Author Archives: Monna McDiarmid

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Liz Gilbert, Big Magic + Poet Laureates

Liz Gilbert, Big Magic + Poet Laureates

Liz Gilbert was recently interviewed by CBC radio host Shadrach Kabango about her book Big Magic: Creative Living Through Fear.

Here’s the part of the interview that whacked me over the head {in the best possible way}:

Interviewer: You have a faith, Elizabeth, that everyone can be creative.

LG: Yeah. I do.

Interviewer: There’s a lot of bad art out there…

LG: Don’t care.

Interviewer: There’s a lot of unoriginal art out there…

LG: Don’t care.

Interviewer: Why do you believe that?

LG: First of all, it’s such a subjective thing you just said because you and I could sit down right now and we could make a list of what we think are the ten most important and magnificent works of art in the world and odds are there’s going to be stuff on your list that doesn’t excite me or that I actually, flat out, think is bad and you would say the same of mine so you can show me the most perfect piece of art in the world and I can find you ten people who hate it. There are people who think that Sistine Chapel is cartoonish. (Laughs.) You know what I mean? Like, there are people that think Beethoven is a hack. It doesn’t matter. So I don’t care and I’m not interested in criticism. I find that to be the most absolutely boring part of the artistic process.

Interviewer: You include that with complaining and fear?

LG: Yeah. I don’t care. I don’t care. And somebody said to me the other day, “Aren’t you afraid your book is going to encourage a lot of people to make bad art?” First of all, the fact that you would even say that makes you sound like a jerk. One. And two, my concern is not that the world is full of bad art, which I’m not even sure it is, my concern is that there are all kinds of people in the world who believe somehow that this ~ our greatest shared human inheritance, the right to participate in creation, the right to become a person who is unfolding, the right to look for the jewels that are hidden within you, the right to leave a footprint on the world ~ that that only belongs to the elite, the trained, the professional and the tormented and I stand firmly as a populist. (Laughs.) I want to see people making things. Period.

You can listen to the full interview here. The section above begins at 13 minutes.


“The right to participate in creation, the right to become a person who is unfolding, the right to look for the jewels that are hidden within you, the right to leave a footprint on the world” ~ that’s the spirit of this new course. We won’t concern ourselves with questions of good versus bad art and we definitely won’t spend any of our valuable time comparing ourselves to others.

We are, however, going to make things!

Poet Laureate of Your Own Life begins on Monday! This is a twenty day course for twenty dollars. :)

Each day, the Poets will receive in their inbox:
* a poetic reflection about one aspect of being a Poet Laureate
* a writing prompt with an optional (fun) writing constraint to make things juicer
* one poem that I love
Each Friday we’ll meet our Poet Laureate of the Week, a woman who defines herself as a poet ~ among other things. These features will include an interview with the poet about her craft as well as one of her poems.

Poet Laureates are invited to share their poetry at our secret and private Facebook group. All feedback will be celebratory.

If you’ve been on the fence, jump on down and join us.


Wednesday morning kindness


Dear Stranger,
Dear lovely foreign woman whom I met in Starbucks,

I noticed you and your two blonde angels
as I passed through the intersection at
the top of Motomachi Shopping Street.

I was in a hurry to get to school.

This is my fifth year in Japan and I
no longer seek out other foreigners.
I think I’m Japanese which is a strange
identity disorder for a round,
pink Canadian to have developed.

When you first spoke to me in line, I was
silently chanting “Chai tea. Chai tea” and
hoping not to blurt out “tai chi” like the
last time I ordered a drink at Starbucks.

You said you liked my trousers and were they
from Japan? “No. Ottawa. I’m from there.”

And it took me a moment to process
that you had given me a compliment.

I’m one of those crazy people who tells
girls: “It is not your job to be pretty.”
Some people suffer from a limited
ability to understand these words.
They think I’m saying women should not be
pretty or that it’s bad to take pride in
ones appearance. I’m not. It’s so very
hard to illuminate a problem that
we stare at every day but never see.

It means I don’t get many compliments.

But you gave me one. Thank you very much.

And then you mentioned the cool design of
Japanese workers’ trousers. How you’d like
to do a photo essay about them.
And I agree. They look just like rock stars.

I was next to order. Breathe. “Chai tea, please.”
Then out the door and up the hill to work.

I should have asked your name. I should have told
you mine, given you my card. I’m Monna.
Thank you for your Wednesday morning kindness.

New Course: Poet Laureate of Your Own Life


Two weeks ago I wrote a piece for the Sunday Reader entitled Be the Poet Laureate of your own life. This was not an idea I had been incubating for a long time; it came to me fresh and pink and new and I wrote it down and hit send.

That’s how it works sometimes.

In the days that followed, I was haunted by this big crazy idea of being the Poet Laureate of ones own life; the more I thought about it, the sparklier it became. The conviction that our lives are worthy of having a poet laureate, and that we are entitled to the position of esteemed story teller grew stronger and made me feel goofily happy and strangely free. I started writing a longer piece, like an extended job description of a Poet Laureate of ones own life. And the more I wrote, the clearer it became that I was writing a course.

Yup. A new online course.

Here’s how it will work.

Over 20 weekdays, participants will receive a daily email with:
* a poetic reflection of one aspect of the Poet Laureate job description
* an illustration drawn by a super-creative Grade 1 student
* a poetry prompt

There will be a private + {top} secret Facebook group for people who want to share their writing with other Poet Laureates. Feedback will be positive and celebratory in nature.

The course will run from Monday November 9th until Friday December 4th.

