At the End of a Tumultuous Year a Celebration of Resilience and Hanging In – Five Poems by Hilbert, Stafford, Orr, Hayden and Holm

An Ancient Western Red Cedar – Still Standing

Red Paint

If you look at the cedar
ʔəbil’ čəxʷ gʷəšuuc tiʔəʔ x̌pay’

you’ll see how it bends
č(ə)xʷa šudxʷ ʔəsčal kʷi suqəčil

and doesn’t break
gʷəl xʷiʔ gʷəsuxʷəƛ̓

and you have to learn how to be like the cedar,
gʷəl yaw’ čəxʷ ləhaʔdxʷ ʔəsčal kʷ(i) adsəshuy
ʔəsʔistəʔ ʔə tiʔəʔ x̌pay

how to be flexible and pliable
ʔəsčal kʷi səsq’əčil gʷəl ʔə(s)səpil

and you yourself will not break.
gʷəl xʷiʔ kʷi gʷ(ə)adsux̌̌ʷəƛ̓.

Violet taqʷšəblu Hilbert, translated by Zalmai ʔəswəli Zahir, from Red Paint: The Ancestral Autobiography of a Coast Salish Punk, by Sasha taqʷšəblu LaPointe, Counterpoint 2022.

from Any Time

“Daddy, tell me your best secret.” (I have woven
a parachute out of everything broken; my scars
are my shield; and I jump, daylight or dark,
into any country, where as I descend I turn
native and stumble into terribly human speech
and wince recognition.)

William Stafford from The Way It Is – New and Selected Poems, Graywolf Press, 1998

Aftermath Inventory

Shattered? Of course,
That matters.
            But
What comes next
Is all
I can hope to master.

Knowing, deep in my
Bones,
Not all hurt harms.

My wounds?
         If 
Somehow, I
Grow through them,
Aren’t they also a boon?

My scars?
         Someday,
They might shine
Brighter than stars.

Gregory Orr (1947-) from The Last Love Poem I Will Ever Write, Norton & Co, 2019

These three simple yet powerful poems. And two others that follow, below. They carry my wish and hope for 2024. That any challenges facing me and you, my readers, can be met by Cedar-like pliability and bending. That we will not break. But if we do, my hope and prayer is that, like the speaker in William Stafford’s poem, we can say: I have woven/ a parachute out of everything broken; my scars/ are my shield…” Or like the speaker in Gregory Orr’s poem we can say: My scars?/Someday,/They might shine/Brighter than stars.

I was so taken by the first epigraph poem of this post above written by Violet taqʷšəblu Hilbert (1918-2008). Violet was the great grandmother of contemporary Coast Salish poet and memoirist, Sasha taqʷšəblu LaPointe. Violet was an indigenous American tribal elder of the Upper Skagit tribe of the greater Coast Salish community in Washington State and her Lushootseed name was taqʷšəblu, the name also given to her great granddaughter, Sasha.

Red Paint, the poem, stands as the epigraph for Sasha’s stunning memoir Red Paint published in 2022 and Winner of the 2023 Pacific Northwest Book Award and Winner of the 2023 Washington State Book Award for Creative Nonfiction/Memoir. And it is clear from the sexual violence in Sasha’s life and other challenges as an indigenous woman in the U.S. she took her great grandmother’s poem to heart. She has not broken.
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Checking for an Archangel or the Buddha. Guest Poetry Blog #23 – Introducing the Latest Contributor, American poet Luther Allen – Part One of Two

American poet Luther Allen. Photo Credit: Dean Davis

rising

first thing every morning
i look into the yard
and check for elk.

 

there has never been an elk here.
the nearest one miles away
with no reason to wander.

 

i might as well be checking
for an archangel.
              or the buddha.

 

but the elk might be the buddha.
or something more important.

