Colophon

This website is operated by Deirdre Kessler in her capacity as Poet Laureate of Prince Edward Island.

Acknowledgements and thanks

Special thanks to David Helwig for initiating this site in January 2008; also to past laureates Hugh MacDonald and Dianne Hicks Morrow for their many contributions.

Unless otherwise stated, all rights to text, audio, or video versions of poems on this site are reserved by the author.

Notes

The site is designed and maintained by Ken Simons using the Textpattern content management system.

The Textpattern editor uses plain text — formatted with the minimalist Textile markup language — rather than highly styled HTML.

As of April 2016, the site has been extensively modernized, offering full smartphone and tablet compatibility and compliance with disability access standards. (see below for more information).

Here are some common user issues and their solutions:

  • Poems will display differently depending on the width of the browser being used. In particular, lines of text will wrap on small devices such as smartphones.
  • We use style rules to create the effect of indents. These are calculated in ems (a variable measure which depends on the font being used). This gives a good result on visual browsers which support stylesheets,
  • All our audio and video is now viewable on platforms which do not use Flash; your browser will detect whether you require the Flash or the non-Flash version. If neither version runs automatically on your device, there is also a download link. File types are mp3 for audio and mp4 for video.

Accessibility

For partially sighted users who use screen reader software, alternate navigation links are given at the beginning of each article. These links are also useful for text-only browsers such as Lynx.

Relative font sizes are used to assist those who use larger font sizes by default. We have attempted to make the site easily navigable for users with motor disabilities, but welcome your comments if any problems are encountered.

Former Poets Laureate

The Prince Edward Island Poet Laureate program was established in 2002. The position has been held by:

Click on any of the names above to be taken to a page with samples of the laureate’s poetry (written and spoken); a summary of events organized during their term as laureate; and the PEI government press release on their appointment, which includes a short biography / CV.

The current PEI Poet Laureate is Deirdre Kessler.

Posted

January 28, 2016
For immediate release

Deirdre Kessler has been named the new Poet Laureate for Prince Edward Island, says Education, Early Learning and Culture Minister Doug Currie.

“From her works of poetry and children’s fiction, to her work teaching creative writing, Ms. Kessler has already made a significant impact on our Island culture,” said Minister Currie. “As Poet Laureate, I know she will help us celebrate poetry in Prince Edward Island.”

The Island’s sixth Poet Laureate is a poet, writer, and teacher. Her collections of poetry are Afternoon Horses, Subtracting by Seventeen, and Rearranging the Sky. Ms. Kessler currently teaches children’s literature and creative writing part-time with the University of Prince Edward Island’s Department of English.

“My first response to being asked to be Poet Laureate was to feel completely daunted. The former Poets Laureate have set the bar high. My second responses were to be honoured and delighted,” said Poet Laureate Deirdre Kessler.

“I would like to focus on promoting a return to the oral tradition of poetry by organizing recitals in schools and in public venues, with poems read aloud in English, French, Mi’kmaq, Gaelic, and other languages of the many lands and cultures reflected in our Island society.”

Ms. Kessler plans to gather the poets laureate retired—John Smith, David Helwig, Hugh MacDonald, and Dianne Morrow—for an afternoon public reading of their poems. She also plans to work with the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada to present poems from around the world read aloud in their original languages, with brief commentaries or translations.

The post of Poet Laureate, which was established in 2002, was created to recognize long-term contributions to the literary arts in the province. The role of the Poet Laureate is to make Islanders aware of the important role that poetry plays in the literary life of the province and to serve as a cultural ambassador.

“I offer my sincere thanks to outgoing Poet Laureate Dianne Hicks Morrow who has been particularly active and has participated in readings and writing activities across the province,” added Minister Currie.

For more information on the Poet Laureate program, visit www.gov.pe.ca/eecd/poetlaureate

About Deirdre Kessler

Deirdre Kessler is a Prince Edward Island-based author of two dozen books for children and adults. She teaches creative writing, children’s literature, and a course on Lucy Maud Montgomery with the Department of English of the University of Prince Edward Island. She is recipient of a UPEI Award for Teaching Excellence.

