Monday, February 15, 2016

BLOG OF THE WEEK ~ WENDY BOURKE

This week, my friends, we are visiting Wendy Bourke, who lives in beautiful Vancouver, B.C., on the West Coast of Canada. Wendy has been a faithful and wonderfully reciprocal member of Poets United for several years and  I am happy to be catching up with her today. Wendy writes at Words and Words and Whatnot, and she recently wrote a poem that went straight to my heart. Pour yourself a cup of tea, and draw your chair in close. You are going to enjoy this visit. Wendy has also shared some of her beautiful photography with us.





Sherry: Wendy, you look so spiffy in your blue jacket! We last spoke with you in June last year. Would you like to bring us up to date with your life since then? Any trips? Kids and grandkids all doing fine?

Wendy: Currently, we are busy trying to narrow down a cabin to rent, for the every-other-year Bourke summer holiday for the family.  There are ten of us now … kids, partners and grandchildren (and of course, a dog).  

My daughter-in-law has valiantly set herself the hair-pulling task of trying to accommodate the myriad of schedules, budgets and wish-lists that such an undertaking requires, and we so appreciate her taking this on.  We are a very close-knit group and, most of us see each other often.  

My place, really, seems to function like a perpetual layover station.  It is on a major traffic artery, minutes from a skytrain/bus transfer station (and mall, no less), and really couldn’t be better positioned for little “pop-bys” throughout the day.  No danger of empty nest angst settling down on this home - ha! 

Sherry: It sounds busy, and rather wonderful, kiddo. 


Harrison Lake

 
Wendy: This past fall (a non every-other-year Bourke summer holiday year) Mike and I headed up to Harrison Hot Springs.  Beautiful!  One way or other, I usually manage to get to one of my beloved lakes each summer, and that is truly restorative.  

Sherry: It is very beautiful, Wendy! Wow.

Wendy: Other than that, I’m pretty much moiling along – doing a bit of photography, trying to keep up with the writing, and trying to get a few things published.  It is very slow, and somewhat disheartening … many, many submissions – and a lot of rejection.  To coin the expression:  “you have to kiss a lot of frogs”.  But every once in a while, a bit of “abracadabra” comes along, and something comes of it.  We are such a nomadic clan, I do glean pleasure from the idea of leaving a few little “bread crumb” verses behind – little marks that I passed this way.    


Flower Garden on the grounds of
Irving House Museum, New Westminster, B.C.


Sherry: I feel the same way. I am archiving my work in book form, in hopes some of my family may preserve my writing and, occasionally, maybe even read some of it. LOL. 

Wendy, recently I really loved your "Knitting Mittens",  and would love to include it here, with your permission. Let's read the poem, shall we?  And then would you tell us its story? 



Knitting Mittens


KNITTING MITTENS

When she called to tell me - it was confirmed - she had dementia, the morning sky, from my window, suddenly morphed, before my eyes, to black and grey - the day ripped to rags in fuming clouds ... as my world, quietly, tore asunder. 

From the phone I heard her voice - brittle and stiff - say: the news is not good ... looks like, I have Early Stage Alzheimer's ... makes a strange kind of sense, doesn't it ... with everything ... and all ... but, I don't want to talk about it now ... just thought I'd call to say ... I have dementia, and she giggled - somewhat strained, I thought, but still: in that lovely breeze-on-wind-chime way she has. 

I said I would come to her - but she said no, not now. She had something she wanted to do alone - something she wanted to get started on. And she told me that she needed to knit. She had knitted by her mother's side, when she was a young girl and she needed to feel her mother near her. She needed to knit and shoo away 'the dark clouds' with memories. And as long as she could do that - a few stitches - every day - it would be a splendid day, and she giggled again ... and whispered: I'm going to knit you mittens, to help keep you warm when winter comes - as she hung up the phone.

stitches ... knit ... purl ...
a lifetime of moments -
beneath a splendid sky



Boats in the New Westminster Quay
on the Fraser River

Sherry: Oh, Wendy, it is just so moving, that she would want to knit you mittens “to keep you warm when winter comes,” having just received such news.  Oh my goodness.

