Category Archives: Works in Progress

Writing and Reading Poetry is like Test Driving a Car

Yesterday, today, tomorrow…

Autumn Leaves October 2017

Words fall like autumn leaves. In my backyard, ash saplings fight to survive. Listening to their young voices has inspired me. After a two-year dormancy, my ash tree-themed manuscript has been dusted off and is currently being updated with encouragement from a new mentor.

This autumn, I learned something valuable about writing. If you don’t like where you’re going, just get out of the car and start walking in a different direction. It’s as simple as that or is it?

For about a year (maybe longer), I’ve been sitting idle, spinning my wheels and wondering how to get out of this ‘hanging on the literary fence’ rut. I could blame it on my husband who retired almost three years ago. He and the barking-just-found-his-voice elderly dog (with a cone around his head) were quite the distraction. I missed those long hours of quiet time at my computer. However, I also went through the getting old, feeling empty-nested, and craving  a change in my scenery-humdrum blues. I knew I loved writing but…it had become a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week job! I needed a change.

Chalk Dust Clouds by Debbie Okun Hill - Books arrive September 29, 2017

Sometimes a person strolls in one direction and life throws some chalk to do a rewrite. This happened to me. My manuscript Chalk Dust Clouds (rejected and rewritten several times under different titles) won first prize in The Ontario Poetry Society’s 2017 Golden Grassroots Poetry Chapbook Award. Stop by my half-booth at London’s Souwesto Book Expo, Saturday, November 4 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Museum London.

My husband (in his wisdom) dropped a book (Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and David Evans) on my desk and said “Read this”. I don’t always listen to my husband’s advice but he caught me at a weak moment and he was right. It was an excellent book. Through one of the exercises, I learned that I spend the majority of my time working while my husband spends much of his retirement playing. Both of us needed more balance. What a great idea! All I needed was to dump some of my work onto him and then go do something fun. This wasn’t the reaction he was hoping for. (Of course, I’m teasing.)

October 25, 2017 in Windsor

Back on tour with two new chapbooks. If you’re in or near the Windsor area, stop by and say hello at this October 25, 2017 event. Special thanks to Vanessa Shields for organizing this special evening and to The League of Canadian Poets for its sponsorship.

Then I discovered a section about keeping a diary and recording what you liked and didn’t like to do and how you could brainstorm to create new ways to do more of the things that made your waking hours more enjoyable. In one chapter, the authors talked about the bench test and how the best advice was that you shouldn’t listen to anyone else’s advice but just try different things until you found something that felt right for YOU. If you couldn’t find what you were looking for then it was suggested that you just create it or at least move forward and engage in some meaningful activity while you continued to look. A few of my friends tried that, without even reading the exercises in the book.

November 11, 2017 event in Sarnia with correct spelling

Thank you to Big Pond Rumours Press for recognizing my love for art in this ekphrasic-themed chapbook Drawing from Experience to be officially launched Saturday, November 11, 2017 at the Coffee Lodge in Sarnia. Stop by to hear Ryan and Anne and bring something to read. Everyone is welcome to share.

For example, one out-of-town author moved out of the big city to take up residence in a smaller community. She’s now concentrating on the novel she’s always wanted to write. Another writer took a break from writing to socialize more. She joined a literary board and spent the summer and most of the fall in a small resort area. She loved being with people and having that time away from her normal routine. Another friend decided to teach and is still testing the waters as they say. All three writers took a test drive to see what they liked and didn’t like. As the book states and I paraphrase, “there are no mistakes, just lessons learned.”

Lummox6Cover-240x300

For the first time ever, LUMMOX Press, a California-based press will be publishing an all-Canadian anthology for 2018. Several Canadian poets have already been in previous issues. Check out the Canadian launches of LUMMOX Number Six on November 1 in Hamilton and on November 18 in Sarnia.  A Toronto launch is being planned for April 2018.

In my opinion, reading and writing poetry works on a similar premise. I’ve often said, “if you don’t like poetry, you haven’t read the right poem or met the right poet yet.” Writers, even within the same genre, can differ in style and content. The same works for writing poetry. Some forms and topics will interest you more than others. Find what works for you and run with it.

The same goes for selecting a literary magazine or a publisher to submit to. Also, try different critique groups, attend different open mics, and research different agents and editors to see who might be the right fit for you and your projects. In early 2012, my literary mentor passed away. After five years of searching, I may have found a replacement. Time will tell. You can even test drive your poems to see which version feels right to you.

For those who are interested in attending or trying out a few different literary events, check out the 2017 event schedule on my blog. I try to update it at least once a week. If I seem rather quiet, am skipping regular critique groups and/or am not blogging or writing as much poetry, it’s because I’m still cruising the landscape, pausing on a bench to reflect, and/or seeking balance in the noisy world in which I live.

Have a great week!

P.S. Mark your calendars for two more special literary events:

November 19, 2017 in Sarnia

For the first time, The Ontario Poetry Society will travel to St. Catharines for several mini-spotlight launches, a members’ reading and an open mic for non-members on November 12, 2017. Everyone is welcome.

A shout-out to Sarnia’s historical fiction writer Bob McCarthy who took a detour from his normal fare to focus on writing an amusing memoir about his life. The Book of Bob will be launched Sunday, November 19, 2017 at the Book Keeper.

Additional information about times and locations are listed on the event page of my blog. Once you’re on the page, just scroll down to the right date.

Coming soon…that blog feature and Q & A with Lambton County musician Gregger Botting  and a Q & A with London poet Penn Kemp with a belated book review of her latest poetry collection from Quattro Books.

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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

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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