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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Elegant #Metaphors #Harbourfront

Sunday started as an overcast morning after night of rain. By the time the final session of the workshops tarted the sun had come out & most of the writers were eager for more & at the same sadden that this was the last day of the intensively focused opportunity. Ellen Bass asked how many were tired, how many were wired – a lot of hands went up.


The day focused on ‘metaphor.’ Her talk explained how metaphor can jar the reader into empathy, into a sense of understanding even if they don’t agree with the poet. A reader gets it or they don’t but will never get it if it isn’t offered. The use of metaphor shows how the writer’s mind works – the nature of associations & allusions to illuminate without directly saying ‘this is what I mean.’ The best can create a conflict of tactile & emotional response ‘like finding a slime soaked $100 bill on the ground.’

Our lunch homework to write a piece full of metaphor – to not be afraid of going too far-out. I went back to the hotel to finish packing and to write my piece, I’d already started it during her talk so it flowed pretty quickly. She didn’t give us any constrictions, a word list etc but I stuck to the one I impose – one side of one page. I dragged my suitcase, like a reluctant stubborn St. Bernard, over the cobbles stones to the Artport. Then I grabbed a pizza slice & sat in the lakeside sun to eat.


The faclitators switched groups so we had James Dewar & Sue Reynolds for our session. The presented pieces covered some of the same territory as Saturday: aging parents, memory loss, parenting. The writing was looser, a bit more humour surfaced as well. My piece was one of the last so by then people had been pretty much tapped out or perhaps mine was just too distance for them – the ones on parents, children got ten minutes or more in feed back – I got maybe 2. I’m not emotionally complex enough I guess.


A sampling of lines: ‘I imagined darning by firelight would be romantic,’ ‘we are … the sound of television in the next room,’ ‘green green green to the ground,’ ‘an invisible slingshot,’ ‘my mothers ticks died with her,’ ‘we learned how to read the closed door,’ ‘lean in the ‘f’ lie I was about to say fuck,’ ‘do you? do you?’ ‘you lit up like a magnesium flare,’ ‘you knew I wanted to know how many guys you fucked,’ ‘I’ll be your father,’ ‘eyes as big as buoys,’ ‘I can’t put the genii back into the bottle,’ ‘like a child lost is a department store,’ ‘a foot soldier dodging the mines of memory,’ ‘she made a roast beef sandwich for a hobo after the war,’ ‘I always though it was the fear of being heard that stopped me,’ ‘all the judges will burn,’ ‘all torso like her twisted psyche,’ ‘the signs & symptoms of being a bad parent,’ ‘arguments as convincing as the one lone blue tory sign on my block,’ ‘too close to be seen like our faults,’ ‘trying to spell out something I needed to see,’ ‘who lived where she visits,’ ‘my mother turns to her other kingdom,’ ‘it must be her weekend with the kid,’ ‘the boat of fries playing dead.’


There was a final hour q&a with Ellen. People wanting to know the ‘best’ book to read help their writing; wanting to know her writing habits. Some of the information was practical. I did make notes over the two days of some of the writers she mentioned the most frequently. I may look for their books of essays but I know the search for the right book is an avoidance of writing.

Farewells were made, to one another & the organizers. It was rewarding to be working with writers who were actually actively engaged in writing. Plus I was grateful for a lift home by one of my fellow writers.


here’s the 30 minute piece I presented on day two

Bone Hollow

the status update

to bait an opportunity

like those hot jeans

that always got me laid

even when all I wanted was a cup of coffee


the on line dinner’s ready

waiting at the Admiral

ready to be boned

profile poised in the best light

to look interested

not pig sex desperate

the click counter alert

never hitting the expresso lane

of on my way over & out


the status update

changed from the hot pants

to the extra shot jock

the package back lit with potential

it says

I’m not a lurker on the threshold

I’ll take you past that to experience

I last a waiting hour

not being a dedicated palaeontologist

digging for longing-to-be-buried bone

I’m merely exhausted not extinct

no grave dust on this shelf selfie


I am not hollow

just willing to be boned deboned

this hollow man

now a full stop

the status update deleted

departing unboned


satisfied with the opportunity

November 1 – 30 Participating NaNoWriMo


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#Harbourfront #Saturday #Conformity

The first day of the Ellen Bass workshop was packed full of ideas, words, writing & even some socializing. The first three I pretty good at buy the fourth isn’t my forte. I’ve never been one for networking, for handing out business cards & such. I can carry a conversation though because I know when you say ‘how is your writing going’ I get to listen. Even when someone asks me that I get to listen.

A large group of over 20 ‘student’ plus Ellen & the two organizers James Dewar & Sue Reynolds made for a good mix. there were actually some other men in the group. Plus I did know some of the other writers too. hf07

The day started with self-introductions followed by a talk by Ellen on ‘the long arm poem’ – this is a piece that rambles, takes tangents, in a seemingly random way but in the end reveals something about itself. Over lunch we were to write a long arm piece with a set of conditions & even a list of words to possibly use.

After lunch we returned – split into two groups with different facilitators to share what we had written. Saturday I was in Ellen’s group. Most of us produced rather polished rough drafts – many dealt with complex emotion problems: death, aging parents, the loss of a marriage etc. My piece, below, dealt with none of those things but was well received anyway.


Here are some lines from the pieces presented: ‘ashes os embers long cold,’ ‘a scream that never ended even after forty-five years,’ ‘carpets shopped for relentlessly,’ ‘left behind the idea of being marriage,’ ‘painting over all of it with fire,’ ‘eyes an empty black,’ ‘night outside the frame growing,’ ‘but there was no bed,’ ‘what he doesn’t realize is I am begging for mercy,’ ‘rows that keep thinning in the wind, ‘the raven’s voice scratches on the air,’ ‘recall the last thing I said to my daughter, ‘smiles in that gap-toothed way,’ ‘I want to touch you but you like to be right,’ ‘a world in which he did not feel safe,’ ‘dying in all the wrong places, ‘she sings Medea in her fleece pyjamas,’ ‘and so it goes,’ ‘Magdalene  wants me to read the angel poems.’


After this session we had one last presentation by Ellen on the role of discovery – ‘a mind puzzling its own way out of its own shadow.’ She feels a poem needs to do more than entertain but it should lead bot the reader & the writer to a new realization, a new way of looking at life.


You know something as much as I appreciate this I also know that what I say/write are often not what people hear/read. I’d rather write heedless of those ends because I wrote with that in mind I might not write at all.



It’s a SOCA convention

a man in a rust-red tweed sport coat

riches out his hand

‘are you here for the convention’

it’s my hotel but not my problem

though I am awake & out before 9 a.m.

not hungover or looking to score

the schooners around me are boats

not beer glasses

in some brassy sports bar

I know about recovery

rooms of people sitting in circles

rounds of support

restless feet in black shoes

where they end by

holding hands

they want to show me mercy

but I don’t want to hold their hands

joining in that circle

won’t bring me into their lives

one is the loneliest number

who has one rusty nail

sees one snow flake

though no two flakes are identical

I am recovering like them

but I don’t enter their circle

won’t make snow angels with them

I felt the itch that induced SOCA

but never scratched it that way

he reaches out his hand

I say ‘not here for the conference’

and sail out into the morning

not ready for conformity

(SOCA – Southern Ontario Cocaine Anonymous)

November 1 – 30 Participating NaNoWriMo


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