Tag Archives: Carmine Starnino

For the Love of Canadian Poetry

Last week my writer’s group surprised me with a surprise poetry reading in honor of my University graduation. The members of the group brought my favorite poets as well as their favorite poets and I noticed something startling. Almost every poetry book that was brought was Canadian. I have often pondered this idea of what we represent as a culture and as I stared at the poetry books strewn across the table and listened to the words ease out of the tongues, I knew. Canadian poetry has a specific flavor that I cannot quite pinpoint. It is almost as if it is close to the ground. Earthy and colloquial. A language and cadence that reminds me of wheat fields, simplicity and northern breezes.


One of the members of the group, a children’s writer, whose first language is not English had some trouble reading the likes of Ann Scowcroft. It is almost as if she expected the rhythm to zig instead of zag. The key she needed to read it was to just let it flow and allow the language to take her where it wanted to go. As I scan around my house, my poetry section is overwhelmingly Canadian. Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson and Rumi are a few names that stand out among a sea of Canadiana spines. Because I have trouble figuring out what makes Canadian poetry Canadian, I decided to create a mosaic poem province to province, coast to coast and maybe you could help me figure it out:

In deep sand a beetle shoulders

her way toward paradise

I think moth and the Miller moth

appears out of my mind

it sits on the kitchen windowpane

between pieces of smutty wings

I’ve smashed on the glass.

Maybe it was the way we became animals.

The rusty smell of turning meat on the grill,

the private urges of the bedroom, memory

the summer heat and the women arriving

in his truck night after night.


Obviously, if you’re suffering from what that old Negro woman

in one of Faulkner’s stories called “the mizry,”

better stay away from the hives.

Canadian bees, especially (like Canadian men), are comfortable

with three periods only (and occasionally a fourth or fifth in the spring),

but not one of these is menstrual.
The Mackenzie’s mouth became

it’s own channels.

The beluga whales swam into the

delta waters

as if to watch a river boat wade

out to salt sea.


We could ascend

For a sky dive drive, convertible down

Down the west coast fault line

Big Sur, down the magnetic incline

For a joy ride on the edge of tectonic cataclysm

Abysm deep as a sorcerer’s paroxysm

At eleven million miles a minute

We could hang onto precarious cliffs like a couple

of unresolved endings.

India opened zero and gods

crawled out. Then everything else

fell in. Became, in falling, infinitely lovely, lit

with presence. Light in the still-life, spark in the field

we angle toward, odd-numbered

in a wonky sorrow, sight-lined to the vanishing point

with no end to speak of.


Everything about the place

demands affection…

In Edmonton, they are cursing

ancestors and old Volkswagens, shovelling

themselves into cardiac events.

In Churchill,

snow is an animal.


That hollow, hurried sound

feet on polished floor

and in the dollar store

the clerk is closing up

and counting loonies trying not to say,

I hate Winnipeg!

and your geezerly sofa slouch and snore bring to mind

Greek men sunning themselves on

Parc Athena benches.


In the long open Vancouver Island room

sitting by the indoor avacados

where indoor spring light

falls on the half-covered bulbs.

When I think travel, I think shed–

As in this skin into which I pour my life

by drop or downfall away away with the day-to-day,

the uninhabited rituals of morning,

the neediness of even a coffee cupm

with the hardened dust of fine grounds

just beneath its rim where milk foam lifted

but did not deliver them to your waiting mouth this morning.


This is the way of heaven and I try not to forget

as two miniscule clouds drift by     almost motionless

carrying their single glass of water        afraid to spill it.

In close-up, and in memory,

the tree frog wasn’t really credible,

a translucent elf from some outer space,

splayed, finger pads extended,

on the porch screen. I gaped at it,

it gaped into the wide night.

The tao that can be spoken

is not the true Tao: so the sage,

who probably did not exist, and with

exquisite paradox, began.

I slipped off to fetch the camera

and when I got back it was gone.


An offering of my collection. A mosaic poem. Stanzas from Patrick Lane, Lorna Corzier, Rosemary Griebel, Tim Bowling, Robert Kroetsch, Sheri-d Wilson, Karen Solie, The Weakerthans, Carmine Starnino, Michael Ondaatje, Ann Scowcroft, Don Domanski and Don McKay respectively. Perhaps you, too, can see why I devour the Canadian stuff.



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Filed under Poetry

Writing vs. Running Away

I met with one of my poetry mentors yesterday. He brought up the plight of an artist or more specifically a writer. His advice was to always check in with yourself and ask yourself why it is you are writing. For him, and he said this in a half-joking tone, if he knew what else to do he would head for the hills as far away from his writer-self he could get. He was not the first person to say this to me. One of my favorite poets, Carmine Starnino, said that he would run away from poetry if it didn’t keep pulling him back in. Writing is a choice and then it isn’t. For me, abandoning my writer-self is not an option despite the fact that there is very little external reward for the majority of writers. However, writing is in my blood and I feel it encapsulated by my cells. Writing is my first love and it keeps pulling me back in. Why? I think it is because of the inner reward I feel. It is hard work and I am always battling the nasty demons of self-doubt. However, when I produce a poem or have something I feel like saying in a blog…there it is. I can see and feel myself extended on the page. I love that the page acts as a mirror and I can relive my experiences and my thoughts in a way that hadn’t gained perspective before. Writing is a meditation of sorts and I can express thoughts that were hiding around the crevices of my brain where I did not even know thoughts existed.

Last night, a good friend/fellow writer texted me and asked me to free-write with her and then we were to email each other our inner excavations. The writing prompt was to write something smutty and if you couldn’t write something smutty, why it was that you were unable to. Smut is not my forte for the record. I wasn’t sure what was going to come through my pen, but I was excited to find out. In the meantime, it has been on my mind to try fiction writing but nothing had come out. No characters. No story-line. So here I was, the timer had started, and all of a sudden characters were there and a voice I hadn’t heard before. I kept writing, allowing myself to be free with a voice that wasn’t totally my own. Parts of the story were based on truth, but a lot of it I was just making up. I followed the visions that appeared in my head and wrote them as I saw them. After the timer beeped, I re-wrote it and more images came through and I was surprised at the places my character had seen that I hadn’t been able to previously. I felt alive. This is why I write. To discover things in myself I didn’t know existed. I have always wanted to travel yet my feet have never left this continent. Writing is my way of flying.

~Samantha Baldwin

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Filed under The Writing Process