Category: Friends

What we’ve been up to since last I posted

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Someone got glasses.

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All four kids had cavities filled at the dentist. (Popsicles only incidentally implicated.)

Kev and I cleaned the house and yard (not pictured).

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I baked a cake. (Party cake # 1!)

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Twelve candles were blown out.

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Soccer girl and mama went on a road trip. Too much sun. Too much chlorine. Hotel dreams. Big saves in net, sweet passes from the wing, and a game-winning goal. One proud mama, too tired to type more than this.

But tomorrow’s a holiday, may we all sleep in.

My poetry book club: an interview, with notes

Photo by Nancy Forde. Humour by all of us, and some more than others.

 *Note # 1: Last month, in honour of Poetry Month, my poetry book club was asked to take part in an interview for a literary blog. And then due to a staffing change our chance at modest book club fame fell through — but we’d already answered the questions and posed for a group photo (any excuse to get together and eat cake, really!). So I’m posting our photos and responses here instead.

*Note # 2: Yes. We are called the Smeops. No. No one will ‘fess up and take credit for the name.
*Note # 3: Please imagine a friendly omniscient interviewer voice leaning toward the microphone to ask these questions. Like Carol Off on As It Happens. Humour me?
Note # 4: These are the books we’ve read since our first meeting, October 17, 2010, though not in strict order of reading. (And here is my blog post on that inaugural meeting!)
Pigeon, Karen Solie
Morning in the Burned House, Margaret Atwood
I Do Not Think that I Could Love a Human Being, Johanna Skibsrud
Bloom, Michael Lista
Methodist Hatchet, Ken Babstock
The Cinnamon Peeler, Michael Ondaatje
New and Selected Poems, Vol. II, Mary Oliver
Sailing Alone Around the Room, Billy Collins
Human Chain, Seamus Heaney
The Anatomy of Clay, Gillian Sze
Groundwork, Amanda Jernigan
The Book of Marvels, Lorna Crozier
Horoscopes for the Dead, Billy Collins
Seal up the Thunder, Erin Noteboom
Note # 5: There will be no more notes. There will be questions and answers. Questions, more answers. And so on. And so forth. Until the end. At which point there will not appear even one more note.
Photo by Nancy Forde. We are, from left to right: Eugenia, Amanda, Christyn, Matthew, Maggie, Craig, Carrie, Karl, and Nancy.
Why did you decide to start a poetry-only book club?
Geez, these questions are hard. Reading poetry is a lonely pursuit, and that seemed a shame and possibly unnecessary. It feels great to share a good poem. – Karl
I didn’t help start it, but I wanted to join because I find that reading poetry alone is not as much fun as reading or discussing it with others. I love hearing how other people responded to or interpreted a poem, and frankly, even how different it can sound when read by other people. – Eugenia
Well, I usually tell people I like poetry over a book club because we are all restricted with time, and if for some reason you can’t read a whole book of poetry before the meeting, well you still get a feel for it and can comment, something that doesn’t usually happen in a book club.
 Second, it’s not common and so has that mystique about it as well as a little bit of my third point …
We get to be the “cool” kids. Everyone wants to be in our club! Joking aside I know I personally feel a little boost in my ego whenever I say I belong to a poetry club.
 Oh, and the food, wine, and “adult time” are also big draws. Plus I laugh the most there than anywhere else. 
 Amanda
Good question. The inward nature of the goings-on between poem and reader seems at odds with a book club. Maybe it is. And yet in my opinion, this poetry-only book club does work, somehow: we sporadically gather, chosen book at hand, noteworthy pages marked up, and if we’re so inclined, tip our experience of a poem outward into the room, in hopes of getting a little closer to it, and in hopes of being understood by the others sitting there. I didn’t start this club, but I joined in order to read and talk poetry with good people who like to do the same.  Maggie
