Poetry Festival excitement

I am super excited to be reading at the Edmonton Poetry Festival today for Poetry Central 1 at City Hall, and honoured to be on the bill with four other poets I admire. The theme of this year’s fest is HomeWord, and I have tried to keep that in mind when I chose the pieces I want to share.

The fest actually kicked off yesterday morning with a BYOV (local poets organizing their own events at various city venues) called Poetry and Stillness. It was meditative and beautiful. The words were enriching. It gave me the focus and energy I need for the rest of the busy week.

Hoping to catch as many events as I can, and then finish with a workshop by Arleen Pare on Saturday. The Fest always puts on spectacular workshops.

Still plan to post the Poem-A-Day to finish out the month. If you’ve been reading any of my posts, thank you so much. And hopefully you’re poeming along too. The world needs your words. Poetry can be the force that makes us protect what’s important, and fight for the world we want. But Alice Walker said it better, with one of my favourite quotes about poetry:

“Poetry is the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution, and the raising of consciousness.”

 

Gratitude for public poetry – especially now

Something quite wonderful happened to me this summer. I was lucky enough to be one of four poets to have a poem featured on Edmonton transit as part of the Edmonton Poetry Festival’s Poetry Moves initiative. Knowing how many creative and talented writers there are in our community, I was surprised and flattered to be picked. Of course it’s great to have your work recognized, but the real reason I am excited to be part of Poetry Moves is because I believe so strongly in the value and need for poetry to be displayed in public places.

People are often skeptical of poetry because it can seem mysterious, elitist and even scary. How it scares and who it scares can differ.  Someone may dislike poetry because he or she has been made to feel, for a variety of reasons, that poetry is too intellectual or elusive. And then there are those who fear what poetry — and what all art — is capable of doing: inspiring hope. Public poetry is necessary both to welcome those who might not otherwise have access to poems, and to stick it to those who would rather not have poetry at all.

If you call yourself a poet, you’ve surely had the opportunity — I’d even say the pleasure — to defend poetry. Devoted as they may be to words, the poetry lover is still a  bit of a rare beast. So questions like, “What is the point of poetry?” or “Who really needs poetry?” or “Does poetry matter anymore?” do come up, even from fans of other forms of art and literature. A quick “poet quote” search provides countless examples of famous poets of the past, and not-so-famous-poets of the present, providing answers to these questions. Some of my favourites include:

“A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.” – Salman Rushdie

“Poetry is the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution, and the raising of consciousness” – Alice Walker

and perhaps my very favourite:

“Poetry is an act of peace. Peace goes into the making of a poet as flour goes into the making of bread.” – Pablo Neruda

These quotes have been especially resonant for me lately. Never before in my lifetime has the world seemed more in need of awakening, activism and awe. I do believe, as I always have, that exposure to poetry — and all forms of art — is one of the surest ways to spark the brain, open the heart and move the soul. It’s the reason art is so often hated and feared by those who possess, or strive to achieve, absolute power. Art promotes understanding and connects us, and for those seeking to divide and conquer, nothing is more dangerous than empathy and unity.

Though I am Canadian, a recent news story has caused me to spend a lot of time thinking bout that gigantic American symbol, the Statue of Liberty. During a White House briefing, one of Trump’s senior advisers,  Stephen Miller, got into a heated exchange with a CNN reporter about the meaning and importance of the Emma Lazarus poem “The New Colossus” which is inscribed on Lady Liberty. Many of us are familiar with the poems famous lines welcoming the world’s “tired … poor … huddled masses yearning to breathe free” to American soil. It’s easy to see why such a poem would be so threatening to the current US administration. And I was thrilled to see The Guardian newspaper publish smart, heartfelt and sometimes funny responses from 21 current poets.

As I began to read more about this story, and the origin of the poem, it was unsurprising to learn that self-described “alt-right” members have been calling for the poem’s removal for years. And I couldn’t have been more tickled to know that one sonnet — one public poem — was so very threatening to white supremacists. This is an example of a very famous poem inscribed on a very prominent symbol, but the potential exists for any public poem — even the seemingly non-political — to move people to action, understanding and hope.

This is why I am so grateful for programs like the one the Edmonton Poetry Festival continues to support. For many people riding the buses or the LRT this summer, the Poetry Moves picks might be the only contemporary poem they read this year. It might even be the only poem by a local writer that they ever read. There might be a line or a word that sparks a memory, an emotion, a bit of imagination in a reader that then ignites a desire to consume or create more art. That is how a poem can keep us all from going to sleep. That is how poetry can be an act of peace.

