PERSONAL: Born London, England in 1936
Immigrated to Toronto from London, England in 1958
Married Alistair Black in 1961 (Toronto)
Kirsteen born in 1962
Divorced in 1966
Moved with Kirsteen to London in 1970
Married Bryan Burwash in 2006
Grandmother to Scott, Jennifer, Heather, Rachel and Melissa
Step-grandmother to Kimberley, Jennifer, Jack, Carter and Keith
Great-grandmother to Landon and Tom
WRITING & THEATRE
BACKGROUND: First poem published in high school magazine
Amateur acting in England
Wrote humorous skits in London, England and London, Canada
Re-commenced writing poetry in 1960s in Toronto
Wrote occasional poems and prose pieces all my life
Following participation in a Creative Writing course in London, Ontario in 1981 approx, began writing poetry in earnest
Poetry: The Creative Circus Book, Red Kite Press 1984 (anthology edited by Marianne Micros)
Memory's Rapturous Pain 1987 (anthology)
Barbed Lyres – Canadian Venomous Verse - 1990 (anthology)
This Magazine (1990)
The Fourth Morningside Papers (1991)
Personal Memoir: The Fifth Morningside Papers (1994)
Interviews: Author and playwright Timothy Findley in Carousel Magazine (1994)
Many interviews with theatre personalities published in Scene Magazine
Numerous public readings and readings on Radio and TV in London and elsewhere in Ontario
Haiku (along with two others on the same theme) set to music by Hawksley Workman and performed at the 2011 Home County Folk Festival
Poem circulated on LTC buses in 2012 as part of the Poetry in Motion contest
Edited The Babbling Book, Vols I and II (an anthology of poetry and prose by the participants in the “For Love of Words” writing course, Program 60)
ASPIRATIONS: To write a play
AWARDS: The Nathan Cohen (National) Award for Excellence in Theatre Criticism (Short Review Category) 1994
The Chris Doty Award – Brickenden Award for Lifelong Contributions to Theatre in London 2013
SPORTS: Then: Field hockey, tennis, swimming, skating, walking, dancing, bicycling, horseback riding
Now: (Since two hip replacements): aquafit and walking
HOBBIES: Reading, music, singing, concerts, TV, movies, live theatre, cooking, gardening, conversation
Over my very full lifetime my work, my interests, tastes and activities have been eclectic; I have many passions, but above all for those whom I love, and for writing, and live theatre.
EDUCATION: Grammar School in London, England; completed Grade XII equivalent in 1952 - main interests were languages, literature, live theatre
Secretarial college, London, England for one year
University courses at Western University in 1980s and 90s, including
Creative Writing and non-credit courses in Theatre, as well as other general interest courses and workshops since immigration to Canada in 1958
Completed Certificate in Thanatology, King's College – 1984 approx.
1) 1953 – 1959 approx. - Secretary at a publishing company, London, England then photographer and reporter, then secretary for the then British Travel and Holidays Association (i.e. Britain's official tourism organization), London, England and Toronto, Canada
2) 1959 – 1970 - Secretarial positions with Toronto Industrial Leaseholds, the Crest Theatre, and the Ontario Law Reform Commission
3) 1970 – 1977 - Admissions Officer, Faculty of Law, the University of Western Ontario
4) 1978 – 2006 - Various secretarial positions with the Bank of Montreal; Faculty of Nursing, UWO; Dept of Social Work, Victoria Hospital; Hamilton Road Family Medical Centre; Parkwood Hospital; Student Health Services, UWO
1984 – 2005 approx. - Facilitator/Instructor – Creative Writing Courses for “Program 60” (run by the then PUC at Beal Secondary School; Part-time and Continuing Education, UWO; Elderhostel, and gave workshops in Creative Writing and Autobiographical Writing for various organizations and individuals.
1990 - 2005 - Theatre columnist for Scene Magazine.
1996 – present -Standardized Patient for the Clinical Skills Learning Program, Western University –
Contributed articles on live theatre to various other publications
VOLUNTEER WORK: Volunteer positions with various non-profit organizations
FOUR POEMS BY PATRICIA
Centre of My Universe
Centre of my world
warming my cool faltering heart
Living loving blond boy
sweet-voiced takes my hand
Shall we ride haywagons?
Walk in rutted lanes
in summer's soft kind air?
Tired at twilight
stroll through fairgrounds?
Watch sunset from a rocky shore?
Breathe woodsmoke-scented air?
Hushed by water's edge
sight the first star?
Will you lead me gently
to your cabin fire?
Sing me your own songs
For Scott David Winn
From Grandmother Patricia Black
In utero in Utah
My great-grandson appears
on my computer screen
I am enthralled bemused deeply touched
A gossamer boy water babe
Feathery tracings images
like sea fronds waving
come to me
across the miles
through cyber space
I am enchanted sobered
and a little afraid for him
So early in his journey
Four months left until his due date
But his Dad filmmaker Scott
calls it “Landon's first home video”
has set it to music
has labelled “arm” “spine” “leg”
and an arrow points to
a minute protruberance
Landon tiny being
undulates blithely prepares
Scott and Becca are
but I great-grandmother
want to be sure of his safe arrival
so I watch with mixed emotions
Awed by today's technology
yet overwhelmed with love
for this new life
this kinship this bloodlink
Already bonding bonded
with the son of my daughter's
Patricia Black – May 20, 2010
Fanciful Bus Ride
Through London streets the buses huff and puff
What if they sped on rails above the trees?
Silent and sleek and smooth instead of rough
Swaying and swinging gently in the breeze
Fanciful buses floating in the air
Their drivers clad in robes of shining silk
No passengers would have to pay a fare
In this fair land of honey and of milk
Music and wind chimes, birdsong serenade
And all who ride the buses would be friends
The hustle-bustle down below would fade
While everyone their disbelief suspends
But, haste, is this too much frivolity
For those who run our city's LTC?
[last two lines added
May 17, 2012 – original 12-line poem selected for Poetry in Motion along with 15 others]
The Magic of Radio
Back in a long-ago, far-away bedroom
It all began
Two teens sitting on the floor
My brown-eyed soulmate
opened wide a door
into the holy realm
the Welsh-laden words
of Dylan Thomas
There in the soft-rugged, cosy-nest
and knew the
Fifty-four flew by, crept by years
Today sitting on a soft companioned couch
cosied by an old dog
and looking out at the rust-gold, brown-green trees
the dusty-brown, red-tinged, black-capped
in the lazy Autumn afternoon
they are busy as spinning circus twirlers
under the grey-cloud, heavy-layer, winter-warning sky
I, now crone, listen
to his plush voice, lush voice of 1959
and his mother's warm, syrupsoft Welsh words
down the packed years and the empty years
a radio interview
and all the words in between
the worlds of words
melt, fluid into one another
oceans of years and miles and words and tears and smiles
Here in my cosy-rosy home
I am in that holy-full, wholly full place
Rev November 18, 2009
(Interview by Kevin Heslop for London Open Mic Poetry Night)
KH: Were there particular texts which drew you to writing? What specifically about those texts or their authors - perhaps in terms of style, diction, meter, atmosphere - encouraged you to recognize the theatre as one to which you would contribute? Do you identify with a school of poetics (i.e. Surrealism, Romanticism, Imagism)?
PB: I loved reading from a very early age and my two older sisters and I were fortunate to have had a father who encouraged us to read extensively. I was enraptured by words - one of the first books I read was a collection of children's stories based on Greek myths, "Tanglewood Tales" - I still remember reading "and she placed the child in her bosum" and thinking it was some kind of large bag!
My father and I used to share new words. He too was intrigued by language - in fact, in family discussions, at lunch on Sundays, if a word came up that was new to us, we girls were sent to find the definition in the dictionary.
