Two Poems in Rat's Ass Review


I've got two poems up in Rat's Ass Reviews on going "Love and Ensuing Madness" series, "Parents' Aphrodisiac" and "The Girl from St. Eustache."

The first of these, "Parents' Aphrodisiac" went through many drafts. There are 7 different drafts saved on my computer, and there were countless smaller changes made along the way. I really believed in this poem; loved the tension between being a mother and being a partner and lover. I think it's important to view mothers/parents as the multifaceted, many-hats-wearing people they are. This poem was rejected a half a dozen times before finding its home at Rat's Ass Review. I got lucky: I think that's actually not that high of a number, but I was close to giving up. After some encouragement from other writers, I submitted it one more time, and it was accepted almost immediately.  I hope you enjoy it.

Two Poems in Mused Literary Review


I am so thrilled to have two of my poems appearing in the Spring Equinox issue of Mused Literary Review! It's available in three formats: an HTML version, a downloadable PDF file and a full colour, glossy print magazine.

Though I've been out of the darkness for months now, much of my poetry seems to be processing some of the saddest, darkest times in my postpartum experience. These two poems take me right back there, both emotionally and geographically. I'm grateful to be in lighter place now; however, I think it's so important to share these experiences, so we know we're not alone.

Thanks for reading, friends.



Last week, my creative slump came to an end. I was sitting in the rocking chair, watching the kids play, looking out at a peach coloured sunrise, and the beginnings of a poem crept into my mind. I jotted some things down and then waited impatiently for P to get up, have his first cup of coffee, and relieve me so I could run upstairs and write.

Ending a fallow period of writing is like, if you'll allow the adult comparison, having sex after a long dry spell. It is that basic, that animal, of a feeling. For me, at least. It's a few weeks of nothing and then suddenly: a rush, a flurry, the inspiration sweeping me along, words beating in my brain; the feeling that this is finally going to happen. The dash to the bedroom, to the desk, fumbling at the laptop, the pen lid, the button on a shirt. The pouring fourth across the page, across the screen. The high and then, the slow come-down.

Ah.  Relief. I expect the clouds to open in heavy rain, the birds singing from sheltered perches in the trees.

I am grateful. Let my heart fill with gratitude for this return of words. Of course I knew they'd come. I glow with my thanks. I carry it over into my day. Thank you, Muse, thank you, Inspiration, for visiting me again. I'm always here, listening, ready. Writing like this is like communion, it is natural and also sacred; sex and life and love. It doesn't always happen like that, the burst of inspiration, but when it does, it's magic.

Now is the real work of going back over that inspired piece, which is always a bit messy. There are parts of it that are downright cliched, but in editing I work them over to bring out the truth, the essence of what I was trying to say. Sometimes in those hurried inspired times, I resort to cliche as a sort of shorthand. It can be frustrating to try and root out the right words, but I'm learning to enjoy the revision as much as the initial burst of writing.

I'm looking down the nose of a week of solo parenting, and so my writing slips from a regular practice to something I have to try and fit in where I can. I feel like there are so many things I'm trying to "fit in where I can", and they all feel important to me. I've been trying to begin a regular yoga practice, even just 20 minutes a day, and I'm trying to meditate for 10 minutes after the kids go to bed. Plus keep up with the several books I usually have on the go, favourite blogs, this blog, and oh yeah, those three all feels like so much, but I guess another way to look at it is with gratitude. I'm grateful that I even have the freedom and luxury to be considering all of these things (writing! yoga! meditation!) in my life. Self-care has become such a huge priority these days, and having a partner who works from home and can help facilitate all of this is a real gift.

2015 365: Day 41

This post is a part of the What I'm Writing link-up.

4 Ways to Get Through a Creative Slump


It's a strange thing, to finish a poem. I think other writers, or creatives in general, would agree that the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that accompanies a finished piece can be coloured by fear. Will this be it? The Last Good Thing I Create? Will the muse never visit me again, am I done now? Dried up?

I often feel a bit of anxiety, especially if I don't have something else brewing. Specifically, I've finished that tricky poem I mentioned last week.  It ended up being longer than I'm used to writing, but still about 75 words short of the minimum for the CBC Poetry Competition. Maybe I'll try a different competition.

