WRITTEN BY: TASNIM NOMAN
Ronna Bloom makes me forget that I’m sitting in a noisy coffee shop. In a matter of moments, it slips my mind that it’s the end of another long day. My drink lays untouched as her steady voice fills my mind. I find myself surrounded by a swirl of images as Bloom recites one of her poems to me:
Oh, poor you, you’re so busy.
How do you keep track of yourself?
Is it that you’ve let yourself go?
Your words fly across the bottom of your body
and your wind chills are high. What do you need?
Cloudy with a fire in the basement.
Is there anything I can offer?
Contrary to what I had expected, this poem, titled Song to the Specialty Channel with a Current Program, a Weather/Traffic Sidebar and Scrolling Headlines, is actually relatable. It would not be all that unlikely for any of us to be watching the very same program Bloom was (on CP24), when she wrote this piece for her latest book, Cloudy With a Fire in the Basement.
Not surprised at all by my hesitation towards poetry, she tells me I am not alone. “Lots and lots of people see the word “poetry” and they run the other way! That’s why I made sure to include in my program a message for the audience: You can come with your fear of poetry. Don’t leave it at the door, we can play with it.”
As Poet in Community at U of T, Bloom hosts a series of workshops throughout the year and at various campus locations. Her first workshop for this year’s program, Tracking the Threads of What You Love, takes place today at noon at the Career Centre. I ask her what our readers can expect if they attend.
“It’s about beginning to pay attention to the things that matter to you. You might think that your love for baseball or cooking [or any other hobby] might not be important or serious, you might even take these things for granted,” she explains. “This workshop’s idea is to find the value these things hold in the present, find out how they might be beneficial for you, or how they might support you, and learn what value they can hold in the future.”
Outside of campus, Bloom has hosted workshops internationally. She recently organized a two-week course called Writing Wherever You Are for a group in Chile.
“[That program] was really about becoming aware of the present, choosing ordinary themes and getting people involved to find what is interesting about them,” she says. “We all have these compartments in ourselves, you are a student, a sister, a daughter … We all have these parts of ourselves that don’t talk to each other, parts of ourselves that we don’t bring with us to all places. So, how do we acknowledge that these parts are all there at the same time? A lot of things I do at my workshops are related to personal development and the acknowledgment that we have a lot of things going on at the same time.” She continues to shares details about other workshops she hosts including Writing Your Way Out of a Paper Bag, one that she’s organized quite a few times in various locations. Writing Your Way Out of a Paper Bag helps attendees to use writing as a way to explore and “unstick” themselves from the struggles they face in life.
When asked about her favourite part of being Poet in Community, Bloom is quick to mention the diversity in her audience.
“People connect in ways that wouldn’t have happened outside of the workshop,” she claims. “Students from different faculties meet each other and do this thing together. I love that the students are from all over … I really don’t have any intention of who should come – anybody who feels that it would be interesting, useful, anything, they’re wanted. And all I really want is for them is to have an experience where they engage with their own ideas, feelings, thoughts, realities, and day to day living situation through writing, and in a way that is light, that is not burdensome, that doesn’t ask them to do much, that won’t be graded like homework. It’s a quick and playful experience with no pressure to ever come back again. It’s really about making connections in people.”
Bloom had taken the roles of student, teacher and psychotherapist at U of T before she decided to create the job of Poet in Community. When asked about this decision, she says that there is just something very interesting about bringing poetry into unlikely settings.
“I enjoy using it [poetry] to stir up conversations within people and between people,” she elaborates. “There is an element of surprise in writing. Taking the dive is risky, but if you really go for it, you never know where you’ll end up.”
Bloom mentions her most recent work is about giving people an experience full of images and feelings, and conveying messages to readers as directly as she can. I dig deeper and inquire about her inspiration.
“A lot of the poems came out of meditation that I’ve been engaged in and looking at the world through a new lens,” she admits. “I’m looking at very ordinary things and suddenly they’re looking very different, and I wanted to write about the experience.” As for her favourite poets?
“It really depends on the mood I’m in. I love Rumi, Raymond Carver, a Canadian poet named Roo Borson, and Jane Hirschfield,” she replies. “Currently I’m reading Muriel Rukeyfer, Phil Hall, and… Dante’s Descent into Hell,” she continues, slipping the last one in with a laugh.
Bloom’s workshop series continues until March with Am I? – A Writing Series About Identity and Change, Emotions, Emoticons and Feeling Your Way Through University, and Finding Your Balance. Now, It’s time to ask yourself: What do you want to explore through writing?
Find out more on this website: www.poet.utoronto.ca