Ms. Kessler worked with CBC Radio and Television for five years as arts reporter, movie reviewer, and host of CBC Radio’s “The Story Show” for children. Her hour-long documentaries have been aired on CBC Ideas and The Arts Tonight.

Subtracting by Seventeen, a long poem, won the Milton Acorn Poetry Award first prize, and this poem and others were published in a chapbook the Saturday Morning Chapbook series, edited by David Helwig, Hugh Macdonald, and the late Joseph Sherman. Her full-length collection of poetry, Afternoon Horses, was published in 2009. She is currently working on a new poetry manuscript and an adult novel, Darwin’s Hornpipe.

She has conducted hundreds of writing workshops for adults and children and has toured widely giving readings from her books. She is a member of long-standing of The Writers’ Union of Canada, was a founding member and past president of the Prince Edward Island Writers’ Guild, and served for seven years on the Board of Trustees of the Confederation Centre of the Arts. She was recently appointed to the Canadian Commission for UNESCO.

Categories About the Poet Laureate

Past poets laureate: Dianne Hicks Morrow

Dianne Hicks Morrow was appointed Poet Laureate in January 2013, serving until January 2016.

Poetry

The Devil Sends

The truck dumps topsoil on the grass
at the end of our long clay lane,
the place the west wind burns by August.
Barefoot I jump in the loamy earth,
decide to make a rock garden.
My husband wheelbarrows huge
foundation stones to circle the base.
Our sons bring bricks from the torn-down
chimney. One builds steps to the top for fun
facing north, away from the house.
l ask him to make more on the south side
to see from the kitchen window.
Don’t know until too late
l’ve turned play into work.

Granddad gives a wrought iron Sundial for the top
“Gonna be some job to keep the weeds out of this.”
For the first years we call it the Shinto
shrine. Nasturtiums border brick stairs.
Dainty carpathian harebells thrive
a while. Hardy rock garden perennials gray
then die. Even sturdy sedum. The herb
quadrant goes wild. Dill disappears.
God steps in, gives wild strawberries.
Next, buttercups, Queen Anne’s
lace, asters, and goldenrod.
Then the Devil sends the sod
that finally takes over.
Our sons have left home.
Only the forget-me-nots bloom now.

Audio

Events (and photos)

Press release on appointment

Charlottetown, 31 January 2013:

Dianne Hicks Morrow has been named the new Poet Laureate for Prince Edward Island, says Minister of Tourism and Culture Robert Henderson. Ms. Hicks Morrow will succeed Hugh MacDonald who has completed his three-year term in the post.

“Dianne Hicks Morrow will continue the tradition of excellence established by previous Poets Laureate on Prince Edward Island,” said Minister Henderson. “I am particularly impressed with her experiences as an adult educator, and as the former director of both the PEI Literacy Alliance and the Montgomery Institute at UPEI. I see those experiences as an ideal complement to her many successes in writing.”

In making the announcement, Minister Henderson also thanked outgoing Poet Laureate Hugh MacDonald who has been particularly active and has participated in readings and writing activities across the province.

The Island’s fifth Poet Laureate is an award-winning poet who has lived in the province for more than forty years. Her latest book of poetry, “What Really Happened Is This: A Poetry Memoir,” won a 2012 PEI Book Award. Her other books include her first book of poetry, “Long Reach Home” (2002) and the non-fiction “Kindred Spirits: Relationships that Spark the Soul” (2005). Ms. Hicks Morrow has given readings and workshops across Canada, as well as in Tasmania, Australia, where she was writer-in-residence last April. Her mentoring and encouragement of new writers, whether one-to-one, in schools, or through her Seniors College “Writing from Life” Course, has inspired the production of much new poetry on the Island. A past president of the PEI Writers Guild, Ms. Hicks Morrow was presented the Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Literary Arts on Prince Edward Island in 2008.

“In my new role, I plan to build on the excellent work already done by my predecessors,” said Ms. Hicks Morrow. “I believe that a poem can be about anything, and that anyone can write a poem, so I enjoy proving that in workshops and readings. And as a long-time community developer, I look forward to hearing what the Island community wants me to do.”

