The PK Featured Poet - Barbara Phillips  
"Writing is like panning for gold; a lot of material is required to yield modest treasure." - Barbara Phillips

The Featured Poet is a list member who is selected because of the quality of their work.   In the Featured Poet mail there will be a short biography and a look at the way in which the poet works and what drives them.  They will also select some poems which they feel represents their work or how they view it.   
Our second Featured Poet is Barbara Phillips who well known to the members of the PK List for her insightful and informed comments and her fine poetry.   As this months Featured Poet she is asked to explore some of her own influences and share her
views on writing as well as presenting a short selection of her work.   The mail will be posted to the list and also placed in an archive on the PK website.   

Barbara Phillips
I have lived in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, for most of my life. However I did feel the need to participate in the 'Northern' experience, and lived in Northern Ontario for about three and a half years. There has been a lingering belief in Canada that a writer cannot write until that writer has been baptised by the frozen North. The experience was enlightening in that I discovered the importance of having a working furnace and a reliable block heater. I also learned that a cookbook can be very entertaining; I made almost every dish in my copy of Joy Of Cooking.
When I returned to Toronto, I could not sleep for a whole month; the noise of the city was deafening. The discovery of this tumult in an urban environment amazed me as I had lived in a heavily populated area all my life, and believed myself to be an urban creature. However it seemed at that point I had undergone a change of some sort, a fact which both disconcerted and fascinated me. Since then, I have appreciated opportunities for retreat and silence, as well as those for mingling and merriment. All this has been most useful to me in my writing.
I have been employed in various ways in the past, from being a store cashier to museum curator to librarian to statistician. I have also enjoyed amateur activities such as photography, water colour painting, and gourmet cooking. The latter has devolved into what can only be described as creative pot luck problem solving
How/when did you start writing? Was there anything that particularly influenced you?
In retrospect, I am convinced that I began writing when I began learning to read.
The world of words and letters was a world of charms. Invariably, I would trail off at the end of a story or a poem or whatever I was reading, and would concoct in my mind possible scenarios in which the story would live on. This approach was especially useful when I had difficulty deciphering words, and would gloss over them. In my daydreams, I would fill in whatever blanks I imagined I had missed. I was also influenced by all the books and magazines which cluttered up our home. My father was always reading something, so I suppose I wanted to find out why print was more interesting than I was. Eventually, I discovered all the great writers who have endured. I was very intrigued by Shakespeare and poets such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and TS Eliot. Eliot became a particular favourite of mine, and I found myself having to distance myself from his work in order to avoid living his vision. Inevitably, Canadian poets became very interesting to me as I found myself watching how they were interpreting the 'Canadian' experience; this was during a period in which navel gazing was a national obsession. Happily, this phase in Canadian literature appears to have passed and been forgotten. During my explorations of Canadian  literature, I read with relish poetry by Gwendolyn MacEwan, Miriam Waddington, PK Paige Dorothy Livesay, Margaret Attwood, Leonard Cohen, Irving Layton, Raymond Souster, Tim Inkster, Joe Rosenblatt, and RG Everson. I cannot truly say how I was influenced by the writers I have listed, but I can say that I was mesmerised by their virtuosity, and revelled in the imaginative landscapes they created.
Do you have any strong influences on your writing now?
Generally, I would have to say that I am likely a product of everything and everyone I have read. Like a sort of Alice, I have fallen through a looking glass held by writers who have shared their vision, and have emerged into a landscape that I hope is still my own. I used to be baffled by this fact as I had presupposed when I was an adolescent that a total immersion in literature would effect a transformation. I was compelled to resign myself to being who I was and who I had become. Later I found my lack of conversion to be an immense relief since it occurred to me that it would be most onerous to live up to codes and styles which were not mine. Subsequently, I indulged in scribbled explorations with abandon. The experience was very liberating until I discovered that I had become my own worst critic.
When I took notice of how writers were constrained by political agendas, I realised that a writing career can be as hazardous as a military career. As well, the responsibility attached to being a writer, or a scribe appeared to be an overwhelming burden. The political agenda or the lack of one can expose a writer's true character. Inevitably this apparent fact led me to believe that a writer really has no where to hide. Consequently, the act of writing itself is an act of courage in the sense that once the words are inscribed on the page, they are practically written in stone. Readers of the written word tend to attach a writer to what that writer has written, making it very difficult for the writer to retract what has been said, or to disassociate herself/himself from the persona in the works.
In the audience's mind, you are what you write. Of course this may not always be the case but it may often be the case when one most wishes it were not so.
