Betty Sanders Garner

Poetry as Spirit and Voice



Betty Sanders Garner at her desk

Biography of Betty Sanders Garner

What Writing Means to Me

From an early age I was captivated by the shape words took and the power they evoked. The power of the written language, particularly poetry, approached the purity of music to me. I wrote my first poem when I was around eight years old and can still remember the words today. That poem won a competition and was published in the school magazine.

Poetry is the spiritual twin in all of us; we need only to give it wing. For me, it is a wellspring of the soul—a voice to be cherished and used. Every now and then this inner voice speaks with such clarity in a poem that there is no need to change a word. For me, "Heron" was such a poem.

Inspiration is a voice that should be given full vent, be it in poetry or prose. I have as much joy and feeling of accomplishment after writing a well-crafted poem as I do after completing a book of non-fiction.

I believe poets are born, not made. Those beings fortunate enough to possess this gift are truly blessed.

Betty Sanders Garner




Where I walk
myriad other feet have
trod the founding years

these blue-green hills, this
perfect sky, were here
for them as they are for me

And did they too
marvel at this majesty
or were their backs too bent
with toil for them to see

This brave cavalcade—
passing specks upon the
pane of time

they left their mark
indelible as the landscape
each hewn stone of the old house
remembers the shape of a hand

Filaments of souls reach out
touch this land

and time, reversing
stirs again, like
generations in my veins










I cannot possess this land
where centuries loom,
ghosts of early settlers work

Their presence greens
each blade of grass—

each rock, a face
each tree, an old man
gnarled, time-rutted

I see their hands
at the rusted plough
their voices ride the wind

There is no joy beyond

They are here,
telling my uneasy tread:
this well of history
is their keep—

I have no holding here




These empty rooms
quicken at my presence

I conjure them filled:
            a chair, footstool,
table with lamp, knitting bag
casually set down

facing the fireplace
            a couch; on the seat
an open prayer book

Frocked faces in ornate
frames relax their
            Rembrandt stance
as a child's toy whirrs
across the carpet

Flame bright and sere
leaps in the hearth—

            and somewhere
down the years a bell tolls
calling sinners and the good
to prayer



The marble seat waits
by the shady tree
where history broods
for a fee—

hedges are clipped
edges trimmed
lawns lie immaculate
as ever

but gone are the faces
of generations who
knew this place as home

Only strangers pass
the lioned-gates;
no laughter disturbs
the flowers

Stone statues watch
where cold hands work

memories walk
the paths



photo courtesy of Stella Mazur Preda


Inverhuron, Ont.

Smooth stories of time
move past without sound
in this place of the
forgotten ones

No one comes here now
to tend over-grown plots
or to tame rampaging vines:

too many generations
have passed their smiles,
voices no longer focus
of memory's eye

Among the silent stones
lopsided and sunken into
the earth, so many
small markers:

infants lost at birth, young
children with hardly a
glance at life,
others felled    too soon
by toil and pain

I trace moldering
names, particulars,
no longer discernible
yet     heart-beats
under my hand

Here in timeless silence
their spirits live
They stem from many nations
unified in purpose:
the founding of this land

Past and future co-mingle
at the weathered gate

I latch the past within




There is desolation here
where bleached driftwood piles
(discarded caribou antlers?)

along the shore     waves forever
play their fast-and-loose

Man has no tenure: witness these
shattered boards, collapsed pilings
now domicile of bird, rodent

See how they track the sand
declare possession

I explore sand dunes     read
histories in pebble, drift, shell;
an anonymous skeleton brittle as
old parchment, completing its
cycle: sand to sand

A lizard frozen in stride watches
through slitted eyes
(wonders about this outsider —
who gave admittance?)

I offer friendship
          but he leaps away
alerting gulls to scream: Intruder!

