Monday, December 31, 2007

A poem for the new year

Today I came across another poem featuring the hourglass. In "Testament" Hayden Carruth says

"Yet not only our lives drift down. The stuff
of ego with which we began, the mass
in the upper chamber, filters away
as love accumulates below..."

Read entire

Happy New Year to all who read here. May the hours, days, weeks and months flow smoothly from your future to your past, accumulating a big beautiful pile of love.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

I'm smiling...

because my friend Alvin's poem "From Coast to Coast" won first place in Utmost Christian Writers' first Canadian-only contest -- and my poem "Canadian Rivers" won an honorable mention. The theme was Canadian landscape.

Links to all winners here.

If you're a Christian writer of poetry who lives in Canada, you might want to check out Utmost's quarterly contests especially for Canadians.

If you're a Christian writer of poetry from anywhere, you'll want to go to Utmost's international site and find out about their big annual contest. Deadline for submission to that one is February 28/08.

For some excellent tips on entering poetry contests, here is some advice from Nancy Breen, editor of the Poet's Market published by Writer's Digest. Also check out the Poetic Asides blog.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Kids delight in "Silly" Sotille

This from my weekly Children's Writer newsletter...

What are Poets
by Joe "Silly" Sotille (pronounced Sotilly)

Poets are explorers
traveling in uncharted
chambers of the heart.

Poets are pilgrims
discovering new lands
and cultures.

Poets are observers
of what is on the surface
and what is buried deep below.

Poets are eavesdroppers
who hear bits and pieces of talk
that become poems.

Read the rest of Joe's take on what it means to be a poet plus a lot of other good stuff in his article "What is Poetry?" from the Institute of Children's Literature (ICL) website. (A BONUS feature of the article is a list of poetry books recommended for kids - and writers of poetry for kids.)

Joe's website sponsors a monthly poetry writing contest for kids, plus poetry writing instruction (also for kids, but I'm sure he won't mind if adults listen in), and order information for his book Picture Poetry on Parade! (read an excerpt).

Sounds like something this kid would like to read!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Remembrance Day

"Lest We Forget" mural - Lumby B.C. (click on photo to enlarge).

Today is Remembrance Day in Canada. From Newfoundland to BC, people will be gathering at cenotaphs to honor the memory of those who have died in past and present wars. Many will quote the poem "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae.

Mr. McCrae wrote other poems about war as well. In poem below he speaks from the conviction that undergirded his soldiering: that the fighting would eventually lead to peace, making the sacrifice of the soldiers who died worthwhile.

The Anxious Dead
by John McCrae

O guns, fall silent till the dead men hear
Above their heads the legions pressing on:
(These fought their fight in time of bitter fear,
And died not knowing how the day had gone.)

O flashing muzzles, pause, and let them see
The coming dawn that streaks the sky afar;
Then let your mighty chorus witness be
To them, and Caesar, that we still make war.

Tell them, O guns, that we have heard their call,
That we have sworn, and will not turn aside,
That we will onward till we win or fall,
That we will keep the faith for which they died.

Bid them be patient, and some day, anon,
They shall feel earth enwrapt in silence deep;
Shall greet, in wonderment, the quiet dawn,
And in content may turn them to their sleep.

Read more of Mr. McCrae's poems online here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Contest for Canadian poets

If you are a Canadian Christian poet, currently living and writing in Canada you have exactly a week and a day to get your entry into the current Utmost Canadian Christian Poetry Contest - deadline October 31.

The theme for this contest is "Canadian Landscape" and is explained on Utmost's Canadian site:

Your winning poem will excel in imagery and language. It will be clearly Canadian in the landscape it shares with readers. (Think of it as "A. Y. Jackson in poetry!") Religious content not required, although it is welcome in the context of the theme.

So if you're as in love with your part of Canada as L. M. Montgomery was with Prince Edward Island, or Farley Mowat with the prairies - put it into writing.

- Details here.
- rules
- entry form

Friday, September 14, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle in star light

Madeleine L'Engle
November 29, 1918 - September 6, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle, well known children's author, died on September 6th.

The latest Publisher's Weekly children's newsletter "children's bookshelf" has a tribute to her. Here are some memories, written by people who knew her and worked with her:

Margaret Ferguson from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Ms. L'Engle's publisher for 45 years:

Madeleine enjoyed having lunch at the Terrace and would begin with a Bloody Mary. We would sit near a window with an amazing view of the Upper West Side and have a wonderful time, mostly because she always had a good joke and was such an entertaining storyteller. She was a very loving person—accepting and open to different kinds of people and experiences. Above all, though, Madeleine was kind. She always remembered to follow up on some detail about my life, which was amazing considering how large her “extended” family was. She was exactly who she seemed to be in person and in her writing. We will all miss her.

Sandra Jordan, editor of two of her books:
I edited two of Madeleine’s books—A Swiftly Tilting Planet and A Ring of Endless Light. As the books progressed I’d be invited to spend the weekend with Madeleine and Hugh at Crosswicks, their pre-Revolutionary War house in Goshen, Connecticut. We’d work in her “tower,” a book-filled study, up a narrow back hall staircase, until she decided “we need some fresh air.”