Wendy: "Knitting Mittens" is about a woman receiving the news that she is in the early stages of Alzheimers.  I had read a number of pieces – poems and articles – written from the perspective of family members and friends dealing with a loved one’s Alzheimers, though I haven’t come across very much written from the standpoint of a person, grappling with the devastating news.  It is such a horrible disease – a mean disease – that takes so much away from sufferers – and those who care about them – as it runs its course.  I remember when my Aunt told me that she had been diagnosed with it.  She had been Head Nurse in a small city hospital and had witnessed a lot of tragedy and heartache.  

For that reason, she was probably more stoic about life’s cruel realities than the average person.  I remember when she told me, she stumbled over the word Alzheimers and took several attempts at pronouncing it.  When she finally did, she smiled and shrugged as if to say:  Well, what’s in a name, after all … you know what I mean.  At the time, one of her daughters was fighting cancer (and would succumb to it before her Mom’s passing) and, it seemed to me, her daughter’s health preoccupied her conversation, much more so, than her own.   

I was struck by her concern and love for her child in the face of her own prognosis, and her dignity in the face of so much to bear.  I attempted to try and capture that in "Knitting Mittens" and also the mother/child bond that is so strong.  It is with us when we begin life and, I think, we long for it and reach out to it for comfort, when the end of life comes. 

Sherry: Yes, I think so too. I admire her strength, dignity and selflessness - her acceptance, that these things happen, and her wish to continue to give as long as she was able. Now that is grace!


Sun Peaks, B.C.


Your beautiful "A Good Dream for a Cold Winter’s Night" is very special. Let's take a peek.

A GOOD DREAM FOR A COLD WINTER'S NIGHT

adrift in a good dream, in silent white
far from the madding din in spellbound snow
in gusts, on this light-as-a-feather night


floating ... in the mystic spirit bright
the moon and stars confer a lantern glow
adrift in a good dream, in silent white


in wintry solitude – the world is right
before me, soft down quilt warms my old soul,
in gusts, on this light-as-a-feather night

each frosted bough and branch: an awesome sight
in misty breath and breezes – wonderful –
adrift in a good dream, in silent white


glittered snowflakes skitter with delight
and swirl, exquisite, in the puff and blow
in gusts, on this light-as-a-feather night


peace on earth – on this good earth – this night
a dream, a wish, a prayer to make it so ...
adrift in a good dream, in silent white
in gusts, on this light-as-a-feather night


Sherry: Such a lovely, peaceful poem, my friend. Will you share your thoughts and feelings, about how this poem came to be?

Wendy: Well, as you know, Sherry, the poets at Poets United are enthusiastic about promoting various poetry rhyming schemes and forms.  By sharing their work, I have been introduced to many ways of capturing poetry that I, likely, would not have come across in my day-to-day world.  

Somewhere, in this process of being exposed to the plethora of styles and structures with which one can express oneself, it occurred to me that there was value in utilizing some of these ways as a means of expressing myself.  I have explored writing in numerous iambic and written triolets, sonnets, prose poems, the various Japanese poetry genres, and so on.  

The villanelle form, for some reason, really, resonates with me.  Initially, the form’s distinguishing feature was its pastoral subject matter – and, the repetition and rhyming scheme really does work so well in concert with nature.  

The two villanelles I have written:  "Untitled Villanelle" and "A Good Dream for a Cold Winter’s Night", both are inspired by seasonal rambles far away from the craziness of city life, and both have a transcendent quality about them.  I know, from reading your work Sherry, that you are very familiar with that communion with nature that one can feel, that is so profound – so moving – that you are transported to a spiritual place that is almost beyond words.  For me, the villanelle form lends itself to the process … of trying to seize that moment, break it down into something you can wrap your head around …. and putting it into words.   

Sherry: And you achieve that very well in this poem, kiddo. For me, it is the pantoum. I so love that form! Would you like to choose one more poem, and tell us its story?

Wendy: Though its popularity has diminished, of late – I am a big fan of light rhyming poetry.  Light poetry has a centuries long history of making a serious point in a subtle (usually amusing), less disrespectful or insulting way.  Pinned (often somewhat surreptitiously) to much larger "real" situations, light poetry was a means of bringing "off-limits" subject matter into the public consciousness.

