Haiku to Honour Two Towns

When I became Poet Laureate of Stony Plain, Alberta in February 2019, I was eager to acknowledge the town for its commitment to poetry and to the literary arts . . . and I wanted to start right away. I knew that whatever I decided to do would have to be small, because I have other projects to work on during my term as Poet Laureate. I also work a regular job occasionally (I am a substitute teacher), I sit on three different non-profit boards, and I have a husband and two young children who like to spend some time with me now and then!

I started to think about all the things that make Stony Plain unique – its home on Alberta’s prairies, its community, its history, its relationship with the railway (an interesting one!), but nothing was helping me to come up with a plan. Then, as I scrolled through Facebook, I came across a post about our annual Japanese Exchange Program with the town of Shikaoi. Stony Plain has been twinned with Shikaoi since 1985. For more than thirty years, each town has regularly sent high school students to experience life, language and culture in its sister town.

Thinking about Shikaoi got me thinking about haiku, a traditional Japanese poetic form. Few types of poems use so few words to explore so many different complexities of our world, including nature and the human condition. Haiku poetry can be as simple or as difficult as a person would like it to be. There are rules, yes, but many schools of thought argue that it is fair to be flexible with them in English. I haven’t decided where I stand on that issue yet; I plan to do lots more exploring as the two years progress. In the meantime, though, I decided to jump right in and not be afraid to make all the mistakes that I can as I go. That’s how we learn and grow, right? I have a poster in my office that says “Mistakes are proof that we are trying.” So, here I am, trying (and no doubt making some mistakes at) haiku!

I encourage you to join me on my journey . . . whenever the fancy takes you, please post a poem to Twitter, Instagram or Facebook with the following hashtag: #stonyplainhaiku

Don’t feel obliged to write a haiku every day, but if you’d like to, that would be terrific! It’s a great way to get your creative juices flowing – and I promise I’ll “like” every poem that I see with that hashtag!


A Love Poem to Poems Heard

stroll (1)
This is a found poem, constructed from the final lines of seventeen different poems. Each of the poems was contributed by a member of Edmonton’s Stroll of Poets Society (2017 Anthology), so this poem honours those poets and the amazing organization to which they (and I) belong!

A Love Poem to Poems Heard

Ponderously you move away from death,
when I become your Valentine.
Could it be as simple as that?

I remember
melding into one,
face bare and smiling at the morning sun,
pampered in the sun,
moving us to understand another.

The weightlessness
the air
of my midnight neighbourhood

and the day, beautifully replete,
crackling with sparks of joy,
hoping for new minds, arms, legs.

We have the aerial view,
for taking the chance of a backward glance.

©2018, Lisa Mulrooney

“Coming Out” as a Poet, and the Response of a Stranger


I am a 45-year-old mom to two young children, ages 4 and 8. Most mothers with children the same ages as mine seem to be twenty years my junior which, as you can imagine, makes me feel old and decrepit by comparison. The thing is, though, that aside from lacking the youthful looks and vigor of my parenting peers, I do feel more confident . . . and not just as a parent, but also as a person and as a poet.

While I long for the body I had twenty years ago, I would not want to lose the life experience that has delivered me of so many different types of neuroticism, particularly those associated with my writing. Heck, I only just recently (in the past few years) started sending my work out for publication, despite the fact that I have been writing for forever (well, at least since before my family owned a microwave oven or a television remote control).

Having waited so long to have children has made me a better parent, and I like to imagine that the delay in getting published will make me a better writer. Doubt still creeps in, as it does for every writer, but now that I expect doubt to wheedle its way in, I am already on standby, armed with a flyswatter, ready to whack that annoying little critter: It won’t be landing on my cupcake today. But, if I were to be completely honest, I have thrown away a lot of cake after been divebombed by some rotten flies.

It’s funny . . . sometimes, I think I’m getting what I’m owed – you know, Karma, and all that. I think back on all the rejections I handed out to doting boys (back when I had the youth and vigor mentioned previously): “It’s not you, it’s me!” That sounds just like the rejection letters I get these days: “Unfortunately, we won’t be publishing your work. But don’t worry, it’s only because your poems do not fit our overarching theme or our editorial constraints: It’s not because we think they’re a load of old crap.” Well, that’s not exactly what they say, but the whole “it’s not you, it’s us” is very much the idea. I think I owe a couple of potential suitors from the past an apology.

