Veronica Eley never intended for any of the more than 600 poems she wrote in diaries, notebooks and on loose-leaf scraps of paper to be published. The beautiful, brave poems she created in midlife were her way of tracing – with searing honesty – her healing journey from childhood trauma to a place of wellbeing.
“My understanding of myself deepened through the transformative role poetry played in my healing,” Eley wrote in the author’s note of her first collection of poetry called The Blue Dragonfly: healing through poetry (Hidden Book Press). “I became for the first time in my life a fully integrated person.”
What started as a therapy journal to process crushing pain, trauma and a 30-year period of untreated mental disorders – bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic disorder – gradually transformed into a three-part collection of 120 poems which express her intimate experiences with mental illness, trauma, intervention, and finally forgiveness and healing. Her poem by Ella entitled “love” is part of the last section of the book, and appears under the subheading “Home.”
a circle, no beginning, no end
the treasure chest of life accumulates
the button tin saved from my childhood home
the green button from Christine’s Burberry
the mauve button from my mother’s coat
each button had its own story and memory
yet they all got along in the tin
nature informs the city
the city sheds its light
etching on my mind
Eley, who now lives in Dartmouth, didn’t start writing until midlife. The Blue Dragonfly was published when she was 71 years old. While completing her Master of Education degree in Toronto in the early 2000s, she was inspired to keep a journal after being introduced to the concept of “inside out, outside in.”
She describes it as a tool for deciphering oneself in relation to the external world.
“There exists a FLOW from inside to the outside world counterbalancing an outer flow from the objective world to the personal self, constituting a fluid process – eg, a moon, a star, a flash of lightning registers in a soul felt way through the tactile expression of writing a poem,” she wrote in an email after declining a more formal interview.
“Once this habit and process was established, I produced many, too many poems. I did this entirely for myself, and slowly it provided relief from my puzzling identity problems.”
While she wrote, she was being treated by a Freudian psychiatrist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto who took an interest in her poetry.
Through the journaling process, poems blossomed. I would share these poems with my psychiatrist. This would be our conversation. I have never questioned, rather let me explain. This was an encouraging, safe, positive place. He often said the poetry was beautiful. I felt like a cat with a saucer of milk,” Eley wrote in an email.
Eventually, she selected and organized her poems and agreed to have them published, with help and encouragement from her husband, Roger Langen. He is the book’s editor.
“The poems were first written for the poet alone,” Langen writes in the book’s foreword. “As published here, they are, secondarily, a message to her mother and father (since passed) and a testament for her children de ella: a daughter early lost, and two sons on challenging journeys of their own. It is hoped this same message will also be of value to strangers.”
Through her poetry, Eley allows readers to travel with her through her personal trauma and mental illness to a place of self-healing. She often uses beautiful and evocative imagery to evoke the pain and confusion of memories and mental disorders. In the middle section of her poem “memory loss”, she writes:
like the crust
of the earth
Eley continues to write poetry from her home in Dartmouth.
A Taste of the Wild
Formac Publishing has released a new edition of the classic cookbook, A Taste of the Wild: Recipes for 40 common foraged plants from across Canada – drinks, desserts, mains and more. Written by Blanche Pownall Garrett, the cookbook was first published in 1975. The new edition includes more than 160 updated recipes that use 40 common, wild and edible plants, such as blackberries and raspberries. Organized by season, each section of the book provides information about where to find the plant along with color photos to help identify them.
Laurie Dalton, the director and curator of the Acadia University Art Gallery has released, Painted worlds: The Art of Maud Lewis, A Critical Perspective (Nimbus Publishing).
“Another book about Maud Lewis? Is there anything left to say, or is this yet another voice laying claim to her story and legacy of her? Dalton writes in the book’s foreword.
Dalton does have more to say. She offers a critical art history of the works of the iconic Nova Scotia artist and calls on readers to expand their understanding of her de ella as an artist and to not think of her as an artist who was untrained, unskilled, and worked in total isolation .
“To really examine the paintings of Maud Lewis takes time; to see one is not to have seen them all. This book argues that the paintings should be viewed within the cultural context of the twentieth century: from the advertising culture that would find its way into her work de ella, to the mythmaking surrounding the artist led by institutions and popular media, to the language of visual culture and art history. What this book invites the reader to do is to rethink and re-examine the paintings of Maud Lewis,” writes Dalton.
Alexander MacLeod will launch his short story collection, Animal Person (McClelland & Stewart) on April 6th at 7 pm at the Halifax Central Library. MacLeod will read from his stories about him and talk about his writing about him with Francesca Ekwuyasi, the author of Butter Honey Pig Bread.
“The eight stories in Animal Person illuminate what it means to exist in the perilous space between desire and action, and to have your faith in what you hold true buckle and give way,” according to Penguin Random House Canada.