Brimming With What the Women Know Of Their World – Guest Poetry Blog Series # 13 – Part Two of Two – Canadian Poet Terry Ann Carter Features “Pink Hibiscus: Poems of the South Pacific” by Ottawa-based Poet Claudia Coutu Radmore

Canadian poet Claudia Radmore

the women of the village tell me

at night shut all windows
and the door devils like to creep

in the dark if a devil
creeps a woman her baby may also

turn out to be a devil
it is a serious moment

brimming with what the women know
of their world

and everything
that I don’t

Claudia Coutu Radmore from Pink Hibiscus: Poems of the South Pacific, Editions des petits nuages, 2020

Guest Blog Post by Terry Ann Carter Featuring Claudia Coutu Radmore

How quickly this poem above brings us right inside what Claudia Radmore experienced for three years beginning in 1986 when she went to Vanuatu for three years as a volunteer with CUSO (Canadian University Services Overseas). She also went back for three months in 1993.

brimming with what the women know
of their world

and everything
that I don’t

How aware she is of how much she didn’t know about a place and people who became so important to her. (Before Vanuatu became a Republic in 1980, it had been jointly colonized by the French and the English.)

At the University of the South Pacific in Port Vila, she trained preschool teachers who were selected from about fourteen of Vanuatu’s sixty-five inhabited islands. The population of Vanuatu at that time was just over a hundred thousand people with more than a hundred languages. Now Vanuatu has declared three of these official languages: French and English and also Bishlama (a pidgin language) which Claudia learned during her time there to better integrate with her students and villagers when she visited some of the islands. And it shows in the details of her poems.

Clearly Claudia had an immersive experience in Vanuatu. She learned to cook and search for cover when it rained. She uncovered customs: in some islands to show status/ a woman’s front tooth is taken out; and slowly gains the confidence of the islanders, helped by her understanding of Bishlama:

blong clinim haes blong yu

I do not like the phrase
my house girl

but that is what she asked to be
500 vatu or $5 for one day of work

when I come home early
I startle her friend 

playing outside with a baby
on a mat from the house

Rebecca steps out of the shower
in one of my bath towels 

shocked, and I hasten to say
she can have a shower any time 

she usually bathes in the sea
washes dishes in the sea

what ordinary people do not have
would swallow me whole

Claudi Coutu Radmore, ibid

Her students came from all over the islands. Some of the islands’ richly-sounding names: Hiw, Aneityum, Aniwa, East and West Ambae, Bali Hai, Malekula, Ambrym, Tongoa, Malo, and Vanua Lava. Her experiences teaching and traveling throughout these islands are recorded in her poetry in Pink Hibiscus as a kind of memoir.

So much of what she learned she shares in her poems. For example, no such thing as just a basket. Each has a special purpose and its own name: the Efate basket was for a woman’s marrying day/ she filled it with food for her new husband; the Tanna basket, with long braids for handles/ and how to weave the first square; the Pentecost basket, a whole mythology/ and culture has gone into it; the Futuna basket, can carry water without it dripping away.

Claudia went to Vanuatu as a teacher who taught with slate blackboards but in her time there she allowed herself to become a student and shares her discoveries with us: there is a house of giant grass, and tea from the leaves of a special tree. Laplap, food baked in an earth oven, was often given to take home; she becomes used to acquiring skills. But as friendships grew she also learned darker truths:

if he’d known

the unmarried mother
had been beaten for adultery

Rebecca’s baby was born
in the middle of the night

in front of a bamboo hut
on a patch of gravel

only then did someone
come for me

we drove to the hospital in town
the baby in her arms

curve of her long eyelashes
the bow of her lips

three days later she died
unable to breathe on her own

in the village
a grave had been dug

and the child gently wrapped
in a woven burial mat

the rooster and the dogs
were silent as she was buried

I would have adopted her
spent all these days loving her

the white doctor said that had he known
the ni-Vanuatu child had mattered to me

he would have done more
to try to save her

Claudia Coutu Radmore, ibid

Claudia, as you will see in her biography I have included below, has a great knowledge and understanding of Japanese literary forms. And she has developed an international recognition of her mastery of these forms. The perfection in writing the concise.

Although these following poems from Pink Hibiscus are not haiku they breathe that same air:

be aware and respectful of local culture

a man has seen a devil
in this bush

no photographs
are permitted



this air

this heavy air

with insect

Without a doubt, Claudia’s students left heartful impressions, and her observations of island life, her participation in island life, gave memories for these bravely and beautifully written poems. This is a book for travelers, and for those who stay at home; the universal truths of human connection shine brightly here. I highly recommended Pink Hibiscus. It can be purchased directly from Ottawa-based Editions des Petits Nuages.

Claudia’s Bio

Claudia is a poet, publisher, author, and artist residing in Carleton Place, Ontario. She has been a co-director of the Tree Reading Series in Ottawa, organized the annual Tree Chapbook Contest and has been on the editorial boards of The Bywords Journal and ARC Poetry Magazine. For several years, she was editor of the Haiku Canada Anthology, as well as co-editor of  Touch of a Moth which celebrated Haiku Canada’s 40th year Anniversary and Wordless, the 45th Anniversary Anthology. She is the past president of Haiku Canada and KaDo Ottawa Haiku Study Group. She wrote the foreword to, and edited, Arctic Twilight: Leonard Budgell and the Changing North (Blue Butterfly Books, Toronto), a collection of letters written by Hudson Bay post manager Leonard Budgell.  Her book Accidentals (Apt. 9 Pres, Ottawa) won the bpNichol Chapbook Award in 2011; she published on fogo with Alfred Gustav Press in 2018. In 2020 she published rabbit with Aeolus House Press and in 2021 she not only published Pink Hibiscus with Éditions des petits nuages but also Park Ex Girl: Life with Gasometer with Shoreline Press. In addition, she has published various collections of Japanese short form poetry: haiku, haibun, and tanka. To see Claudia website please click here.

Guest Poetry Blog by Terry Ann Carter


  1. Tonya
    Posted October 5, 2023 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I love this post. I hadn’t read Claudi Coutu Radmore. Now I will.
    As you say, the poems are precise – and in the most tender way. This is something that comes only through the humility of listening, paying attention, staying curious, being willing to know.

  2. Posted October 6, 2023 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    How devasting the poem about the baby, how cruel the world can be. These poems are lovely in their cadences.

  3. Richard Osler
    Posted October 6, 2023 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Thank you Heidi. Yes, a devastating poem!

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