Despite the rejection letters though, I have managed to break new ground: I am no longer afraid to tell people I am a poet (regardless of publication status). I own it now. Poetry has defined me since a young age, but often only secretly. I remained in the poetry closet for a long time. Sometimes I felt about poetry as I often have about knitting or crocheting. Back before I was married, I felt extremely uncool and totally embarrassed to tell new boyfriends that I liked to knit. And, even in my thirties, I remember feeling terribly uncomfortable when I shared with my employer that I wrote poetry, took it seriously, and considered myself a poet.

Nowadays, when I meet new people, I often tell them that I write poetry: It helps to give some context to who I am. But, interestingly, I still say that I am a teacher when asked what I do, even though I hardly taught at all over the past year (I am on the Substitute Teacher List for the local school board, but I did not take many assignments during 2017/8).

In a bold move over the summer, I allowed myself to be introduced to a roomful of people as a “Poet.” I felt proud and . . . I felt honest! It was liberating to really own my passion and openly claim that title for my own. But then . . . a complication . . .

After the introduction, a lady came up to me and expressed how interesting and exciting it was that I was a poet (my ego agreed). Then, she said, “So, a real poet? Like, you’re published and everything?” and my literary aspirations suddenly humbled my poor ego and left it shivering in a corner. I explained that I was not yet published, but that I was working on it. I told her about my chapbook (submitted to a competition) and my manuscript (recently rejected and now in revision). I felt defensive and wished that I could prove that I was worthy of the title “Poet.”

Over the next few days, with our conversation fresh in my mind, I composed a poem especially for the “are-you-a-real-poet?” lady. I gave it to her and invited her (in the nicest possible way) to decide for herself whether or not she thought I was a poet.

After a few more days, she responded with a beautifully encouraging handwritten note. In it, she wrote: “I thank God for people like you, who pursue their dreams, cherish their talents and never give up.”

If I do ever find myself being tickled by doubt again, I will think of her and the kind words that she wrote to me. She told me that things in this world must happen in their own time and that my time had simply not yet arrived . . . but it would, and in the meantime I must have faith. Her words were passionate and heartfelt, and there was power in them. Kind words from a stranger can sometimes make all the difference to a person. She has given me such a precious gift; the poem I wrote for her hardly seems worthy. Nevertheless, I share it here in honour of her.


Lego at the Lake


“running in the rain” by KristinaAlexanderson: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kalexanderson/7319769482/in/pool-flickrtoday

This poem was inspired by a NaPoWriMo prompt that encouraged rebellion and rule-breaking. I’m not sure that I went to any extremes, but I did try to stretch my use of language a little.

Lego at the Lake

Lego-ing with my brother
at the lake because the rain

Mom, drink-tired
daddying our holiday

he was long gone
gone from dad to father

and back again
memoried into physical

we built towers
and joyed most the toppling

puddles of brick clatter
twisted our ears outside

where we boy-stacked
our raindrops instead

© 2018 Lisa Mulrooney


Secrets I’d Like The Universe to Keep


I have been getting a little nervous lately about poems that deal heavily in abstract ideas and are short on vivid images. While these types of poems can play out well on the page, I’m not sure that they grab an audience’s attention when read aloud. Nonetheless, I enjoyed writing this poem. It had me grappling with essential questions of human existence and, at the end of the process, I felt content.


Secrets I’d Like the Universe to Keep

Don’t tell me why I’m here,
just let me cut the stems of carnations
without feeling guilty.

Don’t tell me what other people think of me,
just let me get dirt under my fingernails
without feeling ashamed.

Don’t tell me who or how to love,
just let me graciously accept yellow roses
without feeling betrayed.

And when I suspect that happiness is not avoiding sorrow,
keep me running from gratuitous pain,
cursing joy that floats like oil on water.

You may be tempted to tell me I cannot meet expectations,
but be sure I sometimes do-in cursory, illusory moments,
in moments of mist on snow-covered mornings.
I won’t take them for granted.

I will want to know what might have been,
gather tinder to fuel my regrets.
Let that fodder be consumed by the light that dries the dew.

The consequences of my actions
may smoulder in some molten core, but
I do not need to know them: protect me
from volcanoes and tectonics.

Protect me from the knowledge of my death,
the whys and wherefores, and sometimes
the inevitability-especially when, like a whale,
I walk as a wolf on the land.

I’ll thank you when my carcass comes ashore-perhaps,
but don’t tell me if that’s true. Lie to me occasionally
and spin tall tales often.

Let the best tales of all be the ones I leave behind,
yarns spun and cut like the thread of life, binding
flowers and flames that I pray are not yellow.
But don’t tell me if they are.

