Tag Archives: book launch

Delicate Impact – Celebrating Poets

I have a soft spot for The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS) and the not-for-profit organization has a soft spot for poets.

Every year around this time, The Ontario Poetry Society releases its annual membership anthology. The process begins in March when members interested in sharing their work will submit their ten best poems based on the year’s theme. Then during the spring months, an assigned editor will select the best work from those submissions.

Delicate Impact - Beret Days Press 2018

Delicate Impact (Beret Days Press 2018) edited by April Bulmer and illustrated by Nan Williamson features the delicate-themed work of 63 poets from The Ontario Poetry Society.

It’s a huge project but the result is an eclectic mix of work celebrating poets and poetry. Some submissions are new creations. Others are previously published and/or contest winners. What a wonderful showcase!

This year’s anthology Delicate Impact: An Anthology of Contemporary Canadian Verse (Beret Days Press 2018) edited and compiled by April Bulmer and illustrated by Nan Williamson, features the work of 63 poets on 214 pages. The book is divided into four sections: Handle With Care, Delicate Matters, Delicate Cycles of Life, and The Climate’s Delicate, The Air Most Sweet.

April Bulmer- Author Photo - Creeds and Remedies Photo Nadezhda

Editor April Bulmer has just released her 11th poetry book, Out of Darkness, Light (Hidden Brook Press, 2018, John B. Lee Signature Series.). Photo by Nadezhda.

“The word… [delicate]…is an adjective that denotes a variety of definitions…” wrote Bulmer in her introduction. “…The poets in this anthology investigate many of these meanings in their delicately-crafted poems.”

Bulmer cited many examples: Kate Marshall Flaherty described an apple slice, John B. Lee penned a poem about foxes and Elana Wolff highlighted the blush of a crab apple tree. Other reccurring themes included birds and cycles and recycling with more cited examples by Donna Langevan, Kathy Robertson, Alvin G. Ens, and Katherine L Gordon.

Some of the contributors will be in London, Ontario today (Sunday, August 19) to read from the Delicate Impact anthology. Others will be launching new books or presenting new work. Non-members may share their poetry during the open mic portion of the event. Sign-up for readers is at the door. The Sultry Summer Poetry Gathering starts at 12:30 p.m. at Mykonos Restaurant, 572 Adelaide Street North. Admission is free. Everyone is welcome even if it is your first or hundredth time reading. Prepare to share one or two short poems. The length of each reading depends on the number of readers signed up.

Applause for this year’s editor/compiler:

Book-Out-of-Darkness-Light-April-Bulmer-Front-Cover-4-inch

April Bulmer’s 11th book of poetry, Out of Darkness, Light (Hidden Brook Press, John B. Lee Signature Series) was released in May, 2018. More information here.

She is known for her spiritual poems and her interest in women’s issues.

Another of April’s books (And With Thy Spirit, Hidden Brook Press) was recently named a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards (U.S.) in its spirituality category.

April lives in Cambridge, Ontario.

Sample Books by poet April Bulmer - 2018

April Bulmer is known for her spiritual poems and her interest in women’s issues.

Applause for this year’s illustrator:

Nan Williamson Artist Photo

Nan Williamson

Nan Williamson is an artist and poet. She is a graduate of The Humber School for Writers, 2013; her poems have appeared in literary journals in Canada and the UK.  Her sold-out chapbook, leave the door open for the moon, was published by Jackson Creek Press, 2015.

Always interested in the verbal-visual connection, she plays with shapes, colours, and texture to wed form and content in paint and poetry.

Nan is inspired by beauty – natural, or created in the arts and by language and the challenge of painting with brushes – or words.

 

Chapbook and Delicate Impact illustrations by Nan Williamson

Delicate Impact illustrator Nan Williamson is also a published poet. Her limited edition chapbook leave the door open for the moon (Jackson Creek Press 2015) quickly sold out. Her illustrations appear on the front and back cover of Delicate Impact as well as on the anthology’s matching bookmark.

Applause for this year’s featured poets:

 In alphabetical order: Sheila Bello, Christopher Black, Clara Blackwood, Wendy Bourke, Allan Briesmaster, Ronnie R. Brown, David C. Brydges, April Bulmer, Mark Clement, John Corvese, Linda Crosfield, Laura De Leon, Alvin G. Ens, Fran Figge, Kate Marshall Flaherty, Gill Foss, Renée Francoeur, Howard Freelander, Meg Freer, Katerina Vaughan Fretwell, Siegfried Gatkowski, Linda Lou Gauthier, Suparna Ghosh, Joyce Goodwin, Katherine L. Gordon, Glenna Hall, Tom Gannon Hamilton, Debbie Okun Hill, Eva Kolacz-Hutchman, Keith Inman,  I. B. Iskov, R. Patrick James, Judith Johanson, Mark Kruk, Donna Langevin, John B. Lee, Bernice Lever, Melanie Lever, Norma West Linder, Tom MacGregor, Bob MacKenzie, Martha Mallory, Fred Manson, Fotios Panos, Yavar Khan Qadri, Frances Roberts-Reilly, Kathy Robertson, Ellen B. Ryan, K.V. Skene, Michael Stacey, Dorothy Stott, Ellen Elizabeth Stout, Elsie Suréna, Lynn Tait, Vanna Tessier, Jim Tomkins, Sheila Tucker, Lily Williams, Nan Williamson, Elana Wolff, Jan Wood, Ed Woods, and Carmen Ziolkowski.

