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Congratulations I. B. Iskov – More Applause for this Arts and Culture Leader

Some women are absolutely fabulous.

I. B. (Bunny) Iskov is one of them.

Last Sunday (March 5, 2017), Iskov was one of forty Greater Golden Horseshoe residents honoured during the 4th Annual Absolutely Fabulous Women – 40 over Forty Awards Gala. According to the organizers, “this prestigious annual award ceremony celebrates inspirational individuals and recognizes their outstanding contributions to the community.” Iskov received her award for her long-standing service to the Arts and Culture community (more specifically for her dedication and leadership with The Ontario Poetry Society).

Photo 3 Bunny Iskov win her award March 5, 2017 Photo courtesy Anna Yin

Canadian poet I. B. (Bunny) Iskov was recently honoured at the 4th Annual Absolutely Fabulous Women – 40 Over Forty Awards Gala held in Mississauga, Ontario. Photo Courtesy: Anna Yin

 

I’ve written about Bunny before. Back in 2015, I stated, “Canadian poet I. B. (Bunny) Iskov reminds me of the Energizer® Bunny and the TV commercial where the batteries in the pink-plush, sunglasses wearing, hare “keep going and going and going”. Even the Oxford Dictionary’s description of the generic ‘energizer bunny’ phrase resonates with her character and enthusiasm. She is indeed a “persistent or indefatigable person or phenomenon.”  See the full blog post including a question and answer segment here.

Bunny was also featured in two blogs about her involvement as editor/compiler of the recent Memory and Loss fundraising anthology and tour where monies were raised for the Alzheimer Society of Ontario. See those blogs here and here.

As I’ve mentioned before, Bunny is one of the hardest working individuals I know and is a crusader for all poets, especially those at the grassroots level who need a nudge and boost of confidence to keep writing.

Photo 1 Bunny Iskov at Absoluately Fabulous Women March 5, 2017 event photo courtesy Larry Iskov

For over 16 years, Bunny Iskov has inspired poets through The Ontario Poetry Society, a not-for-profit organization she founded and runs with the help of several volunteers. Photo Courtesy: Larry Iskov

 

With permission from the nominating committee (Fran Figge, Ronnie R. Brown, and me), below are some of the highlights of Bunny’s achievements that were shared with an independent panel of judges. I am thrilled that the judges accepted the nomination.

Toronto poet I. Bunny Iskov is the dynamic leader and Founder of The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS). For over 16 years she has funneled her enthusiasm for words into the creation and ongoing development of this highly successful not-for-profit provincial literary arts organization which currently serves over 260 members.

Through Beret Days Press, Iskov has published over 150 books including member anthologies and private collections as well as a triannual newsletter Verse Afire.  Through her poetry initiatives, over $1500 has been donated to several non-profit charitable organizations.  She has also established a poor poet fund and the Make-A-Chapbook Foundation for poets in financial need.

As a volunteer and poetry promoter, Iskov helps launch the writing careers of emerging poets. She embraces writers from every ethnic and cultural background, from hobbyists to poet laureates. She creates, organizes and runs several contests, workshops, readings and open mic events each year.

In 2009, she was the recipient of the inaugural RAVE (Recognizing Arts Vaughan Excellence) Award for her work as Art Educator and Mentor in the Literary Arts Discipline.

Bunny Iskov is inspirational, irreplaceable and deserves recognition for her achievements.

Additional information about her personal literary credentials are posted on-line on The Ontario Poetry Society website.

Photo 2 Anna Yin and Bunny Iskov at award ceremony March 5, 2017 Photo Courtesy Larry Iskov

Anna Yin, Mississauga’s first poet laureate, congratulates Bunny Iskov on her award. Photo Courtesy: Larry Iskov

 

Bunny is indeed amazing. A few hours after winning her award, she was back at The Ontario Poetry Society headquarters sending e-mails and promoting other poets.

And there’s more….

Later this month, she’ll be releasing a new limited edition chapbook called Hold The Applause (Ink Bottle Press, 2017). The collection will include a sample of her poems that have either won poetry awards or have come close as Honourable Mentions and/or Judge’s Choice Awards.

She will also be preparing all the files for Transitory Tango, a poetry membership anthology to be edited and compiled by Ronnie R. Brown and released in late summer by Beret Days Press. Submissions for Verse Afire, TOPS membership newsletter must also be compiled. Several contests and members’ readings and open mic events have also been organized for 2017.

Like the Energizer® Bunny, she keeps “going and going and going”. She continues to make a difference in so many lives. Thank you for all that you do!

 

Venera Fazio Weaves Five Generations into “The Fabric of My Soul”

my thoughts glide back and forth, back and forth/to the rhythm of my loom – Venera Fazio*

A snip of thread. A quilter’s knot. A running stitch. Canadian writer/editor/poet Venera Fazio uses her extraordinary patience and attention to detail to pull together her passions for fabric art and literature.

Attend a local writers’ workshop in Sarnia and you’ll find Fazio with her quilting supplies. As a quilter, she carefully threads the needle and hand-stitches all the fabric petals and leaves together while listening to her peers read. Step into her home and you’ll find quilts-in-progress on the kitchen island, across her dining room table and in her living room.  Several walls display her finished creations featuring vibrant and detailed patterns.

Using these same creative talents, she also meticulously works with words. As an editor, she has co-edited eight anthologies related to her Italian Canadian heritage including the bestselling Sweet Lemons I and Sweet Lemons II.

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The Fabric of My Soul (Longbridge Books, 2015) is Venera Fazio’s first solo trade publication.

More recently as a poet, she collected familial pieces (both past and present) and wove them together into her first solo trade book. The result was The Fabric of My Soul, a 64-page collection of poems, translations, photos, and short stories published by Montreal-based publisher Longbridge Books. The book resembles a family album, a memoir, and showcase of previously published work including poems from Philadelphia Poets and Italian Canadians at Table plus a short non-fiction piece from Accenti Magazine.

If you think the content of her book is all homespun goodness, it is and isn’t. Many of her peers were struck by her frankness. As Fazio reveals in her poem “Legacy”, “my mother wanted a daughter/to ribbon, stem and satin stitch/rather than me/my tangled French knots/inept fingers caressing books.” (p. 36)

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Venera Fazio is a Bright’s Grove editor/writer/poet known nationally for her work with the Association of Italian Canadian Writers (AICW).