The back hall coat rack offered a battered selection of hats, scarves, and coats, and the two of us, bundled up like Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who, set out across the fields behind the house. She carried giant pruning shears to attack encroaching bittersweet vines and she’d gesture with them as we passed the property’s familiar literary landmarks—the twins’ vegetable garden where Charles Wallace met the dragon, the stone wall where the snake Louise the Larger lived, Meg’s star-watching rock—all of which figured in her books. We’d rattle on about pre-Roman English history, our families, 17th-century poetry, the Old Testament, and what makes bad boys irresistible. It felt like a break from working, but when the next draft arrived I’d see that she’d also been trying out new material. Like the good cook she also proved to be on those weekends, she wasted nothing, everything went into the pot. I feel lucky to have worked with her, lucky to have known her.

Charlotte Jones Voiklis, granddaughter:

I lived with her during my college and graduate school years in New York... What stands out most vividly for me about that time are her stamina, discipline, and generosity. A true extrovert who drew energy from her interactions with others, she kept what seemed to me an exhausting travel and lecture schedule. And she wrote 15 books during that 10-year period! When she was home, we threw inter-generational dinner parties (though she kept a strict schedule and always retired at 9 for her evening rituals of bath, bible, and bed) and had heated conversations about books and ideas.

Read more tributes here.

Madeleine L'Engle was also an accomplished poet. I bought her book The Weather of the Heart long, long ago (26 plus years ago, because it has my maiden name in it).

Here's a poem from the book. (She might be doing this right now!)

Star Light

after death
the strange timelessness, matterlessness,
absolute differentness
of eternity
will be shot through
like a starry night
with islands of familiar and beautiful

For I should like
to spend a star
sitting beside Grandpapa Bach
at the organ, learning, at last, to play
the C minor fugue as he, essentially,
heard it burst into creation;

and another star
of moor and mist, and through the shadows
the cold muzzle of the dog against my hand,
and walk with Emily. We would not need to
talk, nor ever go back to the damp of
Haworth parsonage for tea.

I should like to eat a golden meal
with my brothers Gregory and Basil,
and my sister Macrina. We would raise
our voices and laugh and be a little drunk
with love and joy.

I would like a theatre star,
and Will yelling, "No! No! that's not
how I wrote it! but perhaps it's better
that way; "to be or not to be:' All
right, then! let it stand!"

And I should like
another table
-- Yes, Plato, please come, and you too,
Socrates, for this is the essential table
of which all other tables are only
flickering shadows on the wall.
This is the heavenly banquet,
(Oh come!)
the eternal convivium

The sky blazes with stars!

- Madeleine L'Engle from The Weather of the Heart Harold Shaw Publishers, © 1978

Bonus: Check out these Madeleine L'Engle quotes.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Canadian poet Margaret Avison dies

I just discovered today that the grand dame of Canadian poetry, Margaret Avison, died on July 31st at the age of 89. This brief item on the Word Guild website talks of some of her achievements.
Margaret Avison, to whom The Word Guild presented the Leslie K. Tarr Award in 2005 for outstanding contribution to Christian writing and publishing in Canada, passed away on July 31, 2007, in her 90th year. Avison twice won the Governor General's Award for poetry, and was an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 2003, at the age of 85, Avison won the $40,000 Griffin Poetry Prize for her work Concrete and Wild Carrot; the judges called Margaret "a national treasure."

Sue Careless interviewed her in 2003 shortly after she won the Griffin award. In that interview, Margaret tells the story of how she came to faith.

The Griffin Poetry Prize website posts her poem "Rising Dust," which begins:

The physiologist says I am well over
half water.
I feel, look, solid; am
though leaky firm.
Yet I am composed
largely of water.
How the composer turned us out
this way, even the learned few do not
explain. That's life...

That site also has a video clip of her reading the poem.

The Griffin Poetry Prize judges (which in 2003 included Sharon Olds) made the following citation about her work:

“If beauty, as Alfred North Whitehead defines it, is ‘a quality which finds its exemplification in actual occasions,’ and if beauty is more completely exemplified in ‘imperfection and discord’ than in the ‘perfection of harmony,’ then Margaret Avison’s Concrete and Wild Carrot is an occasion of beauty. Avison’s poetry is also alive in its sublimity and its humility: ‘wonder, readiness, simplicity’ – the gifts of perception Avison attributes to her Christian faith – imbue every poem in this book with a rare spirit of disorderly love. Margaret Avison is a national treasure. For many decades she has forged a way to write, against the grain, some of the most humane, sweet and profound poetry of our time.”

More poems of hers are online here and here.

I never did search out her work while she was living. Now I wish I could have met her or sat in the audience at one of her readings. But I can still do the next best thing and buy one or several of her books to read and add to my collection. She sounds like someone worth reading - and studying.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Deborah Ruddell - children's poet

Today at the Bluebird Cafe is a kids' book of bird poems by Deborah Ruddell. It has recently been published by Simon and Schuster.