The post of Poet Laureate, which was established in 2002, is a largely honourary position created to recognize long-term contributions to the literary arts in the province. The role of the Poet Laureate is to make Islanders aware of the important role that poetry plays in the literary life of the province and to serve as a cultural ambassador. Activities of previous Poets Laureate have included public readings and workshops, the development of a poetry website, as well activities such as “random acts of poetry.”

Through This Rain

A chapbook by J. Hugh MacDonald [also available in PDF]

Contents


The Old

Halloween night, Aunt Aletha,
lungs riddled with cancer,
falls off the side of her bed
and cries out in pain.
Eighty-four years old,
recent recipient
of a replacement hip,
she lies, uncomplaining,
while two paramedics
try time and again
to start an intravenous
in her fragile arms.
Emergency service
at the local hospital
is closed temporarily
so she rides thirty rough miles
in the speeding ambulance
and waits among masked
H1N1 patients in the city.
X-rays show no new damage,
other than obvious bruising
around her metal parts,
so they ship her back
to Perrin’s Marina Villa.
In the morning she jokes
with us, despite her pain.
Later, my friend Pete and I
visit her huge old house,
rich in family history.
We pore over dozens
of hand-written journals,
more than a lifetime of days,
pages cracked and yellow,
that speak of weather, and ships,
cargos and destinations long gone,
year upon year of ordinary living
reduced to flowing cursive lines.
We exchange poetry books,
and I open a new single malt.
We toast the smooth and bitter
of our swiftly passing days,
savor the glow, the aftertaste …

Aletha

I see her there on the floor,
light as last summer’s leaves,
arms and legs parchment wrapped twigs,
eyes alert, focused and resigned,
her voice clear, aware and as intelligent
as when I first knew this hard-smoking aunt,
who never wasted a word, or a moment,
on complaints, or idle gossip.
Hers was never an easy life,
but an existence full of good humor,
frank, practical, getting things done.
When her air force husband died
after many years of fighting M.S.,
she told me how much harder life
had suddenly become for her,
and I didn’t understand. All that care,
all that looking after, and worry, and now
she was at long-last free of it all.
But here in her room at Perrin’s,
waiting for the ambulance ride,
I’m seeing my own life in new ways,
and that of this woman, who has raised
her family, tended her invalid husband.
Her care of them was THE act of love,
and when they had gone away,
and she was left all on her own,
her house became an empty cave
full of ghosts, silence, and pictures of ghosts,
emptied even of the memory of echoes.
Her treasure the echo of remembered voices
in her active and impatient mind.

Growing Backwards

This afternoon at 2:00,
I take my Aunt Aletha
to see Doctor Johnston.
Her children live
many miles from here,
in another province,
and Aletha’s car
sits unused outside Perrin’s
Marina Villa,
the senior’s village,
where she lives
in a small room.
Soon after she moved there,
dehydrated, she became confused,
demented, they called it,
and her children worried
about the car keys she carries
in her carefully guarded purse.
They can’t be here
to drive her to the doctor,
who will decide
if she can keep them,
and so I will go,
pretend I don’t know.
I’ve been here before,
years ago with my mother,
and I already mourn
what we both will lose,
this afternoon at Doctor J’s.

Early Morning Phone Call

We’re packing our bags for Saint John.
We’d written a different screenplay than this
a few short weeks ago: another grandchild
laughter and joy, abundant celebration.
Instead, our son called and his love is covered
in warm blankets in the hospital, labor has begun
and it’s premature. He has little hope
and we are going there to console or to grieve.
Zahra, their first, has been anticipating the new
like all first children do with mixed emotions,
and her parents are devastated at this latest news.
They’ve been warned to expect the worst,
and we want to uncover all the love that’s underneath
the present burning in our guts and minds,
and open up our eyes to the joy that awaits.

