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A gift of Island poetry: Yvette Doucette

Curated by Deirdre Kessler

Tulips (a week after)

She had put tulips on the table
serrated edges, lacy cups
a shade of red toward vermillion.

I step closer, peek into the silky petals,
the stamens inky powder smudged
mascara-after-tears into each centre.

Underneath this black dress my skin prickles
as though I might suddenly see her standing near.
How curious not one bright petal has fallen.

The window is open. A week has passed.
The green stalks weave eccentric, snakelike
as each tulip still lifts toward the missing sky.

—Yvette Doucette. In a Burst of Yellow Blossoms. Saturday Morning Chapbooks, 2014.

PEI poet laureate Deirdre Kessler selects a poem a month by an Island poet for readers of The Buzz.

A gift of Island poetry: David Helwig

Curated by Deirdre Kessler


You wonder sometimes what it ever was
that caught your eye, some grace of attitude,
smile or intensity of gaze. The buzz
travels the nerves, quick, tender. Platitude
grows exact and sweet. Of course this prompts our lust
the will to conquer, nakedness and bed;
what’s true as well, the comely engenders trust,
an open heart, the common day remade.

The slap of presence: summer evening, deer
among the pasture grasses, watchful, still,
a chickadee in snow, black-eyed and brave.
Always our breathing a mong what’s now, what’s here;
thus the impossible that might be, will.

Sudden and absolute stranger, this is love.


—David Helwig. Sudden and Absolute Stranger. Oberon Press.

This hot-off-the press volume of Helwig’s collected poems will be launched on May 2 at 7 pm at The Queue (next door to the Pilot House on Grafton Street in Charlottetown).

PEI poet laureate Deirdre Kessler selects a poem a month by an Island poet for readers of The Buzz. 

A gift of Island poetry: John Smith

Curated by Deirdre Kessler

Your name

is a fingered opal dropped in darkness

into a silent pool.  Hearing only

the one tone of its lavish syllable

prank the drum of waiting water, I feel

its slow fall revolving in that plumbless dark,

its little roundness all that matters of

this universe of distances and stars.


—John Smith. Winter in Paradise. Charlottetown: Square Deal Publications, 1972.

PEI poet laureate Deirdre Kessler selects a poem a month by an Island poet for readers of The Buzz.

A gift of Island poetry: Jane Ledwell

Curated by Deirdre Kessler 

The birch

The world is the world, or what we know of it.

We are in it, with split paper skins, slow sap,

and leaves we will abandon with the season.

Twinned, we are, for our own company.

We multiply; we do not divide.

We lean awkward over the rise towards the spring.

We tunnel beneath the earth towards the same.

We are sanctuary to our self.

—Jane Ledwell from Bird Calls, Island Studies Press, 2016.

PEI poet laureate Deirdre Kessler follows in Judy Gaudet’s three-year tradition of selecting a poem a month by an Island poet for readers of The Buzz.

A gift of Island poetry: Judy Gaudet

Curated by Deirdre Kessler

Conversation with Crows

On a dead tree
three crows
call out their warning:
“Human passing,
wheels, helmet,”
then raucously fly up
to an evergreen,
and in its greenness
caw still,
excited talk.

“But wait!
Isn’t she the one 
we had the message for,
something important
we had to tell?”

Their calls fill
the air behind me
where I don’t stop,
and am not saying,
“I am. Tell me.
I’ve been waiting to hear.”

Three crows caw.
I pedal by.

Judy Gaudet from Conversation with Crows, Oberon Press, 2014.

Prince Edward Island Poet Laureate Deirdre Kessler has been handed the poetry baton by Judy Gaudet, who brought a poem a month to The Buzz readers for three years. Deirdre will continue to select a poem by an Island poet for each month for A Gift of Island Poetry.