Despite the tough childhood and recently revealed secrets, Fazio’s love for family, friends and her culture prevails. “The perfume of the blossoms/sweetened my thoughts/helped me forget.” (p. 50). In the last three lines of her last poem “My hope is/with time, my friends/will be granted the same resilience.” (p. 57)

Soft-spoken and diplomatic with a gentle demeanor, Fazio works diligently and possesses strong organizational skills as evident in her role as a past-president of the Association of Italian Canadian Writers (AICW). Locally, she helped to coordinate Sarnia’s Books and Biscotti literary events both at the Dante Club and in her home plus was a dedicated committee member of Sarnia’s Bluewater Reading series.

To present an objective view of her first poetry collection, (I’ve known Venera for over a decade), below is a review of her book written by John Di Leonardo, co-editor of The Ontario Poetry Society’s Verse Afire.**

A cover photo by Dwayne O’Neill of the lush Sicilian hilltop village of Bafia is an apt image to set the stage for Fazio’s new collection of poems The Fabric of My Soul. Her words weave a tender tapestry of family history and the Italian immigrant experience. Fazio’s poems are laid out between a prologue “My Biography According to the Number Three” and the epilogue “I’ve Got a Secret” both great sections as introduction and conclusion to her poetry. These two segments in the book resonate deeply for anyone new to Canada, the millions of post-war southern Europeans like myself and the author who journeyed by ship from Naples to Pier 21 in Halifax, then onward by train to the various destinations to a better life, where many immigrants as Fazio states “nourished the body//while neglecting the spirit.”

These clear-eyed and intimate poems rise and fall with a lyrical flow to express a wide range of emotions associated with memory, hardships and death.

From the very first poem “Broken” we are guided through secret feelings of loss, as a “shimmering Sicilian sun/stretches/across your tombstone”…we locked your name/in our family closet/sealed it shut with silence,” to family tragedies “I am ashamed//I never visited you/in the psychiatric ward:…you loved your dead son/more than a living daughter.” The hardships are juxtaposed with flavours of new Canadians, “fingers inflamed from pickle factory brine/…At noon she served penne//the colour of family blood.”

Glimpses of self-discovery appear in “Each day of my vacation/in the village of my birth//I drew elixir from the well.” Finally in the last poem, “The Unexpected” a new vision of hope merges. “My hope is/with time, my friends/will be granted the same resilience”.

In the epilogue Fazio writes, “For years, I felt I had two identities, a Canadian one and an Italian one”. This identity crisis is aptly resolved by the inclusion of Italian passages and full (traduzione) translations by Elettra Bedon, for poems such as “Nonna Marie”, “Lasciar andare”, “Tributo”, and “Le mani di mia madre”. Reading these poems in the original thoroughly satisfies the ear for many Italian-Canadian hearts.

Last May, Fazio’s poetry collection was officially launched with Exploring Voice: Italian Canadian Female Writers, another anthology she co-edited with Delia De Santis. Last week, I asked Venera to share her thoughts about her writing process. Below are her responses:

Venera, as past president of the Association of Italian Canadian Writers, you worked so hard to launch the careers of other writers. I was thrilled when I heard that your latest book focuses exclusively on your own work. Describe your new poetry book in a few sentences.

The book connects me with my family that raised me in Dundas, Ontario and the relatives that I only saw about six times in my life.

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Sharing laughter at a Books and Biscotti event in Sarnia, Ontario.

Which of the poems is your most favourite and why is it important to you?

The poem “Broken” is my favourite because it was written in memory of Zio Carlo Fazio (1922-1969). My uncle Carlo and his family didn’t speak to us for 50 years. The poem pulled us together. It is about forgiveness and how we can only live fully with each other.

How does your work differ from others of its genre? For example, you included black and white photos throughout your book.

I include a lot of history in this book. Some poets concentrate on the family and some just on history. I have melted the two together. And yes, I’ve also included photographs in the book.

Through your editing and volunteer work, you have been a cheerleader for Italian Canadian writers! What motivates you to work so hard for this special group?

When I was growing up, the Italians were frowned upon because of the war. Also they had these stereotypes of Italians being dirty and loud. They also ate smelly food like salami and garlic bread. As an Italian Canadian, I was always conscious of the underclass and so I wanted to focus on Italian Canadian writing. I wanted to let readers know that we weren’t like that. We were intelligent writers and it was my hope that it gave our culture a boost.

What inspires you and who are your mentors?

Quality of writing inspires me. I admire novelist Nino Ricci, author of Lives of the Saints plus poets Gianna Patriarca author of Ciao, Baby and Mary di Michele author of Tenor of Love.

Fazio’s work recently appeared in these two anthologies.

Describe your writing process.

I start with an idea, work at it and then decide it’s wrong. It takes me about ten “go-throughs” to be satisfied with the final product. I also like to go for walks. That’s when I get my ideas and thoughts for revisions. I usually create and edit my drafts straight onto the computer. My favourite place to write is in my downstairs office where it is quiet.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a chapbook of poems focusing on my cancer journey. So far I’ve completed seven poems and hope to do a few more.

The news of your medical condition came as quite a shock to many of your close friends. It is inspiring to see you back at your writing and to hear some of your new poems. Do you have any other plans for the future?

Yes, I’m going to do lots of travelling. I have several trips already planned. It gives me something to look forward to.

Venera, I look forward to reading more of your work as well as hearing news about your adventures. Thank you for welcoming me into your home and sharing your thoughts with me.

According to the back cover of her book: Venera Fazio was born in Sicily and now lives in Bright’s Grove, Ontario. Before dedicating herself to writing and editing, she worked as a social worker (MSW)…Her poetry and prose has been published in literary magazines and anthologies in Canada and the United States.

venera-fazio-and-delia-de-santis-were-honoured-for-their-contributions-to-the-italian-canadian-community

Exploring Voice: Italian Canadian Female Writers is the eighth anthology focusing on Italian Canadian culture that Venera has co-edited. Here, she and co-editor Delia De Santis are honoured for their contributions.

In April 2016, the Association of Italian Canadian Writers (AICW) presented her and her writing/editing friend Delia De Santis with an award for their “extraordinary contributions to the Italian Canadian writing community and to Canadian literature.” See more info here.

An essay, “On Writing and Dreaming”, written by Fazio appears on the Gloria Pearson-Vasey website.

*from the poem “The Fabric of My Soul” published in the book The Fabric of My Soul (Longbridge Books, 2015) page 28. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright ©2015 Venera Fazio.
**John Di Leonardo’s review first appeared in the May to Sept. 2016 issue of Verse Afire. Reprinted with permission. Additional information about Di Leonardo can be found on his website.

Watch this blog for additional Canadian Author and Poet Profiles.                                             

Pat Connors Flexes his Poetic Muscles in Part-Time Contemplative

You have turned the tip-tips and taps/and thump thumps and ba-pa-dumps/of disenfranchised nerdy young men//into something resembling music – Pat Connors*

 

Reading a Pat Connors’ poetry chapbook is like stepping inside a bar and eavesdropping on someone’s contemplations and daydreams. In fact, the first poem in his first Lyricalmyrical book Scarborough Songs is titled ‘Scarborough Bar’. It makes reference to the clichéd phrase “wildest dreams” and describes the antics of a “gap-toothed guy”, as well as “slow dancing with a beauty queen” and the reality of  “places I cannot go anymore”.

scarborough-poet-pat-connors

Scarborough Poet Pat Connors

The cover photo (with an opened beer bottle between two hockey gloves) sets the tone not only for Connors’ sense of humour but the light and sporty sections of the book. Read on and you’ll also find numerous melancholy images as well as some heavy topics such as politics, faith, destiny, the future and one’s purpose in life. 

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Scarborough Songs is Connors’ first poetry chapbook published by Lyricalmyrical.

One of the strongest poems in the collection is called ‘In the House Where I Grew Up’. It uses a table as a metaphor for a dysfunctional family: “Came apart in the middle/Like so many ruined meals/And other realities hard to digest”.

 

Despite all the references to waiting and dreaming, the 36-page collection ends on a hopeful reflective note, “I will hold out for/The future/And trust in/What it brings”.

 

Connors’ second Lyricalmyrical chapbook, Part-Time Contemplative, continues with similar reflective themes from the first book. However, Connors’ style as a poet has changed and strengthened. Rather than beginning each line with a capital letter, he starts each line with a mix of upper and lower cases which makes the poems less formal and easier to read. He includes several haiku and short poems and uses more line structure and/or stanza consistency. The language is richer, although at times, it also leans toward abstract thought.

 

His best work stems from his narrative poems such as ‘Burby’ where he writes, “On Summer days too hot for baseball/or moving the lawn or digging post holes/we sweated and burned in the sun/to gain a small victory or live out a dream.” Sometimes, his poems remind me of a mantra, a prayer or a stream of consciousness. For example, “If I am to become the man I am to be become//I have to stop being the one others would have me be.”

 

Connors stresses that his poetry is intended for the general public versus an academic audience.

 

In his dedication, he acknowledges the support of Canadian poet and former Grain editor Mick Burrs, “who has helped me/to become a better poet and person.”

 

As Fran Figge, President of The Ontario Poetry Society, wrote in her review of Connor’s latest chapbook, “Pat Connors’ book is the poetry of discovery, finding one is “blessed beyond what I ever believed.” It is the rite of passage, “the sunrise after darkest night”.”

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Pat Connors in Cuba, January 2017. Photo courtesy of Lillian Allen.

In January, Connors travelled to Cuba as part of the launch of the bilingual anthology The Bottom of the Wine Jar. The Toronto launch of this book will be held this spring. Below are some of his thoughts about his writing and future projects.

 

Congratulations Pat! Please describe your latest Lyricalmyrical chapbook in a few sentences.

 

Thank you, Deb!  Part-Time Contemplative is very much the sequel to Scarborough Songs, released in 2013 by Lyricalmyrical Press, and charted on the Toronto Poetry MapIt is the continuation and  development of the themes from the first book, as well as my growth and development as a poet and as a person. 

 

Several of the poems from both chapbooks were either previously published or won awards. What is your favourite poem in your latest collection and why do you like it so much?

 

“The Beginning of Forever” had never been published before, although I certainly tried.  People have apparently been offended by the relatively innocuous expletive I use at the end of the first stanza.  But it is a warm and inviting and gentle piece aside from that one turn of phrase, which I wrote while going through a very challenging period.  The poem didn’t work the various times I tried to change that line.  It lost its honesty.

 

How does your work differ from others in the same genre?

 

My work is more influenced by dub and spoken word, yet also by rock and roll, than most literary poets.  I don’t write for a niche audience, but rather to be read and heard by a wide variety of audiences, including ones which are non-literary.

 

Would you consider yourself a people’s poet? Why or why not?

 

I write poetry which I hope the man in the street can appreciate as much, or more, than the literary or academic circles.  I read at open mics which are largely musical, or for collectives like Scarborough Arts, or with groups of people who are not predominantly English-speaking, and check to see if my message comes through and rings true.

 

I write about experiences and themes which I have shared with a group of friends I have known since the 1970’s, and do so in a manner in which they could relate.  Robert Priest has described my style as “deceptively plain spoken”.  This is something to which I aspire, and have worked very hard to create.

 

Both of your chapbooks have a spiritual thread. The first chapbook is dedicated to The One who makes it possible, and the one I adore. The second chapbook is dedicated to Canadian poet Mick Burrs. Who are your poetry mentors and/or teachers and why do they mean so much to you?

 

The One who makes it possible is God.  I have nothing without God – no reason, no purpose, no life, no creativity.  My poetry is above all a celebration of that relationship.

 

Mick, as well as people such as Terry Barker and James Deahl, are great mentors and friends, who very much treat me as an equal, yet encourage me to expand myself, to go beyond what I have already done.

part-time-contemplative-by-pat-connors-cover-image

Front cover image for the poetry chapbook Part-Time Contemplative by Pat Connors.

The cover of your second chapbook shows a cluttered desk. Describe your writing process including your favourite writing space.

 

The beginning of the process typically comes far away from my cluttered desk – the distillation of my experiences, the contemplation, the affirmation or evolution of my value systems.

 

The first draft is almost always with pen and paper.  The second (and usually third) draft is done at my desk, when things are – ironically – a little more organized.  Then, after a meeting with Mick, or Dane Swan, another great poet and friend, comes one or two more drafts.  At least.

 

What are you currently working on?

I have 18 poems in an anthology from the Canada Cuba Literary Alliance (CCLA) called Bottom of the Wine JarThe world premiere was in Gibara, Cuba, at the end of January.  The Canadian launch should be in late Spring.

the-bottom-of-the-wine-jar

Connors is one of four poets featured in this bilingual anthology Bottom of the Wine Jar.

What are your future plans?

 

A full manuscript to be released before my 50th birthday, which is in May, 2019.  A chapbook of poetry inspired by Psalm 40.  A novella and/or a book of short stories after that is completed.  A novel by the time I’m 60.

 

Wow, you have your writing plans all mapped out. Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?

 

I trust you will enjoy what I write and how I write it, and that you find the products to be genuine.  I hope this will inspire you in whatever defines and motivates you.  I believe this affects all facets of life, and makes the world a better place.

 

Thanks Pat for the interview. I look forward to reading more of your work.

