Dear reader, strap yourself in for a virtually wild ride! – Katerina Vaughan Fretwell*
What an exhilarating but bumpy road for Ontario writers who are trying to launch new books during this COVID-19 pandemic. One silver ‘hubcap’ shine to this ‘unexpected pause’ is that readers may have more free time to seek out new authors or to catch-up on the latest offerings by their favourite poets.
I don’t know about you but I’m feeling challenged by all the books I added to my Goodreads “to-read” list last year; never mind the list of new poetry collections released over the last eight months. A close friend of mine suggested that I needed to learn how to speed read. I told him, poetry is like a cup of tea, it needs to be sipped slowly or I would miss the taste of each word.
In my next two blog posts, I’ll be shining the headlights on The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS), a poetry-friendly grassroots organization that nurtures over 200 members at all levels and stages of their literary journeys.
My first feature will steer towards the anthologies that its members have participated in. These books remind me of automobile showrooms. I can browse through the variety of work, test drive or read several styles of work before deciding which poets I would like to invest more time with. Like art or music, poetry has such a wide range of offerings to attract different audiences.
Next week, I plan to introduce new poetry books and chapbooks by individual members.
The engines are revving…
Infinite Passages: Anthology 2020 (Beret Days Press 2020) Illustrated and compiled by Katerina Vaughan Fretwell ISBN 978-1926495-66-8
Distances Navigated, Marked Movements, Otherworldly Sojourns, Embodied Routes, and Creative Jaunts. These are the five sections that compiler Katerina Vaughan Fretwell created to showcase the best work of each of the participants in this year’s TOPS membership anthology project.
According to Fretwell’s foreword to the book “The title and sections spark imaginative journeys that mesmerize and delight in otherworldly exploration and possibilities. These lyrical, narrative and/or philosophical poems range from formal villanelles and glosas to concrete forms, and from deliciously humorous to powerfully poignant themes.” (p. 3)
Three cheers to Fretwell, who is not only a gifted poet but a gifted artist whose illustrations were used for the front/back covers as well as the titles for the inner sections. (Some may recall that this poet/artist also co-illustrated with Elana Wolff, images for Mindshadows, another Canadian anthology of poetry published by Beret Days Press in 2015.)
Sixty members are represented in Infinite Passages: Roy J. Adams, Becky Alexander, Josie Di- Sciascio-Andrews, Sheila Bello, Wendy Bourke, Allan Briesmaster, David C. Brydges, Mark Clement, Gaiyle J. Connolly, Elizabeth de Rudder, Ronda Wicks Eller, Alvin G. Ens, Fran Figge, Gill Foss, Howard Freelander, Meg Freer, Katerina Fretwell, Mary Frost, siegfried gatkowski, Rene M. Gerrits, Joyce Goodwin, Katherine L. Gordon, Tom Gannon Hamilton, Debbie Okun Hill, Paula Brine-Hogan, Keith Inman, I. B. Iskov, Corey Elizabeth Jackson, Ellen S. Jaffe, R. Patick James, S.C. James, Freda Jepson, Judith Johanson, Donna Langevin, Naomi Hendrickje Laufer, John B. Lee, Bernice Lever, Melanie Lever, Daniel MacFadyen, Tom MacGregor, Fred Manson, Rhonda Melanson, Darcy Miller, Mansour Noorbakhsh, Kathy Robertson, Renée M. Sgroi, Weeda Shareqi, K.V. Skene, Phil St. Pierre, Michael Stacey, David Stones, Joan Sutcliffe, Lynn Tait, Richard I. Thorman, Jim Tomkins, Max Vandersteen, Owen Wagg, W. A. Walters, Elana Wolff, and Ed Woods.
Many of these poets have published individual collections and/or have had work published in literary and other publications. Some of their work may also be found online.
To learn more about Fretwell, I recently read her beautifully written but haunting cancer-themed poetry book Dancing on a Pin (Inanna 2015).
Especially noteworthy was the rhythmic sound of her couplets and the unique images of dance and daring acrobatic feats as this poet forged onward through this difficult period coping with her spouse’s diagnosis and illness. Note the strength of this line in her poem “Well-behaved”: “Cancer, you cannibalistic sewer rat; flesh-goggling cells/swim in the conduits to feast on kin!” (p. 64) and earlier in her poem “Cancer en camera“: “So Cancer, how many devils line-dance on a pinhead?…the news a steaming cowplop”. (p. 37)
Her tribute to her “late husband Jack Fretwell (1937 – 2013) and to anyone touched by cancer” features 71 poems on 94 pages and also includes 10 full-coloured illustrations counting the cover. Each one- to two-page poem reached deep to explain Fretwell’s experiences. For example in the poem “Emotions Can’t be Boxed”, she wrote “feelings aren’t butterflies nailed to//a wall like Monarch’s fleeting spans moods migrate in a minute.” (p. 34) In the poem “Farewell”, a touching image: “I see you alive, a sunburst facing my latest drench.” (p. 81) For those who are seeking inspiration and some humour, there’s that too!
Katerina Vaughan Fretwell’s ninth book is We Are Malala, Inanna, 2019. Her eighth, Dancing on a Pin, Inanna 2015, was part of IFOA’s Battle of the Bards, long-listed for the Lowther Prize and five of the poems placed Runner Up in subTerrain’s Outsider Poetry Contest. She compiled and illustrated Intimate Passages, Beret Days Press, 2020, and has poems in Heartwood, League of Canadian Poets, 2018, and Another Dysfunctional Cancer Poem Anthology, Mansfield Press, 2018.
More books to add to your to-read shelf!
