Poetry by Michelle

Cuban For One Night
(Hurricane Michelle, November, 2001)


Tonight we pretend
to be Cuban
as they load us onto buses
from our luxury resort
to a small town
where we mingle with the locals

we are just like them

the hurricane has no interest
in the size of our wallets
we can buy our way out of anything
but this.
— Michelle Barker, First Published in Descant, Fall/2006

Michelle Barker's books on Goodreads
Old Growth, Clear-Cut: Poems of Haida Gwaii Old Growth, Clear-Cut: Poems of Haida Gwaii
ratings: 1 (avg rating 5.00)

The Beggar King The Beggar King
reviews: 8
ratings: 21 (avg rating 4.00)

Tesseracts 14: Strange Canadian Stories Tesseracts 14: Strange Canadian Stories
reviews: 4
ratings: 15 (avg rating 4.07)

Tesseracts Fifteen: A Case of Quite Curious Tales Tesseracts Fifteen: A Case of Quite Curious Tales
reviews: 4
ratings: 14 (avg rating 3.79)

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Virtual Muse

For several years I led a creative writing workshop in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.  The goal of these sessions was to generate ideas and inspire new work.  So if the blank page is staring you down today and you’re not sure where to begin, try one of these exercises. The only rule is: leave your critic’s cap on the floor and just write. Write without thinking too much, without crossing out, write to see what you’ve got. You will surprise yourself.

  • Imagine yourself old. What would you be like? What might you wear, do, not do?  If you’re stuck on a particular character, imagine him or her old.
  • Consider the ordinary mystery. What is an ordinary mystery? What makes it special? Why is it so often ignored?
  • Imagine yourself reincarnated as something odd: a beetle, a weed, one of the horses that pull tourists around in a carriage.
  • “They say it will rain today.”  “They say that house is haunted.”  Who are They?
  • Answer these questions:  Who was your favorite relative when you were a child? Why?  What is your first food memory? What did you collect when you were a child? What are you afraid of?  Think of an object you come across in your daily life.  Now put all of these answers together and see where they lead.
  • Think about some of the lives you didn’t lead – the forks in the path when you chose to go left but might have gone right. Who might you be?
  • Here are some great first lines from short stories told in the first person.  Try them on. See where they lead:

I steal.

“Lawns,” by Mona Simpson

I am the one to tell them how to see.

“Tour Guide,” by Barbara Helfgott Hyett

I had this job and I wasn’t good at it so I got another job.

“All True Stories Have Loose Ends,” by Leon Rooke

I am afraid.

“What Keeps Me Up at Night,” by Jacob Scheier

I never told.

“The Storage Locker,” by Keith Maillard

I remember jars.

“Crucified Avocadoes,” by Tim Jacobs

I read about it in the paper, in the subway, on my way to work.

“Sonny’s Blues,” by James Baldwin

  • In Mary Oliver’s poem, Singapore, she says “A poem should always have birds in it…rivers are pleasant, and of course trees.  A waterfall, or if that’s not possible, a fountain rising and falling.  A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.”  What is your idea of what a poem, or a story, or a novel should have in it?
  • Choose a colour.  Now, describe it to someone who is blind.
  • Go into your kitchen and choose an herb or spice. Open it, smell it, let it suggest a word, a place, a memory. See where it takes you.
  • What is in your junk drawer?  Answer this question literally or figuratively. Maybe you have a junk drawer in your brain, the junk drawer of the soul…  Whatever you like.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, try writing a thousand words using one of these pictures as your inspiration: