Category Archives: Works in Progress

Remembering the Ash Trees with Art, Music, Poetry, Dance, Words

“Somewhere someone/is planting a sapling/but not an ash.”* -Debbie Okun Hill

I can still remember the day the tree service workers came and removed four mature ash trees from my backyard. At the time (May 5, 2011), I jotted down notes with the hopes of writing several tribute poems to the ash trees which I did thanks to a 2012/2013 Ontario Arts Council Writers’ Reserve Grant. Years later, I’m still adding poems to my manuscript and was thrilled to hear that Mary Abma, a local artist has also been creating work to draw attention to those trees destroyed by the emerald ash borer (EAB).

As promised in an earlier blog, below is additional information (a poster) about her upcoming exhibition Signposts & Traces: Ash Tree Memorial Trail scheduled for April 28 to May 14, 2017 at the Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery (JNAAG), 147 Lochiel Street in downtown Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. I’m looking forward to seeing her work and will be posting a Question and Answer featuring Abma in the near future.

April 28 to May 2017

She will also be doing an artist talk TODAY (Thursday, April 27) from 7 to 9 p.m. at the gallery. Admission is free (or pay as you can). Pre-register to ensure enough seats are set up.

On Saturday, April 29, Abma has planned a Canatara Ash Tree Memorial performance from 10 to 11 a.m. at the Seaway Kiwanis Pavilion, Canatara Park (1200 Lake Chipican Drive in Sarnia. The program will include music performed by Kelly Kiyoshk (flute), Wavesong Vocal Ensemble, and Missy Burgess; dancing by Robi Williams & Lightning Strikes Clarke; and words by Allan McKeown and David D Plain. I will also share four of my ash tree themed poems: “Light On Their Toes”, “Arguing With The Neighbours”, “Dueling Chainsaws”, and “Meeting Poe in Canatara Park”.

Following the performance, Abma will invite everyone to walk the Ash Tree Memorial Trail, contemplate the loss of the trees, and leave birdseed offerings at numerous sites where numerous QR codes are posted to view each tree’s memorial page.

Both events will take place rain or shine.

Approximately 15 years have passed since the emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle from Asia was first detected in Detroit, Michigan. In Canada, the infestation began across the river in Windsor, moved towards Lambton County and then spread further into Ontario and Quebec.

According to the Emerald Ash Borer Information Network, the EAB has “killed hundreds of millions of ash trees in North America”. Updated information can be found on its website.

Have you experienced the loss of a tree? Stop by and see what Mary Abma has created to keep these trees in our thoughts. Here are links to her website and her ash tree themed projects.

*Quote is from the unpublished poem “Funeral Procession” © Debbie Okun Hill
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Celebrating Forests & Poetry -March 21, 2017

The sun rolls out a carpet of light…March 21, 2017 is not only World Poetry Day but it’s also International Day of Forests!

Today reminds us that we should dash outdoors into a forest, recite a poem, hug the oldest tree we can find, do all that we can to protect our environment, and make our world a kinder and better place to live in. Who cares if anyone is watching or not! The fresh air will be intoxicating.

International Day of Forests World Poetry Day March 21, 2017

As a full-time gardener of words, I can’t wait to kick off the winter boots and sink my feet and hands into the earth. After hibernating most of the winter, I hope to start writing some new material again.

Some of my blog followers may have noticed that my masthead has changed from a monarch butterfly to a log featuring the zig-zag trails of the invasive emerald ash borer (EMB). I’m eager to share some new poems on that theme. Artist Mary Abma has been creating artifacts to commemorate some of the trees lost by the EMB.  I look forward to seeing her work. Watch this blog for additional information about Signposts & Traces: Ash Tree Memorial Trail Performance to take place at Canatara Park and the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.

In July 2017, Drawing From Experience, my art-themed manuscript will be published by Big Pond Rumours Press. The 17-poem chapbook received Runner-up in the 1st annual Big Pond Rumours Chapbook Competition. I’m excited about this new project. Many of the poems were previously published and will be shared as a collective group for the first time. More details will be available at a later date.

