How poetry ignited a long-term online friendship: a conversation with Violet Nesdoly


Are you interested in writing poetry, and connecting with other writers? Are you wondering whether there are any benefits to writing and reading poems?

To explore these questions, I’m inviting you to eavesdrop on my long, virtual conversation with Violet Nesdoly, as we cyber-talk (or, more accurately, as we type back and forth) about a 10-year-old friendship built on a mutual love for poetry.

For the love of poetry…

TLK: Writing poetry is not something we do for money or fame. It’s about intangible rewards–the quiet pleasure of attentiveness, the power and mystery of words, and the meeting of minds. Something amazing happens when a writer and a reader meet in a poem. It can build human understanding and compassion, and sometimes it evens builds a friendship.
I met, you, Violet in a Christian poetry discussion forum back in the stone ages of social networking. With an entire continent and an international border between us, (you living near the Pacific in British Columbia, Canada, and I near the Atlantic in New Hampshire, USA), we managed to meet weekly (and sometimes more frequently) for a year or more to share our love of poetry and to critique one another’s works in progress. Although I haven’t been involved in that forum/discussion since 2006, I’m amazed that we’ve managed to stay in touch  via email, on facebook and through blogging. We’ve never met face-to-face, never even heard the sound of each other’s voices, and yet I consider you a friend, someone I can really “talk” to.
VN: Thanks so much, Tracy, for inviting me to your blog. What an honour!
TLK: Your poem “Wear a Scarf” seems to celebrate unity in diversity, and reminds me of what poetry itself does for me. Do you also feel a “oneness” or the call to “be one” with other poets?
VN: In the poem “Wear a Scarf” the thought of unity was part of the inspiration for sure. But it was more the idea of how we females are one, illustrated by how women of all ethnicities wear scarves, shawls or whatever we call them.
TLK: In some ways that sense of human interconnection is what drew me to poetry. How about you? What drew you to, and keeps you immersed in, poetry?
VN: I was drawn to it from high school on, inspired by the enthusiasm of my English teacher. In my teen years I was a sometimes-contributor to the youth page of a farm tabloid that my parents got. Poems on that page (The Young Co-Operators in the Western Producer) were my first publications (long lost in the archives of the farmhouse attic, I’m afraid). I went back to poetry from time to time when traumatic experiences or lyrical lines in my head enticed me to try writing more. And then, about a dozen or so years ago, I started reading, studying, and writing poetry more intentionally.
For me now it’s not the urge to be one with other poets that gets me writing—although that feeling of unity comes when I read resonant poems. At this time poem-writing has become a way to pay attention, to notice the details of my life. In a way poetry (and photography) are my ways of cataloging my blessings and thankfulnesses along with yearnings, and memories, and lessons learned—really all the topics that lend themselves to poetry. So in many ways now I write for myself first (and sometimes only), and the process is almost as important as the product. I came across a quote a few days ago that expresses it well:

“If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for the Creator, there is no poverty” Rainer Maria Rilke.

TLK: Yes! I first read that quote when I was in my twenties, and  it influenced my decades-long focus on living  a deliberately creative life. But there are so many ways to create–visual art, dance, crafts, theater, music, baking, gardening… even science and mathematics have creative opportunities. Why poetry?
VN: Like most people enamoured with poetry, I also get off on words. I love fitting them together with regard to meaning, sound, even the feel of how they roll off the tongue. 
TLK: And that’s exactly what I enjoy about in your poems–your attentiveness to sound, your playfulness with words. I have to tell you, I was somewhat intimidated, perhaps even a little bit put-off, when I first came to the poetry forum, by your title of International Christian Poet Laureate. But you quickly put me at ease and made me realize that you don’t take yourself too seriously or see yourself as someone who has all the knowledge/answers about poetry, but rather…

…you’re a person who loves poetry and sees the world through a poet’s eyes and sensibility. In what ways has this sensibility been a blessing to you?

