Monday, April 29, 2019


The end of April marks the end of an era at our sister site, Imaginary Garden With Real Toads. Another founding member, Shay Simmons, is retiring from the Garden, though thankfully she will still be around, and writing her amazing poems. I thought, this week, that it is fitting to feature her, and to thank her for her work in the Garden, as well as for her amazing poetry, which is like no one else's. Shay shows us the sky's the limit, when it comes to poetry. She demonstrates how sky-high and far-reaching a poem can be. Let's read one of her recent works; this poem took my breath away.

Blue horses came out of the sea last night.
Their hooves made shapes in the sand which spoke 
in Arabian symbols and scents.
They wandered into town on the
cobbled streets and stood
under lanterns lit by nuns made of fog.

You came close, then,
having approached for a million years.
You came close enough to dance
and we danced
like mayflies caught in a globe of disappearing dreams.

Blue horses came out of the sea last night,
muscular and graceful, uncaring
whether I loved you, though I did.
I have a refracted vase
where I saved what I saw in your eyes
that made me love you,
that made the sea roll sleepily
and the stars play wooden flutes, then go silent.

Blue horses came out of the sea last night, and though
it has happened often before,
we made them forget their way,
become lost,
and cry for the pastures they carry in their minds.
Forever now, we will follow their symbols and scents,
each of us separately,
blindly, carrying bridles we made from sand.

Sherry: No one writes love poems like you do, Shay. This is gorgeous! Those blue horses, coming out of the sea, crying for the pastures they carry in their minds. Sigh. That actually hurts my heart with its beauty. 

Shay: I had been listening to Leonard Cohen's second album, and particularly a song called "It Seems So Long Ago, Nancy". It made me want to stop what I was doing and write something, though "Blue Horses" owes more to Lorca than to Cohen. Someday I may develop my own style;-)

Sherry: Right. You need to work on that! LOL. When did you begin writing, Shay?

Shay: I started writing as a child, little short stories. I started with poetry in high school and had my first glossy publication at eighteen. But I went twenty years and never wrote any poetry, before coming back to it in 2006.

Sherry: We are so glad you came back to it! What do you love about poetry?

Shay: I love that it takes me where I couldn't otherwise go. I also love the sheer beauty of the words, and the sort of sideways way that poetry approaches its subject. Poetry is so much richer than prose -- that's why I am always barking about what is poetry and what isn't. Poetry is images, word ballet, emotion, truth. I love it.

Sherry: So well said. I love it, too. Another recent poem I'd like us to take a look at is "Triolet on Parting". Let's check it out.

The earth in motion, turns sun high, turns sun west.
We love, we leave, the blackbird and the marshland reed.
What is stone, what is wind? What is burned, what is blessed?
The earth in motion, turns sun high, turns sun west.
The bed and window, street and station, all our palimpsest.
Each in skin, each in summer; each in plenty, each in need.
The earth in motion, turns sun high, turns sun west.
We love, we leave, the blackbird and the marshland reed. 

Sherry: Sigh. "We love, we leave......" It hurts! 

Shay: With "Triolet on Parting", I wanted to write something really special, because it was my last time hosting at Toads. Someone else had posted a triolet, a form I love, and so I did also. I wanted to write something both global and personal. When I was done, I was unusually satisfied with it. In fact, I love it. Put it on my gravestone. It contains all I have learned about anything.

Sherry: Wow. How wonderful is that?! When you posted it on facebook, you said "I don't think I know how to write any better than this." As one who reads you daily and finds every poem of yours written at the top of your game, what is it about a poem like this that tells you it is one of your best?

Shay: I usually know. I get in a zone when I write, and when I snap out of it - OR, after I've made 50,000 revisions - I kind of go, Woww, did I just write that? I know when it's unusually good. And also when I haven't quite gotten it. Though there are a few times when I don't know, and I have to see what people think.

Shay with a young friend

Sherry: Thank you, Shay, for this visit, and for the almost-decade of all you have given to Real Toads, to the online poetry community, and to your readers, since 2010. I am glad you will still be around, and writing. We will still be reading. You can run, but you can't hide. We will find you!

Do come back, friends, and see who we talk to next. Next Monday will be Telling Tales with Magaly. After that, we have some special poems and poets lined up for you.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Poetry Pantry #478

Sunrise in Iceland

Have you been penning poems furiously  during April? Are you getting tired? Just two more days, after today -  you are almost there! So many wonderful poems were written this month. Congratulations to you all. 

