Monday, November 04, 2019

A PHOTO ESSAY FOR MY FRIEND, MARTIN OETS

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My friend Martin died in August. I knew the call was going to come, sooner or later. When the phone rang, the digital display announcing his name, I thought it would be him. After all, he'd called only about a week or ten days before. He'd sounded just like Martin at the beginning of that call, but then he ran out of breath and it got harder for him to talk. He had a nasty, nasty disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

You can look it up.

It takes you out.

So the call in August wasn't from him, personally, but from Pam, his wife and best friend for over half a century, because that's where my age group is at. And Pam was calling to say Mart had died.

Martin was one of my earliest poetry friends. We met in Grade 7, were in the same division in school right through to the end of high school, and in the class curiously misnamed "Study" we used to write silly poems and pass them back and forth. I still have some of them on yellowed paper in a scrapbook. It's impossible now for me to say who wrote what; all I remember is we had a lot of fun in that non-class, pretending to study!

From the 1966 Year Book. Mart was in the World Affairs Club.
We graduated in 1966 and went our separate ways. Martin went to university, got a degree in Business Administration and went on to be a hospital administrator. I joined Air Canada and worked in the reservations department for several years in Ottawa, Windsor and Montreal before moving to Toronto in 1976. I was working at the res office there one night when a call came in from a guy wanting to go to Prince George. I did what you do; told him flight times, gave him prices, booked something, then got to the part where I asked for his name.

"Oets," he said, then spelled it. "O-E-T-S."

"Martin?!?!" I exclaimed, and of course it was and we had a great catch-up over the phone.

If you follow(ed) Pam and Martin on Facebook you'll have seen this one. One of my favourites.
After that I saw him at high school reunions in 1986 and 1996. By then I was back living in the Kootenays. One day Martin got ahold of me to say he'd moved back to Nelson and was working for Interior Health. I invited him for dinner and he and my husband ended up becoming great pals. Before too long, Pam got a transfer to Nelson as well and the four of us started to hang out.

In 2010 we spent Christmas together in La Manzanilla
Movie night in La Manz
At Judie's 70th in 2011
With Leanne at Judie's 70th
As any of his friends will attest, hanging around with Martin meant no shortage of adventures. Here, he's coming to collect some of us so we can have a mini-cruise on his houseboat on Kootenay Lake. Too bad there aren't any pictures of it just before it sunk! (Happily, not this particular day.)
With my grandson, Kyran, when he was wee. Martin let him "steer" the boat for a bit which was a huge thrill.
Martin and Ted, both beardless. 
At a reading at the Library in Nelson. Martin and Pam were always up for coming to such events.
At the Capitol Theatre. Martin was on the board there for a few years.
Martin and his son, CJ. We were on our way to Puerto Vallarta for CJ's wedding
Ted and Martin enjoying pool time in Puerto Vallarta
Another tradition: Dinner at Martin and Pam's after one of our big decade high school reunions. Alan Ryall, on the left, came from Ontario. Bruce and Pam Hucal are in this one.
Martin, serving up a burger. Me, excited!
Martin, Ted, Shelley, Sharon and Pam. Martyburgers!

Martyburgers! Just about the best things ever! It was somehow kind of perfect that Ted and I had just finished eating burgers when Pam called with the sad news. 
Doug Walkley and his wife, Diane (not in this one) started having mini-reunions when they came to the Koots in the summer. One year they weren't able to host it at the place they were renting so Martin got ahold of my sisters to see if we could do it at their place. And just like that, a new tradition was born!
With Dena and Phyllis at one of the summer parties
With Maureen and Liz
This one's from the party when we celebrated the Sixties, etc. Martin is second from left.
Group shot, same party. Mart's the one in the wig!
Group shot from another year (photo credit likely Brian Clarkson). Martin's wearing the blue lei. Our classmate, Gail Livingston, in the green top, died shortly after this reunion.
Peter Turner and Martin
With Brian Clarkson, who's usually the one behind the camera


