“Living With Poetry” – Daniela Found Her Words Amongst Lego, Diapers And Rattles

Good morning and welcome to another People with Passion post!  Today’s guest is Daniela Elza.  I have had the pleasure of working with Daniela for the past 3 years through Pandora’s Collective and have been in awe of her ever since.  If you’ve never heard poetry come alive, you need to find out where Daniela is reading and go there.  Her story is inspiring to me, as  a mother of two young ones with a writer’s heart.  See if you can find yourself in Daniela’s words.  When you’re done reading, please leave a comment with a response to anything Daniela says that strikes a chord.  Everyone who comments will get thrown into the hat and on Thursday Feb. 14 one lucky winner will receive a print copy of Daniela’s book, the weight of dew. 

Please welcome Daniela!

Regardless of what I did for school or work, writing was always there on the slow back burner. I’ve been fascinated with the power of words as far back as I can remember. My sister and I competed on how many poems we could write when we were in the first grades of school. I was quite fond of a poem about a daisy, or the one we wrote about a boat which sank to the bottom of the ocean (our big metaphor for life). I remember sitting on top of my desk reciting poems with her.

Two Masters degrees, two continents, and two children later, I realized that writing has always been there for me, even if I was not always there for it. It was the thing I did. It’s hard to recall how I began to take writing more seriously. There were moments. Like, browsing through the music section at Borders Bookstore and being startled by Emma Shapplin’s voice. Something cracked, I cried.Asked myself why, then wrote to figure it out. Happening upon Wisława Szymborska’s work also helped me nurture myself back into poetry.

In school I had a love-hate affair with poetry. I didn’t like how I was supposed to interact with poems. They were taught to me fragmented, dissected, the excitement drained out of them. Somewhere along the clinical hallways of school poems lost their soul. They were broken down into metaphors, similes, meter etc.. This breaking down is reminiscent to what Michael Pollan observes we do with food: break it down into nutrients. Instead of a carrot we need carotenoids in our diet. Once we render food into invisible nutrients, we need an expert to tell us what to eat. Despite all the efforts to understand food by breaking it down, he says, we still cannot fathom what goes on deep down in the soul of a carrot. I believe this is also true for poetry.

Now that I have my doctorate, I can say that raising children is the hardest and most important thing I’ve had to do. I was fortunate to stay home with both my kids and dedicate a good decade to them. It is a job full of responsibilities, selflessness, sheer dedication, and tests most (if not all) of your boundaries and limits. Kids unintentionally challenge you to learn about yourself. (You can take them up on it.) The rewards are not immediately felt. This was good training ground for what the writing life demands of me.

When the kids grew out of their neediest phases, when I began to think about finding a job, I had already built quite a momentum with my writing. I thought this in between time might just be right to give the poetry pursuit a try. I didn’t want to look back one day and regret I didn’t. I’d grown tired of splitting myself between poetry and the rest of what I did. I gave myself a year.

I found my dedication to being a mother unlimited, so initially carving the time to write was difficult. But one cannot keep pouring out of a jug without replenishing it. Writing did that job. Making time to write was making time to nurture myself. It was a place to slow down, immerse myself in a quiet and timeless space, a kind of going away and coming back. It made me a better parent too. It still took years for a regular-time-devoted-to-writing to become an integral part of my day. Even if it was just for an hour, even if I had to leave the house to do it. Now it’s like a limb—I miss it if it’s not there. Sometimes, it feels like stealing time from underneath the busy metronome of life. You can find that time, but you have to want to.

cover art by Daniela's son

cover art by Daniela’s son

Another beneficial side effect to a scheduled writing practice was that writing turned from an affliction into a discipline. Instead of a poem getting pent up and inconveniently bursting out when driving, shopping, cooking, when I had no pen or paper, this daily invitation allowed for poems to be born in less chaotic conditions, to emerge instead of being emergencies. Giving them space made them come easier. No one now has to tell me to go write. I have the need to do it.