Luther Allen, December 2023

RICHARD INTRODUCES GUEST POETRY BLOGGER LUTHER ALLEN

I remember the meeting room at the Honeymoon Bay Lodge and Retreat center so well. It’s where I attended countless four-day retreats with the master Canadian poet and teacher Patrick Lane. And it’s where I remember seeing the American poet Luther Allen, from Sumas Mountain, Washington,  across the circle for the first time. He was sitting there with his partner Judy Kleinberg, poet and poetry blogger.

I remember from that time I was struck by how soft-spoken and reflective Luther was which somehow stood out for me considering his height and rugged build. And it seems so appropriate that for his guest blog I remember him so clearly from that time at a Patrick retreat since his blog post, below, ends with such a reflective and thoughtful tribute to his mentor and mine, Patrick. (For a full biography of Luther’s writing history please see below at the end of his post.)

To say that Luther and Judy are a force in Washington State poetry is a huge understatement.  Their reading series, SpeakEasy, held in Bellingham, south of the Canadian border is a knock-out. One of its trademarks (something they do occasionally) is to invite a group of guest poets to collaborate in a round robin of poems that are thematically linked. Each poet that directly follows another links their poems in some way to the two previous poems written by that other poet. This all happens and is collated into a book form before the reading occurs.

I was lucky enough to participate in one of these round robins six years ago, back in early December 2017. I was joined by other Canadian poets, Barbara Pelman, Susan Alexander, Terry Ann Carter and Linda K. Thompson. Most recently SpeakEasy hosted a another round robin of spiritual poems. Those poems will be coming out in a new collection published by Other Mind Press and will be released at the SpeakEasy series on February 25th, 2024 in Bellingham.

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Gaza, Ukraine, Darfur -Too Many Wars – Too Many Young Men Sacrificed by Old Men – Three Poets – Owen, Crozier and Amichai

The Sacrifice of Issac by Caravaggio. Uffizi Gallery, Florence

The Parable of the Old Man and the Young

So Abram rose, and clave the wood and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isac the first born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When Lo! An angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not they hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in the thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son, –
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) from Poets.org

I wrote this blog below six years ago. But tonight while reading a Facebook post by Keith Digby, a former teacher at Brentwood College School, I was reminded by Keith of Wilfred Owen’s searing anti-war, anti-old-men-sending-young- men-to-war poem: Parable of an Old Man and the Young. And my rage at the war’s all around us taking lives of all ages came back to the surface. Ukraine, Gaza, Darfur, DR Congo and on and on.

Here, now three poems by Wilfred Owen, Lorna Crozier and Yehuda Amachai. How Owen’s and Crozier’s poems use the story of the sacrifce of Issac to address  the horror of young men put to sacrifice by other, often older, men. And lastly Amachai’s celebrated poem: The Place Where We Are Right. A poem that for me has become a hymn for what is happening now in Gaza. If only, if only doubts and loves could
Dig up the world/Like a mole, a plow/so…… a whisper will be heard in the place/Where the ruined/House once stood.

All those countless ruined houses in north Gaza, now the literal hard ground in Amachai’s poem, the place where we are right. And all the wrong that comes from this!

Blog from November 11th, 2017

Some poetic medicine on a day when we remember the end of World War I and also all wars, their devastations. And why today more than ever we must remember – war is not the easy answer!

Owen’s poem! This poem sears me every time I read it. Its horrific last two lines. And it is gender specific. The men who call us to war. Often, old men. How Wilfred Owen takes the myth of Abram and Isaac and makes it a metaphor of the old men who sacrifice the young men in war. No sticks carrying jubilance, just grenades, carrying death.

