Conversing with the Muse: an exploration within community

I occasionally fall under the illusion that my creative process occurs alone, or when my life is simple. In actuality, my imagination is sparked when I am in both connection and community. I am not an isolated being, but merely a seed in a continuum.

Our writer’s group, North of 54 embarked on a beautiful collaboration with artist Leslie Barnwell for our 5th anthology. This was especially meaningful to me as Leslie is an important mentor for my poetic path. Many years ago, I took my first creative writing course instructed by Leslie at the local college. Through her guidance and her brilliance, as she offered myriad ways to explore and respond to writing, my passion for poetry was fully realized. We shared in several creative ventures since that time, and so how lovely to once again be in this relationship together.

Our anthology, ‘Seed Dreams- poems of blossoming’ contains 22 photos from Leslie’s flower collection. One of the photos included was a perfect marriage for a piece I had written many months previously.  ‘Conversations in February’ was a response to a poem from another dear friend and creative muse, Lesley Strutt, whose work, “If Time were a Tulip” ignited my own images.

I am grateful and humbled to feel this connection to a larger community. There is synergy when we create together; our interdependence is crucial.

(oh, and spider shows up in another poem in the anthology)

Conversations in February
“Time might be a tulip”
~Lesley Strutt

Nestled under thick duvet    feather pillows;
a kind of rapture.
Soft morning glow sifts
through the curtained window-
no need to rise.

Only this~ layers enveloped within
a thin envelope, the fragile membrane
holding fragrant dreams

and if I learn to listen

hear the language of tulips murmur
with scarlet throats, soon enough
they will whisper
the exact moment
to unfurl                      spill light
from inside chambers,             fling
silken scarves as a whirling dervish,

translucent offerings
upon the floorboards.





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The Miracle of Salmon: an art explosion

Salmon is central to the human experience, especially in the North Pacific where I am gifted to live.  Their annual migration seems like nothing short of a miracle.

The Skeena Salmon Arts Festival Society (please click on the link to see the amazing work created through this society) was created to honour, celebrate and inspire northern residences and beyond on the importance of this life-giving organism. Due to the vision and dedication of many hard-working individuals, salmon is celebrated through public art, including murals, sculptures, carvings, and banners. The town of Terrace is transforming,

Judy McCloskey was one of the many artists in the Skeena Salmon Art Show during the month of August at the Terrace Art Gallery. Her textile collage was inspired by Celtic mythology, a part of her heritage, where salmon continue to be revered within the culture of Ireland and Scotland. Salmon are associated with extraordinary wisdom, because of their ability to remember and navigate to their own birthplace.
Salmon of Wisdom “22” x 28″

In 2018, the first year for the Skeena Salmon Art Show, Judy submitted a whimsical rendering. She explains how the design “playfully captures the interplay between the lines of the forest, the shapes of rock, and the pattern of the water as home to our returning sockeye.”

‘Swimming Upstream’  30″ x 36″
At present salmon are spawning and as they deteriorate, they also support a complex life cycle. For me, it is a call and an affirmation on the importance of home.


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Below the Surface

Visiting Newfoundland was like seeing the tip of an Iceberg. Yes I tried to absorb as much as I could in the short time I was there, booking a day trip to nearby fishing villages, taking a boat tour out of the harbour to get close to Icebergs, visiting The Rooms, a museum/art gallery dedicated to natural and  cultural history


would I ever perceive the depths of  these stories? No, I will not!

Nonetheless, like bergy bits that break off from the main ice flow, I long to drink in
this place on the edge, people fixed to the rocky shores with nothing in between them and Greenland. People rooted, always coming home.

Below the Surface

For Larry

Under a bruised sky, having just missed leaden rain beat against the rocky outcrop
at Cape Spear, this most easterly point, web into wind thrash the coast line

we follow our guide, his stories a metered cadence

Imagine! This place was always here, then Princess Di and Prince Charles came to visit so of course we needed proper washrooms and right then and there it became a historic sight. Imagine that will you!

stories all syllables dance together and then just as quickly hammer like waves buckling against rock

We came to Confederation in 49 with only 51% in favour, plucked us out of outposts, we were self sufficient. and then the cod moratorium, said it was temporary!

the next breath
a coo

Ah there’s an iceberg for you, the peril of sailors, radar can’t read the bits that break off

Ice mass juts out through layers of fog, floats on the horizon. What lies below the surface, the darkened skin, son of a line of fishermen now stranded a shore


words scour the ocean bottom
troughs crisscross the imagination
tidal currents just beyond my grasp

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Light Bodies

My heart feels wide open, bruised, yet tender after the Celebration of Life ceremony for a dear friend. I contemplate how some of us proceed towards death with a tremendous fight, many with a persistent denial and if we are lucky, we greet the inevitable with a welcoming, ‘Ahh, there you are.’ Souls depart in scorching unexpected flashes, others in painfully slow increments.  However we leave, whatever our beliefs are surrounding death, gifts are bestowed in glowing memories to those who love us, to those whom we love, in our infinite connection.

