The writing process for me has never been linear. I tend to circle around themes and subjects, revisiting them over the years, trying different approaches to go deeper, to attempt to plumb the symbolism and connections. It has surprised me how often that yet another poem will emerge about my mother’s prolonged struggle with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Ordinary objects have served as a lens for writing poems for many poets, including me. My last poetry collection was partly inspired by Pablo Neruda’s Odas Elementales (Elemental Odes or Odes to Ordinary Things). There can be so many stories, events and relationships related to any one gift or household item. I decided to try to write a poem about this blue wool scarf that my mother knitted for me during the early stages of her cognitive decline. I seldom take the scarf out of the drawer, but will never give it away because it’s the last thing she made for me before her death. Its preciousness to me has increased every year as I approach the age she was when she was first diagnosed.
The draft poem was just a jumble of thoughts, memories and phrases until I integrated key bits of knitting lingo (thanks to consulting my friend, Analee, who crotchets and knits) which immediately created an axis or narrative spine that ordered the images and ideas. The poem depicts the shifts in the mother-daughter relationship and the fraught intermingling of duty and love as the narrator attempts to distract an ailing parent. But the poem is also about “knitting” a tangible connection between past and present.
Fiona Tinwei Lam is Vancouver’s sixth poet laureate. She is a past winner of TNQ’s Nick Blatchford prize and the author of three collections of poetry and a children’s book, as well as the editor of The Bright Well: Contemporary Canadian Poems about Facing Cancer. Her award-winning poetry videos, made in collaboration with others, have been screened internationally. Her work appears in over 40 anthologies, including Best Canadian Poetry 2010 and 2020.