poetry and prose about place

‘within easy reach’ – the history of a writing project

with 6 comments

As I prepare for the publication and launch of my poetry book within easy reach, I am thinking about how long it takes to see a writing project through from beginning to end.


Of course, the time depends on the writer, the project and many circumstances beyond the writer’s control. But the way to a book of poems can be long … for me it has not been days or months, but years.



For my book, the first idea came in 2010 when my husband and I were exploring our new lake property. We knew so little about the property and were delighted to find blackberries, growing in profusion along the ridge above the lake. I can still taste those plump indigo berries and remember how quickly we filled my husband’s hat (the only container we had for picking). I wrote the first poem for the project (‘berries in brambles’) at the end of the summer. By then I was thinking about combining my interests in local food and botany to write a manuscript of poems about ‘growing and gathering’.



blackberries at our lake property



The second step in the project came with an application to artsnb for a Creation Grant.  Not every writer seeks funding, but I knew, after 35 years of work, that I would produce my best work with a clear purpose and deadlines. I applied to artsnb in March 2011, in time for their April 1st deadline. When I was not successful, I tried again for the October 1st deadline and in December, a few weeks before my retirement, I received the letter saying my project had been approved. I would be able to transition from work into an endeavor I knew I would love!



The writing of ‘growing and gathering’ continued through the spring and summer of 2012. I was determined to base my poems on experience, so I spent lots of time hiking and driving to locate and pick the various plants I wanted to write about. That spring we tapped twelve of our red maple trees and planted a small garden. Many of the plants I harvested grow on our properties at home and at the lake, but for some of the plants, we drove the countryside, poking about in the right habitat to find the plants I sought. My best memory is of a spring day along the Dunbar Stream north of Fredericton, discovering mounds of trout lily leaves growing on the floodplains along the brook.


Trout Lily in bloom

Trout Lily, also known as Dog’s Tooth Violet or Yellow Adder’s-tongue



For the next months, I harvested leaves and roots and nuts and berries. I chopped greens. I boiled, simmered and sautéed. I competed, unsuccessfully, with squirrels for hazelnuts. I scraped gum from spruce trees and peeled wild sarsaparilla roots. And, of course, I ate my fill of raspberries, blueberries, dandelion greens, fiddleheads, samphire greens, orach leaves and apples. From my own garden, I harvested rhubarb and herbs, onions and tomatoes. I visited Farmers Markets and roadside stands, sampling the best local produce in the world.  I stirred memories from my own family history, recalling days when my dad kept bee hives and when my mom and I went blueberry picking. Really doesn’t sound like work, right?



salad ingredients from the garden and market


And then I wrote. And did research about the edibility of plants. And wrote some more. And did lots of pencil drawings. As I wrote, I consulted my Floras of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. I completed my project with a manuscript of 135 poems and 29 pencil drawings. I submitted my manuscript to artsnb in October 2012.



For me, the writing is only part of the process. I try to read my poems as often as possible, and I submit regularly for publication. For the ‘growing and gathering’ project, I read poems at eleven events and submitted poems to 12 literary journals.  I had some success and, of the poems in the book, twelve have been previously published in seven literary journals. I also submitted the manuscript to the New Brunswick Writers’ Federation writing contest in 2013, winning Honorable Mention.  Now that all sounds like work!


Orach at Minister's Island

Orach growing among the rocks at the upper end of the Minister’s Island causeway



From the beginning, I knew I wanted a published book of the ‘growing and gathering’ poems. So in 2014, after revisions and paring the poems to a reasonable book length, I began to submit to publishers. I submitted to three publishers and received three kind rejections. Then, in the fall of 2014, at the New Brunswick Writers’ Federation WordsFall, I met Keith Helmuth and Brendan Helmuth of Chapel Street Editions in Woodstock. They were interested in publishing books about the natural and human history of the Saint John River and I wondered if they might be interested in my book. I sent them my manuscript and soon began one of the best partnerships of my life.


2015 – 2016

During the last months, Keith and Brendan have worked to prepare my manuscript for publication. I have read every poem 20 times, revisited sources, squinted at Latin names to make certain they are spelled correctly and considered every comma and every line break.


Within a few weeks, my poetry book, within easy reach, will be a reality. When I first hold the finished book in my hands, I know I will be experiencing a milestone in my life. I will probably melt into a puddle. And the work will not yet be done! Ahead of me are readings and marketing and signing copies. I hope the rooms where I present my book are crowded with people eager to buy and read, but I know there may be places where I will be hoping a lone bystander will purchase a copy.


From beginning to end, my book has taken almost six years to complete. This may sound a bit daunting for a new writer reading this, but it is also encouraging. Your goal, like mine, may be publication. But it may also be to create a body of work representative of your life as a writer. My experience shows that every line, every paragraph, every poem you write, is part of a path towards your goal, whatever it may be.  ‘A writer writes.’


wild strawberries

wild strawberries at our lake property


Copyright 2016 Jane Tims



Written by jane tims

April 11, 2016 at 7:00 am

6 Responses

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  1. The book is lovely. Now I want you to create a cookbook from all the things you experimented with! I also would enjoy the larger stories (which you put on your blog) about your family and personal experiences (especially to know why your husband would not sample your “experiments”.) Good luck with book sales!

    Liked by 1 person

    Anne Leslie

    May 30, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    • Hi Anne. I am so glad you like my book. My husband looks at all green food with suspicion … he does like berries but mostly gives them to me as he picks them. I loved doing the blog posts as I did the project and I plan to post some of the poems that were not included in the book. Jane


      jane tims

      May 30, 2016 at 5:53 pm

  2. The thing I love most about your work is how integrated and complete it is, how you consider the topics that are meaningful to you from every angle. There are so many rich layers to your poems, artwork, and blog posts! Congratulations on this milestone!

    Liked by 1 person


    April 13, 2016 at 10:57 pm

    • Hi. Thanks! I love getting to the heart of the matter. However, no matter how much I explore, there is always more to see/learn! Jane

      Liked by 1 person

      jane tims

      April 14, 2016 at 10:55 am

  3. This is daunting but I know it’s the only way to get where a writer wants to be. I felt almost teary reading this as I’ve watched you over the years working so hard to get to this point. Congratulations and well deserved. I will be one of the listeners to your readings and one of the purchasers of your book, and proud to be so.

    Liked by 1 person

    Carol Steel

    April 11, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    • Hi Carol. I didn’t mean to discourage but to encourage! Thanks for your supportive comments, as always. It will be good to see your face in the audience when I go down your way. And someday I will be coming to a reading of your book, I am certain! Jane


      jane tims

      April 11, 2016 at 5:35 pm

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