I always find that writing found poetry stirs up my creative side. Try collecting all the newspapers in the house, old love letters, recipes, grocery lists, old science textbooks and cut out the interesting words and sentences. Then throw them on the floor, and start picking up the pieces. Write down the words and sentences in their random order, and start filling in the blanks. You’ll end up with a whole new original poem!
You will need:
1 large onion
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into one-inch chunks (about 3 cups)
½ teaspoon turmeric and arsenic
1 can (14 ounce) coconut milk, sweetened
1 unfertilized human heart (if not in season, they are available by the dozen in your grocer’s freezer)
Coarse sea salt to taste
Gingered lime (for garnish)
- Slice onions. Do not notice another beautiful woman walking into the room. Do not mutter to yourself in Dutch, keep slicing. The onion is not a metaphor. You are not slicing smaller and smaller gyres of grief. Add garlic.
- In large saucepan over medium heat, simmer coconut milk. Do not chant “I love you, it’s you I love.” Simmer, simmer.
- Add the sweet potato and the heart. Make sure to give yourself ten minutes for the auto-autopsy. If you are using frozen heart, make sure to tenderize it properly. Do not hear the fragmented laughter from the other room. Keep stirring.
- Add turmeric, arsenic and onions. Do not overreact. He is not examining the curvature of eye, tit and ankle while you are seasoning.
- Salt, 2 cups salt. Disregard the salt in your tears, the salt in your wounds, or that time you made out in the ocean.
- Ladle the soup into four bowls, top with a spoonful of jasmine rice. There are no substitutes. There is no time between the gingered lime and the ecstasy. Do not imagine poisons and ways to disguise them. If he sees you crying, blame it on the onions.
- Freeze. This dish is the kind of thing that keeps and does not change.
Here is a poem I wrote when I was 18—how embarrassing! As you can see from the poem, there is a great deal of teenage angst! I was trying to play with the recipe form at the time, and see what happened. For me, poetry has always been a kind of fun language experiment. This is from a real recipe that I love, and I just substituted the ‘real’ ingredients for more ‘poetic’ ones.
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Sandy Pool, and I am a poet and multi-disciplinary artist. Currently I divide my time between Calgary and Toronto, where I am working on my doctorate degree. My second book of poetry Undark, An Oratorio, was just released in the fall with Nightwood Editions.
When did you realize you had a passion for writing?
I think I realized pretty early that I loved writing poetry. Although I chose theatre as my major in university, I wrote poetry through much of my teenage and early adult years. I suddenly realized I was sneaking off to write poetry instead of doing my other homework! Ever since then, poetry has been a huge part of my life.
What pieces of writing/authors have had the greatest impact on you?
I think Canadian poetry has had a huge impact on me as a young writer. I spent a great deal of time learning the history of Canadian poetry, and it has certainly changed the way I write. I like seeing how poetry developed as a form, and I like to incorporate different styles and traditions in my work. I would recommend to any young poet that they read as widely as they possibly can within the genre they are writing in.
How and when do you find time to write?
I usually try to set aside a few hours a day where I can ‘write.’ Sometimes I don’t get a single thing on the page in that time. I think people often forget that taking a walk, or reading, or even just relaxing can also be part of the writing process. I try not to get too stressed about finding time to write. I just curl up with a warm drink and see what happens!
What has been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a writer?
I think my biggest challenge has been believing that I have a story to tell. Coming from a small Ontario town, I often felt discouraged. Not only were other poets few and far between, but I also felt that no one would ever want to read what I wrote. When I talk to young writers today, I am excited to see that they feel more hopeful, and I think this is because there is so much great literature coming out of Canada. I really hope that young writers don’t allow anyone to discourage their dreams of writing. I hope they know that they do have a story to tell—and it’s an important part of Canada’s literary conversation.
How have you changed as a writer over the years?
I think I’ve changed a great deal over the years. The more I learn about writing, the more I realize that I know very little indeed. In fact, I think my work has been coming from this place of insecurity lately—and, I think, it’s an exciting place to work from. Embracing this insecurity has given me a new angle into my own work. I used to worry a lot about “saying something important,” but now I’m more focused on what I can learn. For me, this focus on learning has been a very valuable artistic tool. There’s always so much more to know!!