Submission Call For the 2019 Anthology:

Next year’s membership anthology Dancing on Stones will be edited, complied and illustrated by John Di Leonardo. He will be seeking poems on Landforms/Natural Environments, Music, Relationships, Impactful Situations. The deadline for submissions is March 15, 2019. More information here.

What are you waiting for?

 If you are at all timid about sharing your writing and don’t know where to turn, consider becoming a member. If you are an experienced writer looking for opportunities to give back to the community, contact the group as new judges and/or editors are often needed for some of its projects.

Additional information about The Ontario Poetry Society as well as their future readings can be found on its website.

Information about upcoming literary events in Ontario can be found here on my website.

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Launched – A Brief History of the Saugeen Peninsula by David D Plain

“Both history and culture are important facets for a people to protect. One of the ways of doing this is through storytelling.” –David D Plain*

Aboriginal Day Events June 22, 2017He tempts us with a book launch invitation and a free bowl of Indian corn soup. I smile. I’ve never tasted corn soup before but we’re here (at the Maawn Doosh Gumig Community and Youth Centre in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada) to support David D Plain, a local indigenous writer, and to learn more about his sixth book A Brief History of the Saugeen Peninsula (Trafford Publishing, 2018).

At first, the banquet room appears empty. I didn’t think I was that early. Where was that free soup? (Teasing here!)

Julie from the local indie bookstore waves from behind a display of David’s books. Rosemary from the local cable station adjusts her lights and camera as she prepares to video record the official launch. David (the guest of honour) stands in front of a huge floor length window with a view of the grounds where the Aamjiwnaag First Nation 57th Annual Pow Wow will be held over the weekend. He appears calm and smiles when another familiar person walks into the room.

Launch - Saugeen Peninsula by David D Plain Photo 3 - June 22, 2018

David D Plain’s new 122-page book is divided into 23 short chapters: the first half highlights some of the historical moments of the Saugeen Peninsula, the other half outlines some of the culture of the indigenous people in that region.

Lynn, Jane, and Bob are already seated at the front end of the middle tables. James, Norma, Sharon, and I join them. Within minutes, three long rows of tables and chairs fill with other local writers, friends, family, and guests. Some wander to the display area to purchase a book or two. Others ask for David’s signature. It takes a few attempts to settle everyone down.

Launch - Saugeen Peninsula by David D Plain Photo 2 - June 22, 2018 Image of Wilson Plain who introduced his uncle at the event.

Wilson Plain introduces his uncle David during the official launch of A Brief History of the Saugeen Peninsula (Trafford Publishing, 2018), June 22, 2018 at the Maawn Doosh Gumig Community and Youth Centre in Sarnia, Ontario.

Wilson Plain, nephew to the guest speaker, introduces his uncle David as the aboriginal historian/author who frequently shares his knowledge about the Ojibwa history and culture.

Not only does David do this in the oral tradition via presentations to Ontario schools and other groups interested in learning more about the indigenous perspective of past events, but he has also preserved his words in the English language by writing four books (three non-fiction and one historical fiction) covering a 250-year period of the Ojibwa. He also has a memoir of his earlier years awaiting publication and a collection of poetry Poems from an Eclectic Mind was published by Trafford Publishing in 2016. Another blog post about David can be found here.

His latest book, A Brief History of the Saugeen Peninsula, features 23 short chapters focusing on the early history of “the Anishnaabek (Ojibwa) of the Saugeen (Bruce) Peninsula as well as their relationship with the Crown during the colonial period of Upper Canada.”

Each chapter is intended to be brief.  Written in a simple and straightforward manner, the 122-page book is meant to be an introduction for those who have minimal knowledge about the topic.

The first half briefly highlights key events in history such as the Iroquois battles, the War of 1812, the Treaty of 1836, Paternalism 1860 – 1900, and Modern Times. The second half outlines some of the Saugeen culture between 1700 and 1900 C.E.: language, religion, death customs, trade, sugar camps, gatherings, games, stories, and more.

Launch - Saugeen Peninsula by David D Plain Photo 1 - June 22, 2018

A Brief History of the Saugeen Peninsula is David D Plain’s sixth book. The Book Keeper, Sarnia’s indie bookstore created a beautiful display of Plain’s books.

