Art Changes You – Guest Poetry Blog # 10 – Introducing the Latest Contributor, Canadian Poet Arleen Paré – Part One of Two

Canadian poet Arleen Paré


    from Heart's Arrow

    on the ceiling   the Sistine Chapel
    that tap   finger zap
    that divine big bang iconic connection
		    by which I mean

    art’s arrow flies in one direction

    you don’t change art
    art changes you

    Arleen Paré from The Girls With Stones Faces, Brick Books, 2017


Art changes you. And it can help make sense of huge changes in a life like the one Arleen Paré experienced when she came out as a lesbian decades ago. How her art, her poetry, as she says below, helped her write herself out of sorrow from the impact of that change on her family life. What Arleen doesn’t say in her poem above is that art takes courage. It is what art so often demands of us. And Arleen is up to that demand as shown in her previous nine books (her tenth is forthcoming from Caitlin Press later this year).

In 2022, in her most recent poetry collection Time Out of Time Arleen paid direct homage to Time, the winner of the 2020 International Griffin Poetry Prize written by the celebrated lesbian Lebanese-American poet and painter Etel Adnan who died in Paris in 2021, aged ninety six.

Arleen’s homage braids so much of Etel’s life and Arleen’s together in Time Out of Time and celebrates the sexual preference they shared but also highlights the prejudices against that lifestyle that still exist and worse, the draconian laws against that lifestyle that can result in the death penalty. Recent crackdowns in Russia against the gay and lesbian community and  the recent law passed in Uganda that makes homosexual acts punishable by death brings particular poignant relevance to Arleen’s poem A Blessing from Time Out of Time. Here’s an excerpt:

years asking for the common privilege of benefits   workplace
same sex   services denied   we are lesbians   we are small women
and the world does not care if we are friendly or kind   we do not
hold hands in the park  we do not kiss goodbye in the car
we are not what we are supposed to be   but this is Canada
this is what a blessing is   this is not a country where the death penalty
might apply

And a blessing that Arleen can live happily in Victoria with her wife of many years, Chris Fox. And that my daughter Tella can live happily, also in Victoria, with her partner Molly.

I met Arleen sometime around 2012 at a Patrick Lane poetry retreat. We discovered at that time we both had manuscripts that were finalist for publication by acclaimed Canadian poetry publisher Brick Books. Not only was Arleen’s book picked by Brick it won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry in 2016! And happily that was the same year my manuscript was published by Quattro Books of Toronto! If at first you don’t succeed….

It is such a pleasure and privilege to have Arleen share her poetry journey here. And how poetry continues to be such a powerful source in her life. Two poetry collections published back to back, last year and later this year. And with her sister she co-edited  an anthology Don’t Tell: Family Secrets, published in early 2023.

Arleen’s second post on a featured poet of her choice for this guest poetry blog series will be coming a in a few weeks. Stay tuned at and Facebook. Now Arleen’s own words.


The poem above that introduces my fifth poetry collection, The Girls with Stone Faces, makes a claim that some might dispute, but one whose sentiment I still trust: the power of art, any day, any place. This art, artful beauty — and kindness, of course, and people, I still credit with my recovery from the work-a-day world; together, they make my life worth living. I am in my seventh decade, I should know. I’ve had time to think about it and to write about it, though I didn’t begin writing until my fifth decade (almost). I could be Grandma Moses.

I realize I have omitted to mention nature in this recovery list, but I believe that nature is part, is the base. How could there be art without nature? And although nature is essential, as we are, given that we are a part of nature, nature is not what humans do, not part of human activity: nature is what we are. It is human nature to make art, to be kind, to accompany each other.

Further, and in the interests of poetry’s artful claims, Stephane Mallarme writes, “There is nothing but beauty, “— and beauty has only one perfect expression, Poetry. All the rest is a lie.” A strong statement, to be sure, a clear preference on his part, and perhaps not quite accurate. Many might argue for painting or sculpture, but I am hardly the one to dispute his claim.