We were so privileged to have had this encouragement and exposure to the arts all our lives. And it has paid off in spades, since our children and grandchildren and even my great-grandchildren are all readers, one is a dancer, one is a film-maker and composer, they play musical instruments and our family is full of teachers - all this from my parents who had very little formal education.
My taste in literature, poetry, art, music, dance and theatre has always been - and still is - extremely eclectic and I am thankful for that, because it is a kind of freedom to savour almost anything and everything that has been created artistically. My own writing and poetry also tend to be eclectic.
We were also taken to live theatre from a very early age - after Christmas each year it would be the annual Pantomime - and from those we were soon going to Broadway musicals in London, England, as well as other theatrical productions. I acted in school and in Sunday School plays from the age of about 7 - I played "Little Boy Blue" to another little girl's "Little Bo Peep" - it's a poem by A.A. Milne. Also, we always had music in our home - lisening to the "wireless," or gramophone records; my mother had a beautiful contralto voice and my Dad played piano - all our many parties included a singalong around the piano. I still have the words of hundreds of songs engraved in my memory. All these contributed to my love of words, rhythm and music.
I wanted to write from a very early age; my first published poem was in the school magazine when I was around 11 - about a swan, floating on a lake (how original)!
So I was throughly immersed in writing in its every shape and form from my earliest years and my passion for words has never waned. Theatre became another passion and it too still feeds my soul.
I have loved the Romanticists and the Imagists - I was thrilled when I discovered the great haiku masters - Basho for example - and the incredible power of their poems. A haiku I wrote for the Great Canadian Haiku contest (part of the Home County Folk Festival in 2011), along with two other local poets' haiku on the same theme, was set to music and performed by Hawksley Workman at the Festival, as were many other haiku. Now that was a thrill, hearing one's poem sung with a large audience sitting on the grass in Victoria Park - Catherine McInnes and Penn Kemp (who was London's Poet Laureate at the time and who conributed so much both to London and London's poets during her tenure) were largely instrumental in bringing this event to fruition.
An epiphany happened when I was a teenager and first read Dylan Thomas's "Under Milk Wood." I was utterly captivated by his poetry. One of the poems I'm attaching to these responses is about my love affair with Dylan Thomas's poetry, "The Magic of Radio."
bill bissett has been another significant poet in my life - when he lived in London we would visit at either his apartment or mine. Once he and I ripped wallpaper off his walls with great abandon! I was swept into another wonderful world by the plays of James Reaney. I am entranced by imaginative, free-flowing writing. Playfulness is another way I pamper myself in my writing.
John Tyndall has been a huge influence - his meticulousness and experimentation with words, his research into rare and ancient manuscripts which he turns into brilliant poems - all these are confounding; John B. Lee, too always inspires me.
Women poets by whom I have been influenced. The first was probably Eleanor Farjeon, who wrote the words to "Morning Has Broken" in 1931, set to a traditional Gaelic tune (which Cat Stevens famously recorded 40 years later). We used to sing it from our school hymnal at morning assembly in the grammar school I attended. Elizabeth Barrett-Browning; Kate Bush; Colleen Thibaudeau, Julie Berry, Mollie Peacock, Margaret Atwood . . . and countless other poets of both genders.
Everything is a potential poem! Everyone is a potential poet!
At 15 or so I wanted to go into journalism. But this was not a career choice my father would support - in England in the 50s, in the family environment in which I grew up, a girl was more or less expected to go into nursing or secretarial work until she married. Even although my English teacher wanted me to go to university, my father would not hear of it - and it did not even occur to me to rebel, despite the fact that in many ways I was the rebel of the family!
