Category Archives: blog posts

Introducing Thimbles by Canadian Poet Vanessa Shields

“I saw the thimble on your finger but I didn’t know//you were our thimble.” – Vanessa Shields

I fell in love with Thimbles, the third and latest poetry collection by Canadian poet Vanessa Shields, while it was still an infant in PDF format.

thimbles - front cover

Published by Palimpsest Press, Thimbles is the third and latest poetry collection by Canadian Poet Vanessa Shields.

Wow, such a raw and honest ravelling and unravelling of emotions. Such a heart-wrenching tribute to the late Maria Giuditta Merlo Bison, her loving, seamstress grandmother (or as the Italians would say Nonna).

As I slipped inside Shields’ imaginary sewing basket and learned more about her personal inter-generational love story, my appreciation for the book grew stronger!

Thumbs up!

In my opinion, it’s Shields’ best poetry collection to date. Even CBC Books recently listed it as one of the “55 Canadian poetry collections to check out in spring 2021”.

As I mentioned in my Goodreads review, her work not only explored a new maturity in subject matter but her use of the sewing and mountain themes and motifs beautifully stitched together the narrative thread of her 94 poems.

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Tree-Themed Books – Reviewed

“You speak to me whispering/tree-secrets in the language/of lush and leafy greens” – Kate Marshall Flaherty*

Looking for an escape during these recent pandemic lockdowns? Over the years, I’ve read numerous books about trees.  So far, these are my seven favourites reviewed on Goodreads. Each of the authors has inspired me!

Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness by Dr. Qing Li (Penquin Life 2018) 320 pages

I first noticed the Japanese term Shinrin-Yoku on a Facebook post. After losing four large ash trees in my backyard due to the invasive emerald ash borer, I couldn’t believe how the loss permeated my existence. I felt compelled to learn more about the ash trees and in doing so the surviving trees taught me so much about the world around me.

Forest Bathing by Dr Qing Li and Heartwood edited by Lesley Strutt

What can trees teach us about the world? Pick up a book and discover what some researchers and poets have discovered?  Here are two books to get you started.

It didn’t surprise me that for Mother’s Day my family gifted me this book on forest bathing by Dr. Qing Li, chairman of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine. However, what surprised me was that about a third of the way into the book, the author even discussed a study about the relationship between trees and human health as the result of the emerald ash borer’s destructive path through America. In bold letters, he wrote on page 113 “When trees die, people die.”

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Embracing Books About Trees

“We need trees. They give us oxygen, wood, medicine, food, shelter, shade, paper –the list goes on and on.” –Dearborn Public Library; Dearborn Michigan*

When was the last time you hugged a tree? Admit it, during these pandemic on-again-off-again lockdowns, reading a good book or taking a quiet stroll through a tree-lined park often eased the emptiness from those missed social gatherings with family and friends. 

Forests have healing powers and that is one reason trees need to remain in good health for future generations.  On Sunday, March 21, 2021, concerned organizations and individuals with the help of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations celebrated International Day of Forests ( #IntlForestDay ). This year’s theme was “Forest restoration: a path to recovery and well-being.” For additional details, here is the link.

International Day of Forests March 21, 2021

International Day of Forests was celebrated March 21, 2021.

I’m not much of an activist, but as a writer and a reader, I’ve been impressed by some of the tree-themed literary projects that have been organized and promoted over the years. The following books were not affiliated with International Day of Forests, but I wanted to draw attention to them.

TREE BOOKS – HOT OFF THE PRESS:

Tree Anthology edited by Henry Fischer, Nicole Lane, Kathryn Takach, and Dan Lodge (Dearborn Public Library 2021) 294 pages.

What a beautiful book. I am hugging this anthology now and I look forward to reading the variety of stories and poems written by 67 contributors ranging from the school aged youth to the retired young at heart. There is also a Picture-a-Tree section featuring striking black and white images taken during Michigan’s stay-at-home orders.

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Watch the Tears – Phyllis Humby’s New Novel Old Broad Road

Phyllis L Humby’s gritty new novel Old Broad Road (Crossfield Publishing 2020) rattled more than a few old windows in a thunderstorm. It made me cry like a sudden outburst of rain, earning a five-star rating on Goodreads for its ability to move me so unexpectedly.

How did she do it?

By slowing the pace and quietly introducing the reader to Newfoundland’s warm hospitality before unrolling the yellow caution tape and hammering the reader not once but several times towards the end of the book.

