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Charles Baker
British Columbia, Canada


Charles Baker writes:

Thank God for caring and patient teachers! Until grade ten, not only did I despise poetry, but I didn't like school at all. Mr. Barton's English class was different. His love of words mystified me. How could anyone care about poetry the way he did? He didn't seem that nerdy, either. It made me curious. When he gave me an opportunity to teach a poetry unit to the class, I was sold two ways—on poetry, and on the teaching profession!

Ridicule and reward

My first writing teacher at university ridiculed and tore apart my poetry in front of the entire class. It took a long time for those wounds to heal. In the meantime, I lucked out and took a class from Patrick Lane, one of Canada's premiere poets. He taught me all about powerful imagery that "sticks in the brain." I still didn't write any poetry, though, until ten years later, when I found myself back at university taking a second degree (TESL). My poetry class this time was taught by Carl Leggo, a crazy Canadian Newfoundland poet who had grey hair down to his waist. He inspired me to write more poetry than I ever thought possible—and have fun doing it. Since then, I've never looked back.

Coming back to Christ

Flash back to second year university. I was struggling with my faith and angry at God. At a dance, I was drawn to a shy Eurasian girl, Anna, so after the dance I went up to speak to her. I saw a gold cross hanging from her neck, and out snapped "Is that just a decoration, or do you actually believe something?" Despite my rudeness, Anna patiently helped me answer many of the questions I'd been struggling with. As of June 24th this year, we'll have been married for fourteen years, and we now have two beautiful boys—Christopher James, 4, and Timothy Andrew, seven months.

Another separation

Until I found the Utmost Christian site last year, I had never written any "Christian" poetry. Strange that I'd brought Christianity into every other part of my life—home, family, work, reading—but not my own writing. Since "The Conversion" was published a few months ago, I've been able to write about fifteen more Christian poems and three Christian articles, compared to only three "secular" poems during the same time period. Again, I was able to have the right person come in at the right time—Nathan Harms, editor extraordinaire, who helped me hone and shape the imagery in my first published Christian poem. Onwards and Godwards!

A Poet's Places

Petoe Lake Peyto is a glacier-fed lake in Banff National Park. As the water runs over the rock, it creates "rock flour", which neither floats nor sinks in the water. Instead, it stays suspended somewhere in between, and when the sun's rays catch it, the light reflects beautifully, creating a deep aquamarine hue. It's breathtaking and breathgiving at the same time!

Butchart Gardens is a beautiful garden just 21 km north of Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. The fountain changes its pattern every few minutes.

The gardens are a chance to view God's awesome power at work, and a convincing argument for His existence—can all this be an accident? Since when have accidents produced anything as beautiful as what's pictured here? Even the staunchest atheist has to take time to ponder. . .

Of course the maple leaf pattern of the fountain is a patriotic sign of who I am and where I'm from. Here's a sign of my national pride!

Charles Baker Photo

Charles Baker Poet Photo One of my favourite "poet's places" is the classroom. The hippy picture is of me talking to students about landmines from war and the damage they can do in peacetime. My class raised $4000 that year to help de-mine a schoolyard in Mozambique. Not bad for a group of 28 grade six and seven kids!

An Interview with Charles Baker

Utmost: Does the Utmost Gallery represent the first publication of your poetry, or have you been published before?
Charles: No, I've had work published before in journals and online. I've even had one of my poems illustrated by an artist who has done some work for The New Yorker, so I feel quite blessed at this early stage in my writing career.

Utmost: How important do you think publishing of your poetry is? Does it change anything?
Charles: Every writer needs a reader. Of course, that reader can be yourself—some of my most treasured poems are about family and friends—but it's satisfying to know that someone else out there can connect with your words as well.

Utmost: Earlier on this page you mentioned that Utmost founder, Nathan Harms, helped "hone and shape" your poem, "The Conversion." Can you tell us what that process was like? Was it threatening? A lot of artists guard their work from meddling by outsiders.
Charles: Nathan Harms is a craftsman, a real Bezalel (see Exodus 31:2-3) in every sense of the word. I admired his insight into the message and the power of the poem; he always seemed to have the right question to ask to force me to go deeper. I valued his opinion and did not feel threatened, until the moment when the poem was nearing completion. At that point, I felt like either it was going to work, or the editor would give up on it once and for all. Thankfully, it came together beautifully, with his help.

Utmost: Your poem, "The Conversion," begins with a powerful image. Do you find that images play an important role in your every day life?
Charles: I'm an extremely visual person. In fact, many of my poems can get gimmicky at times, because I tend to see thoughts and words as pictures, and vice versa. In this way, many of my poems take on a visual element.

Utmost: What's the weirdest idea you've ever had for a poem, whether you actually wrote it or not?
Charles: Only one? I've written a poem, "Cold Reading / Reading Cold," that you read first forwards and then backwards. I also wrote two poems, "Wind Shield" and "Wind Wiper," that you read alternately by flipping a page back and forth; together, they become "Windshield Wipers." A favourite weird one of mine is "The Accident: Compound Fractures" because it smashes words together to give a message against drunk driving.

Utmost: That's interesting. If someone writes a poem aiming to affect the behavior of the reader, do you think that conflicts with the idea of poetry as an artistic expression?
Charles: Because a poem calls awareness to an issue or to action does not mean it cannot have artistic merit as well. If we examine the most memorable speeches ("I Have A Dream") and events ("The Last Spike") of the past, we find poetic images and symbols throughout. Why then, should poets not move people to action? The defusing of apartheid in South Africa was sped along because of the work of some of that country's poets, who were willing to go to jail for self-publishing what they believed to be true.

Utmost: So where does that leave art that isn't delivering a message? Is it an art form?
Charles: Many poems are written for the expression of an image or a thought alone, and there is nothing wrong (and everything right) with that. Poetry today, as an art form? I'm not so sure. If we examine the poetry journals on the bookstands today, we'll see a very narrow view of what is considered "publishable poetry." Most of it is free verse, composed of either list poems or prose poetry. While this is an oversimplification, I don't think it's possible to call twenty-first century poetry an art form until journals begin to widen the scope of what they accept in terms of artistic expression. I've written about forty or fifty different styles of poetry, but I know the two or three kinds that are currently in vogue and have a chance of being published. The silver lining is that at least there is still a market for some poetry, places where writer and reader can meet together to decide the value of a poem for themselves.

Utmost: Wow. I can see we've touched a topic about which you're passionate. Can you name some writers or poets whose work you feel has influenced your writing style or your approach to the page? Do you have a favorite author?
Charles: Patrick Lane taught me—literally and figuratively—the power of images that "stick in the brain"; Carl Leggo taught me the love of language; and Natalie Goldberg's first book taught me that it's okay to write garbage—whole notebooks full of it if necessary. My favourite writers currently include Rebecca Norman, Celine Chung, Pamela Yuen, Lisa Dojack, Jessica Marola, Shawn Agnew, and Shayn Solberg—all grade 11 and 12 students of mine—and about a hundred others as well!

Utmost: In what ways has your vocation as a school teacher enriched your poetry?
Charles: First of all, the staff at my current school, Dr. Charles Best Senior Secondary, are extremely supportive, positive, and encouraging people. They are also highly creative—actors and artists, chefs and photographers, novelists and poets—and all of them, teachers! But what gives me the greatest pleasure is viewing students playing with words and getting excited at uncovering and discovering their creations.

Utmost: If you could write a truly great poem about one single topic, what would that topic be?
Charles: My ideal poem would be one that moves people to be followers of Christ, or to find strength when they are attacked. I think David beat me to it, though, when he wrote Psalms.

Utmost: What is the greatest thing a reader could say about a poem you've written?
Charles: I get it, I feel it, I found something of value—I saw something else when I read it again!

Utmost: What book would you most highly recommend, poetry or otherwise? Why?
Charles: Besides BibleGateway.com, which puts every version of the Bible at your fingertips, I enjoy Word Menu, for its wide variety of language, Writing Down the Bones (Natalie Goldberg) for its encouragement to put pen to paper, and A Kick in the Seat of the Pants and A Whack in the Side of the Head for their weirdness (of course!) and their ability to jar my thinking in different directions.

Utmost: Do you have a favorite food or any favorite recipe you'd care to share with Utmost?
Charles: Satay at Clarke Quay in Singapore. Since that's a little far away, though, I'll say a close second is a huge helping of spaghetti with my wife's home-made spaghetti sauce:

Anna's Spaghetti Sauce

1 medium onion, chopped
250g smoked bacon piece, cubed
500g lean ground beef
1 small tin tomato paste
1/2 cup tomato ketchup
3/4 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
Salt to taste
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar or to taste

Fry bacon until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp. Reserve bacon fat in the pot. Fry onions until translucent. Add ground beef and cook until evenly brown. Add in salt and pepper. Add tomato paste and tomato ketchup and stir well. Add in Italian seasoning. Add water until mixture becomes a sauce consistency. Stir well and simmer covered on low heat for 1 to 1 1/2hours until sauce is slightly thickened. If there's too much fat, skim off the fat and add a little more water. Enjoy.

Charles' poetry

Charles writes: I once tried to create my own form poem; I call them "Bakerian stanzas." It involves tenses (past, present, and future), alliteration, a strengthening of the word "and", and a few other surprises. Following are two of them, "Battle Scars" and "Space Farmer."

Battle Scars


I wanted to model the ache,
Wear it, a red cape, a
Medal of honour, a
Sign of sacrifice.
Some days, you meet a wound
For reasons known only to you,
And a
Battered body.


I start to sketch the solution,
Paint it, a clear sea, my
Award for labour, a
Canvas of clarity.
Some days you greet a problem
For reasons known only to you,
And a
Shattered sky.


I'm going to sing the future,
Hum it, a pink aria,
Songbook of valour,
Sheets of salvation.
Some days you repeat a melody
For reasons known only to you,
And a
Tattered tune.

                     Copyright©2002 by Charles Baker

Space Farmer


I wanted to big bang the world,
Wake it, a black hole, an
Empty Explorer, a
Nexus to nothingness.
Some days, you sow a seed
For reasons known only to you
And a
Paved pasture.


I start to circle the Earth,
Mold it, a white oval, an
Orbit of origin, a
Flight-path of fertility.
Some days, you grow some grass
For reasons known only to you
And a
Saved site.


I'm going to lift off the globe,
Sell it, an emerald eden, a
Shining shuttle, a
Guidance system of greed.
Some days, you mow a meadow
For reasons known only to you
And a
Shaved strip.

                     Copyright©2002 by Charles Baker

The Accident: Compound Fractures

Windsignals and turnshields,
Tailshields and windpipes,
Rearview pipes and tailmirrors,
Turnmirrors and rearview signals,
Dashsignals and turnboards,
Headboards and dashlights,
Brakelights and headfluids,
Bodyfluids and brakework,

Glovework and bodyboxes.

                     Copyright©2002 by Charles Baker