We offer refuge

The blog for March is written by veteran BPS member Jenny Sorensen

I remember some years ago listening to an interview with an acclaimed literary critic on CBC radio and he pointed out something both simple and true:  books – and literature – provide companionship.

The Brooklin Poetry Society, by its very nature, offers companionship.

Through words.

Through ideas.

With the evocation of feeling in poetry, the walls are down.

We can create a tapestry of meaning out of who we are anytime, anywhere.

This has always been the shaman in the human.

This ability to transcend, to reinvent, to overcome and recreate– we are bird, fish. We are river, rock, history and future.

The Buddhists speak of sangha, a community of the devout, where we take refuge. In this sacred place, we take refuge. I like that–this sense of sheltering in something.

Everywhere, life seeks its soil, its air, its water, and we, we lift ourselves, long needles seeking meaning. How we thread it through our lives–the patterns, the threads we choose, the gaps and material we bring together. The cable and satellite we string with face and voice and thought. We weave a blanket with our reaching.  Far and wide. Near and present.

when the moment is quiet and still in the mush of night and the slide of day when you look inside the fabric you have made this is the blanket here is warmth here is sacred here is companionship here is shelter

March is upon us, that time of year when we feel and see that even that which has been closed, that which has been dormant, hidden, has seeds and life and potential, waiting to sing. It surrounds us

each and every single bud on the great tree

the individual in the sacred

woven together with presence and intention

even when we feel alone, birds fly overhead

trees grow in the space between leaf and limb.

There is a lift in in the fabric we are part of, the spaces inside the weave full of hope and faith, intelligence, need and ambition, kindness. We take refuge. We keep each other warm. I am in this. You are in this. We stand not part of it, but within it. All around us, this great, leaping, deeping happening is our refuge.

If we were to take a moment and think about what we value, what’s important, here are some dates to consider for this month:

  • March 3rd – World Wildlife Day
  • March 6th – National Oreo Day
  • March 12th – World Sleep Day – why is that on a Friday??? 
  • March 17th – St. Patrick’s Day
  • March 21st – World Poetry Day
  • March 27th – Passover
  • March 27th – NAACP Awards
  • March 28th – Palm Sunday

Five Minutes a Day

The blog for February, 2021 is written by our own Past President, Renée M. Sgroi.

I was in a Zoom meeting the other day with a group of beginning writers, and was asked about providing some advice for those just setting out on a path towards something that could be called capital W, “Writing”.

I think as writers, everyone comes to “Writing” differently. For some, writing is a hobby, or one they have returned to after an absence of many years.

For others, writing is something they have continually done all their lives, but inconsistently so, sporadically, while for others, writing is a necessity, a passion, the source of all inspiration.

While I make no claims to being an expert on living a “writer’s life” (whatever that may be, in any case), being further along the path than some of the participants in the meeting, I offered the following suggestion.

Especially as poets, perhaps one of the most important things we can do for ourselves is to be consistent. That is, to write every day. And yes, right now, that might be an even greater challenge than it was in a pre-pandemic world, for so many reasons.

So what if you only have five minutes to spare? That’s okay! Five minutes a day is five minutes towards a person’s engagement with their own creative practice. The world’s greatest poem may not be written in five minutes, but then, ignoring one’s own creativity won’t produce that poem either.

And that five minutes can be whatever you want it to be. Freewrite, focused writing, journaling, whatever. But the more consistent it is, the easier it will be to write, to flex that part of the brain that loves to write, that can write.

Fortunately, I think poetry lends itself to shorter time frames. Not because poems are shorter than other types of writing, but because the economy of language that a poem relies on, means that those five minutes could be spent on just one line. Think about that for a sec: one day, one line.

So as we head into a February still circumscribed by pandemic restrictions, try it out. Take advantage of a solid five minutes each day. You might be surprised by what you will create!

Photo by Giallo on Pexels.com

When the Creative Spirit Stirs

This month’s blog is written by long-time BPS member John di Leonardo.

January lingers as a proper time to faithfully reflect on the previous year and a unique opportunity to make fresh starts. I personally like making New Year’s resolutions regarding creative projects, specific goals I would like to achieve in the next twelve months. I routine manage this, while sipping my morning espresso, by reading new poets, perusing my art book collection or, later at night, by mining YouTube for influential artists’ programs, exhibitions and interviews.

