Sunday, October 03, 2021



And it's done. Over for another year. This was year 15 for me, and it marks the first year all my cards are done by me on both sides! If I've said it once I've said it a hundred times; I'm no artist, but I'm truly amazed at how much fun it was to attempt to draw things with coloured markers. 

Most of the cards were written at my desk. I love this desk. It used to belong to my grandmother and then my aunt. Now I get to sit at it and write things. 

As far as the poems go, every year I try to work towards some kind of constraint. This year's fest was in honour of Michael McClure and Diane di Prima, two poets who died in the past year. Diane actually participated in the August Postcard Fest in the first or second year and I was lucky enough to get one from her. It reads:

Just Like the Rules Said

some of them respond
to a card, or picture
some of them
are a vision in my head
some walk into or out of
the fog
or someone's dream

To be perfectly honest, when I first received that card I thought the poem was kind of a toss-off. But that was before I'd thrown myself fully into the game, the game being to write the damned poem directly on the card; don't overthink it; don't write a bunch of drafts on paper and copy what you think is the best one. Nope. The idea is to take your pen, apply it to the card, and let the words fall where they may. Took me a long time to get even slightly comfortable doing that, but now I find it incredibly freeing. 

This year I decided to honour Diane's Revolutionary Letters. I read them, made a list of all her first lines and then, without rereading the poem, I arbitrarily chose one and included it in the poem I wrote to each of the poets in my group. Most of the time I started with the line, just as she did. For example, Diane's Revolutionary Letter # 1begins with the line 

I have just realized that the stakes are myself

and I continued

I have just realized that the stakes are myself
however I decide to drive them.
Smoke hangs heavy among
the unburnt trees that tremble
in their nervousness
knowing they could be next.
We are all sentient beings.
We bring what we have 
to this party called life
to this game where the stakes
grow higher every day.
I throw mine in with the rest.

Sometimes Diane's line wound up in the body of my poem, like this one that begins her Revolutionary Letter #34

hey man, let's make a revolution, let's give

and my poem turned into this:

Being a teenage in the sixties
was both confusing—
all that fifties' modelling—
and exhilarating—
look Ma, I'm on the pill!
Instead of making accidental babies
it was
hey man, let's make a revolution, let's give
peace a goddamn chance!

I did this with twenty-nine of the thirty-one cards; missed the first two as I hadn't yet decided on the constraint. It was an interesting way to honour a poet whose memoir I took out of the library twice and brought it back late both times. She was, shall we say, a kindred spirit.

Last year, and starting again today as it happens, I took a number of Zoom courses/workshops/discussion groups about poetry and the next batch of poems I wrote went out October 1st to some of the people I met in those groups. So far this year I've written forty-five cards. This last bunch that just went out follows no constraint or theme whatsoever, but the poems were all written directly onto the cards.

And here are all the cards I received this year. It was a lovely haul with some great poems and lots of wonderful, original artwork. A huge thank you goes out to everyone involved! It was kind of a tough summer. First there was the heat dome and we got temperatures in the mid-forties Celsius (113F) and then there were forest fires all over the province so the air was awful. Covid numbers really blew up around here (southeast BC) and it finally got into my mom's care home so we couldn't visit her for six weeks. Hard to explain to someone who's 101 and can't remember things like she used to. 

Get the damned vaccine, people! It won't hurt you for more than a second or two and it might save somebody you love.


Saturday, July 10, 2021



I have a stack of postcards that have been following me around for several weeks now. Since May, actually, when I agreed (with myself) to draw something on blank cards. Oxygen Art Centre in Nelson was doing a prompt a day event called "Big Draw" so I sort of followed that.

I am no artist. I remember Mr. Brown's Art Class in Junior High, how I'd watch enviously as one or other of my classmates would produce something gorgeous. A tree that looked like a tree. A mountain scene. A familiar street with houses that looked right (I must have been daydreaming when he discussed perspective.) Something abstract with fabulous colours. Watercolours that didn't run into each other. 

