Author Archives: d78hill

About d78hill

Canadian poet, blogger and freelance writer. Member of the League of Canadian Poets, the Writers' Union of Canada, the Canadian Authors Association, and a past President of The Ontario Poetry Society. Author of Tarnished Trophies (Black Moss Press, 2014)

Artist Mary Abma Preserves Memories with her Ash Tree Project

This project will become an ongoing legacy for the community…* -Mary Abma

More than a tree-spirit chill down my spine! Sarnia-Lambton’s Ash Tree Memorial Performance commenced with haunting woodwind sounds from Kelly Kiyoshk’s flute. Handmade baskets crafted from black ash trees sat on a table beside him.

I shivered with the other performers.

Mary Abma, a local contemporary artist and organizer for the event, stood at the outdoor microphone, apologized for the unexpected drop in temperature, and warmly welcomed the crowd that gathered at the Seaway Kiwanis Pavilion in Sarnia’s Canatara Park.

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Artist Mary Abma said “we need to slow ourselves down and pay attention to the natural world around us”. Photo by Jeff McCoy.

Around her, the Carolinian forest raised its eyebrows. April’s weather had turned shivering cold. Even a winter coat, woolen hat, and gloves couldn’t protect the mourners from the unwelcomed winds off Lake Huron. A Canadian goose flew by, honked in protest.

My fingers and emotions numbed. I waited for the rain-tears to fall but the clouds held them tight inside a grey blanket.

A few days earlier at the Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery (JNAAG) in Sarnia, Abma spoke about her new exhibition Signposts & Traces: Ash Tree Memorial Trail.

Photo 1 Courtesy Mary Abma

Abma’s memorial artifacts were on display from April 28 to May 14, 2017 at the Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery in Sarnia and can be seen on her website. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“In January 2015, 300 dead trees were cut at Canatara Park”, she said as a slide show of snow-laced ash limbs, stumps, and zig-zagged patterned logs silenced the crowd in attendance.

“In Lambton County, 24 percent of our canopy was ash…37 percent of the total volume of wood in woodlots was ash….”

Almost all of those trees were destroyed by the emerald ash borer (EAB), an invasive beetle from Asia. The destruction continues to spread to new areas in Canada and the United States, often as the result of humans moving beetle-infested firewood.

Because Lambton County was one of the first Canadian areas (after Windsor, Essex County, and Chatham-Kent) to deal with the loss associated with EAB, Abma wanted to keep the memory of the ash trees alive.

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Abma created ash tree shrouds from phragmites, a wetland grass considered to be another invasive species in the Lambton County area. Photo by Jeff McCoy.

Her community-engaged, ecological artwork which memorializes the ash trees of Canatara took Abma four years to create.

The project is multi-faceted. First the Bright’s Grove resident went through Canatara Park and selected some of the dead trees and gave them an identity. Fourteen ash tree memorial stations were constructed and identified with such names as “Ash Nursery”, “the Elder”, “Ash Graveyard”, and “The Guardian”.

Then she took the concept of Victorian mourning practices and used some of the dead ash to create “individual stories, death notices, mourning art, and jewelry”. All of these pieces were displayed at a recent exhibition at the JNAAG.

To connect the indoor exhibition with the outdoor showcase, she mapped an Ash Tree Memorial Trail for mourners to stroll through. She also designed shrouds from phragmites, a wetland grass and another prevalent invasive species found in the area. Using a smartphone (with a QR code reader app), visitors can scan the QR code at each station to retrieve Abma’s memorial art made for the ash trees in that particular area. Those without scanners or those who are not on the trail can see the same webpages through her website.

The final element: the Saturday, April 29 (rain or shine) performance and community gathering pulled her vision and the mourners together.

Despite the cold weather (which couldn’t be controlled), I appreciated the effort Abma exerted to fashion a safe place for the public to grieve.

Canatara Park - Ash Tree Memorial Performance - April 29, 2017

Eulogizing the ash trees. Photos by Sharon Berg.

The one hour service included the music of accomplished Anishinaabe flute player Kelly Kiyoshk, the performance of accomplished singer/musician Missy Burgess, author/aboriginal historian David D Plain’s talk on the uses and artifacts of the ash trees, the beautiful voices of the Wavesong Vocal Ensemble, the readings by Allan McKeown, the dance performance with Robi Williams and my own poetic words.

Following the performances, I walked with several people (like a funeral procession) towards the park’s Tarzanland area where Abma’s Ash Tree Memorial Trail began. The Carolinian forest opened its arms. Despite all the fallen trees, I felt warmer as we followed Abma then paused at the various stations for shared stories and reflections. For the first time, since losing four large ash trees in my own backyard in May 2011, I felt closure.

Canatara Park - Ash Tree Memorial Trail - April 29, 2017

Walking the Trail. Photos by Okun Hill.

Normally, my blog concentrates on poets, fiction writers and/or other literary events but because of my own interest in the lost ash trees, I yearned to learn more about Mary Abma and her project.

One thing I’ve discovered since studying this local destruction of these trees is that you can’t mess with Mother Nature. Diversification in the forest and amongst humans is vital for survival.

A few days after the service, the sun finally nudged the grey clouds into a corner. I drafted my questions and welcomed Mary’s response. Below are the results:

When I first heard you were working on a project focusing on the local ash trees and how they were being destroyed by the emerald ash borer, I was thrilled. Here was another individual who was passionate about preserving the memories of these trees. At what moment did you decide that this would be a worthwhile project to work on? Did something happen to draw your attention to the trees or was it a more gradual process? Explain how you were feeling at the time.

The development of my projects is a gradual one. I began by paying attention to the trees in my environment. I had heard of the emerald ash borer but had not really been aware of the extent of its damage until I started to pay attention. Once I began to see the great numbers of dead trees in our roadside woodlots, my interest about these trees was sparked and I wanted to find out more.

Research led to passion and a desire to create an artistic response.

Did you have to do anything special to prepare yourself for this project? If yes, what did you do?

 I prepare for a project by doing research and by talking with specialists in fields related to the project. In this case, I spoke with Larry Cornelis, a local naturalist and tree expert. He taught me to identify ash trees and he told me about how they have been affected in this area. I also visited the Guelph Arboretum and spoke with scientists there. I visited their ash tree “seed bank”. I contacted an invasive species scientist in Sault Ste. Marie and received information from him.

An artist’s journey can be a challenging one. It took you four years to complete your Signpost & Traces project. Not everyone likes trees, and certainly ash trees have a reputation for being a ‘weed tree’, something that’s messy and not often written about or featured in a work of art. Did you ever feel like giving up? Why or why not? How did you stay motivated?

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Bright’s Grove artist Mary Abma worked on the Signposts & Traces: Ash Tree Memorial Project for four years. Photo by Jeff McCoy.

I never felt like giving up. I think that is in large part because as the four years progressed, so did the problem. About halfway through, the city culled all of the ash trees at Canatara Park. I documented this cull and its aftermath. That experience led to one of deep mourning for me. This kept the passion for my project alive.

What is the one message you wanted the audience to walk away with?

Every one of us has a responsibility to protect and to restore the natural world. One person can make a difference and those little things that we do, however small, are important if only on a ritual or symbolic level. We must not be discouraged because to be discouraged is to give up.

