We All Bend Toward the Light

We All Bend Toward the Light

by Guest blogger, Katie Hoogendam

As many of you know, one of Gwynn’s projects lately is preparation for the Northumberland Festival of the Arts taking place September 16 to Oct 2 this fall. The theme for the Festival is “Celebrating Resilience” and Katie Hoogendam, poet, writer & interdisciplinary artist, responded to that concept in a way that really got Gwynn thinking about art and the artists who create it. We think it will get you thinking too,

This blog originally appeared on the Northumberland Festival of the Arts (NFOTA) blog on June 3, 2022.

“Who can bend and not break? Not one of us. And yet, the moon also rises. The peonies bloom. Someone hands you a glass of water. Your thirst is quenched, for a moment, and you are touched by the kindness of that person, the significance of that glass of water.” Katie Hoogendam

What does art have to do with resilience?

What do we make of resilience? The capacity to bend but not break? They say reeds are resilient, but so are various plastics, those that float like undulating rainbows across the vast oceanic expanse. What is it to be resilient? As a person? Are you one who has survived the pandemic, but who has suffered loss nonetheless? Have you grieved an absence? Are you grieving now? Are you alive, but full of lost things? What does art have to do with resilience? Is art-making an act of defiance? A laughing into the void? Does making something new and formerly unimagined somehow re-set the balance of all that has been taken?

Creativity in community

Within our local artist communities, with each wave of COVID like an ocean it seemed there would be no legitimate moment to stop and take stock—no crest of a wave from which to gather perspective and examine all that has come before and all that will be—to take an accounting for all that we have lost and all the hope and optimism and perseverance it will require to mend what has been broken. We waited for that moment, but it did not arrive.

History is not predictable as we live our way through it; more waves came and instead of waiting for a crest from which to gain balance, we learned to brace ourselves for the next impact. After multiple bracings, some of us learned to capture the momentum of each new onslaught—to ride the waves. We learned that creativity helps one ride waves. And community. Even better—creativity in community, with community.

“One Morning”–Photography/mixed media–Katie Hoogendam

Who can bend and not break? Not one of us. And yet, the moon also rises. The peonies bloom. Someone hands you a glass of water. Your thirst is quenched, for a moment, and you are touched by the kindness of that person, the significance of that glass of water. In fact, you feel compelled to write a poem about it. You feel compelled to paint a picture of her hand. You feel compelled to compose a song about water, glasses and glasses of unending water.

You almost broke or you shattered completely and yet, even now, you feel the need to respond to the universe, to make something of it all, with your very own hands. You cannot explain this, yet your body, like all green things, bends toward the light—toward life, uncertain as it is.

Art is for everyone

The theme of Northumberland Festival of the Arts 2022 is resilience. Artists local and some far-flung will share with us from the rich caverns of their talents what it means to make art while the world appears to implode, while finances are stretched, while our futures seem uncertain. Whether or not you consider yourself an artist or patron of the arts, NFOTA is for everyone because art is for everyone. We all bend toward the light.

Celebrate Resilience

Celebrate Resilience this September 16th to October 2nd in locations all around Northumberland County (more than 40 events/16 days/8 townsa) as NFOTA celebrates and supports the resilience of local artists and the strength of our shared community. Let’s celebrate our gorgeously illogical human capacity to find beauty under rocks and in dark places—and when beauty cannot be found, to roll up our sleeves and make some!

Image by Bek Greenwood from Pixabay

About Katie

Katie Hoogendam

Meredith K. Hoogendam (Katie/Merkat) is a poet, writer & interdisciplinary artist. Folklore, feminism, and a deep love for the natural world inform her art. Her work appears in publications across the U.S. and Canada. Her play, Plan X, debuted at the 2019 Spirit of the Hills Northumberland Arts Festival (now Northumberland Festival of the Arts). Her most recent collection of poems, Spring Thaw (Glentula Press), launched at Cobourg’s independent bookstore, Let’s Talk Books, in April 2022. Her forthcoming poetry collection and collaborative art project, Grief Forest, is in the works for 2023. You can find her on Instagram @merkatart.

A Panel of Poets

A Panel of Poets

Guest Blog by Antony Di Nardo

But first a word from Gwynn

As mentioned in last week’s blog, The Spirit of Sharing, I was honoured to moderate an unusual literary panel at the Spirit of the Hills Festival of the Arts in Cobourg, Ontario, on October 25, 2019. Four very different poets shared what form their poetry took, what poetry meant to them, what inspired them and what happened when poetry was shared. The Four poets who shared their thoughts on “A Panel of Poets”, were Ted Amsden, Cobourg’s poet laureate emeritis, American/Canadian poet Katie Hoogendam, subversive poet Wally Keeler and performance poet Dane Swan.

