Category Archives: Poetry Reviews

Tom Cull, London’s Poet Laureate Loves to Make People Laugh

“Returning from a night ride,/the bat takes off his leathers.” – Tom Cull*

I laugh as I read and review this new book.

Let’s say bad animals (Insomniac Press 2018) is a hybrid between “a Red Bull of owls” hoot-enanny and “a threnody of hyenas”. Created by Tom Cull, London Ontario’s current poet laureate and a new poetic voice in the CanLit scene, this pocket-sized book (with a beaver-inspired cover) overflows with his fun-filled humour as he shines a flashlight on underlying concerns with our changing environment.

June 1, 2018 in London

Tom Cull’s bad animals was officially launched June 1, 2018 at London Bicycle Café in London, Ontario.

Overall, I liked Cull’s approach. His impressive debut collection of 41 wild (think mischievous) and bad-animal inspired poems surprised me (in a good way) with his surreal yet accessible images: drowning machines, a poet of dodos, Saturday six-pack anglers, schools of strollers, and a plethora of four- and two-legged animals including swimming pigs and teenaged boys!

Using his knowledge gleamed from his regular clean-ups of local waterways, Cull pulls the reader from urban decay into the murky river (and other locales) where shopping carts and vacuum cleaners morph into inanimate creatures and where humankind is not-so-kind but sometimes thought-provoking as the lines between animals and Homo sapiens blur.

Expect a few rough edges: Do I really want to go inside the YMCA Men’s Plus locker room to visualize his poem “The Dinks Are Out”? Hardly not but the audience roars and laughs like spotted hyenas whenever he reads that poem in public.

In contrast, in one of his more moving and insightful poems, he writes: “a great blue heron wallops/across the sky, beak down/a needle etching a record of this day/into the vinyl of a darkening night.” I love the beauty in that image!

Tom Cull Photo by Rob Nelson

Tom Cull is London, Ontario’s current poet laureate. Photo by Rob Nelson

Cull is like that great heron: wading with the flow, communing with nature, and slowing etching his name into the minds of his literary followers. Definitely, an emerging writer to watch!

This autumn, I was fortunate to attend several of Cull’s readings. He immediately makes an audience comfortable and is well respected in the London literary community. Although I must disclose that I first met Cull when he was a workshop facilitator for Poetry London, I knew little of his background and philosophy and had never read his work before.  It was fun to hear his responses to my questions.

Hi Tom, before we chat about your role as London’s poet laureate, let’s focus on your early years. I understand you grew up in the small southern Ontario community of Wingham. When you moved to London almost 10 years ago, you decided to help clean the Thames River. When did you first realize that the environment was important to you and how has the environment shaped you as a person?

Hi Debbie—I’m not sure if I had any moment of realization that the environment was important to me. I had a rural upbringing; our log cabin/house was situated on 70 acres of forest, ponds, and wetland bordered by a beautiful river. I spend a good deal of my childhood outdoors exploring the woods and learning about plants and animals. We had a stack of those nature books that identify trees, plants, reptiles, birds, mammals, etc. I’ve always been attracted to water, woods, wetlands, wildlife and wild spaces.

Tom Cull has a deep appreciation for the environment Photo by Miriam Love

Cull is inspired by the river. Photo by Miriam Love.

When did you first decide you wanted to be a poet?  Was there an incident that led you in that direction? Please explain.

I don’t remember any one moment where I said to myself, “you are now going to be a poet”—that happened gradually as I was finishing my doctorate in English Literature. It had a lot to do with moving to London and getting involved with the literary arts community. I started sharing my work with peers and the ball started to roll.

At a recent reading at the Oxford Book Shop, you said that the river influenced your writing and the writing influenced your involvement with the river. Please expand upon that.

I think that the river of my childhood (The Menestung/Maitland River) imprinted on me—it still flows from my early memories into my now-and-here. But the other river which is equally if not more important is Deshkan Ziibi or Thames River. I started writing poetry in London about the same time I discovered the river. Many of my poems come back to the river and questions of home, habitat, animals and history. My poetry is also tied in with the environmental work I do. My partner Miriam Love and I started Thames River Rally (a grassroots river protection/cleanup group) soon after we met. The river and my poetry have great reciprocity.

Poet Tom Cull and his partner Miriam Love are co-founders of Thames River Rally, a grassroots environmental group based in London, Ontario Photo by Mary Love

Cull and his partner Miriam Love co-founded Thames River Rally, a grassroots environmental group based in London, Ontario. Photo by Mary Love

This year Insomniac Press published your debut poetry book bad animals. Where did the idea for the title come from? Which came first the title/theme and then the writing or the writing first led to the title? Please expand.

The title came after the collection was pretty much finished. I was thinking about the themes and motifs that unite the collection. Bad Animals popped into my head along the way somewhere. The word “bad” has many meanings: deficient, rebellious, immoral, poorly behaved, libidinous. “Animals” also has several meanings. People often think of animals as separate from humans. The poems in the book play with these meanings.

At your Poetry London feature last month, your friend Chris introduced you with these words, “He is a community and cultural individual. He is also a bad animal”. Obviously, there must be a hidden dark side of you that the public is not aware of. Please respond to his comments.

Ha! Well, I think he was specifically talking about my competitive nature on the squash court. I’ve always loved sports and I am competitive. Sports offers a great social way to channel energy. Regular exercise is crucial to my mental health and to my writing. Most of my poems come to me when I’m walking.

One of the prominent literary devices in your poetry is your use of humour. For many individuals, humour is difficult to write and yet, it appears to come naturally to you. I noticed that your editor for the book was Stuart Ross who is also known for his wit. What role can humour play in the genre of poetry? Do you feel it takes away from the seriousness of your environmental concerns? Why or why not?

I love to make people laugh. I think humour can create consensus while also offering critical perspective. Humour can be used to “punch up,” to subvert and critique, to investigate taboo, troubling drives, the unconscious, the uncanny, and the weird.

Environmental concerns are not only serious, they are absurd, complex, baffling, and pressing. Humour can help negotiate and explore, nudge and niggle. When poetry becomes too didactic or preachy it risks turning people away, and I think it also loses its ability to open up space for creative intervention.

Tom Cull at Oxford Book Shop - September 23, 2018 photo 2

Cull reads from bad animals, September 23, 2018 at the Oxford Book Shop.

One of the poems in your collection has stumped me. It is section iii. in your long poem “The Sleuth of Bears”. The section is titled, “Bear Breaks into House, Plays Piano but Not Very Well” which is a headline based on an article in the Washington Post, June 2017. After your title, the page is blank. Does that mean the people in the house ran away? Please explain.

The other poems in that grouping (or Sleuth) are erasure poems. For the “Bear Breaks into House” story I erased everything but the title. The title is funny and weird and I thought the story that followed only weighed down or compromised the power of the title. It also leaves space for the reader to create their own story as you did!

Wow, I totally missed the erasure part. That is too funny! On a more serious note, my favourite poems were “Backspace” (no bad animals here) and “The Granite into Which It Reaches” which includes the great blue heron line quote in my review of your book. I wasn’t as fond of “Conibear”, “dad bod” and “Auscultation”.  Which was your favourite poem in the book and explain why?

