Ghost Writer


Where do they go—
those scattered thoughts
left sitting in a drawer;
are they drowsy,
or do they die a sad death,
as their paper hosts decompose?

I wonder if they are phantoms,
assembling on another poet’s page—
read aloud on stage,
to the thunder of applause.

 Kat Mortensen©2011


When there’s no service, I read SERVICE!

Last week, our modem conked out.  Well, we just learned last night after another failure that it was actually the power cord to the modem, but happily, it has now been resolved.

What do you do when you have no internet service? Well, I went a bit stir-crazy, to tell the truth.  I had already baked something, so I had no need to do that, my book (if you look in the sidebar you’ll see I’m not making any progress with it) has come to a bit of a standstill. I watched the movie, “Desk Set” with Tracy and Hepburn which was entertaining for a spell, but mostly, I moped around wishing I could get on line and do a post, check my e-mail and banter on Facebook.

In my efforts to sort out the situation, I was in the loft-bedroom where my second office is and the old croaky laptop that needs a new battery resides.  Incidentally, don’t ever touch the RESET button on the modem. Just sayin’.

I happened to be scanning my bookshelf of poetry and came across a forgotten cd that I had picked up in my thrift-store travels and had never played.  It was a recitation recording of Canadian poet Robert Service who had recorded 12 of his pieces back in the 1940s.  I’ve recently been reading “The Penguin Treasury of Popular Canadian Poems and Songs” by John Robert Columbo, so this was perfect!

I plugged in the laptop, popped in the cd and sat back in my leather chair to have a listen.

A very strong, deep and rather languid voice emerged from my player.  A mild Scots accent accompanied the delivery and instantly I was held captive by his tone.

“The Cremation of Sam McGee” is probably his best known work, and it is one that I’ve listened to since I was just a kid.  If I had to attribute anything to my style of writing, my preference for rhyme, or my love of a good story in verse then it would be this poem and Robert Service himself.

As I listened, I got great enjoyment from his delivery, and the images he created in my mind.  I went on to “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” which, after hearing it from Service’s own lips, has now become another favourite.

Next, came “The Spell of the Yukon” and by God, if it didn’t make me wish I’d been one of those tortured gold-miners who “moiled” for the stuff up north!

Eventually, the rhythms and the quietude of Service’s voice had a very tranquilizing effect and between that and the comfortable leather chair, I dozed off!

When I awoke, I remembered that I had once written a whimsical found poem based on a news story about a bear from out west. It inadvertently became a nod to Service.  I thought you might like to read it:

Buckwheat’s Last Grab

Strange things happen in the dark of night, 
While you’re bundled up in bed. 
Keep away from the honey-hive at the height 
Of the moon, or you’ll end up dead! 

Tall tales told by the camp-fire light,
Old Grizzlies love to share.
Cubs, wide-eyed shrunk up with fright,
Heed not the chill night air.

One story is their favourite,
Sends shivers up small spines,
‘Bout a Kamloops bear gone missing
Who couldn’t read the signs.

“Stay out!” “Keep off!” The billboards read,
And, “Enter if you dare!”,
“No trespassing!”,”Beware of Dog!” —
Buckwheat could only stare.

The printed word dumbfounded him,
For book-learnin’ he’d spurned.
He might have been more careful,
If reading he had learned.

So on he went into the yard,
Just followin’ his nose,
To that sweet smell of honey,
When up behind him rose…

A figure of great height and bulk,
Wielding a big long stick.
He drew a bead on “Bucky”,
Who thought it was a trick…

Until he saw the gun go off
And he knew he was done.
Then Bucky crumpled in a heap
For he weighed near a ton.

And farmer Orwall rolled his sleeves;
He had some work to do.
The massive bear he had to hide,
‘Else, this dark night he’d rue.

Long gone midnight, moon was high
And Orwall dug down deep,
And rolling the old bear inside
Poor Bucky went to sleep—

Now farmer Orwall’s up in court,
With charges to be laid.
The law still frowns on shootin’ bears
To stop a midnight raid.

So let that be a lesson
To bears who leave their cave:
Stay in school and learn to read
‘Cause signs your life could save.

And Bucky’s with the angels,
In paradise for bears;
Where honey flows from faucets,
And drips down marble stairs—

That’s what they tell the young ones,
Especially when there’s tears;
Those cubs need reassuring;
The big bears calm their fears.

Strange things happen in the dark of night, 
While you’re bundled up in bed. 
Keep away from the honey-hive at the height 
Of the moon, or you’ll end up dead! 

Kathleen Mortensen © 2007

I have also discovered an old CBC Television interview by Pierre Berton with the man himself!  It is surprising and wonderful!

A First Nations Canadian Poet for Canada Day

The Song My Paddle Sings
 by E. Pauline Johnson (1862 – 1913)

Mohawk name: Tekahionwake  ( “double-life” )

WEST wind, blow from your prairie nest,
Blow from the mountains, blow from the west.
The sail is idle, the sailor too;
O wind of the west, we wait for you!
Blow, blow,
I have wooed you so,
But never a favour you bestow.
You rock your cradle the hills between,
But scorn to notice my white lateen.

I stow the sail, unship the mast;
I wooed you long but my wooing’s past;
My paddle will lull you into rest.
O drowsy wind of the drowsy west,
Sleep, Sleep,
By your mountain steep,
Or down where the prairie grasses sweep!
Now fold in slumber your laggard wings,
For soft is the song my paddle sings.