Writing classes, however, were different. Oh, they weren't just writing classes. "Compostion" was lumped in with English classes which were divided, in the earlier grades at least, into English Grammar and English Literature. I enjoyed both, particularly when we got to "write" something and even more particularly when we were studying poetry. In Grade 12 I actually had my father for English 91, as it was called then. It was the only A I got that year. (He made a point of assigning all the marking in that class to another teacher so he couldn't be accused of bias.)

So, back to postcards. It's almost time for August Postcard Poeming again! I've been doing this every summer since 2007. And this year, for the first time ever, I'm sending all orginals, as in both sides by me!

I still don't "get" perspective and I'm not sure Mr. Brown would approve of this hodgepodge of stuff, but by golly I had fun! And that's the main thing the Postcard Poem Fest is about; getting your inner-editor off your back and going for it.

The idea is to dash off a poem directly onto the card. It took me several years of the fest before I was actually able to do this so if you have to write out a first draft on a notepad who am I to tell you not to? You write a poem a day during the month of August—once you've got your list of 32 names including your own, feel free to start. Some days, to be honest, I don't get to it. Other days I might write two or three.

This year's fest is dedicated to the memories of Beat poets Michael McClure and Diane di Prima, both of whom died in 2020. In one of the first years di Prima participated in the postcard fest. Here's the card I got from her. See how she summarizes what the fest is about in just a few lines.

just like the RULES SAID

some of them respond
to a card, or picture
some of them
are a vision in my head
some walk into or out of 
the fog
or someone's dream

                                                                            Diane di Prima

If you want to play along, here are a few relevant links:

The blog for the fest is here 

Sign up via Submittable here. The $15 entry fee goes to support Seattle Poetry Lab and all it does for poetry. DEADLINE: JULY 18th, 2021

A workshop handout for the poetry postcard writing exercise by Paul Nelson who started this whole adventure is here

And finally, pay attention to postal rates. In Canada it costs 
$1.07 cents to mail a card within Canada (.92 if you buy in bulk) 
$1.30 to send one to the States 
$2.71 International destinations 
Not an inexpensive exercise, but I think of it as a nice dinner out.
If you're not in Canada (and most postcarders are not), PLEASE check with your own post office for your out-of-country rates. 
Here, mostly for my own records, are some of the posts I've made where I talked about postcard poems:
2021  2019 2019 again  2017  2017 again  2016  2014  2007  2007 again
Sisu just came in, saw the cards on the floor, and decided to make a statement. I think he's saying, "Not this again!" 
'Fraid so!

Sunday, May 16, 2021



This morning I found myself returning to a poem to do with the Columbia River I started writing a while back. It's form, if it has a form, is kind of a departure for me. It starts out like a "regular poem" and then morphs into a series of words beginning with the letter n in an attempt to suggest the inexorable flow of the river as it makes its way to the Pacific. Yesterday on a Zoom call I read it to a small group of fellow writers and one of them had a great suggestion, namely to return to the beginning of the poem after I go through all the n stuff. 

After fiddling with it for some time this morning, doing a little fact-checking online and so forth, I wanted to see a picture of the whole river so I got out my copy of Rita Wong's and Fred Wah's 2018 book, beholden: a poem as long as the river. And I did something I'm always telling other poets they should do; I read it aloud. To myself. First Fred's poem, then Rita's. 

One of its authors, Fred Wah, talked about it at a symposium about upstream benefits in 2017 and I mentioned this book here a couple of years ago. I referred to it as "gorgeous", and it is, a visual tour-de-force from Talonbooks in Vancouver. I remember seeing it displayed in its 1x114-foot-long glory at Touchstones Gallery in Nelson—a stunning piece of work by artist Nick Conbere where the entirety of the two poems is displayed in such a way that you can imagine yourself walking along the river itself.