I think my favourite poem changes. My relationships with all the poems shift depending on mood, context, familiarity, time of year, etc. Sometimes a new audience will help me find a new love for an older poem. I often come back to the first poem in the book “After Rivers” — I’m glad Stuart suggested that one as the first in the collection.

What inspired you to apply for the role as London’s poet laureate? What did you enjoy most about the role? The least?

I was inspired to apply for the role of Poet Laureate because I saw it as an opportunity to build on and combine my love of poetry, community, and environmentalism. The role also offered an opportunity to work as a professional artist. I love so much about this role. I loved collaborating with so many excellent London and area artists and working with a great team at the London Arts Council. I loved creating programming to help London artists grow and share their work. I loved bridging the worlds of art and social justice. I loved being an ambassador for the City. I loved writing poems for dedications and occasions, and I loved meeting new people and hearing their stories. I loved mentoring emerging writers. Finally, I loved making a case for the continued relevance and importance of poetry in civic and public spaces. That’s the short list.

Sometimes I found it challenging to negotiate my private life and artistic freedom with my public role, but I wouldn’t say that I disliked this or liked this the least—in fact, it was a crucial part of the job and a challenge that deepened my understanding of the complexity of art in the public realm.

Tanis MacDonald, Tom Cull, and Penn Kemp at Oxford Book Shop - September 23, 2018 Photo 1

Cull shares the spotlight with writer Tanis MacDonald and former poet laureate Penn Kemp during a reading September 23, 2018 at the Oxford Book Shop.

Your appointment as London’s Poet Laureate ends in a couple of months. What are your plans for the future, personally and professionally?

I think I’m going to take some time to rest, recharge, and write. I’d like to tour my book across Canada, and I’ve got some collaborations in the works that are exciting. I will remain active in the community and always work to bridge the University campus and the London Arts community

Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers? Perhaps a plug about the WORDS festival in London which I’m assuming you are involved with again this November? Or your November 7th feature reading as part of the Creative Writers Speakers Series at Western University?

I have one more event planned as Poet Laureate: Poet Laureate Presents River of Words, which will take place at Words London at Museum London on Saturday, November 3rd . Additional information here.

I will also be reading at Words; I’ll be on a panel with Julie Bruck and Deanna Young (November 3rd at noon). Additional information here.

November 3, 2018 in London with Tom Cull

See London’s current Poet Laureate during WORDS “In Conversation” with Julie Bruck and Deanna Young, Saturday, November 3 at noon at Museum London.

Finally, I’ll be reading at Western (open to the public) in Dr. Aaron Schneider’s class, Write Now. Additional information here.

What the Badger Said (Baseline Press 2013) a chapbook by Tom Cull

What the Badger Said (Baseline Press, 2013) is Cull’s first poetry chapbook.

Thanks Tom for taking time from your busy schedule to chat. You appear to be having so much fun! Wishing you continued success and enjoyment with your future plans.

According to the inside back cover of Cull’s book, “Tom Cull grew up in Huron County and now resides in London, Ontario, where he teaches creative writing and serves as the city’s current Poet Laureate. His chapbook What the Badger Said, was published in 2013. Since 2012, Tom has been the director of the Thames River Rally, a grassroots environmental group he co-founded with his partner Miriam Love, and their son Emmet.”

*from the poem “Like a Bat” printed in bad animals (Insomniac Press 2018) by Tom Cull. Reprinted with the author’s permission Copyright © 2018 by Tom Cull (p.34)

 

Follow this blog for future Canadian Poet Profiles and Reviews.

Advertisements

I. B. Iskov’s Latest Chapbook Embraces Her Best Poems

 

“I am visiting my childhood memories/green as tomatoes in May/stalked until they are red/and plucked like roses,” –I. B. Iskov, Founder, The Ontario Poetry Society.*

I B Iskov launches My Coming of Age (HMS Press, 2018)

Canadian poet I. B. (Bunny) Iskov in London, Ontario, Canada.

A huge bouquet of virtual roses for Canadian poet I. B. (Bunny) Iskov who recently launched her latest chapbook My Coming of Age (HMS Press, 2018). Over the years, she has not only acquired many accolades for her dedicated work with The Ontario Poetry Society but praise has also been bestowed on her writing. Many of these award-wining memory-infused poems are included in her new book. Almost all have been previously published between 2000 and 2017. I look forward to reading this new collection.

tops bookmark logo

Iskov will host The Ontario Poetry Society’s Autumn Ingathering for Poetry event, this Sunday, October 14, 2018 in Oakville, Ontario. Everyone is welcome.

You may hear Iskov read from My Coming of Age this Sunday, October 14, 2018 in Oakville where she is hosting The Ontario Poetry Society’s Autumn Ingathering for Poetry event. Open to the public, this free event will begin at 1 p.m. at Taste of Columbia – Fair Trade Coffee & Gift Shop; 67 Bronte Rd., Units 2 and 3. It will include mini-book launches, members’ readings, and an open mic for non-members. Sign-up for readers is at the door. Additional information here.

Can’t wait?

Below is a review** (of Iskov’s chapbook) written by award-winning Canadian poet Elana Wolff:

My Coming of Age - HMS Press 2018 - by IB Iskov

My Coming of Age by I. B. Iskov was recently published by HMS Press.

My Coming of Age     

I.B. Iskov

HMS Press, 2018, 48 pp

ISBN: 978-1-55253-095-5

The forty-four poems in My Coming of Age—a chapbook with the inside-cover subtitle The Best of an Ongoing Collection of a Life Expressed in Poetry—represent I. B. (Bunny) Iskov’s selection of previously published poems, most of which have received contest citations. The title poem, “My Coming of Age”—a riff on the fan-fiction mold, told as homage to The Beatles—aptly captures the poet’s characteristic wry sense of humour and unshielded personableness in the face of life’s swerves, curves, and world concerns. “The Beatles belonged to me / in my coming of age. It was a freer time / even though the Viet Nam war was raging, / even though there was unrest in the Middle East, / even though my parents were constantly fighting, / I had my Beatles record / to keep me safe and happy / when they sang All You Need Is Love …”

Bunny Iskov displays a discerning eye for the everyday, as captured in titles like “Chronic Cough”, “Wringer Washer Warranty”, and “Ode to My Computer”; genuine interest in the ‘everyman’ in poems like “Trucker on the 401”, “Lucy and Desi”, and “Pamela for Mayor”; and strong identification with her Jewish self in “What Is a Jew”, “The Jewish Side of the Poem”, and “Be on Guard”.

An Iskov poem speaks with personal conviction and plainspoken pluck: “I am in charge,” says the narrator in “Bedtime Chimera”; “My depression is a page in your book,” she declares in “As One Cradles Pain”; “I remember the last time / I worked the street in high heels,” she says tongue-in-cheek in the savvy-shopper piece, cleverly titled “Cheap Love”.

