Thursday, December 27, 2012

Lament for Nelly

Lament for Nelly

Sadness at a festive time of the year seems to be especially harder to handle.  Christmas Eve in this case. The date will be forever engrained in the brain. The chill of it. You can almost let yourself indulge in a Keatsesque type of ode. That is if you felt poetic.
On Christmas Day it was ‘Poetry Tuesday” for me as always. To grab a few moments to turn internal thoughts into words. Self indulgent? But of course. And so in the dark early hours of Christmas morning, instead of searching the depths of the clear night sky for Santa, I wrote my Lament for Nelly:

Run free sweet Nell
‘cross sands and fields
and far to distant hills.
You’ve tasted honey
and lain your weary bones
on plump soft pillows of foam.

Have fun young Nell
this was no place for the old
so take flight. Take fancy
the open road is yours now
while in our hearts and minds
here you’ll always be. Nelly.

Nelly died at 7.15 pm on Christmas Eve. It was a shock. Greyhounds should live to a good age, not suddenly have their heart come to an abrupt stop at 9 nearly 10 years of age. She’d been for some great road trips with us recently too: exploring new trails; gazing across unspoiled terrain, reflecting on lakes. Then homeward bound, watching the world pass by from her comfy back seat of the Honda with her best buddy Tilly. Possibly wondering why young Aksel got to sit up front. 
We will never know why her heart stopped. Why she decided of her own accord to leave us this Christmas. But she went graciously like the lovely lady greyhound she was. Considerate to the end.
There is a big empty space in our home and in our hearts. But a new bright star in the sky this Christmas time. Nelly joins our sweet young Bentley who left us in May. They are up there with Ben, Boogie and Trevor, Yazmin and Molly.
Run free dear Nell. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Landscape and Memory

In spite of a hectic November with transatlantic travel, my 6th National Novel Writing Month (this year a collaborative attempt), a broken tooth, and a phenomenal bout of jet lag combined with pneumonia, I signed up for a writing workshop being held at a nearby village, in a tiny café, on the banks of the Medway River.

The workshop, hosted by E. Alex Pierce ( is called Landscape and Memory and, “takes inspiration from the environs of the Medway River as well as a number of literary works, we will write on a wide range of subjects in various voices from narrative to lyric to dramatic.”

Ah, the Medway River. Of course I couldn’t resist; I learned all about it at school in Cyprus in the 1950s.

I was a boarder at St. Joseph’s Convent in Nicosia, the island’s capital. The French convent was at Paphos Gate, the smallest of the three original Venetian-built entrances to the ancient walled city. We girls attended the Catholic Church of the Holy Cross, with its front door in the Greek side, and its back door in the Turkish quarter.

Just eleven years old, impressionable and eager; I soaked up information like the proverbial Greek sponge. Geography lessons were my second favourite after anything with an art/music element. I remember Sister Louise ‘skating’ across the highly polished platform, a raised dais before the blackboard. I use the word ‘skating’ as I can think of no other to describe how we balanced each foot on tiny pillows to move across the platform, so as not to scratch or mark, but further enhance the highly polished surface.

Sister Louise enthralled us with stories of far off places. One was Nova Scotia in Canada, a country more known for its immense lakes, prairie wheat fields, and rocky mountains. She delighted us with tales of a special river, close to a gold mine, where salmon were plentiful and royalty visited to enjoy the sport of salmon fishing.

I had no notion that, almost sixty years later, I would be sitting on the banks of that very river, searching for poetic and lyrical words. Long forgotten memories of those school days have been brought alive by this river now. I can see Sister Louise’s young face, with her pink cheeks and deep brown eyes as if she was here beside me. I can hear her melodic voice talking about a country of which she had no first hand knowledge, but of which she spoke with such clarity and conviction. I see her flip back the edges of her habit, as she often did just before telling us something exciting.

The workshops are called Landscape and Memory.  It is a powerful experience to indulge in a few hours a week of letting the river be the catalyst for my writing. Allowing the memories to flit like damsel flies. I have no control, and I delve into later school memories of an English teacher lulling us to snooze every Friday afternoon while she read to us 4th formers, in her Scottish lilt, from that century-old classic Three Men in a Boat: Jerome K Jerome’s account of a trip up the River Thames. The underrated master of language wrote:

And we sit there by its margin, while the moon, who loves it too, stoops down to kiss it with a sister’s kiss, and throws her silver arms around it clingingly; and we watch it as it flows, ever singing, ever whispering, out to meet its king, the sea.

The workshop series is absorbing; Alex Pierce reads aloud; powerful poetry by extraordinary writers like Dionne Brand.  Workshop participants share their diverse writings too. Thought provoking essays are recommended reading which I tentatively explore as untrod territory with apprehension and excitement. I watch old films again, films where rivers are protagonists. And, as the month closes in, I feel that November has been generous to me.

So I write; not only inspired by the Medway River but also by the memories this workshop has stirred and which the group’s chemistry has brought to the surface. I write, at a gentler pace than normal, of unresolved dilemmas being carried away by the river, out to the sea. I write poems, many poems, about love and about lovers on the river’s banks. And I think about the incalculable power landscape has for stirring memory.