One of the things I love most about light poetry is its ability to hold up human foibles and “ground us” by drawing attention to our vulnerabilities. The message, (that seems to need repeating),  is that we are – all of us – only human.  I read somewhere that humor unites humankind in a way that nothing else can.  There is empathy in humor.  When we laugh at a ridiculous situation that a character (on film or in a story) finds themselves in, the humor we experience comes from putting ourselves in that situation.  

So often, when I post a humorous poem, I receive comments along the lines of:  Oh, I can so imagine myself doing that.   Narcissists, I have read, do not “get” humor.  They “parrot” laughter, because they have come to learn the acceptable social response, but they do not find it genuinely funny and would, likely, see that character in the ridiculous situation as a fool.  I love it when I see the first inklings of genuine empathetic humor reveal itself in a little child.   I kind of think to myself:  that kid is going to be OK.  For me, this aspect of light poetry informs a lot of the poetry that I write.




Sherry: We adore that humor in your work, Wendy!

Wendy: Thus, I have chosen the poem “Guest Speaker” as my offering, here.  Though I have heard that the fear of speaking in public is a very common fear or phobia, any time I have ever been at a presentation where the speaker is struggling, I have found the audience to be tremendously empathetic (there’s that word again … ha).  Several years ago, following one such experience with this phenomena, I sat down and penned the following (written in hyperbole, of course):

Guest Speaker

The speaker – unaccustomed
to such oratory feats –
cleared his throat, a bit too loudly,
while he fumbled through his sheets.

The crowd sensed, early on,
that they were in for a rough ride –
when he called the "ladies" "laddies"
and knocked the podium off side.

It teetered like a clanging gong upon
the discombobulated stage;
and when he tried to set it right
off flew, his last speech page. 

Soaring high atop the group –
a dizzy, darting, dazed white dove –
elusively zig-zagging,
landing on the light above.

But still the speaker moiled on –
and on – with his tall task.
He’d come to speak and speak, he did.
What more could people ask?

It's true:  he rambled on somewhat
and forgot where he was going.

But, by then, he had them all on board
without his even knowing.

They agonized each coming word
and prayed that that man knew it.
The only thing that mattered now:
just let the guy get through it. 

Every jaw was clenched with dread.
Hands gripped in fists that pleaded.
Perspiration ran like rivers
as they willed the words he needed.

And, when at last, he'd "Um'ed" his last -
and the speech ground to an ending;
they applauded with great gratitude ….
And no one was pretending.


Sherry: Oh this had me smiling! You have captured - exactly! - the situation, and you are right about the audience writhing in sympathy. I laughed out loud at their agonizing at "each coming word and prayed that that man knew it."

Thank you for this, Wendy. It is always such a delight to talk with you. Tell us, is there anything you’d like to say to Poets United, as we begin a brand new year of writing?



COMO LAKE

Wendy: Well, I’d like to express my gratitude, Sherry, for taking this on and for all your efforts – above and beyond – in support of your fellow poets.  And to all the staff at Poets United and everyone who supports, comments and contributes to this wonderful community of poets who blog:  THANK YOU ALL, SO MUCH!  

Sherry: It is we who thank you, my friend, for your faithful participation, and for being such a supportive and reciprocal member of our community. We wouldn't be the site we are without members like you. Thanks for sticking with us.

Well, my friends? Wasn't this delightful? That tortured, shy poet will stay with me for a while, especially next time I attend an open mic, LOL. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


20 comments:

  1. Thanks for this, Sherry. Another wonderful job "uniting" poets who blog. - Wendy

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  2. Wow what a wonderful interview and so much to learn about Wendy.. who so often pass by my blog and comment... love the selected poems and so much insight... such a good job by both of you.

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  3. Thanks for featuring Wendy Sherry ~ I love the pictures (I am envious actually) and the poems of Wendy ~ And a little humor lightens up our work ~

    Have a wonderful week everyone ~

    Grace

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  4. Well this was such a treat Sherry and Wendy! I too love the pictures...but oh your words Wendy are balm for my soul. I especially loved the poem about Alzheimer's, Knitting Mittens. My dad was in his early 50s when he was diagnosed. He endured for 15 years, and it was horrible for all of us.

