British Columbia, Canada
Violet Nesdoly writes:
The world of words has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. As a kid, whenever my Mom needed me for a job, it was a sure thing she'd find me between the covers of a book.
First publishing credits
I didn't become aware of the power of poetry until high school and Mr. Willems' English class. His carefully-prepared handouts and enthusiastic poem dissections showed us how to dig amazing amounts out of what were—on first reading—inscrutable lines. It was during those years that I earned my first publishing credits in the Western Producer, "Young Co-operator's Page." I decided that someday I would like to be a "writer."
Though I wrote very little for public consumption in the years that followed—through university, teaching, miscellaneous jobs, marriage, the arrival of two children, homemaking and running my home-based medical transcription business—I continued to write privately, journal upon journal. It was my way of processing life and bookmarking God's dealings with me. My saying: "If I can write, I can be sane."
Writing for children
In 1995, one year from a landmark birthday, I realized that unless I put some muscle into developing writing skills, my childhood fantasy of becoming a published writer would remain just that. By year-end I had enrolled in a correspondence course on writing for children, and in March 1997 I sold my first children's story.
A serious poem
Though I enjoyed writing for kids, something was missing. I needed an outlet for the adult in me as well. The first serious poem I wrote was in 1998, during a difficult situation. I slogged away at it for one whole emotion-filled day. Finally that night, after I had captured all the questions and feelings into a thing—this poem—I felt a great release. And I realized that perhaps poetry could be the adult outlet I'd been missing.
My Christian faith has been with me since childhood—apart from a several-year excursion from it in my 20s. Faith in God has dyed the fabric of my life. As a poet my hope is that God-color will bleed into all my poems, the humorous as well as the serious; the secular as well as the religious.
A Poet's Places
My husband and I often go walking here. This particular Saturday it was sunny when we left home, but the closer we got to the sea, the foggier it got.
I was disappointed that the sun wasn't shining, surprised at how that cold fog can seep into one's jacket and loving the way the fog muffled everything.
At left is Blackie's Spit, a bird sanctuary of sorts. It's a natural flyway for migrating birds, declared by the sign-boards to be the first land north-flying migrants see after their long trip across water. The water flows into Mud Bay (Pacific Ocean) not far from here.
For years I've punctuated my day with a noon-hour walk in my city neighborhood. With my husband home in the last few months, we've gone further afield and with binoculars in hand explored some of the local walking trails, river banks and beaches. This is the Nicomekl River seen from the Elgin Heritage Park walkway in South Surrey B.C., with Ward's Marina in the background. These lovely urban parks are the habitat of many ducks, cormorants, herons, sandpipers, hawks and other birds. Even a half hour spent in this environment restores a sense of peace, clarity and balance.
|When I was a kid, I dismissed gardening (read "weeding" and "picking peas") as Mom's thing. But when I settled into a home of my own, it quickly became mine as well. Now I find there are few things as satisfying as nurturing a patch of earth into order and beauty. I love the physical exercise of it, the cyclical nature of it and how an hour spent outside makes the inside-my-head work of writing seem like not such a big deal.|
This is the cluttery office—the "womb room"—where my "brain children" take shape. It is my workshop with beloved tools close at hand—pens, paper, dictionaries, Bible (many versions), filing cabinet, bookshelves with binder upon binder (for all the things I squirrel away) and its two desks—perfect for the way I work. The large office desk holds all my "piles" and still gives me space to spread out and begin writing in longhand. When the words come too quickly for pen and paper, I leap to the computer and carry on at the keyboard.
An Interview with Violet Nesdoly
Utmost: Does the Utmost Gallery represent the first publication of your poetry, or have you been published before?
Violet: I've had a few children's poems published in Sunday School take-home papers, and a poem of mine was included in a Christmas anthology published by Essence Publishing in 2001.
Utmost: How important do you think publishing of your poetry is? Does it change anything?
Violet: It was important for me to have my work accepted by an editor. It said to me that someone, whose opinion I valued and respected, felt that what I'd written connected with others enough to reproduce it at their own expense. If it changed anything, it encouraged me to pursue this difficult but very rewarding form of writing.
Utmost: You've mentioned a desire that "God color" will bleed into all your poems. That's a picturesque image with spiritual impact, but how does God color make its appearance to readers? Do you mean that you try to mention God in each of your poems, or do you mean something different? What's that about?
Violet: (Oh dear, I should have known that metaphor would come back to haunt me!)I think that God-color appears in a variety of ways. First, in the poems that mention God it's there in-your-face and on the page. In poems that aren't overtly religious, it's there but more subtly. One finds it in the poet's stance toward all that's written about—human experience and its meaning, the problem of evil, death, nature, etc. In this area, I don't think Christian poets necessarily and consciously ask, "what is the Christian take on this thing or that?" but rather (and this would be my ideal), they write from a life immersed so completely in a Christian world view that the expression can't help but come out dyed Christian. Thirdly, I'd say one can detect God-color in a poet's body of work by what is missing from it. And, no I don't mention God in each of my poems.
Utmost: Violet, you've won a few poetry contests at Utmost. What do you feel the place of contests is in the development of a poet's work? Has winning made any difference to you?
Violet: I was thrilled to win the contests at Utmost! I think contests are an opportunity for poets to challenge themselves in the areas of writing to a specific topic (if that's a stipulation), writing to a deadline, finishing a piece of work and then actually sending it off. Also contests have a time-line so when you enter one, you know the date by which you'll find out whether or not your efforts were successful. If winning has made any difference, it's alerted me to contests I might enter (so, contest sponsors, hold out your entry-fee-collecting hands!)
Utmost: Tell me about favorite poets you admire, especially Christian poets. Do you have any favorite poetry books?
Violet: Christian poets (and others) I admire: Isaiah (how did he write that incredible stuff on skins, without erasers, white-out or a delete key?), Jane Kenyon, Wendell Berry, Nathan Harms, Barbara Mitchell. I also enjoy Wendy Cope, A. E. Stallings and Kate Light. Some favorite poetry books: The Impossible Uprooting by David Waltner-Toews, The Weather of the Heart by Madeleine L'Engle, Midnight in the Garden by Nathan Harms and I Know You Lord, by Barbara Mitchell.
Utmost: You're an active participant in the Utmost Christian Poets Forum, and have gained a deserved reputation for providing insightful critique of poetry. What approach do you take to critique that works so well for you?
Violet: I first read about a way to critique that I felt was non-threatening to the critiquer and the critiqued in two books by Sheila Bender: Writing Personal Essays and Writing Personal Poetry. When you critique by this method you pay close attention to what feelings and thoughts the piece of writing elicits in you, then give the writer your response by describing those feelings (e.g. When I read lines 22 & 23 I feel confused, or irritated or amused, etc.). I have combined that method with what I am learning about poetry, and will now sometimes make suggestions on how things could be changed.
Utmost: Have you found that critiquing the work of other poets affects your own poetry in any way?
Violet: Yes it has. Critiquing has been like a free workshop on what makes some poems powerful and others ineffective. It has sent me scurrying to my limited reference library or the web to discover poetry terms and to help me understand why a particular poem isn't working. Most of all, it has made me aware that some of the weaknesses I'm seeing in others' work is present in my own as well.
Utmost: Tell me what you think about the importance of person-to-person relationships with other Christian poets?
Violet: I don't think I realized how important these relationships were until I discovered this web site and got to know other Christian poets. The forum at Utmost has been especially meaningful in that regard. Through it I've met Christian poets throughout Canada and the U.S. These poets are a ready-made critique group which I can access from my home. They have also proved encouraging, inspiring and a goad to do better work.
Utmost: Are there any specific experiences that have profoundly shaped your development as a Christian poet?
Violet: I have a great respect for the power of the written word at any time, but when the Holy Spirit inhabits written words, their impact is multiplied and something miraculous happens. For me, some of the most profound spiritual experiences and insights have come through reading. My prayer is that God would use my writing to connect people with Him in the way that the writing of others has done this for me.
Utmost: This feature is called "Poets' Places." Aside from those places near your home, what places further abroad have enhanced your poetry? Has travel or other adventures had an impact on the poetry you've written? How do you think Christian poets can widen their outlook to enhance their poetry?
Violet: I spent the first years of my life in Saskatchewan, and the prairies will always remain a part of me. I suppose a four-month backpack trip I took to Britain and Europe in 1974 has not so much influenced my writing as my reading of poetry—in that I have experienced different cultures and locations, though to a very limited extent.
But can't widening one's outlook be done in other ways besides traveling? Some ways I can think of are reading widely and deeply about any subject one finds interesting (the Internet is wonderful to get one started in this department), becoming familiar with Christian and secular modern poets and their work (again, easy to do with the Internet), and exposing oneself to the work of other artists in the fields of drama, music, art, dance and photography. One does all of these things, of course, to stay in touch with our generation. The goal is to communicate with relevance.
Utmost: I see you have an interest in flower gardens. What other hobbies or interests do you have? Do they work their way into your poetry?
Violet: I love hiking and getting familiar with outdoor things, so that I know the names of the birds, flowers and trees that I'm looking at. I love reading. I have in the past designed arrangements with flowers that I've grown and dried. I sometimes go on handwork jags—knitting mostly—where I make slippers and dishcloths, usually while watching TV. I love to watch curling! Some of these things have made their way into my poems. Others probably will someday, in some way.
Utmost: Tell me something surprising about yourself--something people would never guess.
Violet: During my 1974 "Europe Cure" trip, my girlfriend and I made our way from the north of England to Scotland by hitchhiking. (A very nice lorry driver gave us a ride. Whew! Don't tell my daughter.)
