Cobwebs & Treasure

So. I always knew it to took courage to listen and that you couldn't please everyone.  Cleaning out my mother's attic has been an eye- opener. Here I am giving the speech. 

We found that dress in the attic too. Short months later, I was pregnant. Married. Fifth high school reunion, I got the "prize" for being the first one divorced. Yes, so none of that was in the script I was reading from that night. Either was today. Or yesterday.

Besides mandatory birth control pills for all teens (I'm joking) the moral of the story is: Dream big. Modify if and when you have to. I'm still dreaming, hoping, hanging on and modifying.

Cleaning out that attic has been like... looking in the rear view mirror with the lights on. Blinding at first. Humbling. AHH! Scary. But .. I'm learning not to run away from cobwebs and spiders. I'm ready to sit down and listen : Write.

A Space Lift (after 25 years)

ARTIST: Sydney Smith. Interior from 25th anniversary edition/re-release of Toes in my Nose.

In the weeks to come, I'll show more of the visual magic of artist Sydney Smith. I'll write more about how it feels to see the work of your younger self come back into print. About Molly Lamb Bobak, who illustrated the Doubleday first edition waay back in 1987.

I'd like to share what I've discovered about writing poetry for children, performing children's poetry, teaching the teaching of children's poetry, teaching the writing of children's poetry, the publishing of that poetry, continued study and reading of children's poetry. There is so much yet to read.

And also, I'll talk about: why it matters.

For now? Poetry for children can say so much with so little, and no it doesn't have to rhyme or be slapsticksiliyicous but lipslippery joy is word music—language seeps into our body transfusing infusing us with— well—wildchildness and a little lamb who made thee wonder but wait a mildness alongside a fiery tiger brightness that burns us until our souls are on fire. ROARRRR. *Well, speaking for myself.  

Look for some thoughts on the poetry anthology I'm co-editing with Anne Hunt. My obsession and 20-year project. For now, check out the Poetry At Play website and interview with a children's poetry editor, Melissa Manlove. Isn't it awesome? We who love children's poetry are not alone. 

And if you want to meet Robert Priest—poet/minstrel in utter space—here's a meditation on his work.

Zap! Poetry Blooms : A Mid-Winter Flower

Children teach me all the time.

Yesterday, after an hour of tongue-twisty wordplay, stories and poems of the "unrhymed kind" too, a teacher took me aside so a girl named Aubrey could privately hand me her "hand-made" card.

ZAP! ZAP! That's the sound of waking up. My heart when I looked at the flower. Kind of electric. Her sun my spark. Now the flower blooms in my kitchen.

"Were there no God, we would be in this glorious world with grateful hearts and no one to thank.

I like Christina Rossetti BUT

Let me rephrase:

Were there no children, I'm not sure my heart could be glad or have space for gratitude.

Yes, I adore Christina Rossetti even with all her cloyin' old smarmy old maple syrupy sticky old quaintness. A woman who wrote way back in the day. She wrote for God and she wrote for children. She has her own feast day (April 27th.). Also, she wrote my favourite Christmas song : In the Bleak Mid-Winter. 

Yesterday, the sun came out and a flower bloomed in bleak mid-winter as if never before.

But see the arrow that says open?

Lesson of the week :  Open says-a-me !

What I read inside the card-- stays inside the card. That's between Aubrey and me.

After all, some things are sacred : eternity in a blue tulip, too.

PS.  Before Christmas, I had the chance to hear Meaghan Smith sing Christina Rosetti's lyrics. I felt as if I'd never heard the song before.


Permissionary,Teacher, Door Closer, Gate Opener


A swish of skirt, a whiff of lily-of- the-valley talcum perfume as Teacher walked by the girl's desk, closed the door to the classroom-- closed the door to the hallway clatter, to the ammonia smells from Mr. Doak's mop, closed the door to the phantom-like principal who roamed around looking for more of the bully old runny-nosed boys to yell at and strap making a sound that would echo around the school and long after, too, when she was home, tucked in her bed and the sound returned to seep into her dreams and wake her up, afraid.

Teacher closed the door on that trembling and on all the schoolwork yet to do and the many other undone things like the cleaning up of desks or the search for lost mittens or erasing the blackboard which was really a green board or emptying the trash can that smelled of apple cores. Today, Teacher would wait until later to take a ruler to the brushes and fill the air with clouds of chalk dust because now was the time the Teacher closed the door on Time, on all the static and dust and scratch of Busy, the always all day long noise that made the girl's head hurt behind her eyes, pain like an earache hurting so much sometimes that the girl just wanted to cry. Or find a cool dark place to hide.