But even though I've got a few ideas swirling, themes I see emerging that I'd like to explore more, nothing is coalescing for me right now, and that's frustrating. So I've been thinking about, and practicing, a few different ways to get through this slump. I wanted to share them with you here today.

1. Read

I've often seen the advice that reading should be a writer's primary task. Reading other works in our niche helps us to see what's already out there. Through reading we see what others have done before us, what they've done better than us. Completely immersing ourselves in poetry, or short stories, or novels or personal essays, whatever the genre, makes it possible for us to be deeply rooted in our craft, so that we can grow as writers.

Reading can also inspire us in many ways. When we read something that is so beautifully crafted it makes us ache, we can take that ache and turn it into our own attempts at beauty. Though if I'm being honest, my first reaction to reading something deeply beautiful is to despair that I'll never write like that. But it's important not to get caught up in that despair. Instead, we have to try to turn that into our own attempts at crafting with our own unique voice.

Reading can also inspire us in the sense that something we read can become a jumping off point. Maybe a line in a poem gets stuck in your head, and you find yourself starting a new poem from there. Maybe you've read a non-fiction piece that you'd like to explore further from your own perspective.

Reading exposes us to new words, new ideas, new ways of using language. It is absolutely the most important thing we can do as writers.

2. Take yourself on an "artist's date".

In her book "The Artist's Way", Julia Cameron prescribes weekly artist's dates as a way to unblock your creativity. This is meant to be something fun that you do on your own, something outside of your usual experience. Something that appeals to your inner child, your muse.

If you've got kids in tow, like I usually do, every day can be an artist's date. It's easy to be in touch with your inner child when you're surrounded by children.

So take all the kids, your inner kid included, to a museum, an art gallery, the aquarium. Go for a hike. Buy a disposable camera and take some pictures (and get them developed!). Build sandcastles at the beach, swing at the park. The idea is to experience new things, things that inspire your creativity in different ways. And in the process, we might be inspired by a painting, a conversation overheard, the feel of the sun on our skin.

Last week we took our kids to the aquarium in Toronto. It's led me to reading up on horseshoe crabs, and I feel like it might eventually lead to a poem. If nothing else, I've learned something new.

Getting out of our heads, as artists, and as parents, is really important. Because the act of creating is often a solitary one, just like the act of parenting. We get into our routines so easily (and having a routine is great!) but sometimes we can get stuck there. I feel like that's especially dangerous when we're between projects. When I'm not working on something, I end up sitting at my desk, staring out at the same trees, the same street, the same dog that walks past at the same time every day, and feeling like I'm in this loop. A really uninteresting, uninspiring loop. So an artist's date can help to lift me out of that. To see things from a different perspective, or even to try something completely new, can be magic. It takes a bit of mental gymnastics to turn your everyday with kids into an artist's date, but it can be done.

3. Journal or Freewrite.

I try to start all of my writing time this way. Personally I aim to fill 2-3 pages with freewriting: I just write what's in my head, no matter how dull or uninspired it might be. Sometimes what I write is related to what I'm working on creatively; sometimes it's just a bunch of complaining about what I have to do later that day. But just getting that pen moving across the page can be a surprising thing, because occasionally something really interesting comes out. Often my freewrites have led me to a poem, as I flesh out an idea or a thought or experience, and really explore where my mind wants to go with it.

Some people like to do this using a prompt. If you Google "writing prompts", there are endless resources available out there. You can sign up to get writing prompts delivered daily right to your inbox. What comes out of your use of prompts might just be practice for you, a way to flex your creative muscle a little, a way to get you thinking about something in a new way, or it might turn into something really wonderful that you take further. Either way, at least you're writing something, doing the work of creating and using that part of your brain.

4. Connect with other writers.

This is something I don't do enough of, and maybe that's why I'm adding it here. Talking to other writers and artists is a good way to realize that you are not alone. We all get stuck, we all have downtime. I'd be willing to bet that even the best have these moments of despair.