PAD 2017 – Day 23

Part of the fun of the poem-a-day challenge has been trying out new forms. Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt called for a “double elevenie,” a form I’d never heard of before. I’m often drawn to the sparseness of micropoems, haiku & senryu, so I enjoyed trying to make something work within the form. I used the Writer’s Digest prompt of  writing a poem with a “Last ____” title as my starting point.

 

last call

 

boy

beer drinker

grimy dive joint

swallowing all his loneliness

again

 

girl

serving drinks

eyeing the boy

a bad idea, but

tempting

 

After my amazing day yesterday learning and writing with so many energetic poets at the Jane Munro workshop, I got to spend my evening listening to readings by current Edmonton Poet Laureate Pierrette Requier, Marilyn Dumont, and several great local poets who took part in the open-mic portion. Ms. Dumont is not just one of my favourite Alberta poets, she’s one of my favourite poets period. To see her read live is a huge treat, and she’ll be doing it again tonight with many other talented Indigenous writers as part of the final Edmonton Poetry Festival event, Beyond Reconciliation. Take a listen to her reading of “A Letter To Sir John A. McDonald” from her first book A Really Good Brown Girl.

But before that, local poets and poet fans get a chance to wrap-up the PoFest17 with the always delightful Cafe Readings. I’m so excited to be hosting one of the sessions at L’Espresso Cafe this year. If you’re in town, don’t let the snow win! Come downtown to take some poetry in!

PAD 2017 – Day 20

Some days prompts push me into unexplored places, and sometimes they just inspire something easy and fun. Today the Writer’s Digest assignment called for a “task” poem, while the NaPoWriMo prompt suggested using the vocabulary of a particular game or sport. The first thing I thought of was Monopoly, a game I’ve always loved, even though I’m not much of a capitalist.

Building a Monopoly

Always be the banker
because she who controls her money gets ahead.
Resist the temptation to race straight to Boardwalk.
Build your empire, but know that sometimes
the biggest payoff is the one earned gradually.
Ride the rails, find adventure. Pass go, but go slow.
Look out the window and breathe.
Imagine your first house, the land its staked on,
what kind of flowers you’ll plant in your yard.
You can do it alone, virtue and vision,
but two to six players make it fun.
Shut your eyes and see the people
inside your little green house, the ones
who make this repeat trip around,
around the square worthwhile.
Imagine the hotel upgrade
when you’ve cornered the market
on your Lovopoly. Happiness,
a get-out-of-jail-free card
that never expires.

Yesterday I gave the Alberta Poet shout-out to Calgary’s first Poet Laureate. Today I point to the immensely talented Micheline Maylor, Calgary’s current Poet Laureate.  Whenever possible I think it’s great to hear a poet reading her own words. I’m sure that on the page, Ms. Maylor’s “Mercury” would still be stunning, but there’s so much power conveyed in the pace and tone she reads it with here, and the images that accompany it.

The Edmonton Poetry Festival hosts Ms. Maylor today, along with Gisèle Villeneuve, Kimmy Beach, Lisa Martin and Douglas Barbour for Literary CocktailsI am sad that I can’t attend this, but if you’re in YEG and free, you most definitely should.

PAD 2017 – Day 16

I woke up to snow where I am this supposedly spring morning. It made me a little grumpy at first, as I’m ready for spring, but it also seemed like good inspiration for the Writer’s Digest  prompt to write a poem with the title “______ System.” I decided to try to combine it with the NaPoWriMo letter-poem prompt.

Replying to a Note From a Weather System

Dear Keeper of the Clouds,
You’ve been busy this morning.
Busy making rain and snow,
reminding us that as much
as we wish for change — a slow
smile of green taking over the
trees, a peak of purple crocus
pushing through the grey dirt
— you are in charge. You set
the tone. I wonder, Keeper,
if you’re sending us a message.
Writing as clear as the crystalline
flakes falling. A raised eyebrow in
our direction. We’ve been
shirking our jobs as stewards
of this land, we know, Keeper.
We’ve been chasing more dollars
than dreams, stuck ourselves in the
dirty mud of the past, instead of
looking ahead — up, to you — to
see that we can be more, for
each other and for the earth
we share. I wonder, Dear Keeper,
if we’ll catch a whispering snowflake,
quiet our simmering voices,
and listen?

