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Island Poetry: David Helwig

curated by Judy Gaudet

In May

green-brightness breaks, the scarlet-petaled ones feed
at the roots of earth’s passion, clench, sing out, climb
hand over hand the ecstatic ranges of time;
commanded by the insistence of new light, the seed
germinates, cells join to divide, whether weed
kindled promiscuously or the chosen scheme
of colours of a little paradise, they come
to this regeneration all at headlong speed,
as if the young remembered how it is to be old,
the swift vanishings, knew that they must seize
what can be plundered from the rarity of song,
the daze of estrus, defiance of cursed cold,
the tongued and the drenched splendour of the leafing trees,
a wind of whistling birds all blessed morning long.

—David Helwig, The Sway of Otherwise, Oberon 2008.

David’s other poetry books about the Island include The Year One (Atlantic poetry prize winner 2004), This Human Day and A Random Gospel.

Island poet and avid poetry reader Judy Gaudet selects a poem by a PEI poet each month.

Island Poetry: Judy Gaudet

Spring Garden

Heavy snow lay on our garden
all winter and the saplings,
released, lie on the sudden grass
broken and bent.
                     This is our first visit.
We skirt a pond and take a look
at each emerging plant
                          not thinking yet
about last summer, or seeing
           This is our first return, the bud
of our belief still dormant.
                              I prune
dead branches, carry them to the compost,
and tie up the bent and damaged.  One
birch, broken in three places,
I tie in three places to a stake.

—Judy Gaudet, Conversation with Crows, coming from Oberon Press in fall 2014.

An earlier book is Her Teeth Are Stones, Acorn.

Island poet and avid poetry reader Judy Gaudet selects a poem by a PEI poet each month. This month The Buzz presents one of Judy’s own poems.

Island Poetry: Hugh MacDonald

curated by Judy Gaudet

Sorting Bent Nails

Today the snow glides down
winding slopes of still, cold air.
It softens the outside world
like a shroud of fine lace.
I am staying close to home
in spite of places I should go,
head stuffed up and weary,
a fine excuse to rest my bones,
pick at some chores, and write
a phrase I’ve carried in my head
and didn’t want to bury
in my pillow or misplace
among the bent nails I meant
to straighten, or that plastic thing
I know belongs to something
precious we, perhaps, still own.

—Hugh MacDonald, from this is a love song, Black Moss Press, 2011.

His other books include Cold Against the Heart, Tossed Like Weeds From the Garden, and Digging Deep Wells.

Island poet and avid poetry reader Judy Gaudet selects a poem by a PEI poet each month.

Island Poetry: John MacKenzie

curated by Judy Gaudet

Thin Dry Spruce

In February blizzards, with the wind
out of the northwest for days bringing
poles down on the County Line Road,
he’d load the wood stove with slabs,
thin dry spruce, sit in the dark, deaf
to the constant gunfire crack of resin,

deaf to the rush and rattle of sparks up
the stovepipe, blind to its cherrying tin,
hands cupped around strong tea laced
with old black rum while flakes of ash
fell slowly down from the cigarette in
his mouth to float on the tea, dim stars.

He’d stare down into the mug as one
might stare into a dry well’s dark mouth
in August, or up into the storm of stars
whitening the cold black skies of autumn
and never say what he saw in the tea,
whether it was the trails of tracer shells

arcing across the night skies of Korea
or the glow of a cigarette in a foxhole.
He’d load more slabs in the stove, light
another smoke, sip the cooling tea, move
the rum bottle a little closer, wait for
the storm to stop, or the house to burn.

—John MacKenzie from

Read also Letters I Didn’t Write, Shaken by Physics and Sledgehammer and Other Poems.

Island poet and avid poetry reader Judy Gaudet selects a poem by a PEI poet each month.

