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My mother learned to read when she was three, and when she went to school, the other children ostracized her because she outshone them. So, not wanting to consign me to a similar fate, she chose not to teach me to read until I was in Grade One and had already been introduced to my primer, then populated with Dick, Jane, Sally, Puff and Spot.

Perhaps my mother’s caution gave rise to my titanic thirst for language. I’d try my father’s Popular Mechanics magazines if I’d already raced through the library books my mother had brought home for that week – for me and my eight siblings.


Inspired by Anne in Anne of Green Gables, I wrote stories throughout grade school, sometimes about a boy and his horse. My brothers’ library reading included Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion, which must have made an impression on me.


I thought I wanted to become a journalist, but my love of literature swept me into English lit courses at Western University in London, Ontario. It’s John Milton’s fault that I stayed on to do a Master’s degree, so seductive was the blank verse and the architecture in his Paradise Lost.

“Within its silence, exile, and cunning, poetry holds both the hiding and the seeking, for both are the point.”
—Jane Hirshfield, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry)

Then on to a postsecondary teaching career, which gave me a place to share my passion for words and ideas; by the time I finished in the classroom, I’m sure I taught enough students to fill a stadium, and what they taught me would fill more than a dozen.

When I had time (which wasn’t often), I wrote stories and poems, and completed a doctorate in Modern Literature. My most vivid mentor was Virginia Woolf, who argues – and demonstrates in her books – that all writers are inheritors as well as originators, and often find the spark of meaning in dialogue with each other.


Now I write in Victoria, a city full (on an island full) of authors – devoted, gifted and generous people. Together we navigate the obstacles and celebrate the joys of creating. Sometimes, we doubt, it’s true, but more often than not, we are astonished by the magnanimity of the imagination.


I have written fiction, explored its myriad folds and fullness; now I write poetry, strive for the distilled, the diamond-cut. In February 2023, my poetry collection Tilling the Darkness will be published by Caitlin Press. In the meantime, you’ll find my poetry in Best Canadian Poetry 2023 (available November 2022), and in literary magazines like Prairie Fire, Arc Poetry Magazine, The New Quarterly, Contemporary Verse 2, and Room. And ideas for new poems keep presenting themselves, often on the threshold of sleep or waking. Stay tuned!

Photo Hélène Cyr

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