The girl would know, forever and ever the rest of her life that when people talked about the opening of doors that she had a secret : that the closing of doors was a necessary magical and wondrous thing because now---now with the door closed this girl who was seven knew the day's name was Friday and the bell would soon ring the night would come with fish for supper and funny tv the rolling of dice the games of snakes and ladders and the next day would be a sizzle: of bacon and eggs and comic book colours of freedom from sitting in rows and rows but for now the girl could sit, she would sit, yes, she'd sit and sit and sit forever because Teacher, perched on the edge of her desk at the front of the room, now swinging her legs like she must be happy as a hummingbird too, well, now the Teacher opened THE BOOK.

"Now where were we?" said Teacher with eyes like kindness, eyes like the eyes of  Bambi's mother. "Does anybody know where we left off?" She asked, as she asked every time. And the girl, along with others shouted out:  Chapter Four! Chapter Five! or wherever they were because the girl had been waiting all week to return again to the world inside that book. She had closed her eyes every night and imagined what could ever possibly happen next when the page was turned. Now, the girl gulped and her breath came all wheezy, little hiccups of breath, until finally, she stopped wiggling and settled, resting her head on the cool hard surface of desk. She smelled lemons and sighed. Listened. She listened to words and the words made a song like the kind she wanted to know by heart. She listened to Teacher's voice go all in and out and around in circles and zig zags in spirals and G clef signs up and down high and low full of blue and purple and deep emerald velvet and sparkle and sadness and those words and the voice of the Teacher made every impossible thing possible in the whole everlasting wide world of forever and ever. And the girl was safe and the girl was loved and the girl was blessed with wings of fancy.

The book I remember the Teacher reading was Toby Tyler. It was a tale about a monkey. (Kind of.)

The teacher who read the book to the girl and her class was Bea Goodwin.


(Moncton, 1992.)

Bea Goodwin travelled with me into every school and library reading I've given over the past twenty-five years because whenever I'm asked 'when did you start writing' --- I tell a story. It's a true story. It begins like this:

"When I was in a Grade Two, I had a teacher named Mrs. Goodwin.( How could you ever lose if your teacher's name was Mrs. GoodWIN? How could anything be bad if her name was GOODwin?) One day she said, 'class today, we are going to write poems.'  (This was long before a time like now, before most teachers believed that children could write poems and stories of their own.) Write our own! What an idea. We knew what poems were because Mrs. Goodwin read one every day--we knew an elfman could talk down where lilies blew and fog could move on little cat feet.  We knew that some poems rhymed and some did not.  She said we could write about anything we wanted. The sun, a shoe, our names.... "

I won't tell the whole story but Mrs. Goodwin is largely responsible for why I grew up to be a writer. It's a story best told in person. Outloud. After moving away from Moncton as a child we were reunited in 1987 when I was thirty and Toes in My nose was published. Bea Goodwin was still vibrant and eager to show me poems... three of mine she'd kept all those years.


(Moncton 1987)

When I returned home after a trip to Quebec early in this New Year, I had an email from Mrs. Goodwin's grandson.

You don't know me but you've been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My grandmother was Mrs. Beatrice Goodwin, your former teacher whom you dedicated your book to. My Aunt recently spoke with you at a book signing and you signed your newest book for Bea. She was so overjoyed to open it and read it on Christmas Day. I'm writing you to regrettably inform you that on Friday, December 30th at approximately 6pm, Beatrice Goodwin passed away.

I know you won't get this message in time to attend any services in Moncton as they're Tuesday the 3rd, however I simply wanted you to know that you were as important a part of her life as she was to you and the mere mention of your name brought a smile to her face even at the darkest of times.

Thank you for your love and support and please continue to do what you do because it touches more lives than you can ever possibly imagine.

With love,



December, 2011

It was a story about monkeys.

I was only one of her many students. Bea Goodwin once said in a radio inteview on CBC--- "all my students were special."

I was able to attend the service and hear her grandson's eloquent tribute.

And I thought about how many were with us, about the reach of teachers and how they often never know what lives they've touched or how. I'm glad she knew what she meant to me. I'm glad her family let me know.

Does anybody know where we leave off and another begins ?

