The Guest Poetry Blog Series #4 – Introducing the Fourth Contributor, Canadian Poet and Teacher, Juleta Severon-Baker – Part One of Two

Canadian Poet and Teacher Juleta Severson-Baker

My Wild Body

happiness of the world
came to me again.
My body effervesces,
I think with my body which effervesces.

-Anna Swir, trans. Czeslaw Milosz &  Leonard Nathan

At 15, all the happiness of the world
was a horse and my best jeans, halter in hand
and boots with a one inch heel, every morning
a July morning in the foothills; the sun unfurled nothing
but promise over each day. Girl heart, horse heart
who could say whose was more huge?

Woman heart, man’s, your hand on my back
reveals old pain where the old camp horse bucked
me off, vertebrae smashed. Evenings now we sit around
and age and call it love while our bodies remember risk
and ache a little. But I am the same girl at heart and wildness
comes to me

again. I think and I am. Riding at dawn
hard down a cutline, alone
but for time-lapse grass growing
a never-newer sun, rushes slowly offering
seeds to the breeze. I am finite. Nevertheless,
my body effervesces.

I was meant for horses,
the scent of them, hay sweet and yeses.
Lub-dub is hoof beat and horizon,
heartbeats connected. Time is a trick of lonely so
I think with my body which effervesces.

Juleta Severson-Baker, 2022, from her upcoming  book ‘Antecedent’, Frontenac House Press, fall 2023)

Hello, Recovering Words readers! I’m so happy to have been invited by Richard to write for his richness of a blog. This week I’ll introduce myself and in my next blog post I’ll introduce another poet – Tenille K. Campbell.

So…who am I, where am I, what has created and shaped my poet self?

I situate myself in the milieu of art-makers who turn to their very bodies and the personal histories lived therein for whispers of muse. Coupling introspection (which I experience best as a physical process, as body-spection, if you will) with a close listening to the friendly voices of birds, the secret language of wind, the abiding mysteries of rock and the wriggly chatter of little creatures in the soil and you have some idea of from whence words come to me.

I grew up as a city girl in the suburbs of Calgary, Alberta in the 1970s. Descended from Norwegian farmers and English labourers – chauffeurs and mechanics – who worked for the landed gentry, I heard stories of my Dad’s childhood on a Saskatchewan farm, and my maternal Grandfather’s days hunting rabbits around his English village in the years between the world wars and romanticized their connection with the natural world. Truly, I longed for a life in the country. I ran and danced around a soccer field near my house at dusk imagining I was Laura Ingalls Wilder playing on a midwestern prairie with no neighbours in sight. As soon as I could, I cajoled my parents into paying for horseback riding lessons. While on horseback I felt ecstatically at home in my wild body.
Read More »

How Fiercely Have You Loved Your Days? The Searing and yet Uplifting Latest Poetry Collection by Susan Musgrave

Canadian poet Susan Musgrave and her new poetry collection: Exculpatory Lilies

POSTSCRIPT
SEPTEMBER 14th, 2022

The day you are cremated, a girl modelling a black hoodie
like the one I’ve chosen for you to wear, lights up my Facebook page:
I survived because the fire inside me burned brighter than the fire
around me. I hear you laugh at the irony as they fire up the retort,
a laugh dragged through the ashes of a thousand cigarettes, tokes
of crack, my sweet dangerous reckless girl, what could I do
but weep, the way I did when you were four, butting out
a Popeye candy cigarette you scored from the boy next door
for showing him your vagine through the split cedar fence.
I told you, next time baby, hold out for the whole pack, trying
to be brave, the way only a mother could. Now I carry you home
in a plain cedar urn, the remains of all you were reduced
to this smaller, portable size. Not even you could survive
the fire this time, your light in ashes now,

Susan Musgrave from Exculpatory Lilies, MCClelland & Stewart, 2022

A mother’s extraordinary ability to name what is so awful to name. Addiction and a death of a beloved daughter. A death, so often dreaded, that finally arrived. The searing beauty of these lines:

….Not even you could survive
the fire this time, your light in ashes now.