One of the things I liked about this project is that it is organic in the sense that you not only included a performance segment featuring work from multi-disciplines but you invited the public to walk along the trail to experience the loss first hand. Should visual artists be working more with people in other disciplines such as the literary arts or the performing arts such as dance, theatre, and music? Why or why not?

I would never tell an entire group of artists what they should or should not be doing. I can only speak of my own artistic practice. I have discovered that my work is enriched by letting others into my process. I enjoy working this way.

I also liked how you incorporated technology and the use of QR codes for your project. Where did that idea come from?

I once read about cemeteries that put QR codes on tombstones. People who purchase this service set up a webpage that has photos and video of the deceased on it. Visitors to the cemetery can access these from the grave site. I thought that this would be a good way to give access to people walking the trail to the artwork I made in memory of the lost ash trees whose remains they were viewing.

Photo 3 by Jeff McCoy

Each of the 14 stations on the Ash Tree Memorial Trail has a QR code that takes visitors to Abma’s memorial art made for the dead ash trees at each stop. Photo by Jeff McCoy.

You’ve created a few other projects focusing on the ash tree. Please share a line or two about those projects.

The biggest one was an installation in Hampton Park, in Ottawa. I joined together with two other artists, Marcia Lea and Peggy DeVries, to create an installation memorializing one of the old ash trees that had been taken down, there. We laid down the shadow of the old tree from wood chips that had been made from the ash trees in that park.

In your artist’s talk at the gallery, you said “art stimulates awareness”. Could you expand on this? In your opinion, what value is there in the visual arts in a society now obsessed with science and technology?

I think that more than ever, we need to slow ourselves down and pay attention to the natural world around us. I do not have a problem with science and technology, but I do have a problem with our allowing our collective desire to make our lives ever more convenient and full of possessions to overshadow our need to steward the earth and to live in harmony with it.

Lost Canopy medallions by Mary Abma Photo by Murray DeBoer

Lost Canopy Medallions by Mary Abma. Photo by Murray DeBoer.

What’s next for Mary Abma?

I am not yet finished with the ash tree. I am working on a large installation that will bring all of the themes I have been working with together.

That sounds exciting. Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?

If you have the time, check out the trail at Tarzanland. As of May 15, most of it is still intact and the signs with the QR codes are still there. Walk the trail, enjoy the beauty of nature, and remember the ash trees.

Thank you Mary for sharing your thoughts. The work you are doing to create awareness about the loss of our ash trees is important. I wish you continued success with your visual arts career.

Mary Abma, a resident of Bright’s Grove, Ontario, is a contemporary artist who works in a variety of media. A full-time artist, Mary has exhibited in several group and solo exhibitions at galleries over the past 25 years. Mary comes from a long line of artists and grew up with the benefit of mentoring from her grandmothers.

Additional information about Abma and her art can be found on her website.

An earlier blog about her project can be found here.

Follow this blog for additional Canadian author and poet profiles.

*Quote is from the artist’s on-line statement about her project Signposts & Traces: Ash Tree Memorial Trail © Mary Abma Used with permission from the artist.

Introducing Canadian Poet Sharon Berg and Big Pond Rumours Press

And the truth is horrible/for this is just a paragraph in the story of a river* – Sharon Berg

 A dark current runs through Sharon Berg’s latest chapbook Odyssey and Other Poems (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017). Whether she is writing about the atrocities of a global war, the shadows associated with Canadian poet Al Purdy or the individual pain associated with a dysfunctional family, Berg adds a layer of depth that enriches her work. In the second section of her two-part poem “2 Songs, Almost a Lullabye” she writes: “you stretch your odd bubble/this space shuttle under my skin by which/you travel toward a small blue planet”.

Odyssey and Other Poems (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017) by Sharon Berg

Odyssey and Other Poems (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017) by Sharon Berg is a powerhouse of words and phrases.

Her journey or odyssey theme (reinforced by her book cover with the looming grey clouds and fork in the rural trail) may first appear as a cliché, but don’t let the six-poem, 20-page book fool you. What may appear as a thin volume of poetry is actually a powerhouse of words and phrases that leaves the reader either loving the material presented or squirming in his/her seat in discomfort.

For example, in two poems, Berg challenges Al Purdy’s reputation as a legendary giant by jabbing his abilities as a father. In the poem “Voice of the Land”, she writes “My first memory of you-/was a shadow that crept across/my brothers’ future”. For some the work will be shocking, even borderline daring, sometimes depressing. However, to evoke an emotional response is one sign of success. To keep the reader engaged with the work is another important trait.

Berg’s new chapbook does both. I also admire her unique imagery. In the poem “Bone Shards” she writes: “he arrived like a shard/off the old bone, white and delicate/in my mother’s arms” and in “Trouble”, a dark poem about accidents, falling, and stumbling, she pens “the lamp is a crashing globe/that turns out the lights”.

Her strongest poem in the collection is “Odyssey: Contemplations The Angels Have Not Left Us”. Each of the eight sections builds upon and reinforces the complexities of the River of Life. It is a dance between the atrocities in the world and the saving spirit where “My prayers rise on tobacco smoke” and “I decide to trust the current/as my guide.”

A few weeks ago (Tuesday, April 11), Berg introduced and read her new chapbook at the Art Bar Poetry Series in Toronto. On Tuesday, April 18, Berg was one of two featured guests at Sarnia-Lambton’s National Poetry Month celebration. Her reading was made possible thanks to the financial assistance of the Canada Council for the Arts through The Writers’ Union of Canada.

Sharon Berg's reading during Sarnia-Lambton's 2017 National Poetry Month Event was made possible thanks to financial assistance from the Canadian Council for the Arts through The Writers

Berg’s reading at Sarnia-Lambton’s 2017 National Poetry Month Celebration was made possible with thanks from the Canada Council for the Arts through The Writers’ Union of Canada.

Seven months ago, I chatted with Berg about Sarnia’s new CADENCE reading series as well as her on-line e-zine Big Pond Rumours. That interview appears here.

Recently, I asked Sharon about her new chapbook, her upcoming projects, and an update on her involvement with the micro-press Big Pond Rumours. Below are her responses:

Welcome back to my blog Sharon. When we last chatted here, you were the organizer/host of CADENCE: a reading series with a little music. Despite the lack of volunteers, you organized four highly successful events before deciding to refocus your energies elsewhere. Now you are writing and posting book reviews, which is in high demand by poets and other writers! In your opinion, why are book reviews so important?

Every artist hopes to have an audience. That is why they do what they do – for the audience. And in that audience, they hope to discover a response to their work. The critique is part of the integral response an author receives from others about specific pieces of their work. Book reviews are meant to be a public, critical response, an evaluation. They should point out both the areas of success and the missteps in the work being reviewed. The best reviews offer both affirmations and suggestions for improvement as they point out any problems. I know some people say they never read their reviews but it would take an incredibly tough ego to resist reading them. I write book reviews to assist the author in judging the things they can pat their own back for, and the things they need to improve upon. Yes, it is only one opinion, but that is why every author hopes for several book reviews. Book reviews can also alert readers to points that may persuade them to read a book, and every author knows that. 

You have a reputation as a tough critic, providing praise where it’s due but also offering suggestions for improving a book. In your opinion what constitutes a good poetry book? What is your definition of a poorly written one? 