Recently I've been part of a small group of us who are reading Nathaniel Mackey's Double Trio aloud, each of us taking turns, and that has reminded me how much more powerful poetry IS when heard as opposed to simply read. (In the case of Mackey, I can't say I understand it all but the sound, people, the sound!) I have looked at beholden many times since I got it, read parts of it (as I tend to do with most poetry books, to be honest), but today I read it, out loud, start to finish, and it was such a different experience I want everybody to do it! 

Of course, it doesn't hurt that both poets are masterful with words. Listen to Fred Wah here: 

...the River's voice is the sound our body makes when we're sleepwalking through the abyss of our own presence in the world... (p.80–81)

or Rita Wong, when she says:

...Imperial delirium silences salmon abundance   chokes Kettle Falls' joyful convergence that cannot be forgotten, cannot be unseen, unheard, unspoken since recreation that wrecks creation leans to dazed stupor that isn't fun for anyone... (p. 57–59)

They go on like this throughout, starting where the Columbia begins as a tiny spring coming out of the ground at Columbia Lake up near Invermere in British Columbia (here's a 2 ½ minute video that gives you an idea what it looks like there) until the River arrives at the Pacific Ocean, when, to quote Rita Wong again, it ...takes over the page as the ocean accepts the river.

It's easy enough to follow who is writing which poem because Wah's is typeset while Wong's is in her own handwriting. They weave in and out of each other, crossing over bridges to get to the other side for awhile, then crossing back. If you look carefully at the way I've situated the next two pictures you will see two such crossings, first over the Robson bridge where I go when I want to walk the Waldie Island Trail and then over the Kinnaird bridge which is the one I cross from Ootischenia, where I live, to get to Castlegar. In the middle of the circle of words is the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers, and Zuckerberg Island. As you continue south on the Columbia you pass Genelle on your way toward the border, that serious-looking line that bisects the bottom page at ...remember the Smoke Eaters whistled offside for years of pollution flowing south across the border as tainted as at the signature of Treaty  /  and all the forked tongues whispering Doctrine of Discovery... (Wah) and a riff on global warning—...the incomprehensible speed & scale of logging, unforestry, turning pines into poles and matchsticks, burning us up faster than the  /  glaciers could cool us down. (Wong)

So yes. Get this book. Read it aloud, to yourself, to anyone who'll listen. You'll be glad you did. And you'll have to excuse me now. I'm going for a walk. As it's late in the day, I'll head for Waldie Island to catch the last of the sun—it got up to 30C/86F today, the hottest so far this year. I'll be walking on the north side, see if I can catch some more of my own poem, the Columbia having been sneaking into my work on and off for a very long time. This year will be year 15 for the annual August postcard poem fest. The first card I wrote, back in 2007, began with the words Let it begin with a river... 


Thursday, April 29, 2021

One Thing


NaPoWriMo 2021 Day 29:

Ah! The penultimate prompt for this year's NaPo "is called “in the window.” Imagine a window looking into a place or onto a particular scene. It could be your childhood neighbor’s workshop, or a window looking into an alien spaceship. Maybe a window looking into a witch’s gingerbread cottage, or Lord Nelson’s cabin aboard the H.M.S. Victory. What do you see? What’s going on?"

Yeah well, this prompt ain't speaking to me either. I see nothing.

Instead, let us have a small poem to do with this picture, one I took in the mangrove in La Manzanilla a couple of years ago.

one thing
only one thing is true
sometimes you're the bird
and sometimes you're the fish


Wednesday, April 28, 2021



"Our prompt today (optional, as always), is to write a poem that poses a series of questions. The questions could be a mix of the serious (“What is the meaning of life?”) and humorous (“What’s the deal with cats knocking things off tables?”), the interruptive (“Could you repeat that?”) and the conversational (“Are those peanuts? Can I have some?”). You can choose to answer them – or just let the questions keep building up, creating a poem that asks the reader to come up with their own answer(s)."