Martin always had a project. When his son was getting into audio/hearing work, Martin took a course on it so he could go and help set up the business. And there are still people looking for the most excellent coffee beans he used to roast. Pam made the apron for him. He was, of course, interested in all things electronic. I miss my computer guru!
In 2013 Martin and Pam brought the first electric Smart car to Nelson. (Photo "borrowed" from online where it appeared in the local paper which no longer exists, so...) Here's a link to an article about EVs in the Koots by Greg Nesteroff and yes, M and P get a mention!
That little smile usually meant he was up to something.
I can't for the life of me remember what this event was about but have to include it because it's such a rare picture of my husband wearing a shirt and tie!
Martin loved animals. Here he is, spoiling a neighbour's dog.
One summer we had a group yard sale at our place. Martin and Pam brought stuff from Six-Mile. Here he is with Leanne.
Dan, Martin, Ted and Robin in Ootischenia. So many good times...
The Breakfast Club, February 2019—For several years this group (Robin and Rebecca were away) met for breakfast, often at Dawn's Early Rising CafĂ© in Castlegar. L-R: Me, Pam, Leanne, Ted, Martin, Judie and Dan
At a farewell brunch in Nelson, February 2019
For the cover I used small stones to make a figure. One of the stones (I don't remember which) was one we collected one summer when Ted and I passed through McLeese Lake where the Oets family used to live.

Back to our poetry connection, when Martin found out I had taken up bookbinding he commissioned a book that would contain his favourite poems. They were: Dylan Thomas' Fern Hill, John Masefield's Sea Fever, Wordsworth's The Daffodils, Alfred Noyes' The Highwayman, Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and T.S. Elliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. He was kind enough to request one of mine be in the book as well, so Full Circle is in there feeling absolutely tongue-tied around such august company. 


Downsizing seems to be on a lot of folks' minds these days. It was a privilege to watch as Martin and Pam took it on prior to their move from the Kootenays. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Martin for the basement clean-up at our house he unknowingly just orchestrated! I've been on the hunt for a particular photo of him, from a Sport's Day event when we were in high school. Can't find it anywhere, but seven bags of stuff have been disposed of and you can actually move around down there! I figure if I post this it's bound to show up, at which point I'll add it. Since he died there have been some wonderful words written about him by friends like Doug Walkley and Klaus Offermann. Martin was so loved by so many. To say he'll be missed is a huge understatement. He was truly one of a kind.



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Thursday, September 05, 2019

NO SMALL THING — NOTES ON THE 2019 AUGUST POSTCARD POEM FEST

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The average sized postcard, 4"x6", hasn't got that big an area on which to write. But every summer for a month, give or take, poets from all over the USA plus some from Canada, Europe, Australia, Singapore, India and more manage to write poems on them and send them off into the world. The annual August Postcard Poem Fest (APPF) is over for another year. I mailed the last of mine September 3rd. I promised at least a couple more bonus cards and will get them done shortly, but right now it's time to gather some thoughts about this year's event. So this is kind of an open letter to Group 2.

Cards received from Group 2 (plus four "bonus" cards) (so far)
APPF13 — August 2019, as of Sept. 4, 2019
Right off the mark I have to admit I cheated as far as the very minimal rules are concerned. Actually, they're not rules per se, more like suggestions from Paul Nelson as to how to write postcard poems. He advocates for the down and dirty approach, that is, to write the poem directly onto the card without editing.

Some years I've been comfortable first-drafting directly to the card, but this wasn't one of them. I've not been writing a lot of late so that muscle was feeling a little rusty when August began. I sketched out poems on paper or in the Word doc where I keep a record of all the ones I send. I just started jotting down little blurts and some of the blurts turned into poems. I did, in the process, change the odd line break and there was maybe just a bit of editing. I've approached the fest this way before, but this year, perhaps because it was a return to my earlier way of getting poems onto cards, felt different. More intentional, somehow, and ultimately more satisfying. But slow. I'd come downstairs to my desk to write and spend two hours with one poem, one card.

The very first year I did this (2007) I wrote and mailed a card a day almost every day. I took blank cards with me when I hiked up to Kokanee Glacier for a couple of days, just so I could stick with the writing part of the plan.