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Things That Give You Pleasure – Guest Poetry Blog Series # 22 – Part Two of Two – Canadian Poet Yvonne Blomer Features the 10th Century Japanese Female Author of The Pillow Book, Sei Shōnagon

The Pillow Book by 10th Century Japanese Poet Sei Shōnagon

Yesterday it was a cold, crisp and sunny day on the West coast of Canada. As the day warmed, the garden steamed in sunlight, thick frost warming to dew and mist. No rain for weeks. Birds gather seeds all day in a frenzy and a few have flown into the bright kitchen window. We took an evening walk, and the moon shone bright amongst the Gary Oaks. My breath was nearly showing, but not quite yet. Still, in our neighborhood park rhododendrons are blooming, a few Red hot pokers from the summer linger and glow in the dark night.

Yvonne Blomer, previously unpublished

[7] The first day of the year and the third day of the third month should have glorious weather. The fifth day of the fifth month is the best when the weather is overcast all day. The seventh day of the seventh month should also be cloudy, but the evening sky should be clear, with a brilliant moon and the stars clear and bright.

It’s charming when a light rain begins to fall around daybreak on the ninth day of the ninth month, and there should be plenty of dew on the chrysanthemums, so that the cotton wadding that covers them is thoroughly wet and it brings out the flower’s scent that imbues it. The rain ceases in the early morning and it should remain overcast and continue to threaten rain at any moment.

Sei Shōnagon, translated by Meredith McKinney from The Pillow Book, Penguin Classics, 2007

YVONNE BLOMER FEATURES THE 10TH CENTURY JAPANESE WRITER SEI SHŌNAGON

Above, the first prose paragraph is my way of capturing the season and shifting seasons this November, inspired by the 10th century Japanese writer Sei Shōnagon. The second is from The Pillow Book Shōnagon’s collection of short writings or zuihitsu from court life.

Not a lot is known about Sei Shōnagon. In fact, it is unlikely that is even her name, but we can talk about women’s rights and women’s literary history another time. Her dates are around 966-1017, but as Meredith McKinney writes in her introduction to The Pillow Book: Verifiable facts about Sei Shōnagon are sparse, and information about her life depends overwhelmingly on her own record in The Pillow Book.
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Fate As In Destiny. What Is Yours? Guest Poetry Blog #22 – Introducing the Latest Contributor, Canadian Writer Yvonne Blomer- Part One of Two

Canadian writer Yvonne Blomer. Photo Credit: Nancy Yakimoski

Sonnet for a newborn now seven

Underground we were, below the citadel,
my son, newborn, asleep on my chest.
On the streets above, Italian flowed like mother’s milk
in heat. We were in a cathedral or under it. We felt
the etched walls for markings—birds or other animals.
The monks, or a priest above, began to sing. Was it Ave Maria
that fell through stone, through the ages and knowledge of stone?
Sound, thrum in the chest, entered us. Out of the corner of my eye
or my imagination, I saw a boy leaning in, he was my son, now.

His hands are small, perfect, though one pinky finger
a little crooked. Chords he plays while standing there, he
flicks his fingers, idle or bored
flicks and when he’s lost interest, he flicks again,
taps nail to nail, he picks a low baritone song, Gratia Plena.

From The Last Show on Earth, Caitlin Press, 2022

RICHARD INTRODUCES GUEST POETRY BLOGGER YVONNE BLOMER

This is not my first introduction of the multi-genre writer and anthologist, Yvonne Blomer. The first time was more than eight years ago at the 3rd Cascadia Poetry Festival held in Nanaimo in May 2015. This is what I said then:

Born in Zimbabwe, educated in Canada and in the UK, Poet (3 full-length collections, two chapbooks), editor, (Poems from Planet Earth) MC and artistic director extraordinaire for the Planet Earth Poetry Reading Series in Victoria and for this wide range of poetic passions, recently appointed Victoria’s poet laureate. Yes, this is all the same person! Canadian poet Yvonne Blomer. Her poems are anchored in her celebration of this one earth, but they still know how to fly! In her latest collection As If A Raven, published last year she writes: “To live in these two worlds:/ whether held to earth and all it demands or to flight”. She does both so well! 

