such a grand poet and a steadfast advocate for so many important causes, to go along with the letter I sent to him in the spring. The letter will always be private, as are all letters I write to those I feel drawn or compelled to write to, and share my heart with, but this poem…is for him, to celebrate his work and bright spirit, and will be published in my next collection of poems in his honour and memory.

He was such a poet, such a soul, such a bright star, and so full of grace, too.



The Lake Belongs to Us

(for Gord Downie)

“I feel more a citizen of Lake Ontario than I do of anywhere else.”

            -Gord Downie, Board Member of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper

This lake, provincial

and called ‘Ontario,’

sits centred, thumbtacked

into the vintage school map

of Canada that stretches out

over a cork bulletin board,

coloured in Pantone’s palest blue—

either Robin’s Egg

or Twilight Mist.


“Don’t go outside the lines,”

the voice echoes in my head,

so that lake doesn’t bleed

into pink or green shades

of Laurentian pencil crayon.


Going beyond borders

is how this water moves,

though, straddling nations

and teeter-tottering

over the Medicine Line—

laws made on two sides

for one great lake.


The tall man with a strong voice

walks the land, singing stories

and speaking of truth and justice,

saying he is a citizen of the lake,

more than of the land itself.


The lake belongs to us,

reaching out towards

the St. Lawrence River,

craving the salt of sea

and then giving it up

in favour of something else—

a song about courage, protest,

and the protector who is

ahead by a century,

trailing stars in his wake.




When I started writing plays two years ago, in Playwrights’ Junction at the Sudbury Theatre Centre, I thought, “I’ll just give this a shot. See what happens.” It’s pretty much the way I approach my life these days. I’ll try anything if I think it might work, if I feel drawn to it, or compelled to take a risk that might pan out. So. Writing plays. A whole different kettle of fish. Here’s why I love (and sometimes hate) writing them:

I had one play, “Ghost of a Chance,” workshopped at the Sudbury Theatre Centre, back in 2016, as part of the Opening Acts series there. It was based on the ghost of Mrs. Bell at the Bell Mansion (now the Art Gallery of Sudbury). There weren’t rewrites, though, and it seemed rushed. The play I’m constantly working on, as it weaves itself into itself month by month, is “Sparrows Over Slag.” It’s the story of two voices, one woman in her twenties, and one woman in her forties. In effect, it’s about how a female evolves, grows from being a ‘girl’ into a ‘woman,’ sometimes without her even recognizing the transformation. (Still, if you’d told my twenty-something year old self that I was anything less than a real woman, I would have been defiant. Now, though, I can see I was just a girl, and I’m glad to be where I am now, certain and confident.  That kind of thing takes time, I think, and you can’t rush it.)

This is a play that spirals into and out of itself. Part of me knows that that is because I think that way, and live that way, so of course it would infiltrate my own dramatic structure, too, as I write. There are so many poetic images that, when my dramaturge mentioned it to me last week, listing them all to me scene by scene, I thought, “Oh, Jesus. It’s too much.” I see the world as a poet, so images are what I use to write prose (short stories and novels) and drama. The problem is that you can’t “tell.” You need to “show,” through action. So the question, for me, is how to make my images into actions for the character(s) I create for the stage. It’s a cerebral debate I’ve been having in the last week or two, as I re-think “Sparrows.”

For images:

-There is a young woman who takes a leaf for a walk. (I have a real ‘thing’ for trees in my own life, and it’s quite transparently trickled down into all genres of my writing). I’ll tell you why I love trees now, if you want to know. They are so unbelievably strong; even when the most traumatic storms whip at them, they bend and creak, moving with challenges and not breaking. Celtic art has always amazed me with its Tree of Life symbology, and the way that the ancient Celts used trees to indicate a sense of continuity and eternity, in how their branches were woven together. To be honest, I’m fonder of trees than people most days, and I’m happiest if you plunk me in the bush somewhere. (I’m not fond of bears, though, and, having been in a car that sideswiped one the other day, I can say hiking in Northern Ontario isn’t always ‘easy,’ but it’s always something I love to do anyway.)