The other day I was flipping through my many sketchbooks and inevitably began reading notes I had randomly jotted down concerning the creative process. These handwritten notations, quotes and sketches gave me some pause and possible ideas for future paintings and poems. I thought I’d share the notes with you, with the earnest hope to stir the muse or creative juices and to explore novel ways of creating. I am not just interested in technically proficient artwork, but also work that assumes risks, and inevitably leads to that in flow moment where everything feels harmonious, unified, and effortless until you look up six hours later and smile.

Sketchbook Notes: Art/Poetry

  • Let your imagination roam free. Be receptive to all things; embrace risk and failure– this is part of the creative process!
  • Trust your inner voice. Your gut feeling has evolved over millions of years, so dismiss the inner voice that whispers “They will think I’m foolish.”
  • Give risky ideas time for your unconscious mind to mull over a solution. Sleep on it.
  • Recombine ordinary words and images. Be open to new possibilities of ideas, words, images in new and unpredictable associations.
  • Question the rules that govern the art form. Know the rules. Bend them, then break them! Break them! Even if people tell you they like your old work better.
  • Break away from current narrative forms. Experiment with meter & syntax; seek new purity in word & phrase. Lower the tone to a whisper. Slow down the pace. Fill each pause with meaning.
  • Be technically proficient but go well beyond the page or canvas. That is where art resides.
  • Always keep an eye on form & content, the what and the how. What am I saying? And why am I saying it this way? Unity and harmony is a must in any artwork!
  • Be aware of your culture’s needs and wants, the beautiful and the dark. Read ideas; read artists; read philosophy and read things you are not interested in. Have an opinion!
  • Explore new subjects and create new genres in the art form.
  • Imply a visual or word puzzle that makes you ask, “What is going on?”
  • Strive to attain an essential, literal and visual language that is both ephemeral and deep, one that fosters associative feelings and meanings.
  • Strive for layered, ambiguous work. Multiple viewpoints offer fresh meanings with each new reading or viewing.
  • Show what a new art or poetry could be. The process is everything.
  • And finally, have fun!
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A Canyon Year

This month’s blog is written by BPS member Jennifer Sorensen.

December 2020.

A canyon year.

A tightrope year.

An acrobat year in an empty tent.

Evidence that time is not a line

but a pool

and we are swimming in it alone

together

stressed, over-drunk explorers,

observant, this year, of the purple lips on the weeds beside our homes

the flowering bud held sacred within its green praying hands.

Hallelujah to the pregnant seed.

This a December when the candle is held by tight hands in the wind.

The train arrives as usual and carries its passengers in more quiet.

December 8th:   Bodhi Day, the celebration of Buddha’s enlightenment.

December 10th:  Hanukkah, a festival of lights and a commemoration of Jewish history.

December 21st:  Winter solstice, pagan festivals that mark the turn of the darkest day in this dark year.

Dec 25th: Christmas, rebirth and giving.

Dec 31st: we pretend things change and start all over again.

There’s no stopping the train.

What do we celebrate?

How do we honour?

Candles, dance, gifts, reverie?

Poetry

our frankincense and myrhh.

Our torch to idea,

holding glass to the sun so long

it burns.

We all do this in our kaleidoscope ways.

Hold a glass to the sun.

Be a glass to the sun.

Festivals, celebrations

holding glass to the big beyond

to the ocean light that touches the inside seed

and withdraws.

Or that we touch

and withdraw.

Pulling to leave us with the golden sunset yearning

for what else?

for what love?

December

The darkest month.

The treasure chest month.

And poetry sitting inside us too like that secret seed,

like the thousand Christmas lights on a suburban lawn.

    Lit up

    Lit up

    Lit up.

Be parade

Be winter

Be the single clean shirt in the laundromat

just when I thought

I had nothing to wear.

**

Quite apart from these words to honour poetry, the season, and this difficult year…

May I add too a mindfulness that many have lost much this year; loved ones, employment, friendship, value, safety.

So I add a reverent prayer for those who have endured losses of any kind.

If you would like to donate and find a way to help, this site offers lots of options:

Call for Submissions

Brooklin Poetry Society is seeking video performances for its new YouTube channel. Open to non-members as well as members. Please send videos recitations of your work to brooklinpoetsoc@gmail.com. If you are uncomfortable including your own image in the video, you may provide an audio recitation with accompanying background images in the video, but a video component is necessary.

