Ebbs and flows

The end of a year is a time when most of us take time to measure where we are in our lives. Some pull out their resolutions from the beginning of the year to see how they fared. Some make lists of things they still wish to achieve.

I started out 2019 claiming it should be the year I would dedicate to finishing that darned second draft of my novel. I would allow myself to write some short stories and creative nonfiction pieces, for sure, but my main focus would be on the novel.

When measured against that goal, last year was a failure. I’m still less than half way through my revisions, and I’ve spent too many hours to admit just staring at the screen–or commenting on twitter instead of actually editing and rewriting.

In the last few months of the year, I tried to remedy this by using a system of SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound), which had the opposite effect of what I anticipated. I achieved less and felt worse about myself, and by the time December came around, I could no longer take the monthly humiliation of not having achieved the goals I had set for myself.

But while I’ve been procrastinating the work on my novel (or at least not making headway the way I expected), I have achieved other unexpected things, things I could never have imagined or planned for before this year. My return to poetry has brought a fresh wind of creative energy. My poetry practice is constantly in the back of my head, and I keep gathering words and fragments to put into my poems.

I have also written and reedited quite a few short stories, flash fiction and a few essays. I’ve spent time finding the right markets for my stories, and as a result the tally for 2019 was twenty acceptances. Two of my pieces received Pushcart nods. One essay was shortlisted for a prize.

So as I entered the new year, I swore off the SMART goals, and went for a simple list of pieces I’m working on and tallying up how much time I manage to claim for my writing. Despite lots of translation work in the first week of 2020, I have already counted up 7 hours of writing. I have finished three poems (in addition to lots of mediocre haiku) and drafted an essay.

My novel will have to wait until I have larger chunks of time to work with. But I don’t need to feel like a failure because of that. If I had kept to my goal for 2019, I may have ended up finishing my second draft, but I would not have let poetry writing back in my life.

In 2020 I want to accept the ebbs and flows of my writing life; allow myself to follow new ideas. Going with the flow already makes me feel lighter in my writing. I’m hoping that feeling will last.

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To be or not to be (a poet)

I started writing poetry before I entered first grade. I come from a long line of compulsive rhymesmiths and was first in line to carry the torch to the next generation.

I chronicled every birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s day in occasional verses full of painfully repetitive rhyme words. Once in a while, a poem born of my own imagination would come along too. Poetry was currency in my cash-strapped childhood and I kept writing several poems a week until I reached the age of self-consciousness, and a Saturday job in a bargain basement gave me enough money to buy “real” gifts.

I returned to poetry in my early twenties, during a personal crisis, and wrote what I thought was a collection over a few months–about 60 poems that made me feel gutted after writing them.

I had read a lot of poetry between my childhood attempts and this collection, but I only had a vague notion of what made a good poem good.

I was completely unprepared for the three rejections I received, one after the other. The kind notes the editors added, recommending I keep working and editing these poems, felt like a death sentence. I abandoned any hope of becoming a poet and put down my pen for more than twenty years.

When I returned to writing, more than twenty years later, I knew I could never be a poet. I was writing in a different language at this point, and poetry had to be written in your heart language, your mother tongue, I thought. Even as the fiction and nonfiction I wrote got more lyrical, I held on to this idea: I am not a poet, though I love poetry.


About a year ago, I felt an attraction to the haiku practice. The first attempts were so-so, but gradually my eye for what I could do with the form, with balance and twists, got better. A daily practice allows you to grow and to go back and improve something you wrote last month. Soon, I started venturing into other poetry as well.

At the end of October of this year, I had my 6th poem published, and for the first time it reached out to a much wider audience than my previous publications. It was shared again and again on social media and I received messages about how it made people feel. It was dizzying.

I still don’t consider myself a capital P Poet. To me that’s a title that feels almost sacred. But I practice poetry. By practising and returning to my poems to make them better, I’m learning to be patient with my writing. Maybe in time, I’ll feel I’ve become a poet.

I’ll be reading my poetry in November, as part of a reading series at Glad Day Bookstore in Toronto. It’s part of my practice to become a poet.

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Reading as an integral part of writing

For many years, while my daughters were young, and even when in their early teens, we’d dedicate some time almost every day to reading out loud. It was a habit we had developed as part of their bedtime ritual, and that we kept up as a way to bond over something that had nothing to do with homework or chores or fights with their friends. It grounded my daughters in the three languages we spoke at home, and in stories, and I missed it when they started preferring to read on their own.