-There is the woman who calls out the faeries in the middle of a dusky “West-Of-Ireland” road. (I absolutely believe in faeries, and I don’t care who knows it. As such, they also make their way into certain pieces of my writing. I’m always ready for the derisive teasing and bullying that comes, when you say, as an adult woman, that you believe in faeries and ghosts. For me, all of the elementals just prove that there are veils between worlds and dimensions. These things don’t frighten me. I was raised with Irish stories. I know that there are things we can’t explain, and they don’t really frighten me. For me, they are just part of the fabric of my life. I’ve seen ghosts, so that doesn’t make me nervous, either…)

-There are references to this landscape, with Sudbury street names and the Bell Mansion, as well as to the notion of empty Manitoulin island fields, snow angels, and split rail fences that can trap a person when you least expect it. There are also swings (because I love them, and bought a house with one that hangs from a grand maple tree) and birds.

-There are men, two, bookending the piece. One is young and ‘passing through,’ and that relationship hints at a young woman who’s been cheated on and then discarded. The other is in his early to mid-forties, trying to make a connection with a woman in a conversation about pressing flowers, and swings, and Great Lakes. (Despite what you think, love can make and break a woman’s heart a few times in a life, and that makes for a richer character to write, I think…)

-There is a part of the play that speaks to illness, mostly depression, and to people’s deaths, and how so much of life is loving people as deeply as possible, and then learning how to let them go with some kind of grace. I always go to C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed when I miss my parents, especially. I love what he wrote about love and grief. He says that we grieve people’s going in a way that equates to the amount of love we had for them in life. At some point, he says in this lovely but powerful little book, we find that the grief of loss transmutes itself into a sort of love. I like that. A lot.

There’s something fascinating, about seeing how you’ve evolved as a human, as a woman, that calls for writing to be done. I call it a ‘chrysalis making and a chrysalis breaking’ in “Sparrows.” I like that you can see echoes of your former self in your current one, but you can also see how you’ve blossomed from girl, to young woman, to woman. The richest part of the evolution is now, for me. No other part of my life has been as content, creative, or rewarding. I don’t know if other women feel that way, but I know I wouldn’t have known it, or even imagined it, in my twenties or even early thirties. Life teaches you things, and the further you go, the more you learn. (It sounds like a television after school special, but it’s true…)

What I love about writing plays, and I’m only a ‘baby playwright,’ as a friend in the business said to me, is that they evolve over time. This one is two years old. Three scenes are new to the world as of July of this year, and at least one is likely to be jettisoned based on what I heard at the workshop we did on Thursday night as part of Wordstock. When you hear actors read your work dramatically, you can suddenly figure out what should stay and what maybe shouldn’t. It lights up your work so you can assess it a bit. I find that fascinating. No other genre allows me to ‘play’ inside it quite so joyously. I also love the collaborative aspect of it, working with actors and directors, and dramaturges. Seeing and hearing your words somehow become embodied through actors on a stage is a bit magical. I love, too, that you just keep playing with drafts until you find the core of the play, until it reveals itself to you.

My goal is to spend next semester writing somewhere in Southwestern Ontario, near Windsor, I think. I want to focus on the first draft of my second novel, but I also want to keep at “Sparrows,” as well as another play I’ve got started.  I wrote more of that other play when I was down on Pelee Island in August. Lake Erie is a bit of magic for me as a writer. It might be the water, or the sky, or the birds, as well as the long walks and hikes under the most beautiful trees I’ve ever seen, but that landscape seems to help me write more quickly, and I feel drawn to it in an ancient sort of way. I’m keen to get started on these writing projects, to really settle into days where I can sink my teeth into moving through these pieces of work. It’s been busy being laureate, and I’m so grateful, but I’m a bit tired out, and I miss the time I need to write, especially since work has been very busy this semester. Big classes at the senior level mean a lot of planning and marking. Carving out time to do what I love is crucial. If I can’t write, I feel ill inside, as if I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Balance, for me, means dancing, walking, yoga, music, hiking, canoeing, reading, and writing…with dogs in tow.