Light Bodies

For Roger

On my birthday you set up your tipi in our back yard.
In its cavern,
like a dark womb
we build a fire,
its belly glowing with the light of a thousand candles.

Friends circle under the canopy held in place by ridgepoles,
twenty saplings lashed together
as ribs from a great beast,
reach through the smoke hole into firmament.

But you remained outside,       a nomad
guitar in hand,          silhouette etched in the door flap

Appeared as a wizard
tracing your source to constellations above.

Did you intuit this slow letting go?
Know even then your body’s temporary home
bones but a lever reaching for the cosmos

while we sat on the dirt floor
listening to your melodies greet the night sky,

us thinking you would always be singing.

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Reflections on Winter

This afternoon I walked into Kleanza Creek, was awestruck by the blue green water swirling in sluggish pools. Water- a deep luminescent reflection of ice and snow clinging to the creek bed, laden branches weighted with crystal shards. The water’s musicality clean and crisp in the silent air.

Winter in the north, winter in Canada, both breathtaking and challenging. Much easier to vacate to warmer climates but then what would we miss.

The time to go inward, to go deeper, just like this river bed. Find our way through imagination and dreams. Lean into our intuitive nature to discover new paths. Where to flow. How to overcome challenges that might lie ahead.

These are my reflections enhanced by  learning about the water element from Cheri Reidy, acupuncturist and Qigong teacher. We collaborated in a workshop where she offered her in depth knowledge of the body by teaching a model of how to live in balance with the forces around us while I offered my passion for artistic expression through collage.

 Water Element workshop 2019

These images call me to extend my reflections to our beloved poet Mary Oliver. She died In January of 2019 at the age of 83, both in the water element of the cycle of earth and in the water element of her life. We come into the world, nurtured in the wombs embrace and if we are lucky we can age into the water element, where we can slow down to deepen into our inner wisdom. Mary Oliver embodied this essence with her deep respect for witnessing and recording her presence in the natural world.

I grieve for this loss. Her words are akin to a healing balm.  Blessings Mary.

     ~Mary Oliver

In winter
all the singing is in
the tops of the trees
where the wind-bird
with its white eyes
shoves and pushes
among the branches.

Like any of us
he wants to go to sleep,
but he’s restless—
he has an idea,
and slowly it unfolds
from under his beating wings
as long as he stays awake.

But his big, round music, after all,
is too breathy to last.

So, it’s over.
In the pine-crown
he makes his nest,
he’s done all he can.

I don’t know the name of this bird,
I only imagine his glittering beak
tucked in a white wing
while the clouds—
which he has summoned
from the north—
which he has taught
to be mild, and silent—
thicken, and begin to fall
into the world below
like stars, or the feathers
of some unimaginable bird
that loves us,
that is asleep now, and silent—
that has turned itself
into snow.


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Another Dysfunctional Cancer Poem Anthology

When I saw the callout on the League of Canadian Poets website for submissions to an anthology on the experience of cancer I did not hesitate. My heart tugged back in time to losing one of my closest friends to cancer and the series of poems I wrote to help me cope with the enormous loss.

I am regretful that I did not know of Priscilla Uppal, one of the editors of this anthology, whose brainchild was to offer people,  ‘new ways of seeing, understanding, and representing this ordinary and extraordinary experience.’ I was just pleased to have one of my poems accepted.

Then the anthology was published in November of 2018 but it was announced that Priscilla, at the age of 43, did not live to see its completion. Who were you Priscilla? I discover through numerous newspaper obituaries, CBC interviews, book reviews, and  friends and colleagues blog posts, of your immense accomplishments and brilliance as a poet, novelist, and playwright. Your enthusiasm and optimism as professor at York University. Your generosity in supporting so many students, and the arts. Your fierce courage to not sway away from a dark subject.