© 2018 Lisa Mulrooney



How do you blush and say you were not moved,
with blood that courses through your veins like Spring
or stars that burst through twilight’s half-light shyness?
The grappling hooks that draw you back are words;
each one is marked by time that has its place,
a when-to-be and just how long to rage
against the justice and the pleas for space
that beg you bleed just so you’ll know you live.
Hide your cheek and drift away from warmth.
Refuse transfusions that could save your life.
There is no scent as sweet to death as flesh
that feeds upon its own unhappiness.
I’ll slap your face to justify the red,
pretending that I never saw your tears.

© 2017 Lisa Mulrooney

When a Project Comes Calling


Writing About Art

I have been struggling to find good content for my poetry lately. Sometimes, I re-read my work and I think the ideas are too lofty or too philosophical and just not grounded in either reality or the relevant. To get past that, I thought it might be a good idea to create a project for myself . . . what if I were to write about art?

The strange thing is that I think the universe is now conspiring to make sure this happens. One more coincidence and I think I might actually get scared. There’s no getting out of it now.

When I decided that there was no better place to start finding images for my poetry than in . . . well, images, I thought I’d better get myself a book of famous paintings. My Dad loves to browse around second-hand stores, so I sent him on a mission. I asked him to see if he could locate a book on Art History. My instructions were vague, but the one specific was to avoid bringing back a book that focused solely on an individual artist. Off he went to Value Village. Sadly, he came back empty-handed.

A week later, I was in the same Value Village looking to see if perhaps my Dad had overlooked the treasure I was seeking. I did in fact find a book that day, but it was not at all what I had expected. It was not a book about Art History, including the works of many masters, as I had described to my Dad. It was exactly what I had asked him not to pick up – a book concerning an individual artist. Rembrandt to be exact.

I know nothing about Art History and I know nothing about Rembrandt, but I am always up for a challenge – and I love research, so I decided that my project be based around the paintings of Rembrandt.

Ekphrasis and The Stroll of Poets


Writing poetry about art is called “ekphrasis.” I only (re-)discovered that when I started exploring some ideas for this project. It is an interesting word of Greek origin (meaning “description,” “to point out” or “explain”), but as interesting as it might be, it is not a common word. That is why I found it so unusual when, last night, I made a new friend at a poetry reading (The Stroll of Poets Haven Reading Series, Edmonton, who told me that she wrote quite a lot of ekphrastic poems (and I understood what the heck she was talking about)! It turns out that this very nice lady is an Art Historian. Strange. That might not seem like a huge coincidence . . . but to me, meeting her, and having that conversation, seemed . . . well . . . meaningful.

So during the past week, I spent some time thinking about where to start with this project. I’d have to pick a painting to start with . . . but, how to choose? Maybe I should just go with my gut? I decided to be a little bit more intentional. It crossed my mind that if I were to write a poem about a famous painting, then one day, I might want to go and see the actual painting for myself. So, I consulted my good friend, Mr. Google, to find out where Rembrandt’s works are located. As it turns out, there are not many in Canada (I can’t really say I am surprised), but – as fortune would have it – there are quite a number in my native England. Since I do get back to the UK occasionally, I decided to pick a painting that could be viewed in London, England. I don’t know why I settled on Belshazzar’s Feast. All I know is that it was chosen from a short list of titles without giving the actual images much thought (which does seem to go against the grain a little, but nonetheless felt right).

Al Purdy

I have spent the past two days staring at the painting and reading a little bit about it – gearing up, as it were, to plunge in with my first (pre-planned) ekphrastic poem. Tonight, I was going to make a start on the poem, or at least make myself a few more notes on the painting. Instead though, I decided to take a hot bath and read the collection of Al Purdy poems I picked up from the library today (Beyond Remembering).

Al Purdy

Now, for the most recent coincidence . . . I am 8 poems into the book when I read the following lines from “At Roblin Lake”):

Next morning I make a shore-capture,
one frog like an emerald breathing,
hold the chill musical anti-body
a moment with breath held,
thinking of spores, spermatozoa, seed,
housed in this cold progenitor,
transmitting to some future species
what the wall said to Belshazzar.

Again, strange. Of all the allusions Purdy could have used, he draws attention to my painting (well, Rembrandt’s, but you know what I mean)!

I can’t help it. I just think it’s meant to be. So . . . I guess I’ve got myself a project!

(I’d love to hear from others about similar coincidences that have led them on to a “meant-to-be project.” Please share your story).