Two questions there. First, a good piece of writing connects with its audience, whether it is poetry or prose. The connections that can be made are many, from the use of language that provides a visual imagery through metaphor and simile to the way it draws up an emotional response in the readers. The topic of the work can vary, but it is also in their manipulation of the flow of words and line breaks, the depiction of the characters, theme, conflict, and resolution that an author demonstrates their skill. It has to do with their ability to tell a story and hold the reader’s attention. That is key. Human kind is a storytelling animal. That is a huge part of our communication to one another. Even a haiku tells a story. Integrity is also important. The story has to feel authentic.

The answer to the second question is, if they allow the reader’s attention to wander too far from their writing then it is game over. Different people have different levels of tolerance, but if the author writes in a stumbling, self-conscious manner they will never capture the full attention of their audience. Consistency of language plays large in their writing skills, so likewise, inconsistency leaves the story like a bucket full of holes. A lack of integrity in the writing, a feeling that the author is not being authentic or truthful, can also lose the attention of the reader. These are subjective assessment tools though. Some authors experience a minor success because they appeal to small, specific segments of the population.

SHARE National Poetry Month - Sharon Berg Photo 5 - April 18, 2017 in Sarnia

Sharon Berg is a Canadian writer of poetry, prose, reviews, and educational materials about First Nations education.

 

Earlier this year, your micro press Big Pond Rumours held a chapbook contest and four manuscripts were selected for publication and will be launched in a few months. What did you look for in a prize winning manuscript? What do you feel were the strengths in the four collections that were selected? I understand they were all quite different from each other. Why were some manuscripts eliminated?

Actually, the 1st place winner, Bob Wakulich, is launching his chapbook of satiric poems, Channeling the Masters, at ‘Author for Indies’ in Cranbrook, British Columbia on April 29th, 2017. He is at ‘Lotus Books’ from 1 pm to 3 pm, and ‘The Heidout’ from 7:30 to 9:30 pm. The next chapbook I chose is You Can’t Make the Sky a Different Blue by Nelson Ball. I am planning to release it in Paris or Dundas, Ontario sometime in May. The details will be offered later. The other chapbook releases, for yourself and Harold Feddersen will follow in a few months.

I was hoping that running a contest would garner me a few submissions of quality, even one or two, but I was overwhelmed by the strength of so many of the manuscripts I received. The ability to use language to portray emotion, to paint visual pictures, and their consistency of form was key for me, rather than a particular topic or style of writing. I found it very difficult to decide on just four, but my press is limited to just four or five titles each year.

Yes, my choices show a range of approaches. I picked one collection of satiric poetry, one of minimalist poetry, one of thoughtful free verse, and one of haiku. It was very touch and go, in terms of who I picked. Often, the winners were simply a touch more consistent in the execution of their form than the other submissions.

Each of the authors managed to tell a story, or several stories, in their own way. That is their strength, their ability to convince a reader to submerge themselves in the poems.

What advice would you give to an emerging poet to present his/her work in the best possible light? Is there a formula for organizing a strong manuscript?

As I have said, the ability to tell a story in a poem is key for me. There are forms of poetry that don’t tell stories like this, mostly because there is little investment in portraying emotion, but I don’t connect with those forms as easily. Their audience is also much smaller. The organization of the poems (which poem follows this one) in the manuscript and presentation on the page, are often the key for getting noticed by an editor. If it seems the line breaks are not set at the best place, or the internal rhyme is erratic, or the focus of the poem itself seems to wander, an editor is unlikely to accept the challenge of walking you through the necessary changes to present your work to the public in its best light.

I think every book should be thought of as a negotiation between the publisher/editor and its author. Each has their own reasons for wanting to present the book in it best possible form. If an author is unwilling to entertain suggestions for improvement, then they are not ready to publish their work. They have to exhibit enough skill in their work that the editor can ‘feel’ the finished work. Some will get closer to that goal than others. I believe all authors can benefit from sharing their writing with others, taking their work to an author’s workshop, listening to the feedback and acting upon what rings true for them to make changes.

SHARE Sharon Berg photo 4 Art Bar Reading April 11, 2017 in Toronto

Berg introduced her new chapbook on April 11, 2017 at the Art Bar Poetry Series in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

You also found time to publish a chapbook of your own poems.  In a couple of sentences, describe your new book Odyssey and Other Poems?  

It is really difficult to describe one’s own work. I can say that my poetry usually presents the audience with a challenge. I am always trying to state my own truth on any given subject, and this chapbook is no different. I talk about water in the poem “Odyssey”, that is the main metaphor. Water is symbolic. Odyssey talks about spiritual, emotional, and physical endurance through a variety of human struggles. In that chapbook, I also share the effect that growing up in the shadow of Canada’s great poet, Al Purdy, had on his son (my half-brother, Brian Purdy) and my immediate family. I don’t tend to tell comfortable stories or paint pretty pictures with my words, rather I share personal truths with my readers.

Your latest book is indeed dark but there are elements of hope to present a balanced viewpoint! In your opinion, what is the role of poetry in today’s society? 

Anyone who is asked a question like this will hope to provide an insightful answer. Sometimes it is difficult to provide an answer that looks as intelligent to the outsider as it ‘feels’ on the inside. I have received criticism before for my view, but I want to be honest about what guides me. When I was young, my brother told me that poets always sit on the edge of their community, looking at it with a critical eye. I grew up believing that there has always been, and will always be, a role for poets in society. Poetry provides a forum for the discussion of social goals, large and small. We draw people’s attention to what is beautiful, yes, but we also call out the inconsistencies in the governing rhetoric of our society, the challenges of conscience, and even the horrible acts that human beings commit. We use pattern, end-of-line rhyme, internal rhyme, simile and metaphor to draw people into our word constructions. We use the effects of language to help people experience what we are talking about. Poetry or prose, we are storytellers. When we do it well, we point out the problems we have observed and hopefully suggest ways to solve those problems. 

Your first book “To A Young Horse” was published by Borealis Press in 1979. Has the literary world changed much since that time? Why or why not?

Yes, just as our social consciousness has evolved to address a variety of important issues we face now (racism, the strife behind the hierarchy in social class, environmental pollution) so the landscape for authors has changed. This is expected because culture is not a static thing, but something that evolves and changes in order to adapt to the situation. Economics change. So does culture. Social sensibilities change. So does culture. And poetry is a response to culture, either directly or indirectly. A poem about a bowl of fruit on the table will not fare well these days in comparison to a poem about the struggle to defend rivers from pollution. People are generally more alert to the problems faced by people in a larger community than they were in the 1970s or earlier. These days, the author who lives a sheltered life and writes from that point of view will not compare well to one who expresses heart-spoken truths about the battle to protect basic elements (water, air, land) from industrial or corporate abuse and pollution.

But beyond that, there simply is not the same level of funding to support the arts that there once was. The whole idea of being philanthropic, of making it your goal to offer donations to support the arts, has lost its appeal to those in the top one or two percent in this consumeristic society. Instead of offering support to people who are gifted with the artful expression of ideas, the majority of one or two percenters seem to focus on and reward those who produce solid things, things that can be sold. This is reflected in our governments. Donald Trump has withdrawn financial support for the arts, sports, and science. Consider the fact that he is using a business model to govern his country. Other politicians may not operate with the same openness of ideology and intent, but that is how most of them are leaning these days.