A little more than a year ago, with great sadness,  I wrote a blog post honouring Sophie Musgrave, the subject of the poem above, who had recently died of an accidental drug overdose. Sophie is the daughter of Susan Musgrave,  truly, one of Canada’s keystone poets of her or any generation.  I do not say this lightly.  Musgrave is one of our greats. And she just launched (Oct. 29th, 2022) her latest poetry collection, Exculpatory Lilies, in Haida Gwaii, where she lives and runs a famous guest house.

Her book: a cry of grief and sorrow but much more. A woman living each breath, fiercely,  as she says in a poem, loving her days. Imagine, as I do as I write this, a woman standing on a rugged Hadai Gwaii beach, drenched in rain, her hands raised to a pouring sky, yelling: and yet and yet I live, I am here!

Read More »

The Poetic Heart of the Columnist and Scientist Yangyang Cheng. How She Captures The Fraught Spirit of Our Time

Chinese American Columnist and Scientist Yangyang Cheng

A Found Poem

I cannot recall

when I entered a state

of perpetual mourning. I grieve

for the country I left

with no certain prospect

of return, the direction

it’s heading in, the plight

of the world, the foreclosed possibilities. Sorrow

tears into my organs

and gnaws at my bones.

But what I fear more

than pain is numbness:

to give in to the powers that be, and give up

on imagining otherwise.

Yangyang Cheng from The Guardian, Tuesday, October 25th, 2022

A scientist with a poet’s heart. And a woman who captures the spirit of our time is such a heart-wrenching way! Or at least that is how I experience the Chinese American scientist and columnist, Yangyang Cheng. What a discovery when I read her recent Guardian column this week. There she refers to Xi Jinping’s custom-breaking third term as China’s supreme leader and reflects on what it means to the world and to her, someone who left China many years ago. And in that reflection I came across the lines I took the liberty of lineating into a poem.

I was struck on the breastbone by her words. Not just on China but the world. And how, too, I have been mourning so many things. Extreme climate, a rise of autocracies and iron-fisted rulers and on and on. How this scientist makes so real the fears that assail me daily and how I so need to be reminded not to go numb.

Read More »

The Guest Poetry Blog Series # 3 – Canadian Poet Tonya Lailey Features U.K. Poet Naomi Jaffa – Part Two of Two

U.K. poet Naomi Jaffa. Photo Credit: The Poetry Society

Poem for Wednesday

Oh, humpback of the week,
yardstick of productivity,
all to play for, seesaw pivot
of possibility. Is your gaze
holding mine for fractionally
longer than necessary
a sign of desire or disgust?
Will we even make it
to the weekend together?

Sometimes, Wednesday.
I wonder why I bother.

But then again it’s market day
in town, Matt and his fish van
are back – fresh from brain surgery,
his scalp fuzzy with new growth –
and here are plump scallops
glistening on their bed of ice,
and oh Wednesday, I think,
come on, let’s go for it,
let’s be lavish and splash out.

Naomi Jaffa (1961 -) from Driver, Garlic Press, 2017

So much to say about the UK based poet Naomi Jaffa. But first how I discovered her! Through her rockin’ poem above, posted by Anthony Wilson on his charmingly intermittent blog, Lifesaving Poems. I originally discovered Wilson’s blog when looking up Derek Mahon’s poem, Everything is Going to Be Alright. So, I came to Jaffa’s poems via a trip of serendipities – the best way in my mind. To see Anthony’s website and blog please click here.

Naomi Jaffa was born in London, U.K., majored in English at Oxford and was in classical music management before  joining the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in 1993 where she was director of the festival for many years and also a director of its parent organization, the Poetry Trust, until 2015. Currently she is the co-founder of Poetry People, a new organisation set up to run the Suffolk Young Poets Competition and other community projects. With so much of her focus on the poetry of others she has only published two poetry chapbooks: Driver in 2017 and The Last Hour of Sleep from Five Leaves Publications in 2004.

So what is it  about Poem for Wednesday that so struck me? It’s the simple, quirky address of the draggy middle-of-the-week day. I’ve always disliked the term “hump day”. Jaffa makes it a humpback and I hear whale and hunchback and I’m listening. It’s, also, the surrender. Her way of saying, here I am, it’s Wednesday and I’m doing my best, being as open as I can, talking to what’s before me. And the speaker is clear that she doesn’t quite know what to make of this Wednesday character. What a question: Is your gaze….a sign of desire or disgust? This tack feels honest, not striving for anything specific – always a good place to write from.