Tomorrow we are featuring Shay Simmons, known to us as Fireblossom, who is retiring from our sister site, Imaginary Garden With Real Toads at the end of this month. Shay is one of its founding members, so I thought it fitting to acknowledge the contribution she has made to the poetry community, and send her off with thanks and appreciation. She is sharing two of her recent breathtaking poems with us, and also talking a bit about what she loves about poetry. You won't want to miss it.

On Friday, I showcased a  wonderful Tofino poet, Janice Lore, including a short video of some of our local folk doing a sort of dance-walk along the shore at Chesterman Beach. If you missed it, do scroll back. It is pretty cool. 

On Wednesday, the first day of May (yay!), Susan's prompt is Biodiversity, a topic that offers a broad scope for responding. I'm looking forward to that.  Next Friday Rosemary will have something interesting for you, as she always does.  And heads-up, next Sunday will be Telling Tales With Magaly, and her theme will be: Phobias.  We can also choose to take one of our old poems and turn it into a new story of 313 words or fewer. I am looking forward to the stories that we'll share.

For now, let's dive into the Pantry and see what goodies await us there. Link your poem, leave us a comment, and let's enjoy sharing our love of the written word. Thanks for being here. We so appreciate every one of you!


Friday, April 26, 2019

I Wish I'd Written This

Tofino, British Columbia, Canada from Pina Bausch Foundation on Vimeo.
[Thérèse Bouchard, Elisabeth Smith, Jan Janzen, Janice Lore, Richenda Pease, Joanna Streetly and Schooner the Dog]

There are always cool things going on in Tofino.  This group of wonderfully creative folk includes the local poet we are featuring today, Janice Lore, who is fourth in line in the video. Last person in line is our Poet Laureate, Joanna Streetly, who we have featured before, followed by her wonderful dog, Schooner. When I asked Janice if I might feature her and the following poems, I remembered this video and asked if we might include it, as I knew you'd love it. Now let's meet Janice, and check out her poem about the wild women of Chesterman Beach. 

Janice Lore

                             Wild Women of Chesterman Beach

                        All day the wild women
      gale over the tombolo
whipping wind around the point.
           The tide surges from either side
                    draws back    rears    
     charges in once more.

        the crones tend the Lennard Island light:
          moan like the fog horn,
    turn the beacon to darkest fears—
     —turning—returning—   every ten seconds
    through the long night’s howl.

      Tattered garments rise up around beach fires.
           Smoke streaks along the black ghost of forest.
                A descant wails above the wild water’s thunder.

*                *                *

If I were to disappear tonight
                                     into this roiling silence,
                   you would find me
  rocked in their arms,
        crooned secrets filling my lungs
                   like seawater.

*                *                *

Sherry: Well, you can see why I love this poem! Janice Lore is a member of the Clayoquot Writers Group, and is very active in the arts community. I asked her how she enjoys being one of the wild women she writes about.

Janice: I never think of myself as one of the wild women who live here, although I aspire to be one! The wild women I have come to know here are important role models for me. They show me ways to be in the world that make sense to me, in a world that often does not seem to make sense, and I count myself fortunate to be in their company.

Where did I grow up?  I grew up on a farm just north of Calgary, Alberta, and then lived for almost 20 years in that city. In 1994 I moved to Tofino.

What place says "home" to me? The prairie I know, as one can only know a landscape one has explored since childhood. There is always the feeling of coming home when I emerge from the mountains out onto the open plains. I love the spectacular landscape of the west coast and I crave its world of green and water when I am not here. But in some ways I still feel a stranger, here in the rainforest, beside the ocean, even after 25 years.

There are other ways a place whispers “home,” though. The west coast, Tofino, is where I have found my tribe, my pack, my wild women. It is here, in this community of artists, that my artist’s heart has finally found home.

Sherry: That creative community is a large part of the magic of Tofino! Let's enjoy another of your poems, Janice, and immerse ourselves in the beat of the wild, wild waves.

The Winter Work of the Sea              

Valentine’s Day.   There is enough light now
           we don’t have to walk the beach in darkness,
                        stumbling on great coiled serpents of bull kelp.

                            Enough light   we can catch sight of
      the crepuscular crows
         their dark silent murders
swarming for the rookery on Lennard Island.

Enough light   we don’t need to splash blindly,
    can pick our way instead
           through the red rivulets that course down the beach
                                              from the cedar forest.