The moon’s riding high this night of all nights
when every line on your palm speaks of danger
with stillness you move
as if without breath
with no fear or alarm or of anger

Life’s written in starlight reflected in glass
while shifting through fields of destruction
finding the way
as only you can
just one world away from the ocean

S.B. Borgersen November 2012

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Implications of Writing a Novel

We’ve just returned from a five day visit to Prince Edward Island. That’s a province known for being the birthplace of confederation in Canada where the historic 1864 Charlottetown Conference was held. More information is here:
There are three ways to get to The Island, as it is referred to: air, sea, and the Confederation Bridge. Again, if you’d like to know more, this might help  which states
The curved, 12.9 kilometre (8 mile) long bridge is the longest in the world crossing ice-covered water, and more than a decade after its construction, it endures as one of Canada’s top engineering achievements of the 20th century.
It opened in 1997 and this week as we drove across the bridge we were reminded of our previous visit in May with young Bentley (see my earlier blog ‘You Can’t Make This Stuff Up’). But this time we were going on our very first vacation together. We are home-bodies, you see, and also a dog loving family and if we can’t take our family with us wherever we go, then we just don’t go. We’re happy with that.
The rental cottage on the red sands beach was perfect. Rustic, but perfect. The ‘girls’ (Nelly and Tilly our dogs) just loved it, especially the morning and evening walks that went on for deserted mile after deserted mile, with the glorious sun setting over the bridge.
We also made time to be tourists. And the BIG attraction on The Island is Anne of Green Gables, drawing thousands upon thousands of visitors from around the world year round. Who’d a thunk it? Anne of Green Gables was written by Lucy Maude Montgomery in 1908. The tourism PEI website purports that if she were alive today, author Lucy Maud. Montgomery would be overjoyed by the continuing interest in her most famous work, Anne of Green Gables. The novel has fans from all around the world, and has generated widespread curiosity about the places Montgomery lived in and wrote about.
My dear-heart and I discussed this at some length as we sat in the gardens with the dogs, in the early fall sunshine, at the birthplace of this humble and possibly troubled author. We agreed that she would probably be horrified at the millions of pairs of feet treading her tiny halls year in year out, poking their ways through her ‘haunted woods’ and buying multiple boxes of ‘Anne’ chocolates and made-in-China ‘Green Gables’ tea mugs. Horrified would not have even scratched the surface of seeing the Island Tour buses offloading cruise-ship couples sporting tacky Anne red-hair braids under battered straw hats, just for photos confirming that it was Tuesday and they were at Green Gables. Green Gables - a historic government controlled Provincial Park raking in entrance fees hand over fist.
So what of Lucy Maude? I meant to purchase her journal while I was there. One of the park rangers assured me that, as a writer, I would find it most absorbing as it gave a detailed insight into the author’s life, and what made her tick.
But I didn’t. I felt we’d encroached enough on the lady’s life. But I did buy a porcelain Anne doll and a copy of the book for a 6 year old neighbour, and six boxes of Green Gables hand made chocolates for gifts. I also bought myself a tea mug. It will remind me that one author writing a book can impact the world in so many ways. And if that includes providing employment to hundreds on an island where the fishing and farming industry is suffering. Then so be it.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Three Day Novel Contest

So here I go again. Biting at another challenge. Or is it an excuse to tell folks I've gone away - take the phone off the hook, lock the door and play 'pretend' for three days?

I did the Three Day Novel Contest (let's call it 3dnc from here on, ok) once before, a few years ago. I wrote Minerva's Letters - a literary masterpiece in the raw (imho) - a tale of two people falling for each other unaware of the implications (but Minerva knew!). The manuscript continues to gather dust somewhere, but the experience of the 3 cathartic days is still vivid in my mind.

So here I am, faced with the anticipation of putting ideas into words onto 'paper' starting at midnight tomorrow. It's exciting, thrilling in fact. By Monday I will have something that doesn't exist now. Characters will be born into situations and settings as yet non existent. My mouth will go dry as conflicts are resolved (or not), and maybe for lack of sustenance too, if my dear-heart forgets to feed and water me.

For it is a marathon write-in. Averaging 10,000 words a day. No time for research. No time for reading over, let alone editing. Sometimes characters accidentally have their names changed overnight. The blue-eyed blonde can become a tall brunette and the summer breezes can swiftly turn to the dead of winter. It matters not.

And that's what makes the 3dnc a wonderful experience, for if you had the time to 'correct' as you go, the spontaneity that comes with this type of writing would be lost. A well known poet once advised me to try writing 'without conscious thought' and that will be my approach.  If I'm still conscious, or even thinking by midnight Monday, it'll probably be thanks to the copious amounts of Red Bull and pizza with extra cheese - but I'll let you know.

In the meantime I'm looking for a quote to kick me off. Answers on a postcard please.

Friday, June 1, 2012

What is it about flags?

