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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.
Happy to be celebrating this milestone!
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 served 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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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!
Part of being a writer-in-residence is sharing what you know about writing with the community in which you are residing. I didn’t realize how much I had picked up over my two decades of learning to write until I led a few sessions when I was here for the mini-residency in March and April. And so, beginning Tuesday, September 3rd, I’ll lead a seven-week series of 2-hour creative writing classes for ages 14+ at the Last Mountain Lake Cultural Centre. I’ll share tips and tricks I’ve learned from various writers over the years.
Here’s what’s in store:
September 3: In the write space provides opportunity for you to:
- explore your artistic energy;
- become familiar with your creative process; and
- develop techniques for entering into writing.
September 10: Stop and smell the roses will focus on
- considering the impact of sensory data in your writing;
- techniques to evoke the senses; and
- making sense work in your work.
September 17: Re-envisioning the words is about taking another look at what you’ve written. We’ll explore:
- ways to see differently;
- the subtle differences among revision, rewriting and editing; and
- peer into another’s words
September 24: The workshop method is a proven way to improve writing. In this session we’ll look at:
- the value of critique;
- common sense rules for workshopping; and
- how to give and receive feedback.
October 1: The poetry is in the details is a phrase that was given to me by a mentor, early on in my learning to write creatively. I’ve found it to be useful for all kinds of writing. In this session we’ll explore:
- what a poem is and is not;
- a variety of poetic forms; and
- the power of condensed and heightened language.
October 8: Spinning yarns: elements of fiction is the session in which we’ll explore writing fiction. We’ll look at:
- what makes a story work;
- the wordcounts in different types of fiction, including flash fiction, short stories, novellas and novels; and
- character, plot, setting and theme.
October 15: The realm of nonfiction is broad. We’ll explore its breadth:
- from journalism to creative nonfiction;
- when a fact is not a fact; and
- the art of memory.
Thanks to the support of the Saskatchewan Arts Board through its Creative Partnerships program, these classes are FREE. Attend one or attend all. No registration required. We ask that you please arrive at 7:00 pm sharp.
If you’d like more information, please leave a comment below or email me: lmlcc.wir (at) gmail.com and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
this hot place is approaching its second birthday. The time has gone so quickly!
I just wanted to let those of you who still look to this site that I have a couple of gigs this week. On Wednesday, I’m slamming new and old poems at Word Up Wednesday in Regina.
And on Thursday I’m hosting the Saskatchewan Writers Guild’s Four New Voices reading. I’m particularly honoured to be invited to do so because I believe so strongly in this programme. I was an apprentice a decade ago and that experience, working with gillian harding russell, launched my career like nothing else ever has. I look forward to seeing the new apprentices share their work.
Details of both events are on this page.