The Guest Book: Deirdre Kessler


I have now lived most of my life on the Island, but when I first arrived here I observed certain distinctive aspects of the culture, such as Islanders’ curiosity about one’s ancestry, their genuine sense of connectedness, and their friendliness—qualities I cherish and emulate. I also observed a few oddities and anachronisms, including a crank telephone attached to a wall of the farmhouse I rented on the Loyalist Road. I liked the novelty of having to turn a crank to call an operator for outgoing calls. Soon I learned the sound of someone on the party line quietly picking up a receiver to listen in on my conversations. How quaint, I thought at first. Once, when I was visiting my mother in the U.S., I called home to the Island, telling the U.S. operator I wanted to call Canada: area code 902, Hunter River 21 ring 24. She laughed. “We heard about this in training,” she said, “but I’ve never done it!”

Several years later, when I bought an old farmhouse east of Charlottetown closer to my teaching job at Vernon River, the dial telephone looked like those I’d known all my life, but it, too, was a party line, one I shared with half a dozen others on the 48 Road. I grew to dislike intensely the invasion of my privacy of that party line and said mean things about eavesdroppers when I heard someone listening in.

In my new home there was a Kemac stove, which burned oil or wood or a combination of both. One winter evening there was a loud whoosh followed by a roar in the stovepipe. Adrenaline flooded my body. The pipe turned red-hot, the heat so great that paint on the wainscoting behind the stove smoked and caught fire. Outside, flames were leaping from the chimney and sparks were dropping on the roof. I was terrified.

I threw baking soda into the fire chamber, flung wet towels at the smouldering wainscoting, then ran to the telephone to call the fire department. Someone was on the line.

“Flames are coming out of the chimney!” I shouted. “I need the phone!”

In moments, a pickup truck came roaring up the lane and two men jumped out. One wrangled a ladder against the verandah and went up on the roof; the other came inside with a fire extinguisher. Instantaneously, it seemed, more vehicles arrived in the yard. Someone went up the back stairs, to the little room above the kitchen where the chimney went through, to check there was no fire in the floor or ceiling. When the fire was out and all was well, someone gave me the two-sentence lesson about creosote build-up and the necessity of cleaning the flue and stovepipes regularly. The yard emptied of pickups and cars.

And I never again complained about the party line.

—Deirdre’s memoir, Mother Country, was published recently by Oberon Press. She teaches courses on children’s literature, creative writing, and L.M. Montgomery with UPEI’s English Department.

The Guest Book is a new monthly Buzz feature whereby we invite a guest writer to contribute an essay on whatever is on their mind. 

Feeding the Devils

Report from the other side of the world — Tasmania

by Deirdre Kessler

Feeding the Devils

I am sitting at the desk in the Kelly Street Writer’s Cottage in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. Returned here yesterday from “Sounding the Earth” conference in Launceston. Yesterday afternoon drove home on the Midlands Hwy. in left-hand car, my first experience driving on left-hand roads. It’s far easier driving than being a passenger in left-hand-driving country.

I was in this same cottage at this same desk in October 2007, writing the novel about whaling days, looking up and out the wall of west-facing windows to Mt. Wellington or to my right out the wall of windows to the north (were the light comes from in this hemisphere) over the roofs of Salamanca Place, the old sandstone warehouses along the city’s wharf.

Here are the European goldfinches, red-masked, black-and-white heads, yellow wing bars—very showy—on the clothesline in back garden, about four meters away. Behind them, lilac bush and bush-like geraniums, white iris in bloom. It’s full-on spring here. Now they’re on the ground, closer. Yesterday I saw a galah, wedge-tail eagles cruising the upper air, a harrier, a merlin-like small hawk on a fencepost, and six pairs of superb blue fairy wrens.

Yesterday morning, the “Sounding the Earth” conference over, my host, CA Cranston, the convener of the conference, wanted her other house guest, the ASLEC-ANZ (Ass’n for the Study of Language, Environment, and Culture—Australia-New Zealand) treasurer, Barbara Holloway, and me to see Tassie devils, so we set out to the west of Launceston, about an hour’s drive, towards the Western Teir, to Mole Caves, where there is a wildlife rescue centre and Tasmanian devil education centre.

