Author Archives: Kayla Geitzler

About Kayla Geitzler

KAYLA GEITZLER is from Moncton, which is within Siknikt of the Mi’kma’ki, the traditional territory of the Mi’kmaq People. Named “A Rad Woman of Canadian Poetry”, she is Moncton’s inaugural Anglophone Poet Laureate & host of the Attic Owl Reading Series. Her first poetry collection That Light Feeling Under Your Feet was a Calgary Bestseller & a finalist for two awards. Kayla is co-editor of the multilingual poetry anthology Cadence Voix Feminines Female Voices. She holds an MA in English Creative Writing (UNB), was a technical editor on Canada’s largest pipeline projects & designed courseware for Air Traffic Controllers. As an editor & writing consultant, mentor & creative writing instructor, Kayla's affordable expertise continues to help writers, non-profits & businesses achieve their writing dreams.

When Your Possum is Not So Awesome – Writers & Imposter Syndrome

If you’ve had a conversation with me, you have probably heard me say, “Awesome possum” at least once. That cute but curmudgeonly creature has vacated my rhetoric and invaded my business (which is also my home), establishing itself as my very own cynical cheerleader. Whenever I need encouragement, I can now turn over any couch cushion and from a shadowy upholstered crevice hear my awesome possum hiss like the Pythia of old, “Kayla… you can write the thing!” And on my favourite work mug, a gift from colleague Shannon Edgett, its likeness screams, It’s called trash can, not trash can’t!

Caffeine might keep me going, but it’s not a great life coach. Especially when my week includes running a reading series, collaborating on community projects, finishing Poet Laureate assignments, hopping on Zoom for consulting calls and mentorship sessions, and working overtime to meet deadlines. Not to mention when exactly am I finishing my next book, and I still need to cook supper? Suddenly my possum is not so awesome, it’s just screaming its head off.

“Caffeine might keep me going, but it’s not a great life coach.”

So, it might be trash “can” but there are periods when I feel that I’ve waded out of my depth into the landfill of self-doubt; I’m sure I reek of compost and mouldy pizza boxes. When I say, “Can you handle my projects for a week while I move into a bag in your closet? Just bring me a coffee twice a day, I’ll be fine.” Shannon laughs and asks me, “Blue or clear plastic?” while reminding me that this is Imposter Syndrome. Not to be confused with false humility, this condition affects many people at least once in their lifetime. And it is prevalent among writers, many of whom do not suffer from poor self-esteem.

While Maya Angelou never considered moving into her friend’s closet, she admitted, “Each time I write a book, every time I face that yellow pad, the challenge is so great. I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.'”

They’re going to find me out. That’s what my awesome possum screams. I sometimes think that will also be my epitaph. Like The Simpsons tombstone gags, my middle name will be replaced with “Uh oh, they found out I’m….”

While many authors can relate to that side of Imposter Syndrome, unhealthy competition and social media have bolstered the Comparison Trap. Shannon reminds me that this is when individuals fixate on thoughts of ‘I can’t even compare with so and so’ or ‘I don’t dare classify myself among them’. This may be true in the beginning—you don’t have that skill level yet. However, anyone can learn to write—creatively or technically. You do not need someone’s permission to write, to accept an invitation to join a writers’ community or make your own, pursue publication, or expand into a new genre. You don’t need praise, either. Take genuine praise when it is offered but seek to impress yourself first.

Time and experience will bring you vital things, but one of these is perspective. Albert Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it’s stupid.” I can tell you, like a fish who did learn how to climb a few trees, that when I finally clambered up into those branches (still feeling stupid and out of place) I wondered, Why did I want to be up here in the first place? There is a group or a genre just waiting for you be its corner piece. However, we are told that to be acknowledged as “real writers” we must reach certain milestones and reach them in a certain order. But what if you’re still unpublished? What if you’ve never written a book? What if you fail to place in another contest?!

Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter.

Why? Because if those things are important to you, one day you will. You will see your writing in print, you will likely win a writing competition, you will find a publisher. It can be a long journey from slush pile to final selection and a lot is happening behind the scenes. Rejections aren’t personal.

Imposter Syndrome also springs from perfectionism and idealism. However, the perfect is the enemy of the good when it comes to writing. “Perfection” is only achieved through the revision process, yet excessive self-editing, when you can pare your original material from your draft, will sabotage your piece. Take your self-doubt and your drafts to a writing group, and you will likely receive a simple solution—something you couldn’t see because you were too close to your text. Remember, there is nowhere for you to grow if your work is already “perfect”. To grow you must flounder and make mistakes. Playing it safe in writing often suggests avoidance.

“However, if I find myself procrastinating three days in a row, I schedule a mental health day. I’ve learned that procrastination is an excellent indicator of when I’ve been working too much.”

Avoidance is another aspect of Imposter Syndrome. For a writer, this can masquerade as process—needing to be in a certain mood or space, a certain kind of light or a special pen, tea or wine pairings with pieces. I worked those things out of my system long ago because they were destructive to my writing. For a while I made myself sit and write, drinking any cup of tea in any mug so that I could just get everything down. At some point, discipline saves you.

However, if I find myself procrastinating three days in a row, I schedule a mental health day. I’ve learned that procrastination is an excellent indicator of when I’ve been working too much. I think of it as pulling on my red cloak and facing up to the Big Bad Wolf. When my partner and I moved in together, he brought the houseware and I brought the tool bag. I have no problem grabbing an axe and slitting open the beast’s belly to see what’s inside. Usually, it’s a screaming possum. But hopefully when I die my screaming possum will rest in peace because my tombstone reads, Kayla “writing life” Geitzler or something cheesy like that.

Loving your work and being reasonable with yourself—your current abilities, your aspirations, your love of writing—will save you from self-doubt time and again. In the end, Imposter Syndrome is always ascribed to “high achievers” and even if you don’t think that’s you, or that you haven’t accomplished “great things” in your writing, well, perhaps you want to and that’s enough. There is greatness in all of us. Keep writing you.

