Enriching Canadian Literature One Poem at a Time
in the University of Guelph’s Course
ENGL*4720 Creative Writing: Poetry, Fall 2020, Section: 01
The fourth-year capstone course in Creative Writing Poetry at the University of Guelph’s School of English and Theatre Studies (SETS) has been one of the most rewarding, emotionally intense, and challenging courses I have taught. I am very grateful to SETS, its interim director Professor Martha Nandorfy, and Professor Pablo Ramirez, the Undergraduate Curriculum Chair for the Creative Writing minor, for the opportunity to develop and teach it for the very first time. This appointment has given me the chance to share with emerging authors some of the intricacies of poetry writing, as well as the joy to meet and guide 17 amazingly talented, knowledgeable, generous, and hardworking students.
We have reviewed the mechanics of writing postmodern free verse, experimental, and prose poetry, and eventually experienced the thrill of performing in front of live audiences. On Zoom, my students’ public reading was attended by numerous viewers from Canada and several other countries, parents, siblings, roommates, professional writers, literary translators, and even publishers. We have also discussed the poet’s role as a cultural representative, witness, and sociopolitical activist, with a special emphasis on the recent global movements against discrimination of any kind and the power of absolute honesty when it comes to systemic and inherited (unconscious) racism and prejudices. My students have responded with brutally frank self-explorations, as well as with agonizing confessions about being chastised because of skin colour or sexual orientation, and even abused as women. They have likewise expressed intense romantic feelings and unapologetic sexual desires in some of the most beautiful gay and straight love poems I have ever read.
Avoiding clichés and general statements is a life-long challenge for any writer. To enable my students to “recycle” English clichés and idioms, in fact deconstruct and resignify them, I have elaborated on how we could use in poetry Greek tragedy’s comic relief, Brecht’s alienation effect, and postmodern dramatic pastiche. The creative journey from raw feelings and occasional self-pity to irony and self-irony always asks for will power and objectivity. My students have indeed proved the emotional strength and professionalism to make the distinction between life experiences and their poetic transfiguration.
The 450 poems produced in this course, 17 chapbooks of 25 poems each, have been passionately written and painstakingly edited numerous times, in the peer-review groups, as well as following my three rounds of detailed feedback. Most of them are ready for publication and selecting only one by each student was equally difficult and gratifying. I would love to share them all! I have done my best to choose their best work but also considered the personal subjects most important for each of them. My students and I are very grateful to WordCity Monthly and particularly Managing Editor Darcie Friesen Hossack for publishing selections from their chapbooks. I trust that these 17 poems by incredibly talented and sociopolitically aware emerging writers will give you confidence in the future of Canadian literature!
Diana Manole was born in Romania, immigrated to Canada in 2000, and now proudly identifies herself as a Romanian-Canadian scholar, writer, and literary translator. In her home country, she has published nine books (poetry and plays), and earned 16 literary awards. The winner of the 2020 Very Small Verse Contest of the League of Canadian Poets, her recent poetry has been featured in English and/or in translation in the UK, the US, Belarus, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey, Albania, China, Romania, and Canada. She has also translated or co-translated seven poetry collections and co-earned second prize in the 2018 John Dryden Translation Competition in the UK. Holding a doctorate from the University of Toronto, Diana has been teaching Theatre and Performance, English and Canadian literatures, and Creative Writing at Ontario universities since 2006, including four years as a limited-term Assistant Professor in Cultural Studies at Trent. Her seventh poetry book, Praying to a Landed-Immigrant God / Rugându-mă la un Dumnezeu emigrant, is forthcoming from Grey Borders Books in January 2021.
Pigtails and blue-raspberry stained lips,
I would have sat all day watching him dig.
With mumbled scoffs and dirt rubbed into his hands
– I guess I never thought about why
he was so interested in the ground –
he’d drive, catching my glance, all I could see
was the sky in his eyes – I was wrong. Young eyes don’t
see wrinkles and stains, they blink past the hurt for
they have yet to discover that adults still feel pain
I see them now: storm clouds eclipsing skies,
fogging to glacial blue eyes
– not like I remember –
arms peacefully crossed behind him
– his mother never lost hope –
Hebrew A.M. radio that tickled my ears
– for her daughter that never came home –
cracks seared in his skin from repressed years
– only one brother escaped before the war –
his strong whistles for birds to repeat
– was that his only entertainment? –
Sabbath card games
– he stepped over bodies in the streets –
– invented beds on frozen forest floors –
snores that eased my fears
– so he could survive to later lose
his own daughter –
How could I not notice? Those skies that
sat in the front seat, and drove me
to a nursery, to ponder and choose
– I wonder if flowers bloomed those years –
I always liked the yellow.
