Dr. Monika Lee – Professor of English at Brescia – fills many roles. She is a devoted daughter, wife, sister and mother; a teacher extraordinaire; a literary critic; and a published and highly regarded poet. To each of these roles she brings energy, passion, and an infectious laugh. Her sense of humour is contagious but her serious thoughtfulness enables her to bring her best to everything that she does.
Monika is rooted in Ontario, having grown up in the small village of West Flamborough west of Hamilton and having studied at the University of Toronto for her BA (honours French and English) and at Western University (MA and PhD, both in English). A gifted scholar, she was encouraged not only by her professors to pursue graduate studies but also by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Romantic poetry generally – and Percy Bysshe Shelley specifically – have been her passion and were the focus of her MA and PhD theses. Says Monika of the inspiration she received while studying, “During my MA I studied with Dr. Ross Woodman, who was the best teacher I ever had. He was inspiring and intellectually challenging.” It was perhaps the teachers she has known (and there are many in her family and many under whom she has studied) who developed in her an ardour for literature that infuses her own teaching today.
She says simply, “I love teaching. I find students respond when you love your material and when you make them work. We dig deeply into texts we are studying. I ensure that we read a lot and we also write a great deal. I encourage students to re-write sentences they have had difficulty with to help them overcome problems in writing. When studying texts I feel that I am, more than anything, a medium for the great writers we study together. I love the works we study, on a visceral level, and seeing the lights go on in the eyes of my students is wonderful. I also tell them that the study of poetry is difficult. I don’t understand a poem the first time I read it and so they shouldn’t be discouraged if they don’t either. A poem reveals its secrets over time. I turn them on to poetry and then many of them go on to teach and do the same thing for their own students.
Finding the time to write her own poetry, as a full-time teacher and mother of two girls, has been challenging. For years she just simply couldn’t find the time to write. Two things turned that around for her. One day Monika learned the shattering news that her mother had terminal cancer. Monika felt compelled to go home and draft a poem that night. The poem, “a mother’s dying” appears in Monika’s most recent book of poetry, gravity loves the body. The poem is a tender evocation of the importance of a mother’s love and the whole anthology, in fact, is infused with tenderness and feeling.
The second inspiration for her to resume her creative writing came from her husband, fellow Brescia Professor of English, Dr. Brian Diemert. One day he asked, “What is the least amount of time you could spend each week that would enable you to get back to writing poetry?” Monika answered that maybe one hour a week spent only on writing poetry could set her back on track. One hour she thought might just be achievable. She has regularly found that one hour a week since then and this has managed to re-focus her on her own writing. She says, “Sometimes that hour turns into three or four hours. Sometimes it doesn’t. But it is always at least one hour that is mine alone to write.” But it is clear that the other hours in the week are devoted, steadfastly, to inspiring her students and nurturing her family, the two most important things in her life.