 

Pat Connors first chapbook, Scarborough Songs, was published by Lyricalmyrical Press in 2013, and charted on the Toronto Poetry Map. He was literary juror of Big Art Book 2013, a digital project of Scarborough Arts. He has appeared in entities such as The Toronto Quarterly, Zouch Magazine & Miscellany, This Place Anthology, Northern Voices Journal, Poetry’Z Own Magazine, Chrysalis Zine, and was nominated for the 2011 Best of the Net contest. He recently published in: Canadian Stories; Big Pond Rumours; and Sharing Spaces, a joint project of York University and Antares Publications. Part-Time Contemplative is his second chapbook.  He is a manager for the Toronto Chapter of 100,000 Poets for Change.

pat-connors-at-the-2015-edmonton-poetry-festival

Pat Connors reads at the 2015 Edmonton Poetry Festival as part of the Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour

Additional information about Pat Connors can be found on LinkedIn and in an earlier post on this blog. Numerous videos of his performances appear on YouTube.

*epigraph from “The Professor” published in the book Part-Time Contemplative (Lyricalmyrical, 2016) Reprinted with the author’s permission. Copyright © Pat Connors, 2016.
This article represents the 100th post for Kites Without Strings. Browse this blog for previous literary articles or follow for additional Canadian Author and Poet Profiles.

Filling Your Heart with Love Poems

“All You Need Is Love,” wrote John Lennon. The lyrics to this 1967 Beatles single holds me captive and warms my mood like a lit fireplace on a snowy evening.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if love could soften some of the hatred in this world? Call me an optimist! I’d sooner be hypnotized by cupid’s arrow than lambasted by hurtful words. Are you feeling drained by all the negative news? I know I am.

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Mark your calendars for this special Red Valentine event in Chatham, Ontario.

In just eight days (Saturday, February 11), the Thames Art Gallery presents “All Four Love”, a special Red Valentine themed event featuring Black Moss Press* poets Cornelia Hoogland, Vanessa Shields, Kara Ghobhainn Smith, and Debbie Okun Hill (that’s me) plus special musical guest celebrity sing-songwriter Crissi Cochrane. If you’ve never heard Crissi perform, here’s your chance. She has a beautiful voice.

all-four-love-february-11-2017-event-guest-performers

If the idea of poetry frightens you, attend anyway. I dare you. We all have different styles and voices to reach a wide audience. Expect your heart to be filled with poetic words from the sentimental to the sexy to the humourous.

For example:

“What’s your hurry? Don’t be such a schoolgirl.” – from the poem “Red Meets the Wolf in the Woods” by Cornelia Hoogland.

“These days I choose sleep over sex/Fiction over poetry/Movies over dancing” – from the poem “Where Is the Love?” By Vanessa Shields.

“She thought he was/boring, arrogant/even full of it/but he showed her” – from the poem “The night the music ended” by Kara Ghobhainn Smith.

“Remember when…/I first kissed you,” –from the poem “Gentle Devotion” by Debbie Okun Hill

Yes poetry CAN be entertaining! For additional information and performers’ bios, stop by the Thames Art Gallery website. Crissi also has a website.

Will there be food? Of course!

menu-for-all-four-love-poetry-event-february-11-2017-in-chatham

A seven-course fully red tapas menu by William Street Café is included. Expect gazpacho shooters, beet hummus with vegi chips, red pepper bruschetta, phyllo cups with goat cheese pomegranate syrup & pistachios, cranberry glazed chicken wings, tortellini in tomato sauce, and mascarpone tart with raspberries.

Mmmmmm….is your mouth watering yet?

What are you waiting for? Forget your troubles. Bring a date, a friend, a group of friends. Wear something red. And yes, tickets are available here.

Still not convinced!

Below is a short section from my longer poem “Taped Together”.**

  1. iv) Two-sided Tape

They say there are two sides

To a coin, to a story

Sometimes two sides to love

His and her sides of a bed

Two sides to an argument

And two sides to mend.

Love, love, love! May love heal our world, today, tomorrow, and always. Hope to see you in Chatham at the Thames Art Gallery/Chatham Cultural Centre.

Can’t attend? Perhaps you’d prefer to share your own love poems. Check my Ontario 2017 event page for additional love themed readings and open mics such as the Poetry and Roses reading in London on February 9, The Ontario Poetry Society’s The Love of Poetry Gathering in Toronto on February 12, and/or the Art Bar’s Cupid Wins & Wounds All Open Mic Night in Toronto on February 14.

Happy Valentine’s Month Everyone!!!

*Additional information about Black Moss Press can be found on this website.
**The poem ‘Taped Together’ received an Honourable Mention Award from The Ontario Poetry Society’s (TOPS) The Open Heart 10 poetry competition 2015 and was first published in Open Heart 10: An Anthology of Canadian Poetry, Beret Days Press, 2016. Copyright © Debbie Okun Hill

Poetry Review – Time Slip by John Oughton

Know the earth/through white toes/sail the earth/for all winter/and greet spring/forthcoming with soft/green applause – John Oughton

Seconds melt like snowflakes against a heated window. 2017 slips in. 2016 slips out. I yearn for the holidays to linger a few moments longer but time rests for no one. Another season of literary news unfolds but first…a glimpse back at John Oughton’s poetry collection Time Slip published by Guernica Editions in 2010.

Special thanks to Aeolus House poet Kate Rogers for gifting me this NEW review to kick start the New Year!

Time Slip                                               Reviewed by Kate Rogers

by John Oughton

Guernica Editions, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-55071-302-2

About twenty years ago I sat with John Oughton under the leafy canopy of a Toronto backyard with other poets workshopping our pieces. At that time I knew that John was a Professor at Centennial College, and taught writing, but I was unaware of the life events John describes in the introduction to the collection reviewed here–Time Slip. The collection spans his travels in Iraq and Egypt and around Asia; six months spent in Japan; and significant personal losses.

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Time Slip (Guernica Editions, 2010) by John Oughton

In fact, Time Slip includes thirty years of poetry by John Oughton–from poems about his travels, to persona poems from the perspective of spy and courtesan, Mata Hari. As a Canadian poet who has been teaching literature, creative writing and other subjects in Asia for 17 years, I can appreciate his poetic responses to Asian aesthetics and spiritual places.

In “For Yuan Mei”, an 18th century Chinese poet, Oughton’s words flow like calligraphy strokes: As a brush/ sublimes stone/and water to song (p. 29).

I have been to Buddhist temples and shrines in Kyoto, Japan, like the one Oughton describes with both humor and awe in “Taizo-In Rock Garden, Kyoto” (p. 31), …a waterfall for each ear/…carp chorus/gold and silver below the mirror/of the still pond

In fact, there are many strong pieces on other subjects—especially love. They are distinguished by tight writing, original metaphor, and visceral feeling.

