Try Poetry: Heart’s Hydrography + Sally Ito

Sally Ito received a ‘gift’, a dream of such significance, that came out of nowhere compelling her to write a gloomly poem. Showing her high school English teach this poem was the beginning of her becoming a writer. Ito shares with us for our Try Poetry series ‘Wild Plum’ from her collection Heart’s Hydrography (Turnstone Press).


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Interview with Sally Ito 

ALU: When was the moment that you decided you wanted to write poetry? Describe it for our readers. Was it reading another poem? Was it listening to a poet read? Was it something different entirely?

Sally Ito: I started writing poetry in high school, after writing down a dream. Here’s how I described it in my memoir, The Emperor’s Orphans:

I received a ‘gift’ that came from out of nowhere – a dream – that I felt compelled to write as a poem. Yes, it was gloomy. It had blood and other unpleasant things in it, but it was a dream of such significance that I just had to write it down. And therein was the gift received and recorded. I showed the poem to my high school English teacher at the time, who read it with some tact and wise sympathy, which I appreciated. I think, just showing her that poem, was also the beginning of my becoming a writer. I wrote this, I want to you it. Please read it. (p. 108, The Emperor’s Orphans)

If you had to pitch your featured poem to someone who had never read poetry before, how would you do so? What kinds of things do you think the new-to-poetry reader might find fascinating about it? What could you share about the poem’s writing process?

Sally Ito: I guess I’d say, you know, I went for a walk in the woods with my daughter one day to show her some wild plums I found. I wrote a poem about that. Do you want to read it?

What’s a poetry collection or individual poem that you’d recommend to anyone looking to get into poetry?

Sally Ito: I don’t have a collection or an individual poem on hand that I’d recommend, but I do recommend a wonderful anthology of poetry chosen and edited by Rowan Williams called A Century of Poetry: 100 Poems for Searching the Heart that was recently published in the UK. In this anthology, Williams who is himself a poet, and also the former Archbishop of Canterbury, looks at a hundred poems which he’s selected from his varied and wide reading; with each poem, he gives a little prosaic meditation on the words, their significance and meaning to the heart. This book is a wonderful window into what poetry can do for the soul, and how transformative poetry can be when you read it and pay close attention to its words. Poetry is a kind of slow reading and like all other ‘slow’ movements – its reward is to be found in the richness and depth of meaning that can be found in language when you pay close enough attention to it.

‘Wild Plum’

From Sally Ito’s collection Heart’s Hydrography

Her soccer practice cancelled,
we walk to the woods instead
to pick wild plums.

Leave some for the squirrels,
the daughter says absently
while minding the dog.
Each plum in the tree dangles
like a jewel from a lobe,
and like some matronly monarch
from yore, I finger them like
treasure. The treasure is time,
you see, spent with the daughter
in a careless hour of foraging
just before dusk. Soon
she will disappear like the moon
into a brooding cloud of dismay
and disappointment in me, her mother,
who shows only greediness
for these scant occasions when
the fruit is ripe and ready
for the plucking.

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Sally Ito was born in Taber, Alberta and grew up in Edmonton and the Northwest Territories. She studied at the University of British Columbia and the University of Alberta, and travelled on scholarship to Japan, where she translated Japanese poetry. Her first book of poems, Frogs in the Rain Barrel (Nightwood, 1995) was runner-up for the Milton Acorn People’s Poetry Award. Her second book, Floating Shore (Mercury Press), won the Writers Guild of Alberta Book Award for short fiction, and was shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Literary Prize and the City of Edmonton Book Prize. Her work has appeared in numerous periodicals such as Grain, Matrix and the Capilano Review and in the anthologies Breathing Fire: Canada’s New Poets and Poets 88. Ito lives in Edmonton with her husband and son.

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Thank you to Sally Ito and Turnstone Press for sharing ‘Wild Plum’ with us. Remember, if you purchase a copy of Heart’s Hydrographyor any of the other featured  Try Poetry collections, you’ll receive a free digital sampler containing all of our featured poems. (Purchase from All Lit Up or from your local independent bookseller; send proof of payment to if you purchase from your local!)