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Kayla Geitzler
Some Rights Reserved  

Writing Wholly (Holy) Unto Oneself & A Bit About Writerly Self-Esteem.

I remember my mother seated at the kitchen window
   her cat’s eyes glasses staring out into the night
   trying to find divinity and divinity’s reasons

   my mother believed God moved the sparrows around day after day
   as a teenager I believed the sparrows moved God around
   all the inexhaustible crutches He leaned upon
   all the underweights of silence to find his way

   now the only god I believe in are the sparrows themselves
   unaltered by my belief

   from “All Our Wonder Unavenged” by Don Domanski

“Holy shit, Gandalf’s coming!” One of my peers exclaimed as he ducked into the Icehouse. Ross laughed, “Looks like Don is here.” I left my cozy armchair and poked my head out the door. There was Don Domanski, walking stick in hand, his long robe and impressive beard floating in the wind while ravens crowded the branches above his head, coveting his necklaces of crystals and other charms. When I was an undergraduate creative writing student, Dr. Ross Leckie invited professional poets to our workshopping seminars. He wanted us to have holistic real-life examples of revision: a manuscript’s before (drafts) and after (publication). Don took his chair like a Tolkien lord and spoke about synchronicity. That drafts and the poetic mysteries can come together to reveal personal truths, such as when he remembered,

my mother seated at the kitchen window
   her cat’s eyes glasses staring out into the night
   trying to find divinity and divinity’s reasons…

At UNB Fredericton, there’s a tiny white house adjacent to the King’s College building. That’s the Icehouse and it has a long literary history. But I swear, in that chilly bare-beamed room, my self-esteem took as much of a beating as those rattling old pipes. Then, I thought if I assumed a writerly persona that emulated one of the great’s (maybe an Emily, Bronte or Dickinson), I could walk away from brutal peer critiques unscathed. However, those critiques as well as other external feedback reminded me again and again that yes, I might be talented, but I was unlikely to be successful. So, although I felt I needed an alter ego—and an ego it can be—mine never swelled to superhero proportions.

“While some writerly alter-egos are content with a pseudo Beats lifestyle, others are so in love with the idea of writing that they haven’t asked themselves who they want to be as a writer.”

Depending on whether you’re The Bat to your Bruce Wayne, The Cat to your Selina Kyle or Molly Shannon’s incarnation of Emily Dickinson (mine!) the writer in you may often demand capitulations. Whether it’s love-handle-hugging costumes, clever puns, or ironic soliloquies, romantic ideas of eccentric authors wrestling with their craft influence us in many ways. The pressure to aspire to those who are greatly admired can’t help but filter in. While some writerly alter-egos are content with a pseudo Beats lifestyle, others are so in love with the idea of writing that they haven’t asked themselves who they want to be as a writer. So, what happens when the struggle with all that spandex gets real and as Michelle Borel says, it’s time to “Drop the ‘E’ and Go!”?

You must put the work in. The writing world is probably one of the only spaces where “faking it till you make it” doesn’t apply. Learn the skills, write you. They happen at the same time. And when we choose to walk our own path, no matter how daunting or unachievable that may seem, we learn to set down what no longer serves us. I share the same belief with Ifeoma Esonwune, founder and CEO of Network for the Empowerment of Women Halifax, “that everyone is uniquely endowed and that every dream is realizable”. That is what it means to have self-esteem in writing.

Self-esteem also forms through a sense of being conjoined with the creative impulse—call it source or the sparrows or ribbons of wind that sweep down along the earth—and that mystery becomes known as “process”. In mastering your craft, you may find that writing isn’t one-sided. For me, process is when the critic has been shut out, when my ego has had its moment at the bottle and sleeps, the page is stark tabula rasa and I pull the outside thing through myself, through my tongue and tone. That is the sparrows. “Revision” is when my piece replies to me, saying, “I want this, not that”, leading me forward into a defter text. That is communion.

Now, I want only the sparrows and I anticipate communion with my writing.

A writer’s confidence also lies in trusting that process, however you define it, while admitting flexibility and passion. You want to write all the genres? Write ‘em but be prepared—it is difficult to master each. Is that important, and should you feel lesser if you can’t? Ross said I was an “A+ poet, A prose writer”. I was, and still am, OK with that. Poetry claimed me first. I also enjoy singing opera, but I’ll never perform. However, when Jean-Philippe Raîche and I can no longer count who had what of how many bottles of wine and the poetry gods have long abandoned us for their beds, we sing “Ombre Mai Fu”. Remain flexible so that there may be space for joy. Creativity recharges in what our corporatized society calls “unproductive time”.

It also grows when we exercise our individual voices. For instance, at open mics and literary readings. However, there are protocols. It is flat-out offensive for someone to offer “feedback” without asking if you would like to hear their point of view. That’s not tolerated among authors and it should not be any different for an emerging or “unknown” writer. Politely stop them and say, “Thank you for your interest but I didn’t ask for your feedback.” When they rebut, as often they do, you can repeat yourself or ask for their credentials. Yes, you can do this! Anyone who feels they have a worthy suggestion won’t ego dump all over you. They will ask questions and then, if they feel their comments are still appropriate, they will ask if they may offer their opinion.

Each of us is uniquely endowed.

As Don read from All Our Wonder Unavenged and answered our questions, I realized he wrote wholly unto himself. Of the poetic mysteries, he was both seeker and Pythia. He’d made the pilgrimage up those steps, paused to read the lintel, and went forward into the inner sanctum. Don didn’t need external validation. He was sure his poetry had divined something profound for himself. When he departed that day, he left me with sparrows.  

If you’re trying to find divinity and divinity’s reasons in writing—you won’t. You’re looking for something mythical—a bat signal, claws that never need sharpening, “——an Element of Blank”.