I love the ease and humour in the question: Will we even make it / to the weekend together? It’s true, we don’t know what’s next. And, wait, is the speaker dating Wednesday? Why would Wednesday be going with her, all the way to the weekend? Jaffa introduces this odd possibility – so great! – and gets me thinking about my own relationships with the days of the week. But it’s the turn in the third stanza that presses on my chest. The speaker wondering why she bothers.

Read More »

The Guest Poetry Blog Series #3 – Introducing the Third Contributor, Canadian Poet and Sommelier, Tonya Lailey – Part One of Two

Calgary-based Canadian poet Tonya Lailey

The Cat Comes to Me

—after Heather McHugh

The future looks like death to me from here
standing behind you, in the musty basement
where the cat is cornered.

You think on your feet, quickly
engineer a noose from a sponge mop and silicone rope –
medieval design, cheap modern materials.

The cat protests wildly, we call it crazy and laugh,
but it knows its boundaries. Instinctively,
it knows this is cruel.

I ask you to wait, to let the cat be calm,
to approach it later, gently, with kindness.
I do it later myself, alone in the house.

The cat comes to me easily,
I hold it for a bit,
then give it out to the neighbourhood night,

quietly out,
like I had been wanting to do
and would much later, finally.

Tonya Lailey, 2015

I came, truly, to poetry on my knees in my forties, having forgotten a lot about myself, having lost the belief that I could love what I loved, could live that way. I was in a week-long program at a drug and alcohol recovery center: the Discovery Program at Cedars at Cobble Hill in B.C. I went there to begin to learn to recover from my addiction to the addict in my life – my former husband, the father of my two daughters.

Here I met others in similar states of codependence, bearing broken relationships with themselves and others. I also met a man with wild, curly white-grey hair, dramatic arms and a regular HA! that leapt from him with the punch of a Pop Rock’s explosion. His whole being seemed to bounce – with joy and love for what he was doing. What he was doing was sharing poetry and providing the encouragement and safe space for us to write our own poems, an exercise that might encourage our healing. This man, HA!, was Richard Osler.

The epigraph poem above is the main one I wrote in that session with Richard during the week of November 29, 2015. The poem still makes me cry, which tells me how much work it did and is still doing for me. It was the first poem I had written in probably ten years and one of the few I had written at all.

Richard’s prompt was a line – the last one – from Heather McHugh’s fabulous poem: From 20,000 Feet. That line: The future looked like death to it, from there. I adapted that line at the time for my purposes. Here is Heather’s poem:

From 20,000 Feet

The cloud formation looks
Like banks of rock from here,
though rock and cloud are thought

so opposite. Earth’s underlying nature
might be likeness – likeness
everywhere disguised

by wave-length, amplitude and frequency.
(If we got far enough away, could we
decipher the design?) From here

so much goes by
too fast or slow for sight.
(Is death a stretch of time in which

a life is just a flash?) Whatever
we may think, we only
think that we will lose. The foetus,

expert at attachment, didn’t dream that
cramped canal would open

into sound and light and love –
it clung. It didn’t care. The future
looked like death to it, from there.

Heather McHugh (1948 -) from Hinge & Sign, Wesleyan University Press, 1994. (McHugh, a much celebrated American poet, nominated for both the Pulitzer Prize and a National book Award has written thirteen books of poetry, essays and translations. She also won a Griffin Poetry Prize in 2002 for her co-translation of the poems of Paul Celan and in 2009 was awarded a prestigious US $500,000 MacArthur fellowship or so-called genius grant.)

Read More »

The Guest Poetry Blog Series # 2 – Daniel Scott Features Canadian BIPOC Poet Chantal Gibson – Part Two of Two

Canadian poet Chantal Gibson with her visual art in the background. Photo Credit: k.-b.-kadanoff

( EDITOR’S NOTE: Please excuse the distortions in some of the photographed images of Chantal’s poems in this blog post.)