During the launch, David shares several stories and excerpts from his book.

Launch - Saugeen Peninsula by David D Plain Photo 4 - June 22, 2018

Some not so serious moments after Plain’s cell phone’s ‘giggling’ ringtone interrupts his reading.

For example, “Lake Huron produced very large lake trout,” reads David, “Major Strickland was travelling on a schooner bound for Mackinaw in the early 1800’s when met by nine canoes of Ojibwa fishermen who came on board to barter. One of the passengers traded for a lake trout weighing “no less than seventy-two pounds.””

In another excerpt, he shares, “After wintering in small family hunting camps they would congregate at various sugar bushes in groups of six or so families. This gathering would take on an almost festival atmosphere as old acquaintances were renewed after a long and isolated winter.”

A lover of history and a member of the Aamjiwnaag First Nation, David explains the book was written in honour of his grandparents Eleanor and Joseph Root who were members of the Saugeen Ojibwa Nation.

In the book’s preface, he states, “I have spent many hours studying first-hand accounts and source documents as well as listening to oral history as told by the elders. This, as well as research methodologies learned along the way to a graduate level education, has qualified me to act as an aboriginal historian.”

Launch - Saugeen Peninsula by David D Plain Photo 6 - June 22, 2018

A chance to meet the author during the book signing portion of the event.

A lively question period and book signing follow his informative reading. As promised, bowls of FREE Indian corn soup (courtesy of Audrey Jacobs) and a platter of home-made oven bread (courtesy of Chris Williams) await the guests.

Feeling adventurous, I stay for lunch. Mmmmm. With one spoonful of soup and a bite of bread, I drift back into another era and try to make sense of it all. A copy of David D Plain’s book settles in my purse. I look forward to reading it over the summer.

*From the book A Brief History of the Saugeen Peninsula (Trafford Publishing, 2018) Page 85 Used with permission from the author © Copyright 2018 David D Plain

 Follow this blog for future author profiles, book launch details, and other literary happenings.

Coming soon, a review of Our Plan to Save the World featuring five authors including Lambton County writer Phyllis Humby. Also a ‘Q & A’ feature with British Columbia writer Bernice Lever.

Launch - Saugeen Peninsula by David D Plain Photo 7 - June 22, 2018

A delectable lunch: FREE Indian corn soup (shown) made by Audrey Jacobs and homemade oven bread (not shown) made by Chris Williams. Both were shared with the book launch guests. Yummy!

Lummox Press Seeks Poetry for New “Canadian Only” Anthology

If you’re a Canadian poet, polish up your poems but don’t wait too long! Lummox Press of San Pedro, California wants to see your best work for a new “Canadian Only” anthology. The deadline for submissions is February 7, 2018.

LUMMOX 6 - Sarnia reading - James Deahl - Photo 1 November 18, 2017

Canadian poet James Deahl will edit a new “Canadian Only” poetry anthology for Lummox Press. The book is expected to be released in October or November 2018 with readings in early 2019.

 

James Deahl (the Canadian poet assigned to edit the project) has already started some of the pre-editing but expects more poetry to come in over the next few weeks. The target size of the book will be 200 pages.

“My working title is Tamaracks: Canadian poetry for the 21st century,” he said. “Publication should be in late October/November…There will be contributors’ readings early next year in cities like Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, Sarnia, etc. Los Angeles too. All contributors will be invited to participate in all readings.”

Deahl’s passion for poetry is evident. He is the author of 26 literary titles and many of his accomplishments have been featured on this blog before. Two of his books To Be With a Woman (2016) and Unbroken Lines (2015) have been published by Lummox Press. For four years he has also encouraged Canadian poets to submit work to LUMMOX, an American poetry anthology published by the same press and has helped to organize Canadian launches for these books.

LUMMOX 6 - Sarnia reading - N. Leonard Segall - Photo 1 November 18, 2017

Leonard Segall, board rep, Lawrence House Centre for the Arts, says a few words at the Lummox Number 6 launch in Sarnia.

 

Last fall, several Canadian contributors of LUMMOX Number 6 participated in a reading in Hamilton.

On November 18, the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts hosted a launch for the same anthology in Sarnia.

The 216-page anthology featured the work of over 150 poets from the United States, Canada, the U.K., Australia, China, and Dubai.

Seven of the 23 Canadian contributors plus a previous Canadian contributor were on hand to share their work during this afternoon event.

Additional information about the anthology featuring American, Canadian, and International poets and authors appears here.

Below are additional images highlighting that event:

LUMMOX Six Sarnia launch November 18, 2017 at the Lawrence House - featured readers

Canadian poets were well represented in LUMMOX Number 6 published by Lummox Press in San Pedro, California.