He always loved the sunflowers.
As a typical science student at the University of Guelph, Creative Writing has always posed interesting challenges to Shaina Abitbol, particularly in poetry. Producing this chapbook was not something she anticipated to be simple, but the complexity behind poetry is so much larger than she can fully comprehend. Her final chapbook written in ENGL*4720, “Invasive Species,” comes from constant effort and edits, with many poems straying from their original path. Designing new ideas and metaphors was the main challenge she has delt with; however, trying to communicate universal feelings in original ways was the aspect she has enjoyed the most.
Laughing with White Men Space has already been cleaned. Clear cut deforestation of voices that have been diseased, and I believed them to be willing of laceration. I was never taught any different. Only how to work the machines, how to place the earmuffs to not crinkle my hair. My voice wasn’t the only sound reverberating within my head. Cartoon characters perpetually laugh with the white man inside me. Their giggles and snorts sear into my spine, crescendos in time with each crashing timber. Echoing, that my lines through the forest were straight, freshly cut trees contrasting those that are standing. The white man inside me crawled to my eyes, but didn’t recognize the same yellow machine he had already mastered long before I was handed the keys. I don’t need to write about injustices to be heard.
Mackenzie Cameron is a fifth-year student from the University of Guelph. She is majoring in Mathematical Science, while completing a minor in Creative Writing. Mackenzie brings some of her scientific background into her poetry. She has written many poems and a few short stories and likes to focus her writing on individuality and how that plays into different emotions, situations, topics, themes, and connections.
A recipe for inconclusive sexual harassment
- Light touches
- Personal information
- Gas lighting
- Preheat her mind to 350o. This will ensure a nice char to burn her memories.
- You’ll want to prep early, but slow. It will create a beautiful brine on the surface that everyone will relish over. They will not be able to see the char on the inside of the meat.
- Brief looks at first. Nothing too serious. Easy for beginners. As time goes on, you can look longer and more frequently. It will help with simmering. Eventually she’ll catch you staring, it’s up to you whether to look away quickly or keep her gaze.
- If she is unable to process the garlic on your breath she will marinade longer. If you do it just right, start the process early with small ingredients here or there she won’t even know you’re roasting her. Without the disruption of her turning the burner off, the flavour will become deeper, richer.
- Capture her attention when she least expects it. Tell her anything, as long as it’s about you. If you want a twist of flavour, ignore her. Make her trust you. Make her believe you care.
- To get that beautiful char nice and crisp, touch her along her back while whispering in her ear that being with her outside of work would be inappropriate. Tenderizing the meat will result with her melting right off her bones.
- Tell everyone what she confides in you. You care about her and want what is best. Everyone needs to see what a juicy meal she will be.
- Be sure to tell everyone you had no idea. That your intent was to eat a lovely dinner, not sexually harass someone.
- You are an amazing chef, and that is all they will see you as.
Edith Carr is an emerging poet and a recent graduate from the University of Guelph, earning an undergraduate degree in English and Creative Writing. From a young age, she has often written short stories and lately begun exploring poetry. Most of her works centre around emotional and physical love, trauma, and healing. Some of her previous works can be found in Guelph’s undergraduate magazine, Kaleidoscope.
Bed Cosmos I launch a rocket ship by hand Shuttle soft as hot vanilla Onto a moon that squeals in glee I follow your flight path And lie beside you in our crater Our bodies a rolling pin on this isolate surface Dust eruptions mark the steps of our dance As we bound to the diamond breath of the stars I sink my cheek into your satin hull And squeeze your immortal bones You mirror my relief, as I stretch our legs And we both begin growing, till our feet can rest On the edge of time and the known universe With only socks between the unknown and our toes And as we yawn, we inhale all recorded history When I shut my eyes, a thousand suns are blotted And I’ll blot out the rest, as long as I sleep next to you.