VN: Yes, Tracy, that was a hefty title and an honour too! Actually the longer I write  the less I feel sure of myself as a poet, or maybe the more respectful I am of other poets. I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with that title now. At the present it feels great just to be one of the crowd—a crowd that’s grown bigger, it seems, since many of us have found each other online. 
For me a poet’s eyes and sensibility are a great advantage in prose writing. They aid brevity, sharpen one’s ability to create images, make one sensitive to the precise meanings of words and the importance of using the right ones, and hone the ability to write musically. 
And, as I mentioned above, poem-writing has proved to be a wonderful way to capture the essences and nuances of my life in a succinct way, both the physical details and the below-the-surface significance of things, people, and experiences.
TLK: I hadn’t ever thought of it that way, but yes, it is about capturing nuances of an experience. And speaking of experience, what do you most remember about when we were first getting to know each other through poetry? 

VN: I remember your sensitivity and ability to express critique in a positive and encouraging way. I always thought twice about your suggestions and used many of them.
TLK: I’m so relieved to hear that. I find critique a very difficult area, and wonder whether I’m saying too much, or not enough. I’ve been in critique groups where, over time, people start taking over one another’s poetry. That didn’t happen in our forum when I was there, and that’s not why I left. I had to make some hard choices about where to focus my energy, and the forum was taking a lot of time. I began to see that it was going to be necessary, if I wanted to grow as a writer, to focus my writing energy in a more solitary pursuit. That was a hard decision. But I’m certainly glad you and I managed to stay in touch, even though I essentially disappeared for a while (as people in cyber-space so easily can do).

The study of poetry…

VN: After you left us you studied for a while with a well-known poet. I’m wondering, did that make a difference to your work? How?
TLK: It made an enormous difference. It set the course for the rest of my writing life. For a year I worked in a one-on-one mentoring relationship with Patricia Fargnoli, who was the New Hampshire Poet Laureate at the time. It was a serious and intense time of immersion in poetry.
I read tons of poems, lots of criticism and wrote notebooks full of stuff that turned into some of my best poems. I wrote long letters to Patricia about my studies. Those became the basis for my essays about poetry and a formulation of my personal poetics. I also read a few of my poems at a reading in which she was the featured poet. The whole year was a terrific experience. But my working with her gradually became less and less about poems, and more about how I wanted to live my writing life–my process and my topics, my direction, purpose and goals for writing.
Patricia was incredibly encouraging and also challenging. She’s kind-hearted and highly intelligent. I learned from her to question every word and every thought, to never settle for the easy or the obvious. She taught me to be a brutally exacting editor of my own writing.
At the beginning of our time, I definitely was not ready to publish in literary journals, but at the end, she felt I had a number of good poems, fit to publish. She suggested I send some to editors she knew, with a note that she had read them. Although none of the editors poems chose to publish those poems, they all wrote back to me (and you know how rare that is), and requested to see other poems. But I didn’t follow through. I stopped submitting poems, and I basically stopped writing poetry because I wanted to focus on memoir, essays and fiction. Still that year of in-depth poetry influenced everything I write now. Poetry gave me the tools to be a better writer. I still write the occasional poem, usually when a strange but rhythmic phrase or an evocative image won’t leave my mind.
VN: So what do you do with your poems once they’re written and tweaked to your satisfaction? Have you ever considered putting together a poetry book of your own?
TLK:  Sometimes I think about collecting them into a book someday, to leave for my granddaughters. For now, I tuck them in file, unimaginatively marked “Finished Poems.” Occasionally I share a couple of them with other poets, and rarely (about once a year), I post one on my blog.
I suppose it’s strange that I don’t care to publish my poems, when in my heart I consider myself a poet, someone who, in Patricia Fargnoli’s words, is “open to the world and its impact on us, perhaps because we [poets] are so often in a state of amazement at life.”

Why poetry…

Poetry, for me, is not about publishing or being known in the world as a poet. It’s about being in that continual state of amazement, and it’s about connecting with other people who understand that amazement–people like Violet, who know that experiencing the world through a poetic sensibility expands and enriches our lives.
I’m thankful to Violet for enriching my life. It’s amazing that we’ve connected, and that we’ve stayed in touch.

Now it’s your turn, dear reader. Please join the conversation. Tell us why you took the time to read this long blog post about poetry and relationships–or tell us anything that our conversation sparked in your mind.

35 thoughts on “How poetry ignited a long-term online friendship: a conversation with Violet Nesdoly”

  1. What a lovely story about how you and Violet connected. Although I am not much of a poet, I love how words can transport us to other places where we feel different emotions. How wonderful that you two were able to connect based on your love to write and continue this friendship for so many years!

