I’ve been thinking about architecture lately.  Maybe it’s because I read my poem, “Ex-house” recently at the launch of The Banister (Niagara Poetry Anthology). It’s a poem that uses architectural metaphors to explore the breakdown of a relationship.  For instance, the poem’s first line begins with “I am exploring architecture”. This line sets the tone and image for what follows so that lines like: “I am carving to see daylight” take on symbolic meaning within the context of the poem’s dominant image and theme.

abstract architecture background brick
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on

But I’m thinking of (or exploring) architecture differently here — not in the ways we tear down existing structures, and wander painfully through the ruins of past relationships or events — but in the ways that we structure our lives, especially our writing lives.

As writers, we are constantly building fictional worlds, or attempting to assemble in meaningful ways the truths of our actual, lived worlds. As builders of these imagined or actual worlds, how do we assemble our structures? What kinds of practices do we use to scaffold the work so that our poems, stories, novels don’t fall apart? What are the elements that keep our selves and our work glued together so that the frame doesn’t lean, the bricks adhere to the mortar, and eventually, our building will stand independently?

We each have our own way of dealing with these kinds of questions, and this includes the way we structure our writing time. How do we organize our lives so that writing becomes a routine, daily practice? Are we 5am writers? Or part of the late-night writing club? And what effect do these writing practices, these writing scaffolds have on our lives, our personal relationships, our families?

I’ve been asking myself these questions as I’ve been struggling to juggle work, family, a new relationship, running a poetry organization, oh, and maintaining my own writing practice and focus. And at least for me, the answer so far has been architecture. If I build a reliable, functional, and well-organized structure with excellent foundations, then I know the other parts of my building will stand. And part of this building relies on the various communities of writers I am so privileged to be a part of, and that have been such a support.

So, although my poem has been published, I guess I’m still exploring architecture, albeit in new ways. What metaphors will you explore in your work and writing practice?



Writers and lovers

Summer is a good time to think about love. Who doesn’t love sunshine, long days, and warm nights spent strolling through city streets, or sitting out on a balcony or deck, just enjoying the weather? And summer is the perfect time to discover a new romance, even if that romance is with a really good book you’ve been itching to read.

I’ve been thinking about love as I’ve been re-reading Natalie Goldberg’s seminal book, Writing Down the Bones. In the section entitled, “Writing is a Communal Act”, Goldberg asserts “Writers are great lovers”. Of course, this sentence is intentionally deceptive. Goldberg claims that writers are lovers because we “fall in love with other writers”. And that is true. Writers are readers, and as readers, we fall in love with the books we read. And, as Goldberg makes clear, falling in love with a particular book is important because it teaches us about the art of writing itself.

So I began to wonder: whose work am I in love with? I compiled a list of poets that I adore: Pablo Neruda, Leonard Cohen, Marge Piercy, Alden Nowlan, and Raymond Souster, to name a few. I love the energy and grit of the words, textures, and subjects of Neruda and Piercy’s poetry. I love that both poets are not afraid to deal with messy subjects in their writing. I love the images and control in the work of Souster, the wild imagination of Nowlan, and the uncluttered yet powerful rhymes of Cohen.

Reading the work of these poets is like having a conversation with a good friend, a mentor, or with someone who has piqued a new desire in you that you are only just waking up to. As Goldberg states, “writing is not just writing. It is also having a relationship with other writers”. And, as I discovered not too long ago, our relationships with the writers we adore can be long and enduring.

For instance, I first fell in love with Raymond Souster’s poetry in high school. About two years ago, I began writing a poem about aging. I realized I had Souster’s words in the back of my mind, so I went and dug out his work.  Sure enough, there was Souster’s six-line poem, “The Six-Quart Basket”, that had been occupying space in my subconscious:

The six-quart basket

one side gone

half the handle torn off


sits in the centre of the lawn

and slowly fills up

with the white fruits of the snow.

(reprinted in: 15 Canadian Poets x2, ed. Gary Geddes, 1990)


Somehow, after a span of at least twenty-five years, these words stayed with me. The simplicity of the language, combined with the potency of the image had endured. Using Souster’s poem as a starting point, I reworked my own poem into one that referred back to the original. My poem, “Drift, after Souster’s ‘The Six-Quart Basket’“, ended up being published in The Banister. (You can read the poem here:

So what does this have to do with love? It proves Goldberg’s point: writers really are great lovers. What I learned from Souster’s poem was to pay attention to detail, to the importance of the image, and to allow the words to draw a portrait in straight-forward, simple language. And clearly, that is something that I love.

