Tag Archives: Beret Days Press

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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Writing Has No Age Restrictions: An Introduction to Poet yaqoob ghaznavi

“I am still circling/the same space of porcelain”
-yaqoob ghaznavi from his award-winning poem “Alzheimer”

A close writing friend recently wrote a column about retirement. It was a timely piece, considering that many of our friends were either retired or thinking about it. It made me wonder: “can writers retire?” What about those who have extra free time to consume? “Can you start a writing career in your silver-haired years?”

ghaznavi presented his new book during a spotlight performance last November at The Ontario Poetry Society’s members’ reading in Oakville.

ghaznavi presented his new book during a spotlight performance last November at The Ontario Poetry Society’s members’ reading in Oakville.

I immediately thought of poet yaqoob ghaznavi. I had just finished reading his first book under the almond tree (A Beret Days Book, 2014) and was surprised to learn that he had first discovered writing poetry in his sixties. Since that time he’s had work published in All Rights Reserved, Carousel, carte blanche, Descant, and the Toronto Quarterly in Canada as well as in publications based in the U.K., Ireland, the U.S. and Austria.

Back in 2008, The Ontario Poetry Society named ghaznavi, as the recipient of The Ted Plantos Memorial Award. At the time, John B. Lee, Poet Laureate of Brantford said “The poems by yaqoob ghaznavi have clarity of image, simplicity of language, maturity of content and they come ‘real’ to the page as it is with lived experience well expressed.”  See more details here.

ghaznavi certainly has a flare for words. During my blind judging for the 2010 Emerging from the Shadows Poetry Contest, I read and re-read 180 poems by new writers. The poem “Alzheimer” kept rising to my top five pile. At the time, I didn’t know it was ghaznavi’s work but I recall how the writing style pulled me into the confusing world of those suffering with Alzheimer’s. The poem placed third in the contest.

Four years later I am pleased to see it included in his first collection of poems. Below is my book review that will appear in the next issue of Verse Afire, a membership newsletter for The Ontario Poetry Society:

under the almond tree                  Reviewed by Debbie Okun Hill
by yaqoob ghaznavi
Premier Poet Tree Series #16 A Beret Days Book 2014, 58 pages
I.S.B.N. 978-1-926495-02-6

under the almond tree (A Beret Days Book, 2014)

under the almond tree (A Beret Days Book, 2014)

Canadian poet yaqoob ghaznavi writes “it is love/that makes me transparent/even over the phone” and it is love and loneliness, in all its various dimensions that form the base for under the almond tree, his first full-collection of poems. The book’s strength stems from his use of simple narrative language: minimal like a delicate dance or brushstroke of watercolour and yet, skillfully crafted to describe complex and deep emotions. For example, “I want to cut the monkey’s paw”, “lonesome waves/come to rest/after the long journey/through the melting sea” and “dreams illuminate my inside”. Reading his poetic work is like strolling through a dream montage “with centuries of wanderings”. Meet actresses “naked/as peeled cinnamon”, a character craving blueberry cheesecake, a geisha “making and breaking/her lovers”, a grandmother facing a tsunami, an immigrant yearning for his lost love/home and much more. Not only does this award-winning poet transport the reader across various heart-felt scenes in Berlin, Barcelona, Paris, Niagara Falls, Manhattan, New Orleans, and the Artic, but he also experiments with free verse, dialogue, glosa, and villanelle forms.  Recurrent images of the moon, birds, water/rain, and circles help to reinforce such messages as “I am still circling/the same space of porcelain” and “with the dust of lilac/I glue together/my broken mirror”. Bravo! An impressive debut collection from a poet who has already attracted the attention of several judges and editors of prestigious literary magazines.



Every Poet Should Try Reading in Stratford

Imagine travelling to Stratford, Ontario: home of the Stratford Festival, considered to be “North America’s largest classical repertory theatre, presenting the works of William Shakespeare and other great writers”.

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer’s lease hath all too short a date”        William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18

To be or not to be…a poet on stage?

John B Lee in Stratford Aug 24, 2014That is a good question. Another thought: must poetry be read or performed in front of an audience to be fully appreciated? Of course! Poetry is more than words on a page. It is rhythm and sound and needs to be heard aloud.

Last Sunday, thanks to a suggestion from Canadian poet John Ambury, The Ontario Poetry Society teamed up with Poetry Stratford to present “BARDIC COLLAGE”, a members’ reading and open mic at Cafe Ten, a local restaurant in the heart of Stratford. Despite the absence of stage and microphone, 24 poets as well as three spotlight readers demonstrated the theatrical power of poetry.

Ellen  S Jaffe in Stratford Aug 24, 2014This is what I learned:

*Every poet should try reading in Stratford. (Trust me: Shakespeare’s poetic muse still lives and breathes on the stage and in the streets. You can feel it.)

*Meeting in a central location encourages more sharing and networking with other poets. (Poets ranged in age from the youngest being in his early 20s to the oldest being an amazing 91 years old. Local poets from Stratford met out-of-town writers from Hamilton, Kitchener, London, Markham, Port Dover, Sarnia, Toronto and more. Emerging poets equally shared the spotlight with experienced award-winning scribes.)

*Memorizing words and verses can enhance the audience’s enjoyment. (Poets who use eye-to-eye contact have a stronger connection with the audience.)

Muhammad Javid Akhtar in Stratford Aug 24, 2014*Dramatic gestures as well as the projection and varying of one’s voice will hold the audience’s attention. (The Stratford poets were clearly influenced by their love of the theatre.)

*Daring performances with sound effects are unforgettable. (No one will forget Poet Laureate John B. Lee’s “moooooooo-ving” performance of his poem “Jimi Hendrix in the Company of Cows”. Now that took courage.)

