Leave them wanting more. – Sharon Berg, organizer/hostess of CADENCE: a reading series with a little music
When Big Pond Rumours founder/editor Sharon Berg moved to Sarnia in August, she didn’t know what to expect. She had just retired from teaching and was hoping to jump-start a return to her prolific literary career from the 1980s.
The timing proved perfect in one regard. Spoken Word Sarnia under the leadership of Melissa Upfold was seeking volunteers to reinvent the long-standing open mic event and voila, all the magical ingredients fell into place. Berg gladly took over the reins and her fresh ideas and enthusiasm continue to inspire those around her.
Her initial goal was “to create and provide a venue for short readings of poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction, interspersed by short sets of music offered by individuals and very small groups in the folk and/or classical vein.”
Last month, CADENCE: a reading series with a little music was officially launched. Visiting author and poetry editor Stuart Ross read from his latest poetry book A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent (Wolsak and Wynn) while Lambton County musician Gregger Botting performed work from his debut album Never Saw A Thing Coming expected to be released soon. An open mic allowed members of the audience to also share their work.
So far the response and support has been positive.
“This series has my full support,” said Melissa Upfold, former host of Spoken Word Sarnia, “and I hope it can grow into something amazing. Sarnia needs poetry and Spoken Word in our community.”
James Deahl, a committee member of the defunct Bluewater Reading Series also gave his support, applauding loudly from the audience.
My own views are glowing. I can’t wait to see what Berg has planned for the community. This week, I had a chance to chat with her about some of her personal goals and future plans for CADENCE as well as her on-line e-zine Big Pond Rumours.
Sharon, welcome to Sarnia!
Thank you! I have been overwhelmed by the welcome I have received and the friendliness of the people living in Sarnia. It really is a beautiful city to live in with all of its trees and parks, but the special character of this city is definitely in its people.
It’s so nice to finally meet. Back in 2006, you created quite a stir around the local writers’ group workshop when the late Peggy Fletcher and the alive-and-still-kicking Joseph A. Farina had poems published in the first issue of Big Pond Rumours E-Zine. Please share your recent literary journey with the readers.
I have just retired from teaching elementary school in Brampton and Mississauga, and so it is not as simple as saying “Hi! I am Sharon Berg and I have just moved to Sarnia.” To a very large degree, I am switching channels as-it-were, rediscovering my writing self as I retire, and rediscovering the public voice I once had, even as I am adjusting to living in this new city. It has been three decades since I last published a full book of poetry, yet I did keep my connection to the writing community through founding and editing Big Pond Rumours, an International Literary E-Zine. I founded the Zine in 2006, and through an associated micro press I published several chapbooks of poetry, including Brian Purdy and John Oughton in 2016, with plans to publish James Deahl and several others in 2017.
Sounds like you’re going to be busy. Tell us about your own writing!
During my post graduate education, I researched the founding of the first Native Way school in Canada in 1976, recording that history through the narratives of its founder, Pauline Shirt, several former teachers, former students, and volunteers at that school for my M.Ed. thesis. That sort of study is another direction I have taken in my writing. I also write short stories, and writing fiction has become vitally important to my personal identity as an author over the past several decades.
So, I am a retired elementary school teacher, a writer, an editor, a publisher, and an educational historian with a specialization in First Nations history and education. It is a bit of a juggling act.
And now you have the title of founder/host of a new readings series for the Lambton County area. What have you planned so far?
About 3 weeks after I moved to Sarnia, I began to advertise a new reading series. I am calling it CADENCE: a Reading Series with a little music. The name has to do with the cadence in both poetry and music, the pattern of sounds, and levels of voice. CADENCE is held on the 3rd Wednesday of every month at The Coffee Lodge, 400 Exmouth Street, Sarnia and it will usually feature a renowned visiting author and a musician. The idea is to draw in authors that people in Sarnia don’t usually have the opportunity to see live, partnering them with musical performance. The setting is very comfortable with its beautiful stone fireplace, it is easy to reach by bus or car, and people can help themselves to a great variety of drinks or tasty foods while they listen.
Sounds great! Sarnia has been home to many successful reading series including the long-standing Spoken Word Sarnia event created by the late Peggy Fletcher and the late Hope Morritt and the more current Bluewater Reading Series held at John’s Restaurant’s Famous Room. How will the CADENCE reading series differentiate from the other series which are now defunct?
One of the big differences in the CADENCE series, I would guess, is it is not focused on poets but it will include prose artists and authors of children’s literature. Really, the idea is to feature any writing that people in Sarnia are interested in, so it may include humourists at some point, or well-written histories or biographies. The time each feature artist has on the stage is also different. We start with an Open Set, which allows local authors and songwriters to share their work with the audience. That set is followed by a second set, introducing a musician for 10 minutes followed by an author for 20 minutes. This is repeated in the third set, giving the musician a total of 20 minutes and the author a total of 40 minutes. That change means that we may see higher profile authors deciding to visit Sarnia.