It is a quote that is taken from one of these articles that stays with me. Priscilla writes, “I think a very undervalued and powerful tool is the imagination. When you’re facing something like [cancer], many people like me feel disconnected and alienated from themselves – from their bodies, from their coworkers, from their loved ones, from the world… The imagination is actually a way to repair and reconnect and heal those connections to yourself and other people.’

The imagination gives rise to the need to create, to put ones life experience into poetry or another form of artistic expression. It is at times the only thing that makes sense.

The anthology was built around Priscilla’s poem. I am saddened that my world was so remote that I did not know of her. Thank you for this ongoing gift, which I am so grateful to be a part of in my own small way.

Another Dysfunctional Cancer Poem
by Priscilla Uppal

My body and I have now entered that phase
of relationship where all the quirks and ticks
that used to tug at your heart are sources
of irritation and argument. The monotony of being
with you, day in and day out, going through the motions.
We are now that couple no one wants to
see in public, whose shopping bags hang like broken
promises. We blame each other’s childhoods and
draft unacceptable separation agreements.
The hot tears and intermittent flowers are
the worst, the notes of distant affection,
the vague plans for future holidays. I am no
longer the love of your life. I have the black
eyes to prove it. Our pleas for forgiveness
are hollow. We live for the possibility of thrashing
it all out for the umpteenth time, falling asleep
exhausted and sore, but side by side.

And amongst all of this I still miss you, my dear friend Pat.

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shadows & light: a poetry/art celebration

‘They are found in sun-kissed storm clouds, along frost-etched mountain sides, and in the silvery line separating ocean from cliff. Shadow and light – they are found in the murky depths of the delta, the dappled cool of a forest floor, and the subterranean dreams of poets. ‘
Thus begins the preface written by Martha Swinn in Writers North of 540’s fourth anthology, ‘shadows & light.’

This was an exciting creation for our group as we ventured on a year long collaboration with artist Joan Turecki. Her atmospheric and dense paintings were a rich opportunity for us to stretch our comfort zones with poetry while our dialogue inspired Joan’s exploration in pigment.

In this conversation between painting and poem, our group explored metaphors and images  from Joan’s work.

Changing Light

With Changing Light Harold Feddersen’s poem “Estuary” reminds us of the edge we rub up against with growth: “your safe birth stream/now too small/downstream/into the estuary/a transition space/between former/and future you” while I, Joan Conway, consider the image of separation: “Your fingers reach out/but never quite touch/wanting to/part the silence,/undo the silk curtain of secrets,/allow intimacy’s tender hold/to bring you closer.”

Quiet Solitude: Pine Lake Walk













In response to “Quiet Solitude: Pine Lake Walk” Solveig Adair acknowledges the deep intimacy of trees withlet me be a/root let me sink deep into/soil knowing light/only by the whispers of/Raindrops.” while Norma Kerby responds to this painting with her homage “old trees/veterans from a/vanquished civilization of wood/artifact of an ancient forest/remnants fading back to shadows.

Fading Light

In response to “Fading Light” Martha Swinn explores the relationship of mountains with rain forest in “Tangled Dreams”, “A scud of mist trickling over seedy stalks and lifting to tree tops/Sganist – solid, grey, forever silent – cold tipped from last night/Rising above the mist to the sky; a pause of breath” while Jesse McCloskey examines her own identity with the vastness of mountains: “A wish to be relevant to the earth;/true and real./Sanity dances at the edge of reason./A stillness comes —/foreboding mountains speak:/Be careful,/There are no guarantees.”

Morning Mist in Valley
In response to “Morning Mist in Valley” Baxter Huston replies with the metaphor “All our summer dreams are illusory it seems, /and yet they chase the shadows from the corner./There’s always one more dream around the corner.”

And so thank you Joan Turecki for this opportunity to deepen our poetic experience with this collaboration. Your paintings remind us of the immense diversity and stunning beauty of this wild land in which we are blessed to live and give voice to.

Joan Turecki’s art exhibit ‘Shadow and Light’ opened at the Terrace Art Gallery for the month of November, 2018.


Left to right: Solveig Adair, Martha Swinn, Joan Turecki, Joan Conway, Harold Feddersen, Baxter Huston, Norma Kerby. Missing from photo: Jesse McCloskey


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Metal Element: A Time of Reaping and Reflection

This afternoon I spent a few hours in the garden heeling in some potted rose bushes, mulching others with a layer of sodden leaves. The odd branch from our surrounding birch trees wave with a few lingering leaves, yellow against the lead gray sky. I stop to watch them and am hit with my own melancholic wave. I am letting go of all that was abundant throughout the year as I continue my preparations for winter.