The poetry-only book club was Karl’s idea. At first, we were only three, and we got through two Canadian collections together (P.K. Page and George Johnson), and then one of us moved, which left just me and Karl, awfully small for a club. Who reads poetry, we wondered, and more importantly who wants to join us and talk about it? I remember putting the idea out onto Facebook and my blog, and I remember my surprise and pleasure to discover that poetry-lovers are everywhere. All you have to do is ask. That was two and a half years ago. At some point, we named ourselves The Smeops. We first met to discuss Pigeon, by Karen Solie. After that, we read Morning in the Burned House, by Margaret Atwood. Our next book will be Seal Up the Thunder, by Erin Noteboom (aka the amazing YA author, and our neighbour, Erin Bow), who is an on-again-off-again Smeop. She didn’t want us to read her poems, but she hasn’t come for awhile, so this is our way of getting back at her. – Carrie
I enjoy poetry, but am more apt to pick up a novel before a collection of poems. By joining the club, I give myself a reason to read poetry. – Christyn
The club had already begun when I was kindly invited into the fold when I had recently moved into Waterloo from having lived rurally for a decade. Carrie asked me if I would be interested and I jumped at the chance. I am an English Lit alumna and, as a single mother, the idea of having adult conversation not related to Dr. Seuss (or, only sometimes related) was enticing. If I can’t get a sitter, everyone is accommodating and allows to me to host [I lied: *Note # 6: Nancy is a consummate host, and we love coming to her house! The photos were taken there, in her kitchen, and her cozy back room.] It’s wonderful to have a “night out” in my back room discussing the potency of words with people who are great fun and all have different opinions/approaches. A chance, also, to get to know members of this new community and feel some belonging. – Nancy
How does your club choose which books you will read?
Members suggest them. – Karl
Randomly. – Maggie
Haphazardly, at best. We don’t have a group leader, and at times we wish we did, but no one wants to be “uber-Smeop.” So we muddle on collectively. Occasionally, we meet without a specific collection, and bring favourite poems to share. We’ve chosen a few collections after hearing a particularly amazing poem read aloud. Those meetings are some of my favourite. I love hearing someone read a poem out loud. We have some brilliant readers in the group, although Karl will dispute his talents. Nancy can bring us all to tears. Craig does voices. I’m pretty sure he did a Yeats poem performed as heavy metal — that really happened, right? Back me up, someone. – Carrie
I think it was, more specifically, “Yeats as Metallica,” not to be confused with my own “Babstock as Jim Morrison.” Not one of my prouder moments. It was the olives talking. – Karl
People come across poems, throw out suggestions. I read “I Do Not Think That I Could Love a Human Being” one night because a friend had sent the link to me via my blog and we all thought we might take on Johanna Skibsrud collection as a result.  Nancy
In your experience, how do the discussions in a poetry book club differ from those in a regular fiction-based book club?
I’ve not been part of a fiction book club. Anyone? – Karl
They don’t, really, at least in my experience. Members in both types of clubs interpret the works in individual ways, and share their reactions based on life experience and personality. – Eugenia
Maybe we can say that our poetry club is more than just an excuse to get drunk on wine? Sorry, that observation’s based on the book club experiences of certain household spouses who shall remain nameless. – Craig
I rather wish we could spread our idea more and show people that poetry is for everyone, not just the few literary elite. In the group we all come from different backgrounds and yet, for the most part, we generally agree on a work of poetry. We may differ in opinion on exact poems, but I’d say on the whole we agree — and we tend to like the works that are the most “readable.” (Erin would make fun of me for that word!) – Amanda
