Ashland High School student Fiona Morris was born with Down Syndrome and a heart defect so serious, doctors did not believe she would live to see her second birthday.
Morris, 19, survived open-heart surgery at 6 months old and had a rocky first few years, but she persevered, and gave her parents a pleasant shock when she began reading at age 3. Five-and-a-half years later, Morris composed her first poem, and she’s been writing poetry ever since.
On May 2, Morris published her first collection of poems, entitled “Poetry Tingles the Heart.” The book, which includes 27 original poems, was a collaboration between Morris and her mom Elizabeth, a local painter who served as the illustrator. It’s available through Amazon for $9.99.
Fiona Morris’ view of poetry is expressed in a poem that’s in the book titled, “Poetry Is Not Rap.” One line reads:
“Poetry tingles the heart of a sleeping velvet horse and makes the sun shine and shimmer, until your ice cream starts to melt.”
Other poems by Morris are available on her website, fionawrites.com.
The Tidings conducted an email interview with Fiona and Elizabeth Morris. Their answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
DT: Fiona, when and how did you first fall in love with poetry?
FM: I remember my mom reading Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, and that's probably when I first started writing poetry. I wrote a lot of haikus at first.
DT: Do you prefer poetry to prose, and if so, why?
FM: Right now, I'm writing a lot of short stories. But, I still like poetry too.
DT: Elizabeth, when did you first start to notice Fiona was talented?
EM: Fiona started reading very early (even compared to typically developing children) and, when she was about 8, she wrote a poem called “The Gleaming.” It was simple, but so striking that practically jumped off the page. At first, I thought she'd copied it from a book. Here it is:
“You know most days won't be like this.
Wake to a room of golden shells, gleaming, every day.”
DT: In what ways did you nurture that talent?
EM: When we were living the San Juan Islands and the kids were really young, I home schooled them for a few years. We read a ton of poetry and made a lot of art during that time. Fiona loved poetry so we provided her with as many poetry books as we could, and also read aloud to her from a very early age. When she was a toddler, she refused to eat unless read to.
DT: Fiona, who are some of your favorite poets? Poems?
FM: Emily Dickinson. “Mother Nature,” by E.D.
DT: What are your sources of inspiration?
FM: Love, nature, family, dreams, fantasy and sometimes romance.
DT: Elizabeth, when/why did you decide to collaborate on a book?
EM: I really wanted to nurture her dream to be a writer, and I also felt that she had a unique voice. So, it really started as something she could possibly make money at some day. As far as collaborating, I started painting about five years ago, and we first collaborated on some greeting cards (available downtown at Inspired by Oregon). I was talking to the manager of Paddington Station, Stefanie Nagata, and she encouraged us to create a book, which took about eight months to put together. It is now available on Amazon and at Paddington's Jewel Box store.
DT: Describe the process. As in, did you paint a picture based on a poem that she had already completed, or vice versa?
EM: Most of the time, I painted pictures to go with her poems. On several occasions, I'd paint something and then ask her to write a poem. The most surprising result is the first poem in the book, “Red Tree”:
Walking through the absence of life.
As a mysterious instrument plays the melody of the Milky Way.
You feel a rush of cold air as the river spirit prays to the red tree, with its roots reaching for metaphors in the soil.
DT: Fiona, what was it like collaborating with your mom?
FM: It was fun, and making any kind of art is about being creative and that's the best.
DT: What was it like to see the finished book for the first time?
FM: It was one of the proudest moments of my life.
DT: Is there one poem in the book you are particularly proud of? Why?
FM: “Painting with Flames,” because the poem talks about bravery. I wrote it after reading the Narnia Chronicles, inspired by Prince Caspian.
DT: In terms of your writing, what are your future plans?
FM: I'd like to write some plays and continue writing poetry and story books for kids and adults.
DT: Elizabeth, are you two going to collaborate again?
EM: Definitely! We have some ideas about a few more projects. But Fiona writes faster than I paint, so it may take awhile.
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.
Elizabeth Morris can be reached at email@example.com