Letter to a Poet: an exchange between Jessica Outram and Gwynn Scheltema

The following exchange appeared in Writescape.ca and Cobourg Now.

Letter to a Poet

There’s nothing better than words of encouragement that arrive seemingly out of nowhere. That recently happened to me when my long-time friend, Jessica, sent an email with a link to the local online newspaper, in which she had written a letter addressed to me.

What? Was she airing dirty laundry? NO! She was supporting me as a poet. To explain…

Jessica Outram currently serves as Cobourg’s Poet Laureate. One of her projects is an online poetry chapbook called Poetry Presents. I have successfully submitted poems a couple of times. Jessica also writes a poetry column for Cobourg Now, where she engages with a poet and /or a poem and muses on poetry generally. Here is where the stars aligned. Jessica chose one of my submitted poems to feature in her column. Thank you , Jessica!

Story is at the Heart of Poetry

An exchange between Gwynn Scheltema & Jessica Outram, Cobourg Now

(Note from the Poet: I grow as much of my food as possible and forage as well. I love the memories of nature that cooking smells bring forth for me.)


Dear Gwynn Scheltema,

Your poem ‘Carrot Soup’ invites me to reflect on harvest and a way of looking at the passing of time through the life of a carrot. The food we enjoy today has a story that connects to more than one season. From preparing the soil to planting the seeds to harvesting fully grown crops, a process and patience are paramount to success.

It can be the same with poetry. From preparing to use form to planting phrases and lines to harvesting metaphors, poetry thrives with the use of process and patience. When I was younger, I wrote poetry quickly, usually a poem (and sometimes two!) in one sitting. Over the past couple years, I’ve looked for ways to slow down, to linger in a line, to return to a poem over time to better understand its story. It’s good to give a poem space to change and grow.

Story is at the heart of poetry. Story is who we are and story is how we connect. To prepare to write a poem, I reflect on these questions: What story do I want to share? How will this story connect to others? After writing the poem, I return to the same questions.

In ‘Ars Poetic’ Archibald MacLeish writes “a poem should not mean, but be.” A poet shows a story rather than tells a story, inviting the reader to share the experience. By appealing to the senses (the eye, the ear, our senses of taste, touch, and smell), the poet invites readers into the world of a poem. When reading a poem, rather than ask ‘what does this poem mean?’ Ask ‘what are the stories here?’ Use questions to shift understanding and points of connection.

For those starting to write poetry, begin with your stories. The stories of your life, your every day, and of your imagination. Everyone has stories. What are yours? You may find that you never have writer’s block since our stories can be more abundant than the Fall harvest.

Thank you, Gwynn, for sharing this story of carrot soup with us.

With appreciation,

Jessica Outram

Poet Laureate of Cobourg

About Jessica Outram:

 Jessica Outram is Cobourg’s 4th Poet Laureate. She is a Métis writer and educator with roots in the Georgian Bay Métis Community. Since 2019, her mandate has been to honour and nurture Cobourg’s culturally dynamic community. A resident of Cobourg, Jessica has worked in Northumberland both as a principal and vice-principal and continues to participate in local arts, music, and theatre. Currently, she works as Principal of Indigenous Education K-12 in the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Pat Skene says:

    This poetry column is such a beautiful concept. I loved the poem and Miss Jessica’s letter. Well done!

  2. felicity936 says:

    A poetry column in our local media is an exciting development and this is a fascinating post. Thanks for sharing!

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