Utmost: If you could write a truly great poem about one single topic, what would that topic be?
Violet: I don't know what topic my great poem would be about, but I know the effect I'd want it to have: the effect of the poems "Footprints" by Margaret Fishback-Powers or "Holy Comforter" by Barbara Mitchell, or "Let Evening Come" by Jane Kenyon. It would be a poem that would point people to God; one they would want to read again and again for its reassurance and comfort.
Utmost: What is the greatest thing a reader could say about a poem you've written?
Violet: Can I have (make, put up, send someone, laminate, buy, print) a copy of that?
Utmost: Do you have a favorite food or any favorite recipe you'd care to share with Utmost?
Violet: Soup rules! Make a huge pot of soup and you may not have to cook anything else all week. Here is one of my family's favorites.
6 – 9 hot Italian sausages
2 tbsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 bay leaf
1 garlic clove, minced
3 quarts (12 cups) water
2 cups chopped cabbage
1 cup uncooked pasta
4 medium carrots, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
16 oz. (2 cups) can kidney beans, undrained
28 oz. can (3Þ cups) canned tomatoes (pieces or crushed)
Cook sausages separately (fry or bake). Cool and cut in bite-sized rounds. In large soup pot combine remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Add sliced Italian sausage. Cook 15 minutes longer or until vegetables are tender. Remove bay leaf. If desired sprinkle each serving with Parmesan cheese. Serve with foccacia bread.
*This recipe was adapted from Pillsbury Kitchen's Family Cookbook, The Pillsbury Company, Minneapolis Minnesota, 1979.
In His Shop
In his shop Daddy improvised
like a jazz musician.
Virtuoso of rivets, solder, screws, he
repaired hinges with leather
lengthened a steering shaft
for the tractor-drawn binder,
braced wobbly chairs with welding rods,
reincarnated metal seats
into lawn furniture.
Lightning from his welder
like brain synapses
crackled creations into being.
whining file perfected
riffs of leather, metal, wood.
Copyright©2002 by Violet Nesdoly
"Now he (Joseph) left the room and found a place where he could weep." Gen. 42:24
Those rugged Semite robes, that tangled hair,
how this one walks, another's face, those eyes...
They near, the smell of Canaan fills the air.
Ten sheaves bow down - a wondrous, cruel surprise.
"Your servants, twelve, are brothers, sons of one,
the youngest with our father, one is not."
(Ha, that one is! My peace with past hard won,
I'll not go back.) "To jail. You're spies and caught!"
In Rachel's tongue one says, "It was that deed.
It's punishment for how we treated him;
He cried and begged for help, we paid no heed,
Now vengeance serves her cup filled to the brim."
(What's this -- they're changed? Oh God, I healed that pain
Now it floods back, wounds open, bleed again.)
Copyright©2002 by Violet Nesdoly
I Take My Walk Just In Time
I take my walk just in time
under the frowning sky
share the green with black crows and white gulls.
They graze while I ponder, should I
give it up, this tinkering
with words that pilfers time
from creased shirts and dusty corners?
There's little coin to justify
hours spent and what will be its fate
on that final bonfire-trial day?
Beside my path, a gull so near
we could touch
smooth, pearly gray
wingtips telescoped to perfect
white dots on black.
Surely God, the original and extravagant Creator
Who thought it no waste
to paint alpine flowers,
craft ocean stars
and decorate with this polka-dotted petticoat,
understands the urge I feel
to build for the epiphanies of my life
little piles of words?
I turn home with lighter heart
step to subtle happy rhythms --
a woodpecker rattling her way up a finger of snacks
and on my jacket the intermittent pat, pat,
pat of reconnaissance raindrops.
Copyright©2002 by Violet Nesdoly
Gravel path separates sea
and beach houses -- enticing castles
with great glass vistas, rustic arbors,
porticos of stone sheltering lazy loungers,
chairs in conversation.
Protected by moats -- gardens
outlined in stone, brick, white picket
brown cedar, rounded shrubs smooth as shaved heads,
filled with green velvet and planters spilling
daffodils, pansies, sprays of giddy forsythia,
tulip faces of flame pressed open against the sun.
On the pathway humanity
power walks and ambles
struts and strolls
pedals and rolls,
the old shuffle, the new
totter, absent-minded mutter
bark and wag
zig and zag.
Plank walls partition the beach.
At low tide their water-ends glow emerald
in a glassy setting.
Pebbled, seaweedy sand is strewn
with forest bones and gargoyle driftwood
bleaching in the sun.
The world fades as I recline against a log
bathe in lemony sunshine
luxuriate in a sea-fresh breeze
lulled by the delicate slosh of waves
that ripple and relax
onto the shore.
A million silver threads
sparkle through a gray lamé sea.
Somewhere across the bay a motor hums.
A seagull calls an echoing yodel.
Copyright©2002 by Violet Nesdoly