The World Split Open

It took me a couple of days to decompress from inkslingers‘ Ellen Bass intensive The World Split Open Workshop held at the Bill Boyle Artport on Toronto’s Harbourfront. Twenty-two eager, dedicated poets & some who weren’t sure if they ere poets gathered to have their worlds split open – if not their worlds at their words.hf13

Organized by Sue Reynolds and James Dewar things ran smoothy & mostly on time – though even with a 9:30 start there never seemed like enough time to do everything. Ellen did three craft talks: the long arm poem, discovery on the first day; metaphor on the second day. The talks were to the point, filled with meaty quotes by living, working poet such as Mark Doty.hf14. Even though she referred to her notes frequently there was feeling of a one-on-one conversation with her, as opposed to a secure in front of room full of acolytes.

Among the poetry examples she used was a rough draft & a final draft of one of her pieces. Following her decision process around editing was practical & encouraging. Many found it comforting to realize even an accomplished writer doesn’t write perfect first drafts.


The workshop portion was limited to listening & commenting to what was liked. Issues of rewriting were not addressed due to time constraints – this certainly kept the sharing move quickly & avoided those defensive explanations of what we didn’t get. We were in the same groups each day but switched up facilitators. I would have liked an opportunity to hear what the other group was writing.


The loft spaces we used were adequate & functional. The a/c was noisy in both rooms & it was hard to find a seat that wasn’t under one of the fans. Some of the women wore their parkas through the day. Washroom were close. The acoustics were good. inkslingers did a excellent job of organizing the event, Ellen Bass was a  great choice & I hope they can be as creative if they chose to import another poet next year.hfme

By the end of the workshop I had produced two reasonable pieces, met a few people I might keep in contact with. Many of them were already aquatinted & those social ties didn’t loosen for those they didn’t know. I didn’t feel my world split open – Ellen hoped we would learn to write wilder, with greater emotional fluidity. I suspect women, which was the bulk of the workshop, experience a greater sense of repression than men or at least a different sort of repression. I gained a confirmation of my own practices, goals & spiritual values as embodied by my writing. Once again I realized I’m a writer, not an academic or even a literary theorist.



her mother had planted the sugar maple

the only tree in the back yard

some twenty-five years ago

years of raking leaves

waiting for the sap

they never did get syrup

though Dad would pretend he had

with a store-bought jug of maple syrup

when she caught on

it made her wise to the ways of men

whose hearts were never honest


her mother long dead

her father sat on the back steps

coffee with shot of rum

to warm him up

as cigarette smoke

caressed his face


it was mid-July

the tree was leafless

the bark was blackened

peeled off in several spots

by raccoons years ago

that bared skin

let the ice of winter

into the honest heart of the tree

for weeks they had talked about

cutting down Mom’s maple

never going to give them sugar


worried where it might fall

she looked to the top of the maple

then back to him

the trunk was thick

she wanted to get a professional

Dad wouldn’t hear of it

said it was too bad he didn’t have son

he could really count on

she sighed as he muttered those old refrains

wondering if he was as sapless as the tree


she pulled on goggles

started the chain saw

took a wedge out of the side

toward the house

the saw cut quick deep

the swift crash

on the back steps

caught her father unawares


a thick ooze of blood

a thin trickle of sap

oozed out of the maple’s heart

it tasted sweet


November 1 – 30 Participating NaNoWriMo

November 18, Wednesday: judging at Hot Damn! it’s a Queer Slam – Supermarket Restaurant and Bar 268 Augusta Ave., Toronto, Ontario M5T2L9




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