The best day

1396963_554548374658271_1713762060563600480_o - Copy (2) - CopyMost days, I take my kids to school, and after six hours emailing at the office or puttering around the house, I pick them up, make supper, and put them to bed. Every day is great in its own way, but April 17, 2014, is not that kind of day.

I pick Kevin Spenst, my Sage Hill friend from Vancouver, up from the airport at 9:30, and become chauffeur, B&B host, tour guide, paparazzi, and co-poetry-bomber for the Winnipeg leg of his 100 stop chapbook tour of Canada.

Stop 30: Neighbourhood Bookstore and Cafe

After a rest at home and a call from CBC Montreal, we head to Wolseley, an artsy community near downtown. Poets Joanne Epp and Sally Ito meet us there. Some minestrone, my first taste of onigiri, and the fabulous coffee make a post-Saskatoon sleep-deprived  Kevin “come to the surface for air.” Following a few minutes of scribbling, he rises and reads the poem he just wrote about Winnebegopeg, owner Bill beaming beside him. Kevin hands the one-poem chapbook to “the first guy who clapped” – none other than children’s author Joe McLellan.

“You could be Patrick Friesen’s body double,” says Kevin.

“What? That ugly guy? He’s old,” Joe laughs.

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Stop 31: Patterson Global Food Institute

We meet fellow Alfred Gustav Press author Annie Deeley in the Exchange. We write; the gargoyle above us comes alive. Kevin delivers his just-created piece about the 1919 strike to the lone student in the Powerland lounge, then the crowd in the cafeteria below.


Stop 32: PLATFORM: Centre for Photographic + Digital Arts

The three of us walk to Artspace, where Kevin writes about Raymond Boisjoly’s Station to Station exhibit and reads for a gallery audience of one. After saying hello and goodbye to a stick-wielding Michelle Elrick, we rise to the 6th floor to see Perry and Charlene, but unfortunately, they’ve vanished out of Thin Air. On to floor two…


Stop 33: Manitoba Writer’s Guild

We meet the legendary Mora Gregg, Guild library organizer extraordinaire. Languishing behind a desk, director Carolyn Gray is resuscitated by poetry, and in return, offers us a paska (made by culinary students at Patterson), which Kevin and I will eat with our fingers in the car. As we’re leaving Artspace, Kevin and I corner Prairie Fire editor Andris Taskans, who graciously remembers publishing both of us.


Stop 34: Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art

We say goodbye to Annie for the moment, and head to an exhibit by and about Moholy-Nagy. Kevin locates curator Oliver and his photographer and reads them a piece he crafted by marrying the show’s foreign words with Twitter. My husband, Anthony Mark Schellenberg, meets us at the gallery and takes over as chief tour photographer.

For the first time today, what I see – a suspended sculpture of motorized plexiglass arrows by Winnipegger Erika Lincoln – yields a poem and the courage to perform it. Oliver calls it “polished” and urges me to email it to Erika.

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Inspired by Floe 2014, Erika Lincoln

A web of ideas

suspends above our ears

which way which way

to lead or follow

spin and wait

we shed our wallets phones

and watch the snowflake turn

but not fall

all narrow ways

glitter like glass

before us


Stop 35: Millennium Library

A small group made up of Colin Smith and some security guards enjoys a reading from Annie and Kevin’s Alfred Gustav chapbooks. Little gasps trail the raw ends of Annie’s poems about her relationship with her brother, who has cerebral palsy and autism. Kevin’s preacher voice and a wall of 2,000 card-catalogue-sized images draws our eyes to heaven.

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Stop 36: McNally Robinson Booksellers

About 40 people gather in the travel alcove for an advertised reading by local poet and very nice person Ariel Gordon (whose collection Stowaways comes out May 15), myself, and Kevin. My parents, in-laws, sister-in-law, a fellow autism mom, two co-workers, my first mentor Méira Cook, and a few fellow poets are here to support me and hear nine short poems about my children’s life with autism.

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As I’m introducing my last poem, “To make an Aspie” poking fun at the wild theories about what causes autism, a woman in the back row stands and calls out, “I have autism, and I want to thank you for these stories. They’re very encouraging.”

Afterward, my mom says, “You looked so natural up there,” and when someone whose most vivid memories of you involve poo or spaghetti says something like that, it means something. So many people say nice things including friends…

Anthony’s sister Luann Hiebert, whose collection What Lies Behind comes out April 23,


Melanie Dennis Unrau, my former poetry group partner and the Geez poetry editor who selected my poem “To make an Aspie” for the disabilities issue (some people get us mixed up, so this photo is proof there are truly two of us),

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and a favourite poet and relative of both myself and Kevin, Sarah Klassen.

