Tag Archives: Books

‘Tis the Season for Books – A Potpourri of Literary News

“the snow is solitary/but not silent/there is the piercing /of the white-stained green” – David Stones*

Writing and reading may be solitary pursuits but like the snow mentioned in David Stones’ poetic lines above, Canada’s vast literary community is not silent. It is a flurry of words, sometimes a blizzard of voices supported by a potpourri of literary activities and events.

Below is a small scoop of national, regional, or local voices, plus books, projects, and events vying for your attention. May you open your heart this season and welcome the gift of creativity. Several of the local events are free. Many of these books are available for reading from the library.

FOR THE READERS:

NEW ON MY SHELF (in alphabetical order, according to author):

Conditions of Desire (Hidden Brook Press, 2018) by John Di Leonardo. This imprint of the John B. Lee Signature Series is a 74-page debut collection of ekphrastic poems as well as six drawings by Brooklin artist/poet John Di Leonardo. Di Leonardo was recently accepted as a full-member of The League of Canadian Poets and will be the editor/compiler/illustrator for Dancing on Stones, the 2019 membership anthology for The Ontario Poetry Society. More information about this submission call is available here. Watch for a Q and A feature in early 2019.

New Books on my Shelf Autumn 2018

New books on my shelf.

Out of Line: Daring to be an Artist Outside the Big City (Wolsak and Wynn, 2018) by Tanis MacDonald. What can I say? This book of essays collected no dust on my shelf. It spoke to me immediately and I highly recommend it to my rural (and urban) writing friends. As a former Manitoba resident, I recognized some of the issues MacDonald expressed. As a current writer in rural Ontario, I also found her words inspiring. “Remember that creating art is a Long Game; it will take your whole life to grow into the artist that you are.” (p. 61)

Lost Aria cover

Lost Aria (Ekstasis Editions, 2018) by Carmelo Militano. This fifth book, recently launched by award-winning Manitoba poet and writer Carmelo Militano, features eight short stories influenced by Canadian and Italian settings. Over the years, Militano has dabbled in several genres with two poetry collections, a novel and a work of non-fiction published. He also hosts and produces P.I. New Poetry show, CKUW 95.9 FM at the University of Winnipeg. How will his short stories compare to his poetry? I shall find out.                                                                   

Insomnia Bird: Edmonton poems (Thistledown Press, 2018) by Kelly Shepherd. What a nice surprise to receive this review copy in the mail. Shepherd is not new to the poetry scene but his work is new to me and I look forward to reading this second collection inspired by an Albertan cityscape. His first full-length book, Shift, was longlisted for the Edmonton Public Library’s 2017 People Choice Award. A review of his work will appear on this blog in the New Year.

River Woman (House of Anansi, 2018) by Katherena Vermette. One of my favourite poetry books is Vermette’s North End Love Songs (The Muses Company). Her depiction of her Winnipeg neighbourhood and her references to the dying elms trees captured my attention shortly after the book won the Governor-General Awards for poetry. I’m looking forward to reading her second collection of poetry as well as her first novel The Break which has already received so many prestigious awards.

The Bones (2017) by Laura Wythe. Small book fairs are wonderful places to meet writers and Southwestern Ontario writer Laura Wythe caught my attention with her eye-catching flyer about her fibre arts show “text to textiles”. The 2018 show tied in with her novel about a textile curator who must navigate a massive flood in Southwestern Ontario. I loved Wythe’s artwork. I hope I will also enjoy her novel. How will these two different artistic pursuits mesh together?

RECOMMENDED READS:

The Nashwaak Review based out of St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick. A local writer friend suggested I should read this journal. With over 400 pages filled with fiction, poetry, travel articles, essays, reviews, and art work, it is one of the thickest literary journals I’ve ever seen in Canada. What will I learn after reading two issues? Perhaps a clue to what type of work the editors may like.

The Nashwaak Review Vol 34-35 and Vol 38-39

The Nashwaak Review Vol 34-35 and Vol 38-39.

Hummingbird: A Novel (Locarno Press, 2018) by Tristan Hughes. Here’s another book with a bird on the front cover. This one caught my eye for several reasons. First, someone pointed it out to my while I was browsing at a bookstore. “The language is poetic and beautifully written. You’d like it,” she said. Second, it was written by someone who was born in the small northern Ontario community of Atikokan and I’m fascinated by rural writers. Third, it is set in northern Ontario. Fourth, the award winning author is a senior lecturer and an AHRC Fellow in Creative Writing at Cardiff University and this is his fifth book.

ON MY WISH LIST

Pall of Silence: My Journey from Tragedy to Trust (Discern Products, 2017) by Albertan writer Eleanor Bertin. What is it like to lose an 18-year old son to a hit-and-run-driver? Bertin dares to question her faith after this tragic event and to share her experience of loss and her journey towards acceptance. An interview, with Bertin, about her first novel appears here. I’m expecting her second book based on true events to be a tougher but thought-provoking read. An author to watch in the religious and spirituality genre!

PR by Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing (Two Sylvias Press, 2018) by Jeannine Hall Gailey. This is a title that I stumbled upon on the internet, proving that word-of-mouth and social media posts can indeed sell books. Written by the second poet laureate of Redmond, Washington, this book may be aimed more for the US market but it is the first publicity/marketing guide that I’ve seen that is geared to poets. I look forward to reviewing the book and posting my thoughts on my blog in 2019.

ANTHOLOGIES AND E-ZINES, WITH THANKS TO THE EDITORS

I recently updated my website to include some new anthologies and e-zines in which my work has appeared in 2018. Rather than relist them in this post, you can read about the anthologies here and journals/e-zines here.

Anthologies and journals are great places to read the work of a variety of writers. Thank you to all the editors who selected my work for their projects,

One of the highlights for 2018 was having ten of my previous published poems reprinted in English and translated into Greek. This new anthology Hellenic Encounters is the brain child of Paulos Ioannou who spent hours translating all the work for the book. Other featured poets include Dorothy Stott, Michael Stacey, I. B. Iskov, Husain Mehdi, Honey Novick, and Paulos Ioannou.

Recently published in these publications Autumn 2018

Recently published in these 2018 publications.

Another highlight was having my colour photograph of a maple leaf selected for the cover of Tamaracks, a new anthology edited by well-known Canadian poet James Deahl and produced by California publisher Lummox Press.  Watch this blog for an upcoming post promoting the spring 2019 launch dates and locations including Venice, California and Welland, Ontario.

CONGRATULATIONS DAVID STONES!

What a nice surprise to discover that the first place winner for the Brooklin Poetry Society’s inaugural poetry contest was a poem by Toronto poet David Stones. Stones is a performance poet who often adds an extra flair of drama to his readings. He can often be heard at open mic events in the London, Ontario area. A few days ago, I started reading his debut book Infinite Sequels: Poems (Friesen Press, 2013) which includes the poetic lines in the epigraph I shared at the beginning of this post. Watch for a review of his book in the upcoming months.

More information about the Brooklin Poetry Society contest can be found here. My judge’s comments are posted here and Stones’ award-winning poem plus the poems by the other winners appear under the poetry contest winners link here.

FOR WRITERS:

DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO WIN THE BIG POND RUMOURS CONTEST?

Sharon Berg, a publisher with the Sarnia mico-press Big Pond Rumours Press, is organizing a poetry and short story contest with a December 15, 2018 deadline. See the flyer below:

Big Pond Rumours Contest 2018

POETRY CHAPBOOK MANUSCRIPTS WANTED!

Next spring I’ll be judging the submitted manuscripts for The Ontario Poetry Society’s Golden Grassroots Chapbook contest. Contest guidelines are here.

MORE CONTESTS FROM THE ONTARIO POETRY SOCIETY!

Check out the latest contests for 2018 and 2019 here.

RATTLE’S EKPHRASTIC CHALLENGE:

One of my favourite contests is the Ekphrastic Challenge run by Rattle Magazine. An image is posted on-line each month, and poets are encouraged to submit work based on that month’s image. It’s fun and FREE to submit! And sometimes it’s nice to support our friends across the border.

Not sure about the value of submitting to contests. See my previous blog post “Poetry Contests: Is it Poetic Gambling?” here

MARK YOUR CALENDARS:

More exciting news:

IN SARNIA:

For those interested in sharing their work, Open Stage hosted by Missy Burgess and John Pilat is still held on the second and third Monday of the month at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts. This is open to musicians, poets, storytellers, comedians and more. Check out this previous blog feature here.

Plus a new program called Writers’ Block aimed at songwriters is held on the last Sunday of every month at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts. More info here.