Today is also a beautiful day in Edmonton because it’s the start of the Edmonton Poetry Festival! The line-up of featured local and Canadian poets is as amazing as ever. I thought I would mark the day by linking to a great poem from current Edmonton Youth Poet Laureate Nasra Adem. Please take a minute to watch, listen and enjoy “Blush.”

PAD 2017 – Day 1

Hooray, hooray it’s the first of…April! That means the start of National Poetry Month, and NaPoWriMo. Like previous years, I am attempting to write and post for the poem-a-day challenge, using prompts from various places (there are lots of great ones out there!) and combining them if it works.

I am big on ambition, but short on time, so I don’t expect these poems to be particularly polished. But what I’ve learned from previous years of participating in this is that it’s more about the discipline it takes to write something every day, and also about finding ways to experiment or try out new forms.

I am also going to use the month to shine some light on the many, many wonderful poets who live in my own province, Alberta. I plan to post a link to an online work by an Alberta poet each day, and encourage you to not only read their work, but take the time to seek out and support the poets in your own region. They will thank you for it.

Today’s poem comes from a Writer’s Digest prompt to write a “reminiscing” poem, mixed with the NaPoWriMo prompt to emulate the style of poet Kay Ryan.

 

A Shady Path

 

Imagine a tree

so thick at its base

that even Billy’s

long arms couldn’t

embrace the space,

but how sharp

the sound, the snap

of one fallen branch

blocking our path,

just a trio of leaves

left on its skinny

fingers, the way

a whisper of breeze

slipped under

my dress like

a warning.

 

My Alberta poem today comes from one of my all-time favourite poets, Alice Major. Not only am I constantly amazed by Alice’s books (of which there are many), but I am also in admiration of her lifetime commitment to spreading the love of poetry. She is the first poet laureate of Edmonton and the founder of the fabulous Edmonton Poetry Festival. Please click here to read the wonderful poem  “Suncatcher” and learn more about Ms. Major.

PAD Challenge – Day 17

Hooray, it’s haiku day! The Poetic Asides prompt calls for a haiku, or a poem about haiku (which could be fun to write). This Is Not A Literary Journal suggests a weather poem in the first person. I’ll took a little of that inspiration, to incorporate weather/seasons in these:

 

 

white hare

muddied brown

spring rain

*****

tenting

the wasps pelt

like hail

*****

early snowfall

chillin’

on patio chairs

*****

December thaw

temporary lakes

in the boot prints

*****

On of my favourite places to read haiku is on the DailyHaiku site, edited by Nicole Pakan and Patrick M. Pilarski. Though they’re from Edmonton, the site features the best work of renowned haiku poets from around the world.

The NaPoWriMo prompt today calls for picking words from a specialized dictionary to incorporate into a poem. A cool idea for some unique inspiration another day.

One final note: Today is the start of The Edmonton Poetry Festival. If you live in the area, take a minute to check out some of the great events, workshops and readings…many of which are completely free! And if you have some time this afternoon, come by Thresholds, an event I’m proud to be a part of.

April is the poemiest month!

Hooray! It’s April, and the start of National Poetry Month! I love April for many reasons, like more hours of sunshine, the promising sight of tulips pushing out of the brown earth, and the fabulous Edmonton Poetry Festival. While I adore T.S. Eliot **, I just can’t agree that April is the cruelest month…not when so many poets come together to celebrate words.

Last year I approached the April poem-a-day challenge with gusto, and managed to squeak something out every morning. Some of those poems will always remain the unseen wordblurt of a first draft, but several have become poems I’ve felt confident enough to share at readings, or to include in my manuscript-in-progress. What I really took away from last year was a kind of discipline to write every day, and the realization that there are no wasted words. I also learned so much by reading the work of other poets.

This year I’m trying to use the prompts at both the Poetic Asides poem a day challenge, and the NaPoWriMo prompts posted at This Is Not A Literary Journal.  I’m not sure I’ll manage to write two poems every day, but I’ll see where the ideas from each site take me.

Some days I will post my own poems here, and some days I will post a link to beloved poems by others. Whenever possible, I will try to post links to works by Canadian poets.

So hooray for April, the wordiest month!

Oh, and here’s the quick bit I wrote for today’s Poetic Asides prompt to write a “fool” poem:

daffodils

sheathed in snow

April Fool

** And do click here to read the beautiful poem The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot