Tag Archives: Big Pond Rumours

Sarnia’s Big Pond Rumours Organizes Regional Tour of Prize-Winning Poet

“This morning, my stomach is a helicopter,/on top and in the rear, thrum, rumble, flutter/look how I run; will I need a mop?” – Tom Gannon Hamilton*

A southwestern Ontario poetry tour** featuring headliners Toronto poet and musician Tom Gannon Hamilton and Sarnia author and micro-press owner Sharon Berg will demonstrate how poetry can tell a story, be entertaining, serious and/or humorous based on such subjects as the war in El Salvador, dysfunctional relationships, art, suicide, cannibalism, nature, and more.

Tom Gannon Hamilton

Prize-winning poet Tom Gannon Hamilton will headline Big Pond Rumours Southwestern Ontario Tour with events in London, Sarnia, Petrolia, and Windsor  between August 19 to 28, 2018.

Organized by Sarnia’s Big Pond Rumours (BPR), the five readings will take place in four urban settings (London, Petrolia, Sarnia, and Windsor) between August 19 and 28, 2018. The tour also features a variety of other authors (Toronto poet Heather Roberts Cadsby, London author and visual artist Sile Englert, Lambton poet/blogger Debbie Okun Hill, Lambton author/blogger/columnist Phyllis Humby, and Windsor poet and co-owner of Cranberry Tree Press Laurie Smith) who will read on specified dates and in different locations.

“My goal for these free community events is to introduce people who have little familiarity with poetry to an appreciation of what this form of writing can accomplish,” said Berg who is also the tour organizer. “Poetry was once revered by kings and practised by people of the highest intellect. But in Canada, poetry has been celebrated as an art form for the people, which led to the appointment of poet laureates in tens of cities across the country. Every poem tells a story, and on this tour, with these authors, you are sure to receive a variety of stories.”

Sharoon Berg

Featured reader and tour organizer Sharon Berg says “my goal for these free community events is to introduce people who have little familiarity with poetry to an appreciation of what this art form can accomplish.”

Headliner Hamilton has a unique story to share. In addition to being the founder, curator, and host of the Urban Folk Art Salon (in partnership with the Toronto Public Libraries), he was also an aid worker during the war in El Salvador. His chapbook manuscript El Marillo, which won 1st place in an annual contest organized by Big Pond Rumours E-zine and Press, focuses on the havoc of events taking place in the 1980s during the extreme violence of the 12-year Civil War in El Salvador.

He has also just released Panoptic, a full-sized book, with Aeolus House, a micro-press owned by Canadian poet/editor Allan Briesmaster.

“This means that he has two books of stunning poetry to promote on this tour,” said Berg. “Hamilton is also an accomplished musician who makes his daily living performing music. He is likely to share a tune or two at each of the readings.”

Headliner Berg is returning to active participation in the Canadian poetry scene after a long hiatus while she worked as a teacher. She founded Big Pond Rumours International Literary E-Zine & Press in 2006.

“The existence of the BPR press in Sarnia is significant,” said Berg. “Indeed, both the international literary magazine and the press have gradually gained attention across the country for the work they are doing in promoting Canadian authors and providing an international forum for literary work.”

The press has already published chapbooks featuring Nelson Ball, Sharon Berg, Harold Feddersen, Tom Gannon Hamilton, Debbie Okun Hill, John Oughton, Brian Purdy, and Bob Wakulich. Plus, in 2016, Big Pond Rumours also released Paper Reunion: An Anthology of Phoenix A Poet’s Workshop (1976 to 1986) which includes authors like: Heather Roberts Cadsby, Richard Harrison, Stuart Ross, and Libby Scheier.

THE TOUR SCHEDULE

August 19 in London: Hamilton launches his chapbook at The Ontario Poetry Society’s Summer Sultry Poetry Gathering, 1 p.m. at Mykanos Restaurant.

August 23 in London: London author and visual artist Síle Englert reads with Hamilton and Berg, 7 p.m. at Brown and Dickson Bookstore.

August 25 in Sarnia: Toronto poet Heather Roberts Cadsby and Lambton County author/blogger/columnist Phyllis Humby will read with Hamilton 1 p.m. at the Sarnia Public Library on Christina Street.

August 26 in Windsor: Windsor poet and co-owner of Cranberry Tree Press Laurie Smith will read with Hamilton and Berg 1 p.m. at Storyteller Bookstore.

August 28 in Petrolia: Lambton Country poet/blogger Debbie Okun Hill will read with Hamilton and Berg 6 p.m. at The Cottage Petrolia on Petrolia Line.

Each event is open to the general public. Admission is free.

INTERESTED IN LEARNING MORE ABOUT BIG POND RUMOURS PRESS?

As the owner of Big Pond Rumours E-Zine and Press (BPR) and a recent retiree, Sharon Berg moved to Sarnia and a new home in August 2016. “I moved here, in part, because Sarnia has a small but vital community of authors,” she said. Her work on the magazine and as a publisher had gone on for years as a sideline while she worked, but both the E-Zine and her press were “small potatoes back then. Indeed, I refer to the press as a micro press because it publishes just four chapbooks (30 pages or less) for Canadian authors a year, the press runs being limited to 100 copies. Still, most Canadian poets and first time novelists have press runs of 500 copies with larger presses, so the existence of the BPR press in Sarnia is significant.”

Additional information about Big Pond Rumours Press can be found here and on its website.

MORE INFO ON THE SPOTLIGHT READERS AND THEIR WORK

 TOM GANNON HAMILTON:

El Marillo (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2018) by Tom Gannon Hamilton

In March 2018, Tom Gannon Hamilton won 1st place in an annual Chapbook Contest run by Big Pond Rumours E-Zine and Press. Hamilton’s poetry in El Marillo, is of a different character than most authors in Canada present to their readers. It is literary, but it also reveals the effect of being an eye witness to atrocities through lines of poetry that bring readers right into the scene as a witness. Hamilton was a relief worker with Salvaide, an organization promoting social justice, during his time in El Salvador. He worked to provide medical supplies and other aid to the low income civilians in El Marillo. While thousand of people were being disappeared, the UN reports that the war killed at least 75,000 people between 1980 and 1992.

Hamilton has turned those tragic events into moving poetry. His award-winning chapbook is a dramatic and startling piece of work filled with every human emotion: from horror to terror, from grief and misery to sweet remembrance of others who joined him on that project in El Salvador. As one reviewer wrote of his work, “a lesser man would have had a nervous breakdown rather than turning those events into poetry”. Hamilton put his chapbook together as a way of making a public record about what he witnessed and of celebrating the work Salvaide did to save thousands of lives. It is also a text with special meaning for him as his wife died due to drowning under suspicious circumstances while she was in El Salvador. The pain he deals with related to this loss, is transformed into a celebration of her efforts to gain justice for the people she had devoted her life to.

Quattro Books Presents

As for his book Panoptic recently released by Aleous House, Canadian poet Donna Langevin wrote “Maestro Hamilton composes poems with the same musicality, virtuosity and fidelity that he brings to the violin he feels wed to.” This full-length collection will be officially launched in Ottawa on September 9 and in Toronto on September 12. 

SHARON BERG:

Odyssey and Other Poems (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017) by Sharon Berg

Sharon Berg is founder of Big Pond Rumours Literary E-Zine & Press in Sarnia. Her first book was published in 1979 and her work includes: The Body Labyrinth, Coach House (1984), Black Moths, Big Pond Rumours (2006), The Great Hoop Dance, Big Pond Rumours Press (2016), Odyssey & Other Poems, Big Pond Rumours (2017) and two audio cassette tapes (Tape 5, Gallery 101 Productions and Black Moths, Public Energies, 1986). She also publishes academic work on the history of First Nations education.

Referring to her first poetry book with Borealis Press, John Robert Colombo said “love becomes lyric in your hands, and poem after poem I am moved from delight to delicious delight.” With the release of her second book from Coach House Press in 1984, Dennis Lee said, “She is one of the younger poets to watch,” while a book review in Malahat Review said, “These are vigorous, quick moving poems with a surprising tension and strength.” After more than 30 years, she will read from her long anticipated third poetry manuscript on this tour.

 ADDITIONAL GUEST READERS IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER:

 Heather Roberts Cadsby: In the 1980s, Cadsby co-produced Poetry Toronto and co-founded the press Wolsak and Wynn. She also organized poetry events at the Axle-Tree Coffee House in Toronto and the Phoenix: A Poet’s Workshop. In recent years, she served as the director of the ArtBar Poetry Series. Standing in the Flock of Connections (Brick Books 2018) is her fifth poetry collection. More info here.

Sile Englert is a poet, fiction writer, and visual artist from London, Ontario. Her stories have shortlisted in contests for Room Magazine and longlisted in Prism International. Her poetry placed second in Contemporary Verse 2’s 2-Day Poem Contest and featured in Room Magazine, Ascent Aspirations Anthology, The Canadian Authors Association’s Saving Bannister Anthology, Misunderstanding Magazine, and Crannog Magazine (Ireland). Read her Contemporary Verse 2 poem here.

Debbie Okun Hill is a Lambton County poet/blogger with over 30 years of writing and promotional experience. Drawing from Experience is a collection of ekphrastic poems that present her impression of various works of art. Her books are: Tarnished Trophies, Black Moss (2014), Chalk Dust Clouds, Beret Day Press (2017) and Drawing from Experience, Big Pond Rumours (2017). More info here.

Phyllis Humby lives in Lambton and is a well-known blogger at The Write Break, a columnist at First Monday Magazine, and a member of Crime Writers of Canada. However, Our Plan to Save the World, may be the first time that four of her stories are collected in one place. Our Plan to Save the World is an anthology that features five authors. More info here.

Laurie Smith, is a poet, editor, and co-owner of Cranberry Tree Press in Windsor, Ontario. She is also an award-winning poet and author of short fiction. Among her collections are Said the Cannibal, Gallstones, One Ninth of a Cat’s Life, Menagerie, and an upcoming collection of poetry inspired by the work of Charles Darwin. Read about Smith’s humorous 2018 National Poetry Month reading in Sarnia here.

* From the poem “Running of a Country” from the prize-winning chapbook El Marillo (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2018) Used with permission from the author © Tom Gannon Hamilton, 2018

**Written from the files of Big Pond Rumours Press and Sharon Berg.

Additional information about upcoming literary events in Ontario can be found in the event section of this blog.

 

 

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It’s Here! National Poetry Month 2018! Let’s Celebrate!

 

The poet guests have arrived carting their suitcases of books and waving their pocket poems in the air. Expect to see them sprouting like snowdrops and daffodils across the Canadian landscape. April nudges the scribes from their wintry abodes to share their words with the public.

This year, the League of Canadian Poets (LCP) shares the news in a black, white and gold poster trumpeting the words “Celebrating twenty years of National Poetry Month in Canada.” Similar to other years, the 30-day party will prod people to experience the power of poetry: write or read a poem a day or think outside the box and create personal poetic memories. Mayors and municipal politicians can expect visits from poets during their council meetings. Students may find a poet or two in their schools. Libraries may offer special writing workshops.

April 2018 - NPM2018_Poster-665x1024

National Poetry Month 2018 (#NPM18) officially started on April 1, 2018 and will continue until the end of the month.

Expect Canadian publishers to be launching new books and literary organizations to be spotlighting poetry readings by well-known and lesser-known poets. Check out the League website for a list of events happening in your area plus information about their 700 plus members in Canada.

Our American neighbours will also be celebrating. In fact, they spearheaded the first NPM event and the Canadians followed a couple of years later. According to their United States website, “National Poetry Month was inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996. Over the years, it has become the largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets celebrating poetry’s vital place in our culture.” Check out their website for additional information and resource material from across the border.

Back in Canada and closer to home, for those in the Sarnia-Lambton area, Canadian poets James Deahl and Sharon Berg have organized a special #NPM18 event for Saturday, April 28 at the Famous Room in John’s Restaurant, 1643 London Line in Sarnia. Spotlight readers include Marty Gervais (Windsor poet laureate and publisher of Black Moss Press), Kateri Lanthier (winner of the 2013 Walrus Poetry Prize and the Toronto author of Siren published by Véhicule Press, 2017) and Stuart Ross (a well-known Toronto poet/editor and most recently the author of A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent published by Wolsak and Wynn, 2016 and Pockets launched by ECW Press, 2017.

REVISED April 18, 2018: PLEASE NOTE THAT STUART ROSS HAS HAD TO CANCEL HIS READING AND THAT LAURIE SMITH (Windsor poet and author of Said The Cannibal published by Urban Farmhouse Press 2017) WILL BE READING INSTEAD.

April 28, 2018 in Sarnia - revised guest

Check out the line-up of featured readers planned for Sarnia’s National Poetry Month event to be held Saturday, April 28, 2018.

Local readers include Lois Nantais, Ryan Gibbs, and Grace Vermeer.  (See circled images on the top of this blog post.) An optional pre-reading dinner that allows audience members to mingle with the guest readers will begin at 5:30 p.m. with the free public reading to start at 6:30 p.m. The event is made possible with support from The League of Canadian Poets.

In other news, Sharon Berg, publisher of the Sarnia micro-press Big Pond Rumours recently announced the winners of her 2018 chapbook contest and this month will be publishing El Marillio, the poems of the first prize winner Tom Gannon Hamilton. Below is the list of winners and the scheduled release dates for their chapbooks.

Big Pond Rumours chapbook winners

Sarnia is also the home to poet/editor James Deahl who recently edited the Canadian anthology Tamaracks to be published and distributed to a U.S. audience by Lummox Press later this autumn.  One hundred and thirteen Canadian poets were selected for the anthology.

According to Deahl in a recent e-mail to contributors, “Over three decades have passed since the most recent major survey of Canuck poetry. At least thirty of our important poets have left planet earth since then, including many of my personal friends like Milton Acorn, Gwendolyn MacEwen, Raymond Souster, Sam Simchovitch, Dorothy Livesay, Gwen Hauser, Marty Singleton, and Al Purdy. To renew our literature at least thirty new poets have emerged. So it was time for a fresh look at the full range of our poetry.”

He also mentioned, “Contributors’ readings will take place in Kitchener/Waterloo/Cambridge, Hamilton, Ottawa, Sarnia, Toronto, with three in Toronto. Also possible are North Bay and Kingston. (And I would be open to holding other Tamaracks readings where Ontario contributors live such as Oakville, Windsor, Barrie, St. Catharines, Brantford, Brighton, Port Dover, Cobourg, Thorold, etc.)”  Watch the event section of this blog for updates.

For those interested in having some fun with poetry, the Sarnia Library is encouraging people to celebrate National Poetry Month by dropping in to create a Collage Poem on Saturday, April 14 from 2 to 4 p.m. at 124 Christina Street. This event is open to all ages.

In the London area, Poetry London, the London Open Mic Poetry Night Series, and the COUPLETS: a collaborative poetry reading series will also host events during April.

Lummox 5 Sarnia Launch with Denis Robillard Photo 1 November 12, 2016

Poet Denis Robillard will be launching his first trade book on Wednesday, April 4, 2018 in Windsor.

In Windsor, highlights include the launch of the poetry books All the Words Between by Mary Ann Mulhern and Ask the River by Denis Robillard, April 4 from 7 to 10 p.m. at Fogolar Furtan Club of Windsor, 1800 North Service Road. The free event is being organized by The University of Windsor’s Editing and Publishing Practicum.

For additional information about these and other Ontario reading events, check the event section of this blog. If I’ve missed your provincial event, feel free to add a note in the comments section or send me info via the contact form on this blog.

For those who are wondering what my plans are for the month, my goal is to read (and review) as many poetry books as I can before I embark on my next project. Is it possible to read a poetry book a day? My sagging bookshelves are challenging me.

Coming soon on this blog is a profile on London poet Andy Verboom and his vision for COUPLETS, the collaborative poetry reading series he launched in southwestern Ontario a few years ago.

Also, follow this blog for a future insider’s look at the pros and cons of working with an editor.

Happy National Poetry Month Everyone!

Wherever you may be, let the celebrations begin!

 

 

Officially Launched – Drawing From Experience

“We sat on the ledge/weathered edge of life’s dock/…celebrating the ascent of friendship.”    -Debbie Okun Hill*

New books remind me of paper boats launched into a river. Some will float near the dock and amuse the locals who are fishing along the shoreline. Some may crash into a wave and sink like the Titanic to annoy the pickerel and bass. Others may venture beyond the sunset and entertain strangers in foreign ports.

Drawing from Experience - Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017 - by Debbie Okun Hill

I hope my poems reach you like a friend with an outstretched hand.

Unlike novels, a poetry chapbook can be fragile like origami and calligraphy mixed together. It is the watercolour of the literary arts and sometimes misunderstood like the mysteries of life.

The passage of time is a mystery too…like a drifting boat.

Over two months ago, Big Pond Rumours Press officially launched my poetry chapbook. Drawing From Experience, at the Exmouth Street Coffee Lodge in Sarnia. For me, the afternoon was more than an event to introduce my art-themed poems to an audience. It was an opportunity to spotlight the literary arts as well as to applaud the support of friends, family and other writers. What a celebration it was!

Drawing from Experience Launch Featured Readers and more November 11, 2018

An entertaining afternoon with featured readers Anne Kavanagh Beachey and Ryan Gibbs, the chapbook launch of Drawing From Experience (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017) by Debbie Okun Hill, emcee Bob McCarthy, and Big Pond Rumours Press founder Sharon Berg.

Special thanks to featured guest readers and former Lambton County residents and writers Anne Kavanagh Beachey and Ryan Gibbs who returned to Sarnia to share their stories and poems. Local historical fiction writer Bob McCarthy was the emcee and his humour warmed up the audience. (Bios on these authors can be found in an earlier blog post.)

Drawing from Experience Open Mic Readers November 11, 2018

Open Mic Readers: Top Row (left to right) – David D Plain, Lynn Tait, Norma West Linder, Bob McCarthy. Bottom Row (left to right) – Gloria Pearson-Vasey, Bob Boulton, Carmen Ziolkowski.

Belated thanks to the ‘collage of open mic performers” (in alphabetical order): Sharon Berg, Bob Boulton, Norma West Linder, Bob McCarthy, David D Plain, Lynn Tait, Gloria Pearson-Vasey, and Carmen Ziolkowski.

Plus a round of applause to Sharon Berg, publisher of Big Pond Rumours Press who worked hard to not only publish my chapbook but the work of three other poets: Bob Wakulich, Nelson Ball, and Harold Fedderson.

Additional information and earlier reviews focusing on my chapbook Drawing From Experience can be found here.

Big Pond Rumours Press 2nd Annual Chapbook Contest

Big Pond Rumours Press is currently seeking poetry, flash or short fiction, and non-fiction manuscripts for its next chapbook contest. Deadline is February 28, 2018.

Big Pond Rumours Press is a micro-press based out of Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. Submissions for its second annual chapbook manuscript contest is now open until February 28, 2018. Additional information about the press and the contest can be found on its website.

*From the poem “Starting a New Tradition” from the chapbook Drawing from Experience (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017) Page 5 Used with permission from the author © Debbie Okun Hill 2017

 

 

More Than a Book Launch – An Invitation to Share – November 11, 2017

“She runs barefoot over river beds/holding hands now with Emily Carr/slipping her childlike fingers/through scenic waterfalls,/toting pots of iridescent paint,/an easel, and a brush or two.” -Debbie Okun Hill*

Call it a ‘collage of performances’ or a ‘painting with words’ celebration! When Big Pond Rumours Press officially launches my chapbook Drawing From Experience, this Saturday afternoon at the Coffee Lodge in Sarnia, please come prepared to share something you’ve created. Take your pick: two short poems, a couple of jokes, flash fiction, a song, or even a painting, a dance or a theatrical skit. Yes, I want to hear you during the open mic.

November 11, 2017 event in Sarnia with correct spelling

Stop by and read during the open mic portion of this event. Sign-up for readers will be at the door. This is a public event. Admission is free.

I plan to read several ekphrastic and art-themed poems including “Spirit of Peggy” from my new 30-page chapbook. This tribute poem to the late Peggy Fletcher was written over 5 years ago, following the passing of this local prolific writer and artist. During her life, she had a gift for meshing the literary and visual arts together: the way she penned her words and layered them over a sketch, a computer-altered photograph or a scenic watercolour she had produced. She supported all the arts. I think of her often and hope that she will be there in spirit.

Additional highlights: featured guest readers and former Sarnia-Lambton residents Ryan Gibbs and Anne Kavanagh Beachey will also read for about 10 to 15 minutes each. I have admired and followed the work of these two writers for years and I look forward to their performances. Ryan will read poetry inspired by his recent travels and experiences while Anne will share a humourous short story. Special thanks to historical fiction writer Bob McCarthy who will emcee the event. See their bios below.

Anne Kavanagh Beachey November 6, 2017

Guest reader Anne Kavanagh Beachey, a humourist, former columnist with The Observer, and fiction writer.

The rest of the afternoon will be devoted to the open mic stage where anyone may share his/her creative work. Sign-up for readers/performers will be at the door but please arrive no later than 10 minutes prior to the chapbook launch so that a schedule can be finalized. For those interested in reading, plan for approximately five minutes per person, keeping in mind, the estimated length of each performance will depend on the number of people signed-up. First time and/or experienced performers are welcome. The event is open to the public. Admission is free.

What are you waiting for? Grab your imagination and run wild like the geese preparing to take flight on an autumn day. If you prefer to stop by and just listen. That’s fine too.

Mark it on your calendar: Drawing From Experience launch – Saturday, November 11, 2017 – 2 to 4 p.m. at the Coffee Lodge – 400 Exmouth Street in Sarnia – Ontario  –  Canada.

Hope to see you there!

FEATURED GUESTS

Ryan Gibbs Profile Photo

Guest reader Ryan Gibbs, a former co-host of Spoken Word at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts. Photo courtesy: Lois Nantais

Ryan Gibbs lives in London and is pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Western Ontario. He works as an English professor and coordinator at Lambton College in nearby Sarnia, where he is a member of the After-Hours Poets and has read his poetry in the City Council as part of the nation-wide Mayor’s Poetry City Challenge. His poems have appeared in Tower PoetryThe Windsor Review, and the anthologies Under the Mulberry Tree and Whisky Sour City. His children’s poetry has been included in the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness. An earlier interview with Ryan appears here.

Anne Kavanagh Beachey was born in Wales, emigrated to Canada, and was involved in Sarnia-Lambton’s writing community for decades before moving to London. Her short stories and humorous verse have been published in numerous magazines; some of these stories won prizes in Angles magazine and Writers’ Digest Competition. She wrote a monthly column about Lambton County for The Observer, including a column about Dudley George, who died at Ipperwash during a tragic confrontation with the government. Her favourite form of writing is the novel.  She has written five (unpublished as yet).  Her latest one, Fresh Is The Rose is in three volumes. She hopes to publish the first of these in the near future.