I’m not convinced there is any definitive difference. There may be a little more talk around form, language and sound as opposed to plot, character and theme, but this is of course a generalization, considering the many books that dabble in more than one genre. – Maggie
An observation: often, even people who love reading poetry feel inadequately equipped to talk about it — until they come to our book club, that is! Our conversations are lively, sometimes in-depth, occasionally moving, and often laugh-out-loud funny. Poetry wrestles with the Big Themes: life, death, memory, love. So does fiction, I realize, but a poem is so distilled. There isn’t plot to discuss, or character development; instead there are big ideas, compressed. With a poem, it’s tempting to say, “I liked this one,” or “I didn’t like that one,” so the challenge is to go beyond that and understand why (Matthew tries to keep us focused!). – Carrie
Poetry covers so many facets of life and its experiences and interpretations, that our discussions are similar (all over the map). I find that the poetry club elicits an emotional side of me that a book club never did. In the few hours we get together, every emotion can be covered. There are tears, moments of silence, confusion, anger, and lots and lots of laughter. It’s a safe place to examine life. I love seeing how each of us (so different in so many ways) will take away something so similar, yet so different from each of the collections. I walk away every time with a new perspective of life and a new nugget of knowledge. – Christyn
Well we have a historian, a few writers (who’ve also published poetry), a computer scientist, teachers, someone who works with the deaf, I’m a trained actor. We all have different passions and we certainly can disagree. But I think it’s the ability to read a collection and get a sense of a poet within a month. My favourite part of the night is when we’ve all brought found poems or ones we’ve loved or love or just discovered and we read them aloud to one another. So, whereas a book club may discuss that one book’s plot, climax, character development, emotions about certain chapters, etc. I would think the fact that we read poetry that can sometimes have been composed over decades by the poet—at different times in their lives—we get perhaps a broader spectrum of the person penning the poetry: when they were in love, depressed, enlightened, lonely, pensive. Also, it’s amazing to see the different reactions even a poem of 10 lines can evoke. The poet writes the poem but it can hit each of us in its own subjective way (as books can), but because the words/content of poetry or on a much smaller scale than entire chapters of words in books, often I think we talk about how one “line” or one “phrase” or even one “word” made the poem for us (or ruined it, etc.)  Nancy
Photo by Nancy Forde
Can you share a few of the club’s favourite collections?
My favourites so far: Morning in the Burned House by Margaret Atwood, and Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins (not strictly speaking a single collection). – Karl
I’ve particularly enjoyed the times when we’ve goaded ourselves into sharing poetry that we’ve written. There’s great vulnerability and exhilaration in doing that. I’ve sometimes thought that a good poem is like a good wedding, because attending someone else’s wedding can make you want to reflect on your own commitments, and a good poem can make you want to cobble words together yourself. That doesn’t ring true for everyone, of course, but there’s some kind of consonance there for me. – Matthew
We hardly ever have consensus on a collection, but the poet who garnered the most positive response was Billy Collins. – Eugenia
And of course I’m going to list Billy Collins as a fav 😉  Amanda
Fortunately, there’s little consensus, which keeps the discussions lively. But every once in a while, we stumble across the sublime, and there’s pause for thought. These are the intimate moments that are great to share. – Maggie