(from Day 13, 2007)

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

You escape into a corner
pull out some cards
and begin to write.
Then someone wants to know
what on earth you’re doing that for, 
a twitter of disbelief 
flitters round the room
where people come and go
talking of vanishing glaciers
and pink snow.
If the door opened right this moment
and an elephant walked in
it would probably cause less of a fuss.

This year I seemed to work in batches. I had six in the mail at the end of July, then August arrived with distractions both predictable and not; a dear friend died; lots of company showed up to hang with, play with, laugh with, and eat with; my ninety-nine year-old mother keeps three of us hopping. Contrary to how I thought I was going to approach writing to the poets on my list (see last post; I was going to put all the cards, stamped and addressed as they were, into a bag and pull them out randomly) I ended up writing them in order, starting with the name below mine and carrying on from there.

The first nine poems I wrote/sent all incorporate a line of Shakespeare's. After I mailed the first of them I realized I had forgotten to indicate that. Mea culpa. (Most of the lines are pretty familiar, of the "to be or not to be" variety so you probably figured that out!) Three poems fell under "Ice Musings". The last ten ended up being a hodgepodge of little poems that fall under the title of Notes on the Story of Me #1–10. The rest are pretty random. I wrote two poems about snakes, one on Hurricane Dorian, a couple of Mom poems, a response poem written around the word "oubliette", one about the band Rush and an old friend, another about knocking on doors in Toronto for Dan Heap of the NDP in the early eighties, and one about a much-loved pair of jeans. Other than the NDP one and another that referenced Jeffery Epstein that was written before his death, I stayed away from politics. (Everyone on my list is in the States. What can I say?) Oh, except for one I wrote for Rita Wong, a BC poet and activist who was just released from jail after receiving a 28-day sentence for peacefully protesting a pipeline expansion here in British Columbia. Rita and Fred Wah published a gorgeous long poem (well, two poems; they each wrote one) about the Columbia River titled Beholden: a poem as long as the river, and if you care anything about this river our countries share (the treaty of which is in the process of being renewed), you might want to check it out.

Rita and Fred's book, taken in front of the Columbia River
near the confluence of it and the Kootenay River
Anyhow, that gives you an idea of how this year was for me.

I'm a bit of a hoarder, especially when it comes to pieces of paper with writing on them. As a result, I have all the cards I've received since this fest began, and last night I got this great idea that it would be really neat to spread them all out on the floor and get up on a ladder and take a picture, so this morning I  got into the Postcard Poem files and quickly realized the extent of my madness! Like, yes, I could do that but then the years would get all mixed up and I'd probably find myself spending a ridiculous amount of time sorting them again. So this will have to suffice:

Cards received over the 13 years APPF has been happening

But just digging them out and randomly looking through them—oh what gems I found! See that one of the painted tree under 2009? That was one of the late Bridget Nutting's. And remember how I mentioned, above, that a friend of mine died in August? Her poem begins, You died today... and ends 

The sky is empty now.
Even the squirrels are lost.
The birds no longer sing your praise.
Goodbye, dear friend.

I came across so many familiar names. We've been exchanging words for so long now you all feel kind of like family! As I started going through them I thought of how one year I got one from Diane di Prima. What were the odds I'd accidentally find it, in 2008?  

2010 was a light year as far as incoming went—received 21, but there are some beautiful lines to be found in that pile. 

Paul Nelson's 2011 ripe plum moon poem was mailed from Beijing! (I haven't sent you one yet this year, Paul, but I will). 

In 2012 I came across a lovely poem from another long-time postcarder who is no longer with us: Kay Kinghammer. There's another stunning original art one from Bridget with a poem written in her lovely cursive. And a very funny one from my friend Kim Clark. 

Bridget Nutting's 2011 card to me

Poems received in 2013 include a beautiful "late summer haiku" from Laura Pena. We exchanged cards again this year! 

In 2014 I got one from Judy Kleinberg that—wait for it—isn't one of her marvellous found poems like the one you can read here! And another winner from Kay Kinghammer. 

I think 2015 was the first year I got one from Terry Holtzman. Like Laura, we exchanged again this year. And Diane Conces, the same. And there's even one from my friend who died last month! He and his wife were traveling in Holland that year and sent a card. I knew which one was from Paul because I recognized his handwriting.