I want to thank Lisa O’Connell, of Pat the Dog Theatre Creation, as well as Matt Heiti, Sarah Gartshore, Bill Sanders, and France Huot, for their help with “Sparrows” over the last few months. I know it’s not done, that it needs a lot more work, but I think it’s good at the core. I do. I think it has potential. It definitely has a voice, and wings…

…and wings…and swings…are both good things! (I’m a poet. Can you tell?!) 🙂





I have come to love canoeing this year. Losing weight has helped, I think. You go from a size 14 to a 10 in about a year and a half of hard work, and you learn that you are much physically stronger than you ever imagined. You can suddenly heft up a heavy canoe off the top of an SUV, and help your friend carry it down a hill to a lake, or yank it up onto a rock so that you can perch there for an hour, chat, and have lunch. On top of that new strength, though, you end up feeling much more graceful than you ever have before. You feel that you’re finally in your body, rather than just in your head. It’s been a journey, that’s for sure.

My dear friend, Jen, lives in the community of Atikameksheng Anishnawbek, just beyond the town of Lively. It’s a half hour drive out from where I live, near downtown Sudbury. The drive itself is really lovely, but once you get out there, well, your heart melts at the beauty of the land. Jen and her husband, John, have a canoe. We’ve gone out about a few times this summer and, each time, I am reminded of what the act of canoeing offers a person–from the inside out.

Until about two years ago, I was constantly worried and anxious. (It’s a bit like a vestigial tick that is left over from the major depression I suffered when my parents were dying and I was the main caregiver). In the last two years, I’ve made a conscious decision to not be fearful, to take risks when I otherwise would have just curled up into a fetal position. Coming into yourself is an amazing journey. I don’t care what other people think, I feel calm in my thoughts and words, and certain where I was always so uncertain before. It’s allowed me to envision a life where I’m not bound by a specific place or town or job. It’s allowing me to imagine a life that might bloom into something new, especially in terms of career and where I might live. (My leave from teaching in February will hopefully help me to sort these things out. I want to write in a different place, somewhere not in the north, to see how geography and place influence and shift the content and style of my writing. I have faith the leave will help me to redirect myself because I intend to enter into that experience of exploration fully.)

The canoeing this summer has taught me a few things that relate to life lessons:

A) You can learn and practice skills, even if you think you might not be as capable as someone else, or if you think you are uncoordinated. I had rowed on Ramsey Lake back in my 20s, so I knew I was comfortable being on the water, but I had had one bad canoeing experience about ten years ago, with a friend who just didn’t seem to enjoy canoeing. It felt arduous and not at all joyful. This reintroduction to canoeing, with Jen’s help, has caused me to become quite addicted to it. Tell me that you want to go canoeing with me and I’ll jump up and down a little bit. I can’t think of a nicer way to spend a day, unless it’s a hike in the bush somewhere.

B) You can learn to work with another person, to trust another person, rather than to feel that so much of everything is up to you alone. When you’re an introvert, as I am, and a fairly quiet and creative person, as I am, you sometimes forget how to trust that others will help (and not hurt) you. I trust Jen to steer, but now I know –almost intuitively– when she needs a hand or what I should do to help out from the bow. I like that I don’t have to think as much now, when we go out together, that I can trust my sense of intuition and balance to know what I should do to help steer…especially when we go deep into cattails and try to see if there is a way between lakes. I like that I know I can trust someone else now, that I can use my personal strength to work collaboratively with a friend to move a canoe through the water. I think I’ve transferred that lesson to my own life, too, but that’s a work in progress…as always.

C) You can learn to relax and float a bit. (Historically, I have not been a floater. I have always worked hard, a lesson my father taught me, and I have always had goals, and I am stubborn in too many ways.) Canoeing has taught me to trust the water. If you learn and practice the skills of paddling, you can trust that the water will hold that canoe, that it will cradle the canoe (and you!) and take you to places you hadn’t ever imagined. Yesterday, for example, we paddled right up to a beaver lodge. I was ecstatic! You can’t imagine how it feels to be four feet away from a beaver lodge when you’ve only ever seen them from the roadside next to a northern lake. They are beautiful, so well made and bigger up close.