I have not participated in this year’s NaPoWriMo challenge to write a poem a day; however, I was intrigued by yesterday’s prompt to write a ghazal. Here’s what I came up with. It was much harder than I thought it would be!

Intertidal Ecology: A Love Poem

Goodbyes are hardest said in person, beside the ocean’s furrowing rhythm,
Tossing along notions of return, helpless vessel, in complicit billowing rhythm.

Rocky shelves, cursed by sailors, are exposed just prior to contact.
Candid inner sanctums echo a similar, sombre, crowing rhythm.

“Refrain, refrain.” Again and again, siren call and conscience meld:
Neither sanity nor drowning – both – provoke the heart’s flowing rhythm.

Awash in weeds and pummeled driftwood, bearing the scars of every tide,
I lay my head in your lap and listen to the ocean’s knowing rhythm.

We danced along with drifting continents, tidal shifts and evolution.
Though dying, we’re immortalized in this last rendition of life’s slowing rhythm.

© Lisa Mulrooney

Haiku-A-Day: Part 1

“Haiku tends to focus on the immediate present, upon a mindful moment that captures the essence of meaningful living.”


In January, I discovered “National Haiku Writing Month” (www.nahaiwrimo.com), which encourages poets from around the world to commit to writing at least one haiku poem every day for the month of February.

The NaHaiWriMo Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/NaHaiWriMo) and Twitter account (https://twitter.com/NaHaiWriMo) provide poets with a forum for sharing the results of their endeavours.

I decided to give it a go, and the result (so far) has been a huge sense of enlightenment!

I knew – or thought I knew – the basics of Haiku (17 syllables – 5 each for the first and third lines, 7 for the second line), but it turns out that there is actually A LOT more to Haiku than just that! In fact, the syllable count is far from being a hard and fast rule, and certainly does not define the structure of Haiku, contrary to what I thought I knew about the form. Perhaps even more important is the juxtaposition of images that creates a subtle expansion of meaning (accomplished in Japanese through a “cutting word” that serves to grammatically separate a haiku into two distinct parts). Also, in traditional Japanese Haiku, the time of year is signified through a “season word,” so those particular versions of the form are heavily dependent upon nature.

In English, a great many liberties have been and are being taken with Haiku. This flexibility has made Haiku very accessible to a wide range of writers and poets; however, as I have discovered over the past couple of weeks, it could take a lifetime to master the intricacies that create truly beautiful Haiku poems. After embarking upon a journey of discovery into this (underrated?) form, I am now certain it is worth the effort . . .

Haiku tends to focus on the immediate present, upon a mindful moment that captures the essence of meaningful living. A moment that could otherwise slip by unnoticed is effectively trapped and bottled by the poet. The mindful reader opens the lid and releases the thought (and its associated feelings) back into the world, leaving both reader and world changed by the transmission of that moment.

So far, this month, I have stuck to my commitment and written a Haiku each day. I have shared them on Twitter (https://twitter.com/lisamulrooney) and on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/NaHaiWriMo), but I thought I should share them here, gathered all together (like a little Haiku bouquet).


snowswirl day 1

whisps of white moisture
swirl on the icy breeze
refusing to settle


train day 2

tracks rumble in time
to a hypnotic beat:
sleep, train, sleep


horses day 3.jpg

so close that you inhale
my breath’s condensation –
two worlds colliding


spurned day 4.jpg

The chill air restrains,
after the burning torment
of a spurned advance.


baby day 5

she hums in her sleep
and the last letter drifts
to oblivion


grave day 6

a wrinkled hand
rests gently on a headstone
waiting patiently


embers day 7

Embers from the fire
fly like moths to the moon;
the stars are dancing.


aurora day 8

the wind holds secrets
we only hear at night;
aurora lights


prison day 9

Watch yourself watch
yourself, a bird’s-eye-view.
The clock is ticking.


trees day 10

The sun’s dying light
trickles into the shadows.
Dangerous thoughts pool.


snowflakes day 11

Perfection inhaled.
A child’s honest laughter
tastes like snowflakes.


toddler day 12.jpg

Galloping horses –
toddlers, tantrums and time.
Oh, to reign them in!


dog day 13

steady rise and fall
curled into a safety knot –
dog on a pillow


seagull day 14

seagulls squabble
over scraps and trash –
the sated take flight

If you have never written a Haiku, or you haven’t in a while, I challenge you to try it out. There are tons of great resources available online to help you in your journey, but I definitely recommend that you start here: http://www.nahaiwrimo.com

Happy Writing, Lisa