    And your talent knows no bounds as you easily move from such a hard subject to wonderfully humorous lines....thanks Sherry for sharing Wendy's work with us.

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  5. Love, love, love!!! All three! Your voice, Wendy is very precise and caring. I can't say which I like best, the one that had me gasping back tears, Dreaming in Snow (which I am so happy to revisit) or laughing at the absolute truth I know from both audience and speaker platform. Oh yes. Thanks to both of you for this feature.

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  6. Oh, Wendy, I am so glad that Sherry wrote this article and featured "Knitting Mittens." I loved it the first time and even moreso now. Such a moving poem. I loved reading the story behind it as well... I think that the diagnosis of Alzheimers in such a frightening one. Your poem really gave the reader the sense of how someone receiving the news deals with it.

    And when I read "A Good Dream...." again, as Sherry mentioned, it gives me a sense of peace. I find myself breathing slower as I read, relaxed by your well penned words. We do need to think of peace on earth, even if only in a dream. Sigh.

    "Guest Speaker" made me smile. I appreciate the way you can write both serious poems and humorous poems, Wendy. You are a poet that, when I visit your blog, I never know what I will expect. And as for this particular poem, ha, I think we all have known such guest speakers. And indeed at the end of their speeches they often get the loudest applause of al. Smiles.

    Thank you for sharing your poems with us here at PU, Wendy, and also for your well-thought-out comments on my poetry (and others). And thank you, Sherry, for knowing just how to write an interesting update!

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  7. I first came across Wendy's blog a couple of years ago on Blog Nation where I read some of her light, humorous verse and was immediately hooked! She is quite deft at the genre--and others as well. I really enjoy her photos, too!

    Wendy, thank you, friend, for your faithful support over the years. I so appreciate you. I admire your dedication to submitting your work for publication, too. You may inspire me!

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  8. This one is a fabulous interview ladies. It's always an enriching experience reading your lines Wendy. And your comments on poems too. Love the poems included here specially Knitting Mittens. My best wishes for your upcoming books Wendy. Great job, Sherry as always :)

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  9. I so much enjoyed the poems you shared here, Wendy. Thanks again, Sherry, for another lovely interview.

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  10. Wendy you are very gifted and wishing you more abracadabra moments - you pull all the right strings in your poetry - especially loved the mittens and lines describing the Alzheimer woman disclosing her diagnosis in that "breeze-on-wind-chime way she has".

    thank you Sherry for this in-depth dig into Wendy's bio

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  11. I especially love that "breeze-on-wind-chimes" line, too. This update was such a delight to do, Wendy. Thanks so much for saying yes, and for being a part of Poets United.

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  12. I meet so many poems through comments. Its really nice when I am present with an up close and personal such as this. Happy to know a little more of who is Wendy poet

    Thanks Sherry

    Much love...

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  13. Thank you Sherry for introducing me to a wonderful and creative Wendy Bourke.
    ZQ

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  14. It is always so wonderful to read about a poet's journey, to see the seeds that bloom her poetry... I read "Guest Speaker" with a grin on my face. ♥

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  15. So very nice to meet you! I love your poetry, especially the haibun. I have been hesitant to add humor to my poems even though I so enjoy reading gems like yours. I'm afraid I won't pull it off. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself with us and thank you, Sherry for all you do!

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  16. I've have had the pleasure of reading Wendy's poetry and I am so glad to see her featured here. I always smile when she visits my blog as she leaves wonderful comments. Thank you for that Wendy.

    A Good Dream For A Cold Winter's Night - is absolutely one of my favorites. floating ... in the mystic spirit bright ..just captures the dream like quality of the poem

    Another great feature Sherry!

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  17. What a wonderful interview - thank you both..I think you are moiling along quite beautifully! The subtedtly, observation and feeling in your writing is very effecting. Knitting Mittens captures and conveys so much particularly..without pity - people at their very best...and to be able to laugh at ourselves is one of the best things

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  18. I've been away, so I'm late to comment. So glad I did stop by. I think Wendy is pure talent. Her poetry is crisp and so genuine. Loved the funny one. Loved them all. Thanks Sherry for having Wendy as your guest. As always, you really know how to highlight the best in everyone.

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