There’s a strong thread of sadness underlying the humour and juxtaposed the easiness in many of these pieces. Humour is often a cover and a face for deep and complicated emotions, and it’s clear that I.B. Iskov has the latter. She reveals her own “Complicated Suffering and Personal Complexities”; remembers and pays tribute to those who have gone to the other side: the beloved people’s poet, Ted Plantos, in the surging opening poem “What Plantos Meant to Poets Trapped Within Socio-Economic Boundaries”; her girlfriends “Marilyn, Rhondi and Lolly” (lost to cancer) in “Making Macaroni and Cheese”; her mother in “Memory and Loss”; and the dead at large in “When the Dead Do not Depart”.

In possibly the most touching and illuminating piece in the chapbook, “Glass House”, the poet writes: “I open my cabinet doors, / rearrange familiar figurines … “I care for moments, dust them off, display them / on little easels. / I’m composed.” This could be the artist’s statement. She makes what she will of her life—delicately, deliberately and artfully, piece by piece.

Wallace Stevens wrote that “the poet is the priest of the invisible.” I submit that Bunny Iskov is the priestess of the visible. My Coming of Age is a collection that will let you know who I. B. Iskov is and what she stands for.  (end of Elana Wolff’s review)

A sample of books by IB Iskov

I.B. (Bunny) Iskov has had several books published over the years.

Additional information about I.B. Iskov appears here.

A blog post about her book Skirting the Edge appears here.

A blog post about her receipt of the 2017 Absolutely Fabulous Women Award for women over 40 for her contributions to the literary arts in the Golden Horseshoe area appears here.

Additional information about The Ontario Poetry Society can be found on its website.

Follow this blog for future Canadian writer profiles.

Coming soon a question and answer feature with Tom Cull, London Ontario’s current Poet Laureate and a review of his debut book bad animals.

Later this year, more details about the Canadian launches of California-based anthologies LUMMOX 7 edited by Lummox Press publisher RD Armstrong and TAMARACKS edited by Canadian poet James Deahl and featuring an all Canadian line-up.

Plus, Sharon Berg’s re-introduction to CADENCE, a new folk art salon launching January 2019 in Sarnia, Ontario. Background information re: the former Cadence reading series appears here. Watch for a new partnership with the Lambton County Library.

**quote is from the poem “Pluck” in the book My Coming of Age (HMS Press, 2018) by I. B. Iskov Copyright © 2017 by I. B. Iskov, page 45. Used with permission.
**Elana Wolff’s review of My Coming of Age (HMS Press, 2018) by I. B. Iskov will appear in a future issue of Verse Afire and was reprinted here with permission from the author.  

#pocketpoem with Canadian Poet Bernice Lever

Have you checked your pockets lately? Today (April 26) is Poem In Your Pocket Day and The League of Canadian Poets is encouraging bards (and the general public) to “carry a poem, share a poem, or even start your own Poem In Your Pocket event.”

Anything can happen during National Poetry Month!

Poem in Your Pocket 2018 - Not Just My Bunions by Bernice Lever

What a surprise! A postcard with the poem “Not Just My Bunions” by Bernice Lever arrived in my mailbox this week.

A few days ago, to my surprise, an unusual postcard appeared in my mailbox. On the front of the card was a poem: “Not Just My Bunions” by Bernice Lever. I laughed! Move over Rupi Kaur, the Indian-Canadian poet who recently became a household name penning poems about menstrual cycles and other intimate bodily concerns. Kaur’s books Milk and Honey (which I did read) and The Sun and Her Flowers (which I may not read) have attracted large followings by the general public.

Forward-thinking and daring poet Bernice Lever also likes to push the boundaries of what is acceptable: her postcard poem about bunions and crooked noses originally appeared in her book Yet Woman I Am (Highway BookShop Press, 1979) and just a few years ago, in her 10th book Small Acts (Black Moss Press, 2016) she penned in her poem “Faceless – Too Many Proposals”: “I am only 80, but I shock listeners & readers,/by my descriptions of delicious orgasms at 90!”

Both women write edgy (and accessible) work. Not everyone will like this type of poetry just like not everyone likes rhyming poetry or the obscure verse analyzed in high school literature classes. However, that is the beauty of poetry. I have a philosophy, “if you don’t like poetry, you haven’t read the right poem yet. Poetry is as varied as music, as art, as dance.”

RedShirtFace.pages

Canadian poet Bernice Lever feels honoured and delighted that her poem was one of 20 Canadian works featured in this year’s Poem in Your Pocket Day literature. Photo by Juergen Bruhns

Lever’s work can also be humorous and inspirational. Her contributions to the literary scene are far reaching and according to her author bio: “she has won four Lifetime Achievement awards including the Canadian Author Association (CAA) Sangster Award, 2005.

Back to the postcard: what a great way to share and introduce poems with the public! On the other side of Lever’s postcard poem is a note: “This postcard showcases one of 20 poems selected by The League of Canadian Poets to celebrate the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month in Canada: hand it out, drop it off, or send it to a friend.”

So here’s my plan. I’ve decided to share the postcard on my blog with the hope that others will take the poem (and/or this blog) and share it today as part of the #pocketpoem celebration! It’s just a small act of kindness which leads me back to Bernice Lever again!

To fully appreciate Lever, visit her Colour of Words website . A year ago, I wrote a review for her 10th poetry collection Small Acts. It is reprinted below with permission from The Ontario Poetry Society and the editor of Verse Afire where the review first appeared in the May to August 2017 issue.

Book Review

Small Acts by Bernice Lever; Black Moss Press, 2017, 68 pages; I.S.B.N. 978-0-88753-571-0    

“Oh, Mother Ocean, we’re sorry,” laments Canadian poet Bernice Lever in the opening environmental-themed poem of her 10th and most recent book. Not only does this award-winning and prolific author dive deep into her poetic “wave of words” but she skillfully breaststrokes through an additional 40 poems seamlessly harboured in such sections as ‘Water Wisdom’, ‘Love and Gambles’, ‘Poets and Fakes’. In her closing poem, she quips “Great Grannies are the latest in-demand category”. Heartfelt experiences matter.

Small Acts by Bernice Lever

Small Acts is Bernice Lever’s 10th book. It was published by Black Moss Press in 2016.

Titled Small Acts, Lever’s 68-page poetry collection compliments the Random Acts of Kindness movement, like a lifesaving buoy, where strangers go out of their way to help other strangers. Using accessible yet precise words to describe complex concepts such as concern for the environment, peace, love, and even the ramifications of social media, Lever often asks questions, shares humorous tongue-in-cheek rants and provides serious lessons based on her observations. For example, “may our words on water not sink”, “Be a peace gardener”, “Be an anger soother”. In the poem “Say ‘Thank You’, she concludes: “Gifts – all these are given to preserve/our many blessings of being alive.”

Her best poetic lines twist and swirl the imagination: “The glow from mom’s eyes/some where between warm caramel/and creamy cocoa” and “We pray for lashes of rain/deep puddles everywhere,/day long torrents of Heaven’s tears.”. In addressing Facebook, she rants, “You are a fake book, all blank pages for us/to donate our fake lives.”

Written by an experienced and life member of The Ontario Poetry Society and many other literary organizations, Small Acts nudges the reader to “float free”, to create word-waves, to turn this world into a better place.

