The High Desert Sonnets

How it Began

I wanted to make a case for contemplation.
The 3 requirements were nature, solitude and a

Heading Out

I headed to the High Desert in Taos Pueblo New Mexico, an ancient pueblo belonging to a Taos-speaking Native American tribe of Puebloan people.

Heading Out

The place I would call home for 30 days - my Kiva. No running water, no electricity, no heat.

The Scene is Set

The 3 requirements for contemplation were met.
The goal: existential terror, philosophy, weight lifting
and poetry.



High Desert





Plan & Practice



What is Poetry?

Poetry is a lot of things: it’s just the sound of words, and flow, it’s feelings, it’s hallmark cards and instapoets, slam and rap battles, it’s the biblical bits at funerals and wedding vows – and it’s all good.

Its oldest most prevalent natural and ubiquitous of all the arts – so much so it is invisible, cheap, free even!

But for me – poetry is a way of knowing – an epistemology.

But it is closer to working out or meditating than literature.

It’s closer to a joke…

I am in the desert writing jokes to god – and I am an atheist.

Read The Sonnets

About The Poet


Toby Shannan is the Chief Support Officer at Shopify and has been with the company since 2010. In his current role, he oversees the customer service strategy for Shopify. Having made its way from startup to a $5.2B valuation in just nine years, Shopify is now the world’s leading cloud-based, multi-channel commerce platform. Shopify software allows merchandisers of all sizes to design, set up, and manage their stores across multiple sales channels, including web, mobile, social media, marketplaces, brick-and-mortar locations, and pop-up shops. Headquartered in Ottawa, Canada, Shopify currently powers over 600,000 businesses in approximately 175 countries and is trusted by brands such as Red Bull, Nestle, Rebecca Minkoff, Kylie Cosmetics, and many more.

Prior to joining Shopify, Toby co-founded and was the acting Chief Executive Officer of Social Fabric, a personal genomics company, and served as Vice President of Sales and Marketing at DNA Genotek from 2003 to 2007. Shopify has been a member of the Institute’s Applied Complexity Network (ACtioN) since 2017.

Representing Shopify, Mr. Shannan served as a presenter at the Fall 2017 SFI Board of Trustees/ACtioN Symposium. He resides in Toronto, Canada, and is an avid rugby fan, player, and coach.

The Production

Toby was looking for a company to visualize his poems, and he ultimately went with Simple Story, a video marketing agency in Ottawa.
Simple Story and Toby worked together over 6 months to come up with the creative concepts, the styles for each video, and ultimately animate the videos. Toby also hand picked who he wanted to do the voiceovers, including his family, friends, and colleagues both in Ottawa and Santa Fe.

The Event

On February 21st 2020, friends and family gathered at the NAC
for a multimedia evening of commentary and poetry read by
friends, put to music, with animation and film.