IN LONDON:

Voices Volume 18 Number 2 featuring members of the Lake Winnipeg Writers Group

Recently published in this Lake Winnipeg Writers’ Group anthology.

On the first Wednesday of every month, the committee of Kevin Heslop, Koral Scott, and Brittany Renaud presents LOMP: reading series & open mic at the TAP Centre for Creativity, 203 Dundas Street. More information here.

Synaeresis: arts + poetry via Andreas Gripp and his committee will be launching the Mykonos Reading Series, on the second Tuesday of every month, starting December 11 at Mykonos Restaurant. More details here.

Poetry London offers a one-hour workshop followed by out-of-town guest readers on the third Wednesday of each month. The next event will be held January 23, 2019. More information here.

A listing of additional literary events can be found in the event section of my blog.

DID I MISS SOMETHING?

Juniper Fall 2018 issue

Recently published in this on-line journal.

Blogging is only one of my labours of love! I wish I had the room (and time) to mention and celebrate the accomplishments of all the publishers, organizers, writers, editors living and working so hard for so little payment in this country. Thankfully, there are others who are also blogging and reviewing books plus sharing news about Canadian writers and events.

Sometimes it’s just fun to slip away, read, and make angels in the snow!

*From the poem “SNOW” from the book Infinite Sequels: Poems (Friesen Press, 2013) Page 27 Used with permission from the author © David Stones 2013

FOLLOW THIS BLOG FOR FUTURE CANADIAN LITERARY REVIEWS, EVENTS, AND AUTHOR/POET PROFILES.

Advertisements

Tom Cull, London’s Poet Laureate Loves to Make People Laugh

“Returning from a night ride,/the bat takes off his leathers.” – Tom Cull*

I laugh as I read and review this new book.

Let’s say bad animals (Insomniac Press 2018) is a hybrid between “a Red Bull of owls” hoot-enanny and “a threnody of hyenas”. Created by Tom Cull, London Ontario’s current poet laureate and a new poetic voice in the CanLit scene, this pocket-sized book (with a beaver-inspired cover) overflows with his fun-filled humour as he shines a flashlight on underlying concerns with our changing environment.

June 1, 2018 in London

Tom Cull’s bad animals was officially launched June 1, 2018 at London Bicycle Café in London, Ontario.

Overall, I liked Cull’s approach. His impressive debut collection of 41 wild (think mischievous) and bad-animal inspired poems surprised me (in a good way) with his surreal yet accessible images: drowning machines, a poet of dodos, Saturday six-pack anglers, schools of strollers, and a plethora of four- and two-legged animals including swimming pigs and teenaged boys!

Using his knowledge gleamed from his regular clean-ups of local waterways, Cull pulls the reader from urban decay into the murky river (and other locales) where shopping carts and vacuum cleaners morph into inanimate creatures and where humankind is not-so-kind but sometimes thought-provoking as the lines between animals and Homo sapiens blur.

Expect a few rough edges: Do I really want to go inside the YMCA Men’s Plus locker room to visualize his poem “The Dinks Are Out”? Hardly not but the audience roars and laughs like spotted hyenas whenever he reads that poem in public.

In contrast, in one of his more moving and insightful poems, he writes: “a great blue heron wallops/across the sky, beak down/a needle etching a record of this day/into the vinyl of a darkening night.” I love the beauty in that image!

Tom Cull Photo by Rob Nelson

Tom Cull is London, Ontario’s current poet laureate. Photo by Rob Nelson

Cull is like that great heron: wading with the flow, communing with nature, and slowing etching his name into the minds of his literary followers. Definitely, an emerging writer to watch!

This autumn, I was fortunate to attend several of Cull’s readings. He immediately makes an audience comfortable and is well respected in the London literary community. Although I must disclose that I first met Cull when he was a workshop facilitator for Poetry London, I knew little of his background and philosophy and had never read his work before.  It was fun to hear his responses to my questions.

Hi Tom, before we chat about your role as London’s poet laureate, let’s focus on your early years. I understand you grew up in the small southern Ontario community of Wingham. When you moved to London almost 10 years ago, you decided to help clean the Thames River. When did you first realize that the environment was important to you and how has the environment shaped you as a person?

Hi Debbie—I’m not sure if I had any moment of realization that the environment was important to me. I had a rural upbringing; our log cabin/house was situated on 70 acres of forest, ponds, and wetland bordered by a beautiful river. I spend a good deal of my childhood outdoors exploring the woods and learning about plants and animals. We had a stack of those nature books that identify trees, plants, reptiles, birds, mammals, etc. I’ve always been attracted to water, woods, wetlands, wildlife and wild spaces.

Tom Cull has a deep appreciation for the environment Photo by Miriam Love

Cull is inspired by the river. Photo by Miriam Love.

When did you first decide you wanted to be a poet?  Was there an incident that led you in that direction? Please explain.

I don’t remember any one moment where I said to myself, “you are now going to be a poet”—that happened gradually as I was finishing my doctorate in English Literature. It had a lot to do with moving to London and getting involved with the literary arts community. I started sharing my work with peers and the ball started to roll.

At a recent reading at the Oxford Book Shop, you said that the river influenced your writing and the writing influenced your involvement with the river. Please expand upon that.

I think that the river of my childhood (The Menestung/Maitland River) imprinted on me—it still flows from my early memories into my now-and-here. But the other river which is equally if not more important is Deshkan Ziibi or Thames River. I started writing poetry in London about the same time I discovered the river. Many of my poems come back to the river and questions of home, habitat, animals and history. My poetry is also tied in with the environmental work I do. My partner Miriam Love and I started Thames River Rally (a grassroots river protection/cleanup group) soon after we met. The river and my poetry have great reciprocity.

Poet Tom Cull and his partner Miriam Love are co-founders of Thames River Rally, a grassroots environmental group based in London, Ontario Photo by Mary Love

Cull and his partner Miriam Love co-founded Thames River Rally, a grassroots environmental group based in London, Ontario. Photo by Mary Love

This year Insomniac Press published your debut poetry book bad animals. Where did the idea for the title come from? Which came first the title/theme and then the writing or the writing first led to the title? Please expand.

The title came after the collection was pretty much finished. I was thinking about the themes and motifs that unite the collection. Bad Animals popped into my head along the way somewhere. The word “bad” has many meanings: deficient, rebellious, immoral, poorly behaved, libidinous. “Animals” also has several meanings. People often think of animals as separate from humans. The poems in the book play with these meanings.

At your Poetry London feature last month, your friend Chris introduced you with these words, “He is a community and cultural individual. He is also a bad animal”. Obviously, there must be a hidden dark side of you that the public is not aware of. Please respond to his comments.

Ha! Well, I think he was specifically talking about my competitive nature on the squash court. I’ve always loved sports and I am competitive. Sports offers a great social way to channel energy. Regular exercise is crucial to my mental health and to my writing. Most of my poems come to me when I’m walking.

One of the prominent literary devices in your poetry is your use of humour. For many individuals, humour is difficult to write and yet, it appears to come naturally to you. I noticed that your editor for the book was Stuart Ross who is also known for his wit. What role can humour play in the genre of poetry? Do you feel it takes away from the seriousness of your environmental concerns? Why or why not?

I love to make people laugh. I think humour can create consensus while also offering critical perspective. Humour can be used to “punch up,” to subvert and critique, to investigate taboo, troubling drives, the unconscious, the uncanny, and the weird.

Environmental concerns are not only serious, they are absurd, complex, baffling, and pressing. Humour can help negotiate and explore, nudge and niggle. When poetry becomes too didactic or preachy it risks turning people away, and I think it also loses its ability to open up space for creative intervention.

Tom Cull at Oxford Book Shop - September 23, 2018 photo 2

Cull reads from bad animals, September 23, 2018 at the Oxford Book Shop.

One of the poems in your collection has stumped me. It is section iii. in your long poem “The Sleuth of Bears”. The section is titled, “Bear Breaks into House, Plays Piano but Not Very Well” which is a headline based on an article in the Washington Post, June 2017. After your title, the page is blank. Does that mean the people in the house ran away? Please explain.

The other poems in that grouping (or Sleuth) are erasure poems. For the “Bear Breaks into House” story I erased everything but the title. The title is funny and weird and I thought the story that followed only weighed down or compromised the power of the title. It also leaves space for the reader to create their own story as you did!

Wow, I totally missed the erasure part. That is too funny! On a more serious note, my favourite poems were “Backspace” (no bad animals here) and “The Granite into Which It Reaches” which includes the great blue heron line quote in my review of your book. I wasn’t as fond of “Conibear”, “dad bod” and “Auscultation”.  Which was your favourite poem in the book and explain why?