Saint John’s Wort

We start out in driving rain,
mixed with snow,
gale force winds,
water pooled on pavement,
hydroplaning a concern
to add to our worries.
Son’s wife about to miscarry,
(a long-sought-after second child).
She is in hospital in Saint John,
and we will see to Zahra,
much beloved first grandchild,
and allow Andrew to visit
with Melanie in the hospital.
We arrive safely and greet
one another, chins held high,
to try and not alarm the child
who clings to her Poppa’s legs.
And for ourselves, disappointed,
we need to brew up protection,
to fight those bitter juices
that have invaded our bellies.
After Poppa leaves and Zahra is at play,
we think of Tipton’s Weed,
St. John’s Wort, hypericum,
herbal relief that solves nothing
but temporary anxiety, panic
spurred by the inevitable,
the unchangeable, a familiar part
of the mixed formula that is life.
The sun shines bright outside,
the storm has had its day,
and Zahra has gone to the park,
to write happy words in chalk,
where her grandmother is drinking in
her wort of healing, frequent laughter.

Should We Go Home For Now

This morning’s light
crept softly through our window
from a soft grey sky.
Zahra woke and played quietly
in the room she shares
with Dora the Explorer,
most of the extra space
claimed by her pretend friend’s
castles and belongings,
pinks and pastels
wash the sharp edges
somewhat from her life.
She is singing now,
still thinks there will be
a new baby in the house.
The parents wait in hospital,
where they have been told
not to hope for happy outcomes,
but Zahra has been spared
such hard news for now.
Today the doctor comes
and they will form a plan,
and we will then decide
to stay here for a while
and be what help we can,
or head for home and wait,
do what must be done back there,
worry from a distance,
and when the end of time
arrives for all of this,
to bring our love back here.

The Slippery Nature of Isms

We are still in Saint John
waiting for word from the hospital.
Zahra has been dropped off
at Prince Charles School,
and we’ve slipped away
from our responsibilities
for a few moments.
We’re sitting at Cora’s Restaurant
where they serve great breakfasts,
and I’ve ordered porridge,
and multi-grain toast,
Sandra, a strawberry Panini,
with lots of whipped cream,
and we both have coffee.
Then cousin Philip phones from home,
Prince Edward Island,
and tells us Aunt Aletha
is in the hospital again.
She fell twice since we left.
We tell him why we are here,
about losing our grandson.
There is silence on his end.
He didn’t know, of course,
that we weren’t home,
or about our problems here.
He says they‘ll pray for us.
I thank him, don’t mention how prayer
is something I don’t often do these days.
My childhood was a blur of isms,
and like Aletha most of them have slipped,
and fallen, and I can’t get to them from here.

This Is a Love Song for Henry Andrew

This is a love poem
for my grandson, Henry Andrew,
who was born last night
and lived, I suppose,
for a few moments,
outside the comfort
of his loving mother’s womb.
And this is a poem of love,
for my thoughtful son Andrew,
and his lovely, and intelligent wife Mel,
who hoped and dreamed of this birth
for several dozens of long months.
And this is a love poem for Zahra,
who wanted a baby, a sister or brother,
to play a thousand games with her,
and to sing, and run and laugh with her,
on weekend mornings, and weekdays,
after school is done all winter long,
and fifteen loving summers in the sun.
And this is a song of love
for my sensitive and dreamy wife Sandra,
who has loved every child she has ever met,
and every child who has ever lived,
even the short-lived babies of dreams
who weigh less then a dozen ounces,
and have hand and footprints
no larger than the nails on her fingers.

Our Recent Emergencies

Recently our happiness found itself
sandwiched between two tragedies:
top slice, a miscarried, yearned for, child,
bottom slice, a beloved, aging aunt,
whose lung cancer branched into her brain.
The bitter sandwich made palatable,
and sometimes fleetingly delectable,
as we played and laughed with, and at
the antics of our blissful granddaughter,
who wanted a new baby to play with,
as yet oblivious to the tense drama
that occupied her grieving parents,
and had brought us, upset, to their home.
A sandwich garnished by visits to my aunt,
who we’d never gotten to know well
in all the years she’d lived nearby.
And we learned how sweet and kind,
she is, and she’d become our forthright friend.
All this has emerged, from a dual emergency,
a pair of misfortunes, beginning as crisis,
one now ended in tragedy, the second
sure to end the same, in the coming weeks.
Time will bring its standard remedies:
the young marrieds will likely try again,
and perhaps there’ll yet be a child or two.
If not, their family will grow in love
for the merry child they have, and one another.
With my cousins, we will weep to see Aletha go,
and she will help us through it all,
in each and every way she can. Memories
will wet and sting our eyes a little while,
and even these will turn more sweet
and fleeting as months and years go by.