Well, that was then. In 2017 she released her memoir: Sugar Ride: Cycling from Hanoi to Kuala Lumpur and edited the anthology: Refugium: Poems for the Pacific. In 2020 she edited Sweet Water: Poems for the Watersheds and in 2022 her full-length poetry collection, The Last Show on Earth was published by Caitlin Press. And this past Friday Yvonne launched the anthology, Hologram – an Homage to P.K. Page which she co-edited with DC Reed. And so appropriately she launched it  back at her old haunt where she was artistic director for six years, Planet Earth Poetry in Victoria,
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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

KATE MARSHALL FLAHERTY FEATURES RONNA BLOOM

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,

PERMISO

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
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I Am Counter Current – Guest Poetry Blog # 21 – Introducing the Latest Contributor, Canadian Poet Kate Marshall Flaherty– Part One of Two

Canadian poet Kate Marshall Flaherty. Photo Credit: John Flaherty

salmon—

i am shimmer-skinned,
spawning              flecks of red, 
     shiny-finned, 
i flick
       my gills wide for breath 
and wriggle 
     side to side in fresh water

i must swim up against
smoothed rocks, the current, 
splashes and curls 
of small rapids         that gush 
      fresh water through me 

i am counter-current;             push
up against downspouts 
   and falls, 
i fall
back, fin on tail, tumble in trying
and trying to jump 
out of my skin-river,
up the waterfall 
             pounding me down

dorsal-finned and spine-supple,
i can do this—
can thrash            against 
the backwards tide 

flipped 
            and frantic, 

i right 
myself, sparkle 
in droplets and spray—
crescent-curve, 
                  wrestle 
                           against water weight

to spawn, 
         lay and leave 
                  my golden roe—
Kate Marshall Flaherty from Titch, Piquant Press, 2023.

RICHARD INTRODUCES GUEST POETRY BLOGGER KATE MARSHALL FLAHERTY

So pleased to have Kate Marshall Flaherty join the Recovering Words Guest Poetry Blog Series with this Part One of her two part series. Part  Two will feature the Canadian poet Ronna Bloom.

I remember so clearly the first time I connected with Kate Marshall Flaherty. It was at a poetry reading hosted by Quattro Books of Toronto where I was launching my debut poetry collection: Hyaena Season. We might have been introduced before the reading. That I don’t remember. But I do recollect when I heard her read her poem Every Boy Needs a Stone. I was electrified by its images, it repetitions and the way she created such mystery around the image of a stone. A poet’s true gift. Here’s an excerpt from the last part of part one of the poem and the stanza that is part two:

from Every Boy Needs a Stone

Every boy should have a stone
to suck on
when words have gone dry
or rage has cracked his voice box— so he can speak again

that sorry sound.

Every boy could
have a stone just to batten flaps in a storm,
shim a structure,
dam a crack,
flint a light
or tap at a window
where love looks down.

ii
Every boy needs
to swallow
at least one stone,
to feel it lodged in his throat, that breathless choke, fish-mouth gape and gasp— every boy
needs to be silenced just once. To be a stone.

Kate Marshall Flaherty from Stone Soup, Quattro Books, 2014

How wonderfully Kate uses the image of the stone to highlight so much of a what a boy can be. And there is an edge to the poem as well. Not just sweetness and light. Part two for me bring something almost ominous into the poem. An initiation, a rite of passage, of sorts. The gravity of this phrase: everyboy/ needs to be silenced just once. To be a stone. The shocking power and wisdom in this lodges deep in me, once a boy. Did I swallow that stone? If so, how did I or my life remove it? Ouch!
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“A Rich Random Tapestry (Dennis Lee)” – Guest Poetry Blog Series # 20 – Part Two of Two – Canadian Poet Mary Ann Moore Features the Canadian Poet Bronwen Wallace (1945-1989)

The Collected Poems of Canadian poet Bronwen Wallace (1945-1989) published by McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2020

