Patrick’s Poets – #3 in a Series – Vancouver Island’s Mary Ann Moore

Poet, blogger, book eviewer and writer mentor, Mary Ann in front of Susan Musgrave’s B&a in Haida Gwaii

Only Child

Even though I’m an only child, no one
can remember what time I was born.

Dad was sure it was midnight, he heard
the whistle of the train going north.

Aunt Valada said it was early morning,
just after she saw the milkman on Princess Street.

Mum couldn’t recall the time.

She said I had gashes on either side of my head
from the forceps. I had to stay in hospital,

there was something wrong with my eyes.
Grandma recommended carrots, bread crusts

to give me curly hair and it worked out
as did 10:30 a.m. figured out by Elizabeth,

the astrologer I once slept with, the two of us
in her single bed, the Cowboy Junkies on CD.

Mary Ann Moore, Unpublished with Permission

Mary Ann Moore need little introduction to the Vancouver Island writing community. Based out of Nanaimo she has been leading writing circles and has been a wonderfuly frequent participant at poetry retreats and readings up and down the island for many years. It has been a pleasure to hear Mary Ann’s poems for more than ten years. To see how her poet’s  eye for  details using a spare everyday plain diction has developed and developed into today’s finely honed and distinctive voice. Each word counts and her comic timing feels just right. In her poem above, to start at birth in hospital and end up in a single bed with an astrolger lover! Got to love it!

I first met Mary Ann at a Patrick Lane poetry retreat many years ago and so I was so glad to see the photo below taken at a Patrick Lane retreat by my dear friend Liz McNally, for many years the organizer of the Patrick retreats. And it was Liz I first featured in this series on poets mentored by Patrick! The second poet featured was Martha Royea. Other Patrick poets I have featured outside this series include Heidi Garnett, Rosemary Griebel, Linda Thompson, Barbara Pelman, Rhonda Ganz, Terry Ann Carter and, Susan Alexander.

So much to like in Mary Ann’s poem. It reminds me of poems by Ted Kooser, former poet laureat of the U.S. This attention to small details of everyday life compressed into poetry. And what a great opening line: Even though. The tension created there carries through the poem. A family and friends list poem. Lovely touches. The details around each person mentioned. And for me the great echo in the second couplet from Robert Penn Warren’s great poem: Tell Me a Story and these lines: It was the season before the elderberry blooms,/ Therefore they were going north. And Mary Ann: Dad was sure it was midnight, he heard/ the whistle of the train going north.

The last lines are so delightful. So at ease inside themselves. The reference to her Grandma’s  folk wisdom, how it turned out. And the almost throw-away mention of how her birth time worked out too! Her lover astrologer figured it out. The timing and tone of the last lines, just right! And the single bed! Patrick often commented how the little details can make a poem! This poem proves it.

Canadian poet Mary Ann Moore with Patrick Lane at a Honeymoon Bay Retreat. Patrick editing!

There is a touch of understated quirky humour in Only Child with the astrolger reference and the quirkiness continues with this next poem.  Pat Conroy once said that a dysfunctional family was a great asset to a writer. Well for Mary Ann I would say the characters in her family are a huge asset for her as a poet! Especially her Grandma! Enough water to scale a pig! Yikes! Shaved her moustache before going to church!. Double wonderful yikes! And the ever so deft last line: In our kitchen, I boil just enough water for two! A serious poem with a great comic undertow!

Memoir II

I was born home-loving, under the sign of Cancer,
grew up with my grandparents in their small, Ontario house.

Plum trees, a potato patch, hollyhocks against the woodshed.
A pump in the middle of the garden.

Milk came from the cows at the farm across the road.
Pigs were scalded in hot water in an outdoor vat.

That’s enough water to scald a pig Grandma would say,
if Mum put too much water in the kettle on the woodstove.

Grandma softened her upper lip with a hot facecloth,
shaved her mustache before going to church.

The pig’s hair was heated just enough to be easily removed.
When strung up, its innards cascaded in fat coils of blue.

Someone once told me pork is the closest to human flesh.
In our kitchen, I boil just enough water for two.

Mary Ann More, Unpublished, with permission


  1. Linda Roberts
    Posted April 6, 2020 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so very much for your inspiration contained in your recent blogs. I am now an avid fan. I was especially touched by your references to Robert Bly and David White, both of whom, we both admire so much.. Linda R

  2. Carolyn Stuart
    Posted April 8, 2020 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Have had the privilege to attend many of Mary Ann’s workshops. Her poetry, and her presence in one’s life are both joyful. Thanks for this column.

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