For instance, the tobacco companies used to support the arts and sports, two areas that now rely almost exclusively on government or private sponsorship. That financial support from industry no longer happens because it is viewed as the advertising of a harmful product. Many of the old-style philanthropists who privately funded anthropological digs and other important geographical explorations have passed into the great beyond and no one has taken their place. Everyone now relies on the profit from sales of their books and paintings or a university or a variety of government run agencies that dole out money for their financial support. Even the important reading series, that are so vital to supporting authors, are mostly funded through government grants. That means that very little money is divided endlessly until the authors at each reading series receive little financial support.

In my view, based on my personal understanding of the role of authors in society, part of the responsibility for the current state of affairs has to be accepted by authors themselves. We all feel we are doing important work, but the measure of its importance has to be understood in terms of the number of lives that we impact. It has not always been the case that poets received small audiences, as we do today. We used to be invited into the courts of Lords and Ladies and Kings and Queens to entertain them. We used to call out in the town square. Poets were historians who shared their knowledge with the general public. We were the voice of social conscience. That is not highfalutin talk. Everyone has a role in society and that is our role. Yet the business frame of mind that guides our contemporary lives has narrowed over time and we have not been able to assist in stopping a similar constriction of public conscience. We have known for at least 200 years that the Industrial Revolution is harming not only the environment but human life. If we, as poets, want to honour our history and take up our previous powerful position in society, we need to find a way to enter the conscience of the people in positions of power again.

Imagine what it would be like if more people read poetry! Thanks Sharon for your thought-provoking words. Congratulations again on your new chapbook and all your accomplishments. I’m wishing you continued success re: your literary projects.

sharon-berg-at-cadence-sept-28-2016-photo-melissa-upfold-for-calculated-colour-co

Sharon Berg, founder/editor of Big Pond Rumours, was the organizer/host of CADENCE, Sarnia’s 2016 reading series. Photo by Melissa Upfold for the Calculated Colour Co.

Sharon Berg is an author of fiction, poetry and educational history related to First Nations. She is also the founder and editor of Big Pond Rumours E-Zine and Micro Press. She published widely up until the 1980s, with her poetry appearing in periodicals across Canada, the USA, the UK, The Netherlands, and Australia. Then she pursued her teaching career. Since retiring from teaching in April 2016, she has returned to her writing and has new work appearing in several places in 2017. She has produced two full books, four chapbooks, two audio tapes, and a CD of her work. Her academic work in First Nations history and education will be published as The Name Unspoken: Wandering Spirit Survival School in ‘Alternative Schooling: Canadian Stories of Democracy within Bureaucracy’, published by Palgrave MacMillan in June 2017. She is currently working on finalizing a full book about the history of Wandering Spirit Survival School.

Check out Sharon Berg’s website and her review site.

Additional information about Big Pond Rumours is located here.  The next submission deadline for her e-zine is June 30, 2017.

*from the poem “Odyssey: Contemplations The Angels Have Not Left Us” published in the chapbook Odyssey and Other Poems (Big Pond Rumours, 2017) page 5. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright © Sharon Berg, 2017

Watch this blog for additional Canadian Author and Poet Profiles.

Remembering the Ash Trees with Art, Music, Poetry, Dance, Words

“Somewhere someone/is planting a sapling/but not an ash.”* -Debbie Okun Hill

I can still remember the day the tree service workers came and removed four mature ash trees from my backyard. At the time (May 5, 2011), I jotted down notes with the hopes of writing several tribute poems to the ash trees which I did thanks to a 2012/2013 Ontario Arts Council Writers’ Reserve Grant. Years later, I’m still adding poems to my manuscript and was thrilled to hear that Mary Abma, a local artist has also been creating work to draw attention to those trees destroyed by the emerald ash borer (EAB).

As promised in an earlier blog, below is additional information (a poster) about her upcoming exhibition Signposts & Traces: Ash Tree Memorial Trail scheduled for April 28 to May 14, 2017 at the Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery (JNAAG), 147 Lochiel Street in downtown Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. I’m looking forward to seeing her work and will be posting a Question and Answer featuring Abma in the near future.

April 28 to May 2017

She will also be doing an artist talk TODAY (Thursday, April 27) from 7 to 9 p.m. at the gallery. Admission is free (or pay as you can). Pre-register to ensure enough seats are set up.

On Saturday, April 29, Abma has planned a Canatara Ash Tree Memorial performance from 10 to 11 a.m. at the Seaway Kiwanis Pavilion, Canatara Park (1200 Lake Chipican Drive in Sarnia. The program will include music performed by Kelly Kiyoshk (flute), Wavesong Vocal Ensemble, and Missy Burgess; dancing by Robi Williams & Lightning Strikes Clarke; and words by Allan McKeown and David D Plain. I will also share four of my ash tree themed poems: “Light On Their Toes”, “Arguing With The Neighbours”, “Dueling Chainsaws”, and “Meeting Poe in Canatara Park”.

Following the performance, Abma will invite everyone to walk the Ash Tree Memorial Trail, contemplate the loss of the trees, and leave birdseed offerings at numerous sites where numerous QR codes are posted to view each tree’s memorial page.

Both events will take place rain or shine.

Approximately 15 years have passed since the emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle from Asia was first detected in Detroit, Michigan. In Canada, the infestation began across the river in Windsor, moved towards Lambton County and then spread further into Ontario and Quebec.

According to the Emerald Ash Borer Information Network, the EAB has “killed hundreds of millions of ash trees in North America”. Updated information can be found on its website.

Have you experienced the loss of a tree? Stop by and see what Mary Abma has created to keep these trees in our thoughts. Here are links to her website and her ash tree themed projects.

*Quote is from the unpublished poem “Funeral Procession” © Debbie Okun Hill

Toronto’s Art Bar Poetry Series – A Must See and Do

We’re on our way to the famous Art Bar Poetry Series. Did I pack my camera?

Toronto skyline - October 19, 2014

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Large cities make me nervous. Prairie wheat and southwestern Ontario corn runs through my blood so its takes courage and an experienced driver like my husband to maneuver the heavy pedestrian and motor vehicle traffic surrounding this downtown Toronto poetry reading. Even with a GPS strapped to the car’s dashboard, we miss the discounted hotel we had booked on-line.

So many distractions like in a Where’s Waldo? book! When we finally spot the main entrance tucked behind some taller buildings, we can’t find a place to park. I fumble for my cell phone and call the hotel desk to request assistance.

Then there’s the problem with our dog. Not a sliver of grass to.. (you know)… relieve himself and so he leaves a nice puddle in the underground parking lot. We hope the incident isn’t captured on closed circuit cameras but that’s another story…

As a poet, I feel it’s important to push outside one’s comfort zone. It’s easy to hide behind a computer screen and allow the words to tractor across a white field and leave word-seeds typed and planted in a straight furrow for everyone to pick and read at a later date. However, poetry is more than written words. It’s organic (like soybeans) sprouting from a writer’s pen then growing and extending further into and beyond a consumer’s mind.

