TWU's Professor Melinda Dewsbury writes over 100 poems with her mother throughout pandemic
"The poetry exercise has created a really beautiful form of communication between us, especially because we can’t see each other."
— Melinda Dewsbury, Assistant Professor and Associate Dean of Global Education
Since the early days of the pandemic in March 2020, Melinda Dewsbury, who teaches global literature at Trinity Western University in Langley B.C., has been writing and exchanging poetry with her mother, Diana Caldwell, 72, who lives in Chatsworth, near Owen Sound, Ontario.
Over the past year, this cross-country, mother-daughter exchange has produced over 100 poems.
It all started on the very first day of working from home, Professor Dewsbury recounts. “Last March was really beautiful,” she said, “I remember because I was sitting outside for the first couple of weeks to do my work.”
“I was sitting in my backyard just feeling so confused. I think everyone was feeling confused and shocked.”
As an English and writing instructor for over 20 years, Professor Dewsbury did what she loved: she started to write a poem. And as the pandemic stay-at-home orders stretched from weeks into months, so did Professor Dewsbury’s poetry project.
Listen to Professor Dewsbury read poetry on CBC radio the week of Mother's Day 2021:
TWU on CBC Radio
Soon she was writing a poem almost every day from her home in B.C.
After about a week into the habit, Professor Dewsbury invited her mom, in Ontario, to join her in journaling together in poetry. The two began regularly trading freshly scripted poetry, while living on opposite ends of the country.
“We look forward to each other. Every day, or every week, we would anticipate a new poem.”
Anticipation became a highlight in the process. “Sometimes we’d message each other, ‘It’s not ready yet, but there’s a poem brewing!’”
Mom and daughter find a new way of relating
Professor Dewsbury and her mother found that learning about each other through poetry and sharing their daily journey through the pandemic brought them together “in a new way.”
“We’ve always been very close,” Professor Dewsbury said. “But poetry opens your spirit and your heart and your mind—in a way that nothing else can.”
“So, sharing together has enabled us to see a little bit deeper into each other, and to really appreciate the depth of who we are…and to value both the similarities and the differences in each other.”
Professor Dewsbury and her mom Diana traded poems over Facebook Messenger, and sometimes email. “Sometimes we would put it together with a visual,” Professor Dewsbury said.
“The poetry exercise has created a really beautiful form of communication between us, especially because we can’t see each other.”
“It’s been a way to really keep us close and share our hearts with each other,” she said.
A solo writing project would not have had the same outcome, Professor Dewsbury noted.
As she put it, “I think that sending it back and forth to each other had a different effect than if I had written the poems for myself only, and not shared them with anybody.”
“It’s created a deeper vulnerability,” she observed. “It’s helped me to discover a deeper vulnerability that is such a healthy part of how God made us to be.”
Writing has been a kind of wellness practice for Professor Dewsbury, “an exercise that connects me with things outside of my own mind.”
“It’s a kind of therapy for yourself because you are tapping into your wholeness. You’re tapping into your heart, mind, soul, and your body, your physical world around you.”
The simple practice of deep observation can shift one’s mind from thinking about worry or being sidetracked by anxiety, Professor Dewsbury said. “It gives you a new focus.”
Over 100 poems and continuing
To this day, Professor Dewsbury and her mother write regularly, although less frequently than every day as before. Professor Dewsbury’s inspiration often comes from nature. She is naturally curious and enjoys research, and often a poem is birthed from a study of living things in her environment.
One time, Professor Dewsbury witnessed an elderly couple hugging in a Safeway parking lot. It inspired a poem.
“It just struck me that I hadn’t seen anyone hugging each other for so long. And it was a long genuine comforting hug. It struck me as so powerful.”
Ideas for poetry writing, by Professor Dewsbury
For anyone looking to start writing poetry, Professor Dewsbury offers these tips:
1. Start by reading poetry
It’s good to read poetry, Professor Dewsbury advises. “Poetry is vast,” she said. “I highly recommend classic Western poets, but also to read some poetry from around the world, which we can access in translation.” Professor Dewsbury said that every summer when she teaches her global literature course, she receives new inspiration, new ways of thinking and poetic techniques.
“We’re reading Japanese poets, African poets, and ancient Vietnamese poets and contemporary Iranian poets,” she said of her poetry class. “Collecting more and more types of poetic inspiration can really give you confidence that you don’t have to follow poetic form, like rhyme and rules.”