Chantal Gibson from with/holding, Caitlin Press, 2021

Although we have a rich and vibrant poetry community in Canada with voices from a wide range of social locations, perspectives and poetic genres represented, we do not have a significant media presence to bring these voices to a national audience. We do not seem to have a national sense of poets – with a few notable exceptions.  Poets and poetry are regional and local. It is great strength but also a weakness. It does mean we have a lot of poets writing and being heard by their regional audience but we do not have a vibrant national interplay of voices.

My first challenge in writing this guest blog post was to decide whose work from my stacks of poetry books would I  present?  My choice: Chantal Gibson and her break-the-mold 2021 poetry collection with/holding with its innovative use of unusual layouts and design. And, also, because of the focus of this book and her visual art as she describes below from her website:

Working in the overlap between literary and visual art, her work confronts colonialism head on, imagining the BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and People of Colour] voices silenced in the spaces and omissions left by cultural and institutional erasure.

Read More »

The Guest Poetry Blog Series #2 – Introducing the Second Contributor, Canadian Poet (Among Many Other Varied Life Roles!) Daniel Scott– Part One of Two

Victoria-based poet Daniel Scott at Lake Bolsena, Lazio, Italy, May 2022

Please allow me to introduce myself” sang the Rolling Stones a long time ago. And so here is some background on me: Daniel Scott. I am husband ( married to Christine) father, grandfather and twice retired – once as an academic and the second time after a stint of 6 years as Artistic Director of the Planet Earth Poetry reading series in Victoria.

I have been writing poetry for decades and can honestly say it has saved my life more than once. The first time, in my early thirties, I had a bad case of glandular fever (mononucleosis) and was overwhelmed with repetitive dreams. When I was down to ten hours a day sleeping (from eighteen plus hours) I bought a little notebook and started to write. Out came poetry in a steady stream – as many as six poems a day. What a relief to get so much from inside out on the page. I have been writing on a regular basis since then.

The second time poetry saved my life was when one of our children faced serious psychiatric challenges in Europe and I wrote myself through the journey initially and then over the years. Here is one of those poems:
Read More »

S Is For Snake – A Poem by Terry Ann Carter in the Voice of the Virtuoso Artist Niki de Saint Phalle.

Franco-American  artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) with one of her characteristic snake images.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Alphabet of Tarot

(from the Diary of Niki de Saint Phalle)

All day I have been in my body.
At night my skull. The architecture
of my mind is a building of letters.
Flying, lying low, on its side

A V represents a bird.
The tarot totems are pulsing
in my veins. I will slash them
to set them free.

A finch has landed on the feeder.
Please come and look. It is
the last rain of spring, and I desire
fire, earth, air and water.

Major and minor arcana.
When the apricots first bloom
on this Tuscan hillside, my thoughts
turn to kings, the letter F is a fool,

my prince of darkness. The sculptures
will glint golden in sunlight
reflect like pieces of mirror. I will bring
my coffee and converse with Jung.

The letter S is a snake.

Terry Ann Carter from First I Fold the Mountain – A Love Letter To Books,  Black Moss Press, 2022

I was astonished and delighted when I found the poem above in First I Fold The Mountain, the latest full-length poetry collection (2022) by Victoria-based poet Terry Ann Carter. (For a previous blog post on Terry Ann please click here.)

Terry Ann was part of the La Romita online retreat ( as participant and paper artist faciltator) I facilitated in 2020 (the planned in-country retreat at the La Romita School of Art was cancelled due to Covid-19) and one of our retreat adventures was based on the art, especially the celebrated Tarot Garden, of Niki de Saint Phalle. If we had made it to Italy in 2020 one of our likely destinations was that extraordinary garden! (For a summary of my La Romita 2017 retreat in Italy featuring a trip to the Tarot Garden please click here.)
Read More »

They Would Write About It!!! – A Tribute to Sharon Olds and Muriel Rukeyser

American poet Sharon Olds. Photo Credit: Poetry Society of America

Physician

You sit at the head of the table. You say
you have wanted to write about— not depression,
it is worse than that, it is rock bottom:
the frightfulness.
             People don’t like
to hear about it, you say to a friend.
People don’t like to read about it,
he answered—
and then you knew that you would
write about it.
            Tonight you are wearing
a knot over your breastbone, tied in
tiger-colored silk. Your eyes are not
shining. They are deep in your face white as a rock.
you believe in the healing power of the words,
you turn to each as she speaks, he speaks,
until we are holding speech together like hands
around the hard table in the difficult night.