Your unique endowment doesn’t need to be validated by a jury of your peers. You’ll never find the sparrows outside of yourself. Redress who you are, what you love, and what calls you to record it in your voice. Keep your fingers outstretched for those ribbons or for that idea that knocks again and again on the inside of your head and says, “Hey, me, write about me!” When you seek your own mastery and mystery, you will establish a certainty within yourself that goes beyond self-esteem. You’ll find divinity and joy in writing you.

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Kayla Geitzler
Some Rights Reserved  

Auteur Inspiration & How Strict Limitations Can Bring You Wondrous Things

When I asked my partner for a subscription to The Criterion Channel* last Christmas, he enthusiastically agreed. I’d had a brief fling with film studies in university, where I was introduced to this living archive of international cinema. Each week our small Intro to European Cinema class clustered among the crumbling lecture seats at Bailey Hall from 5-11 pm to watch three movies. Films like Daisies (Věra Chytilová, 1966), Head-On (Fatih Akin, 2004), Little Vera (Vasili Pichul, 1988), Through a Glass Darkly (Bergman, 1961), and La mala educación (Pedro Almodóvar, 2004) left me feeling displaced within narrative—and I loved it! Layered, fragmented, soundtracked, symbolic, soliloquized—I wondered, What would these things look like in writing, and could a writer also create like an auteur?

Unlike basic authorship, the auteur “applies a highly centralized and subjective control to many aspects of a collaborative creative work”, creating their own oeuvre. Each typically collaborates with the same actors, often writes their own scripts, and directs within that “subjective control”. As a viewer, you need a necessary degree of blind trust in these kinds of filmmakers.

“Auteurship is all about striking out on your own, finding your collaborative cronies, and breaking the rules to write a space for yourself. What I call “writing you”. Except “writing you” in this context also means the bold pursuit of your art.”

Blind trust, however, was a different beast when it came to my first boyfriend and his family. His parents said things like “groovy” and “bummed out”, listened to Frank Zappa, and supported political parties that meditated in high crime areas. During my first family supper, his father offered to torch my bra on the barbeque, while his mother sang her rendition of the “Dangerous Kitchen” which incorporated their household rules. My boyfriend jumped in with a booming “Don’t Eat Yellow Snow”. Later, we looked at their photos and he pointed out the village rooster that he had fed a whole ball of opium. Suddenly his mother seized my shoulders and pulled me to her. Noses touching, she said, “I hope you love to read because we will never own a TV.”

So, I spent most weeknights reading in front of their wood fire as his goth CDs mourned in the background. But every Wednesday night was Movie Night and they sent me home early, even though I offered to pay for my own ticket. It was torturous, as I knew they were off to watch the kind of films that interested me. Like Kundun (Martin Scorsese, 1997). How saddened they were when the ticket-taker ripped their movie stubs and told them these were the only seats they had sold.

A year later, when they told me to air pop my own plastic Sobeys bag of popcorn, I knew I was in! But I didn’t have a vote. At the Cineplex, they paid for my ticket to Terrence Malik’s The Thin Red Line. I hated combat movies. “Didn’t you protest the Vietnam War?” I argued with them, “Why would you want to see this?” My boyfriend smirked, his dad told me to shut up, and his mom whispered, “You’ll see.”

I’d never seen a film so superbly articulated and aesthetically centered. Guadalcanal wasn’t just setting and foliage. Captured in those long upward moving camera shots it was an entity that surpassed history. These same shots gave way to tight portraits of each character. Within the chaos of the Pacific Theatre, they were exposed to what seemed to be the real confrontation: truth. I hadn’t seen into the souls of men this way. There was poetry and philosophy, despair and transcendence. No glory was found except in the grace of authentic human connection.

After plunging into my boyfriend’s favourite auteur films where parody, subversion, and misdirection reigned, I realized auteurship was grounded in sound, sense, and its own mystery. Hungry for this mystery, I slowly built my own stack of favourites, like Hedwig and the Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, 2001), Ugetsu and The Life of Oharu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1951 & 1953), 2046 (Wong Kar Wai, 2004) and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (Park Chan-Wook, 2005), The Devil’s Backbone (Guillermo del Toro, 2001), The Color of Pomegranates (Sergei Parajanov, 1969), and Late Spring starring Setsuko Hara (Yasujiro Ozu,1949). So, where does that sense of mystery, that something unique created by each filmmaker or writer, come from?

It very likely comes from strict limitations.

Strict limitations?! Kayla, I thought you were TOTALLY against all that?!

Not if you are defining your creative process and aesthetics. That is, defining how, what, and where you write from. In any case, auteurship is all about striking out on your own, finding your collaborative cronies, and breaking the rules to write a space for yourself. What I call “writing you”. Except “writing you” in this context also means the bold pursuit of your art.

In the documentary I Lived, But… about the life of Yasujiro Ozu, director Kaneto Shindo explains it best:

“Ozu didn’t use low angle shots for just style. Ozu got to the heart of Japan. He really got to the heart of what ordinary people were like. In order to do that he had to use Japanese-style rooms with shoji screens, futon pallets and tatami mats, all straight lines and right angles. Low camera angles are best for filming a setting like that. Then he confined living beings within these rigid forms. I think he was trying to express his ideas through that. That’s why he never panned or moved the camera. No high-angle shots either. The camera angles with which he was most comfortable bound him within narrow limits. If you don’t have strict limitations, you probably won’t think your ideas through so carefully. These limitations make you condense your thoughts into a more concentrated form. That creative process is something you can’t do without.”

I underlined that because it’s important! Even though strict limitations sound tough, they just might give you the kind of freedom you need as a writer. Especially since they are self-imposed.

That’s right, you create them! When you know yourself as a writer and what you want to accomplish, your own style comes into being through creative instinct and technical discipline. You become the visionary.

If you have nothing better to do this weekend, watch a movie. I suggest buttery popcorn and an old favourite, like The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987). Or maybe it’s time to discover new favourites! In that case, I can definitely recommend the absurdly charming Leningrad Cowboys Go America (Aki Kaurismäki, 1989) or Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa, 1953) to inspire that vision burning inside you.

