A group of seniors at Shaftesbury Retirement Residence in Winnipeg have formed a Poet’s Society. In Part 3 of this series, we meet Sybil Rosenberg, Issie Oiring and Ron Blicq.
Sybil Rosenberg has made The Shaftesbury her home for just over six years.
When asked what brought her to the Poet’s Society, Sybil says, “My friend Joyce Shimoji. It was all her fault!”
For one of the recent Poetry Society meetings, the topic chosen was War. Sybil excused herself and told everyone she did not have a poem to contribute.
She couldn’t write about the subject because it brought back too many painful memories of her early years in wartime England.
Sybil, 92, is the 12th child of 13 in her family. She was about 13 years old, living in Liverpool, England, when World War II broke out.
Her family home burned, caused by a fire bomb. The war took the lives of two older brothers, three uncles and lots of friends. Heads nodded in understanding when Sybil explained her reason for not writing a poem about war.
“This group has been a good experience,” Sybil says. “I like the people and I like what we do. I love it when we all read poetry aloud. That’s what being here is about…looking for things that you can work on with your mind, instead of activities that are not interesting to you. You can talk to people here, you have something in common.”
Issie Oiring started his career at the age of nineteen as the youngest fur trader in Montreal. Later, in Winnipeg, as the owner of Birchmont Furniture and Designer’s Gallery, he bought and sold high grade furniture.
In retirement, Issie enjoyed providing leadership for the Retired Businessman’s Association for many years.
Five years ago, Issie and his wife Hazel, who died two years ago, moved to The Shaftesbury. Issie joined the Poet’s Society upon the recommendation of his friend.
Although Issie has had more than one hundred Letters to the Editor published in The Winnipeg Free Press, it was a big surprise for him to discover that he had skills in writing poetry.
“I have written about five or six short poems that I have shared with the Society and look forward to writing more. I enjoy the regular meetings. It is opening me up to a different style of writing, and to many new ideas.”
Issie, who is 94 years old, says with a smile, of his new home, “Anyone under 90 is a kid here!”
Ron Blicq is originally from Guernsey, a British Channel Island. As a teenager Ron moved with his family to Winnipeg during World War II.
He began a career in the Canadian Air Force during the war, serving as a navigator in high speed Intruder aircraft.
Ron’s later career included writing and teaching technical writing. He is the author of several books and four award winning plays.
Blicq, now 92 1/2, jokes that he took ‘early retirement’ this year and moved to The Shaftesbury.
“I like the community; I like the people,” says Ron.
“It makes all the difference. It’s too easy to be in your room and go down for a meal – you don’t meet people. I feel that getting out and meeting people in the Poet’s Society is by far the best part, and it’s making me write poetry for the first time in my life.”
Ron was the person responsible for a name change from The Poetry Club to the Poet’s Society. It was quite accidental according to Ron.
“I was taking minutes of the meeting and sent them out as the Poet’s Society. Everyone liked the new name and it was adopted.”
Ron Blicq sums up his view of the Poet’s Society this way: “The thing I tell people who do not know this place is that there are all these people here, who to a younger outsider, may look like just a bunch of old people. But if they could look more closely, they would find great histories and wisdom within this group.”
Says Joyce Shimoji, whose love of poetry and desire to find others to share her interest, says, “Sometimes you have to take a risk, and see what happens — at every age.”
“I never imagined we’d be writing poetry and making lasting friendships. We learn so much more about one another than we would in daily conversations, during meals or in other activities. It shows that if you want to, you never need to stop learning and growing.”
Click here to hear the audio of Joyce Shimoji reciting from memory the poem “IF” by Rudyard Kipling:
© Shona Davidson and Joanne Klassen