This summer, my youngest was home from university, and we rediscovered the joy of reading to each other. Though she didn’t finish the reading of War and Peace to us, the hours we sat around and listened and laughed about Tolstoy’s descriptions were some of the best we had all summer.

Over the past few years, I’ve rediscovered how reading my own work helps me relate to the rhythm and pace of my writing, and how feeling the words in my body helps me edit and polish a piece. I have also started going to public literary readings, which sometimes feels like the adult substitute of reading to each other at bedtime. This fall I too am becoming part of the “reading” literary scene in Toronto.

I started out during Toronto International Film Festival, with a reading of my environmental haiku and tanka at a demonstration organized by Extinction Rebellion.

Next, in a little more than a week, an anthology with writing from members of the Lit Mag Love collective will launch. I’m so proud of my community of writers from the Lit Mag Love Course! We’re launching our first anthology, featuring 25 writers with work they published in journals—and the tales of how they published.

You can sign up for your FREE copy and find tickets to our (online) launch readings here: http://bit.ly/LitMagLovePub , and there will be public online readings so people can listen to our pieces, wherever they happen to be.

I’m both excited and terrified about this.

Later in the fall, I’ll be part of the Emerging Writers Reading series at Glad Day Bookshop, but that is something I’ll talk more about in a later blog post.


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In order to shape your writing to your experience, sometimes you need to break out of the mould

Most writing courses centre on learning the structures of writing: What is a narrative arc? What does it mean to show instead of tell? What is effective use of metaphor? For years, my writing practice was all about getting those rules to work for and in my writing.

I still use a traditional narrative arc in most of my work, and I generally stay within a single genre. Lately, though, as conventions are breaking down around me (some of it for good, some of it not), I’ve found that experimental, genre-defying writing sometimes manages to capture the sense of this time better.

From my haiku practice, I’ve ventured into the haibun, a classical Japanese style mixing nonfiction prose and poetry (haiku). My short stories are no longer only in the realist tradition; I’ve ventured into magic realism and science fiction and I’ve even worked on circular narrative structures. In my nonfiction work, I’ve started testing out visual and patchwork essays.

Two such experimental pieces are out this month–the short story ‘Fabric’ is up in Gone Lawn–and my “flow chart essay” is in Journal of Compressed Creative Arts

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Writing the end the world

The past few months much of my writing has been dedicated to writing that is different ways touches upon climate change, climate emergencies and being at a tipping point. Even when i start out with other themes, at some point my climate worries start seeping in.

Though this may seem monotonous, the writing has taken so many new and unexpected forms, that I don’t feel like I’ve reached the end of this path. I’ve written dozens of haiku, a couple of poems, two essays and a couple of short stories with climate as a main or at least prominent theme.

The work I have that is due to appear in print or online these days doesn’t reflect this yet. My other obsessions, relationships, women’s lives and language, are at the centre of the two short stories and three essays that will be published over the next 6 weeks. For three of the pieces, the road to publication has been long and tortuous. It gives me a sense of closure to know they will finally be out in the world, even when I worry constantly about the future of the same world.

This is one of my climate haiku:

Well past ‘climate scare’
she peddles words and water
to climate mourners

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National Poetry Month

It’s been a month of lots of translation work and not enough of my own writing. I’ve been neglecting my novel, my short stories in different stages of completion–and my mind has been too scattered to comb the kinks out of my essays.

The only practice I’ve managed to stay loyal to, is poetry, especially haiku. No matter what kind of day I’ve had, I’ve set aside 15-20 minutes for that. Much of what I’ve written doesn’t have value beyond helping me practice my craft, but once in a while an image or a series of syllables will come out with that extra zing that may actually turn out to be “something.”

April is National Poetry Month. My twitter feed reminds me of that daily. As a couple of big translation projects come to and end, I look forward to reading more poetry. I also have two poems and one lyrical essay that will be published this month–a good month for that to happen.

I’ll especially try to read more poetry translation – starting with Wislawa Szymborska: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1996/szymborska/poetry/


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1-2-3 testing- testing

Welcome to my brand new website – fruit of my urge to share my work and love of language.


It was love of language brought me here, and I’m hoping to share some of that love with you. I’ll add new content every time I have a new piece published and will occasionally add a haiku that comes out of my daily haiku practice.

One Word

One word
— one stone
in a cold river.
One more stone—
I’ll need many stones
if I’m going to get over.

Norwegian poet Olav H. Hauge – translated by Robert Bly


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