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After Kevin signs chapbooks, a bunch of us move to the restaurant. A couple nearby, whom I’d seen at the back of the reading, call me over.

“We have two adult sons with autism and enjoyed your poems.”

“Thanks! How’d you hear about the reading?”

“We just happened to be walking through the bookstore because the movie we came for was sold out.”

Then the guy at the next table perks up. “You write poems? About autism? I’m a principal and my daughter here is a teacher, and we’d love to introduce our students to a poet. Do you do school visits?”

I sit down with some friends from the autism community. A teen poet with Aspergers asks me what it’s like to be a poet, a journalist. I tell her about receiving the gift of people’s stories, chipping away at them to create a sculpture.

“That’s so cool….”

Out of the corner, I see her mom smiling.

Last stop

Kevin and I head home. Anthony beat us here, and after telling the respite worker what she made happen, sends her home to bed. The three of us sit down to finish Carolyn’s paska at the end of the best day.



Next (or in this case, First) Big Thing

Angeline reflected in a microwave

I found “The Next Big Thing” blog meme on Ariel Gordon’s blog ( and although I’m sure it’s meant for award-winning, well-known, or at least already-published writers, I thought it would be fun to play along, if for no other reason than to refocus my own thoughts on my project. So for all my adoring readers, here’s the scoop on my next big work in progress:

What is the working title of your book?

You’re Not Nisselling

When my daughter was a toddler, we had to have a girl-English glossary on the fridge, so that babysitters and visitors would know what she was saying. “Dew” was milk, “Beep beep” meant nuke it, and “sssss” was short for “cheddar cheese cubes please.” “You’re Not Nisselling!” was my daughter’s “You’re not listening!” and it came out quite often at the dinner table, often accompanied by tiny pounding fists, because we couldn’t hear her over her brother’s echolalic repetition of all the books, radio announcements, cartoons, conversations, and commercials he’d heard during the day.

I chose it as a title because often we don’t hear other people’s words or feelings, and poetry is a way of rectifying that, a deeper form of attentiveness. Particularly with children on the autism spectrum, since they communicate differently and unexpectedly (often wordlessly), we miss or misunderstand what they’re telling us. And what the Creator is telling us through them. I wanted poetry to give them and their parents a voice by representing a range of experiences and emotions, both devastating and exhilarating, world-shattering and everyday.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

From life. Most poets start with personal lyrics, and I’m too new at the game to have that out of my system yet. When I began seriously writing poetry in spring 2011, I wrote elegies for my four grandparents and my miscarried child. But it wasn’t long before my Aspie children’s idiosyncrasies and injustices started creeping into my poems.

What genre does your book fall under?


Friends ask me when I’m going to write a real book about my life. This is it, folks. If you want it in prose, call me and I’ll rant all you like. If you want to read it the way I want it to be read – that is, molded and redeemed into something beautiful – then read my poetry.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Thomas Horn would play my son K because a) he was adorable in Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close , b) He’s interested in languages like K is, and chose Mandarin for a K-like logical reason: it’s the most common first language in the world, so you can talk to the most people for the same amount of effort, and c) He’s smart enough to know the capitals of anywhere and win $31,800 on Jeopardy.

Link to pictures of Thomas Horn>

Or perhaps Justin Bieber. He’s almost as cute as K, and I’d be taken off G’s “worst mother ever” list (for making her clean up her laundry in Cinderella-like fashion) if she actually got to meet him.

I have no idea who would play G (who could possibly recreate all her expressions?), but I’ve decided Amy Adams would be me. Someone once told me I looked like her and whether or not she was correct, I’d say it was quite a compliment.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

My book is a poetic exploration of the heart-breaking, exasperating, silly and soaring moments of parenting a child on the autism spectrum from pre-pregnancy genetic testing to (heaven-help-me) puberty.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’ll keep submitting it to publishers, starting local and moving outward, until I find one. If every publisher on earth rejects it, I’ll revise and start over.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I began working on it during my Writers’ Guild mentorship with Meira Cook last January-May. On my MAC grant application, I gave myself until July to finish the first draft, but I already have some 70 poems in the collection, so I’ve begun spending more time on the slow work of revision, as I continue to generate new pieces (just less feverishly). I’ll probably take another year to revise, and then start sending it out, which could take years of waiting and rejection (let’s try not to think about that yet).

