April is National Poetry Month and the theme this year is “time.” The League of Canadian Poets website says: “This National Poetry Month, we celebrate time: its gifts, its history, its potential. We celebrate your ten-thousand-hour dedication to mastery. We celebrate your drafts, your notes, your failed projects, your future success. We celebrate the journey. We invite you to join us in celebrating the timeless journey of poetry this April: share the most important moments from your literary history, or tell us about the most exciting parts of your literary future.”

Lots of food for thought there about time. I don’t think I would ever use the term “failed projects” as there is lots to be learned during the process – those ten thousand hours of dedication. Time slips by as I wanted to write about the April 1st kick-off event in Nanaimo closer to the event itself and here it is April 21st as I draft this blog. It is still National Poetry Month though and I’ve been reading more poetry than during any other month of the year.


Photo: Tina Biello and Mary Ann Moore

Time is a puzzling gift. I used to think the day was more expansive when I did next to nothing. Now, I’m not so sure. I’m been thinking of the “most important moments” from my writing life or even the not so important ones as part of a continuum of being a writer. I think it is a good idea to celebrate “the journey” as we can often think we’ve done nothing as we see other writers publishing their books and artists hanging their works of art on the wall. There may not be any visual evidence of our writing life and yet I think of the value of sitting in a circle with others, to be seen, to be heard, to be amazed at what comes out of the stillness. People opening, disclosing, letting go, being here, living their story. I value this witnessing of one another.

Three women from the Writing Life women’s writing circle read poems at the kick-off to National Poetry Month on April 1st at the Harbourfront branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library in Nanaimo. Our new Poet Laureate, Tina Biello, was hosting.

Maureen Dean read a poem she started in the writing circle: “A Passion for Light.”

I came alive on those mother of pearl mornings
in my grandfather’s garden where
the morning glories lifted their faces and
the sun rose to split the sky like a red melon.

The poet recalls a child’s sense of wonder in her grandfather’s garden and also inside, at the kitchen table, where Grandfather read the Bible.

While coffee percolated, Jonah was
swallowed by a whale and came out whole.

IMG_0751blogPhoto: Charlotte Caron and Marlene Dean

Charlotte Caron is a poet and a birder who engages in bird watching wherever she goes. She read a poem entitled “Reminders” about migrating birds being a “stark reminder / that another year has passed.” The poem poses some questions and ends with:

The tangible evidences of another year and
Of how much more loving we have
Left to do before the birds return again.

Rebecca Garber has published her first chapbook of poems called Like a Pearl and read a couple of poems from it.

The Harbourfront branch of the library has been refurbished in recent years and there’s now a fireplace. We sat in a semi-circle around it as if participating in a fireside chat. All readers appreciated having an enthusiastic audience, many of them poets too.

Nanaimo poet Leanne McIntosh read from her book Dark Matter (Leaf Press, 2013). She showed us an image of an Emily Carr painting and read a poem that begins:

IMG_0759blogAll those who loomed in her. Those changing moods.
The wellspring of the self.

It’s a story Emily knew well —
A tree scorned as timber, beloved of the sky.

Photo: Leanne McIntosh, Tina Biello and Mary Ann Moore

I read a poem called “Dodge Days” which you can read on the poetry page of my website here. When returning from Denman Island last June, I saw a young woman in an old Dodge van stopped at a stoplight in the lane next to us. I got thinking about her growing older and reflecting back to that day in June 2016.

Tina Biello, Nanaimo’s new Poet Laureate, has written two books of poetry and has another manuscript completed from which she read a poem on April 1st. Her first book, In the Bone Cracks of the Walls, was published by Leaf Press in 2014 about the same time mine was. We enjoyed doing readings together from her book and mine: Fishing for Mermaids. (Yes, Leanne, Tina and I are all Leaf Press poets. Our publisher, Ursula Vaira, was reading her own poetry at another event on at the same time as ours that day.)

Tina grew up in Lake Cowichan, a small logging town on Vancouver Island. In her book, In the Bone Cracks of the Walls, she “reimagines the tales, the rituals, and the generations of Casacalenda, her ancestral village in Italy. She retrieves village stories in language that drifts between English and the Casacalenda dialect her immigrant parents spoke around the kitchen table” in Canada.

inthebonecracksSome of the poems in the book were published in a chapbook called Momenti which was part of a multi-disciplinary art exhibition of poetry and watercolour in Montreal and Vancouver. The poems were also set to music composed and performed by Marguerite Thorne and Annette Coffin which resulted in a CD called Dolci Momenti.

Loreta Giannetti painted the watercolour called “Carmela“on the cover as well as several others that were part of the exhibition.

A Housecoat Remains was published by Guernica Editions in 2015. It’s remarkable how much can be revealed, the grief and the loss, in the spare lines of Tina’s poems.

In “A Circle of Women,” the narrator recalls her Mom in Lake Cowichan and her Nonna in Casacalenda, each peeling garlic before a meal. There are multiple layers to the family story and many years of memories, recalled in the ordinary tasks of everyday.

When staking tomatoes, the narrator remembers her father in her hands in “Blessing.” His advice, or blessing, is Fa la bella figura which roughly translates as “go out there and give the world a good impression.”

Tina has been to the Victoria City Council to read poetry along with Victoria’s Poet Laureate Yvonne Blomer and she’s read to Nanaimo City Council as one of her first duties as Poet Laureate. There are many events to come that will include poetry such as at the Canada Day celebrations at Maffeo Sutton Park on July 1st and at the Dragon Boat Festival in July. She’s been on radio with CHLY’s show, “Librarians on the Radio,” and also interviewed by Sheryl Mackay on CBC Radio’s North by Northwest.

Sometime in the summer, a call-out will go to all the Vancouver Island Regional Libraries about submitting poetry to a Canada 150 anthology of poetry. And some fresh energy will be put into the Poetry Map initiated by Nanaimo’s first Poet Laureate Naomi Wakan which is on the City of Nanaimo website.

Tina has all sorts of collaborations in mind so people will have an opportunity to write poetry at art events, with music, and with dance in connection with Crimson Coast Dance Society. It’s best to check Tina’s City of Nanaimo Poet Laureate Page for updates on upcoming events.

ahousecoatremainsTina Biello as well as Nanaimo’s Youth Poet Laureate Kailey DeFehr; former Poet Laureate of Victoria Carla Funk; and Blaine Greenwood will all be part of a special edition of WordStorm, part of the Federation of BC Writers Spring Writes Festival in Nanaimo. The location is St. Paul’s Anglican Church, 100 Church Street and the poetry begins at 7 p.m. You can find out about the exciting events that are part of the Spring Writes Festival at www.bcwriters.ca.