 

LUMMOX 6 - Sarnia reading - Group - Photo 1 November 18, 2017

Several LUMMOX contributors shared their work during the November 18, 2017 launch at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts in Sarnia. From left to right: Rhonda Melanson, Grace Vermeer, Lynn Tait, David Haskins, Debbie Okun Hill, James Deahl, Norma West Linder, and Jennifer L. Foster.

 

Submissions for LUMMOX Number 7 (to be edited by R. D. Armstrong) will open later this spring. More information is available on the LUMMOX Press website.

Below is the official “Call for Submissions”

for the “Canadian Only” anthology!

Lummox Press of San Pedro, California plans to publish an anthology of Canadian poetry.

This is open to all Canadian poets.

Interested poets are invited to send their 6 best poems to:

James Deahl; 985 Maxwell Street; Suite 112; Sarnia, Ontario; N7S 4G2

or

jedeahl (at) gmail (dot) com

Hardcopy is most welcome.

E-mailed submissions should be in one file, either .doc or .docx  (I prefer .doc).

There is no limit on length.

Poems may be published or unpublished. Poets will be required to get permission to reprint previously published work from the initial publisher.

Deadline: Wednesday, February 7, 2018

 

Additional information about LUMMOX PRESS can be found here.

Follow this blog for future profiles on Canadian authors and poets.

Coming soon: a feature on Penn Kemp, a well-known sound poet from London, Ontario.

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

Look At Her – Vanessa Shields, a Gutsy Poetic Crusader

With each poem I write, I am less afraid – Vanessa Shields*

Call her a poetic crusader: a woman waving a feminist flag with a capital C for “Courage” and “Conviction ” pressed against her breast. In her new book Look at Her, Windsor poet/editor Vanessa Shields belts out poem after poem after poem of raw emotion focusing on four major themes: Body, Motherhood, Family, and Power.

i-wont-be-afraid-says-vanessa-shields-photo-by-eveline-csomor

Windsor poet/editor Vanessa Shields is currently on tour with her second poetry collection, LOOK AT HER (Black Moss Press, 2016). Photo by Eveline Csomor

Intimate, almost always expressed in the first person point of view, her second poetry collection exposes private details that should or shouldn’t be shared depending on where you sit on the comfort scale. Liberal-minded readers will love it. “Don’t be afraid to have an opinion.” Conservative thinkers may turn away and insist they’d sooner not read: “My vagina is not a haystack/Yet I can feel a needle in her centre.”

Her powerful writing reminds me of feminist songwriter Helen Reddy’s 1972 billboard chart hit “I Am Woman” where the refrain roars, emphasizing a woman’s importance in being wise, strong and invincible. She’s all that and more…

And yet, Shields admits to a woman’s vulnerability as hinted in her words “my teenage self a sloppy poem under his nose”, “bruised buildings oozing too much feeling” and “she hopes the bruises don’t show through.” 

For me, her strongest writing evolves around the memories of family. In ‘Kitchen Dancing’, she writes, “My aunt scoops me up in her long strong arms and spins me/around like I’m a table cloth in the washing machine.” In the same poem, “he’d never use/a broom in that kitchen not when he could be sweeping her/sweeping us into his quiet devotion.”

Her writing style is very much her own. As she writes ‘In The Silence’, the last poem of the book: “I am muddy water pounding over rocks/searching for land….I won’t be afraid.”

Tomorrow (Friday, October 14, 2016), Vanessa Shields stops in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada as part of her current book tour.

REV_FINAL_SARNIA_POSTER_MAIN

Vanessa Shields joins local poets for a special reading, Friday, October 14 at the Blackwater Coffee Co. in Sarnia, Ontario.

Curious about this energetic poet/editor? Pull up a chair for this enlightening conversation with Shields following her return from Ottawa.

Congratulations Vanessa!  Your second poetry collection  Look At Her published by Black Moss Press is like a sequel to your first collection I Am That Woman. Please describe your new book in a few sentences.

Thank you! Yes, many of the poems in Look At Her are responsorial to the poems in I Am That Woman. What I believe is at the heart of Look At Her is a conversation in poetry between my different experiences of ‘self’ as well as a conversation between myself and the people around me. I want to challenge myself, and readers to look within, and to look around and be honest about how we feel about ourselves and the world, how we treat ourselves and each other, and, essentially, how we communicate with ourselves and each other. A raw honesty is at the heart of this collection.

i-am-that-woman-by-vanessa-shields

Vanessa Shields’ first poetry collection I Am That Woman (Black Moss Press, 2013) ‘turned the themes of femininity and motherhood upside down.’

Both books are gutsy, written mainly from a first person point of view, and address some of the grittier aspects of being a woman in today’s society. I noticed your second book has less swearing but you’ve turned up the heat with more sexual references, and have pushed deeper into such issues as divorce, dysfunctional relationships, and power struggles. What lessons, if any, would you like the readers to walk away with?