So, secretarial school it was - and I didn't write poetry again until I was in my late 20s, in Toronto, in a very passionate love affair! From then on, as a sole support single Mum, and working in a pretty demanding job (here in London, where my daughter and I moved in 1970), I put away my poetry (a treat to myself I didn't dare to indulge) until my daughter was approaching university age and I decided it was time to do something for myself. I signed up for a non-credit creative writing course at Western. My "entry" to the course, given by poet and (then) UWO professor, Marianne Micros, was a memoir I had written about my mother's dying and death in England in 1977. I continued writing prose and resumed writing poetry (although I never did not write, in the sense that I was always a letter writer of lengthy missives, wrote observations constantly and wherever I happened to be - on the bus, in the street, curled up in my favourite armchair or sitting outside by water, under the trees) - and recorded my long and detailed dreams, which are stories in themselves and have sometimes morphed into poems. With my interest in theatre, I had written a few skits here and there over the years. That too had been nurtured in my childhood, because as a family, with all our aunts, uncles and cousins, at Christmas we played "Charades" - Brit-style. In other words, a word chosen by one team was split into syllables and on the spot we wrote a short skit in which the syllable was hidden. This was repeated with all the syllables and a final skit for the full word. A second team would have to guess each syllable until they figured out the whole word. These were absolutely hilarious - we dressed up and I recall one skit in which even my dog played a role!
The magic, the intricacies and intrigue of universal languages never cease to taunt and haunt me.
That first creative writing course in which I enrolled was the opening of a new door. The participants in that course formed a group - we met every two weeks and eventually called ourselves The Creative Circus. John Tyndall was a member of that group, as were our instructor, Marianne Micros, D'vorah Elias and London seer, Roy McDonald. In 1984 Red Kite Press published an anthology of our poems entitled, The Creative Circus Book.
From the time I entered Marianne's course, I started to "permit" myself to write poetry again; mostly prose poetry, although gradually I tried writing in traditional forms (another attached poem is a sonnet I wrote for the Poetry in Motion contest in 2012]. And always, in addition to any other writing, I created rhyming doggerel, usually humorous, ironic, satirical and/or for special occasions. I have a poem I wrote about John Crosby, published in a book of satirical verse, "Barbed Lyres - Canadian Venomous Verse" in 1990.
KH: In what way are you conscious of your reader? Would you identify a choice reader?
PB: In what way am I conscious of my reader? That's an interesting question. When I gradually became part of London's writing community back in the 80s, there were many opportunities to read one's poems in public. A large group of poets used to meet on Saturday afternoons at various venues over the years. They were rich, wonderful times. Soon I was enjoying reading my own poems to an audience - and loved the interaction. It became my primary way of "publishing" my poems and as a consequence I have not spent a lot of time submitting poems for publication. That's a bit of a cop out, I concede. But over several years it was very satisfying and rewarding to me. I loved "feeling," as well as hearing the reactions of my audience and didn't experience a strong need to have my poems contained within a book (although, in my later years, I do think it would be lovely to be able to leave a book of my poems as a legacy).
A choice reader would be one who finds meaning in my writing which I may have missed myself. Sometimes I am gob-smacked by what others detect in my poems.
It wasn't very long before I found myself facilitating creative writing courses myself - initially with a group of seniors who were participants in a program run by the then-PUC at Beal Secondary School. I have loved nurturing others' creativity and particularly in assisting others in writing their own life stories. From there, and with many creative writing courses under my belt, in 1990 I was given the opportunity to write theatre reviews for the then new Scene Magazine. At 54 this was like a dream come true! To be able to write for an entertainment publication about live theatre! My two passions combined. I wrote for Scene for years and in 1994 won the Canadian Theatre Critics Association's Nathan Cohen Award for Excellence in Theatre Criticism (short review category) for a review of that year's Stratford Festival production of "Long Day's Journey Into Night." This was so validating for me and in a way an odd coincidence - in the 60s I had worked at the Crest Theatre in Toronto, when Nathan Cohen was theatre critic for The Star.