Connecting

It gets handed down
along with the china fruit bowl
and it’s a good story about
my great-grandmother
getting so angry with
her husband’s drinking that
she went right into the bar
one evening and ordered drinks
on the house my great-grandfather
so embarrassed he never went back
this being 1895 or so when
respectable women never went
to bars

That’s about it,
Not enough for a poem really
even with the fruit bowl
which is delicate and well-made
but both of them just kind of
sit there refuse to relinquish
the appropriate metaphors
And my mother can’t give me
much else only remembers
sitting with her in the evenings
her parents out somewhere
and the old woman’s hands too shaky
to light a lamp so my mother
would stick kindling in the stove
wave it flaring in the room
like a torch

her grandmother never saying a word
never warning her about fire
Something begins to emerge then
the shape of the old woman
the little flares of light falling
to a glow around her
the kitchen suddenly quiet as
the bar became when she entered
the triumphant flicker of a smile
beside her husband’s silence
on the dark walk home
Not much to build a poem on
shapes so delicate
like the china bowl filled with fruit
glowing in the centre
of my kitchen table

Bronwen Wallace, from Marrying into the Family, Oberon Press, 1980

GUEST BLOG #20 PART TWO BY MARY ANN MOORE, FEATURING BRONWEN WALLACE (1945-1989)

Connecting is a poem from Bronwen Wallace’s Marrying into the Family  and, though difficult to choose just one, is an example of her conversational approach to poetry. I love her letting us in on the conversation with personal aspects of her family ancestry as well as the writing of her poem with her line: Not much to build a poem on.

Following her first stanza, the poet figured it wasn’t enough for a poem really / even with the fruit bowl but by her fourth stanza, although not much, the shape of the old woman is glowing, as well as the china bowl filled with fruit, and, as we can see, so is the poem.

The exquisite details of everyday objects and the people in Wallace’s life continued to be lifted to a luminescence in her poetry published in four collections before she died of cancer at the age of forty-four.

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“For This I Could Not Speak” – Ian “Bowline” Bruce R.I.P. – 1953-2023

Ian D. Bruce (April 1953 – October 15th, 2023)

News Of Death

– For Tom Charlotte

Last night they came with news of death
not knowing what I would say.

I wanted to say,
“The green wind is running through the fields
making the grass lie flat.”

I wanted to say,
“The apple blossom flakes like ash
covering the orchard wall.”

I wanted to say,
“the fish float belly up in the slow stream,
stepping stones to the dead.”

They asked if I would sleep that night,
I said I did not know.

For this loss I could not speak,
the tongue lay idle in a great darkness,
the heart was strangely open,
the moon had gone,
and it was then
when I said, “He is no longer here”
that the night put its arms around me
and all the white stars turned bitter with grief.

David Whyte from River Flow – New and Selected Poems 1984-2007, Many Rivers Press, 2007

This poem by David Whyte, Anglo Irish poet, inspirational speaker and champion of poetry transfixed me when I read it years ago. The shock and grief of a beloved friend’s death. The  for-this-I-could-not-speak moment of shock and distress. That moment hammered into me last night when a long-standing friend and former business colleague from London U.K. sent me corporate business announcements from Cameco Corporation and MEG Energy Corp. of the unexpected and accidental death of Ian D. Bruce, board chair for both companies.

I knew Ian not as a board chair, a job for which he was ideally suited, but as my friend Bowline. A man I met in the Calgary business world in the 1980’s who became a cherished friend. Ian was an anomaly in the business world. He was a canny judge of people and all things to do with corporate finance and biology (his first degree) but he was also a wizard with carpentery and all things mechanical and nautical.  And he was as at home with men and women in the trades as he was with men and women in boardrooms.

And man, did Ian know the ropes. Literally. Hence my nickname for him: Bowline. He could tie a bowline knot in seconds. Tried to teach me with limited sucess.
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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.

Mending                                                                                

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

RICHARD’S INTRODUCES GUEST POETRY BLOGGER MARY ANN MOORE

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!

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