Good question. One lesson, for sure, is that we are always learning and growing as human beings. The effect of our learning (in ‘life lesson’ form) is that our relationships, our beliefs, our abilities to love and be loved shift and, potentially, change. I think it’s my job as a poet to pay attention to how we treat ourselves, and each other, and to write about how I push through my own challenges. One lesson I’m constantly working on is being brave – as a writer that means having an opinion. Of course, we all have opinions, but it takes a certain something to put those opinions out of your head and onto paper for others to read, receive and respond to. On one level, there are lessons about parenting, sex, relationships, spirituality, family and forgiveness, but beneath that, I think the lessons have to do with the underlying goal of humanity – to love, to be able to love and be loved. No matter how I think through any human experiences, it always results in something related to love.

What is your favourite poem in the collection and why do you like it so much?

Another good question! There are many poems that really come to a different ‘life’ when I perform them. I often write knowing that I’ll get to read the work out loud to an audience, and that affects the theme and energy of the piece. So with ‘performance’ in mind, I really love ‘Doggy Style’ and ‘The First Time I Watched Porn’. Likely the poems that are more edgy and envelope pushing are the ones that have a good performance power to them. I also really love ‘If I Listen’ and ‘Not The Only Woman’. They hold the heart of ‘me’ in them. It’s hard to choose just one! Each of them is special to me.

look-at-her-by-vanessa-shields

Look at Her by Vanessa Shields continues to push the boundaries.

How does your work differ from others in the same genre?

Well, as this book is shared and I get feedback from other writers, I find that they compare me to writers they’ve read that makes them feel the way my poems make them feel. Recently, I’ve been compared to Sharon Olds and Molly Peacock. I hadn’t heard of these poets before (I don’t like to admit it, but there you have it!), and wouldn’t you know, the day after I heard about Sharon Olds, there she was in my inbox in a newsletter that Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner send out called Lenny Letter. Olds wrote an incredible poem about breasts. I immediately went online to purchase books by both Olds and Peacock. I do think that we write from the same feminist place. But the truth is, I often feel like my work is just different enough that it’s not really like any other poetry.

I read a lot of poetry, and I don’t often find work that feels like mine. Not sure what that means…but when I get compared to writers, I always do research and read to see if there is a similarity. I think there is with Susan Olds, for sure. Eve Ensler, maybe too. I think, though, that I’m just at the beginning of this poetic frontier where I’m less afraid to write about how I feel about ‘big’ things…and that shows up in Look At Her. I’m certainly not the first poet to write about sex and body parts. I won’t be the last, but I do hope that there’s something about my work that stands out, and compels people to read poetry, and provokes them to talk about the themes/subjects I write about.

Sometimes it feels that writers must push the boundaries to be noticed. We can’t all be ax murders, former junkies, prostitutes, bank robbers, forensic scientists or even trans-genders. No disrespect, of course, but is there still room for poets who fall through those cracks and live what may be considered boring, stable lives or those who are more introverted and less flamboyant? What advice would you have for those who have a quieter voice?

A writer must write her truth. I think that my words, and often my performance of those words, affect people in a way that causes them to put me in the ‘push the boundaries’ list of writers. But I don’t really feel that way about my work. I think my aim is to jar or rattle the soul. For some people, hearing (talking about) sex does this. For others, it’s themes of war or rape. I believe with all my heart that everyone is creative. That each of us lives a life that is sharable and teachable through some form of creative expression. I don’t believe that life is ever ‘boring or stable’. I think that’s story we tell ourselves. I am extremely introverted much of the time. That is where these poems are born. I am quiet and pensive and often times, very shy. I’ve just learned and lived through the practice of writing how to express myself as a poet. Flamboyant? Perhaps, but that’s all part of performance for me. In the end, it’s a reader and the words. If she hears my literal voice as she reads, great, but mostly I don’t think that’s the case. The words and the meanings standalone like a line-up. The reader brings her own beliefs and life experience to the words and reacts. This is why I write – to reach people on deep levels.

I guess; I’m not sure that writers consciously write to push boundaries to be noticed. It’s not that simple. Maybe I’m naïve? I think that writers, if they are writing their truth, just write – and the results show up in reader responses that say ‘this writer pushes boundaries’ – but not to be noticed as a writer (the person) but as the words to provoke or make a point or cause change or chaos or whatever the message(s) entail.

Describe your writing process.

Consistently inconsistent. Hurried, yet calm. Disciplined, mostly. I write at various times during the day and night. Sometimes I have up to 2 hours of writing time, while mostly I have chunks of 30-45 minutes. I write poetry by hand on paper first. I carry notebooks everywhere I go so I always have something to write on. I love to type on keyboards that are clackety – I have one with my desktop computer in my office. I also write ‘out and about’ – in restaurants, bookstores, cafes, bars. I can write anywhere, it doesn’t matter if there’s plenty of noise or none. When I’m writing poetry, the first drafts, it can happen anywhere. When I’m working on my novel (or longer forms of writing), I do like to have a bit of quiet. Sometimes I write to music, but nothing with words or else I sing along! When it comes time for editing and revising, however, I find I need quiet. I like to edit at my home either at my dining room table or in my office (if it’s clean!). A messy office begs for me to clean it, and that’s totally distracting! I write every day. And everything counts – emails, hand-written letters, poetry, ideas, etc. I can say with pride that I’ve put in my 10,000 hours of writing practice and I feel confident calling myself a professional writer/expert! Writers write, and I get that, and I live that.

