Spotlight #18 : Pearl Pirie

rob mclennan
3 min readOct 2, 2017

Curated by Canadian writer, editor and publisher rob mclennan, the “spotlight” series appears the first Monday of every month.

Author Statement:

It’s been an interesting year and a half. Life marker stressors of construction, parent’s cancer, moving, taking on more roles, yet I’ve had a better stress response than, as previously, decision paralysis panic attack in choosing a snack. Citalopram has been a game changer. I never knew how high the anxiety bar was constantly held. Coming of age where those around me were in nervous breakdowns and panic attacks I normed to high frazzle. I was habituated to high functioning under strain.

Suddenly, inside my head the familiar railway yard, a swirling distractive flux, where I catch glimpses to assemble into coherence, was so quiet I could hear myself think. There were insightful thoughts, kind to self commentary, which rarely was heard above the hubbub. Even now it’s no bavard.

Whereas previously spoken word poetry shorted my circuit board with intensity and lyric poetry moved too slow for me to follow with all my heads interjections, now I am capable of screening out or tuning in like I’ve never experienced. Migraines disappeared, arthritis from holding my limbs clenched or hyper-extended and from wooden walking lessened, digestion normalized, food revulsions disappeared, chest cramps from curled posture stopped. I wasn’t automatically counting people and ceiling tiles when nervous. Whole body shifted. I am not so jumpy. I can jump rope in time with group conversations more easily without random non sequiturs. I have neural room to observe people I’m speaking with. People aren’t so terrifying. Dogs kinda still are.

After years of pushing myself to get a face-memory, after a lifetime of not being able to picture family or friends, I can draw up someone’s face, not just the concept of them. (That might just have been serendipity.)

This new brain impacts creation and performance of poetry as well of course. Instead of being anxious for 2 weeks about reading for 10 minutes, I might not be able to hear the reader ahead of me, or after me for a few minutes until game time. Along with voice training, to stay on my column of air, I no longer cheer myself from the podium for not even fainting on any of the audience. It impacts creation because instead of blurt 4 pages, cull back in massive substantial edits to a page or less, a poem comes in a phrase, arriving line by line for a few weeks. I may sketch it out, brainstorm it. Edits are smaller, more copy-editing, paring for rhythm. I produce very few poems, unless I forget meds one day. Then I write 3 or 4 in 8 hours. Or inhale half a dozen poetry collections that overstimulate me.

My writing process went from manic jotting of ideas and juggling sounds, and making 3–6 poems a days for months, or 38 linked sonnets in 2 weeks, to quiet. I don’t feel guilty for not-writing as I used to. I feel I can choose. I still may do morning pages so that I check in with myself of what I may have missed. It’s a way of talking to myself but not necessarily making poems, except in lineation. It’s to clarify the head. The poetry is not trying to battle self anymore but engaging in a process of living alertly. And maybe I’m writing towards my old fogie innards, instead of my inner teenybopper. My absurd humour is still intact, my love of sounds, my perspective but not on so high of vibrate.

Two poems

“recreational pesticides” are illegal but who searches garden sheds?

a Jackie Chan of a rain chops down hydrangeas.
the tough guy’s face is wet with regret.
staying unchanged is impossible.

the modest clothes line

underwear pinned in one corner
dries slower but doesn’t brag of
its width of colours.

Pearl Pirie is director of Ottawa’s Tree Reading Series and is president of regional haiku group KaDo. A host of Literary Landscape on, she also runs phafours press, and Studio Nouveau, for workshops & pop-up readings. Chalkpaths is her manuscript service. Pirie’s the pet radish, shrunken (BookThug, 2015) won the Lampman Award. She works p/t as a cat waiter.