Going through the 2016 cards I find one from fellow cat-lover, Linda Roller. She's on this year's list, too. 

In 2017 there's one from Alan Kahn, on this year's list as well. More and more original art cards are in the mix every year. A delightful line pulled from a poem sent from Hartford, CT: Can you imagine Donald Trump as a bird watcher? And there's a beautiful poem about sons from Seattle. And one from Charlie Stobert in England, brought to me thanks to the assistance of a couple of wonderful David Bowie stamps. And one from Abhaya Thomas, also in this year's group, that contains the gorgeous line, you only see colours you can name

2018. Last year's bunch. So many familiar names in this batch as well. It's hard to set a lace unicorn free says Annie Stenzel in the haunting poem on her card. I'm so glad she did. 

Annie Stenzel's lace unicorn, APPF12, 2018
While I was going through those files pulling out the cards, I found scads of blank ones (just what I needed!) plus half-a-dozen or so that have poems written on them but were never addressed or sent. Why? I have no idea. 

Finally, I have to single out one postcarder who signed up somewhere around 2012 after hearing about it from me and has been sending me the occasional card ever since. I first remember Judy Wapp at a summer writing workshop with Caroline Woodward we attended back in 1989, I believe it was. In 1991 we both signed up for another writing workshop, this time with Tom Wayman. A guy named Ted Crosfield signed up for that one, too, and the rest, as they say, is history! You can read more about Judy and her collage art on my blog here. Anyway, sorting through the cards today allowed me to see just how many cards she's sent me (42!) and while I know I've send some in return, her output is nothing short of amazing. So thank you, Judy!

Judy's cards
Judy Wapp
And thank you, all of you who sign up for the August Postcard Poem Fest. We began, most of us, as strangers, but somehow the act of getting a few words onto a postcard and sending it off into the world serves to remind us of our similarities instead of focusing on our differences, as it would seem some of our politicians, both sides of the border, would prefer. 

You give me hope. And that's no small thing. 

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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

AUGUST IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER AND IT'S POSTCARD POEM TIME AGAIN— YEAR 13!

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It's PoPo time again, and I'm doing it a little differently this year. Friends and family will be visiting, Ted has cataract surgery to look forward to that requires some attention from me and right now I'm house-/pet-sitting for my son and his family. In past years (I've been doing this since 2007 when it began) I've chosen the card, written the poem, and THEN addressed it and THEN affixed the stamps. This often proved challenging, especially if I was using multiple stamps to make up the total required. Where on earth to put the darned things! 

Just choosing the card could take forever; over the years I have acquired quite a few.
Lots and lots of cards...
What to do, what to do...and then I had this brainwave! I picked out 31 cards, a mix of movie stars, singers, Magic Eye ones (the kind you hold close to your face and move back and eventually, if you're lucky, you'll see a 3-D image), cat artists, and some with funny sayings on them.


Then (why oh why didn't I think of this before?) I put the stamps on, and the Air Mail sticker, and now I can write a poem that fits around all of the above!



I haven't decided yet if I'll write to a theme this year or simply go with whatever I think of when I'm ready to send. It'll be interesting to see how it goes. Of course, I'll probably end up sending out a few "bonus cards" to some of the long-distance friends I've made thanks to August poeming, but if you're on my list—Group 2—you'll be getting one of these.

If you're interested in trying this, the deadline to register for this summer's poemfest is July 17th. Sign up here. It's $10 (USD) as the fest is a major fundraiser for co-founder Paul Nelson's SPLAB. 

Here are a couple of links for further info: 


I was interested to note that in 2013 it cost 63 cents to mail a card within Canada and $1.10 to send one to the States. This year the rates are up again—90 cents within Canada and $1.27 to send cards to the States. This is, I'm sure, the reason Canadian participation is down. In past years I've always had at least one or two other Canucks on my list, but this year all mine will be crossing the border. This means that everyone on my list has to remember to put the correct postage on mine or they won't get to me. So heads-up, Group Two! I look forward to receiving your poems and cards.

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