 However, if you haven’t set down the parameters of all the wondrous things you want to create, maybe it’s time. Inspire others with your wonder, really write you.

*I am not receiving any endorsement from The Criterion Channel.

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

On the Importance of Writing Groups

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality will not destroy you.” – Ray Bradbury

In 2013, I was a lot of things—newly married, addicted to yoga, a hackneyed technical editor, and suffering from undiagnosed Celiac disease—not to mention drowning in student debt while making only $28,000 a year, in Calgary, at the top of my field. Naturally, I was exhausted. But mostly I was a failed a writer.

Bet you didn’t think I was going to say that, did you?

Thank God for The Salty Quills. 

My ex-husband was good at encouraging me. Daily, he reminded me I was fat, useless, a failure at everyday life and that my manuscript remained unpublished. How dare I call myself a woman, much less a writer?

He had a habit of hanging his soiled work shirts back in the closet. One evening he asked me why he didn’t have anything clean for work. Gripping the back of my neck and yanking his pink shirt from the hanger, he rubbed my face in its rank yellow armpit. Then he shoved my head in the laundry hamper. He threw my cat into the wall because I loved it more than I loved him. When I rehomed it, he warned me, “Don’t cry.” One night I cowered in the bathtub while he smashed his fist into the locked door because how dare I keep myself from him? Yet, what brought me to despair was that I could no longer write poetry.

“There’s a natural kinship that comes with a devotion to writing. A spiritual practice and partnership.”

But I enjoyed writing short stories, especially speculative fiction, so I joined the Imaginative Fiction Writers Association. There I learned a lot about genre writing, prose craft, and establishing a career as an author. Or my boobs did. A Nebula Award-winner once told them that, “Great writing will always find a publisher, but good looks are marketable.”

My first night, I met Tommy and Justin. We whispered to each other throughout the meeting and realized we shared a lot of the same nerdy interests—Kaiju, Lovecraft, the macabre. Afterwards, Tommy mentioned IFWA was so large that feedback once a year, on one story, wouldn’t get us very far. “Let’s make our own writing group!” I said.

The Salty Quills were born.

No matter how rung out we were, we finished our stories and dragged our butts down to Porkies. O Porkies! Pub of punk waitresses in tartan mini-skirts serving craft beer, designer bacon apps, and whole hog burgers. Those evenings, nothing existed for us but our writing. We bitched about rejections, created monthly writing challenges, and gave each other honest but helpful feedback. We joked that we were a bunch of hacks, but we vociferously encouraged each other and our crazy storylines. We celebrated our love of writing and the desire to grow our craft. We quickly developed a genuine camaraderie. In writing groups that can be rare.

            Why is camaraderie rare? Probably because we live in a culture that revers the author, and competition. Competition, however, creates friction as well as insecurity. Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “Everybody pities the weak; jealousy you have to earn.” But why even worry about that? There is no com-petty-tiveness in a supportive writing group because every writer ultimately learns that “you better werk!” (RuPaul said that. He also said, “May I make a suggestion? EDIT.”)

There’s a natural kinship that comes with a devotion to writing. A spiritual practice and partnership. And as all devotion inevitably falls into the confessional, don’t you want to belong to a safe and supportive writing group?

Here are a few helpful guidelines for forming your own writerly Borg Collective:

  • Know what you want. Details like where and when will always work themselves out. But what is your collective goal? Is it just sharing or are you all aiming for publication? Decide and stick to your guns. If each writer is committed to the collective, then you’ll all go home fulfilled yet hungry for your next meeting.
  • Strong core members are your writing besties. These are the people who are committed for the long haul. They would run an Iditarod, or steal a runabout and hightail it through a wormhole just to discuss writing with your group.
  • NO DRAMA. Seriously, leave closed minds and catty comments at home. You’re not going to succeed if egos are more important than growing your craft. A writing group is not a place for jealousy or competition.
  • Ask for in-person guidance from a trustworthy, more experienced writer, if you feel you need it. They can help you to lead, or to coach group members on how to phrase constructive criticism, speaking time, etc.
  • Vet each new member with a trial period (two meetings is fair). Vote on whether the prospective member is going to assimilate well. Things like their receptivity to feedback, courage, integrity, vulnerability, honesty, and writing goals need to be considered. If they bring friction to the collective, make anyone uncomfortable, or perhaps their work is out of tone or not at the same level, they aren’t a good fit. It’s better to say no than to let someone ruin your sacred space.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche said, “A good writer possesses not only his own spirit but also the spirit of his friends.” Ask yourself, are these people genuine? Will we gel? Will they tell me the truth, will they commiserate with me—even if I may not feel like I deserve their empathy? Over time, will my admiration for them evolve into love?
  • One last thing. Can you laugh with your group—I mean, really laugh?

Writers often admit that their writing has saved them from dark places. I have often wondered why writing groups don’t receive the same credit. Writing has certainly saved me from reality, but my writing groups have pulled me out of darkness and insecurity.

After two years in Calgary, my ex-husband accepted a transfer to Denver. I didn’t think it would be a big deal. At work, my team would be more concerned about losing another technical editor and The Salty Quills would carry on without me (we were growing anyway). My team threw me a going away party. When Tommy, exhausted from field work and Justin, weary from his own demanding job, met me at Porkies for what became our last meeting, they were crushed. I had believed I was just a pain in the ass and only tolerated for my skillset.

I discovered I was loved and valued just for myself.

So, when you decide to form your own writing group, be brave! Reach out to a few people who love to write, who have integrity (integrity builds trust) and who, over a space of years, you will suddenly discover are some of your closest, most cherished friends. I hope you will find that you’re becoming Borg-like, and that you can all voice your collective outrage at rejections and simultaneous surprise and congratulations at your successes, however you define them. I hope you discover that you are loved for writing you, but mostly just because you are you.

Writer’s Block & “Why Would Someone Want to Read ME?”

