Listening to the Quiet Part of You – Guest Poetry Blog # 20 – Introducing the Latest Contributor, Poet and Writing Workshop leader, Mary Ann Moore – Part One of Two

Canadian poet and generative writing workshop leader, Mary Ann Moore. Photo Credit: Wendy Morisseau.


So it’s just the four of you Josef said, referring to you,
me and our two cats, Izzy and Squeak.

When I sit down with you to look across the field,
see the lights in Josef’s workshop, I think of my
grandfather chopping kindling in the woodshed and
you remember the deck you built on a small home
you once had, in a converted barn, living near your father.

When our joined palms form a prayer between them,
I think of the people who held soil in their hands, planted
apple trees, quince and fig, placed primulas and hellebores
in flower beds near our house. We both marvel at the eagle
we saw earlier on the highest branch of the arbutus.

When we meander this newly found place, we take careful
steps around randomly placed daffodils, notice tiny white
flowers we haven’t found a name for yet. Josef has made
birdhouses, assembled cocoons for Mason bees. We know
we’ll find our way back to the work we once did.

When we make our evening tea with water from the well,
Izzy leaves her hiding place to join us. Squeak left us on the
third day we were here, gone on a big adventure. Frogs
quieten in the pond, then, begin again. The light of the
back porch, illuminates witches hair hanging from the firs.

Mary Ann Moore from Mending, house of appleton, 2023


What a delight to welcome Canadian poet and generative writing workshop leader, Mary Ann Moore, to the Recovering Words Guest Poetry Blog Series. And to feature her poem Mending that so captures the “isness” of the experience of Mary Ann and her partner Sarah as they enjoyed the first days at their new home outside Nanaimo a year or so ago! A home bursting with the evidence of Mary Ann’s and Sarah’s creative projects!

Like a number of the previous guest poetry bloggers in the series I met Mary Ann through the poetry writing retreats led by the much-loved Canadian poet, novelist and teacher, Patrick Lane. I have lost count of the number of writing retreats we have shared together!

How to properly capture the expressive nature and curiosity of Mary Ann. And her fearlessness. In her life and her poetry. I was looking at a chapbook published after a 2007 workshop with Patrick Lane and found a striking two-page narrative poem by Mary-Ann called Jean, telling of two separate rapes, Mary Ann’s and Jean’s. Brave and important. Redemptive and chilling.

And during one of the many retreats we have shared since 2006 I remember a poem she wrote about her Dad who was a railway man. What I didn’t remember is that it was a pantoum and included lines that made it into a Murray McLauchlan song based on an interview Murray did with her Dad!

 Railroad Man

I started with a shovel. I started with a dream.
There were no roads in Moose River Crossing.
The Polar Bear Express went by twice a week.
After the war, I was given a wheelbarrow.

There were no roads in Moose River Crossing.
Started sanding the walks at the North Bay engine roundhouse.
After the war, I was given a wheelbarrow.
Can you read and write English, Tom Reid asked. Yes, a bit.

Started sanding the walks at the North Bay engine roundhouse.
I was a fireman before I became an engineer.
Can you read and write English, Tom Reid asked. Yes a bit.
I’d blow the whistle from two miles back.

I was a fireman before I became an engineer.
Mother waved a tea towel as the train passed through.
I’d blow the whistle from two miles back.
Everyone knew that Bob Moore was coming into town.

Mother waved a tea towel as the train passed through.
The Polar Bear Express went by twice a week.
Everyone knew that Bob Moore was coming into town.
I started with a shovel. I started with a dream.

 (The first and last lines of Railroad Man are from Railroad Man (1984) by  Canadian singer/songwriter Murray McLauchlan written after he talked to Bob Moore, Mary Ann’s father.

Mary Ann Moore from Fishing for Mermaids, Leaf Press, 2014

Now, Mary Ann’s introduction.


Thank you to Richard for inviting me to write a “guest blog” on my journey to and with poetry.

The poem, Mending, is a more recent one about my partner Sarah and I moving to a new locale on Vancouver Island, B.C. She is the “you” of the poem.  When writing a poem, memories often arise and so there is my grandfather chopping kindling in the woodshed.

I was an only child, spending time on my own, creating cozy vignettes with my dolls and books. It was in that solitude that I developed my imagination and my poetry practice although I wouldn’t know that for many years.