I’m looking forward to chatting with Bernice during a less busy time.  A Q & A will be posted soon. Follow this blog for an update.

Get more poems in your pockets!

Additional information about Poem In Your Pocket Day, more postcards as well as the full selection of postcard poems can be found on The League of Canadian Poets website.

Check the resources available to teachers.

And finally, as the League reminds us: “if you’re participating online, be sure to tag @CanadianPoets and use the hashtags #NPM18 and #pocketpoem!”

National Poetry Month Events:

Here are additional reminders of other National Poetry Month events taking place in the London and Sarnia area:

April 2018 - NPM2018_Poster-665x1024

National Poetry Month 2018 officially started on April 1, 2018 and will continue until the end of the month.

Tonight (April 26) from 6 to 7 p.m., the COUPLETS: a collaborative poetry reading series will present Andy Verboom and Angie Quick for this month’s feature at The Arts Project on 203 Dundas Street in London, Ontario. Please note the last-minute change in the featured readers. More info about Couplets can be found here.

This Saturday, April 28, Sarnia-Lambton’s #NPM18 event will feature out-of-town readers Marty Gervais, Kateri Lanthier, and Laurie Smith and local poets Ryan Gibbs, Lois Nantais and Grace Vermeer at the Famous Room in John’s Restaurant, 1643 London Line in Sarnia. A pre-reading dinner that allows audience members to mingle with the guest readers will begin at 5 p.m. with the free reading to start at 6:30 p.m. (Please note: the earlier start-time for the dinner.) This National Poetry Month reading is made possible with financial assistance from The League of Canadian Poets.

FOLLOW THIS BLOG FOR FUTURE REVIEWS AND CANADIAN POET PROFILES!

Happy National Poetry Month Everyone!

 

Poet Profile – Penn Kemp and Barbaric Cultural Practice

“But our/yearning to hear fills our ears the way seashells will imitate real//roar of ocean wave, appearing/disappearing.”* – Penn Kemp

Canadian poet Penn Kemp loves ‘sound’ and her book Barbaric Cultural Practice (Quattro Books, 2016) astounds me with her word play, her vocalized chords, and the musical rhythms of her poetic stanzas. She is the barbaric activist riding her horse at full tilt and the experienced voice “in the yellow cornfield of your mind.” (p. 39) The key is to listen carefully to catch each nuance before the next line appears.

BLOG IMAGE Barbaric-Cultural-Practice_front-cover

Barbaric Cultural Practice (Quattro Books, 2016) features 72 poems by Penn Kemp.

Divided into five sections (Electrical Events, Light Eats, Heart and Stroke Foundation, In Dream Sequins, and Wild Crafting), her recent 112-page book includes 72 poems that challenge the status quo of the world. Her interest in nature, dreams, and Goddesses plus the way politics, technology, and global warming can interfere with our well-being are prevalent threads in this collection.

For example, in the poem “Skipping Time” (where she analyzes the reality of dreams and the process of using those dreams to create new work), she writes; “Intuition and instinct, the play of crimson and purple,//these weave a web through skeins of dream fabric/from which I fabricate poems as the dream wheel turns.” (p. 67)

The transitions between poems are flawless but some of the work requires extra effort to comprehend. Her subject matter may be down to Earth; however, her intellectual quest pushes the boundaries.

As I mentioned in my Goodreads review:

This is a book that needs to be read slowly and if possible read aloud!…To appreciate the poems …, the reader must focus on [Kemp’s] technique of playing with sound and rhythm. Not only does she use alliteration and internal rhymes but the repetition of words acts as an echo or refrain to reinforce the musical quality of the work. For example, in her poem “Synaesthetics” she writes: “and ring in our ear, ring in New Year/until a hush of snow smothers sound”. (p. 93)

 More examples are found in her poem “An Ounce of Edible Oil” where she uses such phrases as “Their fumes set me fuming”, “Exhausted by exhaust”, and “sensitive is sensitized”. (p. 48)

Even the title of the book has layers of meaning. In her acknowledgements, she writes “Several of the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice “were provoked into being by political events; hence the title.” (p. 110). However, at the beginning of her introductory poem “Tip Line”, she plays with these three words in a humorous way: “Barbaric, of the wild/Cultural in yoghurt, wine and cheese/Practice for ten thousand hours”. (p. 11)

Humour is also woven in the poem “Ode to Tim Two Bits Whopper”. She writes: “We would bow to you if we could still bend.” (p. 46)

BLOG IMAGE From the poem In Light by Penn Kemp

From the poem “In Light” by Penn Kemp. One of several previously published poems reprinted in Barbaric Culture Practice. Image courtesy The League of Canadian Poets.

One of her most creative poems both orally and visually is “Night Orchestra” where she steers away from her use of couplets, and 1-, 3-, and 4-line stanzas to present a concrete poem with word repetitions such as illustrated in her first line: “dip dip  dip  dip  deep  dip  deep  dip  deepen   deep  end”. (p. 22)

To add another dimension to Kemp’s work, her book also includes QR Codes which act as digital links to video and audio performances of many of her poems. Once again, this reinforces her belief stated in her acknowledgements that “Poetry needs to be heard as well as read.” (p. 110)

BLOG IMAGE Anna Yin congratulates Penn Kemp, winner of the Sheri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award for Spoken Word Photo by Okun Hill

Anna Yin congratulates Penn Kemp, winner of the 2015 Sheri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award for Spoken Word, May 30, 2015 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

This statement doesn’t surprise me. Kemp waves the flags of an activist, sound poet, performer, and playwright. An experienced and prolific writer, she is a Life Member of The League of Canadian Poets and, in 2015, she was the winner of their Sheri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award for Spoken Word. She was the Writer-in-Residence for Western University and the inaugural Poet Laureate for London, Ontario. Her list of books (many published by her own press Pendas Productions) are too numerous to mention here but are listed in the League of Canadian Poets Membership Directory 

I first met Penn about a decade ago at a Writer’s Union of Canada meeting in her home. Her larger than life and colourful personality plus her love for the arts was reflected in her father’s art on the walls. She was/is out-going and fearless and her performances are “sound-filled” and memorable.

A long poem celebrating her father is included in her new book of poems, Local Heroes (Insomniac Press, 2018). This book will be launched at Museum London in a multimedia presentation on April 19, 2018. More information will be provided below.

BLOG IMAGE Barbaric Cultural Practice London launch with Penn Kemp and Allan Briesmaster Image 3 Oct 11, 2016

Canadian Poet Penn Kemp with her editor/publisher Allan Briesmaster at the official launch of Barbaric Cultural Practice, October 11, 2016, at Oxford Book Shop in London, Ontario.

At her official London launch of Barbaric Cultural Practice held October 11, 2016 at the Oxford Book Shop, she dazzled her admiring fans (standing room only) as her Quattro Books editor/publisher Allan Briesmaster looked on.

After reading and re-reading her book, I recently asked Penn a few questions via e-mail. Below are her responses:

Penn, you have waited so long for this interview. Thank you for your patience. First, please tell me how you do it?  How do you manage to juggle all that you do?  The writing? The performing? The promoting? The acquiring of grants? How do you keep your work organized? How do you prevent yourself from burning out?