In the summer, to escape the thick, muted heat of the evening, Sagey cycles around his neighbourhood on a broken bicycle, the front brake unattached like an umbilical cord snapped in two. He has no money to fix it, so he takes it slower around curves, or downhill from Laurier Park. Sometimes he rides on her street, just to see if her curtain is open, hoping she is visible in the backyard, tending to plants, or drinking cold tea in her kitchen. It feels good to be mobile, his shirt unbuttoned and his fingers chafing against the handlebars. At Parc Lafontaine, the sun dances across the lake. Families filter along the bridge for one final glimpse of sunlight. Couples lie head-to-stomach, reading, laughing. Mothers and daughters view photographs on a laptop. Badminton, soccer, softball—games with no start or finish. The smells of grass and dirt and chlorine from the outdoor pool sifting from children’s heads. The call of summer is intoxicating. Sagey zips past, thinking this must be the best time of day to be a father, walking your children home post-sunset, the season like a towel wrapped tightly around your waist, holding you close.
Sagey stands outside The Dancer’s door. He wears a ragged white V-neck t-shirt and frayed, thin jeans. Five-day stubble lurks on his face. It’s been 18 months since Claire died.
“You don’t look well,” The Dancer says, opening the door.
“I’m sorry. For just showing up like this.”
“You’re cooking,” he says, poking his head in the door.
He remembers this apartment—the picture frames on the wall, the narrow hallway, the faint smell of brown sugar. He shuffles back a step, suddenly feeling intrusive.
“I like what you did with the place.”
“It hasn’t changed much.”
“That was supposed to be a joke.”
“I’m leaving tomorrow.”
“I have to see it, where it happened.”
She stares at his haggard face, the low-slung eyelids.
“You’ll only make it worse.”
“Will you come? ”
He turns away, and as she closes the door, he’s certain he sees someone inside.
You lived on an island, Sagey. All your life. Things changed, okay? The world got bigger. We saw a life outside the tiny one we’d created. But you hoarded your isolation, empowered by it, shrouded in your long, black coat. You thought we were the lucky ones, that disappearing felt right. God, I wanted to believe you. I wanted to know that I could feel what you feel. But that wasn’t possible. That wasn’t love. That was the illusion of love. That was the illusion that an island is better than the city, and I never wanted to believe that.
This tiny scrap of paper he carries for one year, ripped from Claire’s journal, dated one week before her death. Words he can recite from memory.
Sagey begins walking down the street, but stops when he suddenly hears footsteps behind him. The Dancer is bounding barefoot down the sidewalk gracefully, fully aware of how far her nimble feet can take her, and how her long strides appear less like someone running and more like she is floating and preparing to jump into Sagey’s extended arms and see him lift her up into the air. But she stops several feet in front of him, out of breath.
“I’m worried about you,” she says. “I don’t even know you, but I’m worried.”
“I don’t know what else to do.”
She reaches up and touches him on the shoulder.
“I’ll come with you, she says.”
The temperature dropped quickly off the lake. The highway inundated with heavy, sudden snowfall. Visibility limited. But only an hour away, it seemed senseless for Claire to pull over. Why had she left so suddenly? Sagey wondered, The Dancer beside him, looking out the window. Why had she left without him? The city was suffocating Claire and him, slowly strangling their lives. They had become guarded with each other, even when naked and still, in the night as autumn retreated past the long horizon. When winter approached, a time when they should have needed each other for warmth, they slept on opposite sides of the bed.
She hated driving alone. But she loved that place—the bay windows, the still lap of lake water on the wooden dock, the maple paneling on the walls. Snowflakes falling on an icy lake, the stars so bright at night they would sting your eyes. Maybe that was why, because she loved that place so much.
Driving toward Muskoka Lake, Claire’s childhood friend sitting with her hands in her lap in the passenger seat beside him, silence between them.
“What was she like,” he finally asks.
They pass through Arnprior, Renfrew, Eganville. The Bonnecherre Valley.
“Sagey. It was a long time ago.”
“You must remember something.”
