A Ramadan Blessing

This month’s blog is by BPS member, Fj Doucet

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In a normal year—which is to say, any other year in living memory—May marks the beginning of spring, and we Canadians begin emerging from a long winter’s hibernation. In a normal year, the parks and cafés would already be full, the dark nights turning to almost miraculously clear blue days. But everyone knows that this not a normal year. We remain trapped—suspended — in the coronavirus pandemic, that oddly poetic moniker for a disease that has killed a quarter of a million people to date. As a result, parks are blocked off. Shops are still shuttered. Businesses, even international companies, have been forced to shut down, some forever. And though our feet and minds have grown almost unbearably restless, our orders from on high remain the same — avoid gatherings. Stay inside.

I cannot speak for everyone, but personally the longer the crisis continues, the more difficult I find it to connect with the sense of urgency that was impressed upon us two months ago. Especially now as the weather turns warmer, and we fail to find apocalyptic debris littering the streets, the urge to simply step outside and play has grown almost irresistible. From the appearance of neat avenues and clear sunshine, it seems that the world has not changed at all.

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But I must remember that it has. That it is only through an enormous collective effort that we have avoided far more catastrophic losses. And there is no better reminder of this than the simultaneous occurrence of another invisible, yet powerful event. Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, began at the end of April and will run through most of May. During this time, Muslims fast from sunrise—about four-thirty in the morning—until sunset — close to eight-thirty at night. During these sixteen hours, Muslims take neither food nor drink, not even water. It is one of the foremost commands of the religion, and in this state of abstinence the faithful are meant to focus more intently on the active practice of worship. Far from merely staying inside to wait away the hours until sustenance is permitted again, these hours are one of intense mental striving, a full work-day in the pursuit of God’s blessing.

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Although on the surface the world has remained the same, Ramadan has deeply altered the worshipper’s universe —and so too especially with our pandemic lock down.  Yet the world seems to have changed little. Time moves forward. There are no chains upon us. The trees still grow and the flowers are blooming. And yet by staying inside we are not merely sitting and waiting for the government to give us the nod to go back to work— no, we are working now. By remaining focused and strong, by staying home even through the temptation to break our solitude—our fast—we are actively shaping the disease-free world we seek, just as this month Muslims are actively working for the blessings they desire.

So, let us count our blessings, and perhaps we might even use our solitude to write a poem or two.

Poets born in May:

Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828-1882

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803-1882

Adrienne Rich 1929-2012

A Roman February

“February has a knack of returning us to winter, and drowning us in darkness”

The chill month of January has at last taken its leave, and we find ourselves in yet another February, weary of coats and gloves and cold floors in the mornings. February is a tease, the next month of a long season drawing out the torment of grey days like a frosted veil while its sharp winds moan  — a tease that this winter may never end. Our collective mood reflects the biting wind, our spirits as charged and restless. But then come brief thaws and nervous sunshine – a practiced treachery, as February has a knack of returning us to winter, and drowning us in darkness.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Our calendar is a Roman one, and like Roman history, February offers its deceits. A spectacular example is what occurred in February 44 BCE. In that year, Julius Caesar refused the crown that Marcus Antonius pressed upon his head. Standing before crowds gathered for the annual Roman fertility festival of Februa, during the days of Lupercalia, the offer was recorded by Plutarch and later famously dramatized by Shakespeare. Many historians agree that the incident was probably staged by Caesar himself to gauge the wishes of the Roman people. Given his undeniable imperial ambitions, Caesar’s refusal strains credulity even now. But again, it was February, that teaser, that time of practiced treachery.

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Whatever he truly intended, we know that Caesar never was king or emperor. His deceit was a litmus test that served as an augur, predicting the fateful March that followed his final February. On the floor of the hallowed Senate itself, Rome’s mighty saw Caesar, the dictator, fall to the ground, betrayed by a friend. This time it was not the gold of Lupercalia that watered the earth, but blood. 

History bludgeons and blooms like the seasons, dragged forward by the momentum of change. So too, February blows hard, softens, then comes down again like a Roman sword. 

So, while February may plunge us into painful darkness once again, we can be like the ancient Romans and take charge of our lives – in our case by plunging ourselves into poetry.

"Friends, Romans, Countrymen,
lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him;
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones,
So let it be with Caesar ..."

	from Shakespeare's, Julius Caesar

“A Roman February” is by BPS Member and accomplished poet, Fj Doucet. Check out her work on Instagram: @fj_doucet

Contest winners!

We are so pleased to announce the winners of our 2nd annual contest:

1st place winner: Jan Wood, “Annual Contention”

2nd place winner: Wendy Jean MacLean, “Boxes for Bluebirds”

3rd place winner: Jan Wood, “lessons in trilobites”

Honourable Mentions: Meg Freer, “The Significance of Snowdrops” and Ruth E. Walker, “Water Dreams”

Congratulations to all the winners, and a huge thank you to all those poets who submitted their work and shared their amazing poetry with us!