It’s also rhythm and sound so studying oral presentations is vital for improving one’s poetic voice. At least that’s the advice I received from award-winning Canadian sound poet Penn Kemp during a writer-in-residence session at Western University many poetic seasons ago.

Between the wailing sirens and the honking of impatient drivers, I can still recall what other poets have said about the Art Bar Poetry Series. “It’s a permanent fixture of Toronto”. “It has a huge following.” “It’s a great place to read.” Even in rural Ontario, I’ve felt its impact. Its reputation as Canada’s longest-running poetry-only weekly reading series is strong and many emerging poets dream about being asked and featured at least once in their writing careers.

art-bar-reading-april-4-2017

The Art Bar Poetry Series (based in Toronto) is Canada’s longest-running poetry-only weekly reading series.

I never expected an invitation but was pleased when it arrived in my inbox last year.

And today, here we are…here I am…

…suitcase (and poetry books) in hand. We settle in the hotel room and I can’t wait to meet my close childhood friend. She noticed the Art Bar event advertised on Facebook and suggested a reunion. We hadn’t seen each other (in person) for close to 20 years and although Donna (one of my bridesmaids) has a strong creative side to her, this would be her first experience attending a poetry reading. I’m touched to have her join me since hubby and dog are not poetry fans and prefer to watch TV in the hotel room. She even brings along a neighbour-friend and tells me it is part of their goal to do something ‘new’ each week. I smile and feel my cheeks blush like a red pepper. She travelled 30 to 40 minutes for a quick visit. I hope she enjoys the show.

If you live in Toronto, the Art Bar reading venue is easy to reach via bicycle or public transportation, or so I’m told. The Mid East snack (2 skewers of marinated chicken breast served with 2 falafel, hummus, grilled veggies, salsa, chickpea-kale salad, pita) is excellent and was highly recommended by one of the co-hosts. The private room at the Free Times Café is ideal for showcasing the poets. There’s a stage, a microphone and I add a chair to hold my props which I forget to use. At first the spotlights challenge my eyes but then I find the right angle to connect with my printed words. Next time I’ll bring LARGER print or better yet, have my poems memorized.

Debbie Okun Hill at Art Bar Reading Series April 4, 2017 Photo 2 by Donna Henrikson

I smile and feel my cheeks blush like a red pepper. Photo by Donna.

During my Art Bar debut, over 60 people fill the room despite the competition of other poetry readings in the area including an earlier performance (by the well-known author Molly Peacock) held several blocks away. As a newcomer, I’m impressed by the variety of people in the audience. Not only are they culturally diverse but they represent a wide range of ages and include both emerging writers reading for the first time to the more experienced poets/editors/publishers. I’m comforted by seeing a few familiar faces, but many of the attendees are either strangers to me or writers I had heard about but had never met before. Call it a great place to feel the pulse of Toronto’s poetic scene!

On this evening, I share the spotlight with Phlip Arima and Ian Burgham, two well-known and experienced poets. Arima, a former artistic director of the ArtBar, dazzles the audience with his use of sound and his ability to perform his work by memory. The only time he reads from paper is when he is introducing new work. He is high energy combined with theatrics. I like how he changes his voice for each poem.

Phlip Arima (left) is a former artistic director of the series.  Ian Burgham (right) has read his work throughout Canada and the United Kingdom. Both were featured readers at the Art Bar on April 4, 2017.

Burgham is quieter (and sometimes apologetic when reading his new work) but like Arima he brings an entourage of friends and fellow poets with him. Although he has read his work throughout Canada and the United Kingdom, in an October 20, 2010 on-line interview with The Toronto Quarterly, he expressed his preference for writing versus the performing. (Many poets feel the same way.) He is the author of six poetry collections published in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

I’m in awe. Because this is my first time listening to these poets, I make note of Arima’s website here and Burgham’s feature on the Quattro Books website here. I look forward to reading more of their work in the future.

Over the years, the Art Bar has perfected their format. Each week, the series usually features three guest readers. Some are local. Others, like me, are from out-of-town or even out-of-province like Carmelo Militano, a Winnipeg poet who featured a week earlier than my reading. The evening closes with an open stage with approximately ten emerging and experienced poets.

A half hour later, the lights dim and another Art Bar evening ends as patrons slip outdoors to head home. Overall, I’m impressed but please, if you are reading this, stop by on a Tuesday evening and judge for yourself. A list of future readers appears on the Art Bar website.

I’m told, in Toronto, it is common to have two or three readings scheduled each day of the week. If I resided in this urban centre, I could slip into the audience and study them all. Can you imagine what a wonderful ‘live’ classroom this would be?

Rosa Arlotto, host at Art Bar Reading Series, April 4, 2017 in Toronto

Rosa Arlotto emcees the April 4, 2017 event. She is one of several hard-working members of the current Art Bar organizing team.

As a former co-host of a monthly open mic event in the Sarnia area for approximately 8 years, I am aware of how difficult it is to not only organize a regular reading series but to also properly promote it so that it attracts a regular following. In my opinion, the Art Bar team does an excellent job in both areas.

Team members Rosa Arlotto and Margaret Code are pleasant and professional in dealing with featured readers, open stage presenters and audience members. They praise Rob Welch for his enthusiasm and drive in organizing the featured readers from a distance. (Unfortunately, Welch is out-of-the country during my reading but I look forward to meeting him in person one day.)

The following week, I return to Toronto to support Sarnia poet Sharon Berg who reads from her new chapbook ODYSSEY and Other Poems (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017). (Follow my blog for a future post about Berg and her new chapbook.) At the Art Bar, she features with Hamilton poet John Terpstra and Peterborough poet Betsy Struthers.

Sharon Berg photo 4 Art Bar Reading April 11, 2017 in Toronto

Sarnia poet Sharon Berg introduces her new chapbook ODYSSEY and other Poems (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017) during the April 11, 2017 reading at the Art Bar Poetry Series in Toronto.

During their readings, I lean back, sip my drink and relax. Being a member of the audience is fun. Later, I share some new work during the Open Stage and then it’s over.

The drive back home towards the United States border is long but the time goes by quickly despite the late hour. It helps to travel with another poet; Berg and I chat the whole way. By the time I walk in the door and turn on my computer, the Art Bar Poetry Series has already posted and shared photos on Facebook. The next morning, promotions begin for the next week’s performers. I’m impressed again. Not only does this assist in widening the poets’ regional recognition but it allows out-of-towners, who cannot travel, to learn more about Canadian poets.

I smile like a stuffed potato sack filled with new experiences. The Art Bar Poetry Series is more than a vital thread in our national poetic fabric. I’ve learned it’s a home where poets can come together on a weekly basis and experience the rhythmic sounds and varied voices of poetry performed on a stage.

For me, that’s exciting news! So much support for creative folk!

Happy National Poetry Month everyone!

Introducing Kara Ghobhainn Smith and “The Artists of Crow County”

I’m handing in this apron/of silence, so/Tuck your tanks under these skirts/because this is mystory [sic] now. – Kara Ghobhainn Smith*

Poetry like art is open to different interpretations. That’s my viewpoint and I’ve been wrong before.

When I asked Chatham-Kent’s Kara Smith (poet Ghobhainn) about The Artists of Crow County, her first book of Ekphrastic poetry (poems inspired by visual art), she honed in on strong matriarchal images, the woman’s voice, and the elders who paved a path for her.