Twelve

We spent twelve minutes
in the hospital room
visiting Aunt Aletha.
We arrived and found
signs posted warning us
not to take a step inside,
without gowns, and gloves.
We don those, and masks,
look like Halloween surgeons,
see uncertainty, panic and fear
in her cancer drained eyes.
My memories flood back:
thoughts of mother’s
final months, difficult days
leading to the endless vigils
before her drawn out parting,
twelve short years ago.
Aletha tears at a gauze bandage
tied across a plastic intravenous port
she’s been anxious to yank out,
as we explained a dozen times
she should not do, she’d bleed
and it would hurt her,
as nurses probed her rolling veins,
when they struggled to fix her up.
But she could not stop herself,
her frown set in pure frustration.
A dozen years she’s lived alone,
and today’s lively mixed-up roommate
thrives on constant, mindless
chatter my aunt cannot shut out.
What remains of earthbound time
now confused and rather pointless
as she is packed and ready to leave.
She is a women of simple religion,
and her long-dead husband waits
with a dozen of her siblings
in a place she has yearned for,
these many dozen days and nights,
and she is and has always been,
an impatient, and practical woman.

Waking Aunt Aletha

This morning cousin Nancy
finds her mother Aletha sleeping,
as my funny, palliative aunt does
so much, these past few weeks.
She hadn’t touched her breakfast,
and even when she is awake
the spark has gone from her eyes.
One of them is permanently dilated,
systems are clearly shutting down.
Nancy and the ever-cheerful doctor
wear yellow throw-away gowns,
blue gauze masks, and rubber gloves,
as they stand beside the dozing woman
in her rumpled bed. Her bruised legs
bare, she has removed her sweat pants,
part of some demented scheme
to finally free herself from this place.
Lung cancer has spread to her brain
and affecting how she thinks and feels.
Doctor Johnston’s bright voice calls,
“Aletha, can you hear me? It’s me,
Doctor Johnston. Are you awake?”
She repeats herself several times more,
smiles patiently at the worried Nancy.
Finally, Aletha stirs in her bed
but her fading eyes stay closed tight.
“I’m dead,” she says matter-of-factly.
Next morning she appears to be sleeping
as daughter Nancy looks at her.
Then, “Take me to the graveyard,” she says.
Why would we do that? Nancy asks, unnerved.
“Figure it out for yourself,” then she chuckles.
Death comes peacefully a few long days later,
her family gathers with much tears and laughter.

Through This Rain

Through this cloak of rain,
I can see the sunshine,
and the blue of sky.
Through the dark of night,
I see the moist of morning.
Through the days of dying
I can see new life emerge
in the dreams of children,
and my grandchild’s song.
The created earth
is a bittersweet blend
of all sides of things,
which have their place
in an underlying plan.
There is joy in everything,
even in the pain
that warns of hot stoves,
and freezing feet,
the onset of illness
in need of succor,
that warns of time’s end,
and stirs the living
to value each precious moment,
every gift that life affords,
until the tearful joys
of sharing in a dear one’s leaving,
cocooned in total love.

Renewing November

It’s Friday the thirteenth
and I’m thinking about
renewing November.
Up to now the focus
has been on autumn,
on the closing down
of things, falling leaves,
the final steps and falls
of a long and decent life,
the miscarriage of a longed for child.
Yesterday I mulched
great yellowed drifts
of faded fallen leaves,
now turned to fragments
lost among the yet green lawn.
The morning sun blinds and warms
from a clear blue firmament.
This day began with trumpets,
a mighty flock of southbound geese
saluting a glorious sunrise.
Sandra is reading happily
beside the dozing white cat
and we will head out shortly,
aware that every season
has its seasons, every shadow
is the herald of a warming sun.

