Travel Blog

29 Aug

Whistler Writers: The Path to Renewal


By Rona Shaffran

The path to renewal can beckon in unexpected ways. My husband and I were sipping espresso in the Rome airport, waiting for a delayed flight. The woman sitting beside me, I learned, was homeward bound from Italy to Montreal, where I was born and grew up. As she seemed to know the country well, I asked her advice on where in Italy we should next visit.

She described a group of volcanic islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea. I was immediately captivated, and wanted to learn more. After I’d done some research on the islands, the drive to see them grew stronger, until I knew that I had to travel there. This feeling was altogether strange. I’d never had that reaction to a place, let alone one I’d only heard about in passing. Still doubtful, I decided to follow the calling and stop second-guessing it.

From the moment I disembarked the ferry, I felt a sense of familiarity, a coming home. The volcanic island landscape mesmerized me; I felt recharged and, at the same time, at ease and at peace. I later wrote:

The church bell chimes
the half-hour,

Sometimes night falls
in this white-washed room
below the volcano …

I lie still

and sense the trace
of a trace,
the whispers of lives
not quite remembered …

One steamy afternoon, gazing at the volcano, it seemed to come alive. The story that became Ignite, my new book, unfolded in my mind. I began to write poems, furiously. Before that, I had written poetry only sporadically.

Ignite tells that story of renewal. The book begins in a wintry setting, with a man and woman who are emotionally and physically disconnected.

Their kisses taut
and parched

for so many
years now …


Winter moon
streams through the window
electroplating our bedcovers,

squares of light silver
your face …


… she senses
her desire open
into a long corridor, beyond
where he could go.

The woman vanishes, to find herself in a magical and exotic island, where she undergoes a dream-like transformation.

A small island waits
as minutes, hours, years
slip into the surf.

by the winds,
I travel there.

As my boat pulls near, a silent volcano
rears from the cobalt sea
to beckon me, its slopes surging
across the island, cleaving
the land in two …


The air animates, quivering
like thousands of invisible wings.
Solid hillsides heave.

The volcano, a creature asleep
on its belly, stretches out
along the centre of the island …


His chest and head rise
seamless from my hips

and when I lift
myself up
so we’re eye to eye

we fit
like a centaur …

After her return, the couple begins to reconnect, even as they age, sparked by the woman’s transformation.

She returns home
sleek and strange …


Now you dance to a new jazz rhythm, luring me to your breath in hushed night,
clearing the path to you, new woman.


and it begins

Rona Shaffran is a guest author of the 2013 Whistler Readers and Writers Festival. She will be participating in the poetry reading and panel discussion “Comes a Time: Past, Present, Future” on Saturday, October 19. 

Born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, Rona Shaffran lives in Ottawa, Ontario.Ignite (Signature Editions, 2013) is her first published collection of poetry. It tells the book-length story of remarkable things that can happen in a broken relationship between a man and a woman, healed by a physical process of self-discovery.

A member of the board of directors of the Tree Reading Series, one of Canada’s longest running poetry venues, Rona recently retired as its co-director. She now co-directs a new, occasional poetry reading series in Ottawa, called RailRoad. Rona graduated from the Humber School  for Writers and the Banff Centre Writing Studio. Her poems have appeared in Canadian literary journals, in an illustrated chapbook in Canada and Australia, and in several collaborative chapbooks. She has won honourable mention for the John Newlove Poetry Award.

Retired several years ago from federal government and charitable board work, Rona Shaffran devotes time to writing and to travel, and is at work on a second manuscript that includes poetry and prose.

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