Tuesday, December 31, 2019

THE IMAGINARY GARDEN WITH REAL TOADS: A RETROSPECTIVE WITH KERRY, MARIAN AND SHERRY



We have come to the end of an era, my friends, as our Imaginary Garden comes to a close. I remember, in 2011, when Robb Lloyd and Kerry cooked up the idea of Real Toads. Poets United had a large membership then, and the vision for Toads was a smaller site, twenty members maximum, who would work more closely together and strive towards the growth of its poets. It has fulfilled that goal admirably. It has been such a pleasure and privilege to find myself in the Pond, reading the work of such talented poets, and getting to add my “ribbet!” from the wobbly edge of my lily-pad.

Our core members have included some amazing poets: Kerry, Marian, Susie, Shay, Kelli, Joy, and all the others. Everyone wrote with such energy, such joy. It was a glorious ride. Sometimes, we flew! Since then, many Toads have joined us; they swam with us awhile, and some swam on. Each Toad has added something special to the Pond that has enriched us all.

As we get ready to close the curtains on a glorious near-decade, I asked Kerry and Marian for their thoughts and reflections, before we put this tired old toad to bed.








The Rain Has Liberty

The grass bends its back in the stillness of the rain
in its endless falling, the yellow grass

leaning away from the wind in endless yellow rows
like soldiers marching through mud, and dying

but behind the fallen, are ranks and ranks
of the living, golden in youth but dying too.

And the rain has liberty; and the mountains
open their mouths and drink; and the grass

is heavy with seed; and this is the way of things
because the dead are always with us

we march in time in our ranks to the grave
where the yellow grass grows tall in the rain.



Kerry: This is a poem I wrote during NaPoWriMo, April 2019, an example of a poem I would not have written if it were not for a Real Toad prompt.

Marian: Kerry, this poem of yours amazes. I think I might save it in my verse jar (wink).

Sherry: It is beautiful! Kerry, my friend, will you share your thoughts about this expedition we have made? When you look back, did you have any idea of the journey you were embarking on in 2011? What were the joys, and the highlights? What stands out for you?

Kerry: Such questions do not have simple answers, Sherry. When Robb devised Real Toads (the site was his brainchild), his vision was for a closed community of invited poets to work together, behind the scenes of Poets United, but it did not really take off. I asked him for permission to repurpose the site as an open forum, with a core membership, and he handed it over to me lock, stock and barrel, for which I am eternally grateful. We had a very slow start, but over the years I managed to persuade many remarkable poets to join our ranks and, I believe, the blogsite found its niche in the world of online blogging.

To our advantage, Sherry, you were one of the founder members and your passion for writing, as well as ties to the greater poetry community was a great source of energy to get us all up and running. Persuading Marian to partner with me was also instrumental in bringing the vision to fruition. Without your loyalty, love and commitment, I would never have made it this far alone.

Sherry: I found the online poetry community with such joy, back then. It galvanized my writing, which had been flagging for lack of support. I am eternally grateful for the support and encouragement all of you have given to me all these years.

Marian: Kerry, I still remember you reaching out to me with an invitation to join the Imaginary Garden. I was surprised and flattered and right away knew that this opportunity would be special. For a while I had been engaged in greeting new members for Robb at Poets United, which involved sleuthing to determine if folks were real humans who were really writing poetry. That was fine, but the prospect of an intimate group where we all provided support and gentle critique in order to develop and grow our skills? That was amazing. It still is amazing. Thank you, Sister-Poet, for including me in your early vision. I’m extraordinarily grateful.

Kerry: What stands out for me, and what is the most difficult thing to let go of is April Poetry Writing Month in the Imaginary Garden. It was the most work, but also the most rewarding part of every year for me. We have a total of 210 Poems in April prompts – 7 years running! The first time we offered a prompt a day, I thought I had overshot the mark and it would never work but every year, when I asked the toads to contribute, everyone rallied around. Those months were the most magical times spent surrounded by the creative energy of so many writers.

Marian: Agree! April in the Garden is nothing short of magical.

Sherry: I love it, too. I always try to do a poem a day in April, and it has been awesome to have a forum with intriguing prompts to spur us on. How has this community and this site impacted your own work, Kerry?