I think my favourite poem changes. My relationships with all the poems shift depending on mood, context, familiarity, time of year, etc. Sometimes a new audience will help me find a new love for an older poem. I often come back to the first poem in the book “After Rivers” — I’m glad Stuart suggested that one as the first in the collection.

What inspired you to apply for the role as London’s poet laureate? What did you enjoy most about the role? The least?

I was inspired to apply for the role of Poet Laureate because I saw it as an opportunity to build on and combine my love of poetry, community, and environmentalism. The role also offered an opportunity to work as a professional artist. I love so much about this role. I loved collaborating with so many excellent London and area artists and working with a great team at the London Arts Council. I loved creating programming to help London artists grow and share their work. I loved bridging the worlds of art and social justice. I loved being an ambassador for the City. I loved writing poems for dedications and occasions, and I loved meeting new people and hearing their stories. I loved mentoring emerging writers. Finally, I loved making a case for the continued relevance and importance of poetry in civic and public spaces. That’s the short list.

Sometimes I found it challenging to negotiate my private life and artistic freedom with my public role, but I wouldn’t say that I disliked this or liked this the least—in fact, it was a crucial part of the job and a challenge that deepened my understanding of the complexity of art in the public realm.

Tanis MacDonald, Tom Cull, and Penn Kemp at Oxford Book Shop - September 23, 2018 Photo 1

Cull shares the spotlight with writer Tanis MacDonald and former poet laureate Penn Kemp during a reading September 23, 2018 at the Oxford Book Shop.

Your appointment as London’s Poet Laureate ends in a couple of months. What are your plans for the future, personally and professionally?

I think I’m going to take some time to rest, recharge, and write. I’d like to tour my book across Canada, and I’ve got some collaborations in the works that are exciting. I will remain active in the community and always work to bridge the University campus and the London Arts community

Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers? Perhaps a plug about the WORDS festival in London which I’m assuming you are involved with again this November? Or your November 7th feature reading as part of the Creative Writers Speakers Series at Western University?

I have one more event planned as Poet Laureate: Poet Laureate Presents River of Words, which will take place at Words London at Museum London on Saturday, November 3rd . Additional information here.

I will also be reading at Words; I’ll be on a panel with Julie Bruck and Deanna Young (November 3rd at noon). Additional information here.

November 3, 2018 in London with Tom Cull

See London’s current Poet Laureate during WORDS “In Conversation” with Julie Bruck and Deanna Young, Saturday, November 3 at noon at Museum London.

Finally, I’ll be reading at Western (open to the public) in Dr. Aaron Schneider’s class, Write Now. Additional information here.

What the Badger Said (Baseline Press 2013) a chapbook by Tom Cull

What the Badger Said (Baseline Press, 2013) is Cull’s first poetry chapbook.

Thanks Tom for taking time from your busy schedule to chat. You appear to be having so much fun! Wishing you continued success and enjoyment with your future plans.

According to the inside back cover of Cull’s book, “Tom Cull grew up in Huron County and now resides in London, Ontario, where he teaches creative writing and serves as the city’s current Poet Laureate. His chapbook What the Badger Said, was published in 2013. Since 2012, Tom has been the director of the Thames River Rally, a grassroots environmental group he co-founded with his partner Miriam Love, and their son Emmet.”

*from the poem “Like a Bat” printed in bad animals (Insomniac Press 2018) by Tom Cull. Reprinted with the author’s permission Copyright © 2018 by Tom Cull (p.34)

 

Follow this blog for future Canadian Poet Profiles and Reviews.

Chatting with Canadian Poet Bernice Lever

Gonna kick up these old heels/Swing on that shiny pine floor/Stamp feet to that drum beat./Oh, find some lovin’ galore* – Bernice Lever

 You won’t find Canadian poet Bernice Lever resting on her laurels in an easy chair. Even at the golden age of 80 plus years, she’s much too busy for that.

Berrnice Lever at World Peace Poets 6th Read-In October 6, 2018 in Bellingham, Washington Photo courtesy Ashok K. Bhargava

Canadian Poet Bernice Lever reads at World Peace Poets 6th Read-In, October 6, 2018 in Bellingham, Washington. Photo courtesy of Ashok K. Bhargava

In addition to working on her 11th book of poetry expected to be published in 2019, she is still giving readings and workshops. Earlier this month, she was one of six Canadian and 31 American poets to read at the World Peace Poets 6th Read-In in Bellingham, Washington.  Two of her poems featured at that event will be published in a December chapbook.

Tamaracks - Lummox Press 2018 - front cover

Lever is one of 113 Canadian poets from Halifax to Vancouver published in TAMARACKS: Canadian Poets for the 21st Century (Lummox Press 2018)

Additional work recently appeared in two anthologies published by Lummox Press in San Pedro, California: LUMMOX Number 7 and TAMARACKS: Canadian Poetry for the 21st Century. She also had four poems featured in Delicate Impact, an anthology released by Beret Days Press in the summer

In April, the League of Canadian Poets highlighted her poem “Not Just My Bunions” for Poem In Your Pocket Day. (Read more here.) Plus one of her poems was selected for Poetry Pause the League’s new on-line showcase to be launched this November.

Recently, she was welcomed to share her praise of her multi-talented publisher, Marty Gervais and of his five decades of leading Black Moss Press and his national prize winning literary magazine. This coming book is edited by well-known writer Bruce Meyer.

Bernice Lever has made such an extensive contribution to the literary community that several organizations including the League, the Canadian Authors Association, and The Ontario Poetry Society have honoured her with Life Memberships.

I recently chatted with Bernice about her literary life, philosophy, and future goals.

RedShirtFace.pages

Canadian poet Bernice Lever – Photo by Juergen Bruhns

Thanks Bernice for taking time from your busy day to chat about writing. Let’s start with your philosophy. On your website www.colourofwords.com, you stated that “structure and form add clarity and creativity to our thoughts. Both music and message – even fun/pun – of words delight” you. You are “interested in idiomatic and/or conversational language rooted in the images of the 5 concrete senses to compress life’s experiences and emotions to lyrics that illuminate.” Why are these concepts so important to you?

The sounds, words and music of our first dozen or even 20 years [of our lives] have a major effect on our personalities.

In fact, music of songs and rhythms are an international language that most children learn before words.

Plus idiomatic / conversational / even slang language of an era or generation is true to that time and those people. Even each sibling in a family has variances with each other.

I try to be aware of my surroundings in sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and colours and shapes. Noticing details stops too much replaying of past memories — especially negative ones over and over. Memory is not a problem solver. Awareness of the NOW and creativity can solve much.

Learning to live in PEACE or not, happens in a family or close knot setting LONG before one gains a university degree or even a paying occupation.

ENCOMPASS 1

Lever’s poem “Mamma’s goin’ dancin’ tonight” appears in the anthology EnCompass 1 (Beret Days Press, 2013)

Your work including your poetry is indeed accessible and easily understood by the general public. Often, you inject humour in your work. In the anthology EnCompass 1, the poem “Momma’s Goin’ Dancin’ Tonight” has a unique rhyming scheme. The first verse has an ABCB pattern followed by AABB, then ABBA, and ABAB. A chorus bridges all the verses together. The majority of your work is in free verse form but you’re not afraid to write and publish rhyming material. How do you decide when a poem requires a rhyme or when it should be expressed in free verse?

 A poem chooses its own form! Mainly I use internal rhyme or repeat sounds to unify a poem. As a poet, I find poems come to me best, upon waking and sometimes I write before rising, before breakfast or coffee BUT not every day. (We all have different body rhythms to our personal creative hours!) Then I read my poems and ones by other poets, before I walk about my house reciting aloud or quietly editing any time of day. When I’m away from home, I always have a small tablet in my purse, ready for a good line. A few words can give birth to a new poem days later: let it grow roots and bloom in its own season.

In an age when family sometimes takes a back seat to work responsibilities, you’ve managed to set your priorities in such a way that family remains an important aspect of your life and your writing themes. Why does family factor so prominently in your work?  

Family is the central life of all cultures. Even if one is an only child or adopted, we all have GENES from two parents and four grandparents. We are not plastic cookie cutter made—even if we live on the same block or winding road.

NewWestMay15/16.pages

Bernice often injects humour into her work. Photo taken in New Westminster. Photo by Juergen Bruhns

Also, I consider myself a People’s Poet. I am not an academic poet – in love with the Greek and Latin classics or other set schools of writing – I can only feel comfortable writing what I know from LIFE more than from book learning or class room lectures.

Would you call yourself a feminist? Why or why not?