    1. Yes, it is wonderful. I find it quite astonishing–but then, I find all friendships wonderfully astonishing and inexplicable.
      It’s a kind of alchemy, I think. Something, and I don’t know what that something is, transforms our normally self-absorbed and individualistic strivings and goals into a unified compassion. I’m working on celebrating the miracle of that, more consciously in my life.

  2. This is a wonderful post Tracy and I’ve so enjoyed eavesdropping on your ‘conversation.’ It’s lovely that you and Violet have sustained this friendship over the airwaves and have been so supportive of each other. For me poetry is a way to play with words and our language, to take risks with it – like V says, it’s fitting words together like a jigsaw puzzle. Poetry is also a great tool to get reluctant readers to read and to understand inference. I always start kids off with humorous poems – getting them to enjoy the sensation of the rhymes and rhythms and to have a go themselves. I had a break through this week with an autistic boy who understood the sadness in an otherwise jolly little poem – I was so excited for him! Our enquiry question with his age group (11-12) this term is ‘Can poetry make you laugh and cry?’ This is a fabulous module to support and so rewarding when you see the kids ‘getting’ it. They are then able to start taking risks with their own writing. It’s how we all do it, but being at grass roots level is a constant reminder of where we all start, and poetry as well as music and even nursery rhymes is a fantastic first step to later understanding and appreciation.

    1. What you’re doing with kids and poetry is so exciting, Jenny! Your experience with the autistic boy illustrates language’s ability to touch us in unspoken, sometimes unspeakable ways. You sound like a wise teacher.

    2. And so there’s one more thing we have in common. I used to teach as a poet in residence at various schools and art centers. Poetry served as a life-changing break through or turn-around for a number of students. It connects to so many levels of feeling/expression/understanding all at once, including nonverbal (which is mysterious, since it is, after all, made of words.
      Sometimes I wish I had the time and energy to write the poetry curriculum I always dreamed of writing. But I’m loaded up with projects for at least 7 years…

  3. It is lovely to hear of how you ‘met’ and built a friendship with Violet even thought you never actually met. A good example of the positive power of the internet. I think poets have special eyes and a unique way of looking at the world and then they communicate their view of the world to us in words and stanzas redolent with feeling and meaning.
    The world would be so much poorer without poetry. 😉

    1. “The world would be so much poorer without poetry”
      Well said, JustAddAttitude. As well poetry and the internet are very compatible. The internet likes short, pithy, to-the-point and often poetry is just that. The internet has really opened up connection lines between poets all over the world with distance no longer a barrier.

      1. I hadn’t looked at it that way before, Violet (the similarities between poetry and internet communications). That’s so true. And something to ponder as I write my posts. I’m going to try to think of them as needing that compaction, brevity and musicality of poetry). Great idea. If I blog on that topic, I’ll be sure to give you credit. 😉

  4. Oh, Tracy, you and Violet make me wish I wanted to write poetry, you really do. And during our honeymoon many, many years ago, during our week in British Columbia, Jim and I fell in love with Butchart Gardens, so you again made me want to write poetry.
    Wonderful post!

      1. Gardens are truly an inspiration!
        I’m not convinced everyone should write poetry, or want to. It’s probably best to go with the genre that fits your voice and style. Your writing is beautifully inspired, Marylin. I think the essay form, memoir/autobiography — it suits you very well.
        I’d sure love to get to Butchart Gardens some day. I hope it happens….

  5. I want to tell you how much I enjoyed reading your words with Violet, Tracy. I found the conversation through Violet’s post, and have found her through her blog and Poetry Friday. I always feel like she is teaching me by her writing through these months, and I really do write, and read, poetry because I love it, love the creative way one can work with words, and in teaching middle school students for a lot of years (am not the school’s lit coach) I found that many loved being touched by poems in ways unique to them, the way it should be. I still have students write to say how much poetry meant to them when we were together. Thank you for a rich conversation!

    1. Linda, you’re inspirational to so many. I’m not surprised that students write to tell you how your influence has touched them. You’re adding richness to young lives every day and for that I (almost) envy you. 😉

      1. Hi, Linda–thanks so much for reading and commenting. I tried to find you by clicking on your name, but it took me to an Asian site that I can’t read. I hope you’ll stay in touch.
        I also taught poetry (as a poet in residence) to middle and high school students, and received amazing letters from them about how it impacted their lives. I truly hadn’t expected that! There is power in poetry. I continue to be passionate about sharing with young people, connecting them to the power of the word to share their experiences and transform their lives.