Kerry: I can honestly say that, before the inception of Real Toads, I was more a scribbler of painfully unoriginal verses, just dabbling in a new found hobby of online blogging, and working very much in a vacuum. This was why I thought it so important to create a network of writers.

My own journey to becoming a poet began back in July 2011. I believe that I have managed to develop my poetic voice and style to a level which would simply not have been possible without the help, guidance and example of all the amazing poets I have met along the way. There are too many to name, but so many people close to my heart who taught me, above all, to believe in myself and to push myself to a higher level of expression than I had thought possible.

Sherry: Wow! That amazes me! When I stumbled upon you back then, I was blown away by your talent. I thought you must have been writing for years!

Is there anything else you’d like to say, Kerry? Our fellow Toads are all agog, looking at you from their lily-pads, as we always have. Has Real Toads fulfilled the vision you had for it?

Kerry: Real Toads is a place in my mind, not a thing. It began as a dream and became a reality in its own right, far beyond anything I may have planned. The Imaginary Garden contains the intellectual property of some of the finest online poets of the 21st century, true influencers in this esoteric realm. I do want to reassure all contributors that the site itself will remain available as an archive, easily accessible and open to all. My hope is that the collected prompts, challenges and articles of the Toads will continue to inspire writers in the future. The aspect that will no longer be offered in the new year is that of weekly challenges and prompts. In that respect, the Real Toads are vacating their lily pads for a well-deserved retirement.

Sherry: We are very grateful Toads will remain as an archive, Kerry. Thank you for the gift to poets that this site has been right from the beginning. Now, Maid Marian, will you share a poem with us?







Marian: Gosh, I feel like a huge number of my poems were birthed from challenges in the Imaginary Garden. Here is one I wrote prompted by Kerry, who shared a Man Ray photo, “Woman with Long Hair,” a couple years back. It’s an awdl gywydd, a Welsh form introduced by Pirate Grace in our first year, and I have written approximately eleventy billion poems in this lovely form since.


They’ll Catch Up In the End

Lies tucked in a plait of hair
no longer fair but greying
nest of untruths tightly made
a braid that’s meant for staying

Roots like mirrors echoing
ornery knowing strands forced
into submission until
no one will know which is worse

The lie or the lying man
who can simply smile and say
empty prayers for your long hair
let down to air lies today


Sherry: Marian, how gorgeous! What a journey this has been! Tell us what you remember, as you look back. Hasn’t it been amazing?

Marian: It really has been amazing! The prompts and festivities and camaraderie, it’s all really memorable and incredible. I’m thinking of all the different kinds of prompts we’ve shared, and the collaborations and the interviews. It’s all great. But the friendships born in this space, that’s the best part. And I will surely carry the hearts of many of my friends here, and because we are friends we’ll head off together to some new adventure.

Sherry: Yes, the friendships will endure. You have been here from the beginning. How has this site impacted your own work?

Marian: It’s hard to quantify how much I have received from the Garden and its dwellers. We have all grown in our writing so much, it’s easy to observe that. Would we have done so if we had not gathered here? Probably not, at least speaking for myself. It’s been the constant stream of challenges and encouragement that has kept me going and insisted that I always keep improving my work. Working with all of you has helped me to be confident and forthright with my small contribution so that I keep throwing verses out into the world.

Sherry:  Do you have a message for our fellow Toads, my friend?

Marian: Just that I love you all and have been honored to stand up my own work next to all of yours. Thank you.

Sherry: Thank you, my friend. Your contribution has inspired us all.

The other day I wrote a whimsical poem about the Garden, to Kim Russell's prompt, to write a poem in the repetitive style of  Wendy Cope’s “The Uncertainty of the Poet”. It feels like the right one to include here, on this bittersweet day of endings and remembering.






TOAD SONGS

Have you heard the Toads
in the Garden?
They are all sweetly singing.

In the Garden, Toads,
singing sweetly -
how we will miss them!

We will miss the Garden Toads;
their songs gladdened our hearts.
Our gladdened hearts will remember
our Pond years with gratitude.

We Toads sing our gratitude
to Kerry, our Head Toad.
Never has a Toad sung
more sweetly than she.