I learn from Cheri Reidy that autumn is the season of the Metal Element in Chinese Medicine. A time associated with the emotion of grief. There is also great potential in this period of lose. It is possible to mine the nuggets, just as trees are transformed into austere beauty,  I too can let go of what I no longer need so that I can see what is precious in my life.



Metal Element
Colour: white
Season: Autumn
Environment: Dry
Emotion: Grief
Organs: Lungs & Large Intestines


I resonate with poet and philosopher, Mark Nepo in times of grief. His book, ‘Seven Thousand Ways To Listen’ was a companion when I did not know which way to go.  His words encouraged me to go inward, for it is there I can recognize what feels sacred in my life.

It’s as if what is unbreakable
the very pulse of life—waits for
everything else to be torn away,
and then in the bareness that
only silence and suffering and
great love can expose, it dares
to speak through us and to us.

It seems to say, if you want to last,
hold on to nothing. If you want
to know love, let in everything.
If you want to feel the presence
of everything, stop counting the
things that break along the way.
— Mark Nepo



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Heartwood: Poems For The Love Of Trees

As dawn rises I look out of my window; am constantly appreciative of the trees that surround me. Their dark silhouettes like many arms reach out to embrace, ask little, and yet their presence nets me in a continuum. I am held within a complex system, supported by their life-giving essence.

This connection is honoured in The League of Canadian Poets’ Anthology, ‘Heartwood: For The Love Of Trees.’ The very title speaks to this place. Heartwood at its most basic level is in the centre providing adequate support for the tree. Just as our organ transports life nutrients, trees are crucial to our well being and survival.

Leslie Strutt, editor of this anthology, feels passionately about the place trees hold. This sparked her vision to call forward poets from every province and territory, as Amazon states, “to celebrate the immeasurable value trees have for the environment and the soul.”

“Trees matter,” wrote Strutt from the 288-page anthology, “and we have written about them with the windows of our hearts open, breathing in the good air that the forests provide.”

Diana Beresford-Kroeger from her forward writes “The entire music of the universe is held in the trees. It is amplified again, again, and again within the forest. To listen to this music is to meditate. Taken alone, this is sufficient reason to make all forests sacred. And us accountable.”

I was therefore thrilled to have one of my poems selected for the anthology, which joined local poet Norma Kerby with her poem ‘Punk tree’ and Harold Feddersen.  The anthology was announced at the recent Rural Writers Retreat, where Harold read his poem, “Windfall.”

My own poem, ‘Survival’ was in conversation with local artist/writer/creative soul Noreen Spence whose work continues to inspire our northern town. Her mural, in collaboration with other artists, speaks to the place trees hold for us.

I am lucky enough to have one of her works in my reading nook titled, ‘The Myth of Skin.’ Noreen quotes Audrey Grescoe,  “The roots of coast redwood trees extend four to six feet down and 125 feet out from the tree….In one experiment, marked water put into one redwood was detected in another 500 feet away.” With this information Noreen provocs us with the question, “Where do you end off and I begin” in the relationship we have with our autonomy.  I leave you with this inquiry. We are not separate. We need to take care of our trees as if our life depends on it, which it does.



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Earth Element: A Time of Abundance

Once again, I share in the explorations of the Five Element Theory with acupuncturist  Cheri Reidy.  I learn that late summer is the Earth element, a time to harvest the abundance of what is provided. The Earth element is closely associated with the archetype of the Mother, or Mother Earth. It is the mother who feeds and sustains us.

I grow to understand that when I am balanced in the Earth element I feel secure in knowing that I have enough. I can stand in the center and comfortably hold all that is going on around me with a recognition that life is bountiful.

Trusting that I have enough, or am enough, is an ongoing practice.  It is no simple task for me to be stay away from fearful walls built from  feelings of scarcity. With trust I can keep grounded and am more able to support and nurture myself, then I can also give more easily to others.


The color of the Earth element is yellow. The odor associated with Earth is fragrant, while the sound is singing, and the emotion is sympathy.





Earth energy is also a time for community building and connecting with others. It was an amazing gift to be able to come together in the glorious heat of late summer to do our creative explorations. I hold this close to my heart, and will lean into the memory of this experience during times when I need to acknowledge that the harvest is rich.

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