Here's a teaser:

A Vulture’s Guide to Good Manners
I never never never
put my elbows on the table
and my face will never show it
if my tummy feels unstable. ...

Read (and listen) to the rest of "A Vulture's Guide to Good Manners" and more poems by Deborah here.

Check out a few more poems and the marvelous illustrations (Joan Rankin) in the book.

And here's the quite incredible story of how Deborah got 'discovered.'

Hat-tip: Alice's CWIM Blog

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Fridge Poems

Want to print up some attractively presented poems for your fridge? The Poetry Foundation has a collection of printable 'fridge poems' in PDF file format, free for the downloading and printing.

Friday, July 20, 2007

When is a poem considered published?

I've just read an interesting series of posts in a newly discovered poetry blog (Poetic Asides with Nancy Breen and Robert Lee Brewer). Nancy Breen is editor of Poet's Market. Robert Lee Brewer is editor of Writer's Market, Writer's Market Deluxe and

What I gleaned from "Published is Published" by Ms. Breen is that a poem is considered published (by magazine editors, contests etc.) if it has been presented for public consumption in the following places:

- on the printed page
- on the internet (where the public has access to it -- including on sites like Facebook. And removing a post doesn't change anything; if it's ever been published on the internet, it's considered published)
- read on the radio
- read/recorded on the internet (e.g.YouTube)
- read in an open reading where the reading has been recorded.

The work is not considered published:
- if it is posted on an internet forum where the poet needs a password to participate in a discussion or read what's posted.
- if read in public but no recording is made.

- Is reading in public publishing your poem?
- The importance of setting poetry goals

Hat-tip: via my weekly ICL newsletter - yeah, this is getting bunny-trailish!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Bowen Island

Over the years I've gathered some friends online, mostly through a poetry forum and my blog. Occasionally these friends pay a visit to our part of the country and we get to meet in the flesh. Yesterday was such a day.

Judith is a friend I've gotten to know online through the poetry forum. (Some of the poems she has written are here and here and here.) A few weeks ago we arranged to meet on July 5 on Bowen Island, where she would be holidaying with family.

E. and I made good time through morning traffic yesterday, and got on an earlier ferry than we'd planned. I always get a feeling of leaving my cares behind when I'm on a boat bound for an island.

Yesterday was gorgeous in every way, and we enjoyed the sunshine on the ferry's the upper deck.

Just 20 minutes after leaving Horseshoe Bay, we were pulling into Snug Cove.

Since we had planned to be on the 12 o'clock ferry instead of the 11, hubby and I had an hour to spend. That was easy, as lots of roads beckoned us to explore. We got back to the library (where we'd planned to meet in the parking lot, by car description, as I'd never met Judith before, even by photo) well before the next ferry was due, but the lot was full. So we parked our car up the street, walked back to the library and proceeded to wait - I must admit a little nervously.

I scanned every car (especially the silver ones - the kind they were to be driving) and people walking by must have wondered why I gave them such piercing looks. Finally, the ferry arrived, the cars unloaded but still no Judith anywhere.

A phone call to the place they were staying assured me that Judith and her hubby had left to meet the ferry. What to do? We were about to try to make contact with a cell phone we thought they might have on them when a slim woman approached and asked timidly, "Are you Violet?" Whew! They had watched the cars unload, hadn't seen ours and had been as dismayed as we had with the botch up of our well-laid plans.

With the rendezvous part out of the way, we picked up our car and drove to a beach, where we spread out and ate our cooperative picnic. Then we all piled into one of the cars and headed for a walking trail. Along the way, we slowed to let this mother doe and her twin fawns cross the road.

The beautiful walk led through old-growth woods,

past limpid pools

and a stream with a fish ladder.

We enjoyed this view of Deep Bay near the end of our walk.

It really was wonderful -- like being with an old, yet new friend as Judith and I talked shop, reviewed the God-moments of both our writing journeys, and enjoyed the beauty all around us.

After a short visit with Dave's Mom in her rambling house that's nestled in 16 acres of virgin island forest, the five of us ended the day with dinner at Blue Eyed Mary's Bistro

and a stroll past the boats in the marina.

Thanks, Judith, Dave, and Laura for a beautiful, memorable day!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Poetry Critiques

Occasionally I am asked to do poetry critiques. I do offer such a service and previously had a web page which explained it. I have asked for that page to be taken down and am moving the information here. Below is a description of the critique service I offer.


About Critique

Q: What is a poetry critique?

A: A poetry critique is another person's analysis of your poem. A good critique tells you what works in your writing, points out weaknesses and makes concrete suggestions as to how to improve your work.

Q: Can't just anyone critique my poems?

A: Of course. But you may want to safeguard the integrity of your writing by being careful whom you ask for advice. Some things you may want to check are:

* What are the qualifications of this person?
* Does he/she have experience writing in my genre?
* Have I seen examples of his/her work? Is it the kind of poetry I enjoy? (To view samples of my work, read poems I have authored on this blog and find links to more poems here.)

Q: Where is the best place to get critique?

A: Your writer's group is an excellent place to ask for critique. Another option is a critique service. This is critique from a professional writer who charges a fee for a critique. I offer such a service.