For those who wish to attend a literary function, check my recent updates on the 2017 event section of my blog. The list represents a small sample of provincial offerings. Additional information about Sarnia-Lambton’s National Poetry Month celebration will be provided soon.

In the meantime, may your poetic muse nudge you to listen to the whispering trees….

“They too have stories to share.”

A New Year’s Reflection – Celebrating Two Years as a Blogger

This is what I do. This is what I love. Perhaps you too will find the courage to take that road less travelled. –Debbie Okun Hill

Oh, what an exhilarating and bumpy ride! Two years ago, my publisher Black Moss Press and assigned editor Vanessa Shields nudged me to start this blog as a promotional experiment.

“You need a website,” they echoed as they prepared for the birth of Tarnished Trophies, my first poetry collection.

For me, answers reveal themselves in quiet places - Okun Hill

“For me, answers reveal themselves in quiet spaces.”

I felt like an untrained pilot in a thunder storm. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing or how I was going to land but I welcomed the new challenge and hoped that Mary Poppins would wander over, work her magic on my keyboard, and clean my house at the same time. Mary never showed up. Perhaps she wasn’t a computer whiz either. Perhaps those lingering dust bunnies terrified her or maybe it was the world-wide spider’s web hovering over my desk that deterred her.

Determined to please my publisher, I paper clipped my eyes to the computer screen, read all the fine-printed instructions and opened a WORDPRESS account to create a blog. The learning curve proved steep, steeper than Mount Everest (I’m using poetic license here) but like with any new project, additional practice paved and streamlined my blogger’s path. The rust on my journalism skills gave way to a new literary adventure while my poetic muse sulked in the corner.

No one said being a writer would be easy. Before I realized it, my blogging addiction took hold and I couldn’t wait to hone my photographic skills and find newsworthy items to blog about. What a surprise to discover that I had created 67 blog posts in two years! (Yes, WORDPRESS keeps tabs.) Did I enjoy this literary romp more than touring, reading, and creating poetry?

Confusion set in. The analytical side of my brain arm wrestled my creativity and dragged in that dreaded Writer’s Ice Block onto my shoulder.

I froze, stared at my blank computer screen with 20 plus blog ideas propped onto my other shoulder. My snowflake-words swirled then flung themselves like frost on a windshield. I couldn’t even pry them off with an icepick. Behind me, dust and word wads remained tangled in Christmas tinsel. Was I having an identity or mid-life crisis? I wanted to do it all!

I paused in silence. For me, answers reveal themselves in quiet spaces. As the noise of the festive season faded, I could hear the rattle of sports equipment settling in my basement closet. Outside the rustle of leaves beneath snow blanket reminded me of patience and new beginnings.

If you are one of my 94 subscribed followers, thank you for joining me on my literary journey! If you are one of my 3173 visitors, thanks for stopping by. If I promised to write a blog about your book and/or event, it will happen but not always as quickly as I would like. Slip me a note just in case the request didn’t make it to my “to do” list. If this is your first visit, I hope you’ll return but only if it adds value to your life.

I’m a firm believer that people and challenges enter and leave our lives for a reason. Just like the muse, some days I need to chill, switch directions, try another route or go with the poetic flow on another day. Unless I can find a time-machine, I can never go back. Yes, I can retrace my steps; discover my errors, attempt to make amends and start over but ultimately time moves forward.

Life is still a journey - Okun Hill

Life is still a journey whether others embrace that concept or not.

Even when I’m standing or sitting still, life is still a literary journey, whether others embrace that concept or not. At least for today, that is how I feel and see the world. We all have voices, some quieter than others. Each deserves to be heard and respected despite the differences.

If I may quote from the last lines in my poem “Cutting Remarks*”: “we hibernate/wait for spring/when ice cubed differences unthaw/spilling rainwater/aqua therapy indoors”.