 I am not trendy about gender! I love men of all ages and of many types. Yet I belong to the Feminist Caucus of the League of Canadian Poets. Let’s say I support  #WEtoo – as I have always worked for equality for the sexes—- in jobs, in committees, in leaderships.

Who is your literary hero or who has influenced you the most?

My hero was an early mentor, Irving Layton—as I took two classes with him and was in the class editors’ group for our annual booklet which led some of us to start WAVES, Fine Canadian Writing, at York University from 1972 to 1987. Layton stressed honesty in emotions and to be fearless against CURRENT TRENDS to be “polite and gentle, or seem weak” – that pleased gentile reviewers.

My heroines were Dorothy Livesay, Margaret Laurence and Miriam Waddington, writers I knew from the classroom, readings, friendships, and from their books!

Photo 14 Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour 2015 reading with Bernice Lever in Stanley Park in Vancouver - Photo by Okun Hill

Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour 2015 reading with Pat Connors and Bernice Lever, Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia. Photo by Okun Hill

You have also been a role model for emerging writers. What advice would you give to a new poet interested in publishing his/her first book?

The Canadian Writers Guides, a Canadian Authors Association publication was a major support for writers in the 1990s. There’s no collection like it today. You can still find it in academic libraries. Random material and advice can also be found on the internet.

Most of all: be patient. Just ENJOY writing poems for your own delight.

What’s next for Bernice Lever in terms of your life and/or your literary aspirations?

My focus is to sort/organize my library papers—-for possible University literary archives.

My donation of 15 years of editing at WAVES: a complete collection of 45 copies—a tri-annual—is with York University archives now.

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

Editor Hadda Sendoo of the World Poetry Almanac has included two of my PEACE poems, a short biography and an interview with me in No. 7 to be launched this fall 2018.

I was also in the 2017 edition which features some 100 poems from over 70 countries.

Thanks Bernice for sharing your experiences and knowledge. I wish you much success with your future projects.

You are an inspiration to so many writers!

Lever is a great grandmother of three and creates poetry on Bowen Island, BC. Her most recent and 10th poetry book was Small Acts, Black Moss, 2016. (A review of that book appears here.)

Small Acts by Bernice Lever

Small Acts (Black Moss Press, 2016) is Lever’s 10th book.

Her travels allowed her to read poems on five continents. Her English composition book (now a free PDF) is The Colour of Words. 

Although she is active in many Canadian national writing organizations, she is delighted to be on the B C coast again, writing and performing PEACE poems internationally. Additional information about Lever can be found on her website: www.colourofwords.com,

As John B. Lee, Poet Laureate of The City of Brantford wrote on the back cover of her latest book Small Acts, “Bernice Lever writes beautifully of water, the ocean, the amniotic mother of all life, of the need for kindness, the deep and abiding life-sustaining quality of love, love of humanity, love for one another, love of our planets, our earth, our hydro biological future threatened by being careless, indifferent, and thereby behaving like a futureless species”.

*from the poem “Momma’s goin’ dancin’ tonight” reprinted in the anthology EnCompass 1 (Beret Days Press, 2013) page 33 and first published in Blessings (Black Moss Press, 2007). Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright © Bernice Lever, 2013

FOLLOW THIS BLOG FOR FUTURE CANADIAN POET PROFILES!

More Than a Library

October 2018 is Canadian Library Month and today during Ontario Public Library Week, I applaud the creation of all the libraries I’ve visited including several across the country in other provinces. As the celebration poster states, “A Visit Will Get You Thinking”.

Canadian Library Month 2018 poster

This Monday at a southwestern Ontario library branch, I received a pink papered heart and was encouraged to write down why I valued public libraries. Yes, it got me thinking as my mind drifted over the Ontario-Manitoba border towards a “Not-so-little library on the prairie”.*

Oh, how our libraries have changed: more open spaces, more natural light like the new Gaynor Family Regional Library!

During my childhood on the prairies, one of my goals was to read every book in our house including my parent’s collection of Reader’s Digest and a musty 1926 – 24-volume set of encyclopedia entitled The Book of Knowledge. In the winter, I would hibernate with second hand novels in my bedroom. In the summer, I would sit in a tree in our backyard and devour each paragraph and chapter until it was time for supper.

However, when the family’s limited supply of books was depleted, I turned to the local high school where part of the community library’s holdings were shelved in a temporary space. Despite not having a permanent home, these books opened up new worlds for me and once again I vowed to read every word ever written. (I’m still working on that!)

Oh, how our libraries have evolved: a gathering place for like-minded souls.

 If books are friends then libraries are safe places filled with unique experiences and personalities. One of my joys of travelling is to stop at a neighbourhood library and explore the local history and culture. I can often predict what a city or town or village is like from the book treasures stored on its library shelves.

Gaynor Family Regional Library Photo 1

A warm welcoming place for the community!

Some have become community centres listening to the patron’s needs by offering programs and services unheard of before….like knitting classes and Lego building groups for children.

Oh, how our libraries have become a home away from home: a place to unwind and share.

One of my favourite libraries (away-from-home) is the Gaynor Family Regional Library in Selkirk, Manitoba. Most folks have never heard of this hidden gem but I discovered it for the first time while I was on tour with my debut poetry book Tarnished Trophies (Black Moss Press, 2014) in May 2015.

Gaynor Family Regional Library Photo 2

This 18,000 square foot book lover’s paradise officially opened in 2014 and is one of the newest public libraries in Manitoba.

Located about a half-hour’s drive north of Winnipeg, this environmentally responsible facility finally opened in 2014 after a long dedicated and collaborative (yet challenging) journey with local and regional supporters.

I arrived within a year of its official opening and I can still remember the heartfelt reception I received.

Ken Kuryliw - Director - Library Services - Gaynor Family Regional Library

Ken Kuryliw, Director, Library Services, Gaynor Family Regional Library.

Ken Kuryliw, Director, Library Services, was outside waiting for me, and he directed me through the glass doors. Even the spacious foyer appeared larger than the size of the former library on Main Street. What a change! My first impression of the new building was favourable: warm and welcoming….plenty of ‘sunny Manitoba’ light with large windows….the conference room was a spacious area with a stage and all the props that I needed….a place to display my books and an easel plus tables and chairs for all the workshop attendees.

Beyond the conference room was the Red River Planning District offices that shared the building. On the left was UBUNTU, the urban café and bakery….where according to its website, it serves “specialty coffee, tea and other beverages, pastries, cakes, desserts, soup and panini, as well as freshly-baked, hand-crafted bread.” It is open five-days a week. The library is open six days. Both are closed on Mondays.

Gaynor Family Regional Library Photo 3

Natural light in ‘sunny Manitoba’.

“We want people to read, talk and eat,” said Kuryliw as we walked by the café. Even after three years, these initial comments still make me smile.

Oh, how I love books: the scent of an illustrated cover, the feel of the spine, the rustle of pages

I could tell a great deal of thought went into the planning of this facility….the entrance of the children’s area was marked by giant sized books. So much fun PLUS two dedicated rooms were decorated with red and white toadstool chairs for children to sit on…. A teen area was tucked farther away in a north corner with modular furniture that could be moved and rearranged to suit everyone’s needs. The aisles between the book shelves were roomy.

Gaynor Family Regional Library Photo 5

The children’s library: a hide-away with giant books and toadstool chairs.

On one side, the Bob Jefferson Room commemorated a long-time resident and supporter and was available to community groups for meetings and other events. The reception and check-out area was also spacious and welcoming with friendly and helpful staff.

What I loved the most were the tall windows and the large comfortable sofa chairs where anyone could relax and curl onto with a good book.

Ten computer stations were available for public use. For those who had their own computers, free Wi-Fi was available throughout the building and on the outdoor patio areas. Patrons could plug in their equipment and/or recharge their cell phones in comfort.

Gaynor Family Regional Library Photo 4

A group effort…with special thanks to so many donors!

A community bulletin board kept visitors informed. Between the front doors, community brochures sat like warm toast in presentation racks.

Kuryliw mentioned that the land beyond the library was being maintained as a nature preserve with prairie grasses and other wild vegetation.

There was plenty of parking too!

Several days later, I returned and had lunch, a quiche at the café. Five stars for sure….homemade with fresh ingredients…. Yummy!

Ubuntu Cafe and Bakery Photo 2

UBUNTU Café and Bakery offers lots of variety and is open five days a week.

A year later, I was back in the province and brought a friend with me. This was also her first visit and she was also impressed by the windows and spacious feel to the facility. We paused at the community bulletin board and were in awe of all the events that were planned.