What are you currently working on?

I’m touring my new book so a lot of time is spent on promotions, marketing and travel. I wasn’t writing anything new for a few months, but now, I’m finding poetry is flowing through me again. I’m working on a collection of poetry about my Metis ancestry and my family’s ancestry in general. I am planning on getting back to my YA novel for what I hope is the last re-write. I’m super excited (giddy!) about working on this again. I think I might do NaNoWriMo again this year to help motivate me to write with discipline every day. I’m also working with Windsor’ Poet Laureate and my publisher, Marty Gervais, and 6 other local poets, on an anthology of poetry about Windsor’s history. I’m reading and choosing poetry for the next two Windsor Review volumes. I’m working on a panel presentation for the League of Canadian Poets Feminist Caucus…and now that I think about it, I need to write another blog for the League…Oh my. There is no shortage of writing work to be done!

What are your future plans?

Hmm. Well, in 3 -5 years, my dream is to open Gertrude’s Literary Café. A space for creative writing, book launches, reading series, storytelling series, reading…with delicious coffees/teas and fresh pastries. I have no idea how to life this dream to life, but it’s there and very real in my mind. Before that, I’d like to see what happens with my YA novel(s). It’d be incredible to get an agent and a book(s) deal. It would be great to continue to get my poetry published…but in the end, I want roots in a space so I can do all the things I love to do in one location – and invite everyone to share the space with me!

In addition to writing non-fiction and completing a young adult novel, you are a former editor for Black Moss Press and the current poetry editor for the Environmental issue of The Windsor Review. Based on your experience, what advice (or secrets) would you share with a new poet in search of a publisher?

I wish there was a secret! I’d have to say, write with confidence. Submit with patience. Keep writing. Keep reading. Before you submit to a literary magazine, read what they’ve already published to see if your work fits. This goes for sending out full manuscripts as well. There are many great publishers I love, but I know that my writing doesn’t fit their publishing style. I have to accept that. Use Facebook groups and the Internet to find out where to send your work. There are literally thousands of contests and submission calls. Don’t be afraid to reach out to local writers for information about writing. I’ve learned about many amazing contests/publishers by simply asking writers for guidance. And the biggie – you must have someone else read your work before you submit a manuscript. Hire an editor. Revise. Read your work out loud. Then submit. When you get rejected – keep the rejection. File it. Start a collection. I keep mine and the stacks keep me humble and motivated…cry if you have to cry when you really wanted to get that poem published. I feel you. But…don’t give up. Wipe your face. Blow your nose. And get back to work.

selfie-by-vanessa-shields

Vanessa Shields’ Selfie – “I Won’t be afraid”

It appears that the role of the writer has changed. Not only must writers create strong poems but they must also be experienced marketers. You have mastered that skill. How important are marketing skills for a writer? Can a writer still succeed in this highly competitive environment without touring, attending readings, blogging, and interacting on social media?  Why or why not?

This is a loaded question. I ask myself this question sooo often. In short, yes. A writer can survive without being a force of marketing/social media madness. The way the writer can survive is through her work. If the work is strong and resonates, readers will buy the book. It happens all the time. In the beginning, the power is in the words, the story. If a writer’s work becomes successful then she will likely have to do readings, plug-in and show up off the pages…but it is possible for the work to stand-alone.

However, I think that many of us enjoy the sharing part. The readings, the travel, the blogging, the interviews – whatever we can get to talk about our work and share it. There is so much great writing in the world. Sometimes, we get impatient and lose confidence in the time it takes for people to read our work. And, if want to be read a lot, sell loads of books, win awards, we simply must put ourselves out there – or work with our publishers to get us out there. I think you have to ask yourself what you want out of the industry. If you want to be known, be read, make noise – then you have to get out there and try to make it happen. I say try because although I market myself, promote myself, submit to contests/etc…I haven’t reached my own ‘pinnacle’ of ‘this-is-what-it-means-for-me-to-be-successful’.

I get frustrated A LOT. I cry about what’s not happening all the time. I have to calm myself down when I see that what feels like ‘everyone else but me’ is getting her work in the places I wish mine would be. It’s a dangerous place, this ‘why not me’ zone. You have to figure out what ‘success’ means to you. Based on that, you move forward and see if you can be the definition you have in your head and heart. I’ve had much success. I’ve felt the heat of a fiery, passionate reading where I’m floating afterwards. I’ve had many incredible conversations with readers that burst my heart. But I haven’t been reviewed by the Globe & Mail. I can’t seem to get Quill & Quire to notice me. I haven’t received a big-money grant….all of these things are part of my ‘success’ definition.