OBR-FRONT-WEB-1

Humby’s debut novel Old Broad Road was released by Crossfield Publishing in 2020.

The novel opened innocently enough with Torontonian protagonist Sylvia Kramer seeking a fresh start in Newfoundland after divorcing her husband of several decades. The reasons for the divorce are not clear at the beginning but it was obvious Sylvia was traumatized enough to want to leave her adult children and young grandchildren behind.

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The Pandemic Challenge – Introducing 2020 Books by 14 Ontario Poets

“Well-thumbed books are strewn on the sill haphazardly/after bedtime’s nightly storytelling” – Frances Roberts Reilly*

My home library overflows with books: stacks of novels in my living room, short story collections in the family room, poetry books in my office. You could say I have a love for words. The challenge is to balance reading and reviewing with other daily activities. I wish I had time to read them all and some day I hope I will.

If your goal is to support local authors and/or to read work by an Ontario poet, it’s never too late. Perhaps you can help me out by cheering them on! Order one of their books, ask the library to include several books in their collection, maybe even post a review on Goodreads or other review locations.

Last week, I introduced several new anthologies that included work by members of The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS). See the post here. Today, I present new collections** by individual members. All were published in 2020. Congratulations to all!

Three Cheers for the Award-winning:

 Swoon (Guernica Editions 2020) By Elana Wolff  ISBN13: 9781771835077     ISBN10: 1771835079

Swoon by Elana Wolff won the 2020 Canadian Jewish Literary Award for Poetry.

Congratulations to TOPS Life Member Elana Wolff! Her most recent poetry collection Swoon was named winner of the 2020 Canadian Jewish Literary Award for Poetry. This is quite an honour as the award is presented annually in recognition of “the finest Canadian writing on Jewish themes and subjects”. See additional information here.

According to the September 29, 2020 Canadian Jewish Literary Awards media release, “This collection of poems explores a variety of subjects but returns again and again to our longing for transcendence. Informed by Jewish texts and contexts, with a sure-handed control of language and image, the poems are passionate but mature, precise and curious, willing to risk everything for a chance to slip behind the curtain of the familiar to get a glimpse at the divine. The poems in Swoon are philosophical considerations, meditations on the sacred and profane with a subtle understanding of one’s own connection to the world. It is a subtle, sensual book of observances pleasing to the ear.”

A review of this book written by Kate Marshall Flaherty appears here on the League of Canadian Poets website and also in the January 2021 issue of Verse Afire.

Additional information about Elana Wolff and her other books can be found on the Guernica Editions website.

Additional Cheers for New Work (in alphabetical order according to the poet’s last name):

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New Poetry Anthologies Are Like Automobile Showrooms

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.

Infinite Passages 2020 (Beret Days Press) features the work of 60 members of The Ontario Poetry Society.

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.

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Two Debut Books in 6 Months for Canadian Author Phyllis L Humby

A movement. A sound. I held my breath. There it was again. A scratching sound in the ductwork next to me.– Phyllis L Humby*

From lingerie boutique owner to Eden Mills fringe reader to First Monday columnist to published author, Lambton Shores writer Phyllis L Humby continues to forge a strong literary presence.

In April during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, Crossfield Publishing released Hazards of the Trade. This debut memoir is being marketed as Humby’s “personal disclosure of nearly twenty-years of humorous and sad reflections from the naïve start-up of a small-town lingerie boutique to the ultimate farewell.” What a career! Bravo, I say! My review of her book appears here.

Congratulations to Lambton Shores writer and First Monday columnist Phyllis L Humby who (in April) launched her memoir Hazards of the Trade. Later this fall, her debut novel Old Broad Road will appear in bookstores across Canada.

And while some writers only dream of having their work published, Humby will see her second book, a debut novel released by Crossfield Publishing in the upcoming weeks.

Titled Old Broad Road, this is the first manuscript she wrote and shared with her Sarnia, Ontario writing critique group several years ago. Numerous drafts later, her dream to be published came unexpectedly like an avalanche with two books in two different genres released within six months of each other.

That’s amazing but her enthusiasm continues to drive her. She has already completed the draft of her sequel to Old Broad Road and is currently working at revising a psychological thriller. She is indeed multi-talented!

Earlier this month, I chatted with Phyllis (via e-mail) about her new memoir, her journey as a writer, her writing space, and her plans for the future.

