Next week heralds the beginning of spring, and I, for one, can hardly wait. I was feeling far too smug about not getting any of the "things" that are going around, and then I got double-whammied, with a cold that sucked whatever energy I had into a vortex of coughing and then, most recently, the 'flu, which I've not had for 10 years (and nor have I had a 'flu shot).
But in between those two tests of my patience/sanity, there was respite, in the form of a writing retreat on Vancouver Island. This is the third year I've done this, and the time spent living and breathing poetry with like-minded folk keeps me doing what I do.
The whole object of the exercise, captured in a brief, snowy moment:
Words, or something very like words, seemed to be floating everywhere you looked
There was much collaborative work, of the "what's another word for...?" variety
And plenty of time for listening to people read, sometimes their own work, sometimes someone else's
And there was lots of time for simply enjoying each other's company
The view, like everything else this weekend, was spectacular
I mentioned this was a writing retreat. Which means we didn't actually workshop any poems, other than the snap-your-fingers-quick kind of dialogue that inevitably erupts—in a good way (think sex, not volcanoes)—when people share their poetry with other poets. The night we read poems by someone other than ourselves, Mary Ann read this one, by American poet Billy Collins, from The Art of Drowning ©1995, which may explain our focus on writing as opposed to critiquing. For once.
Here are the first few stanzas of the poem:
by Billy Collins
I might as well begin by saying how much I like the title.
It gets me right away because I’m in a workshop now
so immediately the poem has my attention,
like the Ancient Mariner grabbing me by the sleeve.
And I like the first couple of stanzas,
the way they establish this mode of self-pointing
that runs through the whole poem
and tells us that words are food thrown down
on the ground for other words to eat.
I can almost taste the tail of the snake
in its own mouth,
if you know what I mean.
But what I’m not sure about is the voice,
which sounds in places very casual, very blue jeans,
but other times seems standoffish,
professorial in the worst sense of the word
like the poem is blowing pipe smoke in my face.
But maybe that’s just what it wants to do.
What I did find engaging were the middle stanzas,
especially the fourth one.
I like the image of clouds flying like lozenges
which gives me a very clear picture.
And I really like how this drawbridge operator
just appears out of the blue
with his feet up on the iron railing
and his fishing pole jigging—I like jigging—
a hook in the slow industrial canal below.
I love slow industrial canal below. All those l’s...
(pssst...the rest is here. Oh, come on, you know you want to; the poem goes on for a bit and doesn't disappoint!)
Oh yeah, then I got to finish off my time in Victoria visiting my friend Valerie and meeting Enid Jupiter Nancy, and on Monday, March 8, the poem I wrote for Enid the day she was born was the Magic Teeth Dailies cartoon! How cool is that?
This is Enid Jupiter (my grandparents on my dad's side and her great-great grandparents are the same)
And this is the cartoon
And here's her poem
The night you were born
it wasn't only your mother
who laboured the fullness of herself.
The moon in the not-too-distant universe you came from
expanded to her zenith,
slid in and out behind following clouds.
It was bright enough to see by,
light enough I could have walked
to the compost with a midnight offering
of lime rind and orange peel,
grapefuit seeds and mouldy bread,
all these things a metaphor for your safe arrival:
bitter and sweet,
full of promise and just a little fear.
Moon—she hung there in the southeast sky
protective, shining fiercely down,
letting you into the light.