Kara Ghobhainn Smith, author The Artists of Crow County

Kara Ghobhainn Smith was Chatham-Kent’s 2015-2016 Writer-in-Residence.

As an art lover, I was drawn to her “brushstrokes of poetic colour” and how her words were shaped by viewing tangible art work. Is it possible to have two different meanings rising from a single manuscript? Ultimately, this was her book and herstory [sic] so I opted to listen carefully to her literary perspective and then sought out the opinions of others.

Here’s what I’ve discovered** so far:

Similar to the take-charge Nancy in her poem “New Sheriff in Town”, Ghobhainn is that NEW poet confidently storming into Canada’s vast literary frontier. Already she has forged a poetic name with her poem “Splitting Worlds”, shortlisted for the 2016 Walrus Poetry Prize, a prestigious honour for an emerging poet competing against established writers. Both of these poems incorporate strong elements of sound and were inspired by women artists and characters.

Windsor poet/editor Vanessa Shields gives Ghobhainn a ‘thumbs up’. In her endorsement, Shields declares that The Artists of Crow County (Black Moss Press 2017) is “a murderous convergence of art and poetry masterfully written by poet Kara Smith, Ghobhainn. This collection is a song to mother earth, turtle island, at times pensive and natural and also fluttering a sassy, clever spirit.”

Sharon Berg, founder/publisher/editor of the micro press Big Pond Rumours and a Canadian reviewer states, “Smith is to be admired for what she has done, working in multiple languages, exploring history and culture in North America and Europe. Her work ‘in the real world’ seems to invade her writing appropriately. She appreciates art as a human expression. She writes involved poetry.”  Berg’s full review can be found here.

Kara Smith book

The Artists of Crow County (Black Moss Press 2017) is Kara Ghobhainn Smith’s first poetry book.

For me, Ghobhainn’s work is indeed a cultural and spirited montage of words and images. Heavily influenced by her role as Chatham-Kent Cultural Centre’s 2015-2016 Writer-in-Residence, Ghobhainn immersed herself in the fine arts community and wrote about the art that inspired her.

What I love is that her Ekphrastic poetry collection reminds me of strolling through an art gallery or museum. Each piece is eclectic and unique based on a specific concrete image that the reader can also see. I give Windsor publisher Black Moss Press credit for including 17 full-colour photographs of artwork, something rarely seen in poetry books. However, I will be ‘biting the hand that feeds me’ when I state that the cream textured paper distorts the colour of the images. Reproduction on a glossy white paper would have been more suitable, although it would certainly add a significant production cost to the publication. I must remind myself that this is NOT a gallery catalogue but a poetry collection.

In contrast to the muted photographs inside, the striking minimalist-inspired cover depicts a black silhouette of a crow. The tips of its wings paint vibrant blue, orange, green, yellow, and red strokes on a cloudy-grey canvas: a strong introduction for the book’s content.

This palette emphasizing Ghobhainn’s use of poetic colour, both figuratively and metaphorically, is what I first noticed (and most enjoyed) while reading an advanced copy of her book. Phrases such as “wash the canvas in soapy waves of/white”, “I was born blue”, “a bright, yellow short life/begins”, and “your red, burnt rubber face”.

Like an artist, Ghobhainn brushes lines of light and shadows of dark into her work. For example, in one poem she writes “She grows straight to the sun”; in another “let them sink to/the dark sands of Poseidan’s [sic]

One of my favourite poems is “The Sunflower” where she writes “I knew the moment I saw her:/tall, defiant, green/in a dry/Crack/of hot black asphalt;/that something was different here.”

Ghobhainn is different and her voice has unique qualities. Stretching her creativity, she even experiments with concrete poetry with the poem “Welcome to the University!” At times she uses non-traditional line breaks and I want to take an old-fashioned ‘blue’ editing pencil and make some minor changes. However, this is herstory and her interest in strong matriarchal figures is what she wishes to emphasize. A poet to watch!

Kara Smith reads during the All Four Love event February 11, 2017 at the Thames Art Gallery in Chatham, Ontario

Kara Ghobhainn Smith performs at the All For Love celebration, February 11, 2017 at the Thames Art Gallery in Chatham, Ontario, Canada. Photo provided by Ghobhainn.

A few weeks ago, I asked Kara to share her thoughts about her writing process. Below are her responses:

In 2015-2016, you were the Writer-in-Residence for the Chatham-Kent Cultural Centre. What was your role and what types of projects did you work on during that period?

That year I worked with artists in two centres: the Thames Art Gallery collective in Chatham-Kent, Ontario, and La Roche D’Hys Arts Centre in France. It was fascinating to see how visual artists approach their work. The process is very similar to a poet’s. While the artist is looking to connect the visual threads of colours and lines emerging from the canvas in front of them, poets are often engaged by the musical, or even visual, link words provoke. I tried to capture each artist’s narrative in Ekphrastic verse to open their exhibit during the year.

You’re a member of The Writers’ Union of Canada and have a number of books to your credit. The Artists of Crow County published by Black Moss Press earlier this year is your first trade poetry collection. Describe your new book in a few sentences.

The Artists of Crow County is a truly beautiful book simply because each poem evolved out of the art work of one of Canada’s visual artists, and those national artists each lent images of their paintings to the text. What the reader experiences is a rich meal of words, art, and graphics throughout the pages.

Which of your poems in this book is your most favourite and why is it important to you?

Now you are asking me to choose ‘who is my favourite child’, and that’s impossible! But I have to say that I am always drawn to models of strong women ‘taking on the world’. “New Sheriff in Town” (pp.20-21), and found-object artist Laurie Langford’s work, really evokes that matriarchal strength for me, “Tuck your tanks under these skirts…and crown this Queendom already!” Her exhibit, “Four Housewives of the Apocalypse” will be in Leamington this July.

How does your work differ from others in this poetic genre?  

The voice. The persona in each poem is consistently that of a woman looking back on her lives, her pathways through history as a girl, lover, mother, thinker, and free spirit. It’s a pronoun that’s hard to place at first, but that is the one distinguishing thread.

Your poem “Splitting Words” was short-listed for the prestigious Walrus Poetry Prize! How did it feel to receive this honour? Is it important for writers to enter their work into contests? Why or why not? 

Yes, and again, I often feel that the verse simply shares the story of all women. In this case, renown Anishnaabe artist Darla Fisher-Odjig’s moving Truth & Reconciliation (TRC) exhibit, “Cowboys and Indians” (pp. 34-36). Her [self]portraits are of girls with this strong outline, a solid shell, and an empty centre. It’s very moving. And yes, sharing and honouring our stories as women is the reason to enter contests, “…to reawaken her distinct identity in this world”.

Kara Smith reads during the open mic at Sarnia's 2016 National Poetry Month Celebration April 3, 2016 Photo by Melissa Upfold for Calculated Colour Co.

Last year Kara Ghobhainn Smith was an open mic reader at Sarnia’s 2016 National Poetry Month celebration. This year, she returns as one of two featured readers for the 2017 celebration.  The other featured guest will be Sharon Berg. We acknowledge the financial assistance of the Canada Council for the Arts through The Writers’ Union of Canada. Photo courtesy of Melissa Upfold for the Calculated Colour Co.

What inspires you and who are your mentors?