Lorine Niedeker writes, “a tough game, art, / humanity’s other part.” And I am made to wonder what the other other part of humanity is then, the part she believes juxtaposes art. The day-to-day, I suppose. Or perhaps the life of work. Perhaps we all want, even need, something besides toil, besides the day-to-day.

I worked as a social worker for decades, and in my last years of that work, I was involved directly in its bureaucracy, having risen in my chosen profession into the bureaucratic administrative ranks. Then, desperate to retire, I started to write (directly after enjoying writing an MA thesis – it’s a long story), and I wrote about my work. I joke that I wrote myself out of my job. I had been counting down the days left until I could retire. If I hadn’t started writing, would I have never been able to retire? That writing, a mix of poetry and prose, became my salvation, became my first book, Paper Trail. Not right away of course, the style was too mixed for many publishers, and I was too new, but eventually, in 2007, it was published by NeWest Press.

When I go I will not look back.  No pillars of salt.
This is about time and money and counting.  Serious.
		 Even now counting down.
		 Ticking off each day calendar day.
About work, which is only for the fittest, which in me is only partial. I am only partially fit. 
Parts of me in secret. Sitting on a chain-link fence. Thinking about my Swiss Army watch. Thinking about my bank
 account. . .the chain link fence. How it swings.
                                          Let this stand as my attempt
                                                   to record my time
                                             wandering in this officious bewilderness.
                                                  My belly full of days.

Arleen Paré from Paper Trail, NeWest Press, 2007

These words (this quasi poem), were my first attempt to transform myself into a writer, a poet, and leave bureaucracy behind. As necessary and worthy as that good work was, it was also, for me, tedious and stressful. And full of bureaucratic dread. I had worked there for so many years. Paper Trail won the Victoria Butler Book Prize.

For the Record (from He leaves His Face in the Funeral Car)

   Anna Probyn, 16, escapes father’s hands through the Admissions door of Essondale, stays
   on locked ward sixty years.  Forgets every word she ever learned.

   Claudia Clyde, 32, leaves a downtown hotel through a seventh story window, leaves three
   haranguing voices in the room. Her legs on the sidewalk.

   Shirley Oaten, 47, crosses First Avenue against the red light, looking straight ahead,
   handbag in hand, transistor radio somewhere at the bottom. Four lanes of traffic,
   fingertips burnt orange.  Makes it to the middle. 

   For the record, Anna’s handshake was a silken flag.

   Sandra Baxter, 29, places herself on her boyfriend’s sofa, switches on the electric carving knife,
   holds it hard against her throat. Boyfriend out for a pack of cigarettes, a bag of taco chips.  

   Paul Needham, 23, crosses two highways – Riverview to Port Mann Bridge — leaves Port
   Mann Bridge at the upper crest, drops thirty storeys. Water like cement.

   Shirley strode through time like a northern elk.  Her brother did not attend the service.

   Paul Needham, sweet-faced, moved through the wards like the Paraclete.

   Jane Poole, 35, refuses food, loses hair, refuses friends, loses teeth, loses kidney function.
   Loses heart. For the record, unofficial, everyone lost heart.

Arleen Paré from He Leaves His face in the Funeral Car, Caitlin Press, 2015.

Poetry then, when I stumbled into it halfway through my life, was a relief. And I loved the words so much. I still love the words, almost more than anything else. The beauty and artfulness of them. Carla Funk once said that there must be three parts to a poem: language, meaning, and emotion. Of them all, I love language most. These words: oropendula, floribunda, lunation, gloriosa, bungalow; each one could inspire a poem.

        right now I have only words on my mind
	no story at all
        no plotline   no tangent   no arc   no she said she said

        Arlene Paré, excerpt from #14 from Time Out of Time, Dagger Editions, Caitlin Press Inc.

