Category Archives: Canadian Profiles

Artist John Di Leonardo Follows His Passion in Debut Poetry Book

Among cold things, I whisper your name/in the sweetness of morning jams, evening fruits/and the Atlantic that draws me towards you. – John Di Leonardo*

February perfumes the air with desire and passion fruit while the cover of John Di Leonardo’s debut poetry collection Conditions of Desire is scarlet like rose petals, like a daring shade of lipstick, like Cupid’s heart.

Launched in late October 2018 by The John B. Lee Signature Series imprint of Hidden Brook Press, this 74-page collection of 54 ekphrastic poems evolved from Di Leonardo’s visual art exhibition “The Contentious Nude in the History of Canadian Art.”

John Di Leonardo at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery Photo courtesy - Druworx Photography - for blog post

Before becoming a published poet, John Di Leonardo taught visual arts for 30 years. His latest exhibition of graphite drawings was at the Robert McLaughlin Art Gallery in Oshawa, Ontario. Photo courtesy: Druworx Photography

As Lee penned for the back cover, “John Di Leonardo’s masterful ekphrastic project involves the writing of a collection of fine poems each of which is inspired by an original work of art. Although he is working in the poetic tradition of Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts,” Di Leonardo is first and foremost a painter who brings to bear the eye of a man whose primary art is visual.”

His transition–from an established artist and visual arts teacher to a poet who paints with his words–has been fascinating to watch.

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In Conversation with Edmonton Poet Kelly Shepherd

“We dream when we sleep; Magpies dream/when they fly in the rain. We might not always remember, /but every one of our dreams is about either leaves or feathers.” – Kelly Shepherd*

A few days ago, I posted a review of Kelly Shepherd’s Insomnia Bird: Edmonton Poems (Thistledown Press, 2018). The author impressed me with his “mind-warping, playful, and clever” work but who was this western Canadian poet with such layered words woven with humour and twigs?  I decided to find out. Below is our conversation (edited slightly for length, order, and flow).

Edmonton poet Kelly Shepherd Photo by Randell Edwards Photography

Introducing Canadian poet Kelly Shepherd  Photo by Randall Edwards Photography

Hi Kelly! Before I received your book Insomnia Bird for review, I wasn’t familiar with your work. I had never seen a magpie, one of the star attractions in your second collection of poetry. Even my first-hand knowledge of Edmonton was limited despite short visits over the years. Initially, I wondered whether your book would speak to me, the outsider looking in. As it turned out, it held me captive.

At what point in your writing process did you decide to set the poems in Edmonton versus somewhere more generic? What local insights would the book offer to the residents versus the universal themes that would appeal to readers living outside the area, province, or even another country?

This was a concern when I was starting to compile these poems: how accessible is this book going to be, to people who aren’t familiar with Edmonton? Will it even make sense?

Because Insomnia Bird is all about Edmonton-specific places, happenings, and landmarks. Some of the references are quite obscure, but they’re not inaccessible. I’ve had several people comment on the pleasant surprise of finding one of these details that they recognize from their own experience of Edmonton.

But hopefully, in spite of this ‘specificity’, there’s still enough of the familiar in the descriptions of public transit, for example, or urban wildlife, that people who don’t know Edmonton will still recognize these things. On one level, Edmonton is very uniquely Edmonton in this book; on another level Edmonton can stand in for almost any city. It becomes everycity’.

Some of these poems celebrate Edmonton, but others are quite critical of the city and its culture, for example our destructive addictions to fossil fuels and big trucks, and our tendency toward urban sprawl, and the thinly-veiled colonialism inherent in many institutions. And so on. Insomnia Bird is a study in shadow geography, which means it looks at those aspects of a place which are hidden, or repressed. It looks for the details a city wouldn’t include in its tourist brochures.

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In Conversation with London Poet Andreas Gripp

It is my hope to assist in raising the profile of poetry in this region and to emphasize through readings and events that it is an inclusive art open to all.”* – Andreas Gripp

London poet and publisher Andreas Gripp is one of the hardest-working writers that I know.

This week, I chatted with the Synaeresis: arts + poetry magazine editor and Mykonos Open Mic Poetry Series organizer about his involvement with the literary community and his thoughts about poetry’s future in such a busy (and noisy) digital era.

andreas reading mykonos oct 2016 (2)

Gripp wears many hats. In addition to organizing the new Mykonos Open Mic Poetry Series, editing the digital literary magazine Synaeresis, publishing books for and with Harmonia Press, he can also be seen sharing work from his own poetry collections.

Andreas, you’ve been part of London, Ontario’s poetry community since 1994 and during that time you’ve worn many hats. Recently you took on the role as the organizer for the new Mykonos Open Mic Poetry Series which is being held on the second Tuesday of every month. Why is a poetry reading series (like the one you are organizing) so important to the community?

London has always been in need of a place where poets of varied experience, as well as newcomers, can share their work. Without a literary open mic, the opportunities are few and far between (if at all). It’s where we meet old friends and new talent. The featured reader is someone who has taken their craft further than simply writing on paper and keeping it in a box. It’s a poet who has shared their work publicly, in print or digitally, and can be inspiring to those of us who may not be there yet.

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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!

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Chatting with Canadian Poet Bernice Lever

Gonna kick up these old heels/Swing on that shiny pine floor/Stamp feet to that drum beat./Oh, find some lovin’ galore* – Bernice Lever

 You won’t find Canadian poet Bernice Lever resting on her laurels in an easy chair. Even at the golden age of 80 plus years, she’s much too busy for that.