Island Poetry: Deirdre Kessler

curated by Judy Gaudet

Dance the way they do

January wept, thawed us all,
deceived us or coddled us – who
knows which? We needed something,
and January did what it could:
uncovered a lawn from December snows,
let rain pelt on shingles and drip
from swelling bud ends of birch.
Just when I thought
you were gone for good,
the air grew soft again,
starlings screed, shook out
their ordinary wings,
danced the way they do.
Funny how people scorn
these common birds, rejoicers
who keep the melody going,
keep it going when all else is dead
or frozen.

—Deirdre Kessler, from Afternoon Horses, Acorn Press, 2009

Island poet and avid poetry reader Judy Gaudet selects a poem by a PEI poet each month.

Island Poetry: Jane Ledwell

curated by Judy Gaudet

Mind of Winter


creation’s unfinished and god is still resting:

blackbirds gossip all day of what’s left to be done


spruces draw us in, their charcoal hearts visible:

trees embraced by white birds, their wings the shape of snow


plowed fields release colour to show birds the wind:

how its blades hedgerow paths for the flight of snow


that fluid edge of distance may just be water:

and in winter, it is – leaving us to dig bridges


black branches hold the night all day against the sun:

dark falls: the slowest passion of the horizon

—Jane Ledwell, from Last Tomato, Acorn Press, 2005

Island poet and avid poetry reader Judy Gaudet selects a poem by a PEI poet each month.

Changing Environs

Experiencing Catherine Miller’s exhibition at the Confed Centre

by Judy Gaudet

Root people by Cahterine Miller (photo: Buzz)I stand and imagine I’m inside the glass case, among the green fronds as they fall in soft curtains, softer fragments, shot with silk threads, lit with glass beads. It’s a wall of seaweed, the colours and textures lovely. There are four glass cases. In the next, an opposite world—a wall of cement blocks covered in assorted fabrics. In the third there are a row of fabric sculptures of potato plants, some doing well, some with their leaves rather blighted. The reason is in the root, where some plants produce families, houses, and others taps running with polluted water, embroidered money, dead fish. In the last case there’s an abandoned house, knit from cotton thread, like an abandoned fish net lost at sea, or houses in the country where the families have joined the urban exodus. It’s a sensuous world Catherine Miller creates, colours and textures from cotton, wool, silk, organza, wire, threads and beads. But also a pointed one—where the viewer must consider both the beauty of the Island landscape and some of the dangerous effects people may have on it.

These experiences are part of the display of fabric art in Catherine Miller’s exhibit Changing Environs presently on at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown. If you come in through the Richmond Street entrance you will first see these four large display cases in the lobby, then continue into the downstairs gallery. Here my eye is drawn to the beautiful fabric art scenes on the right wall, that seem to offer sheer pleasure. I suppose you can go round the room in any order. But I save those for last. To the left there are more things to think about, the sun setting on a corner store and rural post office, a dried river bed, a house roof inundated in the ocean, a series of six lighthouses, three standing and three fallen. The message here is clear: change is loss, may be threat, an island is vulnerable to economic pressures, environmental degradation, to global warming. I’d heard about the maps of the Island in various stages of drowning, but found them more moving than I’d expected; there’s a loveliness in the rusted nails woven into the white fabric to make the shapes of the land in various levels of ocean rising, one material finding its various possible equilibriums within the other.

In the middle of the floor, a strange other map of blue lace doilies and embroidered money draws a further social conclusion, as does the rowboat carrying the Island’s symbolic oak tree with its roots wrapped for transplanting, rescued in a kind of ark in the flood.

Last is the wall of beautiful fabric scenes. The thread painting in which the planted field, the house and stream and the golf course share the upper section, all contributing to and relying on the water table and the well in the bottom part of the picture, reiterates the theme of warning. But I study the other two fabric paintings—the vivid trunks of a forest opening onto the shore, red cliffs holding their position against the calm and deep blue ocean. Sunlit, beautiful, rich. They remind me of what we still have, our Island, vulnerable, yes, and yet so full of wonder still, and worth our love and care.

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