Throwback Saturday – The Love of Poetry Gathering 2020

somewhere between Arrivals and Departure/and Duty Free/we are grounded.* – K.V. Skene

Cancelled! Postponed! Grounded! Stay home! Stay safe! What is a lover of poetry to do?

Since March, due to the threat of COVID-19, Canadian literary and arts organizations have been banned from hosting public events or large gatherings. Non-essential travel has also been discouraged.

1 - TOPS Feb 9, 2020 in North York

Prior to the cancellation of events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Ontario Poetry Society held a members’ reading and open mic early February 2020 in North York, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Raj Moonsammy.

After two months of social distancing, The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS) website still states, “No events are being planned during the Pandemic.” That means the May reading in Cobourg has been cancelled and it is still not known when poets will be allowed to publicly (or even privately) gather in large groups again.

Yesterday, I received my copy of Verse Afire, the bi-annual publication of TOPS and was reminded of The Love of Poetry Gathering held February 9, 2020 at the union social eatery in North York, Ontario, Canada. It brought back so many fond memories of reuniting with and hugging poet-friends as well as meeting new people who also love the genre of poetry.

Verse Afire - June 2020

Verse Afire, a bi-annual publication of The Ontario Poetry Society shares the work of its members as well as includes poetry reviews, members’ news, event reports, and upcoming submission and contest information. Photo by I. B. Iskov.

Below is Nancy Walden’s event report that appeared in this June 2020 issue. It is printed here with permission from the author and The Ontario Poetry Society:

For the Love of Poetry Event Report, February 9, Toronto

 by Nancy Walden

 I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with microphones. Too close, and all you hear is static; too far away, and people still can’t hear you. The challenge is to find the sweet spot – and how do you do that when there is competition from the pub’s sound system and waiters walking in and out of the room? Bunny and the Executive do their best to find a quiet spot, but I’m always left wondering if my fellow poets heard the essence of my poems, and did I do my best to concentrate on theirs?

Laura Ewing began the afternoon with her loving tribute to The Fabulous 40s and The Nostalgic 50s, rhyming poems which touched on everything from Glenn Miller and Bing Crosby to milkshakes and hula hoops. Her final poem, Florida Splendour, spoke eloquently of her husband and their shared love.

New member, Mansour Noorbakhsh, read his poem, 176 Valentine’s Day, a tribute to the 167 passengers and 9 crew who perished when Flight 172 was shot down in Tehran. “Liars blocked our text, but / cannot torture light if it’s beamed.”

Nancy Walden read poems from her chapbook, Among the Cedars, including Searching for Meaning, about the side-by-side portraits of the Mona Lisa and Leonardo Da Vinci.

Allan - TOPS - Feb 9, 2020 in North York

Featured reader and TOPS Life member Allan Briesmaster launched his new book The Long Bond – Selected and New Poems (Guernica Editions, Essential Poets Series, 2019)

Allan Briesmaster launched his book, The Long Bond, Selected and New Poems. He read three poems: Flight HomeThe Partner, and The Sprig – after Pablo Neruda’s “The Skin of a Birch.” “Poems are / inscribed with lips – / and I beg them now to seal awhile / so I can wholly hear the song / of your fragrant sun.”

Our fashion icon, Lily Williams, (in my favourite colour, purple), thanked TOPS for encouraging her to write poetry before she read Hurry, Hurry and Music and Mortar from Dieppe – about a husband and wife separated by war, then reunited. She frequently interrupted her poems to tell us stories about the war.

Mark Kruk read a tribute to his father in Moonshine, Fiddle and Song as well as Morning Joy, a list of items making him particularly happy.

Yvonne Tagoe spoke of her time working in Dubai and her wish to give without fear all that she has until the day is done.

K.V. Skene read poems from two delightfully titled books, The Love Life of Bus Shelters and Unoriginal Sins.

K.V. - TOPS - Feb 9, 2020 in North York

K.V. Skene showcased The Love Life of Bus Shelters (Cinnamon Press, 2019)

Debbie Okun Hill spoke of taking time away from writing poetry to practice photography and art. Despite her stating that most of her work is dark, she read a poem about finding one shoe in a parking lot, Missing His Mate: “tongue hanging out / poor sole.”

