Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poet in Community: Ronna Bloom Brings Unique Flair to Unique Position

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By Patrick Connors

Since the fall of 2008, Ronna Bloom has been the Poet in Community at the University of Toronto, charged with using writing in the service of the community.

It is very unique for a university in Canada to create a Poet in Community position. The University of Toronto is unusual and perhaps even bold in this respect, creating a cross-disciplinary model which not only furthers the liberal arts curriculum, but also reaches out to areas where there might previously have been much less emphasis on this kind of creativity.

“Poet in Community does do workshops focused on the writing itself, as with ‘A Writer’s Process’ (a 4-session salon starting this week), but mainly creates workshops to explore other areas through writing,” she said. “For example, spirituality at the Multi-Faith Centre, or Leadership roles at Engineering, or how a student nurse experiences his or her patient in nursing. The writing is a way to explore all kinds of things people are dealing with.”

I asked Bloom if she has seen development in the writing or growth as people among those who attend her workshops/salons/drop-ins?

“Absolutely. Especially when there is series of 3 or 4 workshop on a theme and people come back and begin to trust each other and in their own writing and expression. But even the one-off sessions can have powerful effect.”

Desmond Watts is a 3rd year student with a double major in International Relations and African studies. He is very involved at the U of T Multi-Faith Centre, and especially with the Poet in Community program.

“As a poet, the Poet in Community workshops have allowed me to be more vulnerable and authentic in my writing,” Watts told me. “It has also been a great encouragement to me during my day and helps to take away from the stress from school. One thing I really love about the sessions is the depth of things we cover and the openness of the participants. Many times I don’t have strong bonds with the participants but through the sessions I am able to know them in deeper way than many people other people I know.”

Bloom is also a working poet, having twice been shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Award, most recently for her 2009 offering Permiso, widely available in bookstores, as well as for the Gerald Lampert Award.

From what she tells me, PIC helps with her own poetic experience. “Poetry is a response to the world, whatever is the clearest most direct and urgent response possible at the moment. Everything feeds poetry whether it’s something you say to your neighbour or something you write on a piece of paper. So sitting with people who are intent on exploring and expressing that increases my awareness of what is possible.

“I love that I get to do this. I get to read a poem by Walt Whitman or Rumi or Allen Ginsberg to students and watch them take it in like nutrients and then respond with writing of their own that moves and surprises them. The integration of thought, emotion and experience begins to happen in a kind of underground way without us noticing. Seems like a bit of magic or chemistry or alchemy taking place as the poetry mixes with the person’s experience and with the permission and invitation to write.”

“Ronna provides a safe environment for students to explore questions of meaning and purpose though the poetry,” said Richard Chambers, Director of the Multi-Faith Centre for Spiritual Study and Practice, University of Toronto. “Ultimately this is what the University experience is all about, getting to know one’s self.”

I have had the honour and pleasure of participating in a few of the Poet In Community events, and it has helped me to grow as a poet, as a person, and on my faith walk, as well. It has helped me to see all of these things as integral parts of a process, inseparable from one another.

Ronna Bloom is an accomplished poet, an inspiring teacher, and very in tune spiritually. She is an asset to the University of Toronto, and indeed throughout the community.

***

Patrick Connors is the arts and mental health writer for newz4u.net, an online news service out of Toronto. He has had his poetry published in The Toronto Quarterly, as well as Word Salad Poetry Magazine. He is appearing in the 2010 Scarborough Writers Month Digital Publication, due out imminently. This is his second piece of writing with Open Book: Toronto, which he really enjoys and considers a great honour.

Reprinted with permission from newz4u.net

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