Our contest judge, David Stones, had this to say about the winning poem, “Annual Contention”:

In “Annual Contention” the poet presents a clear and comprehensible premise, buoyed by lively and imaginative depictions that bubble it along like a fine spring stream freed from the icy claws of winter. Prudent word choice and Wordsworthian genre images capture acutely the pulse and rhythm of spring awakening: “swaying willow skirts”; “hillsides in lush lime coats/wear dandelion boutonnières”; “a steam of trapped sap/pulsing in the veins of birch.” The juxtaposition of this natural turning with the “utterly insignificant greens/of carrots and beans” planted “deliberately,” is further reinforced with the use of a clever, subliminal rhyme scheme employing strategically positioned leonine (within the line) rhymes and rhyming couplets that lend a pleasant cadence throughout: “wear dandelion boutonnières/and home-sown greenery appears/in back yard plots/and pots on decks/nothing reflects the difference….” All told, a tight and accomplished piece of poetry: communicates well, entertains, sends a message and burns a few images into the brain. 





Thanks to our judge, David Stones!

Oxygen for an Accidental Poet

A first draft poem is applied to the page similar to how an artist lays down an underpainting. Next comes a stroke of colour, an emotive word that does the work of three. Lines are spoken aloud to test their rhythm and musicality. Only the right words in the right order will do. There’s much chiselling before the structure of a poem emerges.

I’d love to tell you that I’ve been writing poetry since I dropped from the womb, that as a child, I spoke in metaphor and screened phrases for iambic pentameter—but I’d be lying. Actually, I just Googled iambic pentameter.

The truth is that I stumbled into writing poetry by mistake. A few years ago, I signed up for a master writing class to be led by Shannon Webb Campbell. The words “reconnect with lands and waters” leapt from the course description. At the time, I was embarking on my current novel set in 1836 Ottawa Valley so this environment-based writing focus excited me. Imagine my surprise when I took my seat, flipped to a fresh page in notepad and realized I was seated inside a scrum of poets with Ms. Campbell, a poet highly acclaimed on a national scale. I must confess a fleeting paralysis. How possibly could I write poetry—the haute couture of self-expression—on demand?

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The day’s session lit my interest in poetry. Through the inspiration of readings by instructor and attendees coupled with the warm flow of writing exercises, I produced work centred around themes and scenes in my novel. In fact, elements from one of the poems appears in the opening of chapter one. The experience of writing and listening to other people’s poetry was cathartic. I began to understand poetry as conjurer of emotional or sensory experience, an invitation into a familiar or foreign moment. In the following days, I yearned to write more verse and to seek the companionship of other poets.

Poetry is my gateway to enriched prose. The exercise of writing in verse has taught me that economy of language can live on the page alongside inventive word play. It’s pushed me to be present in my characters’ experiences and to burrow deeper into their inner worlds so I can discover aspects of themselves they’ve secreted away.

In the past, I’d seldom written poetry and then only when ideas struck like lightning. Now I find the pleasure in purposefully setting out to write poetry, in capturing snapshots of emotion and experience. The shift in practice allows me to be more mindful, to savour a moment or spend time considering an injustice that requires broadcasting.

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A poem does not pour from the pen a perfect thing—at least not for me. I’m learning the process of brain gymnastics performed over several drafts of sheets scribbled upon by multiple colours of ink. My thesaurus and stationery supply serve as creative co-conspirators. A first draft poem is applied to the page similar to how an artist lays down an underpainting. Next comes a stroke of colour, an emotive word that does the work of three. Lines are spoken aloud to test their rhythm and musicality. Only the right words in the right order will do. There’s much chiselling before the structure of a poem emerges. I must know when to stop. One line too many and something magical is lost.

I’ve discovered poetry as therapist. Similar to journaling, writing verse is an inward journey. What arrives on the paper is often revelatory to me. I’d no idea I thought that or felt that until the exercise of writing poetry excavated that deep place.

Poetry’s most unexpected gift to me is friendship. So many of us work closeted away with ink stained fingers and sore shoulders. In coffee shops, we note other writers hunkered over laptops. We share a silent nod, much like joggers passing each other on the roadside. But there’s no sharing of ideas or way-to-go pat on the back. For that sustaining creative fuel, real conversation is required—preferably with those who are equally excited by punctuation placement and alliteration. The Brooklin Poetry Society is oxygen to my poetry writing. The members are my friends and mentors without whom I’d only swim in the safe and shallow end of poetry.

      To know the hearts of human beings,
Dissect pain and passion,
Read poetry
 
To escape the knife point of grief,
Raise a mirror in which to gaze
Write poetry
 
To be counted and understood,
Remove isolation from the vernacular
Speak poetry

Gwen Tuinman

June 2019