One of the best things about being a Poet Laureate is the school visits! I get to talk to high school kids about poetry and writing—what that looks like in reality, what it means to me, and what it can mean to them. During a recent Frye Festival virtual visit, one of the students asked me, “What is WRITER’S BLOCK?”

So I told her that I think writer’s block is a lot of things. I believe it’s creative exhaustion when you’ve pushed yourself to write for too long and need a break, it’s also stress, and day-to-day life crowding writing time. And self-doubt.

            “Oh,” she replied. “I’ve never had any of that. Do you think I will?”

            “I hope not,” I said, “But most writers do experience times when they can’t create.”

            “So what can you do to get out of writer’s block?” Her teacher asked.

            “The dishes.” I replied and everyone laughed. “I’m serious!” I said, laughing too.

And I was. I explained that when they switch their mental load to do something with their hands, such as the dishes, yard work, walking the dog, it resets their creative brains. (Poets Laureate: artfully encouraging children to help out at home for centuries.) I also suggested they put their writing away for a week and come back to it with fresh eyes.

“…passion in writing is like a compass. It leads us to our inspiration, tangling our tongues and thoughts with the things we love or are compelled to explain in our own unique way.”

            And that naturally led to a line of questioning I often hear from students, “What do I write about and how?” and “Why would someone want to read about ME?”

            “Just write,” I said and quoted Alden Nowlan, who said: “You write poems about what you feel deepest and hardest.” I explained that passion in writing is like a compass. It leads us to our inspiration, tangling our tongues and thoughts with the things we love or are compelled to explain in our own unique way.

            So, of course I challened them, “Instead of asking why someone would want to read ME, ask instead, why wouldn’t they want to read ME?”

            Students are not the only ones who ask me those questions. So do prospective clients, new writers, workshop participants, family, my neighbours, even. However, adults usually follow those questions up with, “Well, what do I really have to say, anyway?”

            “I don’t know.” I reply. “What do you want to say?”

            That usually circles back to the question, “Why would someone want to read ME?”

            “Well, why not?”

            Grumble, grumble.

            What they may not have considered is that the question “Why would someone want to read about ME?” also leads to writer’s block. Narrow definitions of poetry and other literature, elitism, cultural stereotypes about authorhood and even self-worth can hold us back before we even get started or suggest that we have not earned the title of “writer”. To be a writer is to be someone who writes. An author has had their work published. We all start small, writing just for ourselves and there is no shame in continuing to do, to choose not to be an author. But if you want it, it’s time to ask yourself, “Well, why not?”

            I’ll tell you what I tell the students I visit, what I tell my workshop participants, my clients, my family, my neighbours, even:

Your thoughts and ideas have value, your perspectives and manners of expression have the power to uplift, inform, and validate others. When you bravely write about YOU—your experiences and identity—when you share what’s true to you, you may find your writing helps not only YOU to be you, but someone you may never meet.

What’s important to you, what fills you with joy or sorrow, is not for someone else to judge. Even you, perhaps. You never know when your poem or short story, your brave little essay may change someone’s life, subtly or profoundly. Especially if you boldy and bravely write your own truth. Jane Kenyon gave some brilliant advice that has helped me out of my writer’s block, she said:

“Tell the whole truth. Don’t be lazy, don’t be afraid. Close the critic out when you are drafting something new. Take chances in the interest of clarity of emotion.”

            And when you get stuck writing you, get up and do your dishes.

Coltsfoot – Tussilago farfara L. by Kayla Geitzler

city florets ditch-daughters
cement-sprouters loiterers leaning
against chainlink in empty lots
graffitists of highway overpasses
hardy and fast-rooting along railway
ties your wind-stirred stems weaving
like legs balancing on train tracks
you first flowerets welcoming spring

you sassy misses born before your mothers
steeped and sipped by asthmatic
grannies at knife-nicked formica tables
or dried and rolled and zippo-lit inhaled
lung-loosening phoenix-flower
your felted leaves brown-sugared burnt
your sparkling ashes a substitute for salt

second-cousins to the sun your golden
petals stiff as stuck out tongues—brazen
blossoming in unwanted places ignored
you litter urbanities like those impulsive girls in black
eyeliner cutoffs and kicks rushing away from mischief
ever-brightening and defiant you flourish
blooming headlong headlong headlong

“Coltsfoot” was written by Kayla Geitzler for Spellbound by Nature: A Spell-kit of Nova Scotia’s Nature Words.
These spells are for youth and children to get outside and explore nature, to discover and name plants, insects, animals, in our backyards and communities. This ‘Spell-kit’ has been concocted by writers and artists, to conjure common nature words in order to help with their identification. Spellbound by Nature was developed and funded by Arts Health Antigonish (AHA!), with funding contributions from the NS Dept. of Communities, Culture and Heritage and Sustainable Antigonish.

First Loves Over & Over — Celebrating National Poetry Month

I did not learn from books any recipe for writing a poem, and I, in my turn, will avoid giving any advice on mode or style which might give the new poets even a drop of supposed insight … it is because in the course of my life I have always found somewhere the necessary support, the formula which had been waiting for me not in order to be petrified in my words but in order to explain me to myself. — Pablo Neruda

I feel a great deal of affinity with the statement above, but not just because it aligns with my business and writing life model of “write you.” When I began offering workshops, I noticed there was a significant belief system about poetry. Such as poetry must rhyme. It must take a metered form. That you have to be an academic to write and understand poetry.

            Nope. None of this is true.

Poetry is not the rigid concepts that are often taught to children. It is also not an academic pursuit composed to be purposely inaccessible to anyone without a degree in the humanities. (It is unfortunate that this myth still perpetuates and as a result alienates a wider readership.) It is not one voice for all persons.

I believe poetry is the people’s art form. I believe it belongs to all of us, that whether we are readers, writers, or listeners, poetry’s vast world has a little nook for each of us.

I am a huge advocate for poetry because I believe it is in all of us, naturally. Every culture around the world has some sort of poetic tradition, be it oral or inscribed. These traditions continue to cross borders of storytelling, song, performance, visual art, and other forms of creative expression. And this is what makes poetry hard to define.