Poet Laureate will open up for registration on my site on Sunday 25th October.

The cost is 20 USD. {I know! It is a great deal.}

If this sounds like fun… if you have a poetry-shaped hole in your life {like I do}… if you’d like to play and experiment with words in a low risk way… if you’d like to spend some time thinking about your own story… if you’d like to make some joyful noise, I hope you’ll join me.

Registration is now open here.

If I had been on my iPhone 6 today

pic {Photo by Damien Pitter}

If I had been on my iPhone 6 today
I would have missed
a mother at my school
say to her seven year old,
“Have a great day. I love you.”
and I would have missed
the kid’s gleeful response.
“Thanks, Mom.
Bye, Mom.”

I would have missed a student,
the daughter of a friend,
walking a small dog
at the end of the school day.
Not her own cute little dog
as it turns out but a dog
that makes her want
a dog of her own.

I would have missed a girl
spot a moth on our train car
and follow it
from Motomachi-chukagai
to Yokohama Station
with her eyes
and her index finger.
I would have missed
her narrate its journey
to her mother
in a quiet voice
filled with reverence.

I would not have noticed
the adults forming a long line
for the escalator
at Yokohama Station,
all of them standing
on the left
and two small girls
in plaid skirts
and blue cotton blouses
racing up the right,
laughing loudly.

I would have missed the free samples
of pain de fromage
at Maison Kayser
and the shy smile from the woman
at the counter of the Chinese place
as she tried to remember
the phrase, “Anything else?”
in English
and how happy she was
to say “thank you.”

I would have missed two girls
walking home from school
in the rain
and how they engineered
a hat from a binder tied
to the top of her head
with a grey hoodie
and how the other girl
a small person with braids
walked beside her
letting the rain come
come as it might.
like the first day of spring.

Be the Poet Laureate of your own life


In the last days of summer when I had nothing but time, and only the sun for a clock, an idea arrived. How cool would it be for our high school to launch a search for a Poet Laureate, for one student passionate about poetry who would compose and perform poems for special school events. {And although this hasn’t happened yet, I have a very good feeling about it.}

And then I began to wonder how it would feel if we all thought of ourselves as Poet Laureates.

Poet Laureates of our own lives.

We’re already the noticers of the small details, the “tag-you’re-it” play between dust and light, the very particular way a loved one throws her head back as she laughs, how the temperature dropped and the wind blew ice-cold the morning your best friend moved away.

So we’re already partway there.

As Poet Laureate, we’ll also get to make decisions about the form our poetry will take and what we’ll share and how we’ll share it. How often and how much. We will need to be brave and sturdy in our bones because not everyone gets poetry and not everyone loves it (the way we do) so we’ll need to decide to be okay with that.

Consider this process: to design one’s own life, to break-dance in its brightness, to observe and appreciate moments of exquisite beauty, to meet crushing disappointment and shards of heartbreak with stubborn gladness, and to share all of that with others. That seems like a divine calling. A spiritual practice. And well worth the risk.

Here’s the thing with poetry: it does not need to be published in a literary journal or posted in a blog. You can whisper your poems to your partner over scrambled eggs or rap them in the car with your kid on the way to Girl Guides. {Actually, I’m thinking of an Ode to Girl Guide Cookies right now.} You can write a poem on the back of a postcard, or make a movie out of it, or a quilt. Poems definitely do not need to rhyme… or even use words.

And no, your life is not boring. Those moments that you consider mundane… somebody, somewhere finds them fascinating. Somebody somewhere loves those kinds of poems. Lives for them. Wants to publish them in their own heart.

So sing your poem-songs of absurd joy, embarrassment and longing. Sing, you Poet Laureate of Yourself.

Pink and Blue Benevolence


It’s raining in Yokohama.
I hang my transparent umbrella
on a hook near the door.
Water drops fall
and explode
on the carpet below.
I sit at my desk.
I turn on the red lamp
and look out
the window.

I peer in shop windows
in ancient Trastevere
where the sun pours in
at the ends of the streets
like rain falling
sideways soaking
the streets golden.
The buildings are tinted
with sun-variations,
butter yellow and
cantaloupe orange.

It’s not a memory.
I don’t remember walking.
I am walking.

I walk
through a small piazza
where two friends
with golden retrievers
on red leashes
greet each other
with kisses
on each cheek.
The dogs move closer,
stand so their bodies touch,
share a memory of open fields.

I walk past the restaurant
where we had dinner
was it two nights ago?
The waiters mock
the foreigner students,
send away those
without reservations.
Yet to us, they are
Kind the way that Romans are.

I pass the shop
where he purchased
the red ceramic bowl.
A Christmas gift.
The white haired shopkeeper
pushes her glasses
to the top of her head
just like I do.
She waves.
Come in.

I shake my head.
My inbox is too full.

We are at another restaurant
with white linen table cloths
and heavy utensils.
The man beside us
the patriarch
wears navy adidas pants
with three white stripes.
Three children devour their pasta
and make fun of each other.
They do both loudly.
Every few minutes
their mother says “taci”
and they are quiet
for as long as it takes
to remember
who they were teasing.
At the table on the other side
a young foreign couple
spends the evening
looking at their phones.
We order cacio e pepe,
mac and cheese for adults.
We wonder aloud if we could
make this at home.
Pecorino and pepper.
He says he thinks so.
He says he thinks
with some practice
he could get it.

From the safety
of street corner shrines
the Virgin Mary
regards us.
she is pink and blue
I believe
she is here for me,
my patron saint
of time travel.

In Yokohama
it is still raining.
My inbox is full.

Time is a circle.