She shifts in her seat, trying to avoid the answer. Clouds sift through the sky like cod swimming in a shallow shoal. Shapes begin to emerge—caterpillars and ravens and tall ships sailing against a backdrop of blue and grey. Fields of corn and one-church towns and cemeteries line the highway. Horses graze.
“She was never happy,” The Dancer says.
“I never loved her because of that.”
“Why, then? ”
“Because she was the only one who never asked anything of me.”
“What did you ask of her? ” The Dancer says.
He doesn’t reply. Tall grass weaves back and forth, slave to the slight breeze as the car shuttles down the road. Tractors rest on the edge of a farmer’s lawn. Day’s end approaches, the sun bleeding its way toward the horizon. Algonquin Park emerges in the distance, like a large swath of land that houses the dead, a post-colonial graveyard. Until now, he has avoided imagining why she did what she did.
“Who was in the house with you? ” He asks.
“The other day. Someone was in the kitchen.”
“It shouldn’t matter.”
“You think I’m broken.”
“Aren’t you? ”
A dry wind sends dust flying off the highway and into their eyes. Sagey and The Dancer are standing on the side of the road, the only sounds in the air are the intermittent whirl of cars flying towards cottage country, the sun inching its way closer to sleep. Anticipation is a slow, steady curse in summer. It marks you, like a stubbed toe, and pulses quietly, waiting to expose you in the coming darkness. Sagey waits each night for the feeling to pass, but like water dripping from a gutter after a storm, the need to escape and the need to know obfuscates everything, and only the one sound repeats itself over and over again. The long days and the slow heat and the change of pace disguise the things a cold season cannot. Summer hides the truth, not winter.
Why am I here? She thinks. Who is this man? I’ve no business being here. There are no answers for The Dancer in this place. She wonders if she’s come out due to some debt to Claire, as if she owes her memory something more.
Lakes emerge from the ether. Harley Davidsons and minivans share real estate at overpopulated highway rest stops. The colour of the sky starts changing to black, the night’s hungry again for day.
Sagey has come to understand what penitence means, if anything at all. I haven’t come for you, Claire. I came for me. He looks at The Dancer, a puzzled look on her face as she wipes the dust from her blue eyes. The sun burns down on their bare necks. Dry, tall grass rustles at their feet. They stand idly together, fixed on a set of dead flowers left there by Claire’s mother, a white stake slumped in the ground and rotting. A fence post skewed to one side. The sun sits still and hot in the sky, a burning star watching memories become born again.
“She was a dancer once, like me.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“I left for the city, when we were still young. Her parents . . . ”
“She liked nail polish on her toes.”
“We all did. We would sit around and paint each other’s. She was wonderful. All the girls thought so.”
“Why did she stop dancing? ”
“Even then, you could tell she was afraid to be on stage, afraid to be ugly. She fell once. We couldn’t have been more than nine. She was never the same.”
The wind picks up, and he looks at her.
“Thank you,” he says. “For coming.”
“I didn’t know her like you did.”
“You knew her better.”
“You don’t know that.”
“She never talked about the things she loved most.”
“Why am I here? ” The Dancer asks.
“I’m not sure.”
“Why are you here, Sagey.”
“People are afraid of the details of tragedy.”
“And you aren’t? ”
“I just couldn’t imagine it anymore. I needed a picture of this place.”
“Do you think she would want that? ”
“Does it matter.”
“Then it’s for you.”
“Yes. And you. As a witness.”
“A witness? ”
“So I know years from now, if I ever try to remember how it happened, or where it was, then someone else will understand.”
“I didn’t peg you as so melodramatic.”
“I didn’t think she was either.”
They are sitting on the hood of a red Ford Focus on the edge of a lake. It is morning. The wind sifts off the water’s edge like a mother hushing her child. Sagey feels nauseous.
“I don’t know where else to go. It’s safe here, in this place.”
“You can’t love her memory forever.”
“What’s his name? ”
She stands up, contorting her body in a way that makes her appear taller, and once eye level with Sagey, walks off towards the highway.
In the chilled, dry nighttime air of early autumn, flowers breathe life onto Parc Avenue. Midnight—the street already sleeping. What had he gained or lost, Sagey wondered. Why was there always a cost, a weight, a price. His long strides pushing him closer to The Dancer.
