What a big iron pot/is mothering–cast wide/and heavy as a hippopotamus/smelling of grass and river. – Kate Marshall Flaherty*
Take a deep breath. Inhale her simmering ingredients. Allow the silver-bell-tinkle of spoon and other trickling sounds and taste of vegetable broth to soothe what ails you.
Toronto poet Kate Marshall Flaherty calms and charms her readers as she ladles poetic murmurings from her latest poetry collection Stone Soup (Quattro Books, 2014).
According to the publisher’s promotional literature, her book “is inspired by the poetic folktale in which three travelers enter a village and open the minds and hearts of the townspeople by inviting them to contribute whatever they can to a simple meal that begins with a stone: a gesture that dispels fear, forges connections and nourishes the entire community.”
As a certified creative writing guide in the AWA (Amherst Writers and Artists) Method and as an instructor of yoga and meditation, Flaherty blends her interest in diverse cultures, the natural world, and family relationships with a sprinkle of spiritual seasonings. Her child-like wonder, her mothering instinct, her aura of optimism rises like the bubbling communal stone soup simmering on the stove.
It’s a recipe she often shares.
For example, one of the five affirmations of the AWA method is “Writing belongs to everyone – of all classes, faiths, sexual orientation, experience etc. – and writing knows no borders.”
In the poem “Zatoun” she writes “In this pale olive space/we meet,/softer than handshakes,/warmer than the wrap of scarf.”
Another AWA affirmation is “Each of us has a strong unique voice.”
For me, it was Flaherty’s soft voice and first person “accessible” narratives, both on paper and on stage, which first attracted me to her work in 2004. Since that time, she has been published in journals such as CV2, Descant, Grain, Malahat Review and Vallum, was Shortlisted for Descant’s Best Canadian Poem, the Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize and Robert Frost Poetry Prizes. Hidden Brook Press published her first book Tilted Equilibrium in 2006 and in 2009 Piquant Press released where are we going. Her most recent books are Reaching V (Guernica Editions, 2014) and Stone Soup.
In a recent review** of Stone Soup, Canadian poet Katherine L. Gordon stated, “Her (Flaherty’s) language can leap from literature lovely to playful patios, and is entertaining and delightful – quite a mix.”
I agree and strongly encourage readers to view the three video poems posted on Flaherty’s website. Her latest video, A Mouse’s Prayer, which also appears in Stone Soup, is spoken from a mouse’s perspective, “I will scurry my prayer/across the stone mantel/beneath the clock”. A beautiful mix of voice, visual and original music.
Not all the poems are laced with light. In the poem “Statue” she writes, “This stone angel is the colour of letdown/after the Christmas star, the colour of a snowman melting into pavement.”
One of my favourite lines is from the poem “Resentment”. The setting is inside a hoarder’s home and the narrator speaks, “the only space in this dank mansion/is the hope of air/through the keyhole”.
Flaherty is like that ‘hope of air’, that ‘ray of light’ that inspires and guides other writers around her. According to her website, poetry is her passion, yoga is her peace, and performance is her pleasure.
Earlier this week (Tuesday, July 5, 2016), Flaherty was one of four featured poets at the Quattro Books/Aeolus House reading held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
I asked Katie to share her thoughts about her writing process. Below are her responses:
1) Describe your new book in a few sentences. Why did you decide to write it?
I wrote the poems in Stone Soup in response to over a decade of guiding Golden Rule Leadership retreats for young people, studying World Religions and working at an inter-faith centre. Most of the poems explore in some way our commonality, common ground and/or “Signs of One-ness,” which was almost the title.
2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I think that my poems are more spiritual and metaphysical than many poets of this era who tend to be gritty, edgy and experimental. I can be experimental (see “Discovery of the God Particle”) but find these poems really delved into the mystical at times.
3) What inspires you and who are your mentors?
I feel Rumi, Hafiz, Derek Walcott, Mary Oliver, Marie Howe, Ellen Bass and many others have inspired and influenced me.
4) Describe your writing process.
Usually, I see a connection or a paradox in life that excites me. I often scribble words, a web of ideas, associations, and then just play with the places where I feel energy. I usually write very fast and without any editing in a real flow. Then I edit on paper (I always write in pen first) and next type the poem into the computer, editing and polishing as I type. Finally I let some time elapse and return to the printed version for more polishing. At last I take this version to a workshop, if I can, to get the feedback of other poets.
5) What are you currently working on?
I am currently almost finished a work of fiction about a young girl in a foster home with special needs who runs away with her best friend. Something happens when they reach the train station that changes their lives forever.
6) Describe your writing workshops and when is your next intake.
My StillPoint Writing Workshops are in the AWA method, and are usually the first Monday of every month from 6-9 p.m. We begin with an entering meditation to get us into that liminal state where creativity can flow and the subconscious is accessed. Then I guide two writing prompts, then we share our raw writing in a safe, creative and constructive environment. Break and snacks. Then two more writing prompts, with lessons on craft, and one more sharing of this fresh writing. They are wonderful and I encourage people interested to visit my website.
7) What are your future plans?
I am guiding yoga and writing with Sue Reynolds and James Dewar of InkSlingers in Ireland this summer! I hope to guide more StillPoint Writing Workshops around Toronto and area, and to guide more yoga and writing retreats around the world. I also hope to get my novel out there into the world when it is done, and perhaps get back to play-writing. I am happiest when I am writing or sharing writing in some way. I have been performing poetry to music with musicians Mark Korven/Cathy Nosaty as well as musicians Anne Hurley/Jim Video … I think the fusion of music and poetry is a wonderful way to deepen and enhance poetry.
Thanks Katie for the interview. I wish you continued success with all your literary projects.
Additional information about Flaherty appears on the “Members page” section of The Ontario Poetry Society website.
*from the poem “Stone Soup” published in the book Stone Soup (Quattro Books, 2014) page 39. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright ©2014 Kate Marshall Flaherty and Quattro Books Inc.
**See the complete review by Katherine L. Gordon in the Sept. to Dec. 2015 issue of Verse Afire or posted on-line on the Quattro Press website.
Watch this blog for additional Canadian Author and Poet Profiles.