                    Enough light   we can discern
         the winter work of the sea,
how it hauls away the sand it delivered last summer,
          in the process
               excavating old car chassis tumbled and buried by the surf,
                    revealing nubs of posts pounded in during the war
         to prevent the enemy from landing on the beach.

Enough light to illuminate what we could not see:
         The reason for our stumbling,
                the form of the darkness passing over us,
                        the nature of what we have waded through,
                                 what has been exposed by the storms of winter.

                                 We have prayed for this returning light
                            for a whole shoreless season —
                  never certain light will come again,
         never certain we will have the courage
to face it
when it does.

                                                    *                    *                   *

Sherry: Wow. Those closing lines are so powerful! When did you begin writing poetry, Janice?

Janice: I began writing poetry as soon as I could write. I was probably composing verse before that, I don’t remember. I was certainly known in my family for word play (intentional or otherwise) from a very young age. My father loved poetry, and used to recite it to us on special occasions or when something brought a poem to mind. In fact, his wake-up call to us when we were children was A. E. Housman’s Reveille:

Up, lad, up, t’is late for lying.
Sunlit pallets never thrive.
Morns abed and daylight slumber
Were not meant for man alive.

His love of poetry stimulated mine.

I love words. I love the sounds and rhythms of poetry. I love the ability of poetry to speak of ideas and emotions I can’t otherwise articulate.

As a child I wrote plays and directed and performed in them (I am sure they were awful!) but in my teenage years I set aside my love of drama, and didn’t return to it until middle age. Something made me want explore what dramatic expression could add to a poem. 

Janice as Amelia Earhart 
In her performance poem "Amelia"
Photo by Eileen Floody

Several members of my writers’ group were also interested in exploring this, and that exploration led to the performance poetry group “Performance Anxiety” and several public performances. I think I love performance poetry because it builds on my excitement about interdisciplinary work – taking work in one medium and seeing what possibilities open up as it is transformed into another medium.

The "Wild Women of Chesterman Beach" poem
~ one of Janice's handmade books.

In the last few years I have been making handmade books, as beautiful things in their own right, and as a medium for my poetry. It has been interesting to work with my hands, when so much of my creative work has been in my head. And exciting to try to transform poems into a physical object, a book, which illuminates the poem. There’s that interdisciplinary excitement again! 

I am currently working on an exhibition of my handmade books, which I hope will open this coming fall here in Tofino. I have incorporated original artwork, created by local and other artists, in some of the books and that artwork will be part of the exhibit. I hope to have an evening of performance poetry as well. 

Sherry: That sounds wonderful, Janice! I'll be there!

Janice's poem on a surfboard
For the Tofino Boardwalk,
An event sponsored by Tofino Arts Council

Janice: Over the years I have written stories and poetry, and a radio play which was performed live at CBC Calgary (At 7 am! The actors complained bitterly about how the early hour was affecting their voices!) Some of my stories and poems have been published in literary journals and anthologies, as well as in the local and much beloved Sound Magazine and Tofino Time. 

Several years ago the Clayoquot Writers Group published a serial story in Tofino Time, each chapter written by a different member. In 2003 my long poem Ipsissima Verba, was published as a chapbook by Leaf Press in Lantzville BC. To launch the chapbook, I turned the poem into a stage play with four characters – the Dictionary, the Philosopher, the Mathematician and the Muse – to highlight the interplay of voices in the poem. I think this was my first foray into performance poetry.

Sherry: It sounds amazing! You are talented in so many areas, Janice. Thank you so much, for allowing me to introduce you to Poets United. We have enjoyed every minute.

Material shared in 'I Wish I'd Written This' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, usually their authors

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Almond Blossoms, by Vincent Van Gogh: An Ekphrastic Poem

“Life is the art of drawing without an eraser.”— John W. Gardener


“No better way is there to learn to love Nature than to understand Art. It dignifies every flower of the field. And, the boy who sees the thing of beauty which a bird on the wing becomes when transferred to wood or canvas will probably not throw the customary stone”.— Oscar Wilde

Midweek Motif ~ Almond Blossoms, by Vincent Van Gogh: An Ekphrastic Poem

We want your literary response to a non-literary work this week. We have Vincent van Gogh’s Almond Blossoms as your motif today.