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

This seems a bit pretentious, since any book I’d compare my work with would be so much better because it’s already been edited, revised, and deemed worthy of publishing. But I do have a model: Julie Cadwallader-Staub’s Face to Face, a collection about her journey through her husband’s cancer from diagnosis, through illness, death, grieving, and moving on by herself. It’s a fitting guide because of the thematic and chronological nature of both our works, and the exemplary way she weaves humour and pain on the framework of honesty, hope, and faith – a tone I strive to emulate.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I am blessed to live in Winnipeg, surrounded by poets who are not only talented, but exceedingly gracious:

My mentor Meira Cook, without whose encouragement and guidance I would likely not have a focus, a grant, publishing credits, or the confidence to keep going.

My writers’ “group” and friend Joanne Epp, willing to take a few hours out of every month to gently critique my poems.

Angeline and Joanne

Joanne and I at her chapbook launch in 2012

My sister-in-law Luann Hiebert, who shares my love of poetry, reading her work with me at events and calming my nerves.

Sarah Klassen, who challenges me to be purposeful and transparent in all my word choices.

Angeline and Sarah

At Sarah Klassen’s launch of Monstrance

Jennifer Still, who treats me like I’m already a “real” poet (even though I fear my nose is growing every time I claim to be one), who smiles thoughtfully and nods appreciatively at my wordplay.

Sally Ito, whose wise, kind words and biblical imagery always give me creative energy.

Roo Borson and Erin Moure, workshop teachers from elsewhere, so experienced and accomplished, and yet affirming of my skills and experimentations.

Don McKay and Mary Oliver, whom I’ve never met, but who, through their vastly different but equally beautiful poems, challenge me to continually grow both more complex and more simple.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

My book is for anyone who has experienced parenthood, felt different, enjoyed words, met an Aspie, lost a dream only to find a new one…. Did I miss anybody? It has purple squirrels and culvert people, sofa rockets and Walmart shoefiti, preschool welding kits and elementary school moonings, Darth divas and a whole lot of childish fun and grownup hair-tearing.

Besides all the other poets I’ve mentioned, I’d love to hear more about the work in progress of Joanne Epp (, novelist Dora Dueck (, Sally Ito (, non-fiction writer Dorothy Siebert (, and Julie Cadwallader-Staub ( (I think that’s all the writers for whom I have web addresses!)

* * *

Rules of the Next Big Thing

Use this format for your post
Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress)
Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:

What is the working title of your book?
Where did the idea for the book come from?
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
* * *

Walking alone

at Meira's House on Sugarbush Road launch

I had my last mentorship meeting with Meira Cook this week. For the past 4 months, I’ve been sending her 10-20 new or revised poems every 2 weeks, then meeting for coffee to read and hear her comments.

I’ve accomplished so much:

– Together, we worked on 129 different poems!
– Some 45 of them were written during the mentorship; the rest were started or completed (in rough form) in the year prior.
– About 20 of the ones we worked on went through significant revisions or additions and were submitted to Meira twice. Many times she told me “This needs to go on!” and as often as I could, I added a stanza or two. She was right: they were always better poems in the end.
– “Stigma” (inspired by a conversation with the director of the Schizophrenia Society) crossed her desk numerous times, growing like a weed – we laughed that it would become my “opus.”
– At least 90 of the poems we worked on feel ready to be seen (but ask me again in a year: I’m sure most of them will look totally different).
– I submitted to 5 literary journals over the past 4 months.
– 5 of the poems we workshopped were selected for publication in 2 journals (Rhubarb chose 4 of my favourites, and Geez liked “Stigma”)!
– I chose a manuscript focus and submitted my first grant proposal.
– I was asked to read at a chapbook launch. My biggest letdown is that I will be unable to attend the mentorship wind-up performance this week, but reading at St. Margaret’s with Joanne Epp, Sarah Klassen, and Sally Ito was a nice surprise that mitigated my disappointment.
– I no longer fear the blank page! (Or worry that by adding to a poem I will dilute the good stuff.)


Obviously, I’ve generated a lot of material and developed confidence, but the biggest thing I’ve gained is skills. When I look back on where I was 4 months ago, and the work I was performing/submitting then, I’m embarrassed for my younger self and proud of where I’ve come.

– I’ve added the “so what” metaphysical aspect and/or the “hard edge for the softness to rub up against” to many poems that began as simply “nice” memories.
– I’m aware of “register.”
– I’ve learned there is such a thing as too much alliteration. (and too many adjectives, and too many metaphors…)
– My “You’re not Nisselling” collection has developed its own affectionate-exasperated tone, generating a couple series around the loveable real-life characters of “The imaginative child” and “the diminutive professor.”
– I still find found poems and list poems challenging, but now I have a better idea of what they require (more irony on both levels and a more surprising ending, respectively).
– My images are more surprising, and (I love it when Meira says this:) more “devastating.”