Poetry arrived in search of me
I don’t know, I don’t know where it came from,
from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when . . .

wrote Pablo Neruda in his poem Poetry.  Margaret Atwood said poetry arrived for her one day as she crossed the football field at the University of Toronto. Winnie the Pooh said it too: It’s easiest when you let things come.

Sometime in the 1990s, I joined the famous and the fictional when a decades-old memory urged itself onto paper. The memory began as an image. Then it was a feeling. The lines appeared effortlessly once I wrote the first lines down.

When I see a man standing at a drugstore perfume counter
I know he has put off buying a gift for too long
until all the stores are closed
except the drugstore open until midnight.

I remembered, what appeared to me, the man’s longing to please. I saw the little boy in him. I remembered the little girl in me trying to please my mother. I remembered my son and daughter and the unfamiliar territory we entered when I separated from their father. We all felt raw; in new places.

Once I had expressed the feelings in response to the drugstore scene, I let them go. I was saved from carrying the longing and regrets inside. It doesn’t mean all traces of longing and regret were gone; I had found a way to integrate them.

In recent years, I revisited the poem. Here it is in its current version:

Open Until Midnight

 The first time I wrote a poem, long after I was in school,
it was about a man I saw in a drugstore open until midnight,
at the perfume counter, attempting to buy a gift for
a woman, I presumed, and I could see his despair, his need
to honour his mother  – maybe it was for his mother – and
nothing was going to be right, no matter how long he stood there.

No scent, no glass bottle or shiny silver paper with organza
ribbon could tell the depth of his love for the woman –
his mother, his lover or his wife. And he’d left the gift
buying this long and now had to make a decision.

I wanted to walk up to that man in his work clothes
and say this one, she’ll love this one – anyone really –
so the torment in his eyes would cease, he could walk
out of that miserable choosing, his large hands clutching
the small package for the woman waiting for him.

 Mary Ann Moore (previously unpublished)

Poems continued to arrive: when I woke up, as I read the newspaper on a Saturday morning, as I put spices away in the kitchen cupboard.

I became enamored with the poetry of Pablo Neruda and his odes to ordinary things. Reading French philosopher, Gaston Bachelard, helped me to define poetry for myself: Poetry is the soul creating a ceremony out of an ordinary event.

An early poetry workshop I attended was with the Canadian writer Helen Humphreys who had us writing a transposition of a poem by the Canadian poet Gwendolyn MacEwen. At the time I lived in Toronto’s literary Annex where the late poet once lived.

As in that case, I associate particular poets with certain events such as driving to Kripalu, the yoga centre in Masschusetts, with a friend and hearing a cassette of David Whyte reciting poetry by heart.  One of the women I met at the retreat, when I saw her again, read me poems by Mary Oliver.

Oliver’s words  . . . and there was a new voice, / which you slowly / recognized as your own, / that kept you company / as you strode deeper and deeper / into the world . . . resonated with me. (from The Journey.)

My partner Sarah and I met through poetry when I hired her, as a graphic designer, to design the cover and interior booklet of my CD of poetry: When My Heart is Open.

Poetry is the content of your daily life, the late Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh said in a documentary about him. If you can’t write it down, let poetry be your expression in your daily tasks, he advised.

While I still feel the Ottawa Valley and other parts of Southeastern Ontario in my bones, both Sarah and I were drawn to British Columbia.  I was excited to learn that renowned Canadian poet Patrick Lane offered poetry retreats on Vancouver Island and signed up to attend my first with him in the spring of 2006.

Working with Patrick became my education in poetry for almost ten years. Learning from a master teacher was an honour and being part of a poets’ community at a retreat was like a village I felt at home in. We communicated through a love of language, expressing what mattered to us. That’s how we got to know ourselves and one another.

Poems are healing. Poems are gifts. The poem I write continues its life with me, at home, while out in the world it takes on another life when others see it. These days I attend poetry retreats with Lorna Crozier, Patrick’s partner of forty years. This final poem was inspired by both of them.

Things Will Come to You

the song your grandmother taught you,
the beautiful, the beautiful river
gather with the saints at the river
, smooth stones

instruments of silence.  Hold one to your temple.
Remember. Hear your true name. Moon, sea,
stone: always listen from the quiet part of you.

From Mending, poems by Mary Ann Moore (house of appleton, 2023)

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