Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Toad Chat with Kim & Kerry

Hello folks! Here we are:




bringing you our chat. 

What a perfect match up it was for us – both teachers, one from the northern and one from the southern hemispheres and both passionate about passing on a love of poetry and literature to the youth.
Kim kicked off the chat session:
Hi Kerry!

I've been thinking about the three questions I would like to ask you and I thought I'd start with some simple, obvious ones and we can perhaps work on them together, if that's OK with you.

          1. Why is poetry important to you?

          2. How are your poems conceived and born 
             (How does a poem begin; where and how do you write it)?

         3. How did you become possessed by the characters from The Tempest? 
            (The Tempest is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays.)

Such great questions to begin a conversation!

I responded with three of my own:

          1. I believe you are an educator, as am I. 
             Has your career as a teacher influenced your approach to writing poetry? 
             And/Or does being a poet influence the way you teach?

          2. Your poetry often puts me in mind of the English lyricists of the 
              Romantic era. 
              What is it about the bucolic lifestyle that inspires you?

          3. How important is it to have an audience for your poetry, 
              for example online? 

Kim was quick to respond:

Although I retired from high school teaching over four years ago, due to illness and overwork, I couldn’t stay away from education for long. I listen to children reading and am a governor at two local federated infant schools. I also volunteer at local libraries, leading Bounce and Rhyme sessions for parents, carers, babies and toddlers, running a Chatterbooks session for older children to explore and chat about books, including poetry, as well as spreading the word about and helping out in library events for children. I think my career as a teacher has made me more aware of poetic techniques and so has certainly influenced my approach to writing poetry. However, being a poet definitely influenced the way I taught, especially creative writing. I was the only teacher in the English department who encouraged pupils to write poetry and submitted their writing to competitions, magazines and anthologies. I also created and edited the school magazine, which was full of pupils’ writing.

The view from Kim's window

I grew up in London and spent my late teens and early adulthood in Cologne in Germany. It wasn’t until I moved to Ireland that I discovered the joys of the countryside, which has become so much a part of me since moving to Norfolk twenty six years ago. I can think of nothing more beautiful than watching a day unfold on a Norfolk beach, the Broads, on a walk down a lane or across a field. We have such a variety of birds up here, as well as flora and fauna. I was stunned the first time deer visited our garden and speechless when a doe gave birth under the quince tree! I think I only really experienced the seasons once I left the city, and there was no going back.

The Deer Under the Willow Tree

A swathe of freshly rain-washed green

with sunlight spangles in between,

against this backdrop I can see

a deer under the willow tree.

The creature has a languid gait

as if it’s waiting for its mate;

I only hope it can’t see me,

the deer under the willow tree.

Its eyes are pools of blackest jet

in which a diamond light is set;

a woodland child, its life is free,

the deer under the willow tree

Emerging from a clutch of weeds,

covered with bits of twig and seeds,

a newly born, a fawn I see,

underneath the willow tree.

 When I lived in Cologne, I tried a spot of performance poetry, which I found difficult as the response was immediate and I didn’t have time to process it. I gave up on that and stuck to submitting poems to newspapers and magazines, which took ages to give feedback or gave none at all. It wasn’t until I retired that I discovered the online poetry scene, which really appeals to me: not only do people respond in a respectfully critical way but they also interact with each other. I enjoy reading the different styles and the huge variety of prompts and challenges, which get the creative juices flowing. It’s not so much the audience as the feeling of being in it together and, of course, knowing which poems people respond to and which they don’t. 

Reading Kim’s questions and her insightful replies to my own really encouraged me to share my experiences:

I can relate to your experiences in the education system, both with the burnout and the inability to step away completely. I admire your interest in library work; getting children to read is one of the greatest challenges we are facing, especially with Generation Z! I am also the only English teacher in my school who takes the writing of poetry seriously, because it is not part of 'The Syllabus' and, therefore, doesn't count. To answer your first question, poetry is important to me because it is an art form which is falling out of fashion. I always tell my students that what an artist does with paint, a sculptor with stone, so a poet does with words, a far more difficult medium to elevate in the eyes of an audience. Yet poetry has humanity as its source: it may be all that stands between us and complete moral and intellectual decay. Please forgive me, if I that seems over-stated but I am passionate about the value of creative writing.