Past poets laureate: Hugh MacDonald

Hugh MacDonald was appointed Poet Laureate in December 2009, serving until January 2013.

Hugh MacDonald with granddaughter Zahra and Casper the cat. (Sandra MacDonald photo)

Poetry

At Merton’s Hermitage

Five poets sit
in a sort of symmetry
our awkward placement of hands
reading like young actors
unused to the stage
suspended somewhere between
giddiness and serenity.
How like boys we are
our casual shoes
our worn blue jeans
John B. somewhat
out-of-sync in green
our dew-stained cuffs
soaked while sponging
through full blown
wild Kentucky grass
after Gethsemane’s
massive breakfast of porridge
and eggs, jams and jellies
clumps of peanut butter
racks of perfect toast
steaming cups of tea
then, the air alive
with butterflies and gnats
Brother Paul
and Marty in the lead
John inquiring after
leaf and blade of grass
we stroll a swath
like Merton cut
through domesticated wild places
from the working monastery
to his Hermitage on the hill.
We look about inside
meditate on this concrete cell
that briefly housed
the soul that was his life
our gift the sharing
of his human frailties
his familiar temptations
his hypnotic soaring range of words
then we humbly sit at this shrine
while below us the long view
spans acres of wood and grass
the downward sloping field before
bends toward the world’s gate
our thoughts for the moment
temperate and peaceful
reflect the shimmer of summer
the shade tree beyond the porch
while behind us the empty bed
where Merton slept and didn’t
where within him wrestled
the love of internal peace
the turmoil of animal joy
the mad man-parts
that we all share
the saints we sometimes are
the beasts we can become
the blackened hearth
that conjures fiery pits
and writhing monsters
that we still smell today
separated by time and space
thankful for each garnered day
for light upon awakening
in dread of one last morning
that ends abruptly in darkness.

audio version

Chapbook

Audio

Events (and photos)

Press release on appointment

December 4, 2009
For immediate release

Poet, editor and novelist Hugh MacDonald of Brudenell is the new poet laureate for Prince Edward Island.

With nine books to his credit as author and editor, MacDonald is perhaps best known to Islanders through his Random Acts of Poetry which, for the past five years, have brought poetry to the streets and workplaces of P.E.I.

MacDonald retired after more than 30 years of service in the educational system of the province and, since 1999, has been a full-time writer. He has served on the executives of both the Prince Edward Island Council of the Arts and the P.E.I. Writers Guild. Recognition for his work and leadership includes awards and prizes in the P.E.I. Literary Awards including the L.M. Montgomery Children’s Literature Award for Chung Lee Loves Lobsters, a first prize for poetry from the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia.

In 2004, he was presented with the Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Literary Arts on Prince Edward Island.

Carolyn Bertram, minister of communities, cultural affairs and labour, says MacDonald is an excellent choice for the position. “He has a dedication and energy and an enthusiasm for poetry which will certainly contribute to the mission of the poet laureate to bring poetry into the lives of Islanders,” she said.

MacDonald is looking forward to his term as poet laureate. He indicated that he felt honoured by the recognition and that he looked forward to exploring new ways of increasing knowledge of the importance of poetry. “I am delighted, in this poetry-blessed province, to be chosen as the next poet laureate. I will do my best to add a new voice to those of my extraordinary predecessors, Frank Ledwell, John Smith and David Helwig, and to do honour to my beloved Prince Edward Island,” said MacDonald.

The post of poet laureate does not have fixed duties and previous holders of the post have used a variety of approaches to making poetry a more central part of the lives of Islanders.

Bertram also paid tribute to David Helwig who has completed his term.

“I want to thank David Helwig for his service throughout the past two years as the Prince Edward Island poet laureate. The creation of the poetrypei.com website under Mr. Helwig’s direction has provided access to both creators and readers to P.E.I. poetry both past and present. I know he will continue to contribute to the literary heritage of our province.”

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