On Writing

Poem 50 – Markers


“…we know where the markers are
for where we buried the children…”
From Day 46, 100 Days by Juliane Okot Bitek

grief knows how to grow
reflects the truth slowly – how
child souls resurrect

Today I went to Gertrude’s Writing Room and there was no internet. Can you imagine? It immediately became a sacred space…even more, if that’s possible. The silence in the air was filled with gratitude. I crouched before bookshelves filled with poetry and I pulled out book after book…sifting through…diving in…I crouched so long my feet felt tingly from loss of blood circulation. I revisited poetry I hadn’t read in years. I found Juliane Okot Bitek’s ‘100 Days’, a collection I’d read when I was on a jury for a big poetry award. She made my long-list. Her collection is 100 poems of remembering the “lingering nightmare of the Rwandan Genocide”, published by The University of Alberta Press in 2016. Every word still relavent today…still as heavy and heartfelt.

Writing a poem a day is proving to be quite a creative experience. Yesterday’s poem took me over two hours from start to ‘post’. I’ve been doing research. Gathering history. My commitment (to myself) to writing about black history all month feels hard some days. I can feel the weight of my own pressure to open new books, share stories that are new to me, say out loud names that changed the world and the bodies and minds that endured these magnificent changes…many at the hands of violence and hatred. I hope my goal to unfold and reveal is being reached.

I’ve always believed that writing is one of humanity’s greatest gifts to each other. I’m grateful for the words and how they pave and connect and re-connect our souls over time.

This month has been weighted for other reasons too. My novel is holding up a white flag – calling out for surrender. It wants me to get back to it. To pay attention. To capture what’s been waiting to be captured. I’ve stepped away from her battlefront in an effort to do ‘other’ work. I will be reflecting on this month that was ‘supposed’ to be dedicated to completing the first draft of this novel…and how seemingly easily it’s been to push it aside. Priorities flip each day. I cringe when I hear ‘you’re so busy!’…I cringe in guilt and an self-sabotage. Things, not just my novel, get put in the ‘wait’ line. I feel bad for how I prioritize. How does one choose which project to work on when all of them are from the heart?

As I was researching 21st century Canadian poets, Wikipedia offered a list of 795. Some local writer’s name’s included. I felt a push of envy under my sternum. Thought but didn’t dare say out loud: why am I not on this list? Then I thought, it’s Wikipedia. I can add my name to the list. I can write my own Wikipedia page. I clicked on a link that said: edit. But there was all this other information. More links. What’s my account name? Is what you’re saying legit? Read here for legalities…I x-ed out of the page. Feeling scared, but also silly. Don’t want to think about the implications of me stopping myself from creating a page about ‘me’. Wait until you win an award…a voice peeps. I turned up the Nina Simone. Drowned out all the other voices with her silky tones.

Yesterday I received four rejections. They flew into my inbox in a quick succession. I sighed loudly. A lot. I printed them out, the rejections. Then I felt guilty for not submitting more, more, more despite the fat pile of contests and guidelines next to my laptop in my office. When will I write? When will I write, edit, revise and submit? And how can I not feel more celebratory for the honourable mention for a poem I received on Monday? I barely mentioned it…felt shy to post it here…Yes, I do need to reflect on my writing life and dig in the deeps to find out what’s going on with my ability to believe in myself.

So let me tell you, I won an honourable mention in the Planet Earth Poetry ekphrastic writing contest. It was judged by the fabulous Terry Ann Carter. The poem is called ‘scratches’…Here is what Terry Ann had to say about the piece: Here is a poet in love with language, spinning and playing at every inter/section. Glinting at the edge of the page is the presence of mystery.

I blush when I read these words! I remember the feeling I had when I wrote the poem. How the image I saw immediately conjured words out of my body…how I felt cold…trapped…like I was scratching to escape. And the words did…the escaped. And I didn’t hard about them. I trusted their reasons for being. I read the poem out loud. I submitted it. And that.was.it. That process doesn’t happen every time. But when it does…golly it’s somethin’ else.

It’s Friday. Tomorrow I teach a three-hour Intro-to-Poetry workshop. I’ve been prepping it all week. I’m excited to teach. I’m excited for the exhilarated exhaustion I will feel afterwards.

2 thoughts on “Poem 50 – Markers

  1. Let’s write each other’s wikipedia page!!

    can we see the poem that won honourable mention?


    On Fri, 19 Feb 2021 at 15:12, VANESSA SHIELDS, writer wrote:

    > Vanessa Shields posted: ” Markers “…we know where the markers arefor where > we buried the children…”From Day 46, 100 Days by Juliane Okot Bitek grief > knows how to growreflects the truth slowly – howchild souls resurrect Today > I went to Gertrude’s Writing Room and ” >


  2. Hi again Vanessa, You may have heard of “The Home Children “, brought here from England To work on farms in Ontario. These were the” Dr.Barnardo children.” Farmers here treated most like slaves. These children were often, starved, beaten, Raped. They had to sleep in barns, and some froze in the winter. There is no record in history of these thousands of children. I just finished reading “The Forgotten Home Child” by Genevieve Graham. I hope you have a chance to read this book.

    Sent from my iPad



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