I was missing one thing— a community. When we moved to Vancouver I met a woman on the school playground. She turned out not only to be the supervision aide, but the executive director of Pandora’s Collective. I got involved. I signed up for the Surrey Writers’ Conference for the first time. The next year, 2002, I won second place in their poetry contest. A few years in a row I signed up for The Victoria School of Writing— an intense week of workshops, readings, meeting writers, not to mention it doubled up as vacation. All that and more helped me find my bearings, and locate myself better in my poetry world.

art by Daniela's son

cover art by Daniela’s son

I hired a mentor who assisted me with editing my work and in 2004 I submitted four times. The next year I had my first few publications. I received enough feedback to give me the confidence needed to keep going. Last year I sent out 50 submissions and launched my debut collection the weight of dew (Mother Tongue Publishing). This April I will be launching my next book milk tooth bane bone (Leaf Press). Having written for so long has its advantages. You amass quite a bit of work. I am now compiling my next manuscript.

Cover: Robin Susanto

Cover: Robin Susanto

Writing is my passion, a place for repose and sense making in the busy, fragmented and unforgiving world we live in. It is also a place I can lose my sense-of-time, which is necessary in our structured days. A spring of inexhaustible energy, writing also nurtures much of what I do. My children are another endless source of inspiration. They are the unsung poets.

 

 

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Photo Credit: Frank Lee

Photo Credit: Frank Lee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daniela can be found on her website here.

 

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P.S. Don’t forget to leave a comment below to be entered to win Daniela’s book!

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Showing 10 comments
  • Susan Thompson
    Reply

    Lovely post, Daniella. I too, let life steal my passion of writing, but, like you again, life has brought it back to me. As you are enjoying your world with passion I am enjoying mine. Thank you. Susan

    • daniela elza
      Reply

      Thank you Susan,
      Glad it came back. And glad it is with you now.

  • Ben
    Reply

    It’s a shame that school takes a lot of pleasure out of things that we may initially enjoy.

    I don’t write poetry, but i’ve learnt over the last few months how much I enjoy writing and sharing my experiences with others. I never noticed it before. And making a practice of writing regularly has really helped me to come up with great new ideas even when I feel blank on that certain day, I find when I sit down to do it I always tend to find something to write about.

    -Ben

    • daniela elza
      Reply

      Ben,
      Your observation is right on. I am never short on ideas to write about when I sit down to write, though not getting to the sitting down part makes me feel like I have nothing to say and nothing to write about. So I could easily think I have writer’s block, which I am now certain does not exist. It could be that moment when as writers we take ourselves too seriously and let the editor and the judgements come in too soon. It could be we have come to a difficult place and we need to find our way so perhaps doing something else and redirecting the energy might get us out of there sooner. The writer’s block is the block on which the writers live. So I say: take a walk around the block. Sometimes, I daydream and stare out the window for a bit, or read a good book, and soon enough there it is: the thing I wanted to write about. Thanks for your thoughts.

  • Susan Telfer
    Reply

    Hi Daniela, I too didn’t start really writing until my kids were a bit less needy, then started taking workshops. I never really found my voice until after I became a mother.
    By the way, I teach high school English and don’t dissect poems. Not many teachers do anymore.

    • daniela elza
      Reply

      Hi Susan,
      The poetry critique and dissecting doggedly followed me through my English Philology degree too, unfortunately. Mind you, that was also in a different country. Glad to hear that that is less the case here and now. I got that same impression when I visited a high school last year and mentioned something to that effect and the kids did not relate to my experience. Kind of made me happy.:-) It is easier to teach the things we are passionate about.

  • Simer
    Reply

    A very nice post, Daniela! You just took me back to when my children babies and how I struggled to find just half-an-hour of peace and write my journal.

    Keep up the good work!
    Simer

    • daniela elza
      Reply

      Hi Simer,
      Funny you would say that. Sometimes I wonder if reading and writing poetry might have something to do with the fact that my time was so fragmented. When I needed some food for thought and it had to be condensed. I did not get those stretches of time to luxuriate in lengthy writing explorations, I could not read or write a novel in half an hour, or an hour spurts, but I could read some poetry and perhaps get a poem going or two going.

  • Bonnie Nish
    Reply

    Daniela,
    While I know your story and writing so well it different to see it all down on the page. I have followed your work, watched you progress, seen the attempts, successes and failures and the one thing that I have to add to what you have so wonderfully put to paper is that you handle it all (writing, kids, friendship and life) with such grace. Thnak you for sharing some of your story here. Some of how this all came to be. You capture it just as it is. It isn’t easy, but you make it seem so. Bonnie

    • daniela elza
      Reply

      Oh, Bonnie. Thank you for your words. They are gifts.

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