In your submission package, please include your cover letter, 1-3 videos, and a typed copy of your poems. Selected works will be published in text on the BPS website, with links to performances on the YouTube channel.

Previously published works are acceptable. Please cite original publication in your submission package.

No payment will be provided, but no submission fees are requested.

Deadline December 31st.

Poetry’s Opacity

This month’s blog is by BPS member Natalie Fraser. She can be found on Instagram @thedeepriverdreamer.

Have you ever struggled to understand a poem?

You read it once. Twice. After the third reading, not understanding what the poet is trying to say, you cast it aside, grumbling that it’s indecipherable – or worse. But then, when you mention the poem to poetry-loving friends, their faces light up and they immediately extol its virtues, elaborating on how it moved them to tears. WTF?, you think, nodding your head, not wanting to admit the poem completely baffled you.

How much you appreciate a poem depends, in part, on how you relate to its opacity – its accessibility – how easy it is to grasp its theme. The appreciation of opacity in poetry varies from person to person, culture to culture and even era to era.

Once upon a time schools required pupils to memorize poems. Forced to stand in front of the class and recite poems such as Invictus, by William Ernest Henley, or Paul Revere’s Ride, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, students trembled in fear and stumbled through the lines. Some pupils appreciated the poems for the rest of their lives. But it remains debatable as to whether memorization helped the average student to penetrate the opacity of the poem.

The works of the master poet-playwright, Shakespeare, are classically opaque, with fresh meanings and interpretations to be discovered with every reading. People experiencing his language for the first time often begin with a fear of its opacity that diminishes, and then disappears as their delight in the story takes over. Many high school students roll their eyes in dismay when told they must study Shakespeare’s work, but then discover that they actually like it. His compelling universal themes continue to reflect the angst of life today, hundreds of years after he wrote about them, but first readers must pierce the veil of opacity – or even just their fear of opacity – before finding the treasures within.

Instapoetry lies on the other side of the spectrum. Its low opacity makes it instantly accessible. It showcases very short, personal, uplifting poems, often with illustrations or photography. Superstar Instapoet Rupi Kaur, a Canadian born in India, rose to fame in 2013 by sharing her illustrated poems on Instagram and Tumblr. Her debut book, “Milk and Honey” appeared on bestseller lists for over a year and sold over three million copies. Her very short, easy to understand poems and winsome illustrations appeal to people trying to make sense of a confusing and complicated world. Her popularity continues, along with many other Instapoets.

Some may deride the simplistic nature of Instagram poetry. But its low opacity level and easy accessiblity work to capture the imagination of young people today, who must struggle with love in the age of Tinder and jobs in a time of outsourcing – and a pandemic – as well as finding their way in a world ruled by social media. The constant, exhausting connection to social media and its accompanying pressures leads many to yearn for simplicity; and they may find that an easy, short, and uplifting poem restores their souls faster than more complex poetry.

While the appreciation of poetry’s opacity varies from person to person and age to age – from Shakespeare and Longfellow to Kaur and Instagram – poetry continues to move us and to help us make sense of our world.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Just a Couple of Thoughts

Editor’s note: This month’s delightful blog is a comedic sketch written by long-standing BPS member Patrick Meade, who takes a few cues from Who’s On First and add’s a poet’s touch.

Wake up! Wake up! Let’s go.

What?

We gotta do another one.

What?

We gotta do another assignment.

Assignment?

Yes, an assignment. C’mon. But this time it’s a blog.

A blog? What the hell is that–how to build a log cabin?

You know what a blog is. Stop playing around. We’ve done one of these before.

Uhhhhh. I barely remember. What is it again?

It’s just ideas. We have to write our thoughts down on paper. You remember. C’mon.

Why don’t we go down to the beach instead; see some swans and the marsh? Or look for beach glass in the sand. I like the green ones. What’s your favorite colour?

Never mind colours. You and me got some writing to do for the poetry group.

About the beach?

No.  

I like that little marsh with the lilies.

Forget the marsh. We have a project to do, and like usual you want to put things off.

How did this all come about?

He committed to it.

Again?

Yes, again.

But I don’t wanna do another one.

He told them all at the last meeting that he would do a blog for the website. So we gotta help him.

I didn’t agree.

Well, you were there and you’re part of it. And I am part of it too. We just gotta say something about the value of writing or poetry or creativity or working in groups or…

We gotta do all that?

No. Maybe just one.

So there’s nothing there about lilies?

No.

What about pebbles?

No. No lilies, no pebbles, no nothing.

Can’t they just have coffee and talk? I’ll buy. Tell them that.

No.

How about singing?

No.

Why not?

Have you heard him sing lately?

Oh, yeah.

We might be just a couple of thoughts but we can do this. You always give me a hard time when we gotta do any kind of project.

And it’s called a blog?

Yeah. A blog. Everybody does it nowadays.

How come?

Never mind how come. You’re procrastinating again.

Can’t we just submit lilies?

No.

How about pebbles?

No.

Why not?

Because that’s not our job. Ours is to think and write. That’s what we do.

Well, why doesn’t somebody else do it?

They do. Now it’s our turn. Will you stop frigging around and let’s come up with some ideas. The deadline is tomorrow.

It’s real hard doing this kind of thing, you know. I hope it’s not going to be like that other one.

Which other one?

With that other writing group; where we had to choose two characters from a list and have them talk to each other.

Oh yes. I liked that one.

You are one bent soul to have liked that.

With all that dialogue it was fun.

Fun!? That spindly old witch stumbling and babbling about on that broken broom stick and she had that ornery, snotty nosed, one-eyed camel stomping all over me.

Well, the idea was that they were supposed to be friendly. But you turned them into something nasty. You always do that. Anyway, it was a good challenge, don’t you think?

You’re doing it again. You are trying to avoid the assignment and you are doing it purposely.

Purposely or do you mean purposefully?

Stop avoiding.

What’s the difference, anyway?

I don’t know and I don’t care. Will you please concentrate on our new task?

I’m going to look it up.

No, you’re not. Get back here.

Was that a blue jay that just flew by the window?

Will you please stay on track?

Do blue jays fly south?

Stay focused, will you?

I am. Maybe they’re seeking the open range.

Look, the only range that I can see in this is yours, and right now that seems to be quite deranged. Now listen to me. Don’t even think about anything. Okay?

Okay.

You ready?

Yes. Sorry. Maybe it wasn’t a blue jay. Maybe it was a crow. Was that thunder? What is it we’ve got to do again?

You’ve driven me so far off track that I’ m going to have to take a minute and find out what topic we can come up with.

Okay. I’ll wait here.

Good joke. Matter of fact, it looks pretty nasty outside; such a vile sky. Do you still want to go looking for lilies?

Ahhh… No, that’s okay. Feels like a good day for a blog.

Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

Poetry in the Time of Corona

This month’s blog is by FJ Doucet

The last half-year has seen tremendous change sweep the world, and we at the Brooklin Poetry Society have not been excepted from the upheaval. After the inception of quarantine, it became clear to us that meeting in person would be a health risk to the group and we, like many other organizations, elected to hold our meetings via Zoom. In some ways online sessions proved more efficient, with otherwise busy members able to attend as they might not have in person. Naturally, however, the move was also disheartening. We missed the familiar milieu of our beloved Brooklin teashop, The Goodberry,

its airy lightness and uplifting fragrance, as well as the chance to escape the sometimes too-familiar walls of home. 

Those walls would become even more familiar, at times oppressively so, over the spring and early summer, as we sheltered in place for the public good. It was not until Stage Three of the quarantine was ushered into Durham Region that we were able to make plans for another in-person meeting. This was finally held in early August, and outside in Grass Park, Brooklin, rather than in a restaurant, to mitigate the continued possibility of infection. It was a delightful, open-air exchange of poetry and ideas, perhaps more enjoyable than most given our long anticipation, but not without adjustments, such as a need to sit far apart.  

We also experienced a significant change in the group’s leadership. As she wrote in her last blog post, our hard-working and exceptionally talented society president, Renée M. Sgroi, decided that the time had come for her to move on from the BPS presidency. She enjoined me to assume leadership of the group, and I agreed to do so with her continued guidance. I headed my first meeting on that bright August day, and we planned for a second with optimism. If all goes well, we will meet outside again on the 13th of this September. In the meantime, we will continue to monitor the news for outbreaks.  

Some may say that in such dangerous times, poetry is a mere frivolity and not worth the risk, but I would not be one of them.  I am all too aware that we live in a moment of profound uncertainty, of crisis suspended between a comfortable past and a murky future, yet I believe that the beauty and contemplation of verse may provide peace of mind sufficient to carry us through another strange and disquieting day. For this reason, we plan to continue to provide that solace and hold our meetings consistently. Whether amidst the ornamental clink and perfume of the teashop, in the fresh air of the park, or the convenience of the virtual connection, we will be there, and we invite all of you to join us.  

Finally, I also encourage you to visit the website of our esteemed past president, here. Renee’s debut full-length book of poetry, life print, in points, is now available for order through erbacce press out of Liverpool, England, and we are all immensely proud of her.

And the winners are…

We are so pleased with this submissions to this year’s contest! We had an outstanding number, and our contest was publicized by organizations including the League of Canadian Poets and the Canadian Authors Association, so thank you to all those who shared news of our contest!

A huge debt of gratitude to our wonderful judge, accomplished poet KV Skene, who was so generous both with her time and her comments. As KV told us: “I was immediately intrigued with the diverse interpretations of the ‘World of Poetry’ theme displayed by the entrants of the Brooklin Poetry Society’s 3rd annual Poetry Contest and totally impressed by the high quality of their work. This, I realized, was not going to be easy. Every poem was read, reread and read again and every day I changed my mind. Again. However, eventually, decisions do have to be made.”

Many thanks as well to all the poets who entrusted us with their poetry. Entering a contest can be a daunting task, and it takes courage to submit knowing full well that the risk of rejection can be greater than the chance of winning a small number of coveted prizes. So, to all those who submitted, we hope you’ll celebrate having taken the risk and congratulate yourselves on the general acrobatic act of writing poetry in the first place!

And now, for the winners. First place goes to Anna Yin for her poem, “Ask”. Here’s what our judge, KV Skene had to say about this poem: “A sad, sensuous poem — after Qu Yuan (Chinese poet, 340-278 BCE). Its otherworldliness suggestively envelopes you, particularly in the following lines:

“My heart is wrapped by leaves of reeds.

 unfolding then closing –”

Its last stanza subtly evokes Eliot’s ‘April is the cruelest month’. Perfect.  “

The second place prize goes to Bänoo Zan, for her poem, “Naming Ceremony”. In the words of our judge: “Divided into three sections, Naming Ceremony is a meaningful, many-layered poem, beautifully executed as it keeps unfolding more and more of itself:

“her eyes round

with discovery

of the forest

she has become – “

“Naming Ceremony” is a poem that greatly rewards multiple readings.”

Our third place prize goes to Marsha Barber for her poem, “Taking His Hand”. Here’s what KV had to say about this poem: “A deceptively simply poem that tells an all-too-familiar story for TTC habitués – and a great example of Coleridge’s dictum – i.e.  ‘the best words in the best order’, for instance:

“a personal injury

at track level

those of us in the subway car

look down

will not meet

one another’s eyes.”

It almost breaks your heart.”

Our three honourable mentions this year are by Mansour Noorbakhsh, “Till You Recognize Me”; Andrea O’Farrell, “Hiroshima Moon”; and Lynn Tait, “The Blue Belief of Dreams”. You can read all the poems under the Poetry Contests page.

KV also wanted to cite a few other poems that, while they didn’t win any of the above awards, were worthy of mention: Natalie Fraser, for her poem, “Silence”; Christine Lyons for her poem, “The Raging River”; and Debbie Okun Hill for her poem, “He Had the Face of Putto”.

Once again, thank you to our amazing judge, KV Skene, and to all who submitted. What a fantastic contest, and we hope you’ll enjoy reading the winning selections. Until next year!

Renée M. Sgroi, Past President and FJ Doucet, President

Shortlist

We still have lots of summer left to enjoy, so we’re super excited to announce a shortlist for our 3rd annual contest! Thank you to all those who submitted, and congratulations to all those who were shortlisted! Winners will be announced towards the end of August.

The shortlisted poets are:

Marsha Barber

Natalie Fraser

Christine Lyons

Mansour Noorbakhsh

Andrea O’Farrell

Debbie Okun Hill

Lynn Tait

Anna Yin

Bänoo Zan