On this particular day, three women were at the back, spinning wool on their spinning wheels. They showcased their wares and told us that three more spinners/knitters were on their way. A teen sat beneath the Quiet Zone sign.  In the community room, an author prepared to read and we paused to have lunch which was just as perfect as the meal I had a year earlier.

Ubuntu Cafe and Bakery Photo 1

Lunch like you’ve never tasted before. Yummy!

Later that evening, I brought my laptop and posted a blog while seated in one of the comfortable chairs near the two sided fire place. A flame flickered and I felt like I was at home and not at a library. What a beautiful environment! The Selkirk residents should be proud of what they have accomplished….a library that not only offers books but a safe environment to meet, to learn, to share.

Oh, how some libraries inspire us to dream: to spread our creative wings.

I shall be back like an echo returning to the comforts of a second home.

Gaynor Family Regional Library Photo 6

A home away from home!

When was the last time you stepped into a public library?

 

Happy Canadian Library Month!

 

*Special thanks to reporter Lorraine Stevenson and the Manitoba Cooperator who coined the phrase “Not-so-little library on the prairie” and used it as a title for a May 27, 2016 on-line article about the Gaynor Family Regional Library.

 

De Santis Co-Edits Seventh Italian Canadian Anthology

“It was my first day of school in Canada and I didn’t understand a word of English. I was feeling lost and lonely. But when Morena spoke to me in Italian, her words were like rays of sunlight illuminating the darkness.” –Delia De Santis*

 Italian Canadian writer Delia De Santis values the immigrant’s voice. Read one of her stories and you’ll hear authentic dialogue: the banter between neighbours, the fragmented sentences of broken English, the chatter of women at a social gathering.  It’s a skill that comes easy to her like cooking and serving Italian frittata for a guest or working behind the scenes at a local Books and Biscotti event.

Delia De Santis co-edited People Places Passages - Longbridge Books 2018 Image 1

Delia De Santis is a Bright’s Grove editor/short fiction writer known nationally for her work with the Association of Italian Canadian Writers.

Her gift for describing the struggles, joys, and cadences of this culturally-rich group is the basil that seasons her storytelling. As she wrote in one of her stories,

“Oh. So now I am not even Italian anymore,” he laughs. “What kind of talk is that? You were friends with my mother…you don’t think she was Italian? Didn’t she speak and cook Italian? Didn’t she do everything Italian? If you ask me, there was no woman around more Italian than my mother…”**

As a co-editor, De Santis also encourages other Italian Canadian writers to share their unique voices and ensures them that their written creations will be heard nationally and internationally. Her latest project People, Places, Passages: An Anthology of Canadian Writing represents her seventh anthology. Recently released by Longbridge Books, this book was edited with Giulia De Gasperi, and Caroline Morgan Di Giovanni.

According to its back cover, the anthology features short stories, poems, memoirs, and excerpts of plays and novels in English, French, Italian, and a variety of Italian dialects. Its 98 contributors are established and prize-winning authors as well as emerging writers. The volume is the most comprehensive collection yet of Italian-Canadian writing, and a milestone in the history of the Association of Italian Canadian Writers (AICW). The writings in this anthology take readers on a journey through myriad worlds and themes: Canada and Italy, past and present, immigration, language, memory, friendship, love, fear, mystery, tears and laughter – an essential volume for students and scholars of Italian Canadiana.”

People Places Passages published by Longbridge Books 2018

People, Places, Passages (Longbridge 2018) is the seventh anthology focusing on Italian Canadian culture that Delia De Santis has co-edited. Included in the 98 contributors are local writers Joseph A Farina, the late Venera Fazio, and Carmen Laurenza Ziolkowski.

De Santis will soon travel to Manitoba for the 17th Biennial Conference, Roots, Routes and Recognition: Italian Canadians in Literature and the Arts, to be held at the University of Winnipeg, September 27-29, 2018. In addition to reading her short story “Why Is It Dark?,” she will participate in two panels: “Honouring and Remembering Venera Fazio” where she will read an essay about a friend/colleague/co-editor who recently passed away; and “The Making of an Anthology: People, Places, Passages”, a look at this important book created for the Association of Italian Canadian Writers (AICW)’s 30th anniversary.

De Santis was also a panel member at the Montreal’s Blue Metropolis Literary Festival on April 29 and the first edition of Librissimi – Toronto Italian Book Fair at the Columbus Centre in Toronto on May 5. 2018.

Last week, I asked Delia to share her thoughts about her writing and editing process. Below are her responses:

First of all, congratulations Delia, on the recent release of the anthology People, Places, Passages. How does this seventh anthology differ from all the others?

September 27 to 29, 2018 in Winnipeg, Manitoba

Open to the public. Program guides available from the University of Winnipeg.

Thank you, Debbie. When this anthology finally went to the publisher for its final proofing and printing, after two years of us the co-editors, working on it, it was a great relief. It’s an understatement to say that People, Places, Passages is a big book. It’s 545 pages.

Actually, at one point we were wondering if we should make two books instead of one—the contributions seemed to be an overwhelming amount of writing. But our publisher Domenic Cusmano, of Longbridge Books, Montreal, was able to set it all up beautifully in one book. He did a fantastic job. And we just loved the cover design Corrado Cusmano came up with. It’s eye catching and the title placement perfect. We are proud of the finished product.

Besides featuring Italian Canadian writers, is there a common theme that loosely connects all the seven anthologies together?

I would say “Life.” There are myriad themes in the pages of this anthology. Migration is well noted. Immigration, and the aftermath of it; looking back either in memory or transferring memory. The present, too, humanity in all its aspects, joy, fear, laughter. Revisiting the past, but always with forward movement. The progression of life that takes us to the present.

Could you share a glimpse into your editing process? How does an editor decide what is included or not included in a book?

Deciding whether to accept a piece of writing or not to accept it is the first task you deal with, of course. Sometimes that’s easy and sometimes it’s quite difficult. You could be presented with material that is meticulously crafted but ineffective and pieces that are written in a careless manner but interesting and memorable in content. But whatever you decide, you have to keep in mind the reader. Would someone, after reading a story think, “I am glad I read that…” The writing has to move you in some way, especially to reflection.

Delia De Santis reads during a Bluewater Reading Series event in Sarnia - May 9, 2015

Dialogue is the oregano that seasons Delia’s storytelling.

What does a normal editing day look like?

Normally, my editing takes place in the evening. After supper is over and the kitchen is cleaned up, I go to my computer room, close the door, and work away. When I am working on an anthology, I hardly get to watch TV or read a book. Sometimes, when I am pondering on what to say to the author, how to word the suggestions for corrections for example, I will make a printout of the writing, put it on the dinette table and leave it there for me to add quick notes on the margin of the pages while I am cooking or baking, or cleaning. I carry that person’s writing in my mind while I perform tasks that are not cerebral. That actually works quite well for me.

When did you first decide you also wanted to be an editor?  Was there an incident that led you in that direction?

I don’t think it was a conscious decision. I recall Venera Fazio asking me if I would like to work with her on an anthology of writers who were Sicilian North Americans or writers of any other extraction but who wrote about Sicily or its culture. Without even stopping to think it over, I said “Okay.” And then I thought, “What am I doing? I have no editing experience—and I am not even Sicilian!” But I am not someone who gives up easily. So what I didn’t know, I researched and found out—I learned. All my life actually I have learned a lot on my own—figuring it out by myself. In the end, that project was a wonderful experience for me. The book’s title is Sweet Lemons. It had so many great reviews, and it went into second printing. I didn’t feel like an amateur anymore. I had turned professional. And I must also say, I acquired a real love of editing.

Through your editing and volunteer work, you’ve been an advocate for Italian Canadian writers. In fact you’ve been a member and involved with the Association of Italian Canadian Writers (AICW) since it began in 1986. You were also the treasurer off and on for 20 years and were recently elected vice-president. The AICW website lists you as the key contact person for this national non-profit organization of over 100 writers from Canada, the United States, Italy, and other parts of Europe. In April 2016, the AICW presented you and your writing/editing friend the late Venera Fazio with an award for your “extraordinary contributions to the Italian Canadian writing community and to Canadian literature.” See more info here. What motivates you to work so hard for this special group?

Venera Fazio and Delia De Santis were honoured for their contributions to the Italian Canadian community, 2016

Co-editor (the late) Venera Fazio and Delia De Santis were honoured for their extensive contributions to the Association of Italian Canadian Writers (AICW).

The AICW is like family to me. Its members, Italian Canadians and second generation, expats, and educators, not necessarily Italian, who study or teach Italian culture, students of Italian language, most of us, share a common background, or interests. It’s also a reality that at first it was not easy for Italian immigrant writers to get their work published. It was mostly rejected for being too ethnic, and it was difficult to break into the Canadian literary scene.

