Category Archives: Canadian Profiles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Introducing Elizabeth F Hill and All ‘Bout Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Gertrude’s Writing Room – Behind the Scenes with Vanessa Shields

I want roots in a space so I can do all the things I love to do in one location – and invite everyone to share the space with me! – Vanessa Shields*

Set up the ‘famous-author-themed’ chairs, open up the front door, and roll out the literary welcome mats! She did it!

“A gathering place for writers.” That’s how the website describes Gertrude’s Writing Room, a Windsor-based venture created and run by Vanessa Shields, local editor/mentor/instructor/poet and author of several books including the Black Moss Press poetry collections I Am That Woman (2013) and Look At Her (2016).

Vanessa Shields at Gertrude's Writing Room Open House Photo by Kara Smith

Welcome to Gertrude’s Writing Room: a Windsor-based venture created and run by Vanessa Shields! Photo by Kara Smith

Shields is no stranger to this blog. Back in 2016 in a Q and A post featuring her second poetry collection, she reiterated her long-time dream of opening “a space for creative writing, book launches, reading series, storytelling series, reading…with delicious coffees/teas and fresh pastries. I have no idea how to life this dream to life, but it’s there and very real in my mind.”

Fast forward several years! Shields is indeed realizing her long term goals. Not only did she “life” a modified version of her dream, but over the summer her business Gertrude’s Writing Room celebrated its first year anniversary with an open house in a new location inside Willistead Park, 1899 Niagara Street.

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Introducing Naming the Shadows by Sharon Berg

We were breaking strict rules, heading towards the high, crumbling hillside that was the northern face of this valley called Cedar Vale – Sharon Berg*

 What happens next for Elke, the young protagonist in Sharon Berg’s fictional tale “Trespass” is a heart-wrenching account of how quickly innocence can slip into a dangerous and dark abyss. The tension builds and as a reader, I am left scarred similar to my feelings after reading Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Will the horrors between bullies and victims never end?

However with shadows comes light and for this Sarnia writer her ability to shock (and move readers into action) is offset by her caring and strong interest in portraying the human experience in its painful as well as its tender, healing moments.

For almost a year, Facebook followers have received teasers about Berg’s upcoming short fiction collection Naming the Shadows to be published by the established trade publisher The Porcupine’s Quill based out of Erin in Wellington County. She’s proudly shared the cover depicting a painting by Alvinston artist Liana Russwurm and has created on-line posters for her upcoming book tour. “Trespass” is part of this new book which includes 9 short stories and two novelettes.

September 29, 2019 in Sarnia

Launching September 29 at The Book Keeper in Sarnia: Naming the Shadows (Porcupine’s Quill 2019) is the debut short fiction collection by Sarnia writer Sharon Berg. Special guests include Berg, artist Liana Russwurm, and poet/musician Tom Gannon Hamilton who will offer background music as she reads from the book.

Now the real work will begin!

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