How Poet Lorna Crozier and Her Cat Inspired My Poetry

You wonder. Well, the world of poetry is really crazy, full of magic.

Back in 2006, when a growing band of Chinese poets in Canada founded a poetry magazine in Chinese and English: the North American Maple, I was an amateur poet although I had won the 2005 Ted Planto Memorial Award. We asked Lorna Crozier to be our poetry adviser. She graciously agreed. I was the editor for the “English” column in the magazine that translated poems from Chinese into English, and vice versa. We asked Lorna to comment on our English translations. A tough task, right? Especially for one who doesn’t know Chinese. It was also hard for me, whose major had been Computer Science, and who worked as an IT professional. Lorna carefully pointed out some mistakes I had made. I was embarrassed. I wondered how she rated my work. Then, in 2008, the North American Maple ceased publication. I continued writing poems in both languages and sometimes translating too. I kept reading her poetry. Her style was much different from mine; I admired how she could turn anything into poetry. When I read her Sex Lives of Vegetables, I was blown away…I wanted to challenge myself to write like that: our daily life items could be playful poetry.

So I wrote “Picking Up a Dandelion”, which is a poem that could be read both erotically and spiritually. In 2013, by chance, I heard she had named her cat: Basho. I was enchanted- what a perfect name for a poet’s cat. So I imagined Basho inking her poems and accompanying her reading. My curiosity turned into a poem: “Lorna’s Cat”. I submitted it to the Rice Paper magazine, I didn’t note how I had come to write the poem. The poem was accepted to be published and it was also included in my book Seven Nights with the Chinese Zodiac (Black Moss Press 2015). Doyali Islam, who didn’t know me at that time, decided to review this book and said in her review: a quick Google search confirms that the poem is about one of the celebrated Canadian poet Lorna Crozier’s current feline friends. Of course, I didn’t know then that a later book by her: The Wrong Cat would win double awards from the League of Canadian Poets:  the Pat Lowther Memorial Award for a book of poetry by a woman, and the Raymond Souster award, for a book of poetry by a League member. Jurors described her winning collection, The Wrong Cat, as containing “superbly realized lyrical poems,” as “sly, sexy, irreverent and sad,” and as “a book deeply nuanced in its exploration of the human condition.”

award1Was this the same cat as the one in my poem? I felt I should ask her. When we finally met at the Canadian Writers’ Summit in Toronto on June 19, 2016, I was so excited to show her my poem: “Lorna’s Cat” in my book, I forgot to ask. Now, I guess I should read her book “The Wrong Cat” to find out.

This is my poem:  “ Lorna’s Cat.

She calls you “Basho”
a name blown from remote Japan
and outliving the lonely banana tree,
a name pioneering the Narrow Road to the Deep North
and lighting up seven continents for centuries.

She must believe
you possess nine lives
each watching out for red moons,
and searching for a heavenly ladder
where you can suddenly disappear
then return with a glowing halo.

On snowy days,
she watches you inking
your paws on the rice papers,
so much like water splashing
from the old pond.

On rainy nights,
she makes tea, red or green.
You climb up her tall bookshelf.
The moonlight pours down
on parchment blossoms;
you fetch a book of haiku.

upon touching…
foliage and raindrops –
soft and sweet

When I was preparing to expand my Poetry Alive workshops, I found short clips of Lorna’s workshops on YouTube. I was immedicably attracted by one of her assignments: “Imagine your family members as animals, then write about them.”  I took this challenge and wrote a “Family Album.” The exercise was amazingly inspirational, the poem in Chinese was published in Taiwan’s “Epoch Poetry Quarterly” #187, and the poem in English was accepted by Chameleon Press in Hong Kong. I added this writing exercise with other new writing games to my teaching course at the 2016 UTM Summer Writing School.  I hope that my course not only helps to develop students’ writing skills, but also inspires them to find their own talents and to discover a deeper understanding and appreciation of life through reading and writing poetry.

Poetry changed me, let me be happy and led me to a meaningful life. I want to share this with others. As poets, we keep reading and writing. I read a lot and have received inspiration from many poets. As you read my book, you will see I quote lines from Margaret Atwood, Dorothy Livesay, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, P.K Page, Irving Layton, Al Purdy etc. I have grown from this. I hope you find your way to this amazing world as well.