Tuesday Poem: Between the Forest and the Sea - Emily Carr

From the diaries of Emily Carr, “Klee Wyck”, author and artist, 1871-1945

Emily Carr (front R) and her sisters

1. Scarcely a happening . . .

Five orphaned sisters
in the Book of Small.

Five girls corseted in
taffeta and bombazine and
antique cotton glazed with sugar,
their Sunday blacks pleated and puffed
and trimmed with ribbon knotted
in the language of loss.

They are in mourning for lost lives
the husbands and children they will never have.

Emily is trained to observe
the structures of branch and root
the still lives of rock and wood
the tree but not the voice of the tree.


the thing that moves across water
‘hardly as solid as a thought’; the breath
of the spirit.

Her brush makes a curve
of light in green space
‘a pathway for the eye
and the mind
to travel through’
finding its own rhythm.

Trees are themselves,
she writes,
growing for one purpose.

There is nothing as strong as growing
. . . it bursts forth like a struck match’.

© Kathleen Jones 2015

This is the first section of a long poem I'm working on, telling the story of Emily Carr's life. Emily was one of Canada's first female painters, overcoming a great deal of opposition and family disapproval.   I first became interested in her about three or four years ago when a friend, who knew I was writing about the islands of the Haida Gwaii, suggested I read a novel by Susan Vreeland called The Forest Lover, based on Emily's life. I was fascinated by the story and, searching online for more information, discovered that she had written a series of autobiographies which were available from the Gutenberg Project.   These show that Emily was not just a painter, but a very gifted writer.  

When a big exhibition of her work finally came to London before Christmas, it was the stimulus I needed to start thinking about a series of poems, using her journals and memoirs as a base.  This wasn't the first one I wrote, but needs to be at the beginning of the sequence. I hope the whole narrative will make sense to people who don't know anything about Emily at all. She's such a wonderful character.

I'm making a second visit to the exhibition this weekend, before it closes, and still working on the poems.  

The Tuesday Poets are an international group and we all try to post a poem every Tuesday.  We take turns to edit the main hub. Today we're featuring the NZ poet David Gregory's 'Breathing You In', which begins:

From up here it looked
as if the harbour’s lungs inhaled
the fog in through the headlands;
light as breathing . . . 

If you'd like to see what the rest of us are posting please click here to visit the hub. 


  1. Wonderful: I love the poem, Kathleen, and all the portrait photo to go along with it. I very much look forward to completion of the full 'long poem' and the series.

  2. It sounds fascinating...your project. and your poem is quite magical. Enjoy!

  3. Thank you both Helens! It's very encouraging - always a risky moment putting up something you're working on. Thanks for liking it.

  4. Hi Kathleen,
    Lovely to see you today. I'm so sorry I didn't make the Emily Carr connection until it was time to leave.It would have been great to chat about her and about the Haida Gwaii.
    Here is my blog post about the same exhibition. http://catrionatroth.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/my-debt-to-klee-wick.html
    Catriona x


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