So reach out on Twitter, or on blogs, or better yet, in person, if you're lucky enough to have a circle of writers near you. Commiserate a little bit. Remind one another that this will pass. That last poem will absolutely NOT be The Last Good Thing You Create. There will be other poems, essays, stories. You are not a one trick pony! We have to remind ourselves, too, that writing and creating is our life's work. It is easier to write than to not write, There will be a next thing. We just have to do the work of showing up at the page, being patient, and listening.

What's your favourite way to get through a down time? I'd love to hear your tricks in the comments!

365 2015 Day 77

This post is a part of the What I'm Writing link-up. Please click through the link to visit the other participants!

When Your Inner Critic Won't Shut Up


I've been working on a poem lately that has proven difficult. It's a bit more complex than what I usually write; and to add to that, I'd pre-emptively decided that I was going to enter this poem in CBC's Poetry Competition. Entries must be between 400 and 600 words...and I don't usually write poems anywhere near that long. It's possible to submit a collection of poems, but I just had it so firmly in my mind that this was going to be one poem. With a minimum of 400 words.

So where I usually revise a poem by cutting out all that is unnecessary, I found myself keeping an eye on the word count, adding in things that I knew weren't really adding to the poem. Trying to make it work. Getting really frustrated in the process.

And then I did something even worse: I went on to the Canada Writes website and started reading through last year's winning and shortlisted poems. And reading the author bios. And getting really, really discouraged.

Julia Cameron calls it "the critic" in The Artist's Way. Kim Addonizio simply refers to it as our demons. Basically, it is this sad, scared little voice that sometimes gets very loud, trying to convince us that our creative endeavors are silly, stupid, tired, pointless, worthless, etc. etc. My demons were loud yesterday. I'm not a published author! My poems are not like these poems! I do not have an MFA! Oh god, should I get an MFA? I can't afford an MFA! I'll never be published! Give it all up now!

Stop. Stop stop stop stop stop! Step away from the internet!

I did just that. While babies napped and 4 year olds watched a show about crocodiles, I unrolled my mat and did a few rounds of sun salutations, then a few more poses and finally a blissful savasana. Just lying there, feeling my body sink into the floor, watching my mind very briefly go quiet. Then I got up and hugged my kid, made some pizza dough, got outside, came back in, drank a beer, and went to bed.

And this morning, on waking, I knew. Don't listen to those demons, first of all. Because writing is my life breath; it is so important for me to do. I must do it even if I never get published, never win an award.

And I knew, too, that I must stop trying to write the 400 word poem that will be entered into the CBC Poetry competition. Instead, write the poem that needs to be written. Write it on your terms. Cut out all those extra words that are making it a poorer poem, anyway. It seems so simple but I, and I hope I'm not alone, often get into these rigid places where my mind is set on something and so it must be. It's useless, though, to try and fit ourselves into a rigid structure that just isn't working. The outcome will make us feel like shit, and it certainly won't win any prizes.

Once I'd freed myself of these expectations, I was able to come back to the poem and see it's truth and beauty. The demons were quiet again, sitting petulantly in the back seat, looking out the window as I let my muse drive the car.

That poem won't be entered in the CBC Poetry Competition. In fact I don't know that I'll enter anything in any competition right now! Instead I'll focus on writing the poems that need to be written. And if they happen to fit nicely into a box, then maybe. But I'm done trying to force them.

It occurs to me as I write this that these things hold true for parenting, as well. It's funny how often I see parallels between my writing life and my parenting life. Just as with this particular poem, I get these ideas about how my kids should be, or how I should be as their mother, or how our day should be structured or whatever. And then I just try so hard to slam that square peg into that round hole. And nobody is happy, and it never works. I need to parent the kids I have, the way they need to be parented in each moment; and I need to be the mother that I am. The harder I fight these things, the harder our lives are in general.

It should be noted, too, that comparison comes in to play. Don't compare yourself to other mothers; don't compare yourself to other writers. So obvious, but so difficult in practice!

So how about you, readers and writers and parents? How do you shut up your inner critic so you can just do what you have to do?


Image via Flick user TheGabeC. Licensed via Creative Commons.

*This post is a part of the What I'm Writing link-up.