I have never been a city girl, although I grew up in the suburbs of Durban, South Africa. There were gardens to play in and miles of beaches to explore. Now I live in a small town in countryside of Northern KwaZulu-Natal, close to farmlands and the mountains, so I also appreciate the breathing space and slower pace of life.  You asked me how my poems are conceived and born. I always find this a difficult question to answer, as I tend to write on the spur of the moment, spend very little time on any one piece and seldom edit or rewrite. Sometimes, words start to line themselves up in my mind. When that happens I have to sit down quickly and jot them down, otherwise I forget what I was trying to say. If I have a particular theme or prompt in mind, I sit down with a word document in front of me and I visualize the poem in pictures. Then I describe what I see. I like the way images compliment poetry but I seldom use a picture to write from (unless specifically writing ekphrasis style poetry). If I use a picture when I post my poem, it will be one I found after the poem was written and then I prefer paintings to photographs.

 I began blogging nearly ten years ago, and I was really just creating an online archive of my pieces, working in a complete vacuum until Sherry Blue Sky found me and led me to Poets United. I was so excited about finding a thriving forum for poets to share their work, and in 2010, I became the Creative Manager of our own Imaginary Garden with Real Toads. My hope is that I have made my own contribution to keeping the online community alive because it is so important for writers to receive feedback and to be inspired by the work of others.

You asked me how I came to be possessed by the characters of The Tempest... This came about one year ago, when I was going through a very difficult time in my life, after my health took a turn for the worse and I suffered personal loss in my life. I went through a bout of depression, during which time I felt I had lost my poetic voice. As it happens, I was teaching The Tempest to my Grade 10 class, as I do each year, and I was stirred by dichotomy between Miranda's idealistic view of the world and Caliban's unrepentant anger towards the people and situation he found himself in. Here, I believed, I could explore some of the negativity I was going through, writing in Caliban's voice, and I could find balance by sometimes trying to see things through Miranda's eyes. It helped me to rediscover the brave new world and make peace with all that had happened to me in what remains the worst year of my life. In this regard, I would like to return to your first question, regarding the value of poetry. I believe that on a personal level, poetry can save a person's life, as can poets. I can list several poets I have come to know over the years of our journeying together, who literally kept me afloat, ensuring that I did not give up writing, and that I did not give up on my own life. 

Kim quickly noticed several similarities in our polar opposite worlds!

We are on opposite sides of the world and I can see similarities!
I agree with you that poets paint and sculpt with words; it is not at all over-stated and I think many teachers are passionate about creative writing but the powers that be won’t let us explore it in education.
It’s amazing that you grew up in Durban – a great uncle of mine spent a lot of time in Durban and I have a precious postcard he sent my grandmother before I was born. I love to find out about places I’ve never heard of and your town sounds wonderful.
Another thing we have in common is writing on the spur of the moment, not spending much a time on a poem and seldom editing or rewriting, although I’ve had to do that for submissions that have been accepted in anthologies. I also experience words forming in my mind and need to write them down before they disappear. I’ve even woken up with a fully formed poem or story in my head and leaped out of bed to get it down on paper – not once but several times!
I'm so pleased that Shakespeare saved your life, Kerry.

After this amazing chat, I felt again the sense of joy I get whenever I connect with a poet through this most remarkable space we are so fortunate to share.

In my twenties, I was lucky enough to travel to the UK, Europe and the US. It has now become a goal of mine to travel again. I would love the opportunity to meet some of my poet friends on these journeys.

As for spur of the moment, that is how I write. People often ask me where I get an idea, or what inspired me to write something, and I find it hard to explain a process with almost no structure or planning behind it. 

A gift from

Lately, I have branched out into what for me is the unknown territory of Instagram. I was inspired to venture into the realm of sharing 'notebook' poetry, which I write with an old-fashioned pen dipped into a bottle of ink, having been a long-time admirer of Magaly's posts. I have discovered a newfound joy in working with some of my older pieces, and writing in ink has forced me to slow down and take my time with a poem. The Instagram platform has renewed my joy in writing, coming at a time when I believed I had written my best and, maybe, final poem. So, for the present, I am still putting pen to paper, and calling myself a poet. 

Find me @skyloverpoetry

This was a conversation which could have gone on indefinitely, and we were both sorry to have to wrap it up, but the best thing about it is that we have more to talk about on another day.


Vivian Zems said...

This was fun reading. I'm having coffee at work..and have a short gap between patients. It's always intriguing to learn more about my fellow poets.
Kim, living so close to nature must be so calming and, Kerry- I can feel your summer sun from here! It great that you're both teachers- it shows through in the discipline of always 'showing up for work'- both of you churn content out all the time.
Kerry, you instagram posts with that neat writing is a wonder to see....probably because it shows a meticulous hand, and mind.
Kim, you never run out of new metaphors for even the simplest things. I admire you both and enjoyed this immensely.
Kerry...please bring some biltong with you if you're passing through London!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful chat ladies!