Noah Friesen is a 4th year student at the University of Guelph in the Sociology program, also pursuing a minor in Creative Writing. 2020 served as Noah’s first foray into the world of poetry, with the Poetry class taught by Diana Manole giving him a chance to experiment within the genre. Noah chooses to write about subjects like nostalgia, childhood, and simple everyday occurrences, with an emphasis on humour, sarcasm, and irony. Occasionally drifting into more dramatic and surreal territory, Noah always tries to strike a balance between eternal dread and funny observations.
Tel Aviv In the last twenty minutes on the airplane They opened the window shades And we watched the sun rise over Tel Aviv. This is not a metaphor, This is only about the rotation of the earth. Somebody had warned us before we left That airport security in Israel was the best in the world. We didn’t need the reminder; on the plane my mother Worried that they’d check her Facebook page. When the lights were out, I came out to my brother. Somebody in the row ahead of us Was watching a movie full of terrorists Who looked like my Republican grandfather. Kathy met us past the gates, kissed both my cheeks And said my then-name with that familiar muddle Of Arabic and southern twang that made it Almost excusable. I’d told my brother I didn’t want to use it anymore, But for our few days in Bethlehem, the people we met wore it out. I let them. They said, I have a sister with that name. A daughter. I wasn’t a sister or a daughter, but I wanted to stop Feeling like a white tourist, or a missionary. I wanted them To keep making me, even passively, a relative. In the Israeli airport again, on our way out, A security officer took issue with my mother’s middle name. Nabeehah. What kind of name is that? It’s Lebanese, said my mother. He looked suspiciously at our huddle of pale family members. Is that where you’re from? Well, she said, My father was Lebanese American. Oh, you’re American, he said, relaxing, And waved us through.
Mim Teagan Haworth is a fourth year English major at the University of Guelph, where they can sometimes earn grade points for writing things they’d write anyway. In non-COVID times, they spend their days haunting old bookshops, mysterious woodlands, graveyards, and poetry slams, where they whisper their poetry to dust, fish, gravestones, birds, and even sometimes other human beings. In the past year they came out as nonbinary to both sides of their extended family. Their maternal Giddo, Lebanese-American politician William Baroody Jr., never lived to meet them, but as an advocate for the power of poetry to transform the world, they like to think he would have been proud to be a recurring character in theirs.
Misguided intentions brought me across an ocean to solve problems I couldn’t name
Zebu diners, Senegalese French-style cafes the owners welcome me, yet don’t know staff by name
Night falls, I cocoon myself in hotel clouds, while the black bodies lie awake
Gaiety, an illusion
Unbidden in a foreign land yet welcomed like the white saviour I detest in history books
Muzungu; In Bantu East Africa, white aimless wanderer
Taking up space in meetings I have no stake in, four-month foreign intern
Ultimately, they need to hear my opinion – Canadian – for the session to proceed
Apologetic after the fact to my supervisor, survivor, three degrees and her voice a whisper
Broken education, brought me to begin my unlearning
Toubab: In Wolof West Africa, to convert
Rowan Hughes is a student at the University of Guelph currently completing her bachelor’s degree in International Development with a minor in Creative Writing. She enjoys traveling and writing about the people she meets and the places she visits. She has previously published poetry in the Anglican Journal.
rub your suds all over me, baby, i want you to clean me up find the dirt i hide behind my ears and wipe it away with a kiss of your tongue drop down to your knees, my love, and pray for the sins dripping down my blasphemous thighs drag your nails down my dead skin and slough me off to the side watch me slip between your fingers and swirl down the drain mingling with the hair that clogs your pipes pull me out and dry me off Condensation
Brianna ‘Bee’ Kent is the author of “It’s All I Got!” and “Let the Poor Kid Sleep,” two unpublished chapbooks packed full of romance, heartbreak, and the trials and tribulations of managing one’s mental health in the middle of a pandemic. A University of Guelph student, Bee is looking to earn her Bachelor of Arts degree in English with minors in Creative Writing and Sociology. When she’s not writing about her girlfriend, Bee can be found writing about her cat Macaroni or sleeping on her living room couch. Bee is currently working on a way to avoid letting her mother read these poems.