As I take along my bag of books to my favourite summer reading spot and explore the work of contemporary Canadian poets such as Canisia Lubrin and Billy-Ray Belcourt, I look forward to falling in love with the work of these current poets, and learning from them. As you go through your own summer reading list, I challenge you to ask yourself: who will you fall in love with this summer? And what will you learn from your romance?

June, on balance

I decided that after an unexpected two-month hiatus from blogging (yes, life!), it’d be worth spending some time meditating on what it means to find balance. How do we, as writers, find time to write when juggling full-time jobs, parenting and family obligations, volunteer work in our communities, and a plethora of other demands on our time that may invade our lives and prevent us from setting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard?

In her book, The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life, Julia Cameron talks about “The Time Lie”. She writes that “One of the biggest myths around writing is that in order to do it we must have great swathes of uninterrupted time”. Like Cameron, most of us probably don’t have those great tracts of time available to us. We have to write while trying to make the best of what she calls “a patchwork quilt” of time that is available to us.

For me, part of that patchwork requires discipline, and a belief in the power of writing first thing in the morning. Those of us who prefer this kind of approach may already be part of the #5amwritersclub, which allows us to commiserate on our steely determination (or craziness) as we haul ourselves out of bed to write.

I think a related part of that patchwork is commitment. According to Louise DeSalvo in her book, The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity, writers should have “no excuses”. DeSalvo points to two memoirs she keeps on her shelf: one written by an author in prison (with barely any paper on which to write at all), and the other written secretly by a marine during WWII (even though this was not permitted). DeSalvo uses these memoirs as examples of people writing in extremely difficult circumstances, who were so committed to what they were witnessing and experiencing, that they forced themselves to write, no matter what. As a result, DeSalvo allows herself no excuse when it comes to the work of committing to her own writing, and she urges her readers to do the same.

But what happens when all the discipline you’ve built for yourself goes out the window? What happens when life intervenes so much that somehow both your discipline and your commitment are disrupted?

You start again.

And that is exactly where I find myself now at the start of June. Starting again. So here I am , re-committing to my discipline, to my writing practice, and to blogging. And while life has thrown me a few curve balls the past couple of months, I nevertheless managed to edit a poetry anthology, and am pleased to announce the publication of Written Tenfold (published by the Poetry Friendly Press), which I compiled and edited on behalf of the Brooklin Poetry Society.

So, as I continue to meditate on the art of finding time to write through the beautiful month of June, I don’t pretend to have a slick and easy answer, or a downloadable guide on how to adequately squeeze in all of our commitments and still find time to write. And maybe that’s ok. Maybe there is no one perfect answer for everyone. Maybe we each have to carve out our own paths in order to find balance. How will you carve out yours?


Birds, barbecues, and beginning again…

The birds are at it again. March has barely begun, and the birds (I think they are European starlings) seem to have returned early. And they’ve decided for the third or fourth year in a row that they are going to build a nest in my barbecue.

I’ve looked up this phenomenon online. I am not the only homeowner to experience the birds-building-nest-in-barbecue, and that is a relief, to some small degree. From my online reading, I’ve learned that of course, it makes sense to want to build a nest in a warm and sheltered environment that, especially when said barbecue has only recently been vacated by humans who have grilled something there making it extra toasty and a great place to start a family.

But, equally of course, the whole thing annoys me. I’m terrified of opening the barbecue lid while the birds are busy at work building (has anyone seen Alfred Hitchcock?). So I’m always tentative when I have to clean it out. I’m also disgusted by the thought of whatever bacteria the birds may have left behind on the grill – they don’t seem to differentiate their pooping grounds from their nesting ones. And lastly, I’m reminded by my ten year old child that birds need a place to build a nest, so I am very conscious (and guilty) of the fact that I am somehow interfering in nature’s larger plans.

Yet it is my barbecue, to which I remind my child that if she prefers her hamburgers grilled rather than soggily fried in a pan, I have to address the bird problem. And so I do. And it is at that moment, when I gingerly lift the barbecue lid, that I am amazed by the birds and their ingenuity and tenacity. There are sticks in there, bits of mud, leaves. I can clean out the barbecue, scrub the whole thing down, put it back together, close the lid and call it a day. And then I will find the next day, the birds have simply gone back and done the same thing all over again. Once, they had even rebuilt their nest overnight so that it was larger than the day before.

