these are not poems
– Nonfiction by Cindy Dean-Morrison
I was a failure.
I tried so many times to write three pages every morning
or 500 – 1000 words daily, respond to writing prompts, free
write, write using outlines. I bought beautiful journals and an
embarrassing number of writing books. But I always failed.
And it really kind of destroyed me. Oh, big talker me – I love
writing, I can’t wait to have time to write. Reality hit hard when
I retired from teaching and couldn’t sit down and just do it. I
had time. I had all those pristine journals and writing books.
But I kept failing.
Until September of 2016, while sitting by a snapping campfire
at Jackfish Provincial Park. It was cool and damp, the last
days of camping. There had been a ferocious storm the
night before and tree debris littered our site and road. I love
trees with their delicate fingers reaching overhead, their
whispering nature and staunch protection.
Beside me by the fire pit was my usual stack of reading
books plus a notebook – again pristine. I picked it up, and
smoothed its cover while I “talked” to my battered trees,
remembering how just the day before they were magnificent
in their fall beauty. Then I opened the notebook and wrote a
poem about the “conversation” the trees and I had just had.
Sept. 10, 2016
Talking to Trees @ Jackfish Lake Site 102
today the tallest ones
are almost shouting
they shake out a tale
that ravaged their limbs
stripped away flesh
they all in community
talked to me
as I walked amongst them –
the caragana shared
shimmering, light stories
summer joys, now leaving
the maples, aspens, birch
spoke more boldly
whispering at times
when the wind softened
and thought to reveal us
but the stalwart pines
asked me over to touch them
smell their beauty
to the climax of their age-old story
I looked at the poem but didn’t reread it. I just liked that I had
done it. It was then I decided quite simply to write a poem
a day for one year. Just one year. Just a few scribbled lines.
That I could handle.
This writing challenge was not unique, clever or ground
breaking. Rather it was something I had probably once read
about in one of those writing books. I committed to write a
daily entry, much like a journal entry, but short and simple.
I would continue to use the notebook I had started with on
that September day. I would date each entry, underline it and
then just throw down whatever came to mind. I would do it
for just one year.
I developed a few “rules” almost immediately. If I was to do
this and not become paralyzed by my inner critic, I had to
promise myself that I could/should:
1) write crap (and often do)
2) keep it simple
3) never go back and edit
4) if I miss a day or two (or five as I did twice), simply catch
up. And these catch-up sessions often were rewarding
because they tended to follow a difficult event in my life and
What happened to me as I wrote daily?
The practice sharpened my word choice and my observation
skills. I read more. I felt a thrill of accomplishment each day
as I turned to start a new page and especially when I started
my second fresh notebook. Most importantly, however, it
helped me through some significant griefs – it became my
safe venting place. In extreme situations, my writing actually
became long paragraphs attempting to unravel my latest
For example, on Thanksgiving weekend, 2016, one of my
daughters was taken by ambulance to the Intensive Care
Unit at the hospital after she sought a release from this world.
We stood vigil for the first day, but by day two our small
family was able to begin regrouping, travelling through the
dark space into light. We were changed people. I had taken
my notebook and, in an effort to lighten the mood, I enlisted
my family’s help with an acrostic poem like the ones my
daughters wrote as children, the ones my young students
used to like to write. It was an exercise full of laughter and
silliness naming all we were thankful for like tea, Adirondack
chairs and ice chips.
About one month later I was again in an ICU with my brother’s
family enduring a most tragic time. We lost a treasure, my
beautiful niece, to suicide. We stood vigil, we made difficult
decisions and ultimately, we changed as people yet again.
After that experience I went back and wrote as I struggled
with the loss. Some days I wrote the briefest of entries, but it
Nov. 10, 2016
I am gutted
Other days I quoted writers who seemed more capable of
expressing my grief. I still go back to these particular words
(lyrics by Chris Young, from the song Drowning) and find
Nov. 20, 2016
comes in waves
tonight I am drowning
Just before our Christmas celebrations replete with
lefse, rosettes and fish – yes, I have a strong Norwegian
background – life again took me to CCU (Cardiac Care Unit)
this time as my husband suffered a heart attack. Again, I lost
many days of writing but was determined to make up those
days and did. Below is the entry one day before the heart
attack. The 20th would have been “heart attack day”, but as
you see, I wrote it much later.
Dec. 19, 2016
I am looking for
ah, there’s the rub
I should be designing it
Dec. 20, 2016
(written on Dec. 26 due to Ray’s heart attack on Dec. 20)
you are mine
every part of you
I will put my hand
on your chest
bless it with a wish
a wish for wellness and
To say this simple practice has encouraged me regarding
my writing is true. I have learned tricks and reaped benefits
along the way. If you do decide to develop this practice, here
are some suggestions:
First, let what you are currently reading kick start ideas.
Every morning I read from a variety of non-fiction books from
Buddhist philosophy to self-help books to writing advice. I
sometimes stop in the middle of a paragraph that particularly
strikes me, grab my notebook and explore my feelings
immediately. Then I go back to reading.
Second, review your poems periodically. Which ones
resonate? What are they telling you? For example, I found
I write a lot about paths and maps and finding my way.
By becoming more aware of that motif, I am planning my life more deliberately lately.
Third, don’t limit yourself. I have actually written more in other
genres and am even submitting them since starting this
Jan. 29, 2019
these aren’t poems
they are my unpolished thoughts
for the purpose of release
for the purpose of purging
for the purpose of giving thanks
these aren’t poems
they are me breathing
It is now 2022, and I am well into my fourteenth little
notebook of poems. They perch in a skittery pile on my desk
with multi-coloured tags sticking out from pages marking
poems I deeply love. Each day I take the current little book,
open it, reread the previous poem then dive in deep.
When I look back over these “poem a day” entries, I see my
life reflected in four to sixteen-line purges. And I have noticed
a change in me. I am less critical about what I do write. My
poem a day practice keeps me humble (because remember,
a lot is crap), hopeful (look at all those notebooks) and
excited about writing in my own simple, authentic way.
Regardless, I am no longer a failure.
these aren’t poems
they are me breathing
About the Author – Cindy Dean-Morrison
Cindy Dean-Morrison is a wife, a mother of two grown daughters and lives in Saskatoon, SK. She has written on and off for many years but since retiring from teaching has been able to spend more time exploring her writing passion. She has had stories and poems published in Grain, Spring Volume I, the anthology Untying the Apron Strings: Daughters Remember Mothers of the Fifties and other journals. She has recently been trying her hand at mystery novels often while hiding out behind a shed in her yard so no one can find her and interrupt. Writing has been her friend since childhood.
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