The Gift of Collage

Collage is just a whole lot of fun…the way I remember finger-painting in elementary school. A few days ago, I  took a drawing that didn’t really work as a drawing and starting adding bits of coloured paper to it. It was just a small sketch, but when I added the various bits of paper, the little sketch became something else, something joyful. While I haven’t used collage to help me with my own writing, I work with a small group of writers whenever I go to Ontario, and one of them used collage to help her as she was writing a poem. (I’ll show her wonderful collage in my next post.) There is something freeing about collage: we can be messy, we can mix things that don’t match, and we don’t have to worry about the thing that is created.

The poet Alice Notley talks about making collages in an eight or nine-month period when she was too exhausted to write. She wanted to do something other than writing, and she came up with collage. She put the finished pieces all around her on the walls of the room where she worked, and I like to think that it gave her joy to look at them. One day, she tried making a collage on a discarded fan, and realized that it was a wonderful object on which to work. As she points out, a fan has the “mechanical characteristic of opening and closing…it curves, it has spokes.” She discovered with that first fan that the images in her collage were like “constellations rising over the earth.” Her fan collages can take a long time to make (as long as several years), during which time she keeps adding layers to change the surface of the fan. Each one may be in response to a life event, she explains, or it may be the form of a long poem that she doesn’t want to examine closely. For this, she needs the indirection of collage to work out what she is doing. (Quotations from Alice Notley can be found in the article – “My Fans” – on the Poetry Foundation website, which offers images of some of her fans as well.)

Collage, with its disparate materials, and its haphazard formulation, is a lot like the act of writing: putting one thing alongside another to see how they correspond. When we need a break from words having to mean something, a collage will give us, in effect, a multi-dimensional language. It’s a way of thinking without using words, and for me, it is a momentary and happy release. Of course, I love words and what they do, but I also love this flowering space, this open sky with its constellations.

Fooling Around

A few years ago when I was in New Brunswick with two friends, we had a whole lot of fun creating stencils with leaves and spray paint on old windows retrieved from a barn that was going to be torn down. The windows would soon be thrown away, but first we made them gorgeous. We had no idea what we were going to make, but one thing led to another (spray painting the leaves), and then another (adding maple keys and dirt and twigs on the surface, and then another (taking photographs when we thought we were done).

When I’m stuck in my work, I often try to keep going. I’m like someone trying to move through knee-deep mud. It’s slow and I don’t get very far. But occasionally I stop, fool around with something else, and then the “stuckness” no longer seems to be the insurmountable problem that it was before.

Fooling around doesn’t have to lead to anything. That’s the great thing about it. But even though we were laughing about the craziness of what we were doing, we were still immersed in the process, deep in the moment. No one was looking, and we wouldn’t have cared even if they had been.

The photographs of these windows, with their radiant colours, are among a few I’ve saved to remind me that the messy, vibrant “aliveness” of the making matters just as much as the thing that is made.


Not long ago, I suggested that we needed blessings during these times: specifically, poems of blessing. I found Jane Hirshfield’s “A Blessing for Wedding,” a wonderful poem that leaves the reader with a sense of quiet celebration, as if the cake had been passed around and everyone had eaten a slice of it.

The poet Yvonne Blomer, who lives in Victoria, took up the challenge of writing a poem of blessing. Her poem makes me think of all that I love about mornings, and since she sent it, I’ve been meditating on the way the world is so new in the morning, so ready to meet us. Here is Yvonne’s strong and lovely poem:

In Praise of Mornings

Today when the birds are a chorus, and the only chorus heard.

Today when the dog warms your lap, his eyes and ears following every flit and trace of sound.

Today when you can count the cars from rumble of tire tread and it is one, and one, and one.

Today when the cloud shelters the sun and a bright-eyed raccoon high wires across your fence, peering in at you from above.

Today the skewed piles of books, dead moths, your cooling mug on the windowsill.

Today and the world is standing still, one fly at your window.

With each breath praise the breath.

The birds are now scrapping or squawking for food. Praise the birds their hunger.

With your stillness, praise these fleet creatures, and the distance your neighbours keep, smiling from their windows.

With plum blossom and lavender soap, wash and be praised.

Let the vow of the day be human.

Let the vow of the future be light.

Let it be feathered and finned, furred and winged.

Let the pause here be a breath and the future a breathing symphony.


Yvonne Blomer lives, writes and is kept by a dog and kid in Victoria, BC. Her most recent poetry books are As if a Raven (Palimpsest Press) and Sweet Water: Poems for the Watersheds (Caitlin Press). She has also written a travel memoir Sugar Ride: Cycling from Hanoi to Kuala Lumpur (Palimpsest Press). See more at

Writing a poem of blessings

Outside, we have a spring blizzard. It’s lovely. In Newfoundland, I think this is called “Sheila’s Brush.” It has got me thinking about teaching a workshop in St. John’s when I was doing a residency there. I suggested that the participants write a poem that was either a blessing poem or a poem that cursed something (but not someone). “Be careful,” I told them, “with what you curse!” They came up with wonderful poems. Someone wrote a poem that cursed the study of sociology, which made us all laugh. Someone cursed the weather – and it was a rollicking and delightful poem. Others wrote poems of blessing. How lovely they were. Here (below) is exactly such a poem by the American poet Jane Hirshfield. In these strange times, it seems to me we need poems of blessing going out into the world.

Try writing a poem of blessing, using Hirshfield’s approach: “Today…” Keep repeating this in each line, considering an image that you could take from nature, from objects in the house, from photographs you love. Notice how the poem changes near the end, to gather people in: “With these friends…” In the next line, she draws on fragrance: “With lavender and snow-scent…” Even though your poem may not be one about a wedding, you can still offer a vow, just as she does in the next line: “Let the vow of this day keep itself wildly and wholly / Spoken and silent, surprise you inside your ears / Sleeping and waking, unfold itself inside your eyes.”

Finally, she ends with an invocation: “Let its fierceness and tenderness hold you…” and she repeats “Let its…” in the last line. Find a way to let your poem go out into the world in the way Hirshfield does.

Happy writing…

A Blessing for Wedding ~ Jane Hirshfield


Today when persimmons ripen

Today when fox-kits come out of their den into snow

Today when the spotted egg releases its wren song

Today when the maple sets down its red leaves

Today when windows keep their promise to open

Today when fire keeps its promise to warm

Today when someone you love has died

     or someone you never met has died

Today when someone you love has been born

     or someone you will not meet has been born

Today when rain leaps to the waiting of roots in their dryness

Today when starlight bends to the roofs of the hungry and tired

Today when someone sits long inside his last sorrow

Today when someone steps into the heat of her first embrace

Today, let this light bless you

With these friends let it bless you

With snow-scent and lavender bless you

Let the vow of this day keep itself wildly and wholly

Spoken and silent, surprise you inside your ears

Sleeping and waking, unfold itself inside your eyes

Let its fierceness and tenderness hold you

Let its vastness be undisguised in all your days