He remembered back to that summer night, in a dusty motel off the side of the highway. Two single beds lying side by side like old partners in crime, not a word between them for hours. He’d watched The Dancer studying the grief on his face –wincing, twisted cheek muscles, a grimace of the upper lip, eyebrows arching to mask the salt in his eyes.
She sat still on the edge of her bed and witnessed him crawl under the harvest yellow blankets then stop, looking at her with puzzled, weary eyes, lifting the corner of the sheets like someone opening the screen door on a hot summer afternoon, calling her home. And she slid in, no words, and lay beside his outstretched body, her heartbeat echoing the thundering crickets outside. They lay still, remembering what brought them here, remembering what they’d seen that day: a thin, black tire mark; a stake; flowers decaying. The only things left.
With her eyes closed but not sleeping, The Dancer begins to understand the symbol she represents, the tether Sagey has strung himself to, a beginning rather than an end. And long into the night, long past the hour of perpetual sleep, a transformation occurs, and she sees this belief manifest, not just through his eyes, but her own. Perhaps it is his short, stark breathing, or the way she slips into the crook of his torso, but she knows, as dawn streaks through the cracks of the thin motel curtains, that after all this, she still wants to save him. The first revelation of love in a possible sense.
It is not until weeks later, back in Montreal, when he knocks on her door just past sundown, that they make love on the floor beside her bed, cool autumn air flying in from the open windows, his body guiding her body away from the comforts of a mattress and onto the hardwood of her tiny apartment. This time he did not dream of death, nor did he imagine her strong ballerina legs clutching themselves around his head and snapping it off like a coconut shell. He imagined autumn wheat fields, swinging her by the arms, the sun low and precious to their eyes. He imagined a slow, rising river in the countryside, cast against tall, leafy grass—like the kind you can whistle with—and settling his toes into the cool water before hearing her in the distance call for him. He bargained her body for ocean breezes, and thick, white waves crashing against ancient rocks below them. He asked for forgiveness, laying his weight upon her weight, and begged for the city to disappear. If this was what salvation felt like, he wanted her close, he wanted them both close, body and soul together, he the bridge that extended across the valley, one hand in the sky, the other stretching toward the earth where her fingers awaited.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born in Edmonton, raised in Vancouver, and have lived in Toronto and Montreal since graduating from the University of Western Ontario with an honours degree in English and Comparative Literature. I’ve published in enRoute, Chatelaine, and Reader’s Digest and my recent short fiction has appeared in subTerrain and The Feathertale Review. I currently work as an assistant editor at Sportsnet magazine.
Tell us about the piece you’ve decided to share.
Tether tells the story of Sagey Cooper. The love of his life, Claire, is dead. His grandfather in Montreal is dying. But when Sagey meets The Dancer at Claire’s funeral, everything changes. When David arrives in Montreal unexpectedly from Los Angeles—his failed acting career and loveless relationships in tow—the two old friends must confront the lost summer that occurred years ago in this city. Told through a shifting narrative between Sagey, David and the two women, Tether explores when love becomes shattered pieces of memory, the past becomes too heavy to carry into the future, and the things that bind us together become the things that threaten to break us apart.
When and why did you realize you had a passion for writing?
I think like many teenagers—at the risk of sounding hyperbolic—discovering the arts changed my life. At the same time, I was beginning to write (and by “write” I mean mostly bad love poetry), I was becoming heavily involved in theatre and music and I think all those disciplines went hand-in-hand. I’m reticent to call it a lightbulb moment—it was more like a lightbulb period of time when I realized my passions and knew what I wanted to do with my life. I think it’s an immensely interesting time of self-discovery in one’s life, so I encourage anyone at that age to be creative, try new things, surround yourself with like-minded people and immerse yourself in the arts. Once you find a voice, stick with it over the long haul.
What pieces of writing/authors have had the greatest impact on you?
I studied Dante’s The Divine Comedy and Doestoevsky over a period of several years in university, and I think that greatly influenced me in terms of understanding the psychology of the human condition. I’ve been really influenced by some Canadian authors as well: Michael Ondaatje and Leonard Cohen. Both have an ability to find beauty in the cadence of language. Cohen’s The Favourite Game specifically had a big impact on me when I was younger. I also really like commercial jingles—I think it takes a special kind of creator to get four or five words to stick in your head forever.