Who was I in a past life and if there is a past life is there a future life?

What does it matter?

When will my mother die and when she does will she really be dead to me?

Where are the answers to my life's big questions? 

Why do I keep picking at them as if at a scab that as a consequence will never heal?

Why is it so difficult to write of this?

Where will I find the truth to the story of my father had two wives?

When did I realize it is possible to have three fathers?

What is the point of even asking about life's big questions?

Who are all these people and why do they keep invading my poems?


Nodus Tollens


Today's prompt takes me to The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Who knew there was such a thing? 

From the dictionary, which has some marvellous words for less-than-marvellous feelings, we have:

nodus tollens

n. the realization that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore—that although you thought you were following the arc of the story, you keep finding yourself immersed in passages you don’t understand, that don’t even seem to belong in the same genre—which requires you to go back and reread the chapters you had originally skimmed to get to the good parts, only to learn that all along you were supposed to choose your own adventure.


n. the temptation to step off your career track and become a shepherd in the mountains, following your flock between pastures with a sheepdog and a rifle, watching storms at dusk from the doorway of a small cabin, just the kind of hypnotic diversion that allows your thoughts to make a break for it and wander back to their cubicles in the city.


n. a moment that seemed innocuous at the time but ended up marking a diversion into a strange new era of your life—set in motion not by a series of jolting epiphanies but by tiny imperceptible differences between one ordinary day and the next, until entire years of your memory can be compressed into a handful of indelible images—which prevents you from rewinding the past, but allows you to move forward without endless buffering.


n. the insomnia-borne jolt of awareness that you will die, that these passing years aren’t just scenes from a dress rehearsal, rounds of an ongoing game or chapters in a story you’ll be telling later, but are footprints being lapped by the steadily gathering tide of an unfathomable abyss, which still wouldn’t wash out the aftertaste of all those baskets of Buffalo wings you devoured just before bedtime.


n. the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time—filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured.

n. the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet—a school hallway in the evening, an unlit office on a weekend, vacant fairgrounds—an emotional afterimage that makes it seem not just empty but hyper-empty, with a total population in the negative, who are so conspicuously absent they glow like neon signs.

From me, a poem for the Bradley/Thelwell pair. So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night. Safe travels. We will miss you so much. 

Nodus Tollens
    for Robin and Rebecca

    who knew 
the day your door was knocked upon
and the person behind the knock 
—trumspringa having brought them to the hood—
arrived with eggs and a smile
wondering if you were the person they'd found
in a google search for writers in Ootischenia— 
    who knew 
in this keyframe
that a friendship would arise
cats would be cared for
weddings of children attended
a decade of drop-ins and dinners and laughter
deep discussions of moriturism
that can only happen as you age
pandemic bubble shopping
trips to the dump
wild turkeys in the yard
vellichor and gin
    would ever end
but now 
a page is turned
a door is closed
kenopsia descends


Monday, April 26, 2021



NaPoWriMo 2021 Day 26:

"Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a parody. Besides being fun, writing parodies can be a great way to hone your poetic skills – particularly your sense of rhyme and sound, as you try to mimic the form of an existing poem while changing the content. Just find a poem – or a song – that has always annoyed you, and write an altered, silly version of it."

What?!!? A song that has always annoyed me? What have I done to deserve such a gift?

That's how I felt last night when I first saw the prompt. But the only songs I can think of that annoy me are so darned popular I just can't.

I Am Fed Up

I am fed up to the core
please don't play it any more
and I know that some will argue this ain't true 
but this song is such a bore
I can't take it anymore...

So instead, for today we're going to play "Can you guess the song?" and I don't care if you can or not!

And I couldn't decide which song by Cat Stevens annoys me the most so I fizzled there, too.

I think what this means is, it's time for April to be over!

Full moon tonight. Just a few wispy clouds near it, the sky is ever so clear.