Almond Blossoms is from a group of several paintings made in 1888 and 1890 by Vincent van Gogh in Arles and Saint-Rémy, southern France of blossoming almond trees. Flowering trees were special to van Gogh. They represented awakening and hope. He enjoyed them aesthetically and found joy in painting flowering trees.” Wikipedia

Sharing a couple of ekphrastic poems for your inspiration:

A painting of a scene at night with 10 swirly stars, Venus, and a bright yellow crescent Moon. In the background there are hills, in the middle ground there is a moonlit town with a church that has an elongated steeple, and in the foreground there is the dark green silhouette of a cypress tree and houses.

The Starry Night

by Anne Sexton

That does not keep me from having a terrible need of — shall I say the word — religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars. –Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother

The town does not exist
except where one black-haired tree slips
up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.
The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die.

It moves. They are all alive.
Even the moon bulges in its orange irons
to push children, like a god, from its eye.
The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die:

Two Chained Monkeys

Two Monkeys by Brueghel 
(trans. from the Polish by Magnus Kryski)

by Wislawa Szymborska

I keep dreaming of my graduation exam:
in a window sit two chained monkeys,
beyond the window floats the sky,
and the sea splashes.

I am taking an exam on the history of mankind:
I stammer and flounder.

One monkey, eyes fixed upon me, listens ironically,
the other seems to be dozing--
and when silence follows a question,
he prompts me
with a soft jingling of the chain.

Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky below and visit others in the spirit of the community—
              (Next week Susan’s Midweek Motif will be ~ Biodiversity)

Monday, April 22, 2019


In October, 2018, we chatted with my friend Shaista Tayabali, who lives in Cambridge, England, and blogs at Lupus In Flight. As her blog name suggests, Shaista lives with the ongoing challenges of lupus, and these last months have been difficult ones for her. One night I read the following poem, and thought you might like to read it, too,  and hear how she is doing. She is such a lovely girl, and poet, beloved of all who know her. Let's pour some Lady Grey tea, and have a wee visit across the Pond with Shaista.

I saw a swan sip the river today 
And I worried about plastic.
I was relieved when I saw the bread
Someone had flung over, enthusiastic.

I saw a counsellor today. 
Except he turned out not to be one. 
I am a psychiatric nurse, he said,
And you are not a problem. 

My kind of problem, he meant, 
and he meant it kindly.
No suicide for him that day,
And he was surely glad of it.

But I had been longing for a place to grieve, 
To weep my river of sorrows.
Instead I walked to the graveyard,
And paused beside the bridge;

I watched the swan sip,
And sunlight dip,
On the swan’s soft fluffy pillow.
And I tucked my tears up, under. 

Shaista: I posted this poem in the middle of the night...when I woke up, I woke up to International Women's Day...and my first thought was, 'Oh no. I ought to have posted something of inspiring value, of recognition at least of the wonder of other women, if not of myself.' Instead I had posted about mournfully gazing at swans after a very peculiar twenty minutes with a psychiatric nurse who didn't think there was anything wrong with me.

This desire to be of service, and be in gratitude, is a powerful instinct in me, and has driven my voice for most of my blog, because it is authentic to who I am. And yet, so much of what we suffer is the silence in between ‘How are you?’ and ‘I’m fine!’ Or even, ‘I’m alright.’ Or even, ‘Not great, to be honest, but I’ll be ok.’ A sort of self therapy we all practise because we are aware that the eyes of the gods are watching us for hints of ingratitude. And we wish that nothing worse might befall us. 

The first crocuses!

But here in the place of poetry I do feel safe. Or maybe because Sherry is here, and she is my friend, our friend, keeping us sheltered from storms for a little while, even as she calls herself Wild Woman, which means she is out there in the storm herself. 

Thank you dear readers, for accompanying me on that bridge. Perhaps the swans were you, in a different form, in a moment that has looped back to scoop me up. 

Sherry: I hope those swans reminded you that you have friends who love you, in many places in the world, who so admire your ability to see the beauty of swans, even on the difficult days. 

Thank you for this poem, which touches our hearts. You remind us that, while we try to maintain an attitude of gratitude, there are times that are tough. This is real. We all can relate to those times. We all need someone or somewhere to share those tearful moments. (And the counsellor is a ninny, in my judicial opinion. Smiles.)

Dear girl,  you are young woman, walking bravely through the hard days, and bringing us swans. I am reminded of my son Jeff, who once told me, “to understand a swan, you have to learn how to cry.” I thought that was beautiful.

 Shaista's book of poems and sketches is available here.

Thank you, Shaista. You always touch our hearts. And thank you, dear readers, for being a soft place to fall for our fellow poets. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who Knows? It might be you!

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