My Blue-Eyed Brother There was green playdough dusted in flour. We didn’t mix it properly, and I tried to get you to eat it. Blue eyed brother– broad shoulders to carry me Like a sack of potatoes. We made falafels too. Fresh chickpeas and tahini dipping sauce. Remember the starfish bread you made for me when you were a baker at Sobeys. There was a copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, wrapped in pink paper tied with a lumpy bow, and you inscribed it, “to my sister Emily, may you always find as much happiness in life as you do now.” Liar. There’s always more sidewalk. Where plants peep up through cracks of dirt in asphalt cradles. More space for hopscotch, bike riding and tag. More curbs to park your red truck next to; I bet you didn’t even read the book. Ended your own sidewalk. With a container of toilet bowl cleaner and fertilizer and a sign on your locked truck: Danger. Hydrosulfuric acid. Use PPE.
Emily Matin is twenty-two years old and has been passionate about writing from a very young age. She appreciates how writing helps her find healing from her childhood adversities. She will be graduating from the University of Guelph in spring 2020 with an Honours Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in Biology. Emily’s poetry has been published in Footnotes, the University of Guelph’s Undergraduate Feminist Journal, and she will also have a poem published in the second volume of Allegory’s Ridge’s poetry anthology, Aurora, in spring 2021. Emily has compiled, edited and published, in conjunction with her classmates at the University of Guelph in winter 2020, an eBook, Do You Hear Me Now? An Anthology of Mental Health Journeys, featuring poetry and artwork from individuals of diverse ages, genders, races, and sexual orientations.
Can I grab you a bag today?
I wipe down the counter and pin pad
and I don’t go home for Thanksgiving.
I return the three floral blouses this woman bought
and I don’t visit my mother.
A man asks for ten gift cards for fifteen dollars and twelve cards for twenty-five dollars.
No wait, that was twelve gift cards for fifteen dollars and ten cards for twenty-five dollars,
and I don’t feel the
tender thump of my father’s hand on my back.
A customer walking in smirking, mask covering only
and I think about the pixels that will form my sister during our Sunday calls.
cash, I lock up,
I reheat leftovers.
I light a candle that smells like
cinnamon and reminds me of Nina Simone songs,
just to have a flicker
of another heartbeat.
Kate MacDonald was born in British Columbia but grew up in Southwestern Ontario. She is a recent graduate from the University of Guelph, earning a bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing. With a lifelong love of literature, her work centers around inquiries of bodily politics, queer identities, and the personal meditations that are produced by gothic and horror genres. She currently resides in Guelph with her roommates and their three cats. More of her work can be found featured in various issues of the Guelph-based undergraduate magazine Kaleidoscope
The Shore: A Prose Poem
Rustling water. Soft crashing waves swell past my feet. Speckles of sand grind between my toes. I am neither here nor there, poised like the pelican on the dock post but flustered like the fish floundering on the dry shore. The dark, cloud-painted sky muddles like swirling smoke. I can feel it clog my pores. The fish on the shore gasps for air, and I copy, trying to pull air into my lungs. All that passes my lips is dust. The pelican lifts off. The fish slips into the sea. I want to follow, but I am turning into the clouds and the dust but worse. The smoke lets loose its tears, and I try to wash the filth away, but it becomes mud. The fish and the pelican blink from view. The tears fall, and I begin to choke. The departing shore. Rising tides. My ankles, my knees. The swells loosen the mud as I clear the dust from my lungs and smoke from my veins. The rising water frees me like I knew it would. I drift into the sea; the water is dark and deep, but I am not afraid. The old me stays back, glued to the shell of me I left on the shore, built of mud, dust, and smoke. It waves goodbye as I dip out of view. I wave back, a bittersweet smile gracing my lips as I slip beneath the waves.
Leah Nicholls is a University of Guelph student, who is beginning to dive into poetry writing. She has only begun her learning experience in this genre this year but has enjoyed poetry and writing other creative pieces her whole life. Her poetry covers topics such as experiences from her life, nature, and abstract discussions about life and the questions of the universe. This is her first publication.