August is laughing across the sky,
Laughing while paddle, canoe and I,
Drift, drift,
Where the hills uplift
On either side of the current swift.

The river rolls in its rocky bed;
My paddle is plying its way ahead;
Dip, dip,
While the waters flip
In foam as over their breast we slip.

And oh, the river runs swifter now,
The eddies circle about my bow!
Swirl, swirl!
How the ripples curl
In many a dangerous pool awhirl!

And forward far the rapids roar,
Fretting their margin for evermore.
Dash, dash,
With a mighty crash,
They seethe, and boil, and bound, and splash.

Be strong, O paddle! be brave, canoe!
The reckless waves you must plunge into.
Reel, reel,
On your trembling keel,–
But never a fear my craft will feel.

We’ve raced the rapid, we’re far ahead;
The river slips through its silent bed.
Sway, sway,
As the bubbles spray
And fall in tinkling tunes away.

And up on the hills against the sky,
A fir tree rocking its lullaby,
Swings, swings,
Its emerald wings,
Swelling the song that my paddle sings.

Inarticulate (a love poem)

Adapted by me from a Flickr photo. Click image for source.

I am audacious enough
to call myself a poet—
a magician with words,
you always leave me,
tongue-tied, and tapped out.

There are no words
to put to page that can uncage
my beast of love.

If I could, I would wrench this heart
from my body, to hurl at your feet,
to bleed forth in fervent flood—
to prove my love.

I cannot write it;
you must read the poem
in my eyes.

Kat Mortensen©2012 Protected by Copyscape DMCA Takedown Notice Checker

In spite of myself



Again, it’s time to put it to the page
(She always pulls me up short;
Her invisible hand be-stills my pen.)
The red stop-sign springs up in front of my face—
my raging critic reminds me once again,
that I won’t amount to much
(and half my life is done).
Time is running out,
yet I let it waste away—
the days come to nothing.
My mediocrity has me on the rack;
it twists and turns me ‘til I crack.

I want to make a comeback,
but I was never on top to begin with.

Kat Mortensen©2011 Protected by Copyscape DMCA Takedown Notice Checker

The origin of a poet?

stuffs29 003 

Is it presumptuous of me to title this piece such? I’m not an acclaimed or acknowledged poet by anyone of consequence. I don’t have books published with my works.  I don’t even have a chapbook, and yet…and yet, I choose to deem myself so. 

What makes us artists? What differentiates us from those others? What makes ME a poet?

I think in rhymes.  I am constantly looking at things and thinking, how would I convey that on the page? I wake with words swimming in my head, forming stanzas as I sip my tea, or brush my teeth.

I don’t write every day, but I think every day and I plan every day and read every day.

What started it all?  I sometimes wonder about that and usually I attribute it to the marvellous world of Dr. Seuss. The other day, I came across something that led me to reconsider that assumption.

I was in a second-hand bookstore in London, Ontario and happened to wander over to the children’s section.  A very narrow spine caught my eye.  It was a tall book – a  Golden Book and it was entitled, “Tell Me, Cat”.  Something deep inside me jolted at that name.  I reached out and drew the book from the swamped shelf.  As I revealed the cover, I gasped.  I recognized the book right away.

Greedily, I opened the book and my eyes scanned the inside of the cover where a cross-stitched cat looked back at me with familiar woollen eyes. 

stuffs29 004 stuffs29 005

Carefully, I turned the large pages and unfolded a page of my own history – a piece of my childhood. With a whoosh, it all came flooding back. Suddenly, I could anticipate what was on the following page…I knew the images of kittens and cats I would find.  The words of the verses struck my heart and made me a tousle-haired tot again.

Here are a few samples:  

(From the photo on the left):

If we could just read

All the stories inside

Of these books, we’d have fun

But we can’t – though we’ve tried.

Are there books that are written

With words for a kitten?

(From the photo on the right):

I’m a tough old seagoing cat;

They call me Captain Jack.

I’ve sailed to England, Spain, and France,

To Singapore and back.


I’ve walked the decks of many a ship

and guided many a crew.

Tomorrow I sail for Zanzibar….

(I like to pretend, don’t you?)


I called to my husband, whose nose was buried in a social exploration of the world of soccer.  I brought the book over to him and presented it as if it were on a velvet cushion.  The excitement in my voice could be heard from one end of the store to the other although I was quiet enough. 

As I read a few of the verses to him, he smiled (he loves the little girl in me).  I said, “It’s only $7.50.  I’m going to get it. I can’t believe I’ve found it again.”  I had completely forgotten this book existed.

I feel as if I’ve discovered that missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle.  This book is one of the reasons I AM a poet. The style, the whimsy and the rhyme is so like mine today.

I am ecstatic to have rediscovered it.


A Bone to Pick

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Poet tics

Why cannot a poem
be, a poem for
its sake

Must it be un-bricked
until we’ve picked
at every

Who’s to say
what truth’s below
when excavating
long-dead minds?

Can we claim
the truth to know,
or read we most
between the lines?

Leave some mysteries
to rest;
let verses be; let
stanzas sleep;

Just enjoy the words
the best;
permit the poet’s
prize to keep.

Kathleen Mortensen©2009

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