Q: What qualifies you to critique my work?

A: In addition to earning an Education Degree with an Academic Major in English (B.Ed. U.B.C. 1972), I am a published, prize-winning poet, who is active in an online poetry forum. I am frequently asked by Nathan Harms, Executive Director of Utmost Christian Writers Foundation, to do critiques for the foundation.

Q: What would one of your critiques look like?

A: My critique will tell you what your poem communicates to me, and what I feel are its strengths and weaknesses - both in concept and technique. I will also give suggestions for improvement. A thorough critique will usually exceed 300 words per poem. Less thorough critiques -- e.g. for a collection of poems -- may be shorter.

Q: What is the cost of a critique?

A: Poem to 40 lines - $15 Cdn / Poem over 40 lines - to be negotiated. I will also consider looking at collections of poems - price to be negotiated.

Q: How do you want the poems sent to you and how do you deliver the critique?

A: Contact me with your request by e-mail. Please include some information about yourself and the poems you want me to critique, including:
- Your name
- Number of poems to be critiqued along with longest and shortest lengths
- Anything else that will help me evaluate your work, such as your approximate age, how long you've been writing poetry, how much poetry you've read (by major/minor poets) and your favorite poet(s).

After we arrive at an agreement and price, you can email or surface mail your poems to me. I will send your critique by email or surface mail (whichever you prefer) after I have received your payment.


Nathan Harms says about these critiques:

During the past few years, Violet Nesdoly has prepared a number of professional critiques for our association and its members. Her critiques are always thoughtful, thorough and considerate. In fact, when I wanted my own poem critiqued, I sent it to Violet knowing that her input would be valuable and helpful to the development of my work. I recommend her very highly.

Nathan Harms, Executive Director

Utmost Christian Writers Foundation

"The World's foremost foundation for the benefit of Christian poets

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Children's Laureate

British writer, poet and broadcaster Michael Rosen has been named Britain's fifth Children's Laureate. The stint runs for two years. I like his take on teaching poetry (interview with the BBC):

Instead of teaching right and wrong answers, it's about thinking poems are things you can climb into and investigate - just as you would climb into a cupboard and feel your way around to find out where you are.

Into a cupboard -- or behind the dustbin?

Down Behind the Dustbin

Down behind the dustbin
I met a dog called Ted.
‘Leave me alone,’ he says,
‘I’m just going to bed.’
read entire...

And you could also explore a little

Chocolate Cake

I love chocolate cake.
And when I was a boy
I loved it even more.
read entire...

More fun and nonsense poems by Michael Rosen are found here and on Mr. Rosen's own website .

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Depressed? You're at the right place!

Ready for a little sarcasm and tongue-in-cheek? Shelley, a fellow member of MSA Poets Potpourri Society has put her biting little poem "Depressionville Hotel" on YouTube.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Mother's Day Poetry

Enjoy Mother's Day Poetry (old and new) here.

Poetry Forum

Are you a Christian poet who would like to meet and interact with others of like mind? Why don't you join us at the Utmost Poetry Discussion Forum?

We are a small but friendly and helpful group who hone each other’s creations with critique and encouragement. Members include beginner poets to winners of the 2007 Utmost Christian Writers Poetry Contest. So if you’re a Christian poet interested in improving your craft, there’s a place for you!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Thinking Blogger

Notice the above graphic in the sidebar? That’s the Thinking Blogger Award, handed out to Line Upon Line by Julana at Life in the Slow Lane. Thank you so much, Julana!

The rules of the meme say that I may now award the Thinking Blogger Award to other bloggers (five max). I would thus like to bestow this award on:

- fellow poet Darlene at Berg’s Ink. This pediatrician/poet is someone who can always think of a way to make a poem out of the everyday stuff of life.

- fellow poet Charlie at Poems by C van Gorokom. Though his poems draw inspiration from the the clear streams and piney air of northern British Columbia, their final focus is eternal themes.

- Accidental Poet (a.k.a. Hatchet Lady) one of my favorite poetry critiquers who doesn’t post poetry on her blog, but has terse (and funny) blogging down to a science.

- Poets Online - the blog, which is a companion to Poets Online. The thought-provoking poetry-writing prompts at Poets Online are explained and expanded in this excellent poetry blog.

If these tagged blogs choose to play, participation rules are simple:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).

Poetry of death - 4


Now I out walking
The world desert,
And my shoe and my stocking
Do me no hurt.

I leave behind
Good friends in town.
Let them get well-wined
And go lie down.

Don't think I leave
for the outer dark
Like Adam and Eve
Put out of the Park.

Forget the myth.
There is no one I
Am put out with
Or put out by.

Unless I'm wrong
I but obey
the urge of a song:
I'm--bound-- away!

And I may return
If dissatisfied
With what I learn
From having died.

-Robert Frost


This poem, "Away," is a new Robert Frost poem to me. I was taken with it immediately I read it, in the way it cushions death. Death is pictured as a beckoning journey from which one might even return.