His love poems are sensual and deeply felt: two examples are “Back Again for Mary” (p.25) and “For Jan Apart” (p.26) where beautiful lines such as this from the latter poem evoke the loved one, …/I don’t /sense you swimming in dreams/green or flying the kite/of your bright art on/the images singing through/your brain thunder…

His poems inspired by nature are often as visceral, and as taut. A good example is “Trees Two” (p.17): Know the earth/through white toes/sail the earth/for all winter/and greet spring/forthcoming with soft/green applause

In “The Boulder” (p.75), Oughton introduces landscape with visceral intensity in this first stanza, Near Riviere-du-Loup/above the sweeping St.Lawrence/a granite heart/taller than a man…

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Poet John Oughton is the author of five poetry books, several chapbooks, and a mystery novel.

Sound and rhythm are powerfully evoked In “That Line”, (p.19), I turn my life upside down/nothing falls out. No change/in the pockets of this train/six sprockets the head’s projector/unreels, grinding land through…

In “Training” (p.21), a similar rhythm pulls the reader along, But sight tows a zipper that shuts/the gap of where we were

There is much to praise about the poetry in Time Slip, but the collection is not without weaknesses. Time Slip appears to be a volume of “collected poems”—“selections” is the word used by Oughton in his introduction (p. 13)—therefore some of the poems were not written by the mature poet who penned the introduction. I can’t say how many poems from early in his poetic career were revised for inclusion in Time Slip, but my impression is that they were not revisited before publication in this volume. If that’s the case, I think that was a mistake. As British poet Billy Mills reflects in a piece on collected works in The Guardian*, even poets such as W.B. Yeats often revised old poems for collected works.

One example of a poem which is not Oughton’s most sensitive work is “Foreign”, set in Japan, (p.30). The poem starts well with the narrator effectively mocking himself: Beard like a brush that quit/painting and eloped with the ink But a false note is struck when the narrator quips near the end, Almond eyes seek the nut I am.

It is hard to know whether the reference to “almond eyes” is part of the self-mockery in this context. This kind of description would be seen by some contemporary critics as objectifying and exoticizing the locals strolling through Kyoto’s Botany Gardens.

In some respects, John Oughton’s collection Time Slip reminds me of one assembled by Australian peripatetic lecturer- poet Dennis Haskell which I reviewed six months ago for the Malaysian literary journal ASIATIC .** Oughton’s collection, Time Slip like Haskell’s collected poems, What Are You Doing Here? ,***spans decades of travel and long periods spent by the poet in other cultures. Both collections raise a question for me, namely: Is it wise to include early travel poems in unrevised form in a “Selected Poems”?

In Time Slip, “Xmas Pageant, 1961” (p.85), the narrator reflects on his travels as a teenager as he also recalls a Christmas pageant. The narrator’s glib tone makes the poem more told than seen. One example can be found at the start of the third stanza: I had spent the Christmas before in Iraq/the hills bleached and biblical…

Some of the other poems which seem too told are Mata Hari poems, such as “Typhoid Fever” (p.56), and “Debut at the Musee Guimet, Paris” (p.60). I understand the challenges of creating context and sharing history for the reader of persona poetry. Yet in the latter poem, Mata Hari’s life events are reduced to a list, as in the first three lines of the third stanza below:

The truth of dance animates me/I take my past, my grief, my marriage/my failure as wife, artist’s model, circus rider…

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Oughton will be a featured reader during the January 24, 2017 Art Bar Reading Series event.

The Mata Hari poem, “Salome” (p. 62-63), could have begun half way through with these powerful lines: When I dance Salome I’ll take their heads off/while the music cracks and thumps/like a soul forced back into flesh

Instead of with the opening stanza which tells, rather than shows: What Carmen only hints at, this opera shrieks/Women murder as well as they conceive/using all the power of mistress/mother harpy

In addition to further editing, Time Slip would have flowed better with transitions between the poems selected from several collections—especially in the case of the Mata Hari poems. Sub-sections would have given those poems more opportunity to breathe.

A second edition of John Oughton’s poetry collection, Mata Hari’s Lost Words, will be released in 2017. I look forward to reading those persona poems, because I appreciate how challenging it can be to fully inhabit a character on the page. I will be interested to see whether any of the Mata Hari poems which appeared in Time Slip have been revised.

John Oughton’s collection, Time Slip showcases a lot of strong writing from his thirty plus years as a poet. This reviewer has not chosen to comment on his poems of loss, and I have barely touched on his sense of humor. The latter makes regular appearances as in the aforementioned, “Foreign”, set in Japan, (p.30), where the narrator starts off by effectively mocking himself.

In “Canadian Love Song” (p.99), the narrator jokes about that emotion which inspires so much poetry: yearning, I have an itch/ which is you/calamine pink/mosquito blue…

Oughton’s poetry in Time Slip is funny, and ironic—even in its moments of grief—but also at times, deeply felt.  His writing is often taut and original. I recommend slipping into his time machine, and taking a trip.

*July 2009:  The Guardian article appears here.
** Literary Journal of the International Islamic University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.
***http://journals.iium.edu.my/asiatic/index.php/AJELL/article/viewFile/758/628

Additional information about featured poet John Oughton and his work:

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The second edition of John Oughton’s poetry collection, Mata Hari’s Lost Words, will be released by NeoPoiesis Press in 2017.

John Oughton lives in Toronto, Canada, and is about to retire as Professor Learning and Teaching at Centennial College. He attended York University and the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. He is the author of five books of poetry, several chapbooks, a mystery novel titled Death by Triangulation, and close to 500 articles, blogs, reviews and interviews. Follow his website.

He is also a photographer. See his photography website.

Additional information about Time Slip (Guernica Editions, 2010) can be found here.

Additional information about his chapbook Vertex/Vertigo (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2016) can be found here and the second edition of Mata Hari’s Lost Words, (NeoPoiesis Press, 2017) here.

The Toronto launch for this second edition will be held Wednesday, February 1, 2017 from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Free Times Café, 320 College Street. The launch will also include a performance by belly dancer Anjelica Scannura, and guest readings by writers Heather Babcock, Brenda Clews, and Kath MacLean. Admission is free.

Meet John Oughton at the Art Bar Poetry Reading series, Tuesday, January 24, 2017 at 8 p.m. at Free Times Café, 320 College Street, Toronto. He will be a featured reader with Steve Venright and Stephen Humphrey. More information here.