  6. What a lovely friendship. I have been surprised by the connections that I have made through blogging.
    I’m not a poet but I certainly enjoyed your conversation.

      1. I see so much similarity in the personalities of poets and artists–the biggest difference is the medium chosen for expression.
        Some of the best insights I’ve gotten into the craft of poetry, have come from conversations with artists/photographers (and theologians).

  7. Your passion for poetry is inspiring. There are a few poems that have touched me deeply and have stayed with me throughout the years. The bond you’ve formed thru your mutual love of poetry is beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I’ve found that bond not only through poetry, but also through a mutual love of writing in general, a fascination with words, has been the basis for most of my relationships. There is a common understanding that doesn’t have to be explained, so we can quickly move on to authentic sharing & communication.

    1. Really? We’ve inspired you to write poetry again? That’s awesome Kimberley. Do it!
      Thanks for stopping by, and I’m so gratified to hear that our conversation served more than just to engage the two of us in joyful reminiscence.

  8. Oh Tracy, how wonderful that you and Violet have maintained your relationship for so long via the internet, but I am not surprised! My Aspie daughter has been telling me for years how important her internet relationships are to her and it wasn’t until I began blogging that I came to understand this. In fact, I will be posting about this soon…
    I am fascinated to read this interview about poetry and both your thoughts and insight into it. I do like to write my poetry purely when I feel compelled (emotionally) to do so but I don’t have any formal training or the slightest idea of what I am actually doing, only pouring the words out as they come to me, very often built around a single word conveying my emotion, which, I have to admit, is nearly always dark, angry or troubled. However, I wrote one recently when taking part in the weekly photo challenge in which I shared some of my photos of old windows in Crete I was inspired to write a poem from a particular memory of my time spent there.
    I was very intrigued to read at the beginning that poets do indeed write for themselves, not with the intention of sharing their poems with the world, and I have found this to be true…until I started blogging! I have shared one or two poems on my blog much to my crazy amazement and I honestly thought that even if I didn’t get much response I knew that I had done what I wanted to do, or had to do, at that moment…sharing that particular heightened expression of a moment in time when for me, writing that poem was the one and only option. I never thought in a million years I would ever do this. Perhaps that is what is so wonderful about poetry – it is about taking a risk and being able to let rip with our emotions and pour them out in a way that creative writing in other ways can’t do.
    Well, I’m sorry to go on so long, but you both inspired me so much. I also loved the Rainer Maria Rilke quote. So, so true. Thank you 🙂

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Sherri.
      I think poetry is often motivated by emotion, which is why I first felt compelled to write. Then, I also began to want the poems I write to have an effect on others, in the way that my favorite poems effected me with a sense of sublime heightened perception, a sense of awe (sometimes even worship), an insight into something I had felt but never could describe which somehow the poem captured. A sense of “deep calling to deep.” That’s when I started looking at the craft of poetry, the tools a poet uses to shape an emotion into a poem.
      I think the important thing, is to do what moves us, as writers. To capture the moment of inspiration. And the more we read and write, the more skilled we become at making words do what we want them to do.

      1. I love that: ‘deep calling to deep’. I really felt that!!! You have such a lovely way of putting things into words Tracy and yes, you are so right, the more we read and write the better we do indeed become at writing. ‘Making the words do what we want them to do’…therein lies the making of a very skilled writer. You 🙂

        1. Well that’s a grand compliment, Sherri. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about writing in the past 25 years (good grief, has it been that long since I resolved to become a writer?) But I also feel as if there is still so much to discover, so much more to learn…
          Good thing I enjoy the learning. 🙂

          1. Wow, 25 years! That’s a wonderful accomplishment Tracy, and a very good thing you enjoy learning! That’s the wonderful thing about learning though, it never ends 🙂

  9. I absolutely ADORE that quote by Rilke and admire your determination t lead a deliberately creative life. I can vouch for creativeness in science and mathematics, although never viewed it as such until I just read it then, from you.
    That is a really good point.

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