For instance, we started off the series with Stuart Ross who also ran a Pitch Up Poetry Workshop in the afternoon. That is very different from other series. The pairing with music is also different from most of the reading series, though I have noticed there are several which are beginning to partner music and poetry.
I understand you are also planning some community-based contests. Please elaborate!
This is where other people in the region are needed as volunteers. What makes the series really special is its focus on giving back to the community – by offering chances for leadership through becoming members of the CADENCE committee or by becoming Contest Judges. We are offering four separate contests to promote the literary arts and song writing in Sarnia. The first contest has already been launched and the idea is to inspire the writing of a collection of Limericks. The winners of the contest and the honorary mentions are all invited to come to CADENCE in December, to present them in their own voice. That contest will be followed by a High School writing contest in January, followed by a Song Writing contest in February, and then a Writing Contest that is open to anyone in Lambton county – published or unpublished, prose or poetry – in March.
Why do you think a reading series is important to a community?
Sarnia is somewhat isolated, especially during the winter months, due to the danger in driving on the 402 in bad weather. In any community, there are always people who write and people who are aspiring song writers. Those people want to be able to see themselves in relationship to other communities which surround them. This is a series that hopes to bring those authors and song writers out of the shadows and inspire them to perform and share their works with their community on stage. It is also a chance to assume a leadership role in the community through the committee or through offering to judge those contests. A reading series helps to attract some attention to Sarnia, and vice versa. It will introduce Sarnians to the stage so they feel more comfortable when they reach out to perform on stage in other communities. Yet, it will also introduce Sarnians to higher profile authors, in a comfortable setting, allowing them to approach those authors as real people.
What are your future plans for the series?
Right now, I am focused on fund raising to continue with the series. So far, the funds have come entirely from myself and passing a jar at the events, but that is not sustainable. The League of Canadian Poets and The Writers Union offer funding for two readers each, but there are still some associated costs. And the existing funding does not pay for musicians.
As I have said, we began in September with the fabulous Stuart Ross. Stuart is a perfect example of what I hope to bring to the series, as he is so dedicated to writing he agreed to offer a Pitch Up Poetry Workshop in the afternoon. That workshop was an entity unto itself, and just as successful as the Reading. I have heard from authors who attended the workshop how much they enjoyed and were inspired by it. In fact, one person who attended ended up losing the poems that they wrote during the workshop on their journey home. So they immediately tried to rewrite each of the poems they created during the workshop. That is how special the experience of writing is. That is how special I hope the Readings will be for those people who attend them. Perhaps other authors will be willing to do similar workshops, or participate in other events, in addition to appearing in CADENCE.
I have made efforts to raise funds to continue, going so far as to announce a Fund Raising Pasta Dinner in my home on October 22nd. I really hope to inspire people with a similar vision to help me get this series off the ground with enough funding to continue indefinitely.
You are also a writer and publisher of the e-zine Big Pond Rumours? What are you future writing and editing goals?
I have so many writing goals I have to create a list:
- editing my 3rd poetry manuscript
- finishing the connected stories in a young person’s novel called Chepi-Cumay Returns
- editing the 400-page manuscript for a narrative history of Wandering Spirit Survival School designed to be read by the regular public
- continuing to write short stories for a collection of prose that I am creating
- writing new poems
- sharing my work with the public on stage once again
Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?
I am both a creative writer and an academic, having done my D.Ed. at the University of British Columbia. In the Spring of 2017, my next publication will appear as “The Name Unspoken: Wandering Spirit Survival School”. It is Chapter 11 in a book called Alternative Schooling: Canadian Stories of Democracy within Bureaucracy. The editors are Nina Bascia, Esther Fine and Malcolm Levin. This book has been in-process for some time. It will be published by Palgrave MacMillan and is expected to become a well-used university text.
Congratulations Sharon. Sarnia is fortunate to have someone with your skills to motivate our local writers. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I wish you much success with the reading series and your ongoing projects.
Follow CADENCE on Facebook and mark your calendars for future events:
–October 19th with visiting poet and editor Maureen Hynes and Sarnia ‘classical’ musician Colin Graf
–November 16th with spotlight readers Nelson Ball (author of Chewing Water (Mansfield Press, 2016) and CADENCE host Sharon Berg plus local musician Mike Blackmore.
– December 21 event will spotlight the winners of the Limerick Contest and a musician TBA. More details here.
Also find notices for the series online in many of the local newspapers, read the posters at The Coffee Lodge, 400 Exmouth Street in Sarnia, or phone Sharon Berg at 289 – 808 – 1025.
Check out Sharon Berg’s website.
Additional information about Big Pond Rumours is located here.