The poetry of Dorothy Livesay also remains a subliminal model for me as I find the lyrical quality of her work makes her unforgettable. The poem Green Rain, which has been widely used in anthologies, is truly wonderful in its vivid yet simple imagery and quiet force. Green Rain is timeless because of these qualities, and because it touches upon universal experience. It is memorable in the same way that Thomas Gray's Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard is: Full many a flower is born to blush unseen/And waste its sweetness on the desert air" are lines which engrave themselves in the memory of readers because of the terribly truthful sentiment they express.
This is not to say that poetry should not be forceful or rambunctious. The works of Walt Whitman and Irving Layton stand as examples of a shouting out of poetry which is wonderful in its own lusty way. Such poetry has also taught me that the subject of the poem most often demands the approach in which the subject chooses to be heard. There is really no right way or wrong way to write a poem; however, there is an effective way and an inappropriate way. When the poem does not speak to me after it is written, then I know that it must go into my rewrites file.
The influence which continues to haunt me has been the influence of literary criticisms which I have read relating to writers whose works were of interest to me. When I was a teenager I took it upon myself to read all the books of literary criticism available at my local library. It was then I learned about how writing was assessed, and was in fact appalled to some extent that work which appeared flawless to me, was deemed by others to be imperfect. The whole notion of a need for a balance between inspiration and creation began to suggest itself to me. The realisation that scribbling required discipline took a lot of the fun out of it. Since then, I have been trying to put some fun into the discipline, which of course is too much of an oxymoron to be realistic. Sometimes I remember the work of Ovid which encourages me as I think I am very fortunate not to have to write in Latin, a language which is a rigorous task master.
How do you write? Do you have any particular method for writing - time of day?
There are several preliminary stages which I usually go through before I actually do any writing. The best preparation for writing is scouting for inspiration. This may be nearly impossible some days or most days. On such days I put writing out of my mind, and try to get on with whatever interests me or whatever needs to get done. Inevitably, something grabs my attention. When I begin to get nagging feelings about an incident or a scene etc., I try to figure out what it is exactly about the incident or scene which nags at me. It may be days before I determine what lies at its heart. I give myself as much time to think about it as necessary. If I find that I can make something out of it I draft a poem. Then I let it lie for a day or more and go back to it to look at it again and to make revisions. I do this as many times as I need to until the piece seems to become authentic in the sense that it has credible content, reads reasonably well, and has a conclusion. If the poem sounds awkward or incomplete, I file it until I feel I can deal with it.
I prefer writing in the mornings, but most often I write at night. I find it is easier to work when most of the world around me is asleep. There is nothing else that must claim my attention, and there are no distractions of any kind, other than the racoons knocking over garbage cans.
I write drafts in ink on paper. I find that this method makes the experience more immediate and free of virtual moments. Also, it is possible to scratch things out without losing them to a cyber vacuum. If I change my mind, I can still see what I want to go back to.
Inevitably when I am working on a poem, I ask myself if I am making it 'new,' it being the experience which I am trying to present within the poem. I also think about Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams, and wonder if the images I am using are nearly as vivid and as dense as those used by Pound and Williams. If what I have done in no way compares to such images, I know that the piece in progress needs to be reworked or abandoned. In no way am I presuming to suggest that my work approaches the impact of the work of the poets I am referring to. But I do use their work as a basis for comparison in order to maintain some sort of perspective.
Why do you write poetry?
I write poetry because I have always been drawn to it. The first poem I ever wrote was inspired by one in a school reader. I was enchanted by the rhythms and the images which immediately captivated my imagination. I find in poetry a means of expression which is not possible in prose in the sense that poetry allows portraiture on a grand scale and with an irresistible intensity. Poetry for me is like photography to the extent that a poem captures a moment discovered by the imagination. The poem becomes the photograph which may be interpreted to the degree that one takes the trouble to interpret it, but does not lose its integrity or its true nature. The poem holds everything the poet puts into it, but it is up to the reader to recognise the value of what is there. Like a photograph, the poem invites participation but does not necessarily impose it. But as in a photograph, the composition of the poem lies ready to lead the reader into an imaginative exploration, in which nuances lie in the shadows and truths are disguised in the light.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
A writer must be true to herself/himself by writing about what s/he believes s/he sees which must be written about. The opinions of others can be valuable, but sometimes it is necessary to stand firm. The process of writing is a very personal one; it cannot be mass produced or fit into a formula. There are methods which may be followed but methods do not take into account individual sensibilities. It may be necessary to stumble through a lot of scribbling to uncover something worthwhile, and perhaps even glorious. Writing is like panning for gold; a lot of material is required to yield a modest treasure.