I’m constantly having to re-align and re-define what ‘success’ means because I’m very hard on myself and my work. And I compare my writing to everyone else’s. I want the success that others have – at least that’s what I’m telling myself. Again, the danger is that in doing so, I lose the beauty and love that is happening with my work. I am getting it out there. I am touring it. I am reading and selling books. Why do I make all of this joy not ‘count’ because the Globe & Mail hasn’t written a review? Sheesh. I wish I had an answer…but I don’t! Except…to make everything ‘count’.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?

I think…yes. Think about what you love to do. Do that. A little every day. See what happens. And…if you read my book(s)…please take the time to go on Goodreads or Amazon and rate me or write a review or do both! This counts – for my heart, and for me to feel ‘successful’! Even if you didn’t like it. Everyone counts!

Thanks Vanessa for sharing your views today! I love your enthusiasm, your generous words of encouragement!

For future tour dates, readings and insights follow Shields on her blog.

Additional information about Vanessa Shields’ books is posted on the Black Moss Press website.

*from “Acknowledgements” published in the book Look At Her (Black Moss Press, 2016) page 105. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright © Vanessa Shields, 2016

DISCLOSURE: Vanessa Shields was my editor for my first poetry collection Tarnished Trophies (Black Moss Press, 2014). While I have maintained my objectivity in this blog post to the best of my ability (I even purchased my own review copy.),  I highly recommend that readers form their own opinions about the poet and her books. Better yet.  Attend one of her readings and meet her in person. 

Watch this blog for additional Canadian Author and Poet Profiles.

 

In Winnipeg, Three Cheers for the Book Marketing Wizards at McNally Robinson

“Books launched at McNally Robinson often catapult to our local best-sellers list.” – statement from the McNally Robinson Booksellers website

In a few short months, I’ve fallen in love with McNally Robinson Booksellers, an indie bookstore located in Grant Park Mall, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.  Call it a long distance friendship, an admiration for a company that understands the value of customer service.

Guest readers Brenda Hasiuk, Brenda Sciberras, and Carmelo Militano with Tarnished Trophies author Debbie Okun Hill at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg.

Guest readers Brenda Hasiuk, Brenda Sciberras, and Carmelo Militano with Tarnished Trophies author Debbie Okun Hill during a recent launch celebration at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg.

Perhaps all indie bookstores have this same charm. The Book Keeper in Sarnia, Ontario certainly works close with its local literary community and the owner Susan Chamberlain often brings in authors from out-of-town. You expect this with smaller centres but I was pleased that the “Friendly Manitoba” license plate slogan extended to this McNally Robinson retail store located in a major Canadian city with a population of over 700,000* people.

The best part of launching a book in your hometown is seeing friends and family you haven’t seen in a long time.

The best part of launching a book in your hometown is seeing friends and family you haven’t seen in a long time.

I shouldn’t have been surprised but I had forgotten how warm and rich in spirit this community could be. Yes, I was heading home to my prairie roots where my grandparents sowed potatoes for a living and where I first penned editorials for a high school newspaper. What happened to some of those familiar faces in my yearbook, my university friends who continued on when I took some time off, my college classmates and colleagues I worked with in the public relations field?

Like the Red River, memories of smiling friends and relatives flowed through my mind. Many of us still corresponded. Would any of them be interested in a combined reunion/launch/celebration of my first poetry book? When I asked their opinions, the name ‘McNally’ kept rolling off their tongues.

Familiar faces...

Familiar faces…

I hadn’t considered working with a large bookstore. At first my thoughts circled around a local library or a church hall because many Canadian bookstores don’t carry poetry collections from unknown poets. Selling a poetry book with a sport theme is rather challenging like trying to place a basketball in a hoop when your eyes are glued closed. Not all athletes like poetry. Not all poets like sports. Not everyone wants to wander into arenas to discuss competition, bullying, ageing, and even suicide.

John Toews, Event Coordinator, McNally Robinson Booksellers received an honourary membership from the League of Canadian Poets during a joint conference with The Writers Union of Canada in late May 2015. Congratulations! Photo by Okun Hill

John Toews, Event Coordinator, McNally Robinson Booksellers received an honourary membership from the League of Canadian Poets during a joint conference with The Writers Union of Canada in late May 2015. Congratulations! Photo by Okun Hill

However, McNally’s on-line marketing material razzle-dazzled me and the rest is history.  Bravo to McNally Robinson’s event coordinator John Toews and his book marketing wizards who did an amazing job. This is what impressed me and this is why I would recommend McNally’s to others. Feel free to use the guidelines for evaluating launch options in other parts of the country.