The Association of Italian Canadian Writers became an instrument for promoting the work of its members and a conduit for publishing opportunities. At first, some writers felt that by belonging to the AICW meant ghettoizing oneself, but that’s an idea that has been pretty well dispelled now that we have mostly become comfortable in our position as writers… and even found that our ethnicity and duality can be advantageous at times.

Personally, I am part of my local community of all people, I don’t keep myself excluded. And I don’t feel excluded. But I actually like being in the skin of someone who understands two cultures. It’s not a takeaway. I find it broadens my outlook on life. And, the AICW still functions for me on an important level—besides that of providing me with volunteering opportunities and beneficial networking—that of being able to acquire vital and lasting friendships in North America and Italy.

Fast Forward and Other Stories by Delia De Santis

Fast Forward and Other Stories (Longbridge Books, 2008) is Delia De Santis’ debut short fiction collection.

Let’s switch the focus to your own writing. You’ve been so busy with editing and yet in 2008, Longbridge published Fast Forward and Other Stories which was your debut collection of short stories. Which of your short stories (either in this collection or in other publications) is your most favourite?  Why does it appeal to you?

The favourite of my short stories is “Faces in the Windows.” It was written in the magic realism style. It’s about people in a nursing home, drawn to their windows to watch an old man sitting in his backyard, playing the accordion in the middle of the night. It’s a story that if I were a reader reading it the first time, I would never forget it. I’ve read many stories that I have never forgotten. Even if I don’t remember the whole storyline, I remember the feeling they gave me. Stories of lasting quality.

You have a sharp ear for dialogue. What advice would you give to another writer who yearns to improve his/her dialogue? What is your secret?

Dialogue comes easy to me. If anything has helped me, is that I used to read a lot of plays. So perhaps immersing yourself in reading plays would be good. And of course, it helps to be a good listener. Dialogue doesn’t have to be perfect construction of sentences. It has to capture the character of the speaker and be in the context of the situation at the moment. If your character is a doctor for example, how does he speak when conversing to other doctors, to the staff at the hospital, how does he talk to his family, to his patients? The dialogue has to reflect the mood, the feelings, of the person who is doing the speaking. It has to sound natural, just as in real life.

What are you currently working on?

I am more than half way editing another anthology with Giulia De Gasperi, who is an excellent editor and translator, and I am also doing some of my own writing.

Short stories by Delia De Santis appear in both of thse anthologies

Delia’s work has also appeared in several prestigious Italian Canadian themed anthologies.

Wow, you sound busy. Do you have any other plans for the future?

Yes, I would like to put together another collection of my own short stories. I have some that were not included in Fast Forward and Other Stories, but I need to write a few more.

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

For writers: don’t give up writing. Writers make a difference in the world, especially since freedom of speech is not allowed everywhere in the world. Our voice must be valued in our country, but also be made to reach those countries where writers are being silenced and imprisoned.

For readers: please support writers from all over, but also give support and encouragement to our local authors. There is a wealth of talent right here in our town, which continues to enrich our minds… and our community, every day.

Delia, thank you for welcoming me into your home and sharing your thoughts with me. Have a wonderful trip to Manitoba and I look forward to hearing future updates on your writing and editing projects.

PIC_Book_Peregrinations

Delia De Santis is the author of the collection Fast Forward and Other Stories and her short stories have been widely published in literary magazines and anthologies. Some of her work has been translated into Italian. She is the co-editor of seven anthologies: Sweet Lemons: Writings With a Sicilian Accent (2004); Writing Beyond History: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry (2006); Strange Peregrinations: Italian Canadian Literary Landscapes (2007); Sweet Lemon 2: International Writings with a Sicilian Accent (2010); Italian Canadians At Table: A Narrative Feast in Five Courses (2013); Exploring Voice: Italian Canadian Female Writers (2016); and People, Places, Passages (2018).

Delia De Santis has co-edited 7 anthologies featuring the work of Italian writers

Since 2004, Delia De Santis has co-edited seven Italian Canadian themed anthologies. Two are missing from this photo.

For several years, Delia has been on the executive of the Association of Italian Canadian Writers, presently as vice president; and belongs to the Writers Union of Canada. She lives in Bright’s Grove, Ontario with her husband. They have two grown sons of whom they are very proud.

Another profile interview with Delia De Santis appears on the Gloria Pearson-Vasey website.

*from the article “Coming of Age” by Delia De Santis published in the book People, Places, Passages: An Anthology of Canadian Writing (Longbridge Books, 2018), edited by Giulia De Gasperie, Delia De Santis, and Caroline Morgan Di Giovanni, page 111. Reprinted with the author’s presmission. Copyright © 2018 the Authors, Editors, Translators, Association of Italian Canadian Writers.
**from the story “The Last Frozen Dinner” published in the book Fast Forward and Other Stories (Longbridge Books, 2008) by Delia De Santis page 41. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright © 2008 Delia De Santis.

Watch this blog for additional Canadian Author and Poet Profiles.

Opening Doors and Windows with Editor Harold Rhenisch

“You sit/awake tonight, your fingers/over the pages scattered out before you,/listening too through your hands.”– Harold Rhenisch*

Allow your head to spin with ideas! If the mind is a wooden red door with frosted or cracked panes then Editor Harold Rhenisch opened several windows for me! That’s my view of a worthy editor or mentor. He opened and closed doors and windows until I felt unhinged and accepted new possibilities: a stronger voice (or voices) and an infinite imagination ‘summer’-saulting like tumbleweeds across a silent and vacant field.

Harold Rhenisch - author photo 1

The editor as magician? Harold Rhenisch says “an editor is a set of wise eyes with a sharp knife and a smile”.

If you are an editor and/or a writer who has worked with an editor, you may disagree. You may even slam the door on my fingers and tell me my observations are wrong. C’est la vie!

What I have learned is that in the literary world there are no clear paths. Writing begins as a solitary journey and it meanders and can transport you to places and people you never expected or imagined before. Each experience whether negative or positive becomes a lesson for growth.

When local mentor Canadian author Peggy Fletcher passed away in January 2012, I lost my steering wheel and felt lost. I missed the way she would close her eyes during a writers’ workshop, listen intently to a poem, and immediately pinpoint a misplaced beat or word. No one could ever replace this nature-loving writer and over time I just gave up looking.

In 2015, on a whim, I joined the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association (CAA) and two years later I decided to tap into its electronic writer in residence program. I had heard about Harold Rhenisch and wondered if his keen interest in the Earth would be the right fit for a manuscript I was working on.

The initial on-line meeting with Harold was brief but I felt an instant connection with his zen-like approach to writing and editing. We were both raised in rural environments and for some unknown reason that was important to me. His deep thinking and extensive knowledge base impressed me and I trusted him to navigate my thoughts through my storm of uncertainty. He had also lost his mentor. We agreed to work for a longer period.

For three months, he offered suggestions, taught me to let go, to dig deep, but to also play. He stretched my own knowledge base and nudged me into further research.  He made my head spin! What a wonderful experience!

Keith Inman, a Canadian Author’s Association member and author of The War Poems: Screaming at Heaven (Black Moss Press 2014) and SEAsia (Black Moss Press 2017) also enjoyed working with Harold.

He wrote: “Harold has a magical way of suggesting changes to your work, like filtered light, while at the same time, instilling confidence. He might suggest a few options for a line that isn’t quite working effectively, then add, “But, perhaps, your original line was better.” He can also zero-in on the overwritten, “Well, you’ve worked the poetry right out of that one.” For me, his voice still echoes in my head when I’m editing…a spritely cheer along a shaded forest trail.”

Sunrise at Big Bar Lake Photo by Harold Rhenisch

“Harold has a magical way of suggesting changes to your work, like filtered light,…” said Canadian Poet Keith Inman. Even Harold’s photographs are magical like this mystical sunrise captured at Big Bar Lake in British Columbia. Harold wrote, “The sun rose through this mist as a wind. Isn’t it grand?”

Today, I still haven’t met Harold Rhenisch in person. We live thousands of kilometers apart but last week via e-mail, we chatted about mentors, the importance of editing, and his plans for the future.

Hi Harold, thank you for agreeing to share your thoughts. Let’s start at the beginning. When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer? Describe that scene for me in a few lines.