It is however very beneficial to be able to gather reactions from others about works in progress. An objective view is most useful when one becomes entangled in the writing of a poem; sometimes the poem becomes a fish net in which the writer becomes hopelessly trapped; I am leaning towards seeing the story of Jonah and the whale as a metaphor for the creative process, or the process of self-discovery. Either way, a piece of writing cannot be completed until the writer gains a clear view of what is happening in her/his head in relation to the subject of the work in question. There is nothing like an unbiased view to clear the tangles.
Reading the work of others is also essential in order to stay attuned to what is happening in the world. It is a wonderful privilege to witness the creativity others are willing to share. The exchange of writing among writers and readers creates a sea of harmonious endeavours which wash up on the beaches of our minds to murmur melodies, like conch shells hugging echoes of voyages through wondrous depths.

The Poems
The face of the child in the news photo begged for a poem to be written. When I think of war, I think of how horrible it is to kill innocence.
Child of Kosovo
--a news wire photo------
Child of Kosovo stares out the window.
He wipes away steam on the glass,
vapour of agony that collapses
inward into breathless pall.
Fair curls frame his face,
draw attention to his large dark eyes.
He surveys the landscape lurching
like a lunatic to the swaying
of decrepit wheels beneath the bus.
Child of Kosovo stares out the window,
cherub on glass between mute heavens and thundering earth,
waiting for a guardian angel,
lost in a maze of maps,
with boundaries bleeding into lives not lived
long enough, or lived too long, for scanning
fields wrung inside out,
gleaming alien underbelly writhing
to death's taunting tunes,
a punch and judy show macabre,
played for the child of Kosovo
who waits for intercession of new dawns
spreading angels breathing
life into death,
death into life.
Relationships develop when someone can penetrate an individual’s disguise, a disguise which has existed for so long that the individual has forgotten s/he is wearing one.
Nerve Sensitive
you go where no one can
you enter the gray
matter of my being
you render me
nerve sensitive
you banish the mystery
decipher the code
confound the invasion
trespass into the very
nucleus of me
with your words
you expose someone
even I did not know
living within that now
nerve sensitive me
What happens in the skies always fascinates me. The night sky is a recurring reminder of the origins
of mythology.
Falling Stars
the stars are falling through the night
in soaring sweeps they ignite
silent light shows safe from scalpers
messengers from ancient eras
sent by ancestors to faceless earthlings
they rip through sedate constellations
reject maps fond to astronomers
hugging telescopes with hearts anonymous
broken arrows stitching skies to wombs
in rhythms smoothing away loss
they smash through a universe by envy tossed
A few years ago, a large area just north of Marten River in Ontario was the centre of much conlict. I found it inconceivable that the provincial government had given permission for the magnificent trees in this very old growth area to be clear cut for logging. Protesters were jailed for lying in the path of machinery and trucks in an effort to block access. All I could think of was how those trees had cast a spell on me the first time I saw them.
Marten River
off Highway 11 North Marten River
slides around boulders
grey-dark mounds that anchor pines
bungee stretching into skies as
their green-black gargantuan arms
brush blue space murals
the trees ever green steadfastly
vigilant sentinels watch
traffic track fumes over
oil-slicked asphalt that suffocates waters
sprung from prehistoric glaciers
poured into granite basins
when the land was startled by newness
trembled to its own breathing
barely able to believe it was alive
keepers of memories the massive pines
guard the river and the land as they wait
to be set free into universal harmony
It often occurs to me that people would be better off if they paid more attention to
personal relationships. Or as Voltaire said, 'One must cultivate one's own garden.'
Trojan Musings
We pause to kiss as the umbrella slips.
My arms rest on your shoulders while I reach
to bring you into me.
your lips meet mine, flesh so yielding
yet compelling.
And I understand why the Trojan wars were fought
over that mysterious Helen whose heart
must have wept to be so mortally loved from afar
when flight would have sufficed
under the cover of rain bent skies
on a night as moonless as this
beneath which Helen and her lover could escape
to kiss a kiss in bliss.
An absolutely perfect summer day presented itself as a metaphor for the creative process and for the writing of poetry.
I am the photographer
blinded by the bee
bumbling through dizzying dithyrambs
as I strain to project
a vague celestial object
into orbit astral
in the shadow of a kestrel
whose shrieks pierce the sky at noon
longing for the brilliance of a moon
warmed by sun virile
banishing everything sterile
I strain to catch
images to match
harmony cacophonous
of the bee with wings diaphanous
buzzing in symphonic gladness
numbing me into stinging madness