McNally’s has a Winnipeg event coordinator who coordinates almost everything. Talk about placing your trust into someone else’s hands. John Toews was friendly, patient, efficient, organized and a great listener. He made you feel like your event was special even though McNally is host to one or two book launches or events a day.

They are experienced. If you don’t believe me, see how many events they plan in a week, in a month, in a year.

They know the Winnipeg market! When the event coordinator heard I had moved away from Manitoba, he strongly suggested that I find some local writers to read with. This was one of the best suggestions I’d receive. Not only did I meet several local writers in the process but I was equally impressed by the local publisher Turnstone Press as well as Manitoba poet Carmelo Militano who accepted this outsider/stranger and made me feel welcome in this literary community.

Check out these Manitoba authors and their books Morning After You, Boy Lost in Wild,  and Magpie Days.

Check out these Manitoba authors and their books Morning After You, Boy Lost in Wild, and Magpie Days.

They started marketing the event immediately! As soon as the launch date was booked, information was posted on McNally’s calendar of events.

They are strong social media users. McNally has a large following with over 2900 likes on Facebook and 6300 followers on Twitter. What a great way to communicate with readers. For those who prefer newsletters, they also have an extensive mailing list.

They submit promotional material to the media. They have updated contact lists that would take days to prepare if you had to do it yourself.

They create posters and book displays. Imagine seeing your event notice posted prominently on their bulletin boards and stacks of your books displayed to customers as soon as they walked into the store.

McNally Robinson Booksellers are experts in organizing book signings and readings.

McNally Robinson Booksellers are experts in organizing book signings and readings.

They offer catering on location through their in-store restaurant Prairie Ink Restaurant. A variety of food and refreshments are available as an optional feature for your event.

They are honest! When I sought advice for food and refreshments, they told me my order was too large. They were right. The portions were generous. Even after downsizing my order, I still had many leftovers which my family enjoyed for days afterwards.

They share some of the expenses. Not all services are free, but the cost of a basic plan for the author is minimal ($25) and is good value for all the work that they do.

Kristian Enright, author of sonar (Turnstone Press, 2012) was emcee.

Kristian Enright, author of sonar (Turnstone Press, 2012) was emcee for the May 25 event.

Extra help is provided free during the event. Not only do they supply the chairs, mic, podium, signing table, posters, but someone can also be assigned to emcee the event.

They pay attention to little details. For example, they provide water for the guest readers and use their company name on the podium as well as logos displayed in a prominent location near the readers.

They are team players. They are problem-solvers and work well with numerous personalities.

They deliver results! What a nice surprise to not only see family and friends at the event but also strangers in the audience. For me, the smiling faces made it all worth it. McNally’s and my publisher Black Moss Press must have also been happy. For the week of May 31, 2015 my sport-themed poetry book Tarnished Trophies was ranked fifth in the Paperback Fiction category of McNally’s Winnipeg Bestsellers list.  Imagine a poetry book listed in the fiction category!!

Three weeks ago, the Winnipeg launch of Tarnished Trophies (Black Moss Press, 2014) was held Monday, May 25 at McNally Robinson Bookseller, Grant Park, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. For the week of May 31, the book was ranked fifth in the Paperback Fiction category of McNally’s Winnipeg Bestsellers list.

The Winnipeg launch of Tarnished Trophies (Black Moss Press, 2014) was held Monday, May 25 at McNally Robinson Booksellers, Grant Park Mall, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. For the week of May 31, the book was ranked fifth in the Paperback Fiction category of McNally’s Winnipeg Bestsellers list.

Special thanks to McNally Robinson Booksellers and everyone in the audience and behind the scenes who made this Winnipeg launch a highlight of my Manitoba visit! Special thanks to guest readers Brenda H., Brenda S. and Carmelo! Also thank you to my cousin T. G. Holmes who captured so many memories with his cameras. Some of these photos have been displayed on this blog. Others will be shared privately with the guests.

Finally, because I love to play with words:

If Dorothy (from the Wizard of Oz) played hockey with the Winnipeg Jets, she might have clacked her red skates together and cheered, “There’s no place like home ice”. If she played baseball with the Winnipeg Goldeyes, she might have shouted, “There’s no rush like a home run.”  Hmmmm, sometimes it just feels good to be back home in Manitoba.

Back home in Manitoba.

Back home in Manitoba.

Additional information about the photographer T. G. (Todd) Holmes can be found here.

Additional information about the May 25 readers (Brenda Hasiuk, Debbie Okun Hill, Carmelo Militano, and Brenda Sciberras ) and their work and publishers can be found here.                      

Information about booking an event at McNally Robinson Booksellers can be found here.

McNally Robinson Booksellers, Grant Park hosts literary events and launches on a regular basis. See here.

*Population stats prepared by The City of Winnipeg and retrieved from here.