Health and happiness to you and your extended family in the New Year.

*The poem “Cutting Remarks” first appeared in Tarnished Trophies (Black Moss Press, 2014) Copyright © Debbie Okun Hill 2014

 

Today is the Day! Three More Bloggers Join the Blog Tour!

Just a reminder that these three bloggers will be sharing their writing process today, July 14, 2014.

Just a reminder that these three bloggers will be sharing their writing process today, July 14, 2014.

Check out their blogs later this morning once they are awake and have had their coffee and breakfast. 🙂

Phyllis Humby

Penn Kemp

Vanessa Shields

Also check each blog for a list of next week’s featured bloggers on the Writing Process blog tour!

All Aboard! Hop on the My Writing Process – Blog Tour

 

Writing transports you to places you’ve never seen before. Here’s an inexpensive adventure anyone can take without leaving home.

Cobalt, Ontario, home of the Spring Pulse Poetry Festival.

Cobalt, Ontario, home of the Spring Pulse Poetry Festival. Watch for a future blog on this topic.

This is how it works. You start here, spend some time on my blog and then you may travel backwards to the Monday, June 30 blog of my writing colleague Marianne Jones. She’s invited several writers to chat about their writing processes and has also provided recommended links for additional blog hopping.

Then next Monday, July 14 you can travel forward and visit the blog sites of three more of my writing friends. Scroll down for my recommendations but before you do, below are the four questions that Marianne asked me about my writing process, followed by my answers:

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON?

Professionally, I am working on three main projects:

1) The promotion of my first trade book Tarnished Trophies (Black Moss Press, 2014).This is ongoing but the main push will occur in the fall when people are starting to attend readings again.

RIP: Another tree gone.

RIP: Another tree gone.

2) A new collection of poems dedicated to the dying ash trees. More editing and polishing of the work will begin later this summer.

3) A progress report for the Ontario Arts Council (OAC) is due in a few weeks. Thanks to an OAC Writer’s Reserve grant, I have almost completed new research and poetry drafts based on my interest in crafts and rural living.

Personally, I am also concentrating on balance. For me, writing is an obsession just like competing in sports is an obsession for some individuals. So I am seeking ways to balance my literary life with my summer love for gardening, being outdoors with nature, and meditating. I love to read and I’ve long abandoned (unfortunately due to time restrictions) my interest in the arts and crafts: painting, sketching, knitting, sewing, etc. There is also a need to find balance between my private spiritual being and the public demands of a published writer. Many writers struggle with that: the need to find time to write when hours are consumed with promotion such as blogging/touring/attending readings/etc. especially when a new book is launched.

HOW DOES YOUR WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS OF ITS GENRE?

For the past 11 years, I’ve been focusing on poetry, a genre which isn’t always understood or appreciated by the general public. I must admit, at one time, I was one of those writers and readers who ignored this genre and so I can appreciate the reservations people have. However, since reading Margaret Atwood’s novels The Edible Woman and Surfacing in high school and university English classes, I’ve always had a fascination for metaphors. It took a local writer’s group to convince me that I should explore poetry. I’m glad I listened.

As for how my work differs, I’ve been told that readers recognize my style and yet, I feel I don’t have a specific style. I do know I love to experiment with words focusing mainly on free verse but I’ve also written more formal poetry such as haiku, sonnets, the glosa and even concrete poetry. I often push myself to think outside the box (which sometimes makes my poems obscure) but I’m also drawn to image and storytelling, resulting in more narrative work.

Published by Black Moss Press

Published by Black Moss Press

In Tarnished Trophies, my recently released book published by Black Moss Press, I wrestle with the athletic soul. Nothing is black and white. There are shades of grey and although it’s a ‘sports themed’ book, my aim was to have readers reflect on their own experiences with competition beyond the athletic world. I draw attention to the ‘non-athlete’ and the “perceived loser”, creating images and stories for those spectators on the fringes of our world.