I think it illustrates another way poetry helps us deal with feelings about life-changing events like death. Wrapping mysterious death in the familiar package of a journey — and neatly too (isn’t "After" neat – rhyming and all), helps us feel power over it.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Poetry of death - 3

The trouble with my hair

The trouble with my hair is that it is linked to a memory
Linked to a person
Linked to laughter
And to someone else’s dreams
It is linked to my birthdays
To very practical advice and my wedding day
It is linked to Lisa
It is linked to Anna straightening it with her new Daddy's cell phone
In church on Sunday morning and muttering 'What will we do with your haaira.'
This day it is pink streaks
'You aways where deese earrings to chuch.'
The trouble with my hair is that if it grows it only means more time has passed since she left
And everyday when I'm done styling it looks the same - flat
And I know she would say 'Uh, maybe you need to come see me.'
If I trim it myself it's as if I can hear her 'Don't do that! Just come by and I'll trim it for you quick.'
If I get it trimmed it feels like a temporary solution to an enduring ache
If I cut it short it feels like her life - cut short, just ended with no resolve
Dreams not lived out but perhaps in exchange for a greater dream, for a different plan, one that I don't understand and don't question
When it is cut short, it feels like I'm moving on but not through
The trouble with my hair is that it doesn't feel fully mine
I don't know what to do with it without her telling me
The trouble with my hair is that it makes me remember and never forget
And I never want to forget
That I had a friend named Lisa who had 3 passions
Her little princess, Anna
Her family
And hair

c. 2006 - by Sonia Spooner (used with permission)


When I saw this poem on my daughter’s MySpace, I teared up. Because unlike other deaths she experienced last year – both her grandmas, who were old – Lisa was young, in her 20s and Sonia's good friend. She died suddenly from a blood clot, at the beach, in the middle of playing soccer with her family.

I’d say if you’re hurting or angry or mystified or grieving – write about it. Write a poem. Poems can be more raw, with less explanation and setting the stage. Writing like this aids healing.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Spring Poems

from the MSA* Poets Potpourri Society, a few spring poems to help you celebrate the coming (finally!) of spring.
Here are a few teasers:

Pushing and shouting
Spring arrives
jostling for colour
as Forsythia, Daffodil and Dandelion
hog the yellow crayon

from “Vernal Equinox” by Alvin Ens

Rushing, ever
like school boys home
with report cards
June races into summer
stampeding to exhaustion and boredom
like a dog scurrying
into a summer of holidays

from “June” by Alvin Ens

The rain is softly falling; it's morning at the lake
This time of day is most welcome, the solitude is great

from “Spring at Mill Lake” by Terry Broadworth

Read complete poems HERE.

And here’s a bouquet of four spring Haiku by Shelly Haggard

Photo: Elder tree blossoms
*MSA = Matsqui, Sumas, Abbotsford

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Poetry of death - 2

Last Dance

"You’d better start discussing
end-of-life issues."
The doctor said this in April
just days after my mother’s 92nd birthday.
Her deafness kept her from hearing.
Later in the car she asked,
"What did she say?
I want to know everything."

Her shock still shows
in pictures of my birthday party in May –
preoccupied, betrayed eyes
strained smile in a pale face.
When I, fearful she was getting depressed
and not willing to let her go myself
said to her often in those first last days,
"You could be healed.
God can do such a thing –
heal a person in an instant.
I will never stop praying that for you,"
she was silent.

She railed against her growing helplessness,
weakness, "I can’t go on like this.
I hate to be a burden."
I took her a book on heaven
and saw at each visit
how the bookmark was making
its slow descent.

One Tuesday in early June
even though it took some persuading
I wheeled her to her craft class.
I loved watching her give instructions.
She hadn’t lost any of the skill
with her hands, her way of explaining.
Here she was in charge.
"That helped pass the time,
took my mind off myself,"
she said when we got back.
"I’ll take you again next week," I said.
But she said, "It’s the last time.
I’ll never go again."

That first day in the hospital mid-June
I sat on her bed and we talked
amidst the chirps, bells,
PA announcements and the bustling squeak, squeak
of ER nurse shoes.
"Maybe it’s a good thing
I’ve had all this time
to get ready instead of just dropping
dead one day, like Mara’s Mom."
For once I kept my mouth shut.

I fed her supper that late-June afternoon
in Palliative Care.
The air conditioning felt good
after those weeks on the hot ward.
But the cool hadn’t improved her appetite.
"I’ll come again tomorrow
and feed you breakfast," I said.
She squeezed my hand before we left
and her eyes clung to mine
for a long significant moment.

Next morning when I arrived,
though she was still breathing
my dance partner
was gone.

c. 2007 - V. Nesdoly

Saturday, April 14, 2007

And the winners are ...

Today was the announcement of the Utmost Christian Writers 2007 Poetry Contest results.

Winners and links to winning poems were posted here at 4:00 p.m. MDT today.

Once again, as in 2004, Jan Wood won the top prize. I'm sure we haven't seen the last of this very talented Saskatchewan poet. Congratulations, Jan!

If you are a Christian poet and neglected to enter, all is not lost, however. Utmost is running two more contests.

Check out the rhyming poetry contest (entries to be received by May 31/07).
Check out the Novice Christian Poetry Contest (open to previously unpublished poets only - entries to be received by August 31/07)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Poetry of death - 1

Let Evening Come

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don't
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

Jane Kenyon (1947 - 1995)

I have been thinking of doing a series on poetry and death. Sounds macabre for April, I know. But April is the month of my Mom’s birthday (she who died last June) and in my mind it’s Mom’s month, even though there are a host of other birthdays in April, including my own daughter’s tomorrow. However, I keep thinking about Mom. And so I’m going to devote some of this poetry month to the poetry of death.

That is one of the wonderful things about this genre of writing – how useful it is in processing big life-events like death.

The above is one of my favorites.

Writing and Rhyme

Subscribers to the Institute of Children’s Literature e-letter lately participated in a contest, writing and submitting poems about writing. Check out the result here.

Fellow Inscriber Glynis Belec and I scored honorable mentions. Way to go Glynis!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Poem Seeds: Findings Poems In Your Journal

Copyright©2004 by Violet Nesdoly

I recently picked up Natalie Goldberg's book, Writing Down the Bones, and read,

"Sometimes I discover poems in my notebook that I did not know I had written……"

Natalie's idea came as quite a surprise to me. For years I viewed journaling as self-therapy and writing practice. On the rare occasion I reread what I’d written it was to confirm things like the date we sold the car or to find details for my Christmas letter. The possibility that poems might flourish in my recitation of birthday gifts and Thanksgiving dinners seemed optimistic.

I decided to give it a try—and I was surprised at what I found in my journal. Follow these steps to set up your own ever-productive poetry garden.

Begin Keeping a Journal
If you’re like me, that’s something you’ve done for years. If this is a new venture there are hundreds of resources to guide you as you begin. Here are three for starters:
Keeping a Journal

Now. . . go, get started.

Write Regularly
Perhaps not daily, but try to make a minimum of two or three entries a week. Write about a variety of things. I find the entries that work best as later poem material are ones where I’ve been honest and gritty. You don’t need to be overly mindful of punctuation, spelling, writing in complete sentences and other mechanical niceties. But do attend to details. Be precise in description. Name things. List things. If the feelings you’re experiencing remind you of something, name that thing.

Wait, Then Reread
Don’t reread your journal immediately. You need time to distance yourself from what you’ve written. Most of us are unable to judge the quality of our writing—or our thoughts, for that matter—without the benefit of time and distance. But after a month to six weeks, reread your journal to look for poem ideas to highlight or circle.

Natalie Goldberg says:

"…As you reread, circle whole sections that are good in your notebooks. They can be used as beginning points for future writing or they might be complete poems right there. Try typing them up…”
What kinds of things should you save? Here are some rules I follow when I look for poem ideas. I’ll also show how I developed the journal bits into poems.

Trust Your Instincts.
Select any passages that snag your interest - even if you can’t identify why. For example, I highlighted the following passages:
Nov. 8/98
The day is west coast vintage fall perfection, with faint haze in the high sky, making the light a little golden. To the north, peeking through breaks in houses and trees, are the dark denim North Shore mountains, tops obscured by masses of rolling blue and gray-tinged cloud……Yesterday I passed a tall Japanese maple dropping its crimson leaves onto a cedar shrub beneath it……

March 27/99
“Today dawned bright and sparkling… But, true to predictions, by afternoon the gray vapors were moving in and now it’s damp and feels almost cold enough for snow. Don’t know how all the blossoms stand it…Despite the inhospitable climate, more and more flowers are bursting out—trees of tight rose buds one day expand to pink lace confections the next. Drab forsythias have now come to life with graceful arching branches…From the shy pink-blue lungwort blooming in the shade of my Japanese juniper to showy azaleas and rhododendron, the season’s show is underway…”

Nov. 3/03
“Feel somewhat like I’m being plowed.—as if God is plowing places in my heart that have never been plowed before—virgin soil…As circumstances plow my life, I am exposed. The furrows that are cut expose areas of stubbornness, resistance, self-will that I know shouldn’t be there.”

October 28/86
“Am concerned about an attitude that came out again this morning. She (my 3-year-old daughter) dislikes prayer. She was complaining about an earache…I suggested we pray about it but she objected most violently. She also objects to prayer at bedtime…How does Christianity become a relevant, daily, wash’n’wear belief system without one bringing it into the everyday occurrences of living, like praying for a sore ear?”

Examine Your Writing
Now look closely at what you’ve selected to see if you can understand what makes it interesting to you. Work on that angle as you write the poem. Here are four things I found in my journal excerpts and which you can look for in yours.

1. Metaphors or similes that can be expanded into entire poems.
In the November 8th entry, I realized I liked the idea of mountains wearing denim. That got me thinking about other ways I could bring in fabrics and clothes. In my final poem “October Fashion”* I dressed morning in crisp cotton and smoky tulle, the mountains in denim under fleece, the park in a shawl of embroidered leaves, and the cedar shrub in green boucle accessorized with a red leaf applique.