Some of the issues we’ve discussed:

How does one write about another people group’s suffering without objectifying or sounding voyeuristic? It’s very difficult, but I do know of some poets who’ve done it well (eg. Di Brandt). And how should a poet approach a manuscript? At times, Meira praised my drive to grow and generate and publish as my greatest strength; other times she cautioned me to “follow my aesthetic” and not look ahead to the final product, the reader, the publisher, the book. I wonder if she interpreted my motivation as impatience for success and recognition, rather than as an outflow of my forward-thinking personality? She both challenged me to think in terms of how the pieces work together in the collection and to not get distracted from the art in front of me by considering the manuscript as a whole – on this issue, I’m still unclear.

Moving forward:

I hope to do a 2 or 3 week intensive program at the Banff or Sage Hill (Saskatoon) writing school next spring. I’m looking into taking a University composition course, and I plan to register for every workshop the Guild offers! Whether or not I receive the grant, I will continue to build my “You’re not Nisselling” autism collection. I’ll keep meeting with my monthly poetry group, reading at Speaking Crow, submitting to journals (reaching my goal of “10 rejections by Christmas” will be tricky if my streak of beginner’s luck continues!), and returning to Meira’s notes as I revise, revise, revise!

It’s going to be a challenging adjustment, not having Meira to run all my poems and ideas by (or her lovely presence to look forward to sharing)! I’m still a lot way from finding my own voice and trusting my gut. Meira’s suggestions have been so encouraging and eye-opening. Almost invariably, the poems I was unsure of were the ones in which she found some delightful juxtaposition of devastation and humour, observed and magic realism, or half rhymes and musical sounds. The drafts that gave me initial pride often required the most revision (too glib, too unclear, too wordy).

Her parting blessing: “To succeed as a poet, you need 3 things: talent, tenacity, and luck. You have loads of talent and tenacity, and you’ll make your own luck! You might not believe this: it will take time, but time is on your side. Someday, you will have a published collection of poetry.” This is what I will hang onto in the years ahead.

I’d encourage anyone with the itch to write to join the Manitoba Writers’ Guild (only $60 annually) and apply for a mentorship. It’s priceless!

Happy plaid mice month!

April is plaid mice month, or as most people call it: Autism Awareness month or Poetry month, depending on which community you’re part of. I happen to belong to both. What better time than April to talk about writing a collection of autism poetry! So I’m bringing my mommy and professional selves together (hopefully they play nice) and posting this on both Plaiditudes and 37 Mice.

Today is the birthday of my writing group co-founder (Happy birthday, Joanne Epp) – it’s hard to believe that we only started meeting this past winter after a mutual friend invited us on an outing to the museum and we discovered we both write poetry. For the past four months, I’ve been meeting biweekly with Meira Cook (who’s been called the greatest living Canadian poet) to hone my skills through the Manitoba Writers’ Guild mentorship program. A year ago, I didn’t belong even belong to the writers’ guild yet!

A year ago, I also hadn’t visited the Manitoba Adolescent Treatment Centre parent group, or attended any Asperger Manitoba events, joined the Autism Winnipeg Facebook page, or met any of the PACE (parents of autistic children everyone) entrepreneurs like Mike, Ljubica, and Ruby Lou, who’ve become good friends.

It’s amazing what can happen in a year. Now I’m writing a collection of poems about the devastating and celebratory moments I’ve shared on Plaiditudes: the drug trials and side effects, assessments and diagnoses, close calls in traffic, judgmental stares and kick-ass Christmas performances.

A friend and fellow artist asked why I didn’t write my life as a book of stories in addition my poetry. Perhaps someday I will, but for now, I’m so in love with the art of poetry, the intensity of emotion that just a few devastating or playful words can evoke, that I don’t have eyes for any other genre. Through my blog, I gain perspective and find meaning in the affectionately exasperated “better laugh than cry” experiences of parenting autism, but through poetry, I don’t only find beauty: I create it.

And on Thursday May 3, 7:30, at St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, Winnipeg, I’ll be reading from my collection at Joanne Epp’s chapbook launch, along with two of my favourite poets Sarah Klassen and Sally Ito. The event is free and open to the public.

I’ll be wearing turquoise, but the busy mice in my head will be decked out in plaid.