2. Begin by playing with your senses
As a poet, Professor Dewsbury has a knack for combining sensory information. “Right now I might write about the birdsong,” she said. “But—could I capture the birdsong with taste, or with colour?”
“Poetry allows you to cross the senses, and when you do that it begins to free so much of your imagination.”
3. Observe something very closely
You can write a poem about anything, Professor Dewsbury affirms. When seeking inspiration, she challenges writers to study something really closely. “[Ask] what do you see?” She also challenges writers to search for background information. “Research something you take for granted, and see if you can find deep meaning in that.”
Professor Dewsbury finds that observation can solve a writer’s block. When Professor Dewsbury wants to write but hasn’t found the spark, she will take time to pay close attention to the environment around her, and "observe in all my senses.”
“Eventually something will stir and give me meaning,” she said.
Melinda Dewsbury has been writing poems since her first year of university, while taking a creative writing class at TWU. Her professor at the time encouraged her talent, and from that class onward Professor Dewsbury has been writing all her adult life. Since 2003, Professor Dewsbury has been teaching at TWU in the areas of foundational English and creative writing. She is currently the Assistant Professor and Associate Dean of Global Education. Professor Dewsbury credits her mother Diana for instilling in her a love of poetry and literature.
See also—Why TWU's Professor Melinda Dewsbury sees leadership as hospitality:
Here is just a small selection of pandemic poems by mother and daughter Diana Caldwell and Melinda Dewsbury:
—March 23, 2020—
How can I build this web?
It is my instinct
My work of mind and hand.
Spinning here and there.
"Adapt your silk to this or this or this,"
Once thin for one need
Sticky smooth beaded thick
Patterned for one but not another.
I am a spider.
—April 1, 2020—
My eyes are fixed on
A series of squares
Defined and confined
The mobile beauty of messy life
Preserved like a jar of pickles
Suspended in time.
—May 1, 2020—
She passes the days
in her small apartment -
by the invisible, lurking threat.
Her only human contacts
(excluding by 'phone)
are the workers bringing
"Darlene brought me some groceries
(I hadn't seen her for two weeks)
and when I saw her in the foyer
I just burst into tears!
(I'm not a crier...)
and couldn't stop -
I wanted so badly to give her a hug!
I was so embarrassed!"
an invisible wound
that severs souls.
—May 10, 2020, Mother's Day—
You wear your mothering in
Their hazel-green hue
the genetic stamp
A history of mothers,
A record of people now only story or
name or a line on a chart
But your story is here
In your eyes
I've watched child-like fervour
Like glimmering water in summer sun
Deep shining pools in all its
beauty and pain
Crinkly riverbanks pouring out tears
of uncontrollable laughter
Worry and fear like the murky stream
in early spring,
The gravelly bed obscured
Rapids of relief releasing in your smile,
lines worn down by both joy and grief
And your upward gaze to
Seeking and beseeching and praising
the One who sees all.
Now in my mirror I glimpse
a different colour looking back
But some of your story
Spilled into mine
Expressions and movements
and I gladly wear
These gifts of your mothering.
-I love you, my mom
the Banty hen
didn't suffer fools lightly
when it came to her chicks.
she had spent 21 days
to bring them to the hatch!
They were so tiny,
so vulnerable to predators
prowling the farm premises -
Why, even a gust of wind
could spell their demise.
But really, Louise -
nesting on the highest beam in the barn?
There were times,
when I longed to gather you
hide you from all the dangers
in the big, bad world,
secrete you in a secluded space,
you would have suffocated
under my wings.
About Trinity Western University
Founded in 1962, Trinity Western University is Canada’s premier Christian liberal arts university dedicated to equipping students to establish meaningful connections between career, life, and the needs of the world. It is a fully accredited research institution offering liberal arts and sciences, as well as professional schools in business, nursing, education, human kinetics, graduate studies, and arts, media, and culture. It has four campuses and locations: Langley, Richmond-Lansdowne, Richmond-Minoru, and Ottawa. TWU emphasizes academic excellence, research, and student engagement in a vital faith community committed to forming leaders to have a transformational impact on culture. Learn more at www.twu.ca or follow us on Twitter @TrinityWestern, on Facebook and LinkedIn.
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