poetic license

This week in my introductory writing course we covered poetry. I am not much of a poet though I tried my hand at poetry in junior high and felt pretty sure I was the next…well, good poet (I didn’t actually read poetry so there was no one I was aspiring to be). I occasionally wrote mushy or cryptic poems the year I met my hubby.

At that time, I was all of 18. In 1982, when I was 20, I wrote A LOT of poetry. Apparently I REALLY loved my (now) husband.

One poem (pictured above) I wrote in junior high garnered some attention from my teachers. It’s not because it was well written, but because I used the word “caressed”.

Now, this is 1974 and apparently that was not considered a 12-year-old student’s type of word.

My dreams of being a great poet came to a crashing halt. I recall having a very intense discussion with my English teacher about that word and explaining that my mother owned a rhyming dictionary, a regular dictionary and a thesaurus (she was/is a writer/broadcaster). Words were a big thing in our house.

I was one of a very, very small number of children that came from single parent families at the time; as a matter of fact, I cannot actually recall any one else whose parents were divorced. I always felt our family was under scrutiny. A few years earlier, at this same school, my brother had been suspended because he (and my mother) refused to have his hair cut – it was below his shoulders at the time. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised about the line of questioning from my teacher about my word usage. It did crush me that he questioned my ability, though.

(That being said, a year or so later, when my marks plummeted and I withdrew from all extracurriculars, not one teacher asked why. I’m not sure I would have told them that one of the coworkers was sexually assaulting me, but it would have been great if their concern was at least consistent.)

This week, I wrote a ton of poems. The criteria for the assignment was that it had to be focused on our senses, full of descriptive language. I realized, through this process, that my writing is not particularly descriptive. And, also apparently, I am very stuck on the experience of drinking tea.

Let me explain.

At least 5 of the 10 or so poems I ‘shortlisted’ for submission were about tea. Mainly about an experience I had a month or so ago.

On Fridays, I go to a writing workspace in east Toronto. A group of anywhere from 3 to 10 writers go to this space and write in silence for 3.5 hours.

I mean silence.

The kind of silence that when I poured my tea, I could hear the tea pour into the cup. I could hear it swirling. I could sense the motion from the sound. It was striking.

It was crazy loud in this quiet space. And every time someone else poured their tea, I heard it again. I was so enamored with this sound, I wrote about it that day and it became a bit of an obsession with all my writing.

I am working on a longer fiction piece and I put it into the piece. I wrote about it regularly in my daily freewriting. Finally, I put it into my poem this week. I even called the poem awoken because I felt like that tea experience was a bit of an awakening.

Tea and writing – a good pairing.


my breath
enters my body
cascades like a soft wind
down my throat
fills my lungs
then departs
with the unwanted
residues of the night

a chinook
clearing winter’s chill

the tea
pours into the cup
a sound unheeded
in the thousand times
I brewed before
ears attuned
to the soft spinning
of liquid in the cup

an eddy in
the hot current

the beauty
of snow on the path
crisp, glistening
filling my heart
my waking and
sleeping selves
spirits lifted
burdens displaced

fireflies illuminating
the direction home

sometimes I need only to stand

all italicized quotes by Mary Oliver, poet, 1935-2019

Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed

Many times lately I have said to hubby, we have such a great life. That’s not new; ups and downs have been happening for 56+ years, but attentiveness to those waves has been a more recent practice.

These past few years, there have been a lot of moments in which I only needed to stand where I was to recognize the blessing – and then I voice it, to myself, or to whoever is there with me. I “over emote” on social media, unapologetically.

Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

Life is not always rosy and paying attention to that is also important. I have shared about loss, fears, anger, frustration, and trauma.

I find the down drifts easier to deal with if I remember to be swept away by the beauty of a sunny day, or a sunset, or a giggly baby, or an elderly couple holding hands, walking slowly down the street.

Ten times a day something happens to me like this – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet empathic ping and swell. This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.

The beauty of art, well, that is a whole other wonderful wave of emotion. A photo, a story that takes me somewhere – all are things that make you stand still and be astonished.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

to share or not to share

A friend of my daughter sends out an email weekly with “insights, info, thoughts and other things”. I really enjoy the emails; they are funny, thought-provoking, and candid.

This week, the author, Jess, spoke about sharing. Not in the “here’s half my bagel” sharing, but the kind that comes from telling people the real deal in your life. That you’re struggling or confused or sad, or…whatever.

When it comes to writing, I believe that sharing is a big deal. I have literally hundreds of pages of stories and poems and thoughts. I have rarely shared them. One of the reasons is simple, and probably something lots of creative types experience: I don’t know if what I write is of interest to other people. (You’re reading my blog, so obviously I put that concern aside on occasion.)

The biggest hold back comes in two forms. I don’t want to throw my burdens onto those I love. Working out certain issues or problems or trauma through writing has meant thoughts or experiences I have not previously shared in-depth are starkly put onto paper. Sometimes though it’s as simple as me not wanting to embarrass those loved ones. I grew up with a mom who is a broadcast journalist on radio and television and occasionally she said things I would rather she hadn’t.

The second hold back is an old comment another mom said to me. I was answering a very pointed question about my childhood and after I responded, this person said, “You know what? Get over it. We all have stuff in our lives.”

It’s interesting because in the email from Jess she addresses this second hold back. She stated that others can benefit from you sharing what you have gone through. And she’s very right. I know that I have found reading something in a book or a magazine or an email that I can relate to, or that eases a burden – well, it’s a game changer. I’ve never been sure my experiences have that kind of value to others.

This type of thinking has kept multitudes of people silent and was core to my thinking around sharing my #metoo story – and I definitely was not alone as the thousands of stories flooding out proves.

“One should try to write as if posthumously. Because then you’re free of all the inhibition that can cluster around even the most independent-minded writer. You don’t really care about public opinion now… You don’t even care what your friends, your peers, your beloved think. You’re free. Death is a very liberating thought” -Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens definitely followed his own advice; as a very controversial writer (once claiming that Mother Theresa was a fraud, for instance), he wrote whatever the hell he felt like, consequences be damned.

As I mentioned last week when I wrote about submitting my work to a writing contest, putting things out in the world has become something I’m doing for myself. I am not interested in being controversial or having a hate fest arise on twitter. I am interested in sharing, in hopes of lifting burdens, mine included. And if, down the road, my fiction stories bring some happiness or entertainment value, that will be great, too. I don’t think I’ll ever write like I’m dead, but I think that ‘putting it out into the universe’ without any expectation of approval or accolades is a doable action plan.