Fellow poets Sheila Martindale and John Tyndall were also reviewers for Scene and we wrote one column together entitled "Poets as Reviewers." It was our conviction that our own poetic leanings enriched our prose and our vision.
KH: Have any specific works or sensibilities executed in mediums other than poetry (i.e. visual art, theatre, music) charged or shaped your aesthetic or aim?
PB: Music is always inspirational and I have several poems inspired by music; there have also been works of art which have inspired poems. But I'm inclined to write poems about anything and everything - including very basic, day-to-day topics, political issues, people, nature . . . .
Many of my poems have been inspired by my grandchildren and, in the past four years, my two great-grandsons, in Utah. So two other poems included here span the generations - one about my grandson Scott, "Centre of My Universe," written in 1989 and the other about his first child, Landon, "In Utero in Utah," written in 2010.
KH: One immediately notices your use of indentation in place of commas, and the absence of the period in your work, choices shared with bissett, whom you mentioned as an influence on your work. Why, in your view, is space in poetry preferable to the comma and the period?
PB: When I started writing my own poetry again, having been raised with the classic poets until that epiphany when I first discovered Dylan Thomas, I found a great sense of freedom in writing prose poetry, without having to focus on punctuation, caps at the beginnnings of lines, conformity and rhyming. I shied away from traditional forms, glorying in experimentation and being "non-linear." This occurred unconsciously and long before I read bissett - probably his writing simply enhanced my sense of permission not to "conform," which had first been confirmed by John Tyndall - even although he is probably the most disciplined poet I know.
I have never forgotten taking my then 4-year old daughter to a Rembrandt exhibit in Toronto and her question, "How did he keep in the lines"? That, for me, sums up the restrictions which were imposed on so many of us in our education
When I was facilitating the many seniors with whom I've worked, I found that we had been immersed so thoroughly in the restrictions of our education, that it hampered and intimidated many of us when we were faced with a blank page. I wanted everyone to learn the freedom I had found - and so many of the older participants in my classes were blown away with the discovery of being able to write poetry/prose once they had "slipped the surly bonds. . . ." I made extensive use in my classes of a book entitled "Writing the Natural Way," by Gabriele Lusser Rico, which uses "clustering" (a form of stream of consciousness writing).
And yet, I have embraced (and still do) the discipline of traditional forms and also many of my poems rhyme, although many rely on rhythm rather than rhyme.
When I begin writing a poem, it falls naturally into its own form or pattern - with the indentations and spacing you mention as well as the line endings. As mentioned, it was John Tyndall's writing which reinforced my natural inclination to use spaces rather than commas and periods (not that I never use those and other forms of punctuation). For me, having written so much non-poetry (eg theatre reviews, skits and many other articles, papers and so on), I have found that traditional punctuation feels somewhat "binding" in my poetry.
KH: As your poem “Fanciful Bus Ride”, included in part in the LTC initiative Poetry in Motion, seems to weigh, albeit fancifully, on the public sphere, and as you mentioned our former poet laureate Penn Kemp, whom to my knowledge amiably coined the term 'poetician', what is the importance in your view of poetry engaging the political and public spheres and a society in general?
PB: For most of my life I have engaged in the "political and public spheres, and society in general." It is my long-held opinion that satire and humour are likely to have far more impact than earnest, serious writing (not that this doesn't have its own valid and crucial place, of course). The attention of the majority of people is more likely to be caught if they are amused - then, when it becomes obvious that the subject is serious and even dangerous, they experience shock, but - it is to be hoped - their awareness is considerably greater than if they have been preached to. Whilst poetry is not the chosen form of literature of a high percentage of the population, certainly a sonnet such as "Fanciful Bus Ride," displayed in public, is likely to catch the eye of a rider; its brevity, too, makes for a greater "WOW" or "OUCH" response than a long, rambling diatribe. Haiku - and their imagistic brevity - are profound statements which evoke in their reader or listener a powerful reaction, and this reaction can be enhanced on repeated readings and reflection.