Enthusiasm. I follow where the energy leads. And collaboration: other artists to play with, in the creation of a piece! I’ve been publishing for 52 years, so it’s what I know. My body stops me from burning out by falling apart before I do. But figuring out budgets for grants does burn me out. J

Not everyone understands poetry and certainly some of your performances (especially some of your chanting and your experiments with sound) will raise eyebrows in a crowded room. Yet, it doesn’t take long for you to warm up an audience.

Sounding is usually infectious, involving the audience in the spirit of play. It’s fun to walk into a school auditorium, dressed conservatively, and begin participatory sounding with students. They’re with me, and so are their enthusiastic teachers. But the body language of more staid teachers who are into control is something to behold: they usually go rigid until they see their students inspired to write.

Describe your typical reader and/or poetry fan for this book.

I can no more imagine a typical reader of my work than I can imagine a typical poet!

As a poet, how difficult is it to keep a loyal fan base?

I offer my work through social media, Facebook, Twitter, Googleplus, LinkedIn. It bewilders me that there are always many more comments on my personal posts than on my poems.

When you were Writer-in-Residence at the University of Western Ontario (now known as Western), you emphasized the need for me to include more sound in my writing. That advice has never left me. Why is sound so important to you?

 Sound is more primal than sight. Within the womb, you hear through the permeable membrane of your mother’s belly wall long before your eyes open at birth. Usually, my process is to follow the sound throughout a poem rather than a theme. I find the resonance that the poem wishes to convey and follow that sound down the rabbit hole and back again… The poem that is most true for me is not “sound over sense”, but sound leads the exploration. The poem that begins with sound is both deeply familiar, as if waiting to be discovered. Yet I don’t know where it’s heading until it has run its course. Sound entices me into adventure. I follow the sound where it leads into the next phrase as if following Ariadne’s clue into the dark labyrinth and back out again to clarity. Perhaps that’s how all the punning and wordplay happens, in that spirit of surprise.

BLOG IMAGE Barbaric Cultural Practice London launch with Penn Kemp Image 2 Oct 11, 2016

Kemp was the inaugural poet laureate for London, Ontario.

My poems that begin with an idea or an image are much more conceptual and, I feel, less embodied. Usually such poems are more prosaic and structured… and controlled, constructed rather than found or come upon (invenio).

For me, sound poetry can be a last resort for creative expression when words fail the enormity of the emotions. The sound of human voices can be used to portray the environment and the inner space. Sound Opera is a collective collaboration of musicians and performers of works based on my text. Sound Opera explodes the notion of a literary reading into myriad art forms. Seven of my Sound Operas have been performed at Aeolian Hall, London.

Because of your interest in sound, what types of sounds inspire you? Do you write to music?  Or do you prefer the rustle of aspen leaves?

I can edit to music because it provides a steady background that keeps me focused. But in writing, music is a distraction that would lead me off course. Outside, I’m intrigued by birdsong and yes to the rustle of leaves, redbuds in my garden.

I understand you have a new book being launched this April by Insomniac Press. What is it about?

Here’s a promo blurb about Local Heroes:

In Local Heroes, Penn Kemp celebrates legendary cultural heroes from London, Ontario. These poems evoke a specific city in its particular landscape and history. Kemp documents London’s literary and artistic heritage in honouring artists in fields ranging from visual and language arts to figure skating. Presented as an overview, the collection stretches from Victoria explorer Teresa Harris to the contemporary arts scene. Local Heroes acknowledges the Indigenous peoples here, and the ongoing waves of settlers who have called the area home, as London grew from colonial outpost to vibrant cultural centre. Local Heroes spans time but remains in place.  The collection present three sections, in historical order.

 

BLOG IMAGE Brighid painting by James Kemp

Painting by James Kemp to be included in Penn Kemp’s new book Local Heroes to be released April 19, 2018 in London, Ontario.

 

I look forward to the release of this new poetry collection! What’s next for Penn Kemp in terms of your life and/or your literary aspirations?

Right now, I have a backlog of material that I’d like to hone into several manuscripts. At this stage in life, it’s a joy to be home writing and editing.

April is Poetry Month, and I’ll be launching Local Heroes and touring then. And I very much look forward to the Edmonton Poetry Festival’s “Wine and Wild Women Wordsmiths”, where as the feature reader, I’ll be matched with the wine on sale that evening: a full-bodied red, perhaps?

Two events where I’m performing to celebrate women writers. May 28 with Judy Rebick at London Central Library and later on July 22 at Eldon House Historical Museum in London for a Sunday tea to launch my CD, The Dream Life of Teresa Harris.

This summer, I’ll be working with a multimedia artist to create Augmented Reality markers based on site-specific poems. And as always, I’m collaborating with other poets and musicians whose work touches mine.

Wow, your energy inspires me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about writing. I wish you continued success for your future goals and projects.

Thank you for your insightful, perceptive questions and review. I’m grateful for your close reading!

You’re welcome!

BLOG IMAGE Penn Kemp Photo by Mary McDonald

Canadian Poet Penn Kemp brings enthusiasm to her work. Photo by Mary McDonald.

Here’s Penn’s reading schedule for the next three months:

Tuesday, March 6, 2018 in London: A Reading with Penn Kemp and Daphne Marlatt, 3:30 to 4:20 p.m. AHB-3R07, Western University.

Saturday, March 10, 2018 in Toronto: Words and Music Salon, 2:30 to 3:30 pm. The Tiki Room, the Tranzac, 292 Brunswick Ave. Sponsored by the League of Poets, Metro Reading in Public Places.

Thursday, April 19, 2018 in London: The launch of Local Heroes (Insomniac Press 2018) by Penn Kemp. The evening includes an exhibition tour with curator Amber Lloydlangston, followed by Penn’s reading. The theatre will show several short videos on Local Heroes by Dennis Siren, Mary McDonald and Western’s Community Engaged Learning. The poet will then sign books.6:30 to 7:15 p.m. – Curator Tour: Women’s Lives in Canada: A History, 1875-2000; 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. – Penn’s reading; and 8:30 to 9 p.m. – book signing. Lecture Theatre, Museum London, 421 Ridout St N.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018 in Victoria, B.C.: ‘ALT’ show, Victoria Poetry Project, 8 pm

Friday, April 27, 2018 in Edmonton, Alberta:  Featured reader, “Wine and Wild Women Wordsmiths”, The Edmonton Poetry Festival.

Monday, May 28, 2018 in London: Women Trailblazers: Writers and Voices for Change: Heroes. A reading and lecture series celebrating Canadian women writers. Featured guests: Judy Rebick and Penn Kemp, 7 to 8:30 pm, Stevenson & Hunt Room, Central Library, 251 Dundas Street .

Additional information about Kemp and her upcoming workshops and readings can be found on her websiteblog ; twitter account ; Facebook account  ; and Facebook author page.

Addition information about Barbaric Cultural Practice appears on the Quattro Books website.

 Additional information about Local Heroes will soon appear on the Insomniac Press website.

Follow this blog for additional Canadian author and poet profiles.