Among the audience members was Antony Di Nardo, a fine poet I first had the pleasure of meeting during the days when Ruth and I were editors for the literary journal Lichen Arts & Letters Preview. As the event progressed, I saw Antony scribbling notes and taking part in the discussions. Later, I asked him if he would mind sharing his observations with you here on The Top Drawer, and to my delight, he agreed. Thank you Antony, and over to you:

The Poetry Panel

Amsden talks of poetry as a state of rapture; Swan listens for its pitter patter; Keeler playfully recites the poet’s prayer in an Anglican chapel and subverts an institution; and for Hoogendam poetry is a world where time can come to a stop. Four poets, four traditions, four perspectives, four very different ways of understanding and questioning. Of giving poetry a forum for human discourse. And Gwynn Scheltema, our moderator, looks for answers.

Readers, writers, thinkers, talking and reflecting across the arts. A panel of poets, in this case, to ratify the only truth there is in poetry: it’s as subjective as personal experience.

Sure, there’s common context and cultural bias, societal slants and preferences, there’s even the current flavour of the month that contributes to shaping a poet’s voice, their choice of words. Each poet occupying their own seat, their own space in time, like every listener in the room. Who else, I wonder, saw the crucifix in the corner from the same angle that I did? The nail plunged into the heart of where the cedar crossbeams met? The lashing? The angel that appeared as a shaft of light?

Vitruvian man

“My mind wanders to Joy Harjo,” says Katie Hoogendam before she reads her own sample selection, and Harjo’s poem, she tells us, is about a farm boy who loses his two-year-old sister to a drowning accident and how he sees his mother descend into grief. The poem is called She Had Some Horses, and Hoogendam calls hers, Vitruvian Man, and while I listen to the narrative that unmistakably is the fabric of her poem, my mind wanders to the crucifix in the corner that is unmistakably Vitruvian.

Poetry is play.

Poetency & Apoetasy

Trucks and dolls and Lego blocks, our very first metaphors, our substitutes for making real (or “realer”) our understanding of the world around us. The Poetician, Wally Keeler, says so and I believe every word he says. In a poet’s mind there can be a new world order and it appears on paper and on the sides of transport trucks and as manifestos and in gleeful fabrications like “wire taps” that serve no purpose but to confront and re-imagine. Metaphor: to cross over and go beyond where no one has gone before. Poetry can do that and never hurt a fly.

Poetry is music, rhythm and jazz

And it takes words to do that says, Ted Amsden. It takes words that you might hear at the foot of a master, Earle Birney, say, who also had horses in his poems or Michael Ondaatje who referred to Ted’s first attempts with a manuscript as “half a beer commercial.”

Poetry is everywhere

And there’s poetry in beer commercials and also in Nathan Philips Square where one day Dane Swan looked down at his bare hands and wrote, “do not look at your hand, look at your hand.” Form he says is a function of the poem’s direction. And poetry, says Ted, happens when you treat yourself as a poet. Both rely on the intuitive, a poet’s first faculty.

Paying attention

Poetry also happens when you pay attention.

When she pays attention, Katie Hoogendam enters another world. The world of the imagination, I suppose, or Wally Keeler’s Imagine Nation, perhaps. Alien to some, familiar to others. It’s a good thing we have words in common to know what we mean. Nevertheless, it’s another place, a place of rescue or a place where you can meet yourself on different terms. Katie will follow an image to the ends of the earth and bring it back to put on the page. And sometimes, as it happens, she’ll open her hands to the sky and the words just fall in.

Poetry is work.

And when we work, we make mistakes, we fail and try again and get it wrong until we get it right. It’s a mind mapping activity, says Dane Swan. He makes a list of themes, supporting images, metaphors, visualizes concepts that fit the tenor of his observations where the poem had its beginnings. It’s a balance of trial and error. Of beauty and terror.

Leave more than you take

Here’s part of a poem by Dane Swan, Soothsayer, that Dane never read:

I am the result of my flaws,
Yet treated like a snob,
judged ornery,

If my destiny is to fall apart
I shall give away my limbs
after using them to print text
hidden under pillows
by those who say my name in vain.

I’ll leave more than I took.

It is a good reason to write poetry, I think. To leave more than you take. One day I will see Wally’s People’s Republic of Poetry as a Broadway Musical. Vitruvian Man will come down from the cross and sashay into poetry. Ted will recite the words vulture and voucher from the back of a motorcycle and Dane will have figured out how to slip barbed wire into a poem.

But for now, I’ll content myself knowing that poetry is its own rapture.

Antony Di Nardo is the author of SKYLIGHT, which includes the long poem suite, “May June July,” winner of the Gwendolyn MacEwen Poetry Prize. His other books are Roaming Charges (Brick), Soul on Standby (Exile), and Alien, Correspondent (Brick). Born in Montreal, he divides his time between Cobourg, Ontario and Sutton, Quebec.