So what do birds and barbecues have to do with writing? Persistence. In the field of writing, as with so many artistic endeavours, it’s easy to get knocked down by a rejection letter (or several). Our ability to give up on a project because it isn’t working, because we don’t feel “in the right headspace”, or motivated enough to continue can readily take us off our intended course, and lead us to incomplete works, or worse, the loss of the desire to write at all. I think all artistic people go through such phases. Perhaps at times we need to allow ourselves fallow time, to reconnect with ourselves, our inspiration. But at some point, we have to be like the birds. We have to be tenacious. We have to decide for ourselves that, yes, we will not give up.

When I think about those birds in my barbecue, I’m pretty sure they’re not asking themselves if their nest is good enough. They’re not concerned if the nest is the best nest they’ve ever built. They’re just concerned that they get into that protected space and that they build the foundations for their progeny. And when they face adversity from their human foe (in this case, namely me), they don’t give up, and just build and rebuild again. Until, of course, I leave the lid open and make the barbecue a less desirable space for hosting bird nests. But then they just go build somewhere else.

My thoughts for this March blog and the hopeful approach of spring are to be persistent, to rely on one’s own tenacity. These are the skills that allow writing to proceed and to achieve success. And, like the birds, who somehow manage to return from their winter vacation down south with a flight path that leads them directly to my barbecue, it’s persistence and tenacity that will lead a writer’s work to its rightful home. So where will you build your nest?

February asks: why write poetry?

I was asked recently to speak about poetry to a class of students in an elementary school. As a “real”, living and breathing poet, the teacher asked if I could talk to the students about what poetry is like “out there” in the “real world”, and, more especially, to explain why people write poetry. The experience had me thinking about what it means to write poetry. Why do people write it? Why do I write it?

I’m not sure I could ever truly answer the question as to why people write poetry. There may be many reasons for many people. I can only speak for myself then, and my response to these questions links to what is fundamental about humanity. Human beings are creative beings. We are here to express ourselves, in whatever form appeals to us. For some of us, that might be creating the most beautiful and delicious cake. For others, it might be creating a community organization that helps alleviate or address some kind of social problem. Of course, Elizabeth Gilbert discusses this idea in her book, Big Magic, where she talks about each of us finding our own creative outlet, and nurturing that, regardless of whether or not we become professional cake decorators, singers, or writers. I agree that we each have our talents, and that we should nurture them. But from a deeper, more philosophical perspective, what does it mean that we all need to create? And, more to the point, why have I chosen poetry as my form of expression, and self-expression?

Writing poetry is an art. It enables the expression of ideas, emotions, thoughts, and questions. It challenges us. It asks us to stop for a few minutes, and to see the world through another’s eyes, to see things from a different perspective. It is an art form that requires precision. Regardless of the form of poetry, there is little room for error or inattention to detail. That’s because it is so exposed. The words in a poem must fit together, must flow in a way that makes sense, or in a way that opens us up to new emotions, new ideas.

I write poetry because I have to. Poetry is the means through which I express my creativity. It allows me to speak about the world around me, and to shape those thoughts into a wondrous art form that depends on language, my muse. Poetry is also musical, and captures rhythms in the printed or spoken word. And music is also fundamental to human nature. Whether we like rock, hip hop, classical, jazz or blues, we all share in the connection that music provides for us.

So, why write poetry? To engage with life, with art, with humanity. What better reasons could there be?

And so begins 2018…

I’m excited to say that 2018 has begun with the publication of three of my poems! (You’ll find them listed on the publications page.) Thanks to Anne Burke of The Prairie Journal,  and Bunny Iskov of Verse Afire, )

This looks to be a promising year as I complete the editing of Written Tenfold, an anthology of verse by poets from the Brooklin Poetry Society, I`m also busy working on revisions to a novel manuscript, as well as keeping up with my poetry practice. So 2018 has its work cut out for me!

And so, with the best of all New Year’s resolutions, I’m resolving as well to write a monthly blog post.

So here’s to 2018, to new ideas, and new literary adventures!



Acclaim for Renée’s poetry:

Review of “To a poet in old Havana”: “riveting poetic journey … where ‘a cigarette dangles blue words'”, Debbie Okun Hill, Past President, The Ontario Poetry Society

Honourable Mention: “Drift, After Souster’s ‘The Six Quart Basket”, The Banister: Niagara Poetry Anthology, Vol. 31, Niagara Falls, ON: Canadian Authors Association, 2016       Contest judge: Keith Garebian

Honourable Mention: “Pulsing”, Open Heart 10: An Anthology of Canadian Poetry, Compiled by Gail Peck, Toronto: Beret Days Press, 2015.