Freedom Within Constraints – Guest Poetry Blog Series # 21 – Part Two of Two – Canadian Poet Kate Marshall Flaherty Features the Canadian Poet Ronna Bloom

The book cover of Ronna Bloom’s 2023 poetry collection, A Possible Trust.

Grief Without Fantasy

What I lost
was not going to happen.

I had
what happened.

There was no more.

Ronna Bloom from A Possible Trust, Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2023


I first met Ronna Bloom at a League of Canadian Poets Conference many years ago. I remember she gave an astounding talk about her role as Poet in Residence at Mount Sinai Hospital and the healing properties of poetry. She writes, or prescribes, poems of consolation on Rx pads for patients and their families. Her authentic, easy manner sets folks at ease, and her poetry is real—concise, courageous, and witnesses the ephemeral and the everyday. When she reads, she introduces her poems with touching and often humourous stories of the encounters that were the kernels of her poems. She brings tenderness and vulnerability to her poems about suffering and weaves her experience as a psychotherapist and meditator into her unflinching explorations of the human condition and unexpected surprises and lessons in life.

I  chosen the short epigraph poem above and the short poem below because Ronna illustrates freedom within constraints, and moves me with her spare, dense poems. I want to re-read them and let them settle. She proves that less can be more in Grief Without Fantasy. It is both personal and universal, and Bloom condenses an entire disappointment into five lines. The two couplets wrestle with an expectation and an experience, and the final line, There was no more, forces reflection, reorientation, and ultimately wisdom and perhaps detachment. This poem is like a koan, almost, that I want to turn over and over to see kaleidoscope facets in my own life, and in the overall wisdom of it,


There’s a tree in my heart
and I don’t know its name.

It stands straight behind my breasts
like a closed tulip.

Permiso, it says.
Allow me.

Ronna Bloom, ibid

I remember Ronna mentioning Permiso to me over tea once. Even the one-word title gave me a sigh of relief, permission to do something, to just listen perhaps. Again, these three couplets pack a lot into six lines. I imagine this tree in Ronna’s speaker’s heart, and the mystery of knowing it, but not by name. There is a resilience in the fact that it stands straight up, and an intimacy that it is hidden behind my breasts but the tenderness and vulnerability, the soft potential of the tree becoming like a closed tulip are both evocative and surprising. I feel the strength and fragility of this mysterious tree that then becomes a wise voice, giving soft permission. Permiso it says./ “Allow me …” There is a feeling of adolescence, rite of passage, of becoming in this spare poem, one that softens the reader, and invites reflection and, we hope, a delicate opening for the tulip. A blooming … pun intended.

I recall many an animated chat with Ronna at Anapurna, a vegetarian restaurant in Toronto. Annapurna is a mythical mountain … and the restaurant a fitting place to sip strong sweet chai and share poetry and visions for making it more accessible. Ronna shared stories about her spontaneous poetry booth, The Poet Is In, at Mount Sinai Hospital as we planned Poetry in Union at the Toronto train station for Valentine’s day. A poem is a gift, we both agreed, and at this event poets met with travellers at a small private table to ask a few questions and then turn a traveller’s own words into a poem that the poet would read to the traveller and then hand to them as they continued on their way.

As we prepared poets for the day, Ronna inspired volunteer poets, reassuring them that it would not be a perfect poem, but it would be a gift, a captured moment made into poetry, an encounter encapsulated in a few lines. She reminded us that it is courageous and a bit nerve wracking to sit with a stranger and share intimate details, and so to be honest and vulnerable about it right up front was disarming and connecting. “This is a bit weird, isn’t it?” she laughed as she and I modelled an encounter-turned-poem for folks. “Yes, weird but exciting!” I giggled. About twenty-or-so poets arrived at Union Station anxious and eager to prepare for the big day, and left affirmed and empowered to write spontaneous personal poems all day on February 14th.

The day was such a success we did it several more years live, and then online during the pandemic. There were tears and hugs as we handed people personal poems, and beaming faces and breathless thank you’s online. It was magical, and dare I say healing, for both the poets and poetry receivers. Poetry is medicine Ronna has been known to say. I agree. It is a gift I dare to call a spiritual practice. What an intimate human encounter, and how meaningful to turn a person’s own words into a poem. And this wonderful example below of a poem written in this kind of context.


At one time, there was the death of a father.
At one time, there was the death of a brother,
and at one point there was a brain surgery,
and it was all just one moment.

I’m not just a feeling, I’m seeing.
I have sight and insight. And I’m
here committed to breathing
joy and painting, until there’s nothing left.

I believe in peace with yourself.
And I need to hear my voice. I hear feelings
that are the truth of another.

I don’t protest, I profess love
and the abundance of tomorrow
that I may never see.

I love the story of Ronna writing a spontaneous poem for a fellow who announced this warning that became the poem’s title. The first stanza sums up a life in four lines. The anaphora at one time/point gives a pulse to the list of challenges, that somehow feel part of a bigger picture in the final line and it was all just one moment. It feels a statement of mindfulness to put suffering in a larger framework perhaps beyond or above time. Dare I say part of a larger picture in terms of an overall spiritual framework of a life?

What a joyful expression of gratitude and joi de vivre in the second quatrain! The celebration of the speaker’s sight and insight, visual seeing and spiritual seeing. The commitment”to breathing and creating … until there’s nothing left. I feel the narrator wringing every lovely drop from life in this stanza, despite, or perhaps because of, the list of sufferings. I can still see Ronna’s smiling face describing the guy whose story became this poem—so earnest and unabashed, as the poem conveys.

The next two tercets seem a positive and simple manifesto, a sort of street-wise consider the lilies. The speaker needs to hear his own voice, but also the truth of another. What a powerful connection of the personal to the universal. It affirms and validates feelings in others, which feels very wise and compassionate, powerfully in its simplicity.

I love the simple assertion I don’t protest. It seems the narrator is a pacifist, who professes love, and the hopeful abundance of tomorrow, even though he may never see it. There is an earthy faith and mindfulness to this poem that creates a vibrant character sketch of a person I think was a street person or one in the mental health outpatient unit. A wise voice. A powerful message. An ordinary prophet.

I could talk about Ronna’s ebullience on and off the page for longer but will end with lines from Ars Poetica that seem to sum up the creative process of poem writing, which for Ronna and this poet is a conversation: … before the fact/ of the poem, before the hill-climb of heart/ the pillage of cells, the language/ eruption. It is all and only/ in response… to conversation. Be it conversation with nature, a patient asking for a poem, a meditation on an apple, health, rest, or a day’s work,

Ronna’s powerful poetry in A Possible Trust, released in September, 2023 by Wilfred Laurier University Press, begs the reader to read and re-read, turning each image over, with reverence and humour, irreverence and tenderness. I just love writing about her work and life. In the unabashed voice of her third poem’s narrator, Don’t be afraid, buy her book!

By Kate Marshall Flaherty November 15th, 2023

(Freefall Magazine out of Calgary in November 14th, 2023 launched their magazine Poetry Contest issue featuring videos of selected winners and short-listed poets. Here is the video for Ronna’s short-listed poem, Restaurants I Have Cried In.)

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