Essays and Other Writing


The excerpts below are from my chapter “Points of Articulation: A Letting Go and a Reaching Towards, A Poet’s Journey” published in The Art of Poetic Inquiry, eds. Suzanne Thomas, Ardra L. Cole, and Sheila Stewart, Backalong Books (2012), Nova Scotia. pages 427-445

The anthology “builds on and extends the work of the Second International Symposium on Poetic Inquiry held in October 2009, in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island .... hosted by the Centre for Education Research, University of Prince Edward Island, and the Centre for Arts Informed Research, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, The University of Toronto. The symposium’s main theme poetry as a way of knowing ripples through the chapters.” (Taken from the Preface, “Poetry Is Inquiry,” page xii).

I participated on a panel at the 2009 symposium along with poets Sheila Stewart and John Oughton from The Long Dash group, and Mary Lou Payzant, Studio Artist from the Women’s Art Association of Canada.

Excerpts from:

Points of Articulation:
A Letting Go and a Reaching Towards, A Poet’s Journey
by Mary Lou Soutar-Hynes

In this chapter, I explore the question “what does it mean to live and engage with the world poetically?” I do this as both poet and reader, through the lens of my own poetry/writing which has served as a mode of perception, of meaning‑making, and a way of knowing.


The form and structure, the shape of the poem as it emerges on the page, and its articulation are as important as the content, the impulse, the image that give rise to the piece. My early work emerged unencumbered by traditional forms of syntax — all lower-case, a semantic breathing punctuated by caesuras, line breaks and long dashes, often claiming the full span of the page. Now, three collections later, some poems are going radical, insisting on a comma here, or a period there, sometimes reclaiming capitals and fixating on left-justified lines. I continue trying to be faithful to the form, the shape that each new piece assumes.

As a painterly poet, “it would be true to say that whenever I write poetry, I see the page as my canvas, and I paint in words.” (Soutar-Hynes, 2008, p. vi in Resonance: Poetry and Art).

Why Poetry?
Throughout my adult life, the writing of poetry has been a way of documenting, disentangling, reflecting on and making sense of the complexities and dilemmas in life and experience. For me, no other form of articulation is as potent and as malleable, as evocative and as revealing, while potentially concealing — “[e]very experience,” feeding “the reservoir that poetry taps” (Avison, 2002, p. 160).

Poem: "brick by brick"

(right-click on the title to download the poem if the PDF does not open in your browser)

I grew up in a well-resourced home, surrounded by books and reading. In my early high school years, we were required to memorize poetry and to be able both to recite it and to render it in writing with exact punctuation and line breaks. In the Caribbean of the 1950s, we were schooled in the British system of education, Jamaican style. On the literature syllabus, there were no Jamaican or Caribbean literary works listed for study or as required reading. The “written tradition of British literature exerted . . .  [a] profound effect. Up until the early 1960s, a significant number of educated (and some less educated) Jamaicans knew by heart . . . poetry by Milton, Wordsworth, Walter Scott, Kipling and others. Even those who never opened a book after leaving school could still recite bits of Longfellow . . . .” (Senior, 2003, p. 286).

We spent years immersed in William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, in Keats, Wordsworth, and Shelley (among others), and in the works of Shakespeare. We also experienced the poetry of Louise Bennett’s Jamaican vernacular, one of the genres included in the yearly island-wide elocution contest for schools. I would enter the contest every year, but recited poems such as “The Solitary Reaper,” by William Wordsworth, with lines like “Behold her, single in the field, / Yon solitary Highland lass!”


Through poetry, I ... explore the dilemmas inherent in a long-lived life, interacting sometimes with art as a way of sharpening what it means to live and engage with the world poetically. The poem “a way / around stones,” in dialogue with Barbara Feith’s small watercolour “shape #2 (blue),” is a case in point. A whole new poem seemed to emerge when juxtaposed against the painting’s complex swirl of threaded colours, clustered in an irregular shape, and bleeding at the edges. The painting heightened my awareness of the dilemmas being explored in the poem ― notions of healing, what it means to live at the uneven edges of things, yet still be able to hold oneself together. (4) Poem and painting, both separate from yet connected with each other, create a “charged, synergistic atmosphere” (5) when viewed, exhibited, read, and/or published side by side.

Poem: "a way around stones"

(right-click on the title to download the poem if the PDF does not open in your browser)


[Poetry has] become for me a way of living, and engaging with the world. .... [I]t has enabled me to pursue a lifelong love of language and words, and to deepen poetic engagement through art — all richly creative explorations into new ways of knowing that are both a letting go and a reaching towards “melody’s hot beauty / in the throat” and “truth’s dark energy.” (Soutar‑Hynes, 2010)



4. The poem and painting were exhibited side-by-side (along with other poems of mine accompanying the work of other artists) in 2008 at the first joint exhibition of art by the studio artists of the Women’s Art Association of Canada and reading of poetry by members of the Long Dash Group, of which I am a member. Both the poetry and the art were published together in Resonance: Poetry and Art, the collection celebrating our first joint venture. This unique collaboration continues to be a source of fruitful creativity.
5. From The Cape Split Cycle, by Katherine Kadish, monotypes, and Sue Standing, poems, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia, Statewide Exhibitions Program, January 1998–2000.



Buy a Copy:

Copies of The Art of Poetic Inquiry can be purchased through Backalong Books.