*The Stratford Reading experience is worth repeating. (Based on participant and audience feedback, The Ontario Poetry Society hopes to organize another Stratford event for next year.)

Enjoy the pictorial highlights of the afternoon.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR: The next members’ reading and open mic for The Ontario Poetry Society will be held Sunday, October 5 in Ottawa. More details here..

Stratford Readers 1 of 3 August 24, 2014

Stratford Readers 2 of 3 August 24, 2014

Stratford Readers 3 of 3 August 24, 2014


Like a Compass, Poetry Anthologies are Great Travelling Buddies

Planning a winter escape? Try slipping a poetry anthology into your suitcase. I kid you not! Just because you became lost once or twice studying poetry in high school English class doesn’t mean the poetic journey is always a dense forest of words where your feet trip over meters and your eyes glaze over unfamiliar metaphors. Like with music, movies and novels, there are poetry books written to suit a variety of different tastes and styles. I must admit there was a time when I too didn’t quite understand poetry but now it consumes a large part of my life. The key is to find the poet and the poetic phrases that speak to you as an individual. An anthology helps to pull different voices together and then like a compass points you down different poetic paths. The reader is free to choose.

Below is my review of one of many Canadian anthologies available to the public to read. I must disclose that this particular series is dear to my heart because it spotlights and celebrates the work of many poets involved with The Ontario Poetry Society. In 2004, this grassroots organization grasped my unsteady literary hand and has since provided me with strength to not only write and share my poems but to create my own unique cobblestone road into the publishing jungle. I am forever thankful.

Edited and compiled by Fran Figge    Cover Art by Lynn Tait Spotlighting the work of Mark Clement, Norah Eastern, Silvana Sangiuliano, K.V. Skene and Ed Woods Beret Days Press 2013, 72 pages I.S.B.N. 978-1-897497-88-3

Edited and compiled by Fran Figge Cover Art by Lynn Tait
Spotlighting the work of Mark Clement, Norah Eastern, Silvana Sangiuliano, K.V. Skene and Ed Woods
Beret Days Press 2013, 72 pages
I.S.B.N. 978-1-897497-88-3

            Bravo to The Ontario Poetry Society for showcasing the work of five more Canadian poets in the third anthology in their EnCompass series.  Over 72 pages of eclectic work rolling onto the red carpet and stitched together in seamless fashion! Fran Figge sparkles in her debut as editor/compiler.


Mark Clement

Mark Clement

Mark Clement’s work starts off with a modified drum roll. His simple short lines mimic the rhythmic sound of drumbeats. He writes: “Beat/upon the empty drum/hear the hollow sound”. Best known for his tributes to nature, Mark uses sound words and haiku form to capture unique characteristics of autumn leaves, feathers, grass, water and “birds that sing in the dark”. His narrative people’s poet style often draws on humour to make the work stand out. His most memorable poems are Dear Dr. Leftover with a focus on “unemployed socks” and Grocery Store Man who shops for a poem in the food aisles.


Norah Eastern

Norah Eastern

  In contrast, Norah Eastern’s work startles the reader but in a benevolent way. Drawing from her experiences as dance instructor and visual artist, Norah makes excellent use of visuals and rhythm in her work. She plays with her words. “It will crunch your savoury/soul, spitting out gritty pieces of art-ery like bone”. She not only masters more traditional forms of couplets, tercets and rhymes but also experiments with humour and surreal images such as “dip the hands of Dali’s clock/in dripping chocolate”.  Her strength lies in injecting mundane subjects with thought provoking images. In Wildflowers, she writes “At twilight, rainbow hues of a/miniature snapdragon army/open their mouths and receive/the sacrament of raindrops”.

            Silvana Sangiuliano’s collection of 14 poems showcases heartwarming odes to the river and sunshine as well as intimate and family love. Her work is filled with such words as caress, breath and soul and in one poem she writes “light penetrates the core of my being”. Her close attention to details is evident in this description of a child who “springs out of bed like a carefree slinky”. However, it doesn’t take long for the hardships of life to wear one down. Drawing from her Italian ancestry, she describes a wedding gown in the attic where “weeping/beads/hit/stained/hardwood”. Later “chocolate eyes melt” and “rosary beads scatter upon the floor”.


K.V. Skene

K.V. Skene

Like the wind, K. V. Skene pushes her images away from the traditional and nudges the reader to think beyond the horizon. As a veteran and award-winning poet, K.V. is at ease taking risks with language and poetic forms. Six of her poems stretch the wind theme and includes the flight of starlings and strings cut from kites. In the poem Bliss, she sarcastically writes “Behind/you roars the bloody dawn/cheering you on.” In another poem “I will listen while I inhale/exhale with the wind”. Other poems focus on ageing and dying: “that last gasp as youth/fades with the wallpaper” and “you can calculate her years/in ripples”. As she describes the world in chaos she adds “we may find an odd relaxation, a heightening/an unquantifiable joy in the irrational insanities/of the human heart.”


Ed Woods

Ed Woods

Of all the poets, Ed Woods uses the most minimalist style to describe topics as love, family, illness, dying and city life. His work can be tender and sensual or gritty depending on his topic. In his poem Bliss when the main character wakes from a dream: “rain pelts a dirty window/of basement existence”. The poem Angel Softness describes the process of dying and compares angels to UFOs. He shares the view of city nightlife from the perspective of a snow plow operator and describes a problem in urban sprawl where the rich “basks in a better view/than a shingled sunset.”

            To read just one poem is not enough. While this anthology offers an assorted platter of rich-creamy voices, it also tempts the reader to seek out additional work by those poets they favour the most.

            For more information about the EnCompass anthology series, check out The Ontario Poetry Society website.