One Week’s Retreat: On Love, Loss, and Writing

I’d had expectations for my retreat time here at St. Peter’s Abbey, the Benedictine monastery I’ve come to love deeply.  I’d expected to get a lot of writing and revising done, to walk and feed the chickadees every day, and to go to Vigils often.  But things don’t always happen as you’d planned.

I arrived a couple of days early because it usually takes me that long to settle in.  This time was no different so by the time the others arrived on Friday, I was writing.  By noon on Saturday I had three new poems in my Poetry 2015 folder  — yippee! I was well on my way.  And I had hand-fed the chickadees.

Then I received a phone call, well, actually a voice mail, and everything changed.  I suppose one should not check one’s phone or email when on retreat.  But I do.  I did.  And I learned that one of my best friends, the woman who stood up for me — my best woman — at our wedding 25 years ago, had lost her mother.  Yes, her mother was old.  Yes, she had been somewhat ill.  But I’d loved and respected her since I was 16 and now, 30-some years later, it’s a significant loss. She was one of the strong women I’d attached myself to over the years.  I’d crashed in her house, ate her food, read Shakespeare at her husband’s funeral.

I’d been writing some delicate stuff, going into that deep and dark place that’s often hard to face. I was feeling vulnerable — more vulnerable than usual — and to learn about this, well, it hurt.  It brought tears.  And it threw me off my writing game for a while.  I recovered, however, and started into some revisions.  I got into a rhythm and worked through about 50 pages of poetry, admiring some, tweaking some, tossing others and completely rewriting still others.  By Tuesday, I had finished that task and was feeling pretty fine.  I found some Cathedral Village Arts Festival (CVAF) work which proved to be a great transition into the children’s literature manuscript I also wanted to edit.  Another yippee!

And then, Tuesday night, around 11 pm, I learned that a colleague, Michele Sereda, was one of five people who died in an accident on Highway #6, north of Regina.  I’d heard about the accident, worried about Jane Munro and Michael Kenyon who were traveling here for a reading that took place today (Wednesday).  When they arrived safely my worries turned to people from my hometown and the surrounding communities, people I’d grown up with, family, friends.  I’d never expected the deaths to be those of a carful of artists, especially not Michele, with whom I’d been working since June in my role as Chair of the CVAF.  I was up til the early hours of the morning, trying to deal with my own shock and grief and the social media aftermath.

Needless to say, today has been a write-off.  I didn’t go to the dining hall for breakfast, but at lunchtime, as we were chatting and getting to know each other better, I spoke of my work with the CVAF.  That led to the work with Michele which led to the story of the accident and to me rising from the table to run to the bathroom where I wiped my tears and recomposed myself.  The tableful of writers was very forgiving when I returned. They’re typically like that.  I’d forgotten.

After lunch I didn’t have a lick of interest in children’s literature so I put on my CVAF hat and wrote a media release expressing the organization’s shock and sadness at the loss of Michele, a Cathedral Village resident, and the others.

I went to Jane’s and Michael’s reading, which was fantastic.  But when, at the end, Michael rose to say that he’d forgotten to mention that he wanted to dedicate this reading to that carful of artists because it seemed to him that it was a tragic loss, I burst into tears.  It was tragic.  It is tragic.

And I’m angry — not at anyone or anything — just that the time I’ve spent here at the Abbey, at this place where I love to write, has been a time of such loss for me.  Instead of writing poetry and children’s fiction, I’m writing email messages to colleagues, Facebook posts expressing my grief and condolences, media releases on behalf of organizations, and blogposts that try to make sense of it all.

Maybe that’s the point of all this.  There is no sense to be made.  It is what it is and it’s not pretty.  It’s not what I expected.  I assumed things would go a certain way — and if you don’t know what “they say” about the word, “assume,” well, I’m not telling!

This evening was a gift, however.  It was a gift of time with old and new friends gathered together, sharing stories and food, talking writing and life, and laughing.  Laughing is so important.  Both the women I lost this past week had great and contagious laughs.  There’s a lesson in there, too, I’m sure.

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What I’m up to

I haven’t given much time to blogging over the past several months.  Seems I’m more caught up in getting my life back to normal.  The writer-in-residence gig was fantastic!  I’m grateful for the joint initiative of the Saskatchewan Arts Board and SaskCulture Inc. and the funding provided by the Saskatchewan Lotteries Trust Fund for Sport, Culture and Recreation to make it possible.  The residency was an opportunity to do a lot of things I have always wanted to do, including giving back to a rural community and to solicit and edit work for an anthology.  A GIFT OF THE PRAIRIE: Writings from the Southern Shores of Last Mountain Lake gave several writers in the area their first publication credit as well as their first opportunity to give a reading of their work.  How wonderful that would have been when I was growing up in rural Saskatchewan!  And, SaskBooks gave the book a lovely review, too!  If you’d like to purchase a copy, contact them or the Last Mountain Lake Cultural Centre (LMLCC).


