Since the early days of the pandemic in March 2020, Melinda Dewsbury – who teaches global literature at Trinity Western University in Langley – has been writing and exchanging poetry with her mother, Diana Caldwell, 72, who lives in Chatsworth, near Owen Sound, Ont.
Over the past year, this cross-country, mother-daughter exchange has produced more than 100 poems.
It all started on the very first day of working from home, Dewsbury recounted.
“Last March was really beautiful. I remember because I was sitting outside for the first couple of weeks to do my work,” she said.
“I was sitting in my backyard just feeling so confused. I think everyone was feeling confused and shocked.”
As an English and writing instructor for more than 20 years, Dewsbury did what she loved: she started to write a poem.
And as the pandemic stay-at-home orders stretched from weeks into months, so did Dewsbury’s poetry project.
Soon she was writing a poem almost every day from her home in B.C.
After about a week into the habit, Dewsbury invited her mom, in Ontario, to join her in journaling together in poetry.
The two began regularly trading freshly scripted poetry, while living on opposite ends of the country.
“We look forward to each other. Every day, or every week, we would anticipate a new poem.”
Anticipation became a highlight in the process.
“Sometimes we’d message each other, ‘It’s not ready yet, but there’s a poem brewing’!”
Mom and daughter find a new way of relating
Dewsbury and her mother found that learning about each other through poetry and sharing their daily journey through the pandemic brought them together “in a new way.”
“We’ve always been very close,” she said. “But poetry opens your spirit and your heart and your mind — in a way that nothing else can.”
“So, sharing together has enabled us to see a little bit deeper into each other, and to really appreciate the depth of who we are… and to value both the similarities and the differences in each other.”
Dewsbury and her Caldwell traded poems over Facebook Messenger, and sometimes email.
“Sometimes we would put it together with a visual,” the daughter said. “The poetry exercise has created a really beautiful form of communication between us, especially because we can’t see each other.
“It’s been a way to really keep us close and share our hearts with each other,” she said.
A solo writing project would not have had the same outcome, Dewsbury noted.
As she put it, “I think that sending it back and forth to each other had a different effect than if I had written the poems for myself only, and not shared them with anybody.”
“It’s created a deeper vulnerability,” she observed. “It’s helped me to discover a deeper vulnerability that is such a healthy part of how God made us to be.”
Writing has been a kind of wellness practice for Dewsbury, “an exercise that connects me with things outside of my own mind. It’s a kind of therapy for yourself because you are tapping into your wholeness. You’re tapping into your heart, mind, soul, and your body, your physical world around you.”
The simple practice of deep observation can shift one’s mind from thinking about worry or being sidetracked by anxiety, Melinda said.
“It gives you a new focus.”
More than 100 poems and continuing
To this day, Dewsbury and her mother write regularly, although less frequently than every day as before.
Dewsbury’s inspiration often comes from nature. She is naturally curious and enjoys research, and often a poem is birthed from a study of living things in her environment.
One time, Dewsbury witnessed an elderly couple hugging in a Safeway parking lot. It inspired a poem.
“It just struck me that I hadn’t seen anyone hugging each other for so long. And it was a long genuine comforting hug. It struck me as so powerful.”
Ideas for poetry writing from Dewsbury
For anyone looking to start writing poetry, she offers these tips:
1. Start by reading poetry
It’s good to read poetry, Dewsbury advises. “Poetry is vast,” she said. “I highly recommend classic Western poets, but also to read some poetry from around the world, which we can access in translation.” Dewsbury said that every summer when she teaches her global literature course, she receives new inspiration, new ways of thinking and poetic techniques.
“We’re reading Japanese poets, African poets, and ancient Vietnamese poets and contemporary Iranian poets,” she said of her poetry class. “Collecting more and more types of poetic inspiration can really give you confidence that you don’t have to follow poetic form, like rhyme and rules.”
2. Begin by playing with your senses
As a poet, Dewsbury has a knack for combining sensory information. “Right now I might write about the birdsong,” she said.
“But – could I capture the birdsong with taste, or with colour?”
“Poetry allows you to cross the senses, and when you do that it begins to free so much of your imagination.”
3. Observe something very closely
You can write a poem about anything, Dewsbury affirms. When seeking inspiration, she challenges writers to study something really closely. “[Ask] what do you see?” She also challenges writers to search for background information.
“Research something you take for granted, and see if you can find deep meaning in that.”
Dewsbury finds that observation can solve a writer’s block. When Dewsbury wants to write but hasn’t found the spark, she will take time to pay close attention to the environment around her, and “observe in all my senses.”
“Eventually something will stir and give me meaning,” she said.
Dewsbury has been writing poems since her first year of university, while taking a creative writing class at TWU.
Her professor at the time encouraged her talent, and from that class onward Dewsbury has been writing all her adult life. Since 2003, Dewsbury has been teaching at TWU in the areas of foundational English and creative writing.
She is currently the assistant professor and associate dean of global education. Dewsbury credits her mother for instilling in her a love of poetry and literature.
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