From our lily pads, we sing
Toad praises forever.
Thank you and thank you
for all the poems in this Garden.
Never has a froggy Pond
sounded so sweet.

The singing grows fainter;
eventide draws near.
Thank you and thank you
for every Toad song.



Sherry: When I first joined the Toads,  I wondered if I could keep up. I was in awe of the very talented Toads. But you were all kind, and told me that every voice was valued, and so I kept on. The result: my poems and I grew, my voice grew stronger. I know Toads is what encouraged that voice.

Soon I will hit “Publish” for the very last time at Toads. Ouch! What I take away is gratitude for the journey we have made. Being a Toad is one of the best gifts I have ever received.

I want to leave the closing words for Kerry. Kerry, it was your words, and your vision, that began this amazing almost-ten year journey.
Take it away! With our deepest gratitude for all you have given to us all these years, the gift of time and hard work behind the scenes that you gave so selflessly and generously to our beloved Pond. No one could have done it better!

Kerry: What is there left for me to say, except a most heartfelt and sincere THANK YOU? Thank you for all the words, the friendship, the support and, most importantly, the trust that everyone placed in me to do my best as Creative Manager of Real Toads. It has been a real honour and achievement.

36 comments:

Kerry O'Connor said...

Thank you, again, Sherry, for this wonderful final post you wrote as both retrospective and farewell and for your friendship.
Thank you, Marian, my sister in poetry, for everything.
Thank you to everyone who has left such kind messages for me in comments. I am truly touched and grateful to you all. It has been a rare privilege to have been the Queen of the Toads.
This may feel like an end, but I know we will be Real Toads Forever!

brudberg said...

Hello all.. Having only been here for part of the journey I still remember being invited to join... I was then already a bartender at dVerse, and I had written for Real Toads only on weekends... since then I have gradually started to find my own voice. I have found that poetry is not something weird and strange but something very close to life.

It still feels strange to tell people that I write poetry, but I have learned to handle the surprise in others. I will continue to write for dVerse and manage the site... and maybe I will find the time to put my librarian into a book of sorts.

Once again, thank you all.

Kim M. Russell said...

I have big toady tears in my eyes this New Year's Eve morning. I can't believe this is the day the gate will be closed on the Imaginary Garden. I'll be back to look over the wall regularly. I shall always be proud of being part of this wonderful poets' community.

Jim said...

Again, Toads thank sooo very much for this lovely 'poem' posting haven. With an Aerospace Engineer mentality perhaps they were not even Prose or poems. I was criticized for that once here. But I write what my environment and education can lend.
With that of course I'd better show numbers to show my desire (I have learned some here, New Forms challenges i loved).
Never a Toad, as a Guest my first post here was September 20 2013. If I post for Kerry's last Chalkenge here, my total will be 496.
I stayed to roost to stay January 2, 2015, when the "One Single Impression" closed. Several of those came here with me. Some there and a few here are Facebook Friends. I invite any of you, I mainly post items from

Kerry O'Connor said...

Bjorn, I was determined to get you in the door, here at RT and I succeeded! Your contribution has always been valued. I have been a great admirer of your work and so grateful you maintained your balancing act between dVerse and here until the very end.
Salut, dear brother in poetry and fellow toad.

Kim, I extend my thanks to you for becoming a member of RT. You have brought your unique comprehension of poetics to our garden which was always the richer for it.

Jim, though perhaps not a 'Toad', as such, your perennial presence in the Garden has been part of the magic. It has been a pleasure to read your work over the years, and I thank you most sincerely for your loyalty to the very end. Bon Voyage.

Jim said...

(from) my two active blogs, this Photo and Poem Place and Jim's Little Blog (now mostly a meme blog with pictures).
My Facebook search is "jim hovendick". I welcome new friends, I won't be obnoxious, and I could be boring.
..

Yvonne Osborne said...

Best of luck to all. I will miss the prompts and reading all that was offered.

Sanaa Rizvi said...

I am so overwhelmed with emotion right now.. thank you so much, Sherry for this glorious final post, for your constant guidance in my early years as a Poet and for embracing me as a part of the blogosphere. I still remember our many interviews together!❤️

Thank you, Kerry for being the most kind, encouraging and amazing leader I have ever known! I have learned so much from you over the years! I remember reading your poems for the first time back in 2016 .. and thinking to myself.. 'I wish I'd written this,' and since then I always look up to you as my role model.