One of the carers, Sonya, gave a handful of us a tour of the recovery pens, set out on a huge property with mountain backdrop, pasture, pond, and eucalypt forest where wallabies roam free. Sonya, a young woman of aboriginal background, went into one outdoor wombat pen, complete with sheltered place, leafy piles of eucalypts, a deep hole (dug by the wombats), where there were three little (now almost 20 kg) wombats that had been rescued from the pouch of mother killed by truck on road. She picked up one and held it like a baby, cuddled and interacted with the young female as she told us about wombats, then she passed the wombat to us, and, one after another, we held her!

Sonya grabbed a tall, lidded white bucket and we followed her around other the outdoor pens. In one, two rescued koalas, in another a spotted-tail quoll lolling in the open end of a hollow log, on its back in the sun; in other large, open pen grown wombats, still not able to care for themselves; in another, tassie devils, one a female with young riding her back, though she kept well hidden.

The spotted-tail quoll we saw, lolling in the sun, sweet little face and fat belly, turns out, says Sonya, to be a vicious killer, who claws and bites prey many times its size to death, lingers long enough only to drink the blood, then leaves the carcass. The devils, who have ability to detect a scent two kilometres away, find the quolls’ kills, eat the entire prey, clean up the site.  The quolls are the ones who gave the devils much of their early bad reputation: graziers and foresters would come upon devils over kill, not realizing that the devils were scavenging the quolls’ leavings and had not killed the lamb, sheep, wallaby, wombat, other creature.

Out in the rocky pasture was an enormous pen surrounded by low fence. In the interior of the pen were boulders and a stand of young eucalypts and patches of dense, brushy undergrowth. Sonya went into the pen, made soft pishing noises. A tassie devil came to her and she picked it up by the tail. She later told us the devils’ tails are not like cats’ and dogs’ tails, but very, very sturdy so it doesn’t hurt them to be picked up this way; also, they cannot turn around to bite a person holding them by the tail. I gather their spines are not very flexible, and this was evident in the way they lope.

Sonya came outside the pen holding, cuddling, comforting, a tassie devil, who clung to her with forepaws—serious claws!—on either side of Sonya’s neck. Sonya said this one had some trust in her and she in the animal, as she had had to care for her from early on. This animal has cataracts and is blind. We touched her surprisingly soft back fur, watched her snuggle into Sonya’s arms and neck. Sonya did not offer to let us hold this devil.

We then went around to another part of the exterior of the pen, while Sonya did likewise inside it, with the bucket. When Sonya emerged on the far side of the pen, she was followed by four Tasmanian devils, loping in their strange-to-Northern-hemisphere-eyes gait—something unmammalish, almost serpentlike about their undulating lope.

Sonya apologized to anyone of us who might be sensitive to seeing a dead wallaby’s leg, but said this is what the tassie devils eat (the roadkill on Tas roads consists of wallaby, wombat, possum). She pulled the whole, furry back quarter, leg and tail, of a wallaby from the pail and held it as the tassie devils took hold to tear at it until they could get mouthfuls. They eat every single bit—bones, fur, everything. We heard the vocalizations that frightened the colonizers and saw sun shine through the ears of the little creatures, which makes their thin ears bright red, the exact red of the native cherry tree that is part of the Dreamtime story of Sonya told us, about how the devils got their red ears and white stripes.

The four devils grabbed, clamped down on (jaws capable of 300 kg of pressure), and chewed through and ripped the hindquarter apart. A fifth devil joined them, creating a ruckus. The fifth and another devil sparred on hindlegs, making eerie and fierce growling, howling sounds before they fell on the prey again. One littler devil worked on the furry wallaby tail, not competing with the others for the bloody and fleshy end. Sonya told us the devils are social feeders, but obviously there was rank demonstration between the sparring pair.

