Category Archives: Poetry Reviews

Introducing Thimbles by Canadian Poet Vanessa Shields

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

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

thimbles - front cover

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

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

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

Thumbs up!

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

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

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Embracing Books About Trees

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

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

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

International Day of Forests March 21, 2021

International Day of Forests was celebrated March 21, 2021.

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

TREE BOOKS – HOT OFF THE PRESS:

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

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

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The Pandemic Challenge – Introducing 2020 Books by 14 Ontario Poets

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

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

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

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

Three Cheers for the Award-winning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New Poetry Anthologies Are Like Automobile Showrooms

Dear reader, strap yourself in for a virtually wild ride! – Katerina Vaughan Fretwell*

What an exhilarating but bumpy road for Ontario writers who are trying to launch new books during this COVID-19 pandemic. One silver ‘hubcap’ shine to this ‘unexpected pause’ is that readers may have more free time to seek out new authors or to catch-up on the latest offerings by their favourite poets.

I don’t know about you but I’m feeling challenged by all the books I added to my Goodreads “to-read” list last year; never mind the list of new poetry collections released over the last eight months. A close friend of mine suggested that I needed to learn how to speed read. I told him, poetry is like a cup of tea, it needs to be sipped slowly or I would miss the taste of each word.

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

In my next two blog posts, I’ll be shining the headlights on The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS), a poetry-friendly grassroots organization that nurtures over 200 members at all levels and stages of their literary journeys.

My first feature will steer towards the anthologies that its members have participated in. These books remind me of automobile showrooms. I can browse through the variety of work, test drive or read several styles of work before deciding which poets I would like to invest more time with. Like art or music, poetry has such a wide range of offerings to attract different audiences.

Next week, I plan to introduce new poetry books and chapbooks by individual members.

The engines are revving…

Infinite Passages: Anthology 2020 (Beret Days Press 2020) Illustrated and compiled by Katerina Vaughan Fretwell  ISBN 978-1926495-66-8

Distances Navigated, Marked Movements, Otherworldly Sojourns, Embodied Routes, and Creative Jaunts. These are the five sections that compiler Katerina Vaughan Fretwell created to showcase the best work of each of the participants in this year’s TOPS membership anthology project.

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Introducing Norma West Linder’s 16th Poetry Collection

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

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

Cabbages and Kings front cover

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

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

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

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

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Another Win for Toronto Poet Donna Langevin

I’ve learned to listen with my eyes. – Donna Langevin*

Try it! Listen with your eyes! If you read the back cover of The Banister Volume 34, an Ontario poetry anthology launched October 26, 2019 by the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association (CAA), you will be transformed by Donna Langevin’s award-winning and heart-felt words.

For example, imagine what it would be like to have trouble hearing: “I’ve lost the inner ear within my ear, the sea of sounds once filling up its shell – cathedral bells…echoes in the belfry.”  Such lines introduced her poem “Even With the Help of My Hearing Aids” which won first prize in the CAA’s 2019 poetry contest.

CAA Banister 2019 anthology

Congratulations to Toronto poet/playwright Donna Langevin who won first prize for her poem “Even With the Help of My Hearing Aids”.

It’s a poignant piece and contest judge Bruce Meyer praised it highly. In his comments (p. ix and x) he wrote that Langevin’s first place creation is “a beautifully crafted poem…The poet has a wonderful idea of what constitutes a poetic line, and within those lines, the poem connects, not by paltry simile but through the unison of image and language.”

Meyer also stated that “language [in a poem] should engage both the ear and the eye”.(p. ix)

Langevin’s work certainly does that and this poet has a habit of winning contests. One of her humourous poems, “The first time”, received an honourable mention while two more of her poems were also selected for the same anthology.  Two years earlier, she won second prize in the CAA’s 2017 Banister contest and in the 2014 GritLIT contest, plus she was short-listed for the Descant Winston Collins Prize 2012.

A few days ago, I chatted with Donna (via e-mail) about her recent win, her poetry books including Brimming (Piquant Press, 2019), her writing space, and her plans for the future. 

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Poet Roy J. Adams Proves Its Never Too Late to Start

Don’t fiddle with glitz, reject the quick-/go for the edge, the waltz, the weight.//Its where you’ve sizzled; what’s off your/list, whether or not you’ve felt the mist. – Roy J. Adams*

Using humour, Hamilton-based poet Roy J. Adams once described himself as a literary flop by the time he was 20. Now in his semi-retirement, he’s celebrating the publication of two debut poetry books. I admire this writer’s enthusiasm and the way he uses quick wit to overcome obstacles.

Adams headshot 2018

Poet Roy J. Adams began writing poetry during his semi-retirement as an industrial relations professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Marilyn Adams

Upon first glance, his roller-coaster life reminds me of Looney Tunes’ Wile E. Coyote, the animated character who always picked himself up despite all the challenging attempts to capture the Road Runner or in his case, his ongoing dreams.

For example, in his poem “High”, he refers to his Jump School training with the U.S. Army: “you tumble” out of a packed plane and “become a ragdoll whirling/in the blast” only to end up “Splat! You’re back, flat, a blacked-out/crash test dummy.”

The next day, he’s back on the plane with even more determination.

He also survived the rejection of his father and stepmother and transformed himself from an 18-year-old university drop-out to an industrial relations professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

In a more recent personal essay posted on a Bloom-site.com blog he wrote “In my seventies, I fell off a mountain into another dimension.”**

That dimension led him to a more serious full-time commitment to poetry and the release of two publications: Bebop From Beau’s Caboose (a 24-page chapbook described by The Ontario Poetry Society president Fran Figge as “a smorgasbord spiced with tasty bites of unusual and invented words”) plus Critical Mass (a 64-page collection that New Westminster Poet Laureate Emerita Candice James promoted as a “nostalgic walk down memory lane”.) Verse Afire Reviewer John Ambury wrote that “Adams is a natural story-teller: a vivid narrator with a talent for the much-abbreviated story arc, relating much but not over-explaining.”

two books by Roy J Adams

Adams is the author of one chapbook printed by Beret Days Press and one trade book published by Silver Bow Publishing.

A few days ago, I chatted with Roy (via e-mail) about his recent books, his writing space, and his plans for the future. Continue reading

Introducing Donna Allard – International Beat Poet Laureate – Canada

“my bones pine to follow their naked path, be unknotted, enterprising and unafraid” – Donna Allard, International Beat Poet Laureate Canada (2019-2020)*

With three new books (Ghost in the Window (River Bones Press 2019), Three Times Around The World (River Bones Press 2019), and Cold Fire (SkyWing Press 2019)) added to her resume, New Brunswick based poet Donna Allard continues to not only follow in the footsteps of the original “Beat Generation” but to forge ahead with her own poetic style, interests and ideas.

Donna Allard Photo credit - Debbie Kilday

Canadian Poet Donna Allard – Photo by Debbie Kilday

Call her fearless like a warrior! If you follow her on Facebook, you will be inundated with posts not only about other poets but her interest in nature, social commentary, and other political views. She is not afraid to speak her mind and to reach deep into her psyche and to share her strong emotions with her followers.

Call her determined like an entrepreneur! When I first heard the name Donna Allard, she was the president of the Canadian Poetry Association and was resolute to promote poetry across the country which she has continued to do via her social media accounts.

Call her passionate like the “night’s caressing hand”! She lives, eats, breathes poetry. It is indeed her passion and if you read her poem “Beat Poets” in her book Three Times Around The World, you will discover her desire to be like them.

And now she is part of the new “Beat Generation”. In August 2019 in Connecticut, the National Beat Poetry Foundation, Inc. awarded her with the title International Beat Poet Laureate for the term 2019-2020.

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On and Off the Air with Winnipeg Writer Carmelo Militano

“I wanted your world to unfold/reveal itself its inner workings/as if all that was required was opening/the back of a watch and the whirl and click of you would be visible.” – Carmelo Militano*

He treats his guests like poetic movie stars. Using his deep and throaty radio voice, Carmelo Militano welcomes each writer into the university studio where they will celebrate their literary lives and reveal the inner workings of their writing world.

Since the Fall 2014, this poet, writer, editor, teacher and radio broadcaster hosted and produced a weekly poetry show at CKUW FM 95.9 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Called the P. I. New Poetry Show, the program featured over 120 poets and writers from across the country which meant Militano needed to read some 120 books to prepare for the various interviews.

Carmelo Militano - host of P. I. Poetry

Winnipeg writer Carmelo Militano recently took a hiatus from being the host and producer for the P.I. New Poetry show broadcast from the University of Winnipeg.

In early 2019, he began his hiatus from the radio show to work on a new book about the life of the Italian painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani. Edits for Catching Desire (Ekstasis Editions 2019) were finished this month with a release date expected in the spring 2020 or later this fall 2019.

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‘Travelling The Lost Highway’ with Sarnia Writers Deahl & Linder

We awaken to distant thunder,/the sound of rain in the black walnut – James Deahl*

Three cheers and a thunderous applause for Sarnia’s literary couple James Deahl and Norma West Linder who continue to travel and entertain readers and audiences with their prolific work.

James Deahl and Norma West Linder are prolific award-winning Canadian writers who call Sarnia, Ontario, Canada their home. Both launched new work on September 9, 2019.

Last month, their double book launch officially introduced Travelling The Lost Highway, Deahl’s 164-page poetry collection inspired by some of the secluded Canadian and American roads Deahl and Linder travelled as a couple plus Perk’s First Love– A 1984 Drum Corps Summer, Linder’s fictional novel aimed at the youth or young adult market.

Featured books at Double Launch September 9, 2019 in Sarnia

 The double book launch featured more than just two books.

Both shared their work at the literary celebration which also included readings by four contributors to Tamaracks and Lummox anthologies. Guest readers were Joseph A. Farina, Ryan Gibbs, David Haskins, and Rhonda Melanson.

Featured readers at double launch September 9, 2019 in Sarnia

The launch included readings by Joseph A. Farina, Norma West Linder, David Haskins, James Deahl, Ryan Gibbs, and Rhonda Melanson.

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