Waterloo coders; artists persisting with their work despite 21st-century industry struggles; the organic metaphors in our world; and my grandmothers, elders who have paved this path for me: they are the living synapses between the parts we segregate.

Describe your writing process.

I am drawn to poetry and short story because I have a busy family life. The form is manageable, in its whole, during the time of the day I have to myself. After the meals, dishes, cleaning, and children are gone, I usually have an hour or two to sit, have a coffee, and write. Then I go to work, answer on-average 170 emails later in the day, and the domestic work begins again in the evening. I try to keep to this schedule Monday to Friday, like a job, and before bed each evening I read. Reading is critical for language building; I don’t believe one can write without it.

What are you currently working on?

I’m in the middle of a post-apocalyptic short story entitled, ‘The Tryout’, and it has me on the end of my nerves!

What are your future plans?

Write something, just for me, in the quiet of each morning. Laugh, as a child, each afternoon.

Thanks Kara. It’s been fun chatting. I look forward to hearing you read in Sarnia next week.

Ghobhainn will be one of two featured readers at Sarnia-Lambton’s 2017 National Poetry Month Celebration, Tuesday, April 18 from 7 to 9 p.m. at John’s Restaurant’s “Famous Room”, 1643 London Line in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. Her reading is made possible with financial assistance from the Canadian Council for the Arts through The Writers’ Union of Canada. More information here.

She will also be reading at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival on August 4, 2017.

In addition to her poetry book, Ghobhainn is the co-author of Next to the Ice: Exploring the Culture and Community of Hockey in Canada (Mosaic Press, 2016), Teaching, Learning, Assessing (Mosaic Press, 2007), and the author of the blogspot poetry series, ‘The Travelling Professor’. She is also the Editor of the Journal of Teaching and Learning (JTL), as well as the books’ editor for the Canadian Journal of Education (CTL). Additional bio information is located on The Writers’ Union of Canada website. Additional information about Ghobhainn and The Artists of Crow County is located on the Black Moss Press website.

*from the poem “New Sheriff in Town” published in the book The Artists of Crow County (Black Moss Press, 2017) page 20. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright © Kara Smith, 2017.
**Please note: I must disclose that I’ve met and read with Globhainn on several occasions and that my opinions may be perceived as a conflict of interest since we are both published by the same publisher. Therefore, I strongly suggest that readers make their own judgments about her 57-poem, 96-page collection and feel free to add your opinions. Comments that are spam or do not pertain to this topic will be eliminated.

Watch this blog for additional Canadian Author and Poet Profiles.                 

Sarnia-Lambton Poets Prepare For #NPM17 Celebrations

Shift the colours on your page;/and softly coax your reds and purples,/that have concealed themselves/for years…” – Kara Ghobhainn Smith*

Close your eyes for a minute or two. Imagine what it would be like to be a poet. What does today’s poet even look like? Listen to the words melting into a new sound or image. What does a poet write about? Perhaps, you are a closet poet afraid to admit that you are moved by words.

Kara Ghobhainn Smith, author The Artists of Crow County

Kara Ghobhainn will be one of two spotlight readers at Sarnia-Lambton’s 2017 April is Poetry Month Celebration.

Today’s poetry, like colour, shifts on the world stage and April is one of the best times to not only explore this form of writing but to seek answers to your questions. All across Canada and the United States, poets are planning launches and readings for the big #NPM17 celebration.

According to The League of Canadian Poets’ website, this professional organization for established and emerging poets boasts over 700 members. The Ontario Poetry Society, a provincial grassroots not-for-profit organization has over 250 members.

The Sarnia-Lambton area houses poets from both organizations as well as The Writers’ Union of Canada, the Canadian Authors Association, the Association of Italian Canadian Writers (AICW), and such local groups as AfterHours Poets, Lambton Writers Association, Writers Helping Writers (WHW), and Writers International Through Sarnia (WITS).

Every poet whether published or not, deserves to be applauded for his/her efforts. If you know a poet, take time to get to know him or her. Ask why writing is so important to them.

Below is an event featuring six area writers who wish to show the public what their poetry is all about and why poetry matters. Hope to see a few of you there!

National Poetry Month April 18, 2017 in Sarnia for distribution

Mark your calendars for this FREE public event – Tuesday evening – April 18, 2017

Six former and current members of The Writers’ Union of Canada will showcase their work during Sarnia-Lambton’s 2017 National Poetry Month (#NPM17) celebration, Tuesday, April 18 from 7 to 9 p.m. at John’s Restaurant’s Famous Room, 1643 London Line.

Featured poets Kara Ghobhainn Smith (from Chatham-Kent) and Sharon Berg (who recently moved to Sarnia) will share the spotlight thanks to the financial assistance of the Canada Council for the Arts through The Writers’ Union of Canada.

Ghobhainn was the Chatham-Kent Cultural Centre’s 2015-2016 Writer-In-Residence. She recently launched her book The Artists of Crow County (Black Moss Press) which includes the poem shortlisted for the 2016 Walrus Poetry Prize. Many of her poems (within this collection) were inspired by artists in the Chatham-Kent area as well as her trip to Mâlain, France.

Author Sharon Berg, founder-publisher-editor Big Pond Rumours E-zine and Micro-Press

Sharon Berg will be one of two spotlight readers at Sarnia-Lambton’s 2017 National Poetry Month Celebration.

Berg is the founder/publisher/editor of Big Pond Rumours (the literary e-zine and micro press) and former host of Sarnia’s Cadence Reading Series. Her third manuscript, The Book of Telling, reveals many secrets that wait on the other side of truth.

Four local poets (James Deahl, Debbie Okun Hill, Norma West Linder, and Carmen Ziolkowski) will also share the stage. Ziolkowski, who is in her nineties, is Sarnia’s oldest living poet. Her granddaughters will assist with her reading. 

“One of the exciting developments in recent years is how Sarnia has emerged as a poetry hot spot”, said James Deahl, one of the organizers and the emcee for the event. “Indeed, it can now be said that Sarnia is an important literary focal point in Ontario. Local poets commonly travel from Nova Scotia to British Columbia to present readings or participate in literary festivals, and several Sarnia poets have contributed to the sesquicentennial anthology celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday. This is your chance to hear them.”

Sarnia-Lambton’s April 18th celebration is free and open to the public.

As part of National Poetry Month, several Sarnia-Lambton poets have also been invited to read at out-of-town and local events in April.

Both Okun Hill and Berg will be reading in Toronto at The Art Bar, considered to be “Canada’s longest running poetry-only weekly reading series”. Okun Hill will be the sharing the stage with poets Phlip Arima and Ian Burgham on Tuesday, April 4 while Berg will showcase with John Terpstra and Betsy Struthers on April 11. The Art Bar series is held at the Free Times Café, 320 College Street (College and Spadina). Featured readings begin at 8 p.m. followed by an open mic.

art-bar-reading-april-4-2017

The Art Bar in Toronto is considered to be “Canada’s longest running poetry-only weekly reading series”.

On Wednesday, April 5 in London, Deahl and Linder are the featured guests at the London Open Mic Poetry Night held at Mykonos Restaurant, 572 Adelaide Street North. Their readings begin at 7 p.m. followed by an open mic.

