In theme, tone, and content, Miriam Dunn’s poetry speaks the language of the soul. Her innate gift for rhyming evokes emotional power by its fluid simplicity and seeming effortlessness.
Miriam displays a playful edge of humor in poems like This, That, and Another Thing, and at the other end of the spectrum she speaks eloquently of a mother’s love in Gifts.
The poems are accompanied by stunning black and white photographs taken by Miriam’s daughter, Olivia Ellen MacDonald. This is a book to savor slowly. Extract each poem like a gem and appreciate its many facets before moving to the next.
Miriam Dunn, AKA Miriam MacDonald, has spent most of her life on Cape Breton Island on Canada’s east coast enjoying the inspiration of the Atlantic ocean and the Nova Scotia woodlands. She is an educator and writer, as well as mother, wife, and grandmother. Her prose and poetry have been previously published in anthologies.
Miriam spoke with me from her home in Canada about her recently released collection of poems, Who Will Love the Crow, published by Winter Goose Publishing.
Tell us a little bit about the poems you selected to publish in Who Will Love the Crow.
These poems span a few years of writing. In making the selections of what to include in the book, I wanted to show the diversity of my collection, so I considered theme and length as well as style. There are three-line poems, a narrative poem, some reflections, some poetry with a set rhyme scheme, some dark, some romantic, some old-fashioned, some sensual, and some I chose just for fun. Almost always, however, the natural world plays a role, and in particular, the ocean. There are just so many ways a shoreline can be a metaphor for life and our experiences and relationships.
What did you like to read as a child? Who were your greatest influences?
The first book I recall reading and then fell in love with was “Little Bits of Wisdom”, a small, red Hallmark book of poetry and proverbs. I was about 7 years old and began reading it over and over, before I really knew what poetry was. I memorized that book and my favourite among the selections was “Who has seen the wind?” My mother signed a note in the pages to me and gave it to me to keep, and I still have it. I would say that was my biggest influence and I only now realize just how much because before I published this book, I hadn’t considered when and how poetry came to be such a big part of my life. In later years I enjoyed Alden Nolan, Margaret Atwood and then, at university fell in love with the Romantic poets of the 17th century.
What inspired you to write your first poem? Had you always wanted to be a poet?
My first poem was actually a song and I was about 9 years old. I still remember it. I was greatly inspired by the musicals on television and poetry came to me already wrapped up in music. I started to play the piano around that time, and began to write songs on it. I never mastered piano, but it didn’t prevent me from creating lyrics. I still have a handwritten copy of a novel I began at age 12. And I started to write a lot of poetry around that age and have never stopped. So it was never a matter of wanting to be a writer. I just always was in love with words, and thankfully had a household that encouraged lots of interaction with books and language and the arts.
What brought about the collection of Who Will Love the Crow.
I have a lot of poetry stuffed under my bed! I still use whatever paper is lying about to scribble down words and phrases and poems and ideas. I have about a dozen notebooks around me. I started to share my poetry on social networks and received wonderful responses and feedback from people, often encouraging me to publish a book. The idea of self-publishing never appealed to me, so I submitted a few poems over the years to anthologies. Last year I decided that maybe I would have the courage to send a manuscript, and I have been an admirer of Jessica Kristie since her publication of “Inspiration Speaks” of which I was a part. When I saw that her company, Winter Goose Publishing, was accepting submissions, I decided to send something along.
I always desired to write a poetry book that included the photography of my daughter, who is immensely talented, so when I asked about doing this, I was thrilled to be able to include her work.
How do your poems come to you? Are they effortless, or do you edit a lot?
I call my poems “Tumble down poetry” and have branded them that way for a few years now, using hashtags and such. That was the name of the working copy of the collection, in fact. They do just “come to me” … they build up inside and tumble out. Sometimes I can just feel something inside, like it is sitting at the bottom of my gut, and it starts to rise and I close my eyes and try to capture what those feelings look like. And these are my metaphors. Sometimes the words feel like they are crawling under my skin. The ones that truly tumble are the rhyming ones- complete with a rhythm.
She travelled at night collecting confessions
tossed your regrets in an apron of sky
shook all the blossoms from trees not yet blooming
fed them to birds who could no longer fly
Have you ever faced writer’s block? If so, how did you deal with it?
I don’t sit down and say “OK, time to write a poem” … so I don’t face writer’s block with poetry because I only write when it occurs to me to say something. If I face a block while writing a poem I close my eyes and try to feel everything again. I’ll reread it. Say it out loud. Sometimes it’s not a block. It’s just that the poem is done. My poems are usually pretty short. I have started a novel, on the other hand, that has been blocked for a couple of years, I just can’t seem to pick it up again. So basically, I just let things go if there’s nothing to say. I might have to change this approach though, since I am committing to another collection in 2017.
What is the greatest challenge you have had to overcome in your writing career?
The greatest challenge is the conflict within myself. I am usually fairly satisfied with what I write but then I pretend I am someone else reading it and become filled with criticism and doubt and even embarrassment. The other challenge is to complete my novel because that is something I do really want to accomplish.
What is your advice to aspiring poets/writers?
Well, I am not going to say something like “keep the dream alive; just keep writing”. The teacher comes out in me, so I would give advice more on a practical side. Do not use clichés; find a fresh metaphor; turn similes into metaphors; take out all the words you don’t need and be brutal about it”. Reading other poets and writers is important, as well. The more one reads, the more the ideas come.
When you’re not working, what are some of your favorite ways to relax and have fun?
I am a dabbler, so I tend to move from one creative thing to another. I have dabbled in water colour and oil painting, began a design company a few years ago making faux-fur animal hoods, I design and make crochet hats. I started making small flower sculptures with cold porcelain clay. I have a terrible lot of craft and sewing supplies and yarn in my house. One thing that is pretty consistent though, is playing the piano and singing. Singing is definitely my favourite thing to do.
DECAY The silver haze of days have moved too fast rushing like a stream out to a sea Starless skies that rise and fall like rivers crawl toward the night, then fall inside of me The late days of our journey are turning cold; the monuments we built to love, decay. All but the sun and moon and stars are getting old; night's ebony turns into silver grey. Though every time of joy, each moment sweet, have long since lost their blossoms, dead and gone, buried, ever there, the seeds tossed at our feet, is the bouquet of our memories, the love we've known. In spite of swiftly-moving years, one thing stays true: All the love, you've ever loved, remains with you.