We’ve found that a collection of poetry is almost always uneven, but the joy is looking for that poem that resonates. We don’t always agree on which poem was magical, but we like disagreeing. I’d say disagreeing keeps us together. – Carrie
The most favourite was Billy Collins, Sailing Alone Around the Room(also the most light-hearted). We also have others that bring about lots of laughter and inside jokes! – Christyn
I think Billy Collins was popular with everyone across the board and Margaret Atwood is so hard not to appreciate. I missed out on a couple of collections but fell in love with Mary Oliver and I absolutely was thrilled by Michael Lista’s Bloom, though not everyone loved it. We have good fun about who loves what and why (or why they seriously do not).  Nancy

The end of April, and at last

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This.

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This.

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This.

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And a bit of this, too.

“You love when the house is full of children, don’t you,” Kevin observed yesterday.

I do! I love when children spontaneously drop by on scooters, come in and join a cake baking project, stay for lunch, and fill the house and yard with play and chatter. I love hanging laundry while watching children play soccer and make up games on the trampoline. I love the connections that come from being outside.

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Bring on spring.

How are you?

where are you going, where have you been?

How are you?

I always reply, as expected, I am fine. Most of us do, right? It’s a polite greeting, back and forth, not meant as a deeply searching opening.

But, how are you? No, really, you can tell me.

And then I’ll tell you.

I’ll tell you, in truth, that I am struggling. Fold down the corner on this page. It’s only one page in a whole book. Mark it off. This too shall slip into the past. There is nothing specific to attach my struggle to, and perhaps that is why I am struggling. There is no news. I wait for news, knowing I can’t control when it arrives, nor what message it will bring. If I could learn how to live within this, what a gift it would be. I could learn real peace of mind. But so far, I am struggling.

In my dreams last night I signed a book contract only to discover that there was no editor to help me edit the book, and I would need to go it alone based on a few scribbled notes that included instructions to write “a wedding scene.” My book has no wedding scene, nor any obvious place to include a wedding scene, given that the main character never marries. Also, I wouldn’t get paid until the edits were complete. On the plus side, assuming I could complete the edits, I would earn a healthy sum. On the minus side, my personality in the dream could be summed up as: socially awkward. It’s my second socially awkward dream this week.

What can it mean?

This dream melded with another in which my entire family was riding in a helicopter while I ran in a field underneath them, watching the helicopter tilt and crash-land. But everyone was okay. We went into a nearby house and I realized we’d forgotten to bring the piano books. Crisis in dreamland! How would the children practice the piano?

So, how are you?

Me, I’m flat as day-old soda pop.

But this morning is clear and sun-filled. All of my kids still love to be hugged tight. Tonight is poetry book club. There is the possibility, always, that peace of mind is within, waiting for me to alight upon it. So, just now, I’m going outside, friends. I’m leaving this desk for a little while. I’m going outside.

Betwixt and between

life's a whirl
This photo illustrates my feelings about our weekend. Life’s a whirl. The weekend was extended by the fake ice storm on Thursday (deemed a snow day, kids home), followed by the real ice storm on Friday (no electricity til bedtime, camping out our friends’ house). By that point, the laundry was already crawling up the basement stairs.

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See, I took a picture.

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The ice storm made the trees quite beautiful, but dangerous. A limb crashed down in our yard, and narrowly missed crushing the trampoline.

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Despite an odd and dislocated day on Friday, I tried to stay focused on Saturday morning’s task. When I arrived home, around 1:30 in the afternoon, I was drained. The laundry was still crawling up the stairs. Kevin was working in Toronto. The sense of dislocation and uncertainty remained. I went out with friends after the kids were in bed, feeling like a shadow of myself. Also, I was wearing dog-hair-infested yoga pants and a hoodie because it took every ounce of energy just to get out the door, and I couldn’t work myself up into changing first. I knew I had before me another early morning, and long day.

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But it would be a day spent with these people, so, really, I have no complaints. I took this photo on Thursday evening, pretty much convinced I was living my dream. Book-reading children on the couch snuggling with dogs, while the piano is being practiced. Plus the house looks really clean here. Oh, that’s right — I spent Thursday cleaning. Let’s just say it doesn’t look that clean anymore.

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Kevin was working in Toronto again on Sunday. CJ had a swim lesson, bright and early. I felt comfortable leaving the older children on their own for the hour we were gone. I put on my running gear, and dashed around the park for 21 minutes, exactly, arriving back at the pool one minute late to pick up CJ. Almost perfect timing. Back home, had time to shower and gather up supplies, and we were off again. AppleApple had an afternoon swim meet in Etobicoke. The “little ones” were dropped at Grandma’s house, while the “big ones” came with me.

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It was her first long-course meet. This is the warm-up session. Points for locating the blur in a green suit on the left-hand side of the photo. By the time she swam her first race, I’d been waiting in the stands for three hours. Along with this guy.

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Oh boy, he’s really feeling that smile. He was briefly happy when I gave him some change and sent him off to find a vending machine. Kevin finished work early, and drove over to join us: the first meet he’s been able to attend. But neither of my companions showed great stamina for the proceedings, and left after watching her second race. Two more to go! It was sauna-sweaty in there. I tried to read my poetry book club’s next choice: Seal up the thunder, by Erin Noteboom. I tried to be patient, and to sit up straight on the backless benches. I tried to be supportive and encouraging when the races, with the exception of one, did not go as she’d hoped.