WHY DO YOU WRITE THE WAY YOU DO?

As a new member of the Writers’ Union of Canada, I continue to examine the work of other professional poets and to imitate and experiment with various styles. I also have a marketing and public relations background, so I naturally mold and shape my work according to the needs of the contest, magazine or anthology I am submitting to. That’s the commercial side of my thinking.

However, due to my interest in art and photography in my early years and as a former public relations specialist with The Winnipeg Art Gallery, I continue to value the need for creative expression which isn’t always popular with the public. As I grow older (and often less wiser), I am learning to trust my inner instincts more and am less concerned about the opinions of others. The words of American author/professor Leo Buscaglia resonates with me: “You are the only you … You are the best you. You will always be the second best anyone else.”

HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK?

Owl Sketch courtesy of James C. Hill

Owl Sketch courtesy of James C. Hill

I am a night owl with my best writing completed on my computer at my desk during that twilight zone between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. My writing preference is to freefall which means starting the poem with a title, a line, an image or an idea and then allowing the words to flow without actually thinking about it. This may sound crazy but it is during these quiet moments that the muse or some unknown force takes over. As long as I don’t question or analyze what is happening, then the results can be quite magical. Rewrites and/or editing are more structured and usually takes place that same night or several days or weeks later. Spelling and/or clarity of meaning is only reviewed once a first draft is created. Some poems are also shared with other poets in a workshop setting so that the lines and verses can be further improved.

Although, I do not pre-plan my poems ahead of time, I am driven by deadlines and challenges. Every evening, I will create a list of things to do for the following day. Sometimes I follow it. Sometimes I ignore it but either way it acts as a map for setting priorities.

Because I am not a morning person, I usually answer e-mails and check social networking or promotional work during that time. If I have to, I can write on demand, but the results are never as strong as when I freefall and allow the words to just appear. I almost never write with music in the background nor do I like to write poetry long hand unless I have to.

Next week – Monday, July 14 – stop by and visit the blogs of three more writers. I’m looking forward to hearing their answers too.

Phyllis Humby

Phyllis Humby

Phyllis Humby is an award-winning crime writer and columnist. Although her passion is writing suspense novels, her short stories, often scheming, twisted, or spooky, appear in anthologies and journals in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. Phyllis’s blog: The Write Break phyllishumby.blogspot.com

Penn Kemp Photo Courtesy Gavin Stairs

Penn Kemp Photo by Gavin Stairs

Activist poet/playwright Penn Kemp, London Ontario’s inaugural Poet Laureate, has published 25 books of poetry/drama, ten CDs and videopoetry. She hosts  Gathering Voices on CHRW Radio. Penn’s blog: http://pennkemp.wordpress.com/

Vanessa Shields Photo courtesy Nick Shields

Vanessa Shields Photo courtesy Nick Shields

Vanessa Shields’s first book, Laughing Through A Second Pregnancy – A Memoir, was published in 2011 to rave reviews. In April 2013, Shields edited a poetry anthology entitled, Whisky Sour City and in January 2014, her first book of poetry, I Am That Woman, was launched. All three books were published by Black Moss Press. Her poetry, short stories and photography have also been published in various literary magazines. Vanessa’s blog: http://vanessashields.com/

Limb by Limb He Cuts Her Down

Sometimes our poetic journey takes us through periods of loss. In many parts of Canada and the United States, the Emerald Ash Borers are destroying our ash trees. Such a shame!

“I should count the rings
such a large log, freshly cut
in this graveyard of ash trees”

–Debbie Okun Hill from a new work still in progress

RIP: Another tree gone.

RIP: Another tree gone.

Fading from the landscape.

Fading from the landscape.

Special thanks to the Ontario Arts Council Writers’ Reserve 2012-2013 program for its support re: my manuscript Beneath Ash Canopy: Poems.

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