*Quote is from the poem “Drives Destination” printed in the book Barbaric Cultural Practice (Quattro Press, 2016). Page 89. Copyright © 2016, Penn Kemp and Quattro Books, Inc. Used with permission.

Celebrating Poetry in North York, Cobourg, St. Catharines, and more

If poetry is life, what then is life?/Or is that the abstraction/before the reflected surface. –Keith Inman*

You’ve got mail! Here’s your personal e-invitation! Gather your love poems and release your pink- and red-ribbon word-gifts to your poetic peers. This Sunday, February 11, 2018, The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS) travels to North York to host “The Love Of Poetry Gathering”, an afternoon of spotlight book launches, members’ readings, and an open mic for non-members.

TOPS The Love of Poetry Gathering in North York invite

The Ontario Poetry Society will host “The Love of Poetry Gathering” this Sunday, February 11 from 12 noon to 4 p.m. at the Symposium Café Restaurant Bar & Lounge, 5221 Yonge Street in North York, Ontario. Admission is free.

The event starts at 12 noon and runs until approximately 4 p.m. at the Symposium Café Restaurant Bar & Lounge, 5221 Yonge Street, (2 Blocks north of North York Centre, South of Finch Avenue) in North York, Ontario. Sign-up for book launch spotlights and readings is at the door. Admission is free. Everyone (including first time readers) is welcome. Depending on the number of people signed-up, each person should come prepared to read either two short poems or one longer poem. All styles from rhyming couplets to free verse to experimental to rap and spoken word are accepted. More information here.If you can’t attend the Sunday event, TOPS will be hosting at least three more open mic events in 2018. The next one will be the “Spring into Poetry Party” to be held Saturday, May 5, 2018 from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the café: Meet at 66 King East in Cobourg, Ontario. A summer event is tentatively planned for Sunday, August 26 in London and information about an autumn event will be announced at a later date.

On Saturday, March 3, 2018, Roy Adams and the Hamilton branch of The Ontario Poetry Society will team up with Brydge Builder Press for “A Hamilton Poetry Night”, 8 to 10:30 p.m. at The Staircase, 27 Dundurn Street North. Highlights include the launch of Vagabond Post Office: A Poet’s Path Home by David C. Brydges (TOPS Cobalt branch manager), featured readings by Kathy Fisher and Gary Barwin plus music by David McIntosh. TOPS president Fran Figge will emcee the evening. An open mic will follow. Admission is free.

March 3, 2018 in Hamilton, Ontario

TOPS Cobalt branch manager (David C. Brydges) will be launching his new book Vagabond Post Office: A Poet’s Path Home, Saturday, March 3 in Hamilton.

THROWBACK THURSDAY:

For those who missed it: TOPS travelled to St. Catharines for the first time last November 12, 2017. Six members took to the stage and two new books and two new chapbooks were spotlighted during the “Autumn Harvest Poetry Festival”.

Keith Inman introduced his second trade book SEAsia (Black Moss Press, 2017). Canadian poet John B. Lee stated in his review published in the January 2018 issue of Verse Afire “..in Niagara poet Keith Inman’s book of poetry we take something of a cultural journey in which we accompany the poet on his travels seeing the southeast Asian world through the filter of language as we depart by way of poetry from our common home in Canada travelling east by way of Cambodia and Vietnam and returning to our Native land changed by the experience of having been away. …we are companions on a journey. We are fellow travelers having knowledge of going hence from the familiar and returning from the foreign. And we wonder what it means to belong. How is it for the exile?” Check the Black Moss Press website for the full review plus info about Keith Inman and his books.

Transitory Tango, TOPS 2017 membership anthology edited and compiled by Ottawa poet Ronnie R. Brown was also introduced with readings by several members. Additional information about this anthology and the list of contributors is posted on the TOPS website.

Debbie Okun Hill shared two new chapbooks: Drawing from Experience (a runner-up in the 2017 Big Pond Rumours Chapbook contest) and Chalk Dust Clouds (this year’s winner of TOPS Golden Grassroots Chapbook Award.) Info about the first chapbook appears here. In a recent Verse Fire review of Chalk Dust Clouds, Canadian poet Ronnie R. Brown states “Replete with unique and unexpected images, Okun Hill manages to produce a small collection that stands large in the readers’ minds. From the boy who writes his love’s name on his arm in ball point, to a recycled book of paper dolls, Okun Hill pushes all the buttons, rewinding the reader’s mind back to an earlier and simpler time when erasing the blackboard and slapping the erasers was a reward worth fighting for.” The contest results appear here.

Other spotlight readers (in alphabetical order) were Roy Adams, Fran Figge, I. B. (Bunny) Iskov, and Kamal Parmar. Work by non-members were also shared.

TOPS Members Reading in St Catharines - November 12, 2017 blog version

The Ontario Poetry Society held a members’ reading and open mic on November 12, 2017 at the Mahtay Café & Lounge in St. Catharines. Featured readers included: (back row, left to right) Roy Adams, Keith Inman, Debbie Okun Hill, Fran Figge, and Kamal Parmar. (Front row) I. B. (Bunny) Iskov.

The Ontario Poetry Society is a poetry friendly grassroots organization with over 240 members. It was founded to create a democratic organization for members to unite in camaraderie, friendship, emotional support and encouragement in all aspects of poetry, including writing, performing and publishing. Additional information can be found on its website.

Several other articles about this organization have been posted on this blog over the years.

A partial listing of Ontario literary events for 2018 appears here.

Follow this blog for future news about Canada’s literary community.

*From the poem “What is Poetry?” from the book SEAsia (Black Moss Press, 2017). Used with permission from the author. Copyright © Keith Inman 2017

My 2018 #CanLit Staycation Reading List

Call it snow. Call it a TV igloo to crawl inside and escape. – Debbie Okun Hill*

 Reading Canadian poetry and literature is one way to escape this recent cold snap across the country. Binge watching The Crown and Grand Hotel on Netflix is another. For those with a flair for the imagination, retreating to write can turn a snowflake into a multi-faceted poem or story.

Lost in Reality TV Snow - Okun Hill - January 9, 2018

Snow cradles emerald ash borer damaged trees.

Two months ago, I tried escaping. I slowly slipped away from social media and blogging, to concentrate on final revisions for a poetry manuscript that needed major surgery. I sought help from a professional editor and mentor who not only challenged my thinking but taught me how to play with the words and to heal the open wounds. Carving some quiet time to focus on one project proved productive. Expect to hear more about this in a future blog post.

As the holiday season unfolded, I retreated again to deal with the loss of two special people in my literary life: one was a member of a local book club I used to attend while the other was a long-time literary organizer, editor, writer, and friend. Spending time with family and friends became a priority with quiet moments spent in reflection.

Now I’m back at my desk. As a tribute to all the creative folk I wanted to thank, support and promote in 2017 (and didn’t) expect a flurry of blog posts in the next few weeks. (Yes, I will finally edit and post those photos from November and December literary events.) For those looking for something to read, I’ve pulled an eclectic selection of books from my unread (and to read again) shelves. (See below.)