To me, it's all as beautiful and sad and mysterious as poetry that speaks to a heart.

Fathers,Grandfathers,Step-fathers,Sons as Fathers

"We are going to the jungle"
my father and son inform me
"Be careful of the lions
I tell them
My son ties a red terrycloth
superman cape around his neck
my father takes a walking stick
dog on leash 
the trio 
set off on safari
They are gone many days and nights
or so it seems
for I do worry about the lions
when my cubs have wandered off without me
No need to worry
here they come now
My father is wearing the superman cape
pretending to fly through the neighbourhood
shouting : superman! superman! 
My son is running by his side
the dog is yapping
my father in flourescent red
is making a spectacle of himself
I can see that to my son
this is no game 
of just pretend 
my father scoops him up
I watch as they lift up          into the air 
And fly the rest of the way home. 
1985, from In this House are Many Women, pub. 1992. Goose Lane Editions 

My father and my son, above. My son and his son, below.

I don't believe much in having one day a year set aside to honour our fathers and mothers. Some day I will write about why. For now, here's to every man who has been a loving father to a child. The teachers, the uncles, the step-fathers, the granddads. For single Moms trying to be dads. Single Dads trying to be moms. And for everyone who missed out on knowing their father, or is missing their father, and for all the fatherless children. For Dads learning to be Dads. Tired new Dads. Dads about to be. Worried Dads. Dads fighting disease, Dads in jail and Dads in war. Gay Dads. Divorced Dads. Dads who do not even know they are Dads. Dads who never got to be the fathers they wanted to be.

Here's to the dream every child can feel safe in the arms of a father.

And yes, remembering my Papa.

Fingerprints on the Page


At five my son presented me
with a picture of a man
in a bright red shirt
cowboy hat and jeans.

"This is God," he said.

"But Mum, his shirt is flannel--
That's what's important."
I put the picture on the refrigerator
I have been a Flannelist ever since.

The wisdom of children. The importance of TEXTURE. Context, NOT just Text.

I still have the first book I ever read. By myself. Alone. In a tree. At my grandmother's. (O yes this explains a lot about me. A tree-hugging rhyme bear for the rest of my life. Tiddley-pom.)

The memory is vivid: tree bark scrapes, oak leaves whisper,  the ocean's so bright it hurts my eyes and doesn't it look just like crinkled aluminum foil my mother sometimes let's me play with? (Part crow, too. I love shiny things. Caa! Caa!)

When I touch this cover now, it's less about Pooh and the gang. Instead it's a tactile whole body memory- the moment I discovered FIRE. THE BOOK I was holding in my hands = magic : A way to be alone and not alone.

Last week, cleaning up in my office, I touched the cover again. A rough cotton feeling. If you look closely, you can see the fibres. I opened the cover. There in the right hand corner, in my grandmother's hand:

Merle Hennigar Fitch. Her hand. Ripples of history. Nostalgia. Yes, am Guilty. Nostalgia.The word has interesting origins, ( see wikipedia) The Swiss and Cooke the Explorer are involved. Started as a medical term meaning a kind of homesickness. My point?     

I've heard of the word haptics. I know we can put the tactile in technology. With all the social media we have, there's so many ways to be alone but not alone. But will an e-reader gadget ever bring us home the same way stories in "book" form can? Give us texture? Hmm. I'm sure not sure. That's why I believe THE Book will  survive. Might fade a bit like the pencil lead has, but THE BOOK as above will still be here. (I picture a child raised only on e -readers finding his first one in the attic many years later and feeling like I do when I see a slinky. Or Etch-a- Sketch. OR Gumby and Pokey. Cool. Yep. Some fond memories. But not exactly fire.           

How long do fingerprints last on books "handed" down. Answer: Eternity.  

It's vibrational.

Or maybe just comforting. I touch therefore I am OR:

  Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.   

 "Pooh!" he whispered.

  "Yes, Piglet?"  

  "Nothing ," said Piglet, taking Pooh's paw. "I just wanted to be sure of you."

I touch, therefore you are?

I'm contacting a neuro-surgeon. I want to know more. Yes, I'm getting an e-reader.

I know my fingers won't tingle in quite the same way.

First book and sensory memories anyone? Flannel or rough cotton or tree bark or... ?

Whose fingerprints are there with yours?

Don't be afraid to be touching.

Or nostalgic or worried about making bad puns.