Bring Me Down A poem after a contemporary solo choreographed and danced by Chiara Ghizzardi to Fleetwood Mac’s Landslid Limby creature in all tan, The smell of hairspray, body glue, pine deodorant. Flailing her body in a gust of music, Sharing the same red lipstick with 24 people. The pressure between feet and floor is unfading From pelvis to sternum, my torso knows the pattern of her cracking spine She is free from structure Holding hands. Her spotlight eyes unmask me Our chins puddle in each other’s neck She is impossible to take in all at once but her nature demands exploration The figment brush of her lip lives on the corner of my mouth Her clothes might as well be a part of her flesh An overwhelming sense of luck. She only visits upstage to charge back at you in a galloped sprint. To know that there are inexplicable truths of this world She is graceful, but awkward. The centre of her beauty is unnamed, but the artery to it glows. All of my good karma has been spent on knowing her. Her limbs wash the margins of space between us The flavour of her tears. but she could also dance in silence, and you wouldn't miss the sounds Laminate me here.
As a current choreographer and dancer of twenty-three years, Ili Nunes has been an artist her whole life. She finds herself relating to the world through music and movement, and is deeply interested in communication through boundless language, something universal and not necessarily spoken by word. What has brought her into poetry is similar to what brought her into dance and choreography exploring unexplained and shared connections through storytelling. Now in her last semester of her English Degree at the University of Guelph, this chapbook, “Laminate Me Here,” is officially her last work submitted of her undergrad. She is continuously grateful for the time she has spent in the city of Guelph and for all the magic it has brought to her life. Although Ili’s time as a student has come to a close, she plans on pursuing poetry alongside her career in dance.
Regret Nothing he could do can repair a heart diced like a mini entree as his surroundings became total darkness. The only light shunned upon him from above as if he was on stage and the audience had their eyes on the main lead. His vile words like venom that cracked the hourglass, the sand poured out, the real image of him became clearer. Tears running across her black face – an everlasting stream and the deceptive mirrors that hid my friend’s true nature crumbling down. Shock, anger, the list expands across the floor like an unwinding ball of yarn. I lit my bridge ablaze and walked away not looking back.
Kurdell Reason is a fourth-year English major at the University of Guelph. This is his first foray into the world of poetry, which has broadened his horizons and made him view the world through an inspiring lens. His surroundings and daily activities became foundations for poems. It has led to new discoveries about himself and the people in his life while also having fun writing; and it has been a journey from my humble beginnings where I worried I couldn’t measure up to the task, but I’ve grown comfortable in this style of writing and gained newfound confidence in my abilities. Since he has taken up poetry, the process has become a daily exercise to just write what comes to mind and keep on writing until he runs out of pages. It has become his comfort food.
Death is Cheery The descent into hell is easy, simple steps, quick and organized. Nice and cheery. Just divorce things from consciousness, indulge in Lethe. The yawning black hole opens, with no sound to be heard. They have all had a very long journey. Granite steps leading down, too close to get a rhythm too loud to feel authentic swallowed. The others are no longer pictures of a warriors. Epoch to conclusion what was once was vehement declines to naught. It was all familiar if not exactly comfortable. The stairs, the hole, the dark “Come on,” it called. She nodded, not trusting herself to speak. It would take more than a single cry to wake these dead, when you’re six feet under. Easy.
Hailey Schroeder is a fourth-year English Literature student at the University of Guelph with a minor in Creative Writing. This is her first semester writing poetry, her strengths are rather in fiction writing, but nevertheless her mother is very proud. This is her second literary achievement, the first being the publication of her 12-year-old self’s poem that she is embarrassed of now.
The Ecolodge in Cerro Punta Pure oxygen flows through my bronchioles forgetting the thick city smog Clouds pass through me in the high altitude My stomach withstood their pressure. Ingredients sourced from a 100-mile radius Tree tomatoes, homemade butter, raw coffee beans freshly roasted The taste of the land ingrained on my tongue. We planted cabbages on the steep side of a mountain and were told to speak loving words to them It will help them grow better I started to see my face in each seedling. The feathers of the Quetzal bird were in my sight one minute and gone the next It was the rainforest’s way of saying goodbye The hourglass had finished pouring. I brought the ground coffee home with me The package still sits in my cupboard, half full I wish I could keep it forever, but every brewed cup brings me back, each sip savoured.