Perhaps you will seek out a few of these books to add to your own reading list. Remember authors love reviews. Post your thoughts on Amazon and/or Goodreads. If you have a recommendation for 2019, leave the book title and the poet’s name in the comment section. (Comments will take a day or two before they appear.) Thanks for your patience.

In support of fellow poets and poetry readings I attended in 2017:

 You Can’t Make the Sky a Different Blue (Big Pond Rumours Press 2017) an award-winning chapbook by award-winning Paris, Ontario resident and minimalist poet Nelson Ball; Not Even Laughter (Salmon Poetry, Ireland 2015) a collection of poems by Phillip Crymble, a Fredericton resident and poetry editor for The Fiddlehead; The Poison Colour (Coach House Printing 2015) a collection of poetry by award-winning Toronto writer Maureen Hynes; SEAsia (Black Moss Press 2017) is the second collection of poetry by Thorold poet Keith Inman, member of the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association and assistant for their annual Banister Poetry Anthology; Barbaric Cultural Practice (Quattro Books 2016) a poetry collection by Penn Kemp, the inaugural Poet Laureate for London, Ontario and a League of Canadian Poets Life Member; and Infinite Sequels: Poems (Friesen Press 2013) the first poetry collection by Toronto poet David Stones.

Misc Books to Read 2018 to post

A mix of Ontario writers and one from the east coast.

In support of poetry chapbooks:

Pod and Berry (Aeolus House 2017) a new collection of poems by another Life Member of The League of Canadian Poets and The Ontario Poetry Society Allan Briesmaster (See previous blog post here); Orthric Sonnets (Baseline Press 2017), a limited edition chapbook of poems by Andy Verboom, the organizer of London’s Couplets, a collaborative poetry reading series; and leave the door open for the moon (Jackson Creek Press 2015) a collection of poems by Peterborough artist, teacher and writer Nan Williamson.

Chapbooks Manitoba Northern Books to Read 2018 to post

An eclectic mix: poetry chapbooks by Ontario poets, books by Manitoba writers, and books written (and illustrated) by residents/visitors to the great white North.

In support of poetry books:

 Groundwork (Biblioasis 2011) is Amanda Jernigan’s debut poetry collection which was shortlisted for the League of Canadian Poets’ Pat Lowther Award; and The Cinnamon Peeler (McClelland & Stewart 1989) features selected poems written between 1963 and 1990 by internationally acclaimed, award-winning author Michael Ondaatje.

In support of novels:

Alone in the Classroom (McClelland & Stewart 2011) a novel by Scotiabank Giller Prize-Winning author Elizabeth Hay; and Sanctuary Line (McClelland & Stewart 2010) a novel by bestselling Canadian author Jane Urquhart.

Older Work to Read 2019 to post

Older novels and poetry books.

 In support of anthologies and literary journals:

Another London: poems from a city still searching for itself (Harmonia Press 2016); LUMMOX Number Six (Lummox Press 2017) (See a previous blog post here.); Paper Reunion: An Anthology of Phoenix: A Poet’s Workshop (1976-1986) (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2016); Philadephia Poets 2017 Volume 23; and Voices 20 Anniversary: The Journal of the Lake Winnipeg Writers’ Group (BK Publishing, 2016).

Anthologies to Read 2018 to post

Canadian and American anthologies and a literary journal from Philadelphia.

 In support of local writers in the Sarnia-Lambton area:

            Released in 2017:

Red Haws to Light the Field (Guernica Editions 2017) a poetry collection by the prolific and well-known Canadian poet James Deahl (See an earlier blog post here.); Book of Bob: Stories Remembered (Quinn Riley Press 2017), a memoir by Bob McCarthy (See an earlier blog post here); and Any Light With Do, a special edition poetry book by former Lambton College English and Literature instructor Pat Sheridan.

            Released prior to 2017:

 The Fabric of My Soul: Poems (Longbridge Books 2015) the first collection of poetry by the late Venera Fazio (See an earlier blog post here); Straight Lines (Penumbra Press 2003), a poetry collection by former Thunder Bay resident and new Sarnia resident Mary Frost; No Common Thread: The Selected Short Fiction of Norma West Linder (Hidden Brook Press 2013) by one of Sarnia’s finest writers (see an earlier blog post here); The Belles of Prosper Station (Friesen Press 2014) the first work of historical fantasy by Gloria Pearson-Vasey (See an earlier blog post here); 1300 Moons (Trafford Publishing 2011) a historical fiction novel by Aamjiwwnaang First Nation writer David D Plain (See an earlier blog post here); and Live From the Underground (Mansfield Press 2015) a novel by Corinne Wasilewski.

Local Books 2018 to post

New and not so new books written by Sarnia-Lambton writers.

 Manitoba based or influenced:

Dadolescence (Turnstone Press 2011) a witty novel by Winnipeg author and journalist Bob Armstrong; Arctic Comics (Renegade Arts Canmore Ltd. 2016) a collection of graphic tales of myth written and drawn by Inuit and Northern Canadian storytellers and artists with a special shout out to Manitoba artist Nicholas Burns; If There Were Roads: Poems (Turnstone Press 2017) a Winnipeg published collection by award-winning Whitehorse resident and poet Joanna Lilley (See an earlier blog post here.); and Magpie Days (Turnstone Press 2014) the debut poetry collection by Winnipeg writer Brenda Sciberras, winner of the Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for Best First Book.

From British Columbia:

What the Soul Doesn’t Want (Freehand Books 2017), the newest collection by the award-winning Swift Current born, Vancouver Island poet Lorna Crozier; After All the Scissor Work Is Done (Leaf Press 2016), a collection of poems by Nanoose Bay poet David Fraser, the founder and editor of Ascent Aspirations Magazine; The Spirit of the Thing and the Thing Itself (Ekstasis Editions 2015), the 12th book by D.C. Reid, past president of The League of Canadian Poets; and return to open water: Poems New & Selected (Ronsdale Press 2007) featuring the best work gleamed from 10 poetry collections by mentor and editor Harold Rhenisch who recently had his poem shortlisted for the 2017 CBC Poetry Prize.

Canadian West Coast Books to Read 2018 to post

From western Canada.

So that’s my 35-book reading challenge for my next ‘Staycation’ escape. If I missed mentioning your book, it may appear in a new list. Additional recommendations, book reviews, and reading lists appear on my Goodreads page.

What are you doing to cope with the cold?

Can you hear the celebratory music in the background? Sleigh bells ring…and I’m drifting….drifting asleep in the snow, reliving my youth, bundled in a snowmobile suit with a brightly knit scarf wrapped around my face. The horses’ hooves clip-clop along the snow-dusted trails as their powerful muscles pulls the sleigh through a wooded area. A child’s laughter appears like cloud puffs in the frosty air. I laugh too but I can’t help noticing how the leather blinders on the bridle keep the horses un-spooked and focused forward.

Tonight, as the melted snow ices in preparation for another snowfall, I shut my eyes and I become that grey mare clip-clopping down the trail. The jingle of silver bells lulls me to sleep as visions of #CanLit books swirl like snowflakes in my head.