Before long, as Sonja talked and answered questions, the wallaby was reduced to ragged chunks that individuals carried off under a dense brush cave to eat. We could see them dimly and hear the chewing and occasional growl. Tassie devils are gorge eaters, capable of eating three times their body weight. About 27 different vocalizations have been recorded.

After the formal tour, CA and Barbara and I strolled the grounds, went into the enclosure around an enormous pond that has marsh at one end. Black swans and Shell ducks in the water, on the banks. CA got the idea of asking Sonya if she could bring the ten orphaned Shell ducklings she’s been caring for to the pond. Sonya said yes.

Rehabilitated, able-bodied ducks and swans leave the pond to migrate, but many return to the pond annually. I’d been helping in the mornings to tend the Shell ducklings at CA’s place; CA said we could come together next week to free the ducklings into the pond area, where they will be safer than they would be in a farmer’s pond, as the ducklings are now acclimated to people, to CA’s cat, and to her daughter’s dog—the dog has some herder in her and rounds up the ducks, gently. Other cats, dogs, and possums will not be so friendly.

The ducklings have to be put in cat-carrier and kept indoors and warm at night, then let loose for a bit in the morning to eat some worms from CA’s worm farm. We then put them in a rabbit cage on new patch of grass every day. CA put a cup in the big water dish because the ducklings want to be IN the water, not just drink it. CA used to keep chooks, so she had a feeder. When I was filling the water dish from bucket of water, I tilted it to pour water into dish, and instantly the ducklings climbed in and swam in the water in the angled bucket.

It was wonderful picking up the ducklings to put them in the cage. Nine of the ducklings are from one abandoned clutch—the mother killed, and one, whom CA named Dyson after her vacuum cleaner, is a few days older and noticeably bigger than the others. CA said the little ones instantly followed Dyson as if he were the mother. While I was staying at CA’s, she discovered Dyson was a female (the mature feathers were coming in, replacing the baby fluff, and Dyson’s sex was obvious from feather colouration). So we renamed her Dysonia.

At the rehabilitation centre we walked along to a large, outdoor habitat, with netting about 8-10 meters off the ground draped from the huge eucalypts. Inside the pens. Three wedge-tailed eagles, larger than bald eagles, who cannot fly from injuries early in their lives—one of them has been at the wildlife centre for 20 years, one for 25.

Down in the eucalypt forest, we saw wallabies and fed them chook food from the little bags of it sold at the interpretive centre. Wallabys have soft muzzles, furrier than horses or deer. There is also a night-creature building on the grounds, kept pitch dark save for a few low-wattage lights near the glassed-front cages for owl, sugar-glider possums (very sweet! small as hamsters), snakes, skinks. Took some moments for our eyes to adapt from the sun-glare to the dark. The owl was awake, staring at us with its bifocal eyes in its soft feathery face.

A morning in this country at 40 degrees south latitude.

So much to see and learn.

Deirdre Kessler spent autumn 2010 in Tasmania, first in Hobart at the Kelly Street writer’s cottage, and then as artist in residence in the King’s Bridge cottage in the Cataract Gorge, Launceston, Tasmania.

Events Calendar

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Some Upcoming Events

Moving East tour

Jimmy Rankin at Harbourfront Theatre and Trailside Café November 22 & 23  Jimmy Rankin [ ... ]

The Charlottetown Film Society & L’Ipéen...

Select dates
City Cinema Tickets at the door, cash only, $10, or visit for advanc [ ... ]

Confederation Centre: Art Gallery exhibi...

Open daily The Ronald Bloore Conservation Project Until January 13 Inspired by then newly-built C [ ... ]

Recent News & Articles

Acadian showman

Profile: Christian Gallant by Jane Ledwell Forty-six musicians and step dancers took the stage at  [ ... ]

October is Learning Disabilities Awarene...

This October, the Learning Disabilities Association of PEI (LDAPEI) will be marking Learning Disabil [ ... ]

Young Company headed to National Child W...

The TD Confederation Centre Young Company is hitting the road again. After a busy 2017 season that s [ ... ]