Poetry, by its very nature, is the deepest form of human expression in language. Even Sign Language. It elevates our experiences, whether uniquely or collectively, because “good poetry”, in whatever shape or form, creates connection.

            So then, what is poetry?

            I kind of think poetry is like Star Trek: The Next Generation. It boldly goes where no poet has gone before. Except, it doesn’t while it does. Confused? Me too, and I teach this stuff. When my masterclass course participants ask me “OK, then, so what is poetry really? What does it look like, what does it say, how does it live on the page?” I usually respond with, “Isn’t it a better question to ask what your poetry looks like, how would you like it to evolve, and what kind of presence does it impose on your page?” Although I am notoriously Maritimes when I offer a course (despite my courseware’s academic structure, I very much take a kitchen table approach to how we engage with writing as a group, and how we interact with poetry as writers), I do my best to showcase a diverse range of poetic expression, to show that limitations in writing are often imposed on us. The world of poetry is vast, which is why there is a necessary place for every poet.

“Poetry, reading and writing it, is my first love. When I read poetry I connect with, it is as though I am falling in love over and over again.”

An important lesson I learned from my own work was that when I let go of the academic beliefs that had been imposed on my writing, when I began saying, “Well why can’t I?” I began to really elevate my experiences to art. I was making emotional connections with complete strangers. Isn’t that the most complimentary thing we could achieve as writers? I believe so.

            I think that my journey into poetry was indivisible from the vast accounts of human experience that leapt up at me from the photographs in National Geographic. My family had stacks of Nat Geo magazines piled in living room corners and spilling out of bookshelves. I could read most of the articles, yet my comprehension as a young human was limited. My father had traveled widely so he could hand me a globe, move my finger to the correct country and region, and then give me a bit of cultural and geographical context. My bedtime stories were tales of my father’s travels and I made him tell them to me over and over.

We had the volume that featured Steve McCurry’s famous photograph of Sharbat Bibi, a Pashtun refugee child, who is more widely known as the Afghan Girl. I knew Dad had been to Afghanistan. I peppered him with questions of who she was and how the photographer had captured what seemed to be the girl herself. He said something that stuck with me. He didn’t rightly know, but he thought that the photo didn’t just capture Sharbat Bibi, but a moment in her time. He felt the photographer would have had to be in the right place at the right time, have a deeper understanding of the events unfolding around him, a genuine engagement with local culture, and the knowledge of how to artfully exploit his skill at all stages of the photographic process.

            So, when you replace film with words, how is that different from poetry? Doesn’t fine poetry do that too—capture a unique and perhaps fleeting moment in time in addition to culture, politics, indefinable complexities or feelings and personal qualities? Something that can only come from one individual with their own particular life experiences.

My friend, photographer David Sosmena, told me of an ancient courting custom from his home country the Philippines. Until the mid-twentieth century, in certain villages in northern Luzon and the Visayas, men would write love poems in the earth outside the homes of their beloveds using Baybayin script. My understanding is that metaphor and euphony were as inherent to these poems as were the fleeting forms and materials that captured them. A woman could choose a suitor based on these things and how accurately she felt he had captured her.

Poetry, reading and writing it, is my first love. When I read poetry I connect with, it is as though I am falling in love over and over again. Who inspires you or makes you feel that passion? The poets you love are an important part of your personal journey. Some of my first loves were Forough Farrokhzad, Sei Shonagon, and Pablo Neruda. I first read Pablo in Juneau, AK when I was working on cruise ships when a bookstore clerk ordered his favourite translation of Isla Negra for me.

My passion to find more first loves, and to help other writers find their first loves, drives me. Passion is infectious. It can create great things for us as artists of the written word.

During this long journey I found the necessary components for the making of the poem. There I received contributions from the earth and from the soul. And I believe that poetry is an action, ephemeral or solemn, in which there enter as equal partners solitude and solidarity, emotion and action, the nearness to oneself, the nearness to mankind and to the secret manifestations of nature. And no less strongly I think that all this is sustained – man and his shadow, man and his conduct, man and his poetry – by an ever-wider sense of community, by an effort which will for ever bring together the reality and the dreams in us because it is precisely in this way that poetry unites and mingles them. – Pablo Neruda, from “Towards the Splendid City”; Nobel Prize in Literature Speech 1971

I often put excerpts of Pablo Neruda’s Nobel Prize speech on my masterclass poetry courses. I do this because I want to hear from each participant. I ask them, “Tell me what this means to you.” and often they cannot verbally express what Pablo has articulated for them. Each writer says to me, or nods in agreement, “I can’t tell you, but I feel this, I know it is true.” Good poetry does this too. Even if you can’t say what it is, you feel it, and you know it as a truth inside you. That you, like many others, also feel that poetry, among many things, is also resilience and faith. As you move forward on your writing journey, leaving behind what you’re “supposed to write” or “how you should write” and engage with what you feel you’re called to do, when you write you, you live this truth.

I wish all poets and aspiring poets, a happy National Poetry Month.

How To Be a (Real) Writer – Pt 3. – Voguing in Your Technicolour Wool & Sharing Your Work

It’s inevitable, right? Creatives, especially writers, are often labeled with that word. I’ve been called that word. You know, the one that’s usually reserved for maiden aunts. Eccentric. And boy, was my maiden aunt eccentric! So, it must be in my blood.

However, it’s not like I just rolled out of bed one morning and announced, “I’m going to be a debauched and destitute bohemian who pens devastating verse!” I gave everyone ample time to prepare. I was five years old when Grammie asked me my vocation and I exclaimed, “A writer!” My father buried his face in his palm and groaned. She laughed heartily and said, “Don’t worry, Charles. She’ll be the next L. M. Montgomery.” (I wish. Maud would be Oprah-rich today.) Twenty years later when I was diagnosed with a slight astigmatism, my mother’s sister, an optical software technician, chuckled and said, “You always did see the world a little skewed.”