THE EMCEE

Bob McCarthy 2016 Photo 2

Bob McCarthy, a historical fiction writer and author of the new memoir The Book of Bob (not shown) will be the emcee. Bob will launch his new book on Sunday, November 19, 2017 at 1 p.m. at The Book Keeper in Sarnia.

Bob McCarthy lives in Sarnia and is a prolific writer. Since his retirement from teaching for the Lambton-Kent District School Board, he has been active in making the history of Lambton County available and interesting to students and others through his writing, radio talks and visual history projects. He has written three novels based on the lives of his ancestors and seven books about Lambton history. His memoir, The Book of Bob, will be launched Sunday, November 19, 2017 at The Book Keeper. Earlier articles about Bob and his work appears here and here.

Additional information about my chapbook Drawing From Experience, can be found here.

My updated bio is located here.

Big Pond Rumours Press is a micro-press based out of Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. Additional information about the press, can be found on its website.

*From the poem “Spirit of Peggy” from the chapbook Drawing from Experience (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017) Page 6 Used with permission from the author © Debbie Okun Hill 2017

Introducing My Chapbook – Drawing From Experience

“If we had more breath, more time/we might have taken art lessons.” -Debbie Okun Hill*

It’s late, almost midnight.

A full moon zip-lines through the bow window and shines a flashlight on my copy of Drawing from Experience, a chapbook of 15 ekphrastic** and art-themed poems recently released by Big Pond Rumours Press.

Hold that image! Hold that spotlight on the ballerina sculpture immortalized on the book’s cover!

Tonight, I’m brainstorming promotional ideas, sketching prototypes, being silly, playing with words as if they were clay.

Drawing From Experience by Debbie Okun Hill -Big Pond Rumours Press 2017 Front Cover

HOT OFF THE PRESS…Drawing from Experience (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017) by Debbie Okun Hill

I could try cartwheeling or breakdancing on the kitchen floor.

Hold that youth-inspired thought.

Perhaps I should celebrate my NEW 30-page chapbook with the release of white butterflies on the rooftop of The Winnipeg Art Gallery or in the foyer of a national museum.

That’s not my style either.

Promoting other writers energizes me. Marketing my own work exhausts me but tonight I persevere.

Who is my target audience? Male? Female? Artist? Poet? I should know this by now. What is the best message and medium to grab a reader’s attention?

Art lessons and painting parties pop into my mind. I read that Instagram is where it’s at. Imagine 700 million registered users as of April 2017! Would any of them be interested in poetry? My head spins as I stash more images inside my cluttered brain bank!

For a moment, an imaginary paint brush swirls ideas like the wind-twirled sky in Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night. Call it magical! Call it spiritual! Call it serendipity! I love this creative process where the visual and literary arts converge. I hope the reader will feel this too. Take my poetic words and allow them to be organic! Feed them with quiet reflection! Watch them transform, grow, and speak beyond the page!

Last winter when Big Pond Rumours, a newly-transported (now local) micro-press, announced a contest for chapbook manuscripts, I was consumed by my husband’s house renovations and his desire for me to de-clutter and re-organize our storage area.

My mind drifted to painting art for the walls which led me to dusting off several previously published art-themed poems written between 2006 and 2017. I had nothing to lose except time.

Tonight, the full moon keeps me focused. I pick up a copy of my printed book and read the last line on the back cover: “This chapbook was the third place winner in the 2017 Chapbook Contest run by Big Pond Rumours Press.”

Always a night owl - I found inspiration in my father-in-law and his closet filled with bird sketches

My artistic father-in-law inspired me with his bird sketches including this night owl “whoo-whoo” reminded me of my own nocturnal writing habits.

The tug and gap between the busy-ness of selling and the tranquility of creating increases. I glance at my cluttered desk, the remaining stacks of unread books on my vacation reading list, the blogs I had hoped to post. From my patio door, I stare into backyard shadows. I strain to see the Canadian thistle and milkweed co-existing in my flower gardens and to hear how the wind rustles the first fallen maple leaf.

Summer closes her eyes.

Tomorrow I’ll welcome a new chapter with a new publisher as this literary journey continues.

This Sunday, September 10, 2017, from noon to 5 p.m. Big Pond Rumours Press will be promoting its products and services at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival. If you’re in the area, drop by and browse through the vast selection of chapbooks (including my own) that will be on display along Publishers’ Way. Can’t attend? A list of available titles and order information appears on the publisher’s website.

Additional information about my upcoming reading dates and locations will be posted on-line as soon as details are confirmed.

Special thanks to the early reviewers who have shared their thoughts about my chapbook:

From Kara Ghobhainn Smith, author of The Artists of Crow County (Black Moss Press, 2017):

‘Okun Hill “recoats our sandpapered arms/ with orchid leis and tropical oils”, breathing new energy into our old lives….[The poem] “Things We Might Have Done” really spoke to me. The voice fit my place in life like a glove; and I LOVED the line, “I could buy your coffin/stuff you in a boutique bag”.  

Ottawa Sightseeing October 2014 photo 2

All of the previously published poems in my third chapbook were inspired by my love for art, galleries, museums, and the creative process.

From Canadian visual artist/poet John Di Leonardo  who wrote this review*** for  Verse Afire, the official newsletter for The Ontario Poetry Society:

Phil Yorke’s photograph of a woman observing a Degas sculpture of a lithe ballerina on the cover is an apt image to set the stage for Debbie Okun Hill’s new collection of poems Drawing from Experience. Her words scumble a tender palette on which the poet lays and mixes images experienced through art, artists, and the poet’s keen power of observation. 