It's the end of an era but like you said we will be Real Toads forever! May our paths lead us to attaining more joy and poetry together!❤️

Marian, thank you for everything that you do and more! It's a pleasure being your friend and fellow Toad and I am so proud that we got the opportunity to collaborate together! I cherish our times together and (as with others) I have also learned a lot from you as well! Your wisdom and kindness have led me more times than I can count. ❤️


I am and will always be a Toad ~ 🐸 xoxoxoxox

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Ah, here we are, the day has come. Endings and beginnings, of both the year and our continuing poetic journey down new pathways. I treasure the years at Toads, and will follow all of your poetic journeys in the months ahead. Thank you, Kerry, and each and every Toad, you helped me grow as a poet and a person. No small gift.

Fireblossom said...

I still remember how excited I was to be invited to join Toads and to get going as a member of the group. It wasn't long after the beginning, I don't think, because I remember the site when the man who started it had it. But it was Kerry who had taken over and who invited me. I was so pleased and spent the best years of my writing life right here at the Pond.

Then work of such talented poets as I found here was a challenge and a joy--to always try to meet the bar as it was continually raised, and just to spend time with such a talented group. We caught magic in a jar for a good while there, didn't we?

I want to say that it was one of Sherry's poems that made me think I could do more on line than just archive my poems. Through that one wonderful poem (I'm sorry, the title escapes me....Sherry knows which one it was) opened the door for me to get to know Sherry, and that made me realize I could be part of a poetic community. And I truly believe with all my heart that THIS poetic community has been the best of them all.

Thank you to Kerry, Marian, Sherry, Susie and Margaret, who went out of their way to be nice to me.

And thank you to my other three Horsewomen Of The Apocalypse--Hedgewitch, Mama Zen and (heavy brogue) Kerry O'Connor.

Marian said...

So much creativity has been born and nurtured here. It's really the truth. It's so clear how much we have all grown. Magic in a jar, yes that is right, Shay. And we all know you have to open that jar eventually and release its contents or... What? Not such a great metaphor but I'm grasping to put a positive spin on endings and new beginnings, haha. I'm so appreciative, just full of love for all of you. I'm not going anywhere and I know where to find all of you so hey, talk to ya later. xoxoxo and happy new year!

hedgewitch said...

The closing of this site seems so final, as if too much good is leaving the world, too much has changed that once was. But that is the way of things, and like your poem above Kerry, the cycle of life is truly never-ending, and we live in the hope that what has been will be again, in another form, another place, but still serving its own unique spirit and purpose. I remember I was first asked by Rob to join the Garden at inception, and was completely baffled by what was going on--the idea of a closed site seemed strange then, when poetry blogging was first setting the net on fire for those of us who for years had resigned ourselves to the idea that no one would read our work but ourselves unless we made the huge effort to be published in the traditional way. Then Kerry persuaded me to join, tho I was burning myself out at d'Verse by that point and I doubted I had much to offer. In the end, I took so much more away from the Garden than I was ever able to give--and the biggest trove was the communal voice we gave to each other, the listening, the response, and above all the caring and support. I can never thank enough the poets I met here who influenced me, encouraged me, and appreciated me as I never thought I would be, and from whom I learned both joy in craft and humility. So thank you, Shay, Kerry, Marian, Brendan, Izzy, Sherry, and so many others. Love and light to you all, and may we meet again in a new place that will keep the legacy of this one, and of our journey, alive.

Kerry O'Connor said...

I am trying to keep it together over here.. but everyone is making me cry!!! Oh, well... thus it shall be.
Thank you all for the sincerity of your words and especially for sharing your memories of the garden, and what it has meant to you all over the years. It was never MY place alone, but OURS. Above all else, I have attempted to remain true to the ethos with which we began this endeavour - our Mission Statement. We a small pond, on the edge of a lake, but I am glad we made a splash in our own way.

Kerry O'Connor said...

We *were* a small pond.. I guess I got choked up on the tense there!
:'(

Fireblossom said...