And just like my family, my friends love to tease me by introducing me with, “This is Kayla. She’s eccentric.” As I shake hands, dressed in total black, or a long colourful skirt swinging at my ankles, my hair whatever cut or colour of the month, I say, “I’m not really eccentric.”

“What do you do?” They ask.

“Oh, I’m a writer.”

“You’re eccentric,” replies my new acquaintance.

Because everyone knows that the word “eccentric” is synonymous with “writer”. Right? But what I really am is my family’s technicolour ewe and dark mule all rolled into one. I’m a divergent thinker. I can’t help it.

“So, how are you weird? That’s actually a good question to ask yourself.”

            Aunt Patty was right about seeing the world askew, or at least from a different perspective. (Let me just take a moment here to clarify that my maiden aunt and Patty are not the same person, and neither would find it flattering if you thought so.) Divergent thinking is the thing that makes most people creative. Our creative, or sometimes odd, behaviours are often informed by this.

            So, how are you weird? That’s actually a good question to ask yourself. I talk to inanimate objects and animals. (Another writer once caught me interrogating the fancy cheese at Sobeys.) That could be why I like to blend whimsy and anthropomorphization in my writing. I can easily imagine certain objects as having a life of their own. I see strange allegiances between seemingly unrelated things in the world and language. And when divergent thinking is cultivated as a skill set, it becomes an incredible superpower. Those strange thoughts, ideas, or ways of seeing are an in-depth way of writing you.

Want to try a writing exercise to explore this idea?


I call this exercise the Weeping Buddha because I bring mine with me on school visits. He’s a fascinating concept for high school kids to explore. When you rub the back of a Weeping Buddha, he brings peace by helping to lift your sorrows. 

  1. Wander around your house for an interesting object. It doesn’t matter what, so long as it has character.
  2. What is it? If it were human, what do you think it would have to say? How would it feel on the inside? Write those words.
  3. Now, in a poem or short story, give it a voice.

Your readers will love your weird; they’re waiting for your perspective. And they’ll tell you so. I first discovered this when I wrote my teenage magnum opus at 17, “Mr. Sexy”, about a well-hung giraffe. That should have been my first clue that maybe I am eccentric. Overtime, the success from that one small poem gave me unexpected courage and I learned to vogue with my weird perspective.

But no matter how well-crafted some of my work is, it still gets rejected. Prepare yourself for that. However, before most writers work up their courage to submit their writing to a magazine or contest, they share with their nearest and dearest first. Sometimes that’s not always the best idea.

Have you had this experience? You’re excited and a little nervous. You’ve just handed one of your babies over to a loved one, a friend, and their eyes scan the lines, jumping back and forth, and you’re getting more excited, but just as they take a moment to collect their thoughts, you start to feel a little sick to your stomach. Were they able to elaborate and give you concrete feedback? In other words, did they leave you with any insightful little nuggets? Or was it something like this:

“Good job. Love the butterflies.”

Uh, OK, but it’s a poem about deer.

Perhaps, “Why is it so dark—do you need to see a professional?”

No…it’s a story about Disneyland.

Or like my father when I handed him my first real in-print poem, “I don’t understand poetry.”


My brother said, “I’m not good at poetry, but I’m really proud of you Sis.”


So I did three things. I stopped showing my writing to people who “didn’t get it” or weren’t able to help me. It just confused me in the end. I valued their opinions, but I realized, even as a beginning writer, that I had ground to stand on. I had an intent and I had training. If I wasn’t there yet, I would be.

 I then formed a small group with writer friends, and we edited and encouraged each other.

Lastly, I embraced my family’s idea of me as their mulish technicolour ewe. It made things easier. Honest.

Get out of the fold. The world is full of brightly-coloured-woolly-cud-chewing-mule hybrids who are devoted to achieving their writing dreams. You will learn who “gets you”. There will always be a few individuals who understand what you are working towards. So, take a break, come back, and revise what doesn’t work. Then, go to the sheep salon, pick out a new dye and spice up your fleece! It’s best to keep everyone guessing at what you’re up to next.

            Embracing your weird and wonderful, and giving it life on the page is admirable because it’s hard to do. The exact thing that society values in writers is often what they try to shear off our backs. So, be brave and pull on your technicolour wool. Stand in your voice. Strike a pose. Share your work with your herd and keep writing you.

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

How to Be a (Real) Writer – Pt 2. – Steal Your Little Heart Out & Break the Rules

I confess I’m a kleptomaniac. I don’t beg or borrow—I outright steal. I’ve stolen from The Sound of Music, Dear Abbey, and yes, the Bible. I’ve ripped off Beowulf, Pablo Neruda, Che Guevara, and Lawrence of Arabia. In a conversation with my father regarding the mysterious circumstances of our Norwegian ancestor’s immigration to Canada, he joked, “I guess there’s a little bit of larceny in all of us.” Looks like teen Kayla took that to heart. But I get it from my mother’s side too, passed down from an Alsatian farm boy who said, “Screw this barnyard noise!” dropped his pitchfork and went off to become a bodyguard for Napoleon Bonaparte. (All Lit Up didn’t name me a Rad Woman of Canadian Poetry for nothin’.) But every heist is backed by expertise and a little chutzpah.

If there’s a predominant rebel gene, I have it and this, in part, is what makes my own writing successful. But before I go on about “great writing” and what the act of acknowledged stealing—NOT plagiarising—will do for you as an artist of the written word, we have to talk about …

breaking the rules.

I’m a firm believer in, it’s not necessarily “what” but “how”. About abandoning established narratives to find your own voice and give life to what matters to you. But to break the rules, you have to know them first. This is important because within English literature, writers have been composing for more than one thousand years! That’s a lot of recycled material. Shakespeare broke with tradition in the lines “My mistress’s eyes are nothing like the sun…If hairs be wires, black hairs grow on her head.” Yet even that trope has become cliché. It now holds as little power as “My Luve is like a red, red rose”. Writing conventions evolve in every generation and those phrases no longer resonate, no longer connect with an audience as they once did. And most importantly, they don’t say anything about you.