It is usual in this part of the world to see flags flying. From garden flagpoles to government buildings. Canada is a young country; it is also quietly very proud. The maple leaf forever and all that. No special occasion needed.
A couple of days ago a (large) package arrived from the UK. It is from an old (and elderly) friend, bless his heart. He sends many packages including newspaper cuttings (assuming we are cut off from global happenings). He also sends penguins in whatever shape of form the come - from chocolate wrappings to Beannie babies. A word of warning here - be hesitant in telling people about things you like - I mentioned ‘penguins’ once, just once - and I now have a collection of 35 of the little blighters! Plus anything at all to do with the RAF and WWII, bee-keeping, asthma, coin collecting and MS. So now you have a good idea of how much personal interest this old (and elderly) friend has gleaned from me over the years.
Back to the package.  It contains miles of bunting.  Well, not exactly miles - but metres of mini union jacks strung together as if destined for a car dealership sales lot. In addition there are red white and blue baseball hats and a plastic shopping bag with double sided union jacks. At the bottom of the package is a giant English flag - the cross of St. George.
So what’s a gal to do?  What’s this all for?  It is of course a big year in the UK to be patriotic and wave the flag. Our Queen (yes, she is Canada’s sovereign too) is celebrating her longevity on the throne and apparently half the world will celebrate with her.
So - the bunting is destined for our front picket fence this afternoon. We may allow our garden statuary to sport the hats - and the plastic shopping bag? Well it might go shopping, but it seems a perfect carrier for my gym paraphernalia. The cross of St. George however is another matter - it is too large for one person to wave. We may have to take down our maple leaf and run it up the flag pole.
I will also be very careful, in future, about what interests I divulge to friends, even old and elderly ones.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

At Odds

At Odds
One pink, one orange, one white
I pop them
then drop them
from sight
out of my circle of thinking
ridding my head for this night
Hoping at dawn I will write
of distance
for sixpence
I might
find others to match them
in pairs. Of pink, of orange, and white
S.B. Borgersen May 2012

Sunday, May 20, 2012

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

You can’t make this stuff up.

We are instructed on our creative writing courses and workshops, to capture feelings and emotions at the time we feel them, no matter how hard it is. “Write it all down,” they tell us. “It will be so useful later. After all, you can’t make this stuff up.”

But I couldn’t do it. Not on Saturday, not on Sunday, and not yesterday. I’m not sure if I can do it now. Feelings of loss are nigh impossible to impart to paper and I’m not sure I’m that dedicated a writer to be cold and collected about it.

This is about Bentley. And about Bentley’s family: Tilly, ten months old; Nelly ten years old and us (my husband and me). We are close. There is so much love that I can’t put that down on paper either.

Bentley had his third birthday on March 24th. We wore paper hats and shared cake and sang. But two weeks ago Bentley wasn’t feeling too well, so we took him to our local vet. Over the course of four days and extensive blood tests we found that he had the onset of kidney failure. Armed with all the necessary clinical solutions available from our local vet, we brought him home and nursed him ourselves (there is no overnight care at the local animal hospital). We soon became adept at changing I.V. drips and giving subcutaneous fluids into his back by needle.  He stopped eating and I tried everything under the sun to tempt him to no avail.

By the time the weekend was over we decided to take control and made arrangements for him to be seen by the Atlantic Veterinarian College in Prince Edward Island. It is a teaching hospital of international repute. The Mayo Clinic for animals, if you like.

We left home at 3 am and arrived, via The Confederation Bridge, on Prince Edward Island, the birthplace of Canada, by 9.30 am. They were expecting us. They welcomed us all (yes, we took Tilly and Nelly with us) and we spent the remainder of the morning in consultation with a team of experts. Ultrasound showed that his kidneys appeared normal and so a course of treatment was agreed and we left him in their good care and came home arriving around midnight (a round trip of 900 kms).

Many phone calls ensued over the days that followed and as the hours and minutes ticked by it became apparent that Bentley was just not responding to treatment. And so on Saturday we returned to The Island, all of us, to see our boy and face the inevitable.

He walked into the family room and the three dogs had a sniff and a lick in acknowledgment. I looked the little fellow in the eyes (oh how the eyes can speak so many words) and I knew he wanted to stop the fight.  And so we made our decision and Bentley died in my arms at 12.30 pm on Saturday 5th May.

My husband walked ‘the girls’ while this was happening, as it was too much for him to bear. Bentley was his boy you see, his friend, his buddy.

Bentley’s team at the AVC consisted of internal medicine experts and final year vet college students. They were all present on Saturday. Some affected deeply, as they had bonded with him very quickly while he was in their care. He was such a lovable little chap.

They wrapped him in a velvet blanket and carefully placed him in a box for us to bring him home. We did the return five and a half hour journey with heavy hearts. The girls were absolutely wonderful: well behaved and not at all needy, but subdued and respectful.

Bentley is now under the apple tree with his grandfather, Boogie, and his two sisters, Molly and Yazmin.

And we still grieve.

And so, as you see, I am still unable to write about how I feel. All I have done is unburdened myself to this blog.  But I didn’t make any of this stuff up either.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Layers: Poetry and Photographs

Just out. A collection of poems written in the past six months, combined with photographs from far and near.

Layers, poetry and photographs by S.B. Borgersen