When I started to write poetry, mid-life, both my parents were already dead, and though I missed my mother terribly, I recognized the functional expediency of that, at least in terms of poetry. No one to object, not overly. Except maybe my children, about whom, having been guilt-ridden for years, and having been saved, released from the net of bureaucracy, I next wrote. Leaving Now is a book about motherhood – and guilt. Which mother is not guilt-ridden, but I had special cause. I had released myself from bureaucracy, written myself out, next I would write myself out of guilt. All in the interests of poetry and maybe some freedom.

Leaving Now was confessional, its true, confessing my story of coming out, an apologia, the myriad sad and necessary details, to my children. My choice to become a lesbian changed their youthful lives irrevocably. They are wonderful adults and they hold no grudges, but my guilt was strong. I grew up as a Catholic. I wrote myself out of the deep sorrow of having diesturbed the comfort of the family household. Again I thought no press would be interested in this collection of mixed genre, but in 2012 Caitlin Press published it, and I am so grateful. Leaving Now was recognized by All Lit Up, and I appreciated that.

    Morning presses on us. All weight. All press. All except the timeless time at the opening of
    the lids. The moment when the clock radio starts. All weight. All except a slit when the
    eyes flit open, the split second before time is no longer timeless. All weigh down. All press.
    Except the slivered piece, one second before the time takes over. All press down. Except
    the timeless time before the day begins. Morning presses on us. Where is the sorrow? All
    the rooms are lit with sun and cloud. All rooms bear down. Where are the children? The
    morning table is set with an oilcloth. Red with a square of black squares in the middle.
    Morning presses down. Where are the children? Sitting in the basement. The TV is lit.
    listening to timelessness. Keeping family in the timelessness of time. The cartoon squirrel
    flies into the horizon. The sky fades. Morning presses down. Where is the father? On the
    way. With black squares in the middle. Red oilcloth with black in the middle. The sky
    fades. Where are the women? Writing. Women are writing and the families fade. The
    bowls are blue, the cloth is red with black in the centre. The children are in the basement.
    The TV lights their faces blue. The fear is not anticipated. Gradually. Time presses. Half
    and half not time. Half for now and half for the rest of their lives. The morning
    presses. Where are the children of the children? Waiting. The past is moving away.
    Boundaries are fading and boundaries are forming. The table is set. The tablecloth is red
    and blue bowls rest upon it. Morning presses down. All weight. This morning. The
    morning presses down. Where is the mother? Fading from the morning. Women are
    writing. With black in the middle. One bowl is cracked. With spoons at the sides. All this
    for the time when the children ascend the stairs. The cracks do not fade. Cereal boxes
    stand on the table. Lit with half sun. Half-cloud is on the table too. Half the cloth lights
    with half-sun. With spoons upon it. Stainless steel half-fills with glint. The minutes float.
    When the time will come. The morning presses down. Where is the guilt? At the side. With
    white light in the bowls of the spoons. The house is fading. The children rise in half-
    sunshine. Their faces half-fade. Morning presses. Where are the words? In their mother’s
    mouth. There is half-sun and half is cloud. All come together. All split apart. Morning
    presses down. The red is the oilcloth and the black is on the red. The bowls are on the
    edge and the black is in the middle. There is fading. There is black in the middle.

    Arleen Paré from Leaving Now, Caitlin Press, 2012

By then I could not have stopped writing. Now ten books, including a novel. If we include the poetry collection coming out in October. Two years ago I fell in love with Etel Adnan and wrote the collection, Time Out of Time, after Adnan’s award-winning collection, Time. This year I have fallen in love with Lucille Clifton, whom I can’t recommend enough. She wrote: the angels have no wings / they come to you wearing / their own clothes. I urge you to read both Adnan and Clifton; they are inspiring women, brilliant poets. I have changed myself into a writer. When I worked in the office, I wore dark office suits. Now I write poetry; I have changed into my own (more casual) clothes.

Arleen Paré, March 2023


  1. Posted March 28, 2023 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    How encouraging to read Arlene’s poetry journey for those of us who have lived 7 decades.

  2. Richard Osler
    Posted March 29, 2023 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    It is so encouraging. never too late to bring our writing into the world. And your beautiful words! You still writing in your seventh decade!

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