“Just like every other writer, I had to perfect the rules of fine writing—and in the beginning I didn’t like it much.”

Kayla Geitzler

I often compare breaking the rules of writing to the Jazz greats—Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone. They were all classically trained, and so, when they broke the rules they changed music and how listeners connected with themselves and the world. You, as a writer, can do that too. You do it by writing regularly and finding a good mentor. Great writing is about taking risks, exploring, experimenting and pushing yourself out of a comfort zone. Then revising, revising, revising…(please, make it stop!)

Just like every other writer, I had to perfect the rules of fine writing—and in the beginning I didn’t like it much. I struggled with two important techniques: moving out of the abstract (“unpacking”) and understanding that the reader was not in my head. However, part of what I like about being an editor and writing instructor is witnessing that, naturally gifted or not, everyone starts from the same place. Everyone.

Stealing allows you to conceptualize great ideas. You can access a writer’s process, emulate a form, create a kind of palimpsest, play a game of writerly telephone, and avoid the trap of imitation. There are many ways to steal. I prefer the inspiration angle. I greatly admire the poets Safia Elhillo, Layli Long Soldier and Jake Skeets and how they interpret language, identity, and reform narrative. But I don’t sit in front of their poetry and go through it line by line, precisely imitating their style or appropriating their concepts and then passing it off as my own original work. I say, “That’s really interesting. What would happen if I borrowed Safia’s brackets, or tried out Layli’s linguistical structure, or Jake’s way of using space to accomplish this thing in my poem?” I’m currently working on an essay poem, a format invented by poet Dana Levin and incorporating that with Lidia Yudnavitch’s braided essay concept, however, I’m using these forms to express my experiences in my voice and my style.

So, how do you steal your little heart out? You follow what inspires you and you reinvent it as you want to see it. Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” What do you want to see in writing? It’s not egotistical to ask that question. Just be prepared to put in the work and realize that it may take years before you have the skill set to exploit your big ideas. I was 26 when I decided I wanted to rip-off “Beowulf” (an epic Old English poem) and I was 36 before I published my steal Greta Hrímgerdr. In “Thirst” one of the concluding poems in my book That Light Feeling Under Your Feet, I borrowed the “adieus” from The Sound of Music’s “So Long Farewell” and acknowledged it in the end matter.

So, just to be clear, I am NOT encouraging writers to plagiarise. Do NOT actually steal someone’s diligently crafted work. Gratefully acknowledge influence where appropriate.

If you need to write a cliché because that’s where you’re at, do it, but don’t stop there. Your words and ideas are worth revisiting. You will discover that what you must say—what will connect with your reader—is hiding underneath those everyday expressions. And that truth may very well hold a form or voice that is unlike what “someone like you” is “supposed to write”. So go on and rebel: write you.

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

How to Be a (Real) Writer – Pt. 1: Write You

I was five years old when I decided I wanted to be a writer. To be fair, most people don’t find their calling that early in life. But the passion and fascination I’ve had for books, the literary world, and the arts, never left me. Now, as Moncton’s inaugural Anglophone Poet Laureate, a professional editor & writing consultant, as well as the host of the Attic Owl Reading Series, the writing world is my entire life. But what I want to say to you is, that this is my journey and you don’t need to be any of these things to be a writer. So in addition to the essential things like taking writing courses nz, to be a real writer, you only need these three things:

  1. Know thyself as a writer
  2. Be willing to grow (into) your craft
  3. Above all, write you

So, what am I talking about? To know yourself as a writer is just that. Know what you write, or want to write, and know your voice. Do you want to publish, or are you content writing for yourself? Both have value. Also, be open to change because writing, like life, often takes us on journeys we could never predict.

That is why the willingness to grow applies to all writers. Don’t be afraid to reach out to experienced writers or editors and learn from them, or take writing workshops. Be prepared for feedback and revision. Knowing how you receive constructive criticism is also important. It’s not easy to offer up a piece of yourself to a stranger; try to listen to their point of view with grace. But also listen to your gut. Not your ego, your instincts. Your ego will sulk or be angry, your instincts will say “I believe in this piece. If my work is being misread, what do I have to do to make my idea shine?” Keep in mind that mentoring is a relationship. Find someone you are compatible with, who you can share with. A good mentor will hear you and be open to discussion.

Read living writers. Their many voices will inspire you. Their relationships with language will teach you how to value and execute your ideas. They will give you confidence, and possibly make you despair of ever writing something so beautiful or gutsy. But that will still motivate you. You cannot grow if you don’t read.

That’s why reading and writing are synonymous. Writing isn’t just an intellectual or artistic practice, it’s for the soul as well. Every time you write, or you read, you are exploring your relationship with yourself, your community, or the world. Improving your writing skills only brings you more insight and ability.

Now, writing you. There are so many myths out there about how to write and who can write. Pfffft. You wanna write? So write. Engage with your ideas and your voice. That is the most crucial thing: to actually write. Will it be lacking in some of the finer elements of great writing? You betcha. But we all start there, no exceptions. Even the naturally talented hit a plateau pretty quickly. I often tell my clients it’s better to have a poem or short story that misses the mark but is wholly yours. After all, there is something admirable in each of us, so why wouldn’t you want to engage with what makes you uniquely you?

So, how do you become a real writer? You keep in mind that writing is a lifelong journey, as you grow, your writing grows. And above all, write you. The world already has a Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Margaret Atwood, a Pablo Neruda. Perfect your craft and people will want to read you. So that’s what you must do. Just sit down and write you.

Kayla Geitzler, MA

Visit Kayla’s website to explore her writing services, workshops, and masterclass courses. To register for her $25 spring writing workshops or join her 5-week March poetry masterclass course, Surfacing the Great Poetry Within You, visit her Facebook page. All are welcome.