I was going to be an entomologist and a consulting horticulturalist in the orchard industry. I took a creative writing course in Grade 11, in 1973. In 1974, I acted in a summer Shakespeare program at UVic, with the support of my writing teacher. I followed up with acting and writing in Grade 12, and played Puck at UVic in the summer of 1975. Playwriting was my first love, but as my speech coach noted, “You really like the poetic speeches, don’t you?” Indeed, I did. The Puck part was type casting. I have been playing the role ever since.

In your introduction to your 11th poetry book The Spoken World, you mentioned that your earlier role models were Rainer Maria Rilke, Ezra Pound, J. Michael Yates, and Al Purdy. In a couple of sentences, what did each of these poets teach you?

Rilke showed that a conversation across metaphysical boundaries was possible, and gave some models of how to do it. I was reading Rilke in translation, which is a very bad idea. What I really got out of it was the American transcendentalism it was translated into, but that was a start. I wound up at Rilke’s grave in Switzerland in 2013. By that time, I was the age he was when he died. It was profoundly moving.

The View from Rilke's Garden Photo by Harold Rhenisch

The view from Rilke’s Garden at Muzart Castle in Veyras, Switzerland. “My image looks over the grapes to the south slope of the Rhone,” explains Rhenisch. “[Rilke] rewrote the Duino Elegies (and wrote the Sonnets to Orpheus) here.” Photo by Harold Rhenisch

Pound showed that it was possible to speak of old things in new ways and to orient writing around moments of vision. There is expansiveness to that available nowhere else. Like Robert Graves, he had the ability to speak of a world of poetic certainty with deep cultural roots, quite different from the social positioning that poetry is often used for. I learned Classical Greek because of Pound’s model. My translations of Iamblichus which resulted were my real education in both old worlds and poetic form. I doubt anyone else has had this education in such old, old cultural roots, from before the time of the pharaohs.

Yates wrote exquisite, highly-shaped intellectual objects which spoke of the country I knew outside of the cities, at an intersection of European and existential experience. What’s more, they were witty and clever and complex and musical. That appealed to me a lot. His Esox Nobilior Non Esox Lucius was a masterpiece of controlled randomness. I still don’t think it was random. I still think it was a high point worth emulating.

Purdy wrote about my Canada, and with a sense of loss I felt as well, in simple, clear speech, without setting aside rigour. “The Country North of Belleville,” that was a poem for me: wisdom, irony, beauty, history, humanity and its feet on the ground.

There were others: [Eugène] Guillevic, [Paul] Celan, W.S. Graham, [W.S.] Merwin, Kathleen Raine, and more. Raine for her mystical tradition, which I responded to.

Canadian poet Robin Skelton was a huge influence in your life. Not only did you edit his work posthumously into two poetry volumes, but you also wrote the book The Spoken World which blended the voices of you and Robin.  In “Drawing Hands”, one of your tribute poems to Robin, you penned the line, “I want to draw hands that touch fire.”  The poem ends with the epigraph that introduces this blog.  I could feel the kinetic energy between the two of you. It reminded me of the hands in Michelangelo’s famous painting “The Creation of Adam” where the God-like figure transfers life and knowledge to a human being. What do you miss most about Robin and what was the best advice he shared with you?

Robin wore numerous rings on his hands, even several rings per finger. They were all symbolic and were part of his magical practice. The poem plays with that. They were also the hands of a healer.

Robin was one of those poets who was rebuilding the ancient northern traditions of writing (in his case out of Wiccan tradition) in the greater anglo-saxon-nordic world. For him, poetry was a real thing in a real world, with real effects. I miss that, but, of course, I miss his voice and his laughter and the way he would greet people at the door. When you were welcomed into his house, you were welcomed into Robin. The house was a recreation of the Modern Gallery in the Manchester Art Gallery, plus the John Rylands Library, also in Manchester. That was Robin’s secret. That story has not been told. One was, however, being ushered into something with great depth and great warmth.

Two Books by Canadian poet Harold Rhenisch

A prolific writer, Harold Rhenisch has published 30 books of poetry, fiction, poetic nonfiction, translation, essays and environmental writing since 1982. Return to Open Water (Ronsdale Press, 2007) features new and selected poems while The Spoken World (Hagios Press, 2011) blends the voices of Harold and his mentor the late Robin Skelton. The latter book is still available through Radiant Press.

He gave many pieces of advice. Three stand out. One was “the poetry does not matter, but how else are we going to teach our children how to think?” From that, I understood that poetry is a way of thinking, not of self-expression.  Another was, “we all live in eternity but we live there alone.” This was shortly before he died in 1997. I understood this to mean that only on this Earth do we have a chance to love, touch each other, even hate and feel, then we are back to the elements. Very Nordic! The third came when I gave him a manuscript (that I am still straightening out, nearly 20 years later):  “I can’t hear the music in it, and the music never lies. If I can’t hear the music in it, it is not finished.” A simplification of that message might be that the music of a poem tells the story, that poetry has plots quite different from prose, and that it’s not up to the poet to make the story but to hear it. Again, very Nordic.

How important are mentors and what do you see are their roles in fostering excellent writing?

What else is there? Creative writing workshops are not a substitute if you believe in long traditions and craft. A mentor can even be wrong. It doesn’t matter. One gains courage and then rises to fill it. For example, after I had written only three good poems, Robin made a point of seeking me out specifically at one of his famous Thursday Night Parties. His guests would be artists and writers from across the city, the country and the world, and any students who got the courage to show up.

Robin brought two glasses and a bottle of red wine, poured us both a sloshy glass, and in a passageway between the hall and the dining room raised his glass in a toast to The Goddess, and drank it down like blood. Shaken, I did the same, knowing that he had accepted me into a rather special brotherhood. It took me thirty years to rise to fill that moment. Sadly, by that time Robin was gone.

There comes a time at which one stops quoting one’s mentors, as one is the mentor oneself, or at least the message. “One is either the poetry or one talks about it,” Robin once wrote, or something close to that. Paraphrasing that, at some point one becomes the poetry. It’s not synonymous with literary writing. Poetry is a calling. I am saddened when writers write poetry as if it were fiction. I try to help them see the poetry itself as the message.

Maybe that’s the role of a mentor: to help people see with two minds at once by standing in that middle space. Poetry tells stories, of course, but not in the way of “fiction,” and not according to the same story-telling rules. In a literary world dominated by fiction, I keep silent about that.

Horsethief Butte Photo by Harold Rhenisch

Harold wrote “maybe that’s the role of a mentor: to help people see with two minds at once by standing in that middle space.” I didn’t ask Harold why he sent me this photo of  Horsethief Butte  located near Dalles, Oregon.  Is it because the person is standing on the edge of darkness and light? Or did something happen here that should be written about?  Thought-provoking isn’t it? A great springboard for a poem! Photo by Harold Rhenisch

Let’s chat a bit about editing. You’ve been the Electronic Writer in Residence with the Canadian Authors Association in Niagara for twenty years and this is the window through which I first met you. (More information about the program can be found its website. Please note you must be a member of the Niagara Branch to participate in this program.) What do you feel is the role of the editor in today’s literary community? Should writers personally hire an editor or should writers rely on the editorial services of a trade publisher? I have heard arguments from both sides. Please expand your answer.

An editor is a set of wise eyes with a sharp knife and a smile.

More specifically, when I was beginning, the role of an editor was to encourage a writer to fit into a national style. It fit poorly, but had to be done. Now there is only a global style and editors, in that sense, are redundant. However, the primary task remains: are you going to write poetry or be a poet? Not the same. An editor can guide you through that process.

But, more practically, few trade publishers offer editorial services and if they do they are likely reverting to a market-driven model, which is fine if you are writing as a social gesture and not in a conversation with eternity. Your choice.

What should a writer watch out for when hiring and/or working with an editor? 

An editor should help you see what works and should admit when something doesn’t and use your response as a guide to find a better solution, drawing from tradition. If an editor just tells you to do something prescriptively, run. That’s just book learning.

As an editor, how would you define strong writing? What do you look for when helping a writer to polish his/her manuscript for publication? 

All writing is strong writing when it is aware of itself and refuses itself indulgences. No excuses. I look for a sense of language as an art form, a sense of play, and a sense of form. When I find explanation or argument, I skim very quickly until I find story again. When I travelled on the Camino through East Germany in 2010 and 2012, I learned how to follow a story not of my own making, relentlessly, along a burning line. That is the editor’s skill: just the story, please. In a poem, however, the story can be the radiance of the colour blue, for example. Delight helps.

Can an editor fix ‘bad’ writing? Why or why not

There is no bad writing. There is writing that is poorly arranged or that bounces over the surface. So? I can do that myself. Blush. An editor can cut all that, without guilt, and at the same time encourage the writer to write more. These are skills one can learn from writing play scripts. Everything there is for the jugular.