What kind of writer do you aspire to be?
I think that’s for others to decide. I just try to work hard and keep learning how to be a better writer. As long as you maintain a strong self-belief in your work and continue to persevere in your craft, I think you’ll become the writer you aspire to be.
How and when do you find time to write?
It really depends. When I was freelancing for magazines, it was much easier to schedule time to write, but it’s easier to distract yourself when you work from home. The funny thing is, when you’re holding down a full-time job, writing or otherwise, the itch to fit in your own work actually works as a motivating factor due to time constraints, acting as a deadline of sorts. I’m a morning writer, so on the weekends, I like to start Saturdays off working from home, then head to my local coffee shop. I don’t like listening to music while writing, and much prefer the cacophony of voices in the café—you never know when inspiration will strike. If I’m still writing by the evening, a drink at a quiet bar usually helps things along.
She jerked up with a sharp pain in her neck, light hair matted to her sweat soaked face. Flashes of crunching metal and air bags popping to life haunt her even after she’s awoken. She touched the rear of her scalp, feeling the soft tuft of hair growing over her long white scar before calling out to Annie.
“Why am I on the floor? ” A round, freckled face came into view as Annie leaned over the edge of the bed above her and peered down. “I kicked you off. You were moaning about being saved again. Stop thinking about what happened.”
They’d had this conversation every morning since Annie came to stay. Annie liked to be in control, and hated when Rebecca got the chance to slip into her subconscious and think freely. Routine was very important to Annie. She knew what she wanted, and Rebecca had come to accept this. She didn’t like to make Annie mad, because she knew just what to say to hurt her.
“Stop crying, you look like a hideous child. Now get up, we have school.”
Rebecca felt extremely uncomfortable around people, as Annie had made her believe they all thought negatively toward her. They know what you did; they blame you. All you have is me, Rebecca. Her high school was a deep brown brick with barred windows. A tall, wide building with pine trees surrounding the property and casting a constant darkness. It poured rain as they ran up to the school. Annie breathed to her, “You don’t look so good today . . . Better keep your head down, you know how people talk.” Rebecca immediately shifted her gaze to the wet and muddy tiled floor.
“Rebecca!” A loud, familiar voice called her name from down the hallway. She pivoted away from the sound and quickened her pace toward her first period homeroom.
“Don’t talk to her,” Annie commanded viciously near her ear. Annie didn’t like other people talking to her.
“Rebecca,” a strong grasp connected with her forearm just before she reached the room. She immediately stared at the floor, her face heating up. It was Sam, her best friend before Annie came. She sounded annoyed.
“I was shouting your name all the way down the hall, didn’t you hear me? We need to work on the science project. You didn’t forget, did you? ” She hadn’t forgotten, the project was completed and already fitted into its box in her garage. Annie had helped her; she didn’t want Rebecca having a partner. Sam was not impressed with the response she received.
“No. We have to do the work together. It’s partner work? ” Rebecca continued to stare at the moist floor until the school bell rang, forcing Sam to leave for her own class.
“That was close, I don’t like that girl. The only reason she even talks to you is because she feels bad that he died. That’s the only reason anyone talks to you: they want to know how you killed your brother.” Rebecca sucked in her breath as her heart stopped at the mention of her brother.
The day was long. Rebecca was used to Annie’s harsh words and constant put-downs, but lately it was wearing on her. She knew Annie was irritated about dreams about the crash, but it wasn’t her fault. Thoughts of her brother clouded her concentration throughout math, and she knew Annie could tell. She could feel Annie’s eyes on her the entire class, could even hear her sharp words in her mind. You killed him. It’s your fault, everyone knows it. You feel guilty, don’t you? You should. He isn’t here anymore because of you. Rebecca had come to believe this was true; she had been driving that night, but the roads were dark and slick from a heavy rainfall. All it took was a quick glance to the backseat to check on her brother to lose control. He had died on impact, at the hands of his older sister. She lowered her head to her desk as her eyes filled at the thought.