*hands Kerry a tissue*

snnnoooork, sniffle, whimper

hedgewitch said...

I will hope the tense remains present, that we as we, ARE; a small pond, which may not sprout new waterlilies, but that is fed by a hidden spring, and can't dry up. Thanks again Kerry, for that. *borrows tissue*

Brendan said...

Brendan was lost on an online sea when he came across the Island of Imaginary Gardens, a posting forum which was more intimate, encouraging, imaginative, colorful, and ripe than anything else he had encountered--then or since. God there were some fun frays here, and the voices were oddly diverse and harmonious at the same time. Fellow voyagers. When I was asked to help with some of the prompts (weekend mini-challenges, though I remain fatefully challenged to parade my thoughts in anything close to mini). (Thank Sappho for the Galen/Hedgewitch/Kerry 55). Too many to thank, but Kerry, Fireblossom, Mama Zen, hedgewitch, Manicdaily, Sherry Blue Sky, Margaret, Rosemary, Kim, Marian, Susie et al, it's been an absolute hoot. Thanks for this safe and resonant space where the word was celebrated and advanced. Magic glades hang around forever, and this Ariel won't forget the wonder of the Toadly Kazoo. Hope to see you guys at earthweal.com after it launches tomorrow.

Carrie Van Horn said...

Such a wonderful community of beautiful writers and souls. I feel blessed to know you all, and though my limited time made it hard for me to be a contributor, I did enjoy participating in the prompts from time to time. This certainly has been a journey for us all and sharing and reading poetry has made me grow as a writer, and I will forever be grateful to Imaginary Gardens, and Poets United for that. Thank you so much Kerry, Sherry, Susie, Marion, Shay, Bjorn, Kim, Sanaa, Magaly,Amnol, Margaret and so many more that have been an intricate part of this lovely garden of poetry and creativity. You all are amazing to me!!

Mary said...

Sherry, once again you have outdone yourself as far as an interview! You have done them so very well over the years....Hopefully you will find another way to utilize your wonderful talents!

Susie Clevenger said...

Three amazing women who have been such inspirations. I came to the garden a fledgling poet not imagining I could write little more than unread. I too have cried toady tears.
Kerry, I was so honored when you asked me to be a toad. I was scared of my lack, but hungry to spread my wings. Thank you for seeing something in me I couldn't. My heartfelt thanks to every toad and visitor to the garden who brought such amazing poetry into my life. We are a living garden.

Linda Lee Lyberg said...

Sigh, my secret wish was that someday I would be invited to join Toads, but alas, that is not to be in my destiny. I will miss the wonderful challenging environment here for I have grown so much as a writer. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this awesome community!

Mama Zen said...

Pass me a tissue, too, Shay!

When I first joined the Garden, I was so intimidated! I honestly wasn't sure if I had the strokes to swim in the pond, but everyone was nurturing and supportive beyond all expectations. It's been an incredible experience to write and grow with all of you. Thank you.

Kerry O'Connor said...

Thanks so much for your kind words, friends. Carrie and Linda, certainly toads in spirit and one of our many kindred over the years. This garden was not for the toads alone. We were the merry band who created the context for a wider audience, and so many faithful followers made this a magical place to hang out several days a week.

Mary, your own contribution to Real Toads at its conception has not been forgotten. Your Mixed Bag was a favourite!

Kelli, you have always been a poet whom I admire, with a unique style. You taught us so much about brevity, lessons I still try to apply today.. say a lot in a few because Words Count!

Joy, your words mean so much. I recall most clearly the first few poems of yours I read. I was so astounded by your gift. Above all the many things I learnt from you was the skill of ekphrasis, which is one of my favourite ways of writing poetry to the point where I now illustrate my own work!

Brendan, I feel like we were all at sea.. but one thing I learnt young is that no man is an island. Your poetry showed me how to navigate deeper waters than I had the courage to swim, and especially opened a door to myths as a source of inspiration.. you were the saint who graced our shores, and left us more steeped in the mysticism of this world.

Helen said...