D) You can learn that sometimes you don’t need to know where you’re going in life. This is a big, big lesson for me. My parents were always too strict and over-protective, so it’s taken me some time to grieve their deaths, but also to overthrow their fearful philosophies of life. I know, for now, that I teach in a formal high school structure, but I feel that I’ll shift from that sooner rather than later. If you’d told me I’d have thought this even three years ago, I would have shaken my head vehemently. I was still too rooted in fear, then. I had grand plans of moving into Guidance and Administration, but now my writing is more important. Before, I was too linear and cerebral. I was fearful of exploration. I’ve come to a place where I can realize that, if you find yourself ‘stuck,’ you can simple readjust your canoe and take a new route. You can start off having a plan to move from one lake to another, looking for wolves, moose, and elk as you paddle along shorelines, but you may not see them.  You may also find, when you finally get to the place where you should be able to move between two lakes, that the local beavers have built a dam there, to fiddle with water levels and make their homes safer.  So, you can shift life plans and routes: it takes time to adjust, of course, but it’s all very possible. Being open to possibilities is a new thing for me. It’s exciting.

E) You can learn, too, from disappointment. This past week has been a hard one for me. I’ve learned, again, that people can’t always be depended upon, and that you can’t always trust as openly as I do. I always think that they will be dependable, but I know now that that’s because I am dependable. (You can’t always assume or expect that someone operates from the same sort of moral and ethical place as you do…or that they share similar philosophies of life…even if you’ve known them for decades. And you can’t believe that, just because you’ve known them for years, they will be there for you. I’ve learned that this week, from someone I’ve known for ages, and it’s caused me great pain. But I’m learning from that pain, so I know I was meant to have that experience…again.)

The thing, then, is for me to discern whether or not a person like that can be trusted, can be depended upon to be a supportive person in my life. How do you decide whether you can trust, or whether you can be vulnerable with a person, or whether they will hurt you without a single passing thought? I’m working through that right now, and it’s painful because it’s someone I’ve known for years and years…so I’m wobbly…and I’m turtling…and my heart is sore and a bit shocked. I am fighting against pulling in and turtling, but it’s rippled out into other parts of my life…in seeing what roles other people play…and the lesson feels like a big one. Figure it’ll take some time…but the canoeing helps me to remember that I can trust landscape, and nature, sometimes, more than I can trust humans with my heart.

F) You can learn that it’s all right to be full of wonder when you see a fish jump to the surface of a lake, creating ripples in a concentric way; or when you shout out with joy when you see a “V” of geese sweeping across an afternoon sky while you’re out on the water; or when you watch a dragonfly sweep across in front of you and land on a nearby rock. Finding images of wonder is a way to bring light into your life, I think. It’s just being mindful, being poetic (maybe), and for me, being myself. It roots me firmly into myself, as I connect to something greater, something that speaks to me through landscape and the natural world.

This new love of canoeing, then, has taught me a great deal this year. I’m stronger than I thought, more in love with the wilderness of water, rocks, trees, and sky, than I ever thought possible. I love canoeing out to little islands and then swimming off the edges of them, so I feel as if I’m entering a painting. If I could reincarnate right now, I’d choose to be a tree, perched on the edge of a rock overlooking some waterway in this country.  I’d be the poem of the wilderness, giving and receiving energy from some greater creative force. But, for now, I’m just me, so I’ll root down like a tree, take up the space I’m meant to, breathe in and out, and be centred, calm, and creative, knowing it’s all for my soul’s growth, even if it can be a bit sharp sometimes.

Here are some photos from yesterday’s trip…IMG_5900.JPGIMG_5926 (1).JPGIMG_5933.JPGIMG_5942 (2).JPG

peace, friends.









I am always so thankful to Markus Schwabe (at CBC Morning North) for the times he’s had me on the morning show to speak about the things I’m most passionate about…mostly poetry, literacy initiatives, and why we should encourage parents and kids to read and write poetry.

Here’s the link to that interview, if you’d like to listen.  You can also order a copy of the new book via my website, by going to the Books page and clicking on the cover image.  🙂  The website URL is simple…it’s just  http://www.kimfahner.com