Fran Figge read three poems including Cross Section of Life based on a fabric stitching in the Hamilton Art Gallery; Long After, a dark poem about love, and Spring’s Gift, about finding spring in her garden.

I.B. (Bunny) Iskov read from her book that is filled with award winners and honourable mentions including Ode to My Computer, plus the poems The Beatles at Maple Leaf Gardens and To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme

Renée Sgroi spoke of how she is frequently inspired by music, of admiring John Coltrane, of silk and syncopation. She read Wood Whispers and Her Lover’s Sleep.

Joan Sutcliffe made us laugh when she told us of attending a workshop in a cemetery: they must hate poetry so much! She told us of her love of the Bronte sisters and their romantic literature, when women drew inspiration from nature’s environment – just as she does.

Catherine M. Thompson read poems and sang for us about her love of family and friends. A Time of Dying was about her mother who was 101 years old when she died – a time for crying and a time for sighing. In Friends, she related how they would have a shot of whisky on a Saturday night.

George - TOPS - Feb 9, 2020 in North York

Featured guest reader George Elliott Clarke shares his work to an attentive audience.

 There are some people, of course, who do not need a microphone. Our Spotlight poet of the afternoon was George Elliott Clarke. Whether he spoke in anger or in humour, his voice rang out loud and clear. He began by saying he was honoured to “share the art” with us and read poems from two different books. The first poem was Black Orpheus – “no grumbling in the grave”; a poem about Hannibal, a triumph that ends in tragedy; and a poem about the holocaust where “Jewry was melted down like jewelry.” Clarke also spoke about Phillis Wheatley, the first black poet to be published in English and how she took John Milton as her model, and also about Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her husband Robert who both had black ancestors.

It was an afternoon of listening, learning, and laughter.

 Thank you, Nancy, for sharing your observations!

Although public events for The Ontario Poetry Society have been cancelled, founder and treasurer I. B. Iskov and her many volunteers continue to work safely from their homes.

For example, member Rebecca Clifford judged TOPS Dippity Do Dah Poetry Contest and the top three poems, the judge’s choice awards, and the honourable mention winners were recently published in the chapbook Taking a Dip in the Poetry Pool: A Canadian Anthology of Poetry (Beret Days Press 2020). Congratulations to K.V. Skene who won first, third, and an honourable mention award. Second place and a judge’s choice award went to Ed Woods. Additional awards went to Becky Alexander, April Bulmer, Ronnie R. Brown, Ronda Wicks Eller, Debbie Okun Hill, Keith Inman, I. B. Iskov, Kathy Robertson, Lynn Tait, Sharon V. Urdah, and Lisa Watts.

Also, contributors to the Infinite Passages membership anthology compiled, edited and illustrated by Katerina Fretwell have been selected and work has begun on preparing the book for publication.  More information appears here.

New books 2019-2020

Congratulations to TOPS members K.V. Skene and Allan Briesmaster who recently had new books published. This month, The Ontario Poetry Society also released the chapbook Taking a Dip in the Poetry Pool – A Canadian Anthology of Poetry (Beret Days Press, 2020) featuring winning poems selected and compiled by Rebecca Clifford.

For those who like contests, check out the TOPS website for upcoming submission calls that are open to the public.

Although I stopped updating the event section of my blog when news of the pandemic started, I may start up again as some literary groups are now holding virtual events through various on-line platforms. Bravo to those who are trying new ways to reach an audience.

As creative folk, we may be grounded from flying or travelling but being grounded also means being ‘well-balanced and sensible’. During times of crisis, grounded people also ‘react calmly’. Not always an easy task but wherever you are and whatever you are doing, stay safe!

If you are in a position to support the literary arts, consider purchasing poetry books through either the publishers or the indie bookstores who offer on-line sales. Posting book reviews is also helpful.

If your muse nudges you to write, then embrace the poetic words and release your creative energy. May we be reminded of the spring tulips pushing out of the darkness and through flecks of disorientated snowflakes. Your poems can also fly like Cupid’s arrows landing deep within a disheartened heart. We are not alone!

Follow this blog for future poet and author profiles.

*Quote is from the poem “The Double Life of Airports” printed in the book The Love Life of Bus Shelters (Cinnamon Press, 2019). Page 31.  Copyright © 2019 K.V. Skene. Used with permission.




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