Lily Tarrant is the author of “Nostalgia, Nuisances and New Beginnings,” an unpublished chapbook, consisting of 25 poems that were written and painstakingly edited while juggling the stresses of the Covid-19 pandemic, online schooling, and working from home. Lily has aspired to be a writer since she was a little girl, when she would fold stacks of printed paper together and staple them down the middle to form a book spine, single-handedly both writing and illustrating her stories with a ballpoint pen. Through her high school English and Writer’s Craft classes, she realized she wanted to continue with writing as a future career path. She is currently a fourth-year student at the University of Guelph, studying as a BA Honours English major with a Creative Writing minor, in hopes that she will be a seasoned and published author, gaining recognition for her lifelong passion.
Serving Coffee After I left my deodorant and my toothbrush with my love and I can smell how sweaty I am from having slept under two sweaters and her arms. In this mask I can smell the A&W I threw up and the coffee on my breath. I don’t know a single stable thing other than the earth, and even she’s giving in. Fantasy flurries around the room, looking for something to lean on, mom? My heart is a hoarder. Endless little corners to hide a candle or a blanket. A high, a Netflix Original Series, a love lost. The fog today could swallow a patio chair, these stone walls, me too! The cafe air -- onions, bleach and cockroaches, breezes through the nooks, a spring cleaning! I can feel the anxietyman protesting as my tireless lungs shake out the covers and cobwebs. He wants me to hide, but mom taught me to hunt down each dirt shard with the fury of a lonely housewife. I slice each one along a new limb until I am marked soft and I have felt it all.
Hannah Thiessen is a soon-to-be graduate from the University of Guelph, with a Bachelor of Arts in International Development, Gender Studies, and Creative Writing. She is a poetry, plant and textile fanatic who loves to create, to express, to listen, and to dance. She is also passionate about providing quality Sexual Health and Education to youth with a focus on consent education, social equality, and inclusion. Hannah seeks to create art for others to connect to, for both poet and reader to feel understood and heard. Her writing has appeared in Kaleidoscope and Northern Otter Journal. Throughout her poetry, she explores themes of nature, spirituality, social justice, sexual trauma, healing mental health, love, and the subtle humour of this ridiculous mess we find ourselves in.
The Last Night of Light The light at the end of the tunnel Is the sun’s reflection on the moon, Seen through the corridor of my eyes Hungry and never satiated The optic discs scramble reality, Retreating to my fovea The center of my world Becomes the twinkling of another Marvelling under the night sky, Against the expiring film of their iris Seeing eye to eye only happens once In a blue moon Because agreeableness is an illusion And chewing with your eyes is hard. The sun is rare, red, and on fire A steak in the sky A steak that I eat with my eyes With a side of soft blue cheese Unhurriedly Before all the lights And their end.
Laura Vautour is in her fourth year of the Studio Art program with a minor in English at the University of Guelph. Based in Guelph, Ontario, her visual art practice and literary work explore themes of religion, identity, nature, and various artistic mediums. Laura transitions between visual and literary form to best express her intentions and message. She will not claim a dichotomous relationship between these two forms. Their interaction is inherent to her perceptions and influence how she writes. With metaphor and rich imagery, Laura contemplates distant and personal relationships within the constraint of time. Influenced by historical and religious literature, her poems inhabit the world of several Biblical characters. Placing herself in their positions provide and encourage empathy that transitions to the reader. You can find more of her visual art and literary work at http://www.lauraravautour.com
Plausible Deniability Fingers planted firmly in your back. Arms pinned against the couch. You drift under my collar. Trace the symbol for infinity. Much like the seconds we feel. Living room, barely lit. Not on purpose. Worn-out bulbs. Now we don’t have to look. Silence in a dead world. Hours with only grunts and sighs and clenching muscles. Words might shatter this liminal space. Nothing Happened. Not a lie. Not technically a lie. Each could-be kiss just two faces too close. Each brush of the hand nonchalant. A back. A shoulder. A cheek. Digging fingernail furrows in arms Looking down at a chasm lying just beyond the line we said we wouldn’t cross. Afraid of heights. Not true. Afraid of falling. On the line isn’t past the line. On the line isn’t falling.
Zachary Wynen is a developing writer in many areas. Past works include plays, fictional audio series, novels, and of course poems. Zachary enjoys poetry as an exercise to relax before and after pursuing other writing projects. They have also recently finished the first draft of their novel, and are excited to edit and hopefully one day publish it.