Debbie’s poems make clear she has the love and eye of an artist, her rich visual imagery whether observed from museum masterpieces, a dramatic tribute to Emily Carr, or from a tarantula framed in a gallery gift shop touch on the necessity for art and artists to enrich our lives.

Debbie Okun Hill at the Music Evoked Imagery Workshop held during the League of Canadian Poets conference June 6, 2014 in Toronto. Photographer unknown.

In this Music Evoked Imagery Workshop offered at the League of Canadian Poets 2014 conference in Toronto, poets explored the relationship between various creative forms.

There is a wonderful sense of surprise in reading this collection, as the poet presents many perspectives in framing our ekphrastic experience. From the very first poem “Shades of Grey,” we are guided through secret feelings of loss, and the visual pleasures art offers “…from light to shadow/white washed with air brushed pendulum/grey hues that make us human.”

Through minute details we feel the loneliness of a little girl, painted in a museum masterpiece (A Sunday Afternoon On The Island of La Grande Jatte, by Georges Seurat.) where “Even her guardian-mother/turns, looks away…Even the four opened umbrellas/draw more attention/ than the sun and her blurry eyes.”

In the poem “Pinned by Your Image on the Web” the poet muses on a framed tarantula at a museum gift shop and offers a meditation on the fine line where life and art are interchangeable, “…stuff you in a boutique bag/ walk out the door/ and call you ART/ …And I try to calculate/ how long your body will last/…had you crawled quicker into hiding.”

Rich rhythms and visual imagery abound in these poems as when the poet reflects on the pain of a loved one, “you whisper your last words/ like pencil sketches, grey smeared/ a half-breath we strain to absorb/ lean close…” This collection contains excellent examples of ekphrastic poetry, and thoroughly satisfies the mind’s eye for readers who enjoy the pleasures of visual art.

Thank you Kara and John for your insights. Both reviewers are poets with full collections of work using the ekphrastic form. Additional information about Kara and John can be found on the links posted above their comments.

For those who are interested in exploring the relationship between various art forms, check out this earlier post “When Poets Heard Music They Painted”.

Follow this blog for more exciting news to be announced soon!

Hope to see you at some of the readings!

Night all…

*From the poem “Things We Might Have Done” from the chapbook Drawing from Experience (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017) Page 20 Used with permission from the author © Debbie Okun Hill 2017
**Ekphrastic poetry is a poetic term referring to detailed poems written about specific works of art including paintings, photographs, sculpture, or anything else that is considered aesthetically pleasing.
***John Di Leonardo’s review will appear in the January 2018 issue of Verse Afire. Used with permission from John Di Leonardo and The Ontario Poetry Society.

Introducing Canadian Poet Sharon Berg and Big Pond Rumours Press

And the truth is horrible/for this is just a paragraph in the story of a river* – Sharon Berg

 A dark current runs through Sharon Berg’s latest chapbook Odyssey and Other Poems (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017). Whether she is writing about the atrocities of a global war, the shadows associated with Canadian poet Al Purdy or the individual pain associated with a dysfunctional family, Berg adds a layer of depth that enriches her work. In the second section of her two-part poem “2 Songs, Almost a Lullabye” she writes: “you stretch your odd bubble/this space shuttle under my skin by which/you travel toward a small blue planet”.

Odyssey and Other Poems (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017) by Sharon Berg

Odyssey and Other Poems (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017) by Sharon Berg is a powerhouse of words and phrases.

Her journey or odyssey theme (reinforced by her book cover with the looming grey clouds and fork in the rural trail) may first appear as a cliché, but don’t let the six-poem, 20-page book fool you. What may appear as a thin volume of poetry is actually a powerhouse of words and phrases that leaves the reader either loving the material presented or squirming in his/her seat in discomfort.

For example, in two poems, Berg challenges Al Purdy’s reputation as a legendary giant by jabbing his abilities as a father. In the poem “Voice of the Land”, she writes “My first memory of you-/was a shadow that crept across/my brothers’ future”. For some the work will be shocking, even borderline daring, sometimes depressing. However, to evoke an emotional response is one sign of success. To keep the reader engaged with the work is another important trait.

Berg’s new chapbook does both. I also admire her unique imagery. In the poem “Bone Shards” she writes: “he arrived like a shard/off the old bone, white and delicate/in my mother’s arms” and in “Trouble”, a dark poem about accidents, falling, and stumbling, she pens “the lamp is a crashing globe/that turns out the lights”.

Her strongest poem in the collection is “Odyssey: Contemplations The Angels Have Not Left Us”. Each of the eight sections builds upon and reinforces the complexities of the River of Life. It is a dance between the atrocities in the world and the saving spirit where “My prayers rise on tobacco smoke” and “I decide to trust the current/as my guide.”

A few weeks ago (Tuesday, April 11), Berg introduced and read her new chapbook at the Art Bar Poetry Series in Toronto. On Tuesday, April 18, Berg was one of two featured guests at Sarnia-Lambton’s National Poetry Month celebration. Her reading was made possible thanks to the financial assistance of the Canada Council for the Arts through The Writers’ Union of Canada.

Sharon Berg's reading during Sarnia-Lambton's 2017 National Poetry Month Event was made possible thanks to financial assistance from the Canadian Council for the Arts through The Writers

Berg’s reading at Sarnia-Lambton’s 2017 National Poetry Month Celebration was made possible with thanks from the Canada Council for the Arts through The Writers’ Union of Canada.

Seven months ago, I chatted with Berg about Sarnia’s new CADENCE reading series as well as her on-line e-zine Big Pond Rumours. That interview appears here.

Recently, I asked Sharon about her new chapbook, her upcoming projects, and an update on her involvement with the micro-press Big Pond Rumours. Below are her responses:

Welcome back to my blog Sharon. When we last chatted here, you were the organizer/host of CADENCE: a reading series with a little music. Despite the lack of volunteers, you organized four highly successful events before deciding to refocus your energies elsewhere. Now you are writing and posting book reviews, which is in high demand by poets and other writers! In your opinion, why are book reviews so important?

Every artist hopes to have an audience. That is why they do what they do – for the audience. And in that audience, they hope to discover a response to their work. The critique is part of the integral response an author receives from others about specific pieces of their work. Book reviews are meant to be a public, critical response, an evaluation. They should point out both the areas of success and the missteps in the work being reviewed. The best reviews offer both affirmations and suggestions for improvement as they point out any problems. I know some people say they never read their reviews but it would take an incredibly tough ego to resist reading them. I write book reviews to assist the author in judging the things they can pat their own back for, and the things they need to improve upon. Yes, it is only one opinion, but that is why every author hopes for several book reviews. Book reviews can also alert readers to points that may persuade them to read a book, and every author knows that. 

You have a reputation as a tough critic, providing praise where it’s due but also offering suggestions for improving a book. In your opinion what constitutes a good poetry book? What is your definition of a poorly written one? 

Two questions there. First, a good piece of writing connects with its audience, whether it is poetry or prose. The connections that can be made are many, from the use of language that provides a visual imagery through metaphor and simile to the way it draws up an emotional response in the readers. The topic of the work can vary, but it is also in their manipulation of the flow of words and line breaks, the depiction of the characters, theme, conflict, and resolution that an author demonstrates their skill. It has to do with their ability to tell a story and hold the reader’s attention. That is key. Human kind is a storytelling animal. That is a huge part of our communication to one another. Even a haiku tells a story. Integrity is also important. The story has to feel authentic.

The answer to the second question is, if they allow the reader’s attention to wander too far from their writing then it is game over. Different people have different levels of tolerance, but if the author writes in a stumbling, self-conscious manner they will never capture the full attention of their audience. Consistency of language plays large in their writing skills, so likewise, inconsistency leaves the story like a bucket full of holes. A lack of integrity in the writing, a feeling that the author is not being authentic or truthful, can also lose the attention of the reader. These are subjective assessment tools though. Some authors experience a minor success because they appeal to small, specific segments of the population.

SHARE National Poetry Month - Sharon Berg Photo 5 - April 18, 2017 in Sarnia

Sharon Berg is a Canadian writer of poetry, prose, reviews, and educational materials about First Nations education.

 

Earlier this year, your micro press Big Pond Rumours held a chapbook contest and four manuscripts were selected for publication and will be launched in a few months. What did you look for in a prize winning manuscript? What do you feel were the strengths in the four collections that were selected? I understand they were all quite different from each other. Why were some manuscripts eliminated?

Actually, the 1st place winner, Bob Wakulich, is launching his chapbook of satiric poems, Channeling the Masters, at ‘Author for Indies’ in Cranbrook, British Columbia on April 29th, 2017. He is at ‘Lotus Books’ from 1 pm to 3 pm, and ‘The Heidout’ from 7:30 to 9:30 pm. The next chapbook I chose is You Can’t Make the Sky a Different Blue by Nelson Ball. I am planning to release it in Paris or Dundas, Ontario sometime in May. The details will be offered later. The other chapbook releases, for yourself and Harold Feddersen will follow in a few months.

I was hoping that running a contest would garner me a few submissions of quality, even one or two, but I was overwhelmed by the strength of so many of the manuscripts I received. The ability to use language to portray emotion, to paint visual pictures, and their consistency of form was key for me, rather than a particular topic or style of writing. I found it very difficult to decide on just four, but my press is limited to just four or five titles each year.

Yes, my choices show a range of approaches. I picked one collection of satiric poetry, one of minimalist poetry, one of thoughtful free verse, and one of haiku. It was very touch and go, in terms of who I picked. Often, the winners were simply a touch more consistent in the execution of their form than the other submissions.

Each of the authors managed to tell a story, or several stories, in their own way. That is their strength, their ability to convince a reader to submerge themselves in the poems.

What advice would you give to an emerging poet to present his/her work in the best possible light? Is there a formula for organizing a strong manuscript?

As I have said, the ability to tell a story in a poem is key for me. There are forms of poetry that don’t tell stories like this, mostly because there is little investment in portraying emotion, but I don’t connect with those forms as easily. Their audience is also much smaller. The organization of the poems (which poem follows this one) in the manuscript and presentation on the page, are often the key for getting noticed by an editor. If it seems the line breaks are not set at the best place, or the internal rhyme is erratic, or the focus of the poem itself seems to wander, an editor is unlikely to accept the challenge of walking you through the necessary changes to present your work to the public in its best light.

I think every book should be thought of as a negotiation between the publisher/editor and its author. Each has their own reasons for wanting to present the book in it best possible form. If an author is unwilling to entertain suggestions for improvement, then they are not ready to publish their work. They have to exhibit enough skill in their work that the editor can ‘feel’ the finished work. Some will get closer to that goal than others. I believe all authors can benefit from sharing their writing with others, taking their work to an author’s workshop, listening to the feedback and acting upon what rings true for them to make changes.

SHARE Sharon Berg photo 4 Art Bar Reading April 11, 2017 in Toronto

Berg introduced her new chapbook on April 11, 2017 at the Art Bar Poetry Series in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

You also found time to publish a chapbook of your own poems.  In a couple of sentences, describe your new book Odyssey and Other Poems?  

It is really difficult to describe one’s own work. I can say that my poetry usually presents the audience with a challenge. I am always trying to state my own truth on any given subject, and this chapbook is no different. I talk about water in the poem “Odyssey”, that is the main metaphor. Water is symbolic. Odyssey talks about spiritual, emotional, and physical endurance through a variety of human struggles. In that chapbook, I also share the effect that growing up in the shadow of Canada’s great poet, Al Purdy, had on his son (my half-brother, Brian Purdy) and my immediate family. I don’t tend to tell comfortable stories or paint pretty pictures with my words, rather I share personal truths with my readers.