Sharon Olds from A Student’s Memoir of Muriel Rukeyser, from They Say This, Poetry East, Numbers 47 & 48, 1999, p. 195-214. Also from By Herself: Women Reclaim Poetry, ed. Molly McQuade, Graywolf Press, 2000

I will have more to say about the much celebrated American poet Sharon Olds and this poem celebrating the remarkable human being and poet Muriel Rukeyser, but to say here: how she captures the power of sharing poetry in a group, poetry from an earlier assignment or written in the group on the spot. How poetry can build a warm and intimate community through sharing words, especially those new and less guarded ones. These lines:

you believe in the healing power of the words,
you turn to each as she speaks, he speaks,
until we are holding speech together like hands
around the hard table in the difficult night.

In my poetry therapy circles so often how the new words from on-the-spot poems created group cohesion and understanding and dare I say healing as raw and intimate words were shared out loud. So often a healing for the reader and those being read to. How our circles were like this circle described by Olds as we would hold speech together like hands/ around the table in the difficult night. And how often I would share this poem! I know some poet teachers do not like inviting on-the-spot poems to be written. With great respect to them and their experience, I am not one of those. I first leanrned on-the-spot writing from my mentor and friend, the great Canadian poet Patrick Lane.

I was shocked to discover this morning I had never featured Sharon Olds in a blog post. She was an early guiding light in my first years of beginning my own poet’s journey. Her startling intimacies in her poetry including her sexual and bodily candor gave permission to so many other poets to bring more of themselves into their poems. Her 2016 volume, Odes, covers many subjects perhaps thought improper for poetry in past times but not now! Poems such as Ode to the Hymen, Ode to the Tampon, Ode to the Clitoris and one so appropriate to our time: Ode to My Whiteness.
Read More »

From May 2022, The La Romita 2020 Online Poetry Community’s Kaminsky Prompt Poems – Part Four

A still picture from the puppet show, Deaf Republic, performed by Maribor Puppet Theatre, Maribor, Solvenia. Next performance, Sept. 11th, 2022

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A City Like a Guillotine Shivers on Its Way to the Neck

— Ilya Kaminsky from A City Like a Guillotine Shivers
on its Way to the Neck
from Deaf Republic, Graywolf Press, 2019

it is a matter of physics,
mechanics
weight, acceleration, impact
the sharpness of the edge
the softness of tissue
the fragility of bone

it is all science
cold and impassionate
impersonal
but even the blade
in its steel
knows it deals
death

the mechanics may be
sophisticated
electronic, lethal
but there will be
bodies broken
someone will grieve
blood will be shed

war is not a matter
at distance
but intimate
no matter how
it is delivered

somebody builds
the bombs
somebody fires
the weapons

when the place of living –
city, town, village, farm
becomes a theatre
for death
trembling and sorrow
like a river in flood
black, cold,
seep in
wash over
wash away
the cloak of civility
lay cruelty bare

Daniel Scott, May, 2022

Preface to the Series: The La Romita 2020 Online Poetry Community’s Kaminsky Prompt Poems

In June 2020 a group of poets gathered on-line for a week’s generative poetry retreat that I facilitated. Most of the poets had been registered for a ten-day poetry retreat at the La Romita School of Art which was cancelled because of the pandemic. Thus, the La Romita 2020 Online Retreat community was formed and subsequently most, but not all, of those poets have gathered three or four times a year to share poems inspired by prompts suggested by the La Romita 2020 Online participants. (There were three on-site-in-Italy retreats that I led before 2020 and the fourth one was held this past May.)

One of the recent La Romita Online poetry prompt challenges came a month or so after the beginning of the war in Ukraine in late February 2022. That challenge was based on lines chosen by Calgary-based poet Joan Shillington from the Ukrainian/American poet Ilya Kaminsky’s 2019 poetry collection, Deaf Republic published by Graywolf Press. To see a link to my review of Deaf Republic in The Literary Review please click here.

Read More »