Dear Terrific Trio,

This final Garden post leaves me breathless, sad, at loose ends, honored to have been part of something so much larger than myself. I have gotten to know ‘me’ on a level I may have never experienced had I not stumbled through the Garden Gate. I’ve been privileged to read amazing poetry from incredibly talented writers. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

As always, I was sleeping as this amazing conversation unfolded and am reading it all now and realizing this is really happening. I love Joy saying we will continue to be fed by a hidden stream. Yes. And Susie's "we are a living garden." What a journey this has been. I am amazed that the talented Kelli was intimidated when joining. For certain I was, given the talent of the other Toads. I decided to just plunge in, glub glub. Smiles. So grateful for the journey we have made.

Kerry O'Connor said...

Helen, the Garden has always been more golden with you present. Thank you for your continued support over the years.

Sherry, dear friend, my thanks again from the bottom of my heart for such a thoughtful conclusion.

Rosemary Nissen-Wade said...

I'm just reading all this now, on the morning of New Year's Day in Australia. Another wonderful Sherry interview; how fitting. (Sherry, you're amazing!)

I wish you all wonderful new beginnings, and the imaginary garden a long life as an archive. I'm so glad it will remain in that form! I have been wondering what I'll do in April now – there are other prompt lists but none like those I found here – and have decided I'll just keep coming back here and re-using the toads prompts. I'm sure I'll never stop dipping in at other times too, in search of inspiration.

I stumbled across the garden in 2011 and became a recurrent guest. Frankly I never wanted to be more involved, being so busy already with other poetic commitments both on and offline, but I've cherished this site all the same as consistently having a very high calibre of online poetry, the most wonderful and intriguing prompts, and such lovely people to interact with. Bless you all! I can't quite match Jim's count, but I'm grateful for 339 poems which would not have existed without you, and some lasting online friendships too. This garden has been a great treasure in my life. Thank you!

And Brendan, thanks for the personal mention. It's been a great joy reading your poetry! And that of many others here. I hope I can continue to do so – perhaps at Poets United, which we there have always liked to regard as a 'sister site' to this one, and which in 2020 will be staffed by three former toads (Magaly, Sanaa, Rommy) and me – or at other places online, e.g. Instagram where I'm newly enjoying interacting with some of you. And I"m intrigued by the mention of earthweal.com; shall go hunting for it.

Farewell! But not goodbye.

Jenna said...

Thank you for this poetry community and all of your encouragement. I came late to the Garden and have only been here for about 2 years (and blogging for less than 4), but it has been full of great memories and inspiration that has led to countless poems that would not have been written otherwise.

The Bizza said...

Thank you all, Real Toads staff. It was fun getting to know you all. Thank you for giving me the space to experiment and grow. I treasure your friendship.

Ella said...

Thank you, Kerry, Marian, Sherry and Robert-for your work and dedication! I am thrilled I was once part of this beautiful garden-a haven of reflection, insight, and profound gifts!

It was a gift to be part of this endeavor! I owe Sherry a special thank you-when fate intervened and she dared me to write a poem. Sherry, you and poetry changed my life~

Kerry and Marian...I will always be amazed and grateful for all the wonderful prompts, support, and kindness~

Cheers to all Toads and their contributions~

Thank you!!!

Kerry O'Connor said...

Rosemary, I love your idea of using the Play It Again! idea for April. Perhaps I will post something of that nature by way of suggestions from our archives. I believe that would be in keeping with the way ahead for RT as user-friendly resource centre.

Jenna & The Bizza, thank you for adding your voices to the many singers in the garden.

Ella, Thank you so much for returning to comment on our final chapter. You were also among the first toads, even before the site was opened as a public forum. We have come a long way together, and I count myself lucky to have your friendship and creative influence in my life.

Marian said...

Happy New Year, Toads and Friends!

Magaly Guerrero said...

"Real Toads is a place in my mind, not a thing." I think these words are the best path forward. We might not have new prompts here, but the well will remain open for drink (or 13)... for me, this makes the goodbye less heart-ripping.

Thank you so much for the words.

De Jackson said...

So much love, gratitude and poetic words to ALL of you. Thankful for all of the amazing prompts and poems I reveled in, here. Hop on, y'all. You rock.

De

Mary said...

Thanks for remembering, Kerry. Yes, those were the good old days~ Smiles.

Kerry O'Connor said...

I echo Magaly: Thank you all for the words!