My Poetry Retreat in Umbria a Week Away! But First: A Poem from Last Year by Tonya Lailey

La Romita School of Art, Terni, Umbria


her soul goes ahead to Umbria
a slow traveller
on horseback
by boat
in turns

sends a note home
after a few days

don’t worry
I’ve prepared a place for you
there’s a hook for your coral necklace
a bedside perch for your notebook
a casement window
open to a line
for drying your clothes

a few things to keep in mind…
one pair of shoes is all you need to cover your feet
cotton breathes best
you’ll want a hat
maybe cecil and wide-brimmed

when she arrives months later
she smells like where she is
sounds in local frequencies
cycles with daylight

but there are small rhythms
to learn

the last ups
and downs
of riding
to shed

Tonya Lailey, 2017, Unpublished, with permission

It begins in almost a week, my sold-out ten day poetry retreat, Poetry en Plein Air – Catching Fire – in Umbria at the La Romita School of Art. I am thrilled to be going back. Poetry and Italy in October, a wonderful combination.

My prep is now done and I look forward to re-visiting all the writing adventures I have planned. But what I hadn’t planned was to find some of the poems written by last year’s retreatants for the pre-retreat writing adventure. What a delight. Last year’s adventure was based on a writing a poem of instruction and appropriately one of the template poems was Lorna Crozier’s great poem: Packing for the Future: Instructions. (See below).

Calgary Poet, Tonya Lailey

Tonya Lailey’s poem above is so indicative of the imagination and craft that went into all of last year’s pre-retreat poems. But the way she (the narrator) imagines her soul going ahead to prepare the space for her so she feels at home once she arrives, caught me off guard once again. The tenderness of the soul going on ahead to check things out. Outrider. Yes. And such a surprise that Tonya didn’t use the “Instructions” theme in her poem. That her poem wanted another way in.

This is a gentle poem but also surprising. The soul on a slow trip. By horse and boat. The soul writing home. And then, for me, the most chewy surprise:


when she arrives months later
she smells like where she is
sounds in local frequencies
cycles with daylight

but there are small rhythms
to learn

the last ups
and downs
of riding
to shed

What a wonderful sense of gentle dislocation as the narrator has to catch up bodily to her soul and its new rhythms it discovered while it was away! Oh, I hope this year’s retreatants have sent their souls on ahead! That they too, will arrive and smell like where they are.

Tonya, based in Calgary, re-caught the poetry bug a few years ago. And I am glad she did.And I am grateful for her permission to use her poem.

Now Lorna’s poem:

Packing for the Future: Instructions

Take the thickest socks.
Wherever you’re going
you’ll have to walk.

There may be water.
There may be stones.
There may be high places
you cannot go without
the hope socks bring you,
the way they hold you
to the earth.

At least one pair must be new,
must be blue as a wish
hand-knit by your mother
in her sleep.


Take a leather satchel,
a velvet bag an old tin box –
a salamander painted on the lid.

That is to carry that small thing
you cannot leave. Perhaps the key
you’ve kept though it doesn’t fit
any lock you know,
the photograph that keeps you sane,
a ball of string to lead you out
though you can’t walk back
into that light.

In your bag leave room for sadness,
leave room for another language.

There may be doors nailed shut.
There may be painted windows.
There may be signs that warn you
to be gone Take the dream
you’ve been having since
you were a child, the one
with open fields and the wind


Mistrust no one who offers you
water from a well, a songbird’s feather,
something that’s been mended twice.
Always travel lighter
than the heart.

Lorna Crozier from The Blue Hour of the Day, McClelland & Stewart, 2004


  1. Donna Friesrn
    Posted September 28, 2018 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Sooo inspiring to “hear” this beautiful poem again!
    Thank you Tonya and Richard for posting it!

  2. Richard Osler
    Posted September 28, 2018 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    Donna: Your poem as well such a keeper. And I get to hear your new poem in a few days. So thrilled you are coming back. I am excited….!

  3. Frances Warner
    Posted September 28, 2018 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Dear Richard

    I’ll be thinking of you and your gang in Umbria. Wish I could join you. Have fun and write with loose pens.


  4. Richard Osler
    Posted September 28, 2018 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Dear Frances: I’m so remiss! Your Ilya notes, perfect. I have additions but if you could see my office (much obscured by paper and books) you might understand. So added to my trip having you with us in Port T. Somae and I drove back there in September and the good memories came back! Sending writerly fondest best wishes!

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