Category Archives: blog posts

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
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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.”

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)

venerafazioedit

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.

venera-fazio-at-a-books-and-biscotti-reading

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.