Berrnice Lever at World Peace Poets 6th Read-In October 6, 2018 in Bellingham, Washington Photo courtesy Ashok K. Bhargava

Canadian Poet Bernice Lever reads at World Peace Poets 6th Read-In, October 6, 2018 in Bellingham, Washington. Photo courtesy of Ashok K. Bhargava

In addition to working on her 11th book of poetry expected to be published in 2019, she is still giving readings and workshops. Earlier this month, she was one of six Canadian and 31 American poets to read at the World Peace Poets 6th Read-In in Bellingham, Washington.  Two of her poems featured at that event will be published in a December chapbook.

Tamaracks - Lummox Press 2018 - front cover

Lever is one of 113 Canadian poets from Halifax to Vancouver published in TAMARACKS: Canadian Poets for the 21st Century (Lummox Press 2018)

Additional work recently appeared in two anthologies published by Lummox Press in San Pedro, California: LUMMOX Number 7 and TAMARACKS: Canadian Poetry for the 21st Century. She also had four poems featured in Delicate Impact, an anthology released by Beret Days Press in the summer

In April, the League of Canadian Poets highlighted her poem “Not Just My Bunions” for Poem In Your Pocket Day. (Read more here.) Plus one of her poems was selected for Poetry Pause the League’s new on-line showcase to be launched this November.

Recently, she was welcomed to share her praise of her multi-talented publisher, Marty Gervais and of his five decades of leading Black Moss Press and his national prize winning literary magazine. This coming book is edited by well-known writer Bruce Meyer.

Bernice Lever has made such an extensive contribution to the literary community that several organizations including the League, the Canadian Authors Association, and The Ontario Poetry Society have honoured her with Life Memberships.

I recently chatted with Bernice about her literary life, philosophy, and future goals.

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De Santis Co-Edits Seventh Italian Canadian Anthology

“It was my first day of school in Canada and I didn’t understand a word of English. I was feeling lost and lonely. But when Morena spoke to me in Italian, her words were like rays of sunlight illuminating the darkness.” –Delia De Santis*

 Italian Canadian writer Delia De Santis values the immigrant’s voice. Read one of her stories and you’ll hear authentic dialogue: the banter between neighbours, the fragmented sentences of broken English, the chatter of women at a social gathering.  It’s a skill that comes easy to her like cooking and serving Italian frittata for a guest or working behind the scenes at a local Books and Biscotti event.

Delia De Santis co-edited People Places Passages - Longbridge Books 2018 Image 1

Delia De Santis is a Bright’s Grove editor/short fiction writer known nationally for her work with the Association of Italian Canadian Writers.

Her gift for describing the struggles, joys, and cadences of this culturally-rich group is the basil that seasons her storytelling. As she wrote in one of her stories,

“Oh. So now I am not even Italian anymore,” he laughs. “What kind of talk is that? You were friends with my mother…you don’t think she was Italian? Didn’t she speak and cook Italian? Didn’t she do everything Italian? If you ask me, there was no woman around more Italian than my mother…”**

As a co-editor, De Santis also encourages other Italian Canadian writers to share their unique voices and ensures them that their written creations will be heard nationally and internationally. Her latest project People, Places, Passages: An Anthology of Canadian Writing represents her seventh anthology. Recently released by Longbridge Books, this book was edited with Giulia De Gasperi, and Caroline Morgan Di Giovanni.

According to its back cover, the anthology features short stories, poems, memoirs, and excerpts of plays and novels in English, French, Italian, and a variety of Italian dialects. Its 98 contributors are established and prize-winning authors as well as emerging writers. The volume is the most comprehensive collection yet of Italian-Canadian writing, and a milestone in the history of the Association of Italian Canadian Writers (AICW). The writings in this anthology take readers on a journey through myriad worlds and themes: Canada and Italy, past and present, immigration, language, memory, friendship, love, fear, mystery, tears and laughter – an essential volume for students and scholars of Italian Canadiana.”

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Opening Doors and Windows with Editor Harold Rhenisch

“You sit/awake tonight, your fingers/over the pages scattered out before you,/listening too through your hands.”– Harold Rhenisch*

Allow your head to spin with ideas! If the mind is a wooden red door with frosted or cracked panes then Editor Harold Rhenisch opened several windows for me! That’s my view of a worthy editor or mentor. He opened and closed doors and windows until I felt unhinged and accepted new possibilities: a stronger voice (or voices) and an infinite imagination ‘summer’-saulting like tumbleweeds across a silent and vacant field.

Harold Rhenisch - author photo 1

The editor as magician? Harold Rhenisch says “an editor is a set of wise eyes with a sharp knife and a smile”.

If you are an editor and/or a writer who has worked with an editor, you may disagree. You may even slam the door on my fingers and tell me my observations are wrong. C’est la vie!

What I have learned is that in the literary world there are no clear paths. Writing begins as a solitary journey and it meanders and can transport you to places and people you never expected or imagined before. Each experience whether negative or positive becomes a lesson for growth.

When local mentor Canadian author Peggy Fletcher passed away in January 2012, I lost my steering wheel and felt lost. I missed the way she would close her eyes during a writers’ workshop, listen intently to a poem, and immediately pinpoint a misplaced beat or word. No one could ever replace this nature-loving writer and over time I just gave up looking.

In 2015, on a whim, I joined the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association (CAA) and two years later I decided to tap into its electronic writer in residence program. I had heard about Harold Rhenisch and wondered if his keen interest in the Earth would be the right fit for a manuscript I was working on.

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