It's interesting how two lives can intersect in ways, thousands of miles apart - and I found it really fascinating how being teachers, and working within the constraints of the educational system pushes you both to not only create, for yourselves, but also to find ways to keep language alive, Kerry through your classroom efforts and Kim, in all of your activities with youngsters and parents etc. Brava for the dedication and additional time spent.

And it's wonderful that you both also offer so much back to the community here and elsewhere and are still finding ways of sparking your own writing passions.

Thank you both for sharing so much :)

Kerry O'Connor said...

Thanks, Vivian.. I will certainly deliver the biltong (It is my one peculiar addiction). Being a teacher, especially at this time of the year, when final examinations are at full throttle, is very time-consuming - the upside? I have my summer holidays to look forward to.. lots of time to write.
Dear Pat, thank you for your kind words. The classroom is not what it used to be, the challenges of Generation Z are heretofore unseen.. but somehow, I keep the ship afloat.

Sanaa Rizvi said...

I had been looking forward eagerly to this one!💞 Thank you Kerry and Kim for sharing and giving us a glimpse into your lives so generously .. like you even I didn't want the conversation to end 😊

Kerry: I have long been in love with your poetic style and writing and was delighted when I found out you joined instagram💞 Your passion for writing inspires me and urges me to evolve and to write better.. like you I too sometimes fear that the art of poetry is falling out of fashion especially with the youth.. *and especially here rapidly declining in my part of the world!* People my age simply fail to see the charm behind expressing yourself in poetry and hardly if ever prefer to read and comprehend. Heck sometimes I feel like I was born in the wrong era 😊 but I live with hope in my heart that time will change.💞

Kim: I absolutely love your poems especially ones which revolve around nature as I find it difficult to depict its beauty in writing... there is always the task of finding the right words, imagery and rhythm with me .. but you.. gosh you do it just beautifully!! I hope to observe and learn more from you in the days to come 😊

To both: It is amazing to learn how another poet's mind works when it comes to writing💞 I could truly relate to your experiences shared here😊 for me sometimes when I m sitting down or am busy with chores the words just kind of pop into my mind usually its the beginning or closing lines which I quickly pen down in my journal. And then there are other days when words just don't come .. mainly because i am tired or stressed out. But i am grateful that it happens seldom 😊 and hope that in the future when I come to be married and have kids of my own to continue writing poetry! And I will .. psst.. between you and me I would LOVE one of my kids to take my poetic genes and share my passion for poetry yayy!💞

Thank you once again Kerry and Kim for this wonderful and enlightening conversation😊 Love and hugs!💞☕

annell4 said...

I loved the chat!! Both wonderful writers. I fall in love each time I read their writing. Thank you so much!!!

brudberg said...

What a wonderful discussion, and how you are both teacher (maybe building up next generation of poets)... One of the features I remember most Kerry is the time you took your students to the pond... it was amazing to read and write inspired by them. The poetry scene online is amazing, and if someone had told me that I would be part of this the day I celebrated my 50th birthday I would have thought that person a lunatic...

Thank you both for what you do to make the online world better, and how nice it would be if we could all meet one day.

Anmol (HA) said...

A delightful conversation — it is so interesting to know about your lives, inspirations, and interests — it is plain wonderful how your both are nurturing and promoting the craft and art of poetry and literature in your communities and educational institutions. I sincerely wish I had teachers like you, who would have known and understood how poetry can indeed save lives.
Thank you, Kim and Kerry, for this thoughtful and invigorating discussion, and for sharing your creativity and your warmth online. <3

Kerry O'Connor said...

Sanaa, thank you so much for your affectionate words. I am so grateful for your kind-heart.
Thanks for stopping by to read, Annell. It's good to know you still enjoy my bits and pieces of writing. Bjorn, Happy 50th birthday! That is indeed a milestone.. Thank you for being such a huge supporter of my writing for so many years.
Anmol, teaching is a huge privilege. I do wish I could have reached more people with the awe and power of written and spoken word, but I have done my best over 30 years.

Kim M. Russell said...

Thank you so much Viv, Pat, Sanaa, Annell, Björn and Anmol for your wonderful responses to our chat – and special thanks to Kerry for asking me to be her chat partner. Being part of a poets community is so supportive and inspirational as we are truly international and have diverse interests and skills. It’s not quite nine o’clock in the morning and I am already imagining what you are all doing in your different corners of the world, which gives me food for thought and ideas for poems.