Your latest book is indeed dark but there are elements of hope to present a balanced viewpoint! In your opinion, what is the role of poetry in today’s society? 

Anyone who is asked a question like this will hope to provide an insightful answer. Sometimes it is difficult to provide an answer that looks as intelligent to the outsider as it ‘feels’ on the inside. I have received criticism before for my view, but I want to be honest about what guides me. When I was young, my brother told me that poets always sit on the edge of their community, looking at it with a critical eye. I grew up believing that there has always been, and will always be, a role for poets in society. Poetry provides a forum for the discussion of social goals, large and small. We draw people’s attention to what is beautiful, yes, but we also call out the inconsistencies in the governing rhetoric of our society, the challenges of conscience, and even the horrible acts that human beings commit. We use pattern, end-of-line rhyme, internal rhyme, simile and metaphor to draw people into our word constructions. We use the effects of language to help people experience what we are talking about. Poetry or prose, we are storytellers. When we do it well, we point out the problems we have observed and hopefully suggest ways to solve those problems. 

Your first book “To A Young Horse” was published by Borealis Press in 1979. Has the literary world changed much since that time? Why or why not?

Yes, just as our social consciousness has evolved to address a variety of important issues we face now (racism, the strife behind the hierarchy in social class, environmental pollution) so the landscape for authors has changed. This is expected because culture is not a static thing, but something that evolves and changes in order to adapt to the situation. Economics change. So does culture. Social sensibilities change. So does culture. And poetry is a response to culture, either directly or indirectly. A poem about a bowl of fruit on the table will not fare well these days in comparison to a poem about the struggle to defend rivers from pollution. People are generally more alert to the problems faced by people in a larger community than they were in the 1970s or earlier. These days, the author who lives a sheltered life and writes from that point of view will not compare well to one who expresses heart-spoken truths about the battle to protect basic elements (water, air, land) from industrial or corporate abuse and pollution.

But beyond that, there simply is not the same level of funding to support the arts that there once was. The whole idea of being philanthropic, of making it your goal to offer donations to support the arts, has lost its appeal to those in the top one or two percent in this consumeristic society. Instead of offering support to people who are gifted with the artful expression of ideas, the majority of one or two percenters seem to focus on and reward those who produce solid things, things that can be sold. This is reflected in our governments. Donald Trump has withdrawn financial support for the arts, sports, and science. Consider the fact that he is using a business model to govern his country. Other politicians may not operate with the same openness of ideology and intent, but that is how most of them are leaning these days.

For instance, the tobacco companies used to support the arts and sports, two areas that now rely almost exclusively on government or private sponsorship. That financial support from industry no longer happens because it is viewed as the advertising of a harmful product. Many of the old-style philanthropists who privately funded anthropological digs and other important geographical explorations have passed into the great beyond and no one has taken their place. Everyone now relies on the profit from sales of their books and paintings or a university or a variety of government run agencies that dole out money for their financial support. Even the important reading series, that are so vital to supporting authors, are mostly funded through government grants. That means that very little money is divided endlessly until the authors at each reading series receive little financial support.

In my view, based on my personal understanding of the role of authors in society, part of the responsibility for the current state of affairs has to be accepted by authors themselves. We all feel we are doing important work, but the measure of its importance has to be understood in terms of the number of lives that we impact. It has not always been the case that poets received small audiences, as we do today. We used to be invited into the courts of Lords and Ladies and Kings and Queens to entertain them. We used to call out in the town square. Poets were historians who shared their knowledge with the general public. We were the voice of social conscience. That is not highfalutin talk. Everyone has a role in society and that is our role. Yet the business frame of mind that guides our contemporary lives has narrowed over time and we have not been able to assist in stopping a similar constriction of public conscience. We have known for at least 200 years that the Industrial Revolution is harming not only the environment but human life. If we, as poets, want to honour our history and take up our previous powerful position in society, we need to find a way to enter the conscience of the people in positions of power again.

Imagine what it would be like if more people read poetry! Thanks Sharon for your thought-provoking words. Congratulations again on your new chapbook and all your accomplishments. I’m wishing you continued success re: your literary projects.

sharon-berg-at-cadence-sept-28-2016-photo-melissa-upfold-for-calculated-colour-co

Sharon Berg, founder/editor of Big Pond Rumours, was the organizer/host of CADENCE, Sarnia’s 2016 reading series. Photo by Melissa Upfold for the Calculated Colour Co.

Sharon Berg is an author of fiction, poetry and educational history related to First Nations. She is also the founder and editor of Big Pond Rumours E-Zine and Micro Press. She published widely up until the 1980s, with her poetry appearing in periodicals across Canada, the USA, the UK, The Netherlands, and Australia. Then she pursued her teaching career. Since retiring from teaching in April 2016, she has returned to her writing and has new work appearing in several places in 2017. She has produced two full books, four chapbooks, two audio tapes, and a CD of her work. Her academic work in First Nations history and education will be published as The Name Unspoken: Wandering Spirit Survival School in ‘Alternative Schooling: Canadian Stories of Democracy within Bureaucracy’, published by Palgrave MacMillan in June 2017. She is currently working on finalizing a full book about the history of Wandering Spirit Survival School.

Check out Sharon Berg’s website and her review site.

Additional information about Big Pond Rumours is located here.  The next submission deadline for her e-zine is June 30, 2017.

*from the poem “Odyssey: Contemplations The Angels Have Not Left Us” published in the chapbook Odyssey and Other Poems (Big Pond Rumours, 2017) page 5. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright © Sharon Berg, 2017

Watch this blog for additional Canadian Author and Poet Profiles.