KH: In your poem “The Magic of Radio”, your relationship with Dylan Thomas' work seems to have been untouched, unblemished by the accumulation of years. You return, finally, to that “holy-full, wholly full place / again”, as you found it in “a long-ago, far-away bedroom”. Expand, if you would, on that sense of rediscovery, the immortality of great work and how your personal evolution shapes such works when you meet them in youth, then meet them in age.
PB: This question gives me goosebumps! Something that seared itself into my very soul many years ago was a comment I had read about Anthony Powell's 12-novel work, "A Dance to the Music of Time." The comment suggested that life is like a circle dance, where people in one's life circle in and out over the years - even if only in dreams or in sudden thoughts, out of the blue, of someone one knew many years ago. This I believe with my whole heart; and it can be just a sudden whiff of a smell which brings a person and/or event back full-force to one's consciousness. I recall attending a Remembrance Day Service for the Veterans at Parkwood Hospital one year in the 90s. Listening to some of the speeches that day, suddenly I "smelled" a whiff of the wooden pencils we had in a drawer in the bomb shelter attached to my childhood home, during World War II in the 40s - this sensation was as powerful and as present 50 years later, as if such a pencil had been held under my nose! And people from the past can "come back" just as forcefully - a glimpse in passing of a face which is vaguely familiar and all at once that person is as present as when we knew him or her. But - there is another factor at work here. If experiences have been painful or unhappy, even to the point that we can't bear to revisit them or the person/s considered responsible for or contributor/s to those experiences, with the passing years and the maturation gained over those years, we may be able to revisit those "dark" times and find we have another, more positive perspective. This in itself has the ability to be healing. This is why recording our life stories is so important for the writer, as well as being a legacy for one's descendants and, indeed, society-at-large.
And one eventually comes full circle, revisiting the past, but with a new and often gentler, enlightened perspective.
There are poems I learned by rote in childhood - for example, Wordsworth's "The Daffodils," which I can still recite by heart - but now it is more a source of beauty and tender memories of such visions in my native England, whereas at the time I first knew it, it was something Ihad to memorize. That said, my earliest sensibilities probably loved the words, the cadences, the images at the same time that I felt a resistance to having it as part of my school curriculum! We read Longfellow's "Song of Hiawatha" in primary school and recently I found a very old copy of it in my husband's collection of books. It was a serendipity and now I know I can reread it at any time.
And, yes, great work is immortal - and we are ourselves immortal in the words, photos, art, music, artifacts, memories, etc., we leave behind as well as in the way our children are our immortality.
WHERE: The Mykonos Restaurant at 572 Adelaide St. North, London, Ontario. The restaurant has a large, covered terrace just behind the main restaurant, which comfortably holds 60 poetry lovers. Mediterranean food and drinks are available. Except for the coldest months, the terrace is open to the parking lot behind. Overflow parking is available across the side street and in the large lot one block north, in front of Trad’s Furniture.
WHEN: Wednesday, March 4th, 2015
MUSIC: We are quietening down our music to allow for easier conversation than was possible in the past. Consequently, we will have live accompanying music from 6:30 to 7:00, or, if we can't get a musician, piped-in restaurant music.
THE FEATURED POET: Patricia Black will open the poetry portion of the event at 7:00, followed by a Q&A.
OPEN MIC: Following the featured poet, 15 open mic poets will read for about 1.5 hours, ending about 9:00 pm. Each poet has five minutes (which is about two good pages of poetry, but it should be timed at home). Sign up on the reader`s list, which is on the book table at the back. It's first come, first served.
RAFFLE PRIZES: Anyone who donates to London Open Mic Poetry Night receives a ticket for a raffle prize, three of which will be picked after the intermission. The prizes consist of poetry books donated by Brick Books and The Ontario Poetry Society. Donations are our only source of income. We still haven't paid off our initial debt!