Marian said...

This is so wonderful! I read your conversation early yesterday and have come back a couple times to savor it. This is what our Imaginary Garden community is all about. Thank you so much for sharing of yourselves, Kerry and Kim.

Jim said...

Loved reading this, Ladies. As we call you, but not to your faces, in our rural South, "School Marms". You two are my major role models for poetry writing and appreciation. In school poetry was a part of grammar so we learned rhyme and meter and some forms. Then we branched out to the major poets. Those were the old days, I haven't kept up until here and the now silent "One Single Impression." Most of my college paper writing efforts were "A's" and I still enjoy writing. BUT YOU TWO and others here are my main teachers. I love the mechanics of writing to Fussy Forms, mostly taught by Marian.
To help getting caught up have studied from Ted Kooser's book, "The Poetry Home Repair Manual; Practical Advice for Beginning Poets." Kooser claims Poet Laureate of the United States and a Pulitzer Prize. Quite impressive to me, if it is in your, and others reading here, libraries I would like your evaluations of the book. I identify with him also as I grew up 80 miles from where he is now and much closer to the environment of his prose book, "Local Wonders."
One part here, concerning use of pictures that Kim wrote of, my blog was originally not poetry at all but had many pictures. Not wanting to start another blog (mine here was the sixth of fourteen or more that I have had) I am now using it for mostly poems, many with pictures. I like to write so as to having the poem be able to stand alone. I have readers, family and friends and others, more, times perhaps three, than join in here. I also put about half my blog entries, this and one other, on my Facebook page. I try to take Kooser's advice, "Write for your readers."
Keep up your good work and thanks for publishing your mutual interview.

Magaly Guerrero said...

Dearest Kerry and Kim,

I read your exchanged, soaked in the wonderful words, while sipping a cup of French Vanilla coffee (which I'm extremely proud to announce, I can almost taste *take that, chemo*). I absolutely love this post. I can't stop smiling at how much your reasons for writing (and for loving what you do and how you do it) echoes my own. It's such a delight to see our reasons feeding the ink of writers I like and respect.

Kim, I love that you continue to find a way to teach what you love in a different way. I miss teaching so much... And I think that once my health find some balance, I am definitely going to follow on your steps. I don't think I would do too well with children, but... my community has a huge number of adults (especially elderly) that would probably want to play with words (if someone makes it fun enough for them). Fingers crossed, right?

Kerry, if I grinned any wider, my face would probably burst. I love circles, especially when they work so well: I started writing poetry (and sharing it with others) after you showed me just how fulfilling it could be. The idea of you doing so, in a different way on Instagram, after seeing me doing it, is... soul-feeding. So, thank you for sharing that. On days when I feel like I can't get out of bed, I will remember this... and write myself into motion.

Thank you both, Kim and Kerry. This might be one of the most inspiring writing posts I've read in ages. And, at the moment, I really, really, really needed that.

Rommy said...

This was one of the sweetest, most inspiring things I've read in awhile. I love how the passion for poetry is expressed by you both.

Kim, it's funny how we sometimes walk away from things only to revisit them again in a different form. I think when something is as much a part of one's soul, as writing is to yours, while we may have some fallow times, they only serve to shore up our energy so we can return to what we love with an even greater passion than we had before.

Kerry, oh yes, I know how the right book at the right time can save a life. Salvation by story is a real thing. The best stories have helped me work through some tricky times. I for one am thrilled that your last poem hasn't been written. Your Instagram posts are quite enchanting.

Thank you again ladies for sharing a bit of yourselves with us.

Fireblossom said...

Now I know where Miranda and Caliban came from!

Kerry O'Connor said...

Many thanks to all for the lovely comments. It feels so good to be me right now, with so many beautiful friends and fellow poets surrounding me. The whole idea of Real Toads has been to support and inspire one another, and I feel that so strongly here.

grapeling said...

Well spoken ~

Susie Clevenger said...

To me there is no greater gift than a teacher. I have been blessed to know a couple who opened my imagination and led me to ink. Thank you Kim and Kerry for letting us sit in on your conversation. Both of you are so gifted and I feel blessed to be a toad in this garden of wonder.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

I was surprised to stumble upon this chat today and am glad I didnt miss it. I was travelling when it appeared and it slipped past me. Thank you both for a wonderful conversation. I enjoyed it so much. Kerry, I am so glad your hard year is behind you and hope the coming one overflows with good things.