Celebrating the Life of Carmen Ziolkowski 1924 – 2018

“When I depart/ bring me to a place/of summer days/where flowers bloom/and friends hold my hands.//Then my heart will rejoice.” Carmen Ziolkowski*

When the news of Carmen Ziolkowski’s departure arrived in late December, a wintry chill settled on Sarnia-Lambton’s literary community. It left me and others numb but five months later, flowers did indeed bloom during her Celebration of Life held May 26, 2019 at the Sarnia Riding Club.

With the club house windows overlooking Lake Huron and a large vase of carnations greeting family and friends at the door, the love for this inspirational woman filled the room.

Carnations from Carmen's Celebration of Life

Carmen Ziolkowski often wrote about love and flowers.

As a writer, Carmen often wrote about flowers; she left a bountiful bouquet, a legacy of literary buds and blooms for her readers to admire and cherish. Trilliums, dancing cherry blossoms, forsythia, periwinkle, wisteria, bleeding hearts, and even bright dandelions scented her work. Her poetry sang with birdsong, the chirp of a sparrow, the tweet of a robin, the boisterous vocals of geese, cardinals, and eagles as they swooped and soared across the pages. The sun and the moon also played vital roles in her seasonal portraits.

Norma West Linder, one of her long-time colleagues and friends, emphasized this floral theme in her tribute poem to Carmen:

Parsons Street Poet**

by Norma West Linder

Carmen was drawn to flowers

as flies to cookie crumbs

or hikers’ feet to nature trails

She was always first to spot

Jack-in-the-Pulpit’s green spear

through the forest floor

 

So it was only fitting

that of all the cherry trees

lining her street

the one facing her house

each year was first to burst

into pink blossoms

 

She revelled in the riches

of every scented blossom

the way a true gourmet

savours a meal

the way a mother sees

her firstborn’s smile

Another one of her colleagues and long-time friends Lynn Tait stated that she was honoured that the first poetry book review she ever wrote was for and requested by Carmen. She also touched on Carmen’s interest in nature.

“Carmen’s nature haiku never just sat on the page,” said Tait, “they were seldom static. I loved them. Many of her haiku and nature poems featured cherry trees.”

Below is Tait’s tribute poem:

Carmen**

by Lynn Tait

Little cherry tree,
leaves all a-giggle
with breeze;
your flower petals drift
towards the earth,
too slow in your opinion,
pink drops

glistening – tears
for friends loved,
whose flowers fell

too soon.

SHARE National Poetry Month - Carmen Ziolkowski Photo 3 - April 18, 2017 in Sarnia

Sarnia writer Carmen Ziolkowski, feisty and flamboyant.

Although, I didn’t know Carmen as long or as well as some of her long-time friends, she still reminded me of an exotic rose, her red hair aflame, her determination like a wandering but thorny vine climbing up trellises and terraces indicative of her Italian heritage.

Feisty and flamboyant even in her mid-nineties, even with a cane or a walker, she continued to swim and remained determined to climb the flight of stairs to her home, more flights of stairs to her second floor office, slow and steady, as though she was hiking up Mount Everest.

She loved travelling, kept a travel journal, shared her daring stories about her world adventures, and even expressed an interest in flying to Madagascar only a year ago.

Former Business Trends editor Heather Rath mentioned Carmen’s travelogues in a tribute letter shared during the celebration:

“Because of your travelling spirit, you influenced me to do likewise, Carmen. Your rich imagery captured my imagination. In the 1980’s, in one of your many travel articles for Business Trends, you wrote: “I was 12 when I first heard of the Ligurian Riviera, the coast where flowers grow every day of the year. A handsome young man was telling my older sister about Loano, a small town there and he said: …. ‘Genoa, Allassio, San Remo and Monte Carlo are not very far’. Those exotic names tantalized my adventurous nature like a mirage.”

You inhaled Scotland with equal wonder and I quote: “This is a place where lambs graze on lavender and rabbits eat thyme, where primroses bloom red, purple, and yellow from April on. The hillsides are splashed with the many colours of rhododendrons…their bright colours among seas of green give this northern land a haunting enchantment.”…

…These excerpts from your travel writing bear witness to your talent, curiosity, empathy, and beauty, all written in English. How remarkable, Carmen, since your first language is Italian.”

may 26, 2019

Celebrating Carmen’s Life!

Carmen often wove her Italian heritage into her writing and community life. She started her writing career as a playwright, writing and staging plays for the Italian community. And when she was challenged to write in English, she still enjoyed sharing her Italian language by slipping in a word or two to enhance the familial settings. She was a long-time member of the Association of Italian Canadian Writers (AICW). She never lost that Italian accent that made her special.

“…these [Italian] immigrants, mostly of peasant background, didn’t know what to make of this strong-minded, liberated woman,” shared her close Italian writer/friend and editor Delia DeSantis. “Some Italian men were even afraid she would corrupt their wives, but most of all, their daughters, for Carmen was always advising young girls to “go to university… travel… don’t be afraid to explore the world….

She added:

…Meeting Carmen was the best thing that could have happened to me. I was brought up in a strict immigrant family, and she became my ‘life’ mentor. She encouraged me to think for myself and to follow my dreams. The first time I attended a conference by the Association of Italian Canadian Writers, it was Carmen who encouraged me to go. She was already a member of the AICW, and she said that meeting other Italian Canadian writers would be good for me.***”

 

Drawing from Experience Open Mic Reader Carmen Ziolkowski Photo 2 November 11, 2017

Even in her nineties, Carmen shared her work during open mic readings.

According to Anne Beachey, one of Carmen’s closest friends, Carmen had a rebellious but also a humourous side to her. “She often read books that were banned or were not supposed to be read.”

Below is a limerick that Beachey wrote on demand and read at the Writers’ in Transition (WIT) 1981 Christmas party. According to Beachey: “I didn’t think there was much else to say about Carmen but she was BUGGING THE HELL out of me to write another – about HER of course.   It is a bit raunchy but she loved it.”  

Limerick for Carmen**

by Anne Kavanagh Beachey

Dear Carmen, you know that it’s true

I’ve written five poems ’bout you,

And I’ve scratched my poor head;

But I think it’s all said

And there really is nothing that’s new.

 

After New Year I strongly suggest

You perform – with your usual zest.

Do something dramatic.

Do not remain static.

And give us your absolute best.

 

Perhaps you could have an affair

And get caught in Society’s glare.

Commit a great sin,

Drink a bottle of gin

And ride in the buff on a mare.

 

Or pose for a men’s magazine

In a posture that’s truly obscene.

To set the tongues wagging

And all the wives nagging

And Bruno creating a scene!

 

He`d probably chop you in bits

For so lewdly exposing your tits

And that sacred spot

Which God did allot,

But oh, you`d bring fame to the WITs!

 

So don`t let my paper stay blank.

You know I`d effusively thank

You for lurid material

I could write a serial

And cry all the way to the bank!

Carmen, who often worked on her needlework at Thursday night workshop meetings, seemed invincible. She was a survivor of diphtheria, the war, heart surgery, and faced death on numerous other occasions. At the age of 94, so close to 95, she felt it was time and embraced death when it arrived.

Peggy Fletcher and Carmen Ziolkowski April 20, 2008

Since 2010, Sarnia-Lambton’s literary community has lost seven senior writers, mentors, and editors including Peggy Fletcher and Carmen Ziolkowski.

Tait reflected, “Carmen was very heart-broken when Adele [Kearns Thomas], Peggy [Fletcher], and especially Venera [Fazio] passed away. She wanted God to take her instead. Two days before her death she was still giggling and complaining her passing was taking too long.”

Bob McCarthy, a historical fiction writer and organizer of a Monday afternoon workshop that Carmen often attended, had this to say:

“Carmen was as colourful as a multi-hued garden of roses, helping each of us to appreciate the beauty of everyday life. 

Her poetry and prose helped each us to see both the present and the past through the eyes of her experiences and her candor.

Whether she was trying to tell us about the days immediately after the war in Europe or simply expressing her thoughts about the birds and the flowers all around us here in Sarnia, her captivating words allowed us to imagine and become a part of whatever she was writing about.”

McCarthy added:

Through Carmen’s eyes and her words, we could appreciate more the wonders of life all around us. With her help, we were better able to express on paper our own thoughts. She always saw the simple pleasures of each new day.”

 She touched so many people. London writer Ryan Gibbs reminisced and wrote a poem about having lunch with Carmen. A local politician Margaret Bird wrote an article about this writer’s involvement in the literary community for the local newspaper and also expressed a few words. Other guests like Sam and Najah Shuqair shared memories and/or read work written by Carmen.

As De Santis concluded,

“She went to her rest with her beautiful head of white with a youthful swatch of purple at the front. She will be always be remembered by those who knew her for her strong resilience, her distinctive character, and her talents.”

I agree. Carmen was vibrant, an everlasting bloom, pulling us into her garden of words.

This New Spring****

by Carmen Ziolkowski

The spring air

has turned warmer now.

I take my friends

into the woods

to see the trilliums in bloom.