The Banister: A Niagara Poetry Project Volume 35 (Canadian Authors Association, Niagara Branch 2020) ISBN 978-1-927127-17-9
Always, an enjoyable read, this annual anthology (currently in its 35th year) features the best work entered in the Canadian Authors Association’s contest.
Several winners and contributors to this Ontario-based anthology organized by the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association are members of The Ontario Poetry Society.
Open only to Ontario residents, this year’s competition was judged by Windsor’s Poet Laureate Mary Ann Mulhern and coordinated by Canadian Authors Association (and TOPS) member Keith Inman. Over 50 award-winning poems appear in 78 pages. Congratulations to all the winners:
First Prize: John B. Lee (Life Member of The Ontario Poetry Society)
Second Prize: Marianne Jones
Third Prize: Michael Mirolla
Honourable Mentions: John B. Lee; April Bulmer; Rhoda Hassman; Renée Sgroi; Lynn Tait; Donna Langevin; and Brenda Schultz.
Judge’s Choice:(in alphabetical order. Note: in cases where poets have more than one poem selected, their name is only mentioned once to save on space): Roy J. Adams; Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews; Sue Blott; Carlinda D’Alimonte; Jennifer Lynn Dunlop; Mary Frost; Joanna Gale; Keith Garebian; Rhoda Hassmann; Debbie Okun Hill; Jessie Lee Jennings; Donna Langevin; Norma West Linder; Colette Maitland; Susan McMaster; Bruce Meyer; Michael Mirolla; Gaily M Murray Kimberley Peterson; Douglas Schulz; Wendy Sinclair; K. V. Skene; John Smallwood; Susan Smith; Lynn Tait; Alia Wall; Tom Wood; and Mr. Shelley Woods.
On another note, Banister anthology coordinator Keith Inman had his third trade book with Black Moss Press released this fall. The Way History Dries (ISBN 9780887536137) is divided into three sections (From Stone, A Place of Rivers, and Beyond the Dreaming Tree) and features 65 poems on 72 pages.
According to the back cover “Landscape is a proportional representation of storyline. You see it in the ruins, hillsides and towns along the Camino-Frances pilgrimage route of northern Spain. This book is a soft study of endurance. Nature does this best; at times we do it relatively well.”
More info about Inman and his first book The War Poems: Screaming at Heaven (Black Moss Press 2014) appears here.
COMING SOON: Banister first prize winner John B. Lee is a prolific poet. According to the biographical section of the anthology, he “has published nearly one hundred books, and is the editor of nearly a dozen anthologies.” This year, he is editing The Beauty of Being Elsewhere, a Hidden Brook Press travel-themed anthology featuring the work of over 100 poets. Watch for it in 2021!
A blog post featuring the 2019 first place Banister winner Donna Langevin appears here.
Words Gathered Volume 1: An Anthology of Poetry and Prose (Gertrude’s Writing Room/A Beautiful Place Publishing House, 2020) edited by Vanessa Shields and Alley Biniarz
For those who like a mix of poetry and prose, this thin volume (72 pages) highlights the work of 25 writers who have written work while gathering at Gertrude’s Writing Room, a special literary haven created by TOPS member Vanessa Shields and based in Windsor, Ontario. (See more info about Gertrude’s Writing Room here.)
Featured poets include Les Abramson; Samantha Badaoa; Peter Billing; Fran Black; Jacqueline Denis; Ryan Gibbs; Debby Grant; Mariette Jones; Fran Lucid; Crystal McDonald; Irene Moore Davis; Sarah Morris; Debbie Okun Hill; Christine Paris; Karen Rockwell; Vanessa Taylor; and Abigail Weaver.
Featured prose writers include: Mel Cutler; Mariette Jones; Margaret Klein; Christian Laforet; Sandra Lypps; Kerry McGrail; Mike Micallef; Marlee Robinson; and Dee Sweet.
Watch for a new anthology about love to be published by Gertrude’s Writing Room/A Beautiful Place Publishing House in 2021. A submission call is currently open until November 30, 2020. Those who have attended a writing workshop, class or one-to-one session at Gertrude’s Writing Room may submit. More info here.
The Ultra Best Short Verse 2020: A Canadian Anthology of Poetry (Beret Days Press 2020) judged and compiled by David Stones ISBN: 978-1-926495-68-2
This quick 28-page read features 40 short but winning poems from The Ontario Poetry Society’s 2020 short poetry competition judged and selected by David Stones. Congratulations to poets Lynn Tait, Sheila Koop, Norma West Linder, and Wendy Visser for their top prize-winning submissions. This year’s judge (David Stones who was last year’s winner) also selected 36 additional “judge’s choice” poems for the chapbook. Over 365 submissions were received.
Each year, The Ontario Poetry Society holds an open contest for poems (no longer than eight words per line, no longer than eight lines per poem). Information about the 2021 contest is already posted on-line. Contest judge will be this year’s winner Lynn Tait. Deadline for submissions is June 30, 2021.
COMING SOON: 2020 contest judge David Stones is no stranger to the Ontario poetry scene. From this Straford-based poet and spoken word artist, a new book of poetry, sfumato: New and Selected Poems will be launched by Blue Moon Publishers, April 2021 during National Poetry month.
According to Stones, his collection will feature “close to 100 poems grouped into four sections which reflect the four principle layers of paint that Da Vinci employed in creating the sfumato effect: white lead bed; opacity of earth; laying down shadow; and varnish for our sins….”
David Stones made headlines performing work from his first poetry book Infinite Sequels (Friesen Press 2013). See his website for all his accolades as well as up-to-date information about his upcoming book.
A previous blog feature about the poet appears here.
To be continued….
Look who’s in the driver’s seat now! Part Two of this TOPS feature will introduce additional 2020 poetry collections by its members. To be posted soon.