On April 23, 2017 at 2 p.m., he will also be part of the 10th annual Arts and Poets Collaboration, an exhibition and reading which is at the Women’s Art Association of Canada, 23 Prince Arthur Avenue in Toronto.

About the reviewer:

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Special thanks to Kate Rogers for writing and sharing her review of John Oughton’s fifth poetry book Time Slip.

Kate Rogers’ new poetry collection, Out of Place will be published by Aeolus House in 2017. In the summer of 2016 Kate was a featured reader for the Toronto reading series, Hot Sauced Words, at the League of Canadian Poets new members reading, and at Artfest, in Kingston, Ontario. Kate’s poetry collection, Foreign Skin, debuted with Toronto’s Aeolus House Press in 2015.
Kate is co-editor of the OutLoud Too anthology (MCCM 2014), and the world poetry anthology, Not a Muse: the Inner Lives of Women (Haven 2009).
Her poetry has appeared in The Guardian; Quixotica; Eastlit; Asia Literary Review; Cha: an Asian Literary Journal; Morel; The Goose: a Journal of Arts, Environment and Culture; Kyoto Journal; ASIATIC: the Journal of the Islamic University of Malaysia; Many Mountains Moving; Orbis International and Contemporary Verse II.
Kate lectures in literature and media studies at the Community College of City University, Hong Kong.

Follow this blog for future book reviews and interviews with Canadian authors and poets.

Canadian Poet Allan Briesmaster Heightens Form in ‘River Neither’

“Or might I front, down steeper paths of thought,/some earthly light that verges on divine.” – Allan Briesmaster* 

The image of French sculptor Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker pops into my mind while reading Canadian poet Allan Briesmaster’s book River Neither.

Perhaps it is the way Briesmaster uses a more classical yet varied form of metre and rhyme that pulls me into the 19th Century or maybe it’s his concentration on nature, deep reflection, and abstract reasoning that challenges me and provokes additional study.

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Canadian poet Allan Briesmaster is inspired by music, visual art, poetry and other writing from all historical periods and world literature, natural phenomena, and people who are close to him. Photo by Peter Rowe used with permission.

In his author’s notes, he states, “It is my cautious hope that, at a time when the creation, production and reading of poetry tends to be increasingly fragmented and over-specialized, and when in some quarters traditional form is deemed archaic or obsolete, a few discerning readers will set preconceptions aside and simply enjoy the journey along River Neither – one that will lead them to discoveries of their own.”

For me, the serendipitous moment arrives when I discover that Rodin originally called his famous sculpture, The Poet. It was also speculated that Rodin’s work was inspired by Dante Alighieri and his literary masterpiece The Divine Comedy, which outlines “a soul’s journey towards God or some spiritual realm.”

Similar to Dante’s complex quest, Briesmaster’s poetry dares the reader to slow down, pause, re-read passages, and reflect. I find it necessary to not only embrace the poem’s layered meaning but to examine the structure and other poetic elements that make the work strong.

I also love how Briesmaster takes me down a path and then when I get lost, his use of language challenges me to get up and seek the philosopher’s stone. It reminds me of hiking through a dense forest and how each trip reveals additional details and insights to reward the patient traveller.

This exploratory and poetic journey is the metaphorical river that follows through the collection.

For example, his 90-page book published by Aeolus House in 2015 begins with “Absence From An Eden”, a 14 poem section that drifts from paradise to a state of yearning, transitions, and uncertain familial relationships.

In the section “Greenrise”, nature takes the stage with seasonal spring and summer accounts such as “draw an inch more of green scent down your lungs./Maybe now see the tree-branch’s rungs/on an ascent that isn’t any steeper.”

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Allan Briesmaster’s newest book ‘River Neither’ (Aeolus House, 2015) is “a concentrated exploration of poetic form: traditional, modified, and invented”.

 

In the section “Onward Turnings” the journey continues through autumn and winter where reflections of ageing and death end with “Fine farewell glow, revert me to the dawn/of rapture at leaf-motion, on the fly,/tugging the heart afresh like that bird-wing/flashed from a bare branch in sun’s orange eye.”

The last section “Flight Home” is an inward reflection. In the poem “Age and Solitude”, Briesmaster makes reference to the Chinese poet Tu Fu and writes “A solitary gull is all I am,/borne off between earth and the heavens.”

In keeping with his philosophical viewpoint, he often asks questions, to challenge himself and the reader. For example, in his poem “A Sagittarian Tension”, he writes “Has he a compass-point by which to steer,/predefined mission, fore-cast destiny?” In his last poem “Not I” (a variation of a sonnet), he offers “Of its own will, I can become the vessel/bearing the fluent force that pours through me.”

Humble in his thoughts and actions, Briesmaster is a major force in the Canadian literary scene. He is the author of seven full-length books and eight chapbooks and shorter books. According to the League of Canadian Poets website: “In 1986-90 Allan led Phoenix, Toronto’s longest-running poetry workshop. He was one of the chief organizers of the weekly Art Bar Poetry Reading Series from 1991 until 2002: playing a central role as it grew into the largest series of its kind in Canada.”

Unfortunately, I missed his recent featured reading at the Art Bar series in Toronto. However, earlier in November, I asked him to share his thoughts about his new book and writing process. Below are his responses:

Your first collection of poetry was published in 1998. River Neither is your 7th full trade book. Describe this poetry collection in a few sentences and mention how it is similar to and different from your other books.

Yes, my first book of poetry, Weighted Light, came out some 18 years ago. Since then I’ve had six other full-length books and eight smaller ones published. River Neither differs from the previous books in consisting entirely of short poems, almost all in strict forms. Many are sonnets and variations on the sonnet, and the rest also use formal constraints like metre and rhyme. There were quite a few “formal” poems in the earlier books, coexisting with an equal or greater number in open forms.

In a sense, River Neither is a concentrated exploration of poetic form: traditional, modified, and invented. It is “about” form itself and what form can uniquely accomplish, while, of course, being about much else besides. The series of poems on my late parents is something new, as is the writing about the early and later stages of life’s journey in the first and last of the book’s four parts, though some of this was initiated in the book that preceded this one. The poems set outdoors that celebrate and reflect on nature, the seasons, and ecology have themes which will be familiar to readers of my other books.

In your author’s notes, you wrote, “form can actually serve to liberate and open up paths to new discoveries of all kinds.” When did you first start working with such formal principles as metre and rhyme and how difficult is it to focus on and market such traditional forms in a poetic community that appears to value more open and experimental work?