It was nearly 7:30 by the time we made it home. Kevin had supper waiting for us on the table: fresh take-out Middle Eastern fare.

The laundry was still crawling up the basement stairs. I set my alarm for my early Monday morning exercise class. And this morning, when the alarm went off, and I figured out what that terrible noise was and why it just wouldn’t stop, I got up and got on with the brand-new week.

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I’ll admit that I’m feeling off-balance, a bit overwhelmed, out of sorts. In between. Waiting. Struggling to be patient on a variety of fronts. I hope to have news to share, by early May, perhaps, and I hope it will be good. (And here’s an update I should have done ages ago: the bad news always less pleasing to pass along than the good. For those still wondering, no, my friend Tricia and I will not be contestants on The Amazing Race Canada. We did, however, go out for a drink to celebrate our effort. Efforts should always be marked, no matter the outcome!)

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Meantime, there is no way to plan toward a particular direction without knowing what that direction will be. Betwixt and between. Betwixt and between.

A few awesome things

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1. Children washing dishes. This will look like bragging, but trust me, it happens far too rarely for the parents to claim superior parenting skills. Basically, the dish-washing child was inspired by the promise of a “reward” after all the evening chores were done — watching old family movies together. I had laundry to fold, Kevin was making school lunches, so Fooey decided, all on her own, to speed up the chore process by doing the dishes. Actually, neither Kevin nor I thought she could do them quite so thoroughly, but she did. She washed all the dishes. And her brother was inspired to “towel,” as he put it. We should put this knowledge to use, and we may, if the schedule becomes as insanely busy as it promises to be next fall, but for now, I prefer just to enjoy the moment for what it was: kids working together toward a common cause, helpfully.

2. Spring! It’s coming. I know it. Evidence surrounded us yesterday evening as the little kids and I took the dogs for a walk to our tiny neighbourhood park. Along the way we met friends, and more friends, and even more friends, everyone feeling the call of the after-supper sunshine, despite the bitter wind and necessity for hats and mitts and coats. We spent an hour out and about, visiting, playing, and remembering what it feels like to emerge from hibernation and be in the beautiful melting world again. Yes, snow is forecast for today, but I can feel the spring. I can feel it!

3. Dogs. Dogs are awesome. Our dogs are especially awesome, because, well, they’re ours, I suppose. They’ve been part of our family for a little over six months, now, and we have watched them settle in to our lives and claim our house and yard as their own (we’ve got a winter’s worth of clean-up work to do out back, but that’s another story). Without the dogs to walk, I never would have left supper on the table and spent an hour outside yesterday evening — instead, I would have been cleaning up and prepping for tomorrow and herding children toward bed. But because the dogs needed walking, I set aside all of my perceived efficiencies and off we went on a discovery of spring and neighbours and fresh air. And you know what? The dishes still got done, the piano got practiced, snacktime was had, chapters were read before bed, and kids fell asleep. So it all worked out, with the added bonus that I was a happier woman for having gotten outside and socialized. So thank you, dogs.

4. Letter writing. An edited version of my letter, which I posted on the blog yesterday, appears in today’s Globe and Mail “letters to the editor” section. So it touched a nerve, and got through. I’m pleased. Now, when do I get my own column? After my (embarrassingly brief) retirement from blogging, two blog readers emailed suggesting I pitch myself as a columnist to a magazine or other news outlet. I can think of lots of obstacles in the way, one being that I would need a unique angle. Another obstacle is in my own head: it’s one thing to hold an opinion and quite another to state it out loud and take responsibility for the noise it creates. Disagreement, conflict, tension, debate. Would that be something I’d be open to? Am I less open to it because I am a woman? That bothers me, and I wonder. And now I’m off-topic.

5. Coffee in the morning. Tea in the afternoon. It’s the little things.

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