James Deahl

James Deahl, the author of 26 literary titles, will emcee the April 18th event as well as read at numerous events.

Deahl and Linder will also read in Hamilton with several other poets including Sarnia’s Lynn Tait, Thursday, April 13 from 7 to 9 p.m. at The Staircase, 27 Dundurn Street North as well as in Toronto on Wednesday, April 26 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Main Branch of The Toronto Public Library, 137 Main Street.

On Saturday, April 29 in Sarnia, Okun Hill (who has a manuscript of over 60 poems about the ash trees and the emerald ash borer) will share the stage with artist Mary Abma and other performers during the special event Signposts & Traces: Ash Tree Memorial Trail Performance from 10 to 11 a.m. at Canatara Park.

In Chatham-Kent, Ghobhainn will participate in Poetry City, an annual poetry celebration that encourages mayors and city councils in Canada to declare April as National Poetry Month. She will open a council meeting with a poetry reading.

Additional information about these and other upcoming literary events in Ontario can be found here.

Additional information about The Writers’ Union of Canada can be found on the organization’s website .             

OUT-OF-TOWN SPOTLIGHT READER/PERFORMER

KARA GHOBHAINN SMITHis the author of The Artists of Crow County (Black Moss Press, 2017), co-author of Next to the Ice (Mosaic Press, 2016), Teaching, Learning, Assessing (Mosaic Press, 2007), and the author of the blogspot poetry series, ‘The Travelling Professor’. Ghobhainn is Chatham-Kent’s 2015-2016 Writer-in-Residence, and Editor of the Journal of Teaching and Learning (JTL), as well as the books’ editor for the Canadian Journal of Education (CTL). Her poems have been shortlisted for the 2016 Walrus Poetry Prize and the Polar Expressions Prize.

LOCAL SPOTLIGHT READERS/PERFORMERS

SHARON BERGis an author of fiction, poetry and educational history related to First Nations. She is also the founder and editor of Big Pond Rumours E-Zine and Micro Press. She published widely up until the 1980s, with her poetry appearing in periodicals across Canada, the USA, the UK, The Netherlands, and Australia. Then she pursued her teaching career. Since she retired from teaching in April 2016, she has returned to her writing and has new work appearing in several places in 2017. She has produced two full books, three chapbooks, two audio tapes, and a CD of her work. Additional information on her website. Follow her review blog here.

Norma West Linder

Norma West Linder is a prolific Sarnia writer (novelist, poet, and short story writer).

JAMES DEAHL – is the author of twenty-six literary titles, the four most recent being: To Be With A Woman, Landscapes (with Katherine L. Gordon), Unbroken Lines, and Two Paths Through The Seasons (with Norma West Linder). A cycle of his poems is the focus of a one-hour television documentary, Under the Watchful Eye. Currently, Deahl is writing a series of essays on ten Canadian poets of the Confederation Period for Canadian Stories magazine for their sesquicentennial issues.

NORMA WEST LINDERis a member of The Writers Union of Canada, The Ontario Poetry Society, and WITS. A novelist, poet, and short story writer, she spent her formative years on Manitoulin Island and now lives in Sarnia where she taught English at Lambton College for 24 years. Her latest publications are The Pastel Planet (children’s novel), Tall Stuff (adult), and Two Paths Through The Seasons (poetry with James Deahl) published by Swords & Cyclamens, Israel. Her poem Valediction has been performed by choirs in Toronto and Calgary, set to music by Jeffrey Ryan, a West Coast composer.

DEBBIE OKUN HILLis Past President of The Ontario Poetry Society and a current member of The Writers’ Union of Canada and The League of Canadian Poets. She has been writing poetry since 2004 and has over 350 poems published in literary journals across Canada and the United States. Windsor publisher Black Moss Press published her first trade book Tarnished Trophies in 2014. This July, Big Pond Rumours Press will publish her art-themed chapbook manuscript Drawing From Experience. Okun Hill enjoys promoting the work of other writers and blogs about her literary journey on this site: Kites Without Strings.

Carmen Ziolkowski

Carmen Ziolkowski, an amazing woman and poet who is still writing in her nineties.

CARMEN ZIOLKOWSKIwas born in Italy and following WWII, lived in England where she worked as a registered nurse and later a midwife. In 1955, she emigrated to Canada and enrolled in the Port Huron Junior College, where she studied Journalism, finishing the course at Wayne State University. She has won several prizes for her poetry and in 1988, Ziolkowski received a special award for her contribution to Canadian and Italian literature from the Italian Vice Consul to Canada. Her first book of poems, Roses Bloom at Dusk, was translated into Italian and Japanese. Carmen has taught creative writing at Lambton College. She is a member of the Writers’ Union of Canada, the Canadian Authors Association, the Association of Italo-Canadian Writers, Pen International, Writers International Through Sarnia, and The Ontario Poetry Society. Ziolkowski’s first novel, House of Four Winds, was published in 1987, her 2nd book of poetry, World of Dreams, was published in 1995, her chapbook, Moments to Treasure, was published in 2008, and her latest work, The Moon Before the Sun, was published in 2009. Ziolkowski is currently working on her diary of life on La Monaca, where she was born, in Italy.

*from the poem “Change” published in The Artists of Crow County (Black Moss Press, 2017) page 19. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright © Kara Smith, 2017

 FOLLOW THIS BLOG FOR A FUTURE POET PROFILE ON KARA GHOBHAINN SMITH.

Poet James Deahl was profiled here and Norma West Linder was profiled here. Sharon Berg’s involvement in the Cadence Reading Series was featured here.

HAPPY NATIONAL POETRY MONTH EVERYONE!!

Celebrating Forests & Poetry -March 21, 2017

The sun rolls out a carpet of light…March 21, 2017 is not only World Poetry Day but it’s also International Day of Forests!

Today reminds us that we should dash outdoors into a forest, recite a poem, hug the oldest tree we can find, do all that we can to protect our environment, and make our world a kinder and better place to live in. Who cares if anyone is watching or not! The fresh air will be intoxicating.

International Day of Forests World Poetry Day March 21, 2017

As a full-time gardener of words, I can’t wait to kick off the winter boots and sink my feet and hands into the earth. After hibernating most of the winter, I hope to start writing some new material again.

Some of my blog followers may have noticed that my masthead has changed from a monarch butterfly to a log featuring the zig-zag trails of the invasive emerald ash borer (EMB). I’m eager to share some new poems on that theme. Artist Mary Abma has been creating artifacts to commemorate some of the trees lost by the EMB.  I look forward to seeing her work. Watch this blog for additional information about Signposts & Traces: Ash Tree Memorial Trail Performance to take place at Canatara Park and the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.

In July 2017, Drawing From Experience, my art-themed manuscript will be published by Big Pond Rumours Press. The 17-poem chapbook received Runner-up in the 1st annual Big Pond Rumours Chapbook Competition. I’m excited about this new project. Many of the poems were previously published and will be shared as a collective group for the first time. More details will be available at a later date.

For those who wish to attend a literary function, check my recent updates on the 2017 event section of my blog. The list represents a small sample of provincial offerings. Additional information about Sarnia-Lambton’s National Poetry Month celebration will be provided soon.

In the meantime, may your poetic muse nudge you to listen to the whispering trees….

“They too have stories to share.”