The tutelary gods allow me
brief sanctuary     renewal
in wind and wave

          the sand will heal itself
of my wounds     willow and vetch
will seal the breach;
this bastion of nature's secure —
desolation its surety



We walk
hand in hand
through the trees

where woodsmoke curls
wraith fingers (as if to snatch us in:
we know whereof
totems speak)

these were once
forbidden grounds

I shiver at the
suggestion of a breeze
hurry our steps

A mile away campers
huddle ritual fires
(safety of numbers)

unaware we have strayed
too far; the bands awake
creep the forest
to hoots and cries

drum our steps
on the path

We break suddenly
like a bright scream and
race to the gatehouse

laughter exorcising myth
the moccasin tread

shrilling the dusk
the speechless trees





An ancient turtle
languishes at water's edge
refuses to save himself:

he hears a stronger
voice than mine

Soon the sun will have
             done its work
scavengers will come
to pick his bones

this grief, perpetuating
life, the miraculous
cycle of things


A sudden flurry
in the shallows

and wild ducks
near an old tree stump
unmindful of the hunter
obscured in brush

I see the taken prey
even in death:

a scream of protest
in iridescent plumage
the fixed eye


Seagulls worked here

I gather evidence
             in empty shells
disfigured and dry
haunted by absent hearts

pile them high —
a small shout
against iniquity




        photo courtesy of Stella Mazur Preda



You pursue me along
the shore, desperate
gaze searching my
empty pockets —

but I have nothing
to give

Your eyes listening
already hear
death's footfall

The lake beckons
but you hesitate at the edge

Once the water was
your companion, now
ripples threaten

Overhead others weave
unfettered freedom, their
soft cries
falling .
and your loneliness
is a wound that
will not heal

I would help you
if I could, return you
to the skies

but the wild in you
mistrusts my overtures

I can only watch you
walk away, traitor arm
scribbling obituaries
in the sand




Such a little sound
when you collided
with the windowpane

such a small intrusion
in my day

yet I held you
              all through
the long moment
till your eyes glazed,
breath stilled

I knew the world
a poorer place

And I mourn the loss of
all wild creatures at the
altar of man's inventions

furred or feathered,
they come in all their
              broken ways
from roadside, field, forest …

Tiny jeweled-bird
you live     still
in mind's bright corners

    delicate as porcelain
in flash of iridescence

you hang on motor-wings
sip secret syrups
of flowers



Dusk found you again
knee-deep in the shallows

Odd-fellow among gulls
you stand like a
country parson sermonizing
on patience, civility
to an unruly flock

while the tired old sun
pulls up the bedcovers
and the sky bleeds
for a day lost



This land has
grown familiar now,
wheeling gulls no longer
scream of other shores

where childhood ran
carefree hours,
roots were anchored deep

Now all I see
speaks of home,

voices, once
strange upon the ear,
mingle and flow a
well-known course

Time has tempered
the natal tie,
yet has not set me free:

if I should leave
a part of me would

ever, here remain



Betty Sanders Garner with
Tower Poetry Editor, Jeff Seffinga

Betty Sanders Garner
Betty Sanders Garner has been an active member of the Tower Poetry Society for thirty years. Besides appearing often in Tower Poetry, she has had work published in a number of literary journals and been included in several distinguished anthologies and collections for use in schools. She is the author of a chapbook, A PIONEER PLACE, and the full-length collection PIONEER WOMAN. Her work has been broadcast on both radio and television; two of her poems were set to music and performed by a soprano with Symphony Hamilton for Hamilton's sesquicentennial celebrations.

Poetry is not her only interest. In 1976 she was asked to turn a short article submitted to the Canadian Children's Annual into a book; the result, CANADA'S MONSTERS, became a best seller and is still popular with children and adults. She continued to research the entire North American monster scene; MONSTER! MONSTER! was published in 1995.

Betty was born and educated in England. She and her husband Robert have lived in Burlington, Ontario for more than forty years. They have three sons and six grandchildren.

Betty is currently working towards completing a new poetry manuscript entitled RANDOM THOUGHTS.

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