“Stop your little pity party, Rebecca, no one cares.” Apparently she had not been cautious enough; Annie was glaring from the next desk over. Suddenly something flew past Annie and landed in Rebecca’s lap. A crumpled piece of gray paper read:
We need to talk about the science project . . . Please stop avoiding me, I just want to help.—Sam
Rebecca looked over her shoulder and caught Sam’s eye. Her face flushing red, she quickly turned around before anything could be said aloud. Still, Annie knew something was going on.
“Sam wants to talk to you, doesn’t she,” Annie hissed as they walked home from school. The sky was still dark from the morning’s rain, the trees dripping tiny drops onto the damp pavement. Pink and gray worms covered the cement every few steps, mostly dead. Rebecca didn’t answer; she didn’t want to make Annie mad. Instead she focused on the sidewalk: she knew the exact amount of steps it took to get home from school. Ever since the accident, she didn’t trust herself to drive so she walked everywhere she could. It took ten minutes to walk home, two hundred small steps, three crosswalks and four fire hydrants. She walked at a slow pace to ensure her mother would be there when she arrived at home. She didn’t like being home alone with Annie. One hundred twenty-five, one hundred twenty-six, one hundred twenty-seven— “Stop that. People are going to think you’re crazy Rebecca.”
They stepped up the stairs to her porch with keys in hand just as Rebecca realized that her mother’s car wasn’t in the driveway. She froze with the realization that she would be home alone with Annie.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Open the door.”
Rebecca held her breath as she shoved her key into the door and pushed it open. A mixture of silence from her empty house and blood pounding filled her ears. Shakily she kicked off her shoes at the front door, and began her usual motions of clicking on every light in the house. As usual, Annie followed her throughout her process: there were eight lights to be turned on before Rebecca could stop. Just as she reached for the last lamp, her doorbell chimed loudly from the lower level. Her heart froze. Annie didn’t like visitors. She got up with her knees quivering like a baby, and stepped down the staircase to answer the door.
“Rebecca,” Sam’s voice was quiet and she looked uncomfortable. “I’m sorry to come to your house like this but we need to talk. This project has to get done.” Rebecca shook her head slowly back and forth. Suddenly Annie was behind her, so close to her ear that she could almost feel her hot breath moving her hair.
“Rebecca, get rid of her now . . . Now!” Annie’s anger vibrated through her, it was unlike anything she had ever felt before.
Suddenly it was as though she was trapped in a dark tunnel, with rage and memories controlling her every thought. She sank to her knees as if Annie were forcing her down. In the back of her mind, she could hear Sam calling out her name and trying to help her, but she couldn’t escape the tunnel. All she could see was Annie. They were in the car, the roads slippery and soaked with rain. She glanced into the backseat to see her brother smiling happily and playing with his stuffed turtle. Something was different about her memory though, Annie was there. Headlights flashed as she spun around and swerved the steering wheel, but it was too late.
“Can you hear me Rebecca? Rebecca! I’m calling for help if you don’t answer me,” Sam choked, her voice cracking as she tried to force back her tears.
“Where’s Annie? I don’t see her, I need her here with me,” Rebecca whispered frantically, opening her eyes. Her heart sped up as she jumped to her feet and scrambled around the house in search of Annie. She was nowhere to be found.
“Rebecca, there’s no one else here besides you and me. Who is Annie? ”
Rebecca ignored Sam’s worthless questions and started screaming Annie’s name. She couldn’t understand why she had left her; they were all each other had. Finally she couldn’t take Sam’s voice anymore.
“Shut up and help me find her! She was right here, you know who she is.”
Sam shifted in the doorway, obviously terrified. Rebecca thought desperately back to all of the times Sam had seen her, but slowly came to the realization that Annie had never actually talked to anyone. Sam slowly backed away from her, shaking her head.
“She isn’t real, is she? You made her up . . . she’s all in your head.” Rebecca spun around to face Sam.
“What did you just say to me—”
She didn’t get a chance to finish her sentence, as Annie’s voice had suddenly erupted into her mind, taking over her thoughts. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about Rebecca, I am here. I will always be here, and you will never be rid of me. We’re a part of each other.