I have always enjoyed reading classic poems that had metre and rhyme. Formalist poetry was out of favour when I first began writing seriously, but I remained intrigued by it. There are quite a few formal poems in my first book. While I am well aware of literary fashions (and there has been a considerable revival of formalist poetry in some circles in the past 20 years), I don’t ever consciously fall in line with them. Although I want people to enjoy my writing style, and to understand and be moved by the content, I need to write in the ways that are given to me and that most deeply challenge and satisfy.

I do not actively “market” my books, partly because the audience for poetry is rather fragmented and diffuse, and also because I favour readings and occasional radio programs as the best way for people to discover my work. As well, I am a publisher and editor and much of my time is dedicated to helping promote the books with which I’m involved. Which is not to say that I don’t have any aspirations for my work to be more widely read, or that I don’t think it has lasting value.

In any case, I would insist that the poetry in River Neither is not merely traditional. It has an innovative dimension, and it aims to extend and refresh forms and formal principles that are by no means obsolescent but offer perennial possibilities. For instance, I have sonnets with 13 and 15 lines, and ones with four or six end-rhymes instead of the standard five or seven. It’s gratifying that, when I give readings, a wide range of listeners respond very favourably, even when their usual taste in poetry is for something different.

Many of your poems in this collection are philosophical, nature-based or relationship themed. There is often a depth, a richness of language and intrigue that forces the reader to either slow down and concentrate on the printed words or to re-read the work several times to grasp and appreciate both the structure and meaning. What do you feel is the role of poetry in today’s society?

Thank you for this very complimentary characterization of my writing. It is certainly important to me to create poems that make readers slow down and think. I’m convinced that much, if not all, of the poetry most worth reading – that is most fully rewarding and most durable – is itself a mode of thinking: one which invites and encourages reflection and cogitation on the reader’s part.

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Allan Briesmaster is a major force in the Canadian literary scene.

 

I believe that poetry’s social role can and should be much the same as it has always been, despite the encroachments on its old domain by the electronic media that tend to make it appear outmoded. That age-old role is multiple and manifold, and poetry’s protean nature is one of the most remarkable things about it. It means to be enjoyed, producing a certain, very special artistic pleasure, and at the same time it extends our emotional, intellectual and spiritual horizons. It does not necessarily do so comfortably and reassuringly, but works to deepen our understanding of who we are, whence we came, and in what directions we may be heading as individuals and as social beings. It had better not simply confirm our prejudices or preach to the converted. It should open eyes, minds and hearts to new perspectives and other avenues besides what we’re accustomed to. It should remind us of the delight and the power language holds for us if treated with artful care.

What inspires you and who are your mentors?

A list of all the sources of inspiration would be long. High on it would be music (classical, jazz, and contemporary in particular) and visual art, a mostly indirect but vital influence nonetheless. I don’t mean writing in response to specific artworks, although I have done some of that, but just being given hope and confidence that I could approach something equivalent in my own medium. Then I am challenged by and induced to respond to a very wide array of poetry and other writing from all historical periods and world literature, including some in translation. Natural phenomena I encounter near where I live in Thornhill and throughout Southern Ontario call to me for responses more compellingly than do domestic and urban scenes. People who are close to me or otherwise make a powerful impression also spur me to write, sometimes in response to their remarks, pointed or casual – more so than items in the news. I have constant concern about political and social justice issues, but have not yet found ways of writing about them to my satisfaction, though some of this awareness does inevitably seep into my work.

I never had what I would call a mentor. I suppose I got the equivalent of mentoring, when I was young, from reading literature for pleasure and from having closely studied the classics when I majored in English. I had some good teachers but they did not directly influence my early aspirations to write, which came straight out of what I was reading: the English Romantic poets, for instance. Later, my participation in poetry workshops was helpful in learning about “the craft,” but still there was no individual who took me under his or her wing.

Describe your writing process.

I produce poems in various ways. There is no predominant “method,” and I do not have a single place or regular time when I do my writing, though I spend at least a part of an hour on it almost every day, at home, on a park bench, in a café, even once in a while on the subway; and I devote much more time to revising than raw creating. A poem could arise through an abrupt recollection of an emotionally-charged experience; out of an on-the-spot observation (I always carry a notebook around); as a response to a text I have just read that excites or annoys me; or from an image, a phrase or even a rhythm that springs to mind spontaneously from no definite source. I might jot down a promising line or two and return to it later, or I might be able to persist and, within minutes, end up with a partial sketch or entire first draft. Only rarely is the poem finished when I reach the last line of the first version. The majority of poems need at least several drafts, with possibly a substantial rewrite or two, usually across a minimum of a few days, sometimes over a week or more. The first couple of drafts are hand-written, and revision almost always continues when I enter the text on my computer. Some poems take many weeks or even months before I feel ready to show them to anyone else.

There is no time when I do not have two or more poems under development in these ways. In the later stages, I often get useful feedback from friends and the writing groups I attend, which prompts me to do further fine-tuning and sometimes come up with still more revisions. Publication in a magazine or anthology does not necessarily mean a poem is finally finished either. And when I come to prepare a book, I call on multiple readers and/or an editor to advise me.

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Briesmaster’s first book of poetry, ‘Weighted Light’ was launched 18 years ago. To date, he has seven full-length books  and eight smaller ones published. Above is a small sample of his work.

In addition to being a poet, you are one of two Executive Directors for Quattro Books and the publisher of the micro-press Aeolus House. You were also the main literary editor of Seraphim Editions and since 1998 you have assisted with the production of over 200 books. What advice would you give to a poet who is currently seeking publication of his/her first trade book?

No matter how far along a writer thinks the manuscript has come, it is highly desirable to seek the input of trusted friends or perhaps even hire a qualified editor, so that its chances of favourably impressing a publisher are maximized. In choosing which publishers to submit to, be sure that the kind of poetry you have is suited to their particular aesthetics, and, of course, check their submissions guidelines.

What are you currently working on?

I am in the early stages of what will become my next book of poetry. As always, I also have several book-editing and freelance-editing projects underway, amidst my ongoing responsibilities with Quattro Books.

What are your future plans?

I would like to do more traveling in future years than I’ve managed in the past. I’ll have time next year, after the two books of poetry I’m editing for Quattro are published in March.

Is there anything else you would like to add or share?

My writing may appear to some readers to be cerebral and constrained, but to me it is passionate as well. It comes out of a mixture of anxiety, rage, awe, and gratitude. Also of fundamental importance for my poetry is musicality (the sound, rhythm, and architecture of the words together with the pauses between them); a rootedness in physical being and the senses, not just the mind; having a basic element of play; that it wants to be enjoyed, not merely admired; and that it is a thoroughly social art, created in a spirit of generosity: with the hope that any extra effort and attention given back to it will be well rewarded, and that many poems will retain their freshness and their strangeness on successive readings, with no “best before” date attached.