As our population ages, do you feel that writers have an expiry or best before date? Why or why not?

Marie Louise Kaschnitz came into her own in the 1960s by writing beautiful but very reactionary prose in very revolutionary West Germany. There is absolutely no best before date. I have had many aging clients writing extraordinarily well. The only question is one of audience. The only answer is one of honesty. You can skip two or three generations with honesty. It is hard. The ego you need to push yourself forward is in the end not always your best friend. You might need an editor to stand at your side. The editor’s job might be to gain trust. At some point, both must accept the point they have arrived at together. And why not? It is a great journey, no matter how far it goes.

Harold Rhenisch at Goðafoss, photo by Diane Rhenisch

Rhensich believes “poetry is a calling”. One day Iceland called him and he answered. His journey took him to a farm built by Icelandic author Gunnar Gunnarsson. Here is Harold near Godafoss, known as the ‘waterfall of the gods’ in Iceland. Photo by Diane Rhenisch.

In 2017, your poem “Saying the Names Shanty” was short-listed for the CBC Poetry Prize. This is not the first time your work has been recognized. How important are contests (which are often judged subjectively) to helping or hindering a writer’s career? Can a writer have a successful writing career without winning or placing in any literary contest?

Anything that encourages a writer to go on in the echoing silence is great. Is the CBC contest important? It was for Gail Anderson Dargatz. For me, with two awards and multiple short-listings, no… except it kept me finishing works I would have otherwise felt there was no audience for… and that’s the thing: without audience it is very hard to write at all. Even an audience of one is a boon. It is the greatest gift to another person: to listen. Especially to listen deeply to what they find most important.

You’ve had a successful career as a writer and as an editor you’ve helped to polish several books by Canadian poets including Rove by Laurie D. Graham, shortlisted for the League of Canadian Poets 2014 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. So far, I’ve read only a couple of your poetry books but I have loved both of them. You have an amazing sense of humour and a broad knowledge base and yet, you can connect with the reader emotionally and spiritually as well. What’s next for Harold Rhenisch? Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

Canada is becoming a country divided between various literary and creative writing elites. I hope to make a solid contribution that bridges indigenous and non-indigenous divides. More and more, I find the conceits of literature to be limiting, and am learning to read the land. This is not a new journey.

In 1994, I chose to present a workshop on mythology with Garry Gottfriedson rather than poetry. Garry went along willingly.

In 2009, I walked out of the League of Canadian Poets convention in Vancouver in great pain after being asked to take on Bliss Carman as my poetic ancestor, which was a profound colonial demand. I drove straight to the mouth of the Columbia and followed my river home, like a salmon coming back from the sea. I am still on that journey.

Harold Rhenisch - author in nature photo Photo by Harold Rhenisch

An editor or mentor can inspire or encourage deeper thought. According to Rhenisch, “It is the greatest gift to another person: to listen. Especially to listen deeply to what they find most important.” Photo by Diane Rhenisch

I hope, however, to publish a few of my essays on an alternative, old path through poetry. I think the world needs it. There is still much I want to say about Shakespeare, and Puck. Or, rather, that Puck wants to say by me, now that he has my voice.

This has been incredible sharing on your part! I could ask you questions all day, but time and space are limited. Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers? I feel like the conversation has only just begun.

I keep an apple tree called a Benvoulin, and she keeps me. I found her growing wild in a ditch in 1981. She tastes of Riesling wine when ripe and like fresh pineapple when almost over-ripe. Her flesh is white as snow. Our joined ancestry goes back 30,000 years, when bears chose her ancestors in Khazakstan. Robin gave me a poetic tradition as old as that. I think I have been brought to this conversation in order to pass it on. When I published my book Fusion in 2000, it was mocked for its pre-modern thinking. I am older now. I see now what Robin was looking for. Joy is certainly one word for it. Generosity is another.

Thanks Harold. You’ve been most generous with your time. My hope is that this conversation will inspire others to step outside their comfort zones, to walk down a path less travelled, and to listen in silence for the voices that can steer all of us toward some greater truth.

Harold Rhenisch has published 30 books of poetry, fiction, poetic nonfiction, translation, essays and environmental writing since 1982. He reviews history for The Ormsby Review and is an active book editor and mentor. He lives in Syilx territory in British Columbia.

Follow his blogs for more insight on his thought-provoking work:

Harold Rhenisch   Online Home of the Canadian Poet, Writer and Editor.

Okanagan Okanogan Reclaiming the Art of Living on the Earth

A Farm in Iceland    Writing With Gunnar Gunnarsson

and also

Steam Punk City – Wituals

The Green Earth Dictionary

*Epigraph is from the poem “Drawing Hands – for Robin Skelton” by Harold Rhenisch published in the book return to open water: poems new & selected (Ronsdale Press, 2007) by Harold Rhenisch, page 65. Copyright 2007 Harold Rhenisch. Used with permission.

Follow this blog for additional Canadian poet profiles and/or literary events.

Sultry Summer Poetry Gathering – A Pictorial Reflection

“All summer was heat/in steaming reflections/warm beads of sweat imitated the rain,/pretended to nourish grass and birds,/found shade in tired branches.” – I. B. Iskov*

 I have never been to Greece but last Sunday (August 19, 2018) I could almost imagine the waves lapping the shores of the Cyclades, the whispers of Greek gods and goddesses, and the serenity of poetic blue skies over whitewashed structures.

 

The Sultry Summer Poetry Gathering - September 19, 2018

Founding member/treasurer I. B. Iskov celebrated her birthday at The Ontario Poetry Society’s Sultry Summer Poetry Gathering held Sunday, August 19, 2018 at Mykonos Restaurant. Half way through the program, baklava (a rich sweet dessert pastry) was served.

What a dreamy place for members of The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS) to share poetry on the breezy outdoor patio of Mykonos Restaurant in London, Ontario, Canada. Not only did the scent of Greek food and the turquoise seaside-themed décor add to the ambience but Heidi, the co-owner, showed her support for The Sultry Summer Poetry Gathering by applauding loudly.

What a celebration it was!

In addition to the membership anthology Delicate Impact, four books by TOPS members were launched: My Misty Madness: A Semi-Autobiography (a Reflection and Lots of Poetry) by Emily Cox; El Marillo (Big Pond Rumous Press, 2018) by Tom Gannon Hamilton; My Coming of Age (HMS Press, 2018) by I. B. Iskov, and After the River (Black Moss Press, 2018) by Denis Robillard. More information about Delicate Impact appears here.

TOPS The Sultry Summer Poetry Gathering - Featured Readers and Books Launched 2018

Celebrating new books by TOPS members.

Several members of the TOPS Executive (President Fran Figge, Founder/Treasurer I. B. Iskov, and Secretary Kamal Parmar) and three Branch Managers (Stan Burfield of London, Najah Shuqair of Sarnia, and Roy James of Windsor) were in attendance.

TOPS The Sultry Summer Poetry Gathering - EXECUTIVE and Branch Managers - 2018

Cheers to the TOPS team who stopped in to chat and share their work.

What an eclectic and full afternoon: sixteen members (not counting the book launch readers) shared their work followed by an open mic presenter. Several people including spouses were there to support and applaud.

TOPS The Sultry Summer Poetry Gathering - Members - 2018

The Ontario Poetry Society currently has over 200 members. Several of them read their work during the London, Ontario, Canada event: Frances Roberts-Reilly, Debbie Okun Hill, Janice McDonald, Keith Inman, and David D Plain.

According to the restaurant website, “Mykonos is a sacred place where we celebrate life and each other with joy, warmth, good food and drink.”

TOPS The Sultry Summer Poetry Gathering - Members 2 - 2018

More Readers: Carl Lapp, Ken Lumpkin, David Stones, Wayne Ray, and Roy Adams.

I agree. Sometimes just a photo or a poetic word can brighten a day or transport you to another place like Mykonos or one of the other Greek islands. Life is for living!

Delicate Impact anthology - August 19, 2018

The Ontario Poetry Society launched Delicate Impact (Beret Days Press, 2018), a membership anthology edited and compiled by April Bulmer and illustrated by Nan Williamson.

Additional information about The Ontario Poetry Society can be found on its website.

The next TOPS reading “The Autumn Ingathering for Poetry” will be held Sunday, October 14, 2018 in Oakville. More info here..

 A partial list of upcoming literary events in Ontario can be on my website.

*quote is from the poem “Autumn’s Grandeur” in the book My Coming of Age (HMS Press, 2018) by I. B. Iskov Copyright © 2017 by I. B. Iskov, page 20. Used with permission.