The thing about writing poetry is that it’s a pretty solitary experience. Mostly I just think about things quietly in my head, write them down, tinker with them until I’m satisfied and/or finished tinkering, and nobody else is involved except for when something is accepted for publication. Even then, there’s not a lot of back and forth — mostly just confirming availability, publication rights, and other administrative stuff. I miss working with other creative people. I miss the writing group I was part of ten years ago; I miss singing in choirs and, back in dinosaur times, playing in my high school band. Writing poetry is a balm for me, but it can be lonely too.

All of this to say — it was a real pleasure when Canadian composer Frank Horvat contacted me a week or two back, looking for text for a choral piece he wanted to write. Frank has been very moved (as have we all) by the plight of the Ukrainian people, and wondered if I had any poems in my files on the theme of peace? Well, I didn’t, so I wrote him a new one. And while I have had some of my existing poems set to music before, this was the first time I was writing a text specifically for that purpose. It was a fun challenge and I enjoyed collaborating with Frank!

The poem text is called “Helianthus,” which is the scientific name for sunflowers. It draws from a few different things: the language of flowers, specifically around poppies and their role in commemorating those lost in war; the sunflower as Ukraine’s national flower; and my own comfort throughout the pandemic and other turbulent times in my life in the knowledge that whatever else happens, the sun will rise and set, the moon will wax and wane, and the seasons will still turn from one to the next.

“Helianthus” is scored for a cappella treble choir (SSAA). The sheet music is freely available on Frank’s website, and includes the full poem text on the last page. I dearly hope to hear a choir sing it one day — but for now, I’m just very pleased that it exists.

6 thoughts on “Helianthus

  1. That’s the coolest thing ever! A very sweet poem, and just from the midi I can tell it would sound incredible. Makes me want to get a zoom choir together. I could do the alto parts and you could do the sopranos? 😀


  2. I just love the poem. I read it a few times and saved it. It’s very touching.
    Well done Christine. Can’t wait to hear it sung


  3. Wow that’s really cool! First of all, that you got asked to write a poem for the lyrics to a coral piece. Second of all, that the words to the poem have very significant meaning to today’s world. I don’t think the for at our church is big enough (strong enough) to sing it, but maybe…
    Also, I’ve been thinking of you a lot this week. Are you free for a phone call sometime? I always think of calling you on my way home from work, but I then I don’t because I think you’re probably taking care of kids after school.


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