Thanks Allan for the interview and for taking time from your busy schedule to answer my questions. I wish you continued success.

Additional information about Briesmaster appears on the “Members page” section of The Ontario Poetry Society and The League of Canadian Poets websites.

Information about his books can be found at Aeolus House, Hidden Brook Press, Seraphim Editions, and Quattro Books.

*from the sonnet “Octobering” published in the book River Neither (Aeolus House, 2015) page 56. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright © Allan Briesmaster 2015.

Watch this blog for additional Canadian Author and Poet Profiles.

Celebrating the Life of John Drage 1930 – 2015

“Remember me with humour,/The jokes I loved to tell and hear told,/The pranks that were played by me and on me.” John Drage*

He towered like a silo over a flattened toad poem. I can still hear his dry cough, the way he spun a tall tale or a comical verse with a straight face. He made so many people laugh.

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In Memory of the Late John Drage. He made so many people laugh.

Almost a year ago** (December 11, 2015), Sarnia-Lambton’s literary community gathered with his family and friends and embraced the fond memories of the late John Drage, a local storyteller /poet who often slipped jokes from his shirt sleeves and magically created laughter with his dry wit. If anyone had a “hole in his or her bucket”, he would try to fix it. He was not only handy with a hammer on the farm but also dandy with his words when he moved into the city.

“I was especially fortunate to have been able to hear many of the stories John told about his own past, about his own family, and his skills in the kitchen,” said historical fiction writer Bob McCarthy in his tribute to John at last year’s celebration of life. “As a local historian, I was able to learn about many of the early pioneers who farmed in Southeast Lambton, people John had known, folks who built so many of the small communities in places like Shetland.”

Family members, friends, and celebrant Allan McKeown also highlighted John’s love of the arts, marriage, learning, nature, and love in general. Five candles were lit while poetry, music and heart-felt stories enlightened the audience. Following the benediction, Leonard Cohen’s famous song ‘Hallelujah” filled the room.

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John had a passion for the arts, marriage, learning, nature, and love in general.

What a loss for the local literary community! He (and his wife Peggy who predeceased him by four years) left two holes in my bucket-heart.

I first met John back in 2002 when I joined a local writers’ workshop group. He penned and shared what he knew, then used his imagination to liven it up. He also loved local history and often wrote humourous and traditional form poems that rhymed.

“Like all poems, a humourous one starts with an idea or a line,” wrote John in an article called “Finding Humour in Your Poetry” published in the May to August 2015 Verse Afire. “I am a tall man with a short memory. I try to keep pen and paper handy to catch fleeting ideas. Sometimes, I start with an opening line and work forwards. Sometimes, I start with the last line and work backwards.”

His humour followed him to Spoken Word events where he would recite such old-time favourites as the children’s folk song “There’s a Hole in My Bucket” or attempt to teach the audience how to play bagpipes without the actual instrument.

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John was a regular reader/performer at Spoken Word at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.

He was a regular contributor to: Canadian Stories, a national folk magazine written by or about Canadians; and Daytripping in Southern Ontario, the “Biggest Little Paper in Canada”. For several years he was also a columnist with The Observer, a daily newspaper from Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.

He was a member of several local writing groups: Writers in Transition (WIT), Spoken Word at the Lawrence House, Lambton Writers Association, and Writers Helping Writers (WHW) plus the provincial group The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS). He also attended book launches, ArtWalk and First Friday events in Sarnia.

Despite his accomplishments, fame did not interest him. As a writer he was content with the old ways: plunking on his typo-infected typewriter and submitting work via snail mail. Most of his work is compiled in books published by Sydenham Press, a small press he owned and operated with his late wife, the award-winning poet Peggy Fletcher.

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Several books by the late John Drage were published by Sydenham Press, a small press he owned and operated with his wife, the late Peggy Fletcher.

His sudden and unexpected death from a stroke at the age of 85 shocked those who were close to him.

“He was like a father figure to me,” said Melissa Upfold, former Spoken Word Sarnia host who also lost her own father a year ago. “He and Peggy attended all my readings and art shows. They were true supporters of the artistic and literary community.”

“Such a great loss to our writing community, said Phyllis Humby, founder of the social networking group Lambton Writers Association. “John was a gentle man of great wit and compassion. Quiet and unassuming. Some of us are comforted to imagine that he is with Peggy now. And [his dog] Patches, too. Still heartbreaking to say goodbye.”

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John recites the children’s folk song “There’s a Hole in My Bucket” during a Spoken Word event.

“He always made jokes about his height and my lack of,” said Lynn Tait, spokesperson for the AfterHours Poets group. “His ‘Ode to a Flattened Toad’ is a classic, recited for us annually, and I will always remember his Dandee stories. His ability to memorize and recite his poems was amazing, and his on-going, tongue-in-cheek limerick battles with Anne Beachey [close friend and storyteller] were legendary. He was a kind and gentle man. All of us in After Hours Poets, miss him very much. He is back home now with his soul mate, Peggy.”

“John Drage was more than just a poet,” said I.B. Iskov, Founding Member of TOPS.  “He was a storyteller and a humourist. The Ontario Poetry Society was fortunate to acquire a short essay from John appropriately titled, “Finding Humour in Poetry”…. His wit, his charm and his “voice” will be missed.”

“I still can’t believe he’s gone,” said Norma West Linder, one of the members who established Writers in Transitions (WIT), a local writers workshop group. Below is a poem written by Linder, as a tribute to her long-time friend:

Shadow of a Special Smile
for John Alfred Drage
(July 9, 1930-Dec. 7, 2015)***

Stuffed in an envelope somewhere
in my cluttered computer room
John’s obituary
–John, who made everyone laugh
with his droll sense of humour
his limericks and tall tales
delivered with panache
 

John, who was like a brother to me
for half a century
taken by a massive stroke
on Pearl Harbour Day
 

I still expect to meet him
just around the corner
still expect to find him
there on his usual chair
at our Unitarian Fellowship
each Sunday
still expect to see his special smile
whenever writers get together

This week I look back and remember John Drage, a writer who gifted the literary community with such fond and humourous memories.

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In Paradise: John Drage reunited with Peggy Fletcher, the love of his life.

*originally printed in the program for the Service of Thanksgiving and Celebration for the Life of John Alfred Drage held Friday, December 11, 2015 in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. Reprinted here with permission from the estate.

**Almost a year has passed since this blog was first drafted. It was revised and posted here for the first time as a reminder that John Drage has not been forgotten, that his spirit and love for others remain in Sarnia’s literary community.

***poem used with permission from the poet. 2016 © Norma West Linder