*From the unpublished poem “Lost in Reality TV Snow” from the manuscript Ash Leaves. Used with permission from the author © Debbie Okun Hill 2018

Introducing My Chapbook – Drawing From Experience

“If we had more breath, more time/we might have taken art lessons.” -Debbie Okun Hill*

It’s late, almost midnight.

A full moon zip-lines through the bow window and shines a flashlight on my copy of Drawing from Experience, a chapbook of 15 ekphrastic** and art-themed poems recently released by Big Pond Rumours Press.

Hold that image! Hold that spotlight on the ballerina sculpture immortalized on the book’s cover!

Tonight, I’m brainstorming promotional ideas, sketching prototypes, being silly, playing with words as if they were clay.

Drawing From Experience by Debbie Okun Hill -Big Pond Rumours Press 2017 Front Cover

HOT OFF THE PRESS…Drawing from Experience (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017) by Debbie Okun Hill

I could try cartwheeling or breakdancing on the kitchen floor.

Hold that youth-inspired thought.

Perhaps I should celebrate my NEW 30-page chapbook with the release of white butterflies on the rooftop of The Winnipeg Art Gallery or in the foyer of a national museum.

That’s not my style either.

Promoting other writers energizes me. Marketing my own work exhausts me but tonight I persevere.

Who is my target audience? Male? Female? Artist? Poet? I should know this by now. What is the best message and medium to grab a reader’s attention?

Art lessons and painting parties pop into my mind. I read that Instagram is where it’s at. Imagine 700 million registered users as of April 2017! Would any of them be interested in poetry? My head spins as I stash more images inside my cluttered brain bank!

For a moment, an imaginary paint brush swirls ideas like the wind-twirled sky in Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night. Call it magical! Call it spiritual! Call it serendipity! I love this creative process where the visual and literary arts converge. I hope the reader will feel this too. Take my poetic words and allow them to be organic! Feed them with quiet reflection! Watch them transform, grow, and speak beyond the page!

Last winter when Big Pond Rumours, a newly-transported (now local) micro-press, announced a contest for chapbook manuscripts, I was consumed by my husband’s house renovations and his desire for me to de-clutter and re-organize our storage area.

My mind drifted to painting art for the walls which led me to dusting off several previously published art-themed poems written between 2006 and 2017. I had nothing to lose except time.

Tonight, the full moon keeps me focused. I pick up a copy of my printed book and read the last line on the back cover: “This chapbook was the third place winner in the 2017 Chapbook Contest run by Big Pond Rumours Press.”

Always a night owl - I found inspiration in my father-in-law and his closet filled with bird sketches

My artistic father-in-law inspired me with his bird sketches including this night owl “whoo-whoo” reminded me of my own nocturnal writing habits.

The tug and gap between the busy-ness of selling and the tranquility of creating increases. I glance at my cluttered desk, the remaining stacks of unread books on my vacation reading list, the blogs I had hoped to post. From my patio door, I stare into backyard shadows. I strain to see the Canadian thistle and milkweed co-existing in my flower gardens and to hear how the wind rustles the first fallen maple leaf.

Summer closes her eyes.

Tomorrow I’ll welcome a new chapter with a new publisher as this literary journey continues.

This Sunday, September 10, 2017, from noon to 5 p.m. Big Pond Rumours Press will be promoting its products and services at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival. If you’re in the area, drop by and browse through the vast selection of chapbooks (including my own) that will be on display along Publishers’ Way. Can’t attend? A list of available titles and order information appears on the publisher’s website.

Additional information about my upcoming reading dates and locations will be posted on-line as soon as details are confirmed.

Special thanks to the early reviewers who have shared their thoughts about my chapbook:

From Kara Ghobhainn Smith, author of The Artists of Crow County (Black Moss Press, 2017):

‘Okun Hill “recoats our sandpapered arms/ with orchid leis and tropical oils”, breathing new energy into our old lives….[The poem] “Things We Might Have Done” really spoke to me. The voice fit my place in life like a glove; and I LOVED the line, “I could buy your coffin/stuff you in a boutique bag”.  

Ottawa Sightseeing October 2014 photo 2

All of the previously published poems in my third chapbook were inspired by my love for art, galleries, museums, and the creative process.

From Canadian visual artist/poet John Di Leonardo  who wrote this review*** for  Verse Afire, the official newsletter for The Ontario Poetry Society:

Phil Yorke’s photograph of a woman observing a Degas sculpture of a lithe ballerina on the cover is an apt image to set the stage for Debbie Okun Hill’s new collection of poems Drawing from Experience. Her words scumble a tender palette on which the poet lays and mixes images experienced through art, artists, and the poet’s keen power of observation. 

Debbie’s poems make clear she has the love and eye of an artist, her rich visual imagery whether observed from museum masterpieces, a dramatic tribute to Emily Carr, or from a tarantula framed in a gallery gift shop touch on the necessity for art and artists to enrich our lives.

Debbie Okun Hill at the Music Evoked Imagery Workshop held during the League of Canadian Poets conference June 6, 2014 in Toronto. Photographer unknown.

In this Music Evoked Imagery Workshop offered at the League of Canadian Poets 2014 conference in Toronto, poets explored the relationship between various creative forms.

There is a wonderful sense of surprise in reading this collection, as the poet presents many perspectives in framing our ekphrastic experience. From the very first poem “Shades of Grey,” we are guided through secret feelings of loss, and the visual pleasures art offers “…from light to shadow/white washed with air brushed pendulum/grey hues that make us human.”

Through minute details we feel the loneliness of a little girl, painted in a museum masterpiece (A Sunday Afternoon On The Island of La Grande Jatte, by Georges Seurat.) where “Even her guardian-mother/turns, looks away…Even the four opened umbrellas/draw more attention/ than the sun and her blurry eyes.”

In the poem “Pinned by Your Image on the Web” the poet muses on a framed tarantula at a museum gift shop and offers a meditation on the fine line where life and art are interchangeable, “…stuff you in a boutique bag/ walk out the door/ and call you ART/ …And I try to calculate/ how long your body will last/…had you crawled quicker into hiding.”

Rich rhythms and visual imagery abound in these poems as when the poet reflects on the pain of a loved one, “you whisper your last words/ like pencil sketches, grey smeared/ a half-breath we strain to absorb/ lean close…” This collection contains excellent examples of ekphrastic poetry, and thoroughly satisfies the mind’s eye for readers who enjoy the pleasures of visual art.

Thank you Kara and John for your insights. Both reviewers are poets with full collections of work using the ekphrastic form. Additional information about Kara and John can be found on the links posted above their comments.

For those who are interested in exploring the relationship between various art forms, check out this earlier post “When Poets Heard Music They Painted”.

Follow this blog for more exciting news to be announced soon!

Hope to see you at some of the readings!

Night all…

*From the poem “Things We Might Have Done” from the chapbook Drawing from Experience (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017) Page 20 Used with permission from the author © Debbie Okun Hill 2017
**Ekphrastic poetry is a poetic term referring to detailed poems written about specific works of art including paintings, photographs, sculpture, or anything else that is considered aesthetically pleasing.
***John Di Leonardo’s review will appear in the January 2018 issue of Verse Afire. Used with permission from John Di Leonardo and The Ontario Poetry Society.