2. Lively word rhythms and juxtapositions.
When I reread the March 27th entry, I felt a pulling and movement in the language. So I worked on refining and enhancing what I’d already written. “Spring Revue”** in which I tried to capture spring's inevitable advance, was the result.

3. Interesting ideas that invite further exploration.
The thought of being plowed by God in my November 3rd entry got me asking: What does He plow with? What does He find? How does He deal with the obstacles in my life? What’s the purpose of this plowing anyway? The poem “The Plowman” resulted.

4. Descriptions of events that evoke emotion.
Though I reread the October 28th journal entry years after writing it, it still took me back to when I was a new and inexperienced mom. I relived the concern I felt when my innocent little daughter refused to do something that was sacred and essential to me. As I wrote the poem “I Don’t Want to Pray,” I tried to express the longing of a parent who wants their child to meet the Jesus of the Bible.

So next time you find your poem plot looking more like winter than spring, take a trip through your journal to gather some fresh seeds. As you give yourself to the task of collecting, planting, nourishing and harvesting the poems you’ve already begun there, you may find your poetry garden is always in bloom!

*Published in Capper's and Prairie Messenger
** Published in Time of Singing, Spring 2004 as "April Show"
(This article, which I wrote some years ago, is online at Utmost Christian Writers. Check out the links on this page for more instructional articles on the craft of writing poetry.)

Friday, March 09, 2007

Book review - I Am the Poem

Title: I Am the Poem
Author: Alvin G. Ens
Publisher: Ensa Publishing, with Trafford - 2005
Genre: Poetry
ISBN: 1-4120-5886-4, perfect bound, 96 pages

When I heard that I Am the Poem had won a 2006 Word Guild Award in the "Special Books" category, I was thrilled but not surprised. For this slim collection of poems and essays about poetry by Alvin Ens – a lifelong reader, teacher, and writer of poetry – is indeed a winner in more ways than one.

The book is divided into five main sections titled: "Reread," "Hear," "See," "Imagine," and "Communicate." A short manifesto-type essay heads each section with poems following.

In the prose pieces we see Ens the poetry teacher at work. He lays out for the reader in easy-to-understand language his vision and standard for good poetry. He explains how a good poem should reward the reader even after multiple readings. He maintains poems should be satisfying orally (even when they don’t rhyme) as well as intellectually. Further, he explains how they should paint images and symbols with a fresh brush (including the way the words are typeset on the page), should spark imagination, and should not be so abstruse as to mean something only to their writers.

In the poems that follow each essay Ens reflects, with humor, wisdom and cleverness, on personal and modern life.

Ens’s humor makes his poetry a lot of fun to read. Some of that humor emanates from his subject matter. "Discover the Cow" poses the whimsical suggestion that if brown cows give chocolate milk, black cows must give "licorice juice / and ugly like dandelion sauce." Another essential aspect of humor comes from his ability and willingness to laugh at himself:

"And most of all, golfing helps me learn
to keep my head down
when I swing
and especially when I’m asked
my score." *
(from "Joys of Golf")

Personal poems with their wealth of wisdom about family relationships are sprinkled among the collection. I find these compelling even in their understatement. Who cannot hear the pathos in the first lines of "Rookie Card:"

"you are gone
like a traded hockey player
to reappear on the roster
of some other team... "

and "Commiserate":

"How do we take you
grown child
in our arms
on our laps
to kiss it better
to comfort..."

In "Owed to Irene" he sums up:

"I owe to Irene
in the free verse of life
a time of rhyme,
and in the paradox
of twenty-five years of two shall be one
the oxymoron
of the lasting moments of happiness.
In the conflicts of life
I her friend and she my peace."

Ode to Irene. Get it? That is vintage Ens – word-play all over the place! His cleverness with words is another characteristic of his poems. Here, for example, are a few lines that begin to dice the concept of postmodernism:

"the very age decries itself
painted into a lexicographer’s corner
as postmodernism
to follow modern
is to fall off the far side
of nothing...."
(from "Post Nonsense")

In another place he grapples with the idea of normal:

"... Normal is
and pleasant;
is below.
does not have
an above;
it is itself
above abnormal..."
(from "In Pursuit of Normal")

Concrete poetry is another specialty of his. Throughout the collection Ens does not shy away from playing with the look of words on a page – as explained in his essay "To Be Seen." His poem "The Vowel" is typeset in the shape of an E, "Treadmill" in an oval, and "Auditory Oddity" uses font variety – bold font, going to regular, then overstrike and finally gray scale till the words nearly disappear from the page – in a poem that tells about what it feels like to go deaf.

Though Ens’s Christian faith is not mentioned as overtly in these poems as in his first volume Musings on the Sermon, its presence is still there in a foundational presupposition way, as hymn lyrics in "The Loop," and the mention of God in "Snow White," "Mud," "Cursed Is the Ground," "Of Parabolas and Parables," and several others.