CARMEN ZIOLKOWSKIwas born in Italy and following World War II, lived in England where she worked as a registered nurse and later a midwife. In 1955, she immigrated to Canada and enrolled in the Port Huron Junior College, where she studied Journalism, finishing the course at Wayne State University. She has won several prizes for her poetry and in 1988 Ziolkowski received a special award for her contribution to Canadian and Italian literature from the Italian Vice Consul to Canada. Her first book of poems, Roses Bloom at Dusk, was translated into Italian and Japanese.

Books by Carmen Ziolkowski

A member of The Writers’ Union of Canada, Carmen was the author of several books.

Ziolkowski had taught creative writing at Lambton College. She was a member of the Writers’ Union of Canada, the Canadian Authors Association, the Association of Italian Canadian Writers, Pen International, Writers in Transition, and The Ontario Poetry Society.

Ziolkowski’s first novel, House of Four Winds, was published in 1987, her second book of poetry, World of Dreams, was published in 1995, her chapbook, Moments to Treasure, was published in 2008, and her latest work, The Moon Before the Sun, was published in 2009. At the time of her death, Ziolkowski was working on her diary of life on La Monaca, where she was born, in Italy. One of her last featured readings was at a Sarnia-Lambton’s 2017 National Poetry Month Celebration (April 18, 2017); she also shared work during a local open mic on November 11, 2017.

She passed away on December 26, 2018.

A question and answer interview with Carmen appears here. It was conducted by Lambton County writer Gloria Pearson-Vasey and posted on her blog. September 23, 2015.

*First printed in the poem “O, Bright Spirit” from the book The Moon Before the Sun – Premier Poet Trees Series #5 (Beret Days Press 2019) by Carmen Ziolkowski  p. 49 Reprinted with permission from the executors of the estate.
**poems “Parson Street Poet” by Norma West Linder, “Carmen” by Lynn Tait, and “Limerick for Carmen” by Anne Beachey were used with permission from the poets. © belongs to each of the poets.
***Delia De Santis’s comments first appeared in a recent issue of the AICW Newsletter. Reprinted with permission from the author.
****The poem “This New Spring” appeared in the chapbook Moments to Treasure (Beret Days Press 2008) by Carmen Ziolkowski p. 4 Reprinted with permission from the executors of the estate. 

15 thoughts on “Celebrating the Life of Carmen Ziolkowski 1924 – 2018

  1. bobboulton

    Debbie, thank you for doing this. I am in some sort of Username / WordPress / Password circle of hell and am unable or incompetent or both to post a Comment on your site.  Bob Boulton For Writers – bobswritefromthestart.blogspot.comTelephone: 519-383-6286 (H)                   226-886-1091 (C)

    Reply
  2. Heather

    Beautifully written, Deb! You can tell you’re a poet with your word usage. You’ve also woven an inspiring tribute to Carmen through the words of her longtime friends. I think Carmen is very pleased!

    Reply
    1. d78hill Post author

      Thank you Heather for your kind words. It was comforting to see the family and the literary community celebrating this wonderful woman’s life.

      Reply
  3. Dawn Ziolkowski

    Thank you Debbie! Indeed, thank you all! I don’t have your way with words, but I want to express my deep gratitude for the affection you have all shown. THANK YOU❣️Your words are wonderful.

    Reply
    1. d78hill Post author

      Words have the power to heal and to keep memories alive. I’m glad so many of Carmen’s friends were willing to share their poems, tributes, and stories for this blog post. Take care.

      Reply
  4. R Ziolkowski

    Hi, this is Robin, Carmen’s eldest son. I want to thank you all for the rememberances and well wishes. This is how we remember my mum. Towards the end she would say that she was ready to go, but I knew that was not really true. She had already planed her next big adventure, but her body wore out and just could not keep up. Otherwise she probably be in Madagascar already. 😉
    My mother always enjoyed the company of her friends. She appreciated the creative talents, the games of scrabble and scopa. The give and take of the writing process. The adventures!

    We will miss her, I will miss her…

    Reply
    1. d78hill Post author

      Robin, thank you for sharing your thoughts. You are not alone. It was a pleasure to know your mom. Yes, she is indeed missed by so many people.

      Reply
  5. Rosamaria Ziolkowski

    Thank you Debbie for the wonderful tribute to Mammina (Carmen) Thank you to all for taking the time to express your minds and love for a dear writer friend that has left you/us. We, her family know how much she cared for all her dear friends, and we are sure that she is very happy to see how much she was loved and appreciated. 💖

    Reply
    1. d78hill Post author

      Hi Rosamaria, I will continue to see her in the flowers that she so loved to write about. Yes, she was definitely loved and appreciated! She created so many memories and shared them freely with others.

      Reply
  6. Pingback: Booked for the Summer plus Fall 2019 Releases | Kites Without Strings

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.