Though I worked with other writers during the course of the residency I also had time to do my own writing. My new work continues from this hot place, in a way.  The “love-whisper of the creek” in the last poem of thp refers to my love of Wolverine Creek which is one of several smaller streams that flow into Last Mountain Lake. The LMLCC sits on the southern end of the lake, as does my inlaws’ cottage where we’ve spent a portion of each summer for the past 25 years.  And, as a child, I spent a lot of time on that lake; our farm was just 20 miles east of it.  Suffice it to say that the lake and the Qu’Appelle Valley feature in some of the new poems.


However, I’m nowhere near finished the manuscript!  But I am on retreat at St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, SK to consider the feedback I’ve recently received on the manuscript and to write some new poems.  Im also hoping to get some revisions to a children’s manuscript I’ve been working on with the Regina Public Library’s writer-in-residence, Art Slade, while I’m here.  And yes, retreating here in the cold of February is part of returning to normal.  I think this is my 15th year of doing so, give or take a year.  It’s a gift of the prairie, too. :-)

an image of trees and sky framed by a window

The view out my window at St. Peter’s


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Good times for CVAF!

I’m currently serving as Chair to the Committee that makes the Cathedral Village Arts Festival (CVAF) happen.  Heartfelt thanks to prairie dog magazine readers for making CVAF the Best City Festival and the Chairperson of CVAF2014 very happy!  I am staying on for another year and hope everyone will enjoy what this incredible and hearts-full group of volunteers and staff are planning for from the heART at CVAF2015, May 18 to 24, 2015!


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Vertigo Series @ Crave Oct. 20th!

Originally posted on THE VERTIGO SERIES:

Vertigo Oct 2014 Poster - final

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Launching 3-2-1!


Happy to be celebrating this milestone!

Originally posted on :

On Monday, September 1 at 2 pm in the Lumsden Beach Hall the first in a series of events celebrating the publication of A GIFT OF THE PRAIRIE: Writings from the Southern Shores of Last Mountain Lake will take place.  The book’s launch will feature readings from some of the contributors. Jillian Bell, Annette Bower, Sue Cook, June Mitchell, Robin Smith, Paul Wilson, and Editor, Bernadette Wagner

Wagner, who’s sLaunch postererved as the literary artist-in-residence at the Last Mountain Lake Cultural Centre in Regina Beach, said that creating the book was not only a labour of love but also a celebration of the people and communities the LMLCC serves.  “What better legacy for the inaugural writer-in-residence to leave but a book!  It’s been an honour and privilege to work so closely with so many of the contributors during my term.”

Wagner is pleased with the response thus…

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Busy Summer in the Valley!

I’ve had a lot of time in the Qu’Appelle Valley this summer and it’s been great!  Not only did I stay at our family cottage at Lumsden Beach for all of June and a week in August, I also stayed at a friend’s cottage in Regina Beach for about ten days.  Immediately following that I had ten glorious days at the Sage Hill Writing Experience where I worked with Ken Babstock and five other poets — Dawn, Kathleen, Kevin, Kim and Margaret — to hone my new manuscript of poetry.  I feel great about the work and the new friendships that developed with my classmates and while there.

Now I’m back at the Last Mountain Lake Cultural Centre, commuting at present, for a few hours a week, to market the book project that is a legacy of my term as the inaugural literary artist-in-residence.  On Monday, we received the shipment of A GIFT OF THE PRAIRIE: Writings from the Southern Shores of Last Mountain Lake, which now has its own blog and Facebook page. Please follow us there!

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Back at the LMLCC!

Hi folks! I’m so happy to be back as Writer-in-Residence at Regina Beach! It’s wonderful to be able to stay in my inlaws’ cottage at Lumsden Beach and wander over to the Last Mountain Lake Cultural Centre to work.  This summer marks the end of my stint here and it’s been so much fun! I’ve met so many creative, loving and compassionate people during my time here.  All the years (25+) I’ve been coming to RB from LB to get groceries I had no idea the amazing community I’d been missing!  So, even though I’ll be finished at the end of this summer, I know I’m not finished with this community.

But while I’m here now, I’m working on final edits for the anthology project, setting up readings for the launches and encouraging people to keep on writing.  Today I met with our designer, Amber.  Later this week, I’ll be setting up official launch dates.  And on Monday night, from 7 to 9 pm I’ve invited local writers to gather at the LMLCC for Write On!  I see it as an unstructured time to talk about writing, share writing, and do the writing thing.  We’ll try it for a few weeks and see how it goes.  And, I’m hoping we’ll all be able to take in the Poetry Slam and banquet that local artist, Carol Daniels, is organizing because I told her I’d be one of the judges.

Never a dull moment in this community, I swear!

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