If there is a fault, I would say it is in the way some of his poems, with their short lines, seem choppy and are challenging to read smoothly, packed as they are with tongue-twisty words:

"In this world of
supersonic jets
the ubiquity
of fiber optic messages
and the contemplation
of intergalactic commerce..."
(from "Scree")

But this tendency, noticed here and there amongst the abundance of fine poems, is an easy one to overlook. In fact it, along with Ens’s ability to elevate the most prosaic activities into poems (like taking a shower – "Rain Dance", watching slugs – "Slugs", getting the wrong change at a fast food restaurant – "Rip Off", and digging dandelions out of the lawn – "D Day") only helps us identify with him as a fellow mortal.

As a light-hearted collection of poems that is both accessible to the occasional reader of poetry and a pleasure to the afficionado, I Am the Poem is definitely a winner in my books too.
(*My apologies to Mr. Ens for not formatting the poems as they appear in the book. I don't have the html skills for that. Sorry.)

Friday, February 09, 2007


About 10 o’clock this morning the doorbell rang. I opened the door to a man in brown, holding a clipboard. At his feet was a big box which, after he left, I promptly opened to find it was full of this.

Yes indeed, it’s finally here, my hot-off-the-press book of poems, Family Reunion! It is one of the perks of being named Utmost Christian Writers Poet Laureate. Many, many thanks to my editor Nathan Harms for his help in putting this together. What a fabulous prize and honor!

(Yikes, a hundred books looks like a lot. But then, I guess I have the rest of my life to dispose of them.)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Happy Birthday E!

You're the Top (Excerpts from)

At words poetic
I'm so pathetic
That I always have found it best
Instead of getting them off my chest,
To let 'em rest, unexpressed.
I hate paradin'
My serenadin'
As I'll probably miss a bar.
So if this ditty
Is not so pretty,
At least it will tell you how great you are.

You're the top.
You're the Coliseum.
You're the Top.
You're the Louvre Museum.
You're a melody from a symphony by Strauss.
You're a Bendel bonnet, a Shakespeare sonnet, you're Mickey Mouse!
You're the Nile
You're the Tower of Pisa.
You're the smile
On the Mona Lisa.
I'm a worthless check, a total wreck, a flop!
But if, baby, I'm the bottom, you're the top.

You're the top.
You're a silver dollar.
You're the top.
You're an Arrow collar.
You're the nimble tread on the feet of Fred Astaire.
You're an O'Neill drama, you're Whistler's mama, your Camembert.
You're the pearl
That the divers fetch up.
Milton Berle
And tomato ketchup.
I'm a toy balloon that's fated soon to pop.
But if, baby, I'm the bottom, you're the top!

You're the top.
You're a new invention.
You're the top.
You're the fourth dimension.
You're the purple light of a summer night in Spain.
You're the National Gallery, your Garbo's Salary, you're cellophane.
You're romance.
You're the steppes of Russia.
I'm a broken doll, a folderol, a flop!
But if, baby, I'm the bottom, you're the top!

- Cole Porter

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

actually you could...

vote for me. Frankly, I feel uncomfortable asking, but just this once... Here’s the deal.

A few months ago a poem I wrote was published by Infuze Magazine. Every year they also put out a book of the best poems and stories published in the previous year. The long list of the best of 2006 is up here and my poem – well it made the list. So now if enough readers vote for it - it makes it into the book. So, as I say, if you like, you could vote.

To view the competition, type the title of the piece and author in the search box on the top right of the voting page.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Calling Christian Poets

It’s time to get a move on. Take out and dust off those old unpublished poems or write some new ones and get them into the 2007 Utmost Christian Poetry Contest!

Truly, this contest has one of the richest prizes of poetry contests anywhere (not to speak of contests for Christian poets) and with the number of entries apparently down this year, you have a better chance than ever to walk away with some of that cash.

But there’s no time to dally. Entries must be postmarked February 28, 2007.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A dose of poetry

Has it ever struck you how many poems are written around the subject of illness? Many are by doctors. It seems in the last weeks I’m finding them everywhere. Here are some, written from various medical points of view:

“Pandora” by Kelley Jean White is disease and diagnosis seen through the eyes of a medical student. It begins:

Second-year medical student.
An early patient interview
at the Massachusetts General Hospital
Routine hernia repair planned, not done.
Abdomen opened and closed.
Filled with disease, cancer.

Read more

“Cases” by Parker Towle has behind it the experience and authority of the seasoned neurologist.

Man in his late seventies comes in with his wife,
weak, lost twenty-five pounds, can’t eat, hard to talk,
seeing double off and on past eighteen months
been to a family doctor and two specalists.

Read more

The Poetry Ward” is an essay by Danielle Ofri, a physician instructor at Bellevue Hospital in New York. In it she explains how she dispenses poetry along with medical wisdom to the interns, residents and medical students she supervises.

A poem she refers to in the piece is "Gaudeamus Igitur" by Dr. John Stone, parts of which are often quoted at medical school graduation ceremonies:

...For this is the day you know too little
against the day when you will know too much
for you will be invincible
and vulnerable in the same breath
which is the breath of your patients...

Finally, not to leave out the patient, most of us will relate to Diane Lockward’s “You Should Avoid Doctors”:

Because they find something you don’t
want. That’s their job, finding trouble. They impose
music you’d never choose, a paper gown, a cold room ...

Read more

(Guess where I'm going this afternoon.)