Tag Archives: poetry

Poetry Does Float

During my vacation in Penticton, B.C., I met a woman who owned a clothing store and after a small hiatus from writing, she pointed me in the direction of The Courage to Create by Rollo May. I was able to get this 70’s gem from the library and am in the midst of carefully reading it since it is in rough condition. Rollo May speaks of the ways we limit ourselves and how we can stop. I haven’t read that far into it, so I don’t have the answers yet. However, the desire to release any limitations in my writer-self has brought some strange experiences my way…

I was fortunate enough to volunteer at When Words Collide, an annual Calgary literary event. As I spent four hours at the Alberta Writer’s Guild information table, not only was I surrounded by delicious looking books, but I was able to meet many interesting people/authors while I was there. One of the women who greeted me was a poet and she bravely asked if she could recite a poem for me. I willingly obliged and she began to read me a poem titled, “Body Image”. I have had my fair share of issues on this topic and here before me was a woman reciting to me with everything she had about how she was reclaiming power over her curves. I grinned from ear to ear as I listened and gave her wild applause when she was finished. She had brought together an vulnerable topic, brought forth through a vulnerable form of art and she walked up to a total stranger and expressed herself fully. I felt as though her poem was speaking directly to me, and I made a connection with her that day. We exchanged information and she graciously gave me her published book of poetry.

My view at When Words Collide

My view at When Words Collide

Yesterday, I was able to go to a free all-day workshop with our poet laureate, Kris Demeanor. It was called, Poetry Floats. My friend notified me about it at the last minute and the Universe conspired to get me there, including the availability of babysitters. I spent all day writing poetry, talking about form and was able to release it to the fountains at Olympic Plaza. I was in the company of a variety of people who had life stories better than fiction. A room full of people searching for creative freedom, and at the end of the day, one of them approached me. She was someone who translated poetry from the 1500’s into English and set it to classical music. She had her training in classical music and works at the conservatory in the museum. She asked me how long I had been writing and said she could tell that my work was more mature than the others she thought. I was shocked and pleasantly surprised, since I thought everyone in the room had amazing talent. Earlier in the day, she had mentioned a quote that said:  ” To finish a painting is to kill it.” She also said that there was a tradition where ladies of a particular culture leave one mistake in the quilts they make as a gesture to be humble before God. In that moment, I realized I had been trapped in perfectionism. Perhaps the poems I write will never be finished and that is OKAY! It was a revelation. All of this time I have been trying to meet the caliber of the other poetic voices that float around in my brain that aren’t mine. All of this time I have been trying to perfect each poem, instead of getting it to where it asks to be. Right now I am abandoning “not good enough” and transforming it into “this is art”, “this is enough”, “I feel great creating!”.  In little more than a day, this has opened up a part of me that is filled with poetry and I cannot get the words out fast enough like a flood, and you know, poetry does float.

Poetry Boat Stays Afloat

Poetry Boat Stays Afloat

NOTE: Registration for our workshops is still OPEN! If you want to register, comment on this blog or email us OR if you want more information check out the workshops tab on the home page.


Filed under Poetry, The Writing Process

New Year’s: Writing Resolutions?

As the new year approaches I am looking back at how my writing held up in 2012. Fortunately, for me, the published poets I have the pleasure of surrounding myself with have a record of writing a total of 12 poems a year. Twelve poems a year on a sabbatical when there was nothing else to do. I suppose having zero poems to share with world and a whole lot of unfinished ideas is not so bad. However, I am still giving myself a hard time about it.

Part of my problem is that I lack a goal or a direction. I have no one to keep me accountable and no deadlines to meet. Instead I have unlimited  time to play around in journals and  I do. In fact, this past year, that is about all I have done. My goal in 2013 is to not only have poems that want to put on a cape and bravely superpower their way into the world, I want to actually research literary magazines and send my poems packing with a postage stamp.

image via youngpoetsnetwork.org.uk

image via youngpoetsnetwork.org.uk

Furthermore, I am currently reading Bird by Bird: Some instructions on writing and life by Anne Lamott and she offers a pretty inspiring yet simple structure on how to write fiction. Many of you reading this may not need it, but if I have any hope in re-wiring my poetic brain I need this advice. Therefore, I would like to try my hand at writing fiction this new year. I believe it will do a couple of things for me: One is that it may stretch the imaginative part of my mind to greater heights and secondly, I will be stepping out of my comfort zone and this may even enhance the poetry side of my writer-self.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

One thing I’ve learned about my writer-self this year is that death does not fuel my creativity. Unfortunately, I have had to attend three funerals in the past three months and I stay away from the pen like it’s the plague. I’m not sure if this is because I fear what will come out  of me in ink or if I just avoid the page when I am going through a tough time because I’m “not in the mood” to write. Either way I have used the funeral excuse more than I would have liked these past three months. However, I am planning on having a regular writing practice in the new year.

Do you have any writing resolutions? I would love to hear them!

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What the heck is Poetry?

When Bob Stallworthy graciously spoke to the Skin  & Stories workshop this past Monday, he really cemented the magic of poetry for me. Bob Stallworthy is a poet, although he was speaking to all genres. Naturally, the first question that flew his way was, “What the heck is poetry, anyway?” With that question I immediately was transported to this place of wondering how I would write poetry if I had no idea how. More importantly, how do you teach poetry to someone who has never dabbled in the genre? After pondering this question for some time, I realized one of the most important things a person can do who wants to write poetry is to READ it! High Schools have ruined many future poets with their boring worksheets on “elements of poetry”: personification, metaphor, simile and alliteration. Poetic devices. No one reads poetry and thinks, “Oh! There is some personification!” Unless that person sets out in search of those devices, they don’t usually surface that way. Poetry works as a whole. Poetry is an experience and we get the pleasure of seeing a poem work the magic of language.

Poetry has been one of those forms that I naturally gravitated towards but never knew what I was doing. Even now, when I workshop a poem (get it critiqued),  people will notice something such as a line break or the placement of a word that created an effect I had no idea was there. My unconscious mind wraps itself around poetry quite easily and it isn’t until I rework a poem that I get to ask myself what just happened.


Currently, I am  reading a book called, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry by Jane Hirshfield which is indispensable when attempting to ask the question: What is poetry? Hirshfield defines it as, “the clarification and magnification of being.” My mentor, Richard Harrison, would define it as “the dramatization of a voice” whereas, a short story as the “dramatization of a character” and the novel as the “dramatization of a world.” For me, poetry is less about emotion and feeling and more about a focus and a dance with language. Poetry gives you very little space to move around in, so everything has a purpose. Every comma, period, line break and combination of words had its own meaning that also works with the poem as a whole. Rhythm emerges in the cadence of the speaker’s voice. Lastly, it is about experience of an event which Bob pointed out to us. I always look at poetry as a ride through someone else’s gaze, someone else’s lens. I get out of my own head for a while when I read poetry. I want to be along for the ride!

If you are attempting to write poetry for the first time, try to abandon everything you were taught in high school and write about an experience…I have the most fun when it is seemingly inconsequential such as your fish swimming around on the mantle or my baby girl kissing the spines of books in the shelf. These apparently insignificant memories trudge up meaning when set to poetry…you might be surprised what you find.

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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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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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