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Introducing Elizabeth F Hill and All ‘Bout Canada

Visitors have 50,000 years to visit Niagara Falls before it disappears – Elizabeth F. Hill*

She’s a walking encyclopedia! Canadian author Elizabeth F. Hill’s love for reading, researching, and writing is evident in her latest project  All ‘Bout Canada: A Compendium of Canadiana. Recently released by Nimbus Publishing, her 200-page non-fiction book is being described as “a resourceful, quirky, and illuminating read, featuring vibrant illustrations….an abecedary of Canadiana for all of us.”**

An avid traveller! Canadian writer Elizabeth F. Hill recently launched her non-fiction book  All ‘Bout Canada.

The back cover states: “Using a blend of prose, poetry, posters, jokes, and quizzes, and featuring dictionary-style entries and witty poems for each letter in the alphabet, this collection of Canadian facts and anecdotes takes readers on a cross-country cultural tour from “Aurora Borealis” to “Zellers”, with delightful detours along the way.”**

Talk about conversation starters!  Her ABC book tempts the reader with trivia: “Did you know? …On average, the inside of the igloo is 65 degrees warmer than the outside air with wind chill.” (p. 69)

I could chat with this author for hours and I have. She is most entertaining and because she’s my sister-in-law (big disclosure here which is why I will refrain from posting a review), I know how hard she works behind the scenes to expand her knowledge about Canada and other parts of the world. Ever since I have known her, Beth has had an amazing capacity to remember details: she’s an academic researcher who holds a master of library science and a PhD in intercultural education. Yet, her interests and mannerisms are down to earth, and her writing is infused with a touch of dry humour. She makes me laugh.

A few days ago, I chatted with Elizabeth (via e-mail) about her new book, her journey as a writer, her writing space, and her plans for the future. Continue reading

Introducing Norma West Linder’s 16th Poetry Collection

“Lake Huron laps a neverending story/Of ships and shells and past and present glory.” -Norma West Linder*

Call it a poet’s memory box of many things! Using the catchy but familiar title Cabbages and Kings, Canadian writer Norma West Linder giftwraps 50 of her best poems written between 2012 and 2019 and presents them in a beautifully written book recently released by Aeolus House. This is her 16th poetry collection and the first one since Adder’s-tongues, her 1969-2011 selected works, was published by the same publisher in 2012.  It’s quite an achievement considering Linder is now in her nineties with no sign of retiring anytime soon.

Cabbages and Kings front cover

Cabbages and Kings – Poems 2012 – 2019 (Aeolus House 2020) by Norma West Linder, 82 pages, ISBN 978-1-987872-262 (softcover)

Fans of her work will be delighted with her familiar narrative and accessible verse written in the people’s poet tradition. Over the years, Linder has published novels, a biography, a one-act play, a memoir, and work for children so it is common to see some storytelling techniques incorporated in her poetry.

For example, the attractive softcover book opens like a fairy tale with the Lewis Carroll quote “The time has come,” the Walrus said/“To talk of many things:/-Of shoes and ships – and sealing wax—/Of cabbages – and Kings…”

Linder does indeed speak “of many things” from fame and royalty to farming and down-to-earth living. Like a time capsule opened to reveal stories and significant images of the past, the 82-page book is organized into five sections reminiscent of neatly-bound and themed albums.

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A Strong Collection – Sharon Berg’s Naming the Shadows – Stories

 “Don’t shake your head, shadow, I’m serious.” -Sharon Berg*

Canadian author/publisher/poet Sharon Berg* prefaces her short story collection Naming the Shadows (Porcupine’s Quill 2019) with a quote by C. G. Jung: “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”

Not everyone yearns to peer or dig deep into the darkness but for those readers who appreciate great literature and take the time to analyze the content in more detail, they shall be rewarded.

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Naming the Shadows: Stories (Porcupine’s Quill 2019) by Sharon Berg ISBN 9780889844292 (softcover) was officially launched September 29, 2019 at The Book Keeper in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.

Berg never flinches from tough subjects nor sugar-coats her work. She pushes boundaries and draws attention to such inequalities and injustices as betrayal and infidelity, bullying, manipulation, torture and assault, rape and sexual deviance, the exploitation of Midgets in a freak show, street living and abuse, theft and consequences, love lost and grief, adoption and single parenting, ageism, plus the heaviness of dark secrets and confessions. These are the shadows that Berg clearly names and wants to bring to light.

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