Tag Archives: Books

Couplets – London’s Collaborative Poetry Series Returns for Third Season

“A unique blend of collaborative writing, collaborative performance, and live dialogue.” – Andy Verboom, organizer/host of COUPLETS: a collaborative poetry series

Spring rain collected in grey puddles on the parking lot, on the cracked sidewalk, and on Dundas Street in front of The ARTS Project in downtown London, Ontario, Canada.

Couplets - small log

Inside the Main Gallery, away from the splash and splatter of running water, I noted the empty chairs and checked my cellphone. Thursday, March 29. Did I have the wrong date? Was the inclement weather a problem?

COUPLETS host Andy Verboom noted my perplexed look and assured me with a smile. “We changed the start time. Did you see our Facebook post?” (I hadn’t.)

verboom-author-photo-3

For the 2018 season, COUPLETS host Andy Verboom is expecting to bring in more out-of-town and inter-art collaborators to London, Ontario.

He explained the featured poets travelling from Toronto were late! Not their fault! Something about a bus breaking down! No worries because they were on their way. No worries because in the interim, a table was set up for the audience to create collage poems using words found in a book about an unpopular politician. A few poets had already gathered with scissors in hand. Other people just chatted.

An hour later, the third season of COUPLETS officially launched without too much fanfare but with a relaxed host welcoming both the guest readers and a large audience that filled those empty chairs.

On that evening, former Detroit resident and Puritan Interviews Editor E. Martin Nolan and former Victoria, B.C. resident and Pivot Reading Series committee member Michelle Brown shared work from their new books Still Point (Invisible Publishing, 2017) and Safe Words (Palimpsest Press, 2018).

E Martin Nolan and Michelle Brown at Couplets Photo 6 March 29, 2018

Former Detroit resident and Puritan Interviews Editor E. Martin Nolan and former Victoria, B.C. resident and Pivot Reading Series committee member Michelle Brown shared work from their new books Still Point (Invisible Publishing, 2017) and Safe Words (Palimpsest Press, 2018), during COUPLETS Episode #16 on March 29, 2018.

The poignant poems of Martin and the exuberance of Brown reminded me of the multi-faceted sides of rain: how a water droplet can either destroy or soothe with a twist of the wind; how one’s perspective of work or play can vary; how even an incident on a bus on a rain-clad ride can turn into a gift like the collaborative poem presented by the featured couple towards the end of the evening.

It’s that exquisite and organic nature of the one hour COUPLETS events that make the drive into London worthwhile. Expect the unexpected! No two events are alike!

Originally advertised in May 2016 as ‘COUPLETS: Poets in Dialogue’, London Ontario’s newest poetry series now boasts the name ‘COUPLETS: A Collaborative Poetry Series’. With 16 episodes behind them, the series is definitely evolutionary: the subtle result of continuously blending two poetic and creative minds in an artistic setting. If you’re looking for the traditional rhyming and metered expressions of the couplet form, you may need to look elsewhere. This is more innovative than that.

Couplets 9 - Andy McGuire in front of collaborator Angie Quick's painting

COUPLETS #9 featured guest Andy McGuire in front of collaborator Angie Quick’s painting.

This week, I chatted with COUPLETS host Andy Verboom about some of his personal goals and his future plans for this unique event.

Andy, you’ve done something amazing here with your poetry series. As the new kid on the block, you immediately differentiated the series from the more established literary offerings in London.

For example Poetry London offers a pre-reading workshop followed by the readings by one or two high-profiled and established poets.

The London Open Mic Poetry series presents a featured local poet followed by an open mic in which anyone (even first time readers) can share their poems.

Couplets offers an unstructured yet structured presentation style whereby an experienced poet is paired with an emerging poet to create a unique collaboration. For those who are unfamiliar with this series, please take us behind the scenes. Where did the idea for the series come from and why did you decide to organize it?

Thanks, Debbie! In general, because the collaborators do so much more work than I do, I try to accept no credit for a good Couplets event and as little blame as possible for a not-as-good one. The same holds true for the series, which has been deemed ‘good’ by a number of encouraging folks.

That said, the series that would become Couplets was initially slated to be an ‘offshoot’ of London Open Mic, a simple recycling of former featured readers in a new venue. I accepted an invitation to helm it at a time when the scope of my own writing had suddenly widened from the single poem to the suite or project. And from that perspective—where form and structure become essentially generative—the journal that publishes ‘the best’ lit, the first collection that’s also a ‘collected works of,’ and the generalist reading series were all just plastic bags for stuffing poems into. I supposed I wanted a container that was more rigid, more demanding in terms of performance, but also less self-serious. The encyclopedia salesman’s briefcase, maybe?

Couplets logo

In any case, I wanted each Couplets to be generative rather than iterative, surprising both for audiences and for readers. This eventually required finding the series a better home than the original venue and disaffiliating it from other series. Couplets has shifted and matured so quickly, thanks to the support of many others, that I can’t take any credit for “deciding” to organize what it is now. Happy to be here, though!

Two weeks ago, you launched your third season with two young and vibrant poets E. Martin Nolan and Michelle Brown. What can the audience expect for the upcoming episodes?

Couplets 16 Banner

Expect the unexpected! Each COUPLETS episode like the one with E. Martin Nolan and Michelle Brown will inspire you!

Expect a departure from the foundational established/emerging dichotomy. With several collaborators playing ‘emerging poet’ in one episode when they could’ve played ‘established poet’ in another, the distinction was always just a numbers game. Also, I worry that ‘emerging poet’ reads like a euphemism for “don’t expect (as) much from.” And that both terms are fraught with ageism. As I get deeper into that uncanny terrain where I’m post-30 without a book of my own in sight—or ‘uggghh, still emerging, I guess’—I’m focusing more on scheduling collaborators whose work I can candidly and enthusiastically promote regardless of their publication credits.

Expect more inter-art collaborations. London isn’t hurting when it comes to collaborations across artistic disciplines (e.g., Tom Cull’s curations as Poet Laureate and The ARTS Project’s upcoming LDN Convergence), so a Couplets restricted to poetry threatens to get stale.

And expect more out-of-town collaborators. This season, for instance, will draw eight or nine collaborators from Toronto. Subsequent seasons might draw from other cities.

For the past two years, you’ve featured an eclectic mix of readers with veterans John B. Lee and Laurie Graham to emerging yet award-winning scribes such as David Hubert. How does one get involved with this reading series and what criteria do you use to not only select your featured guests but to create partners for each episode?

I can’t reveal my proprietary formula for matchmaking, but I’ll say that the robustness of the collaborative format has surprised me: it serves seriousness just as well as lampoon, and it can bear three months of overwrought collaboration or float atop a renga written on a bus on the way to the venue. So each performer’s fit with the series—their willingness to be (stealing from Dan Savage) good, giving, and game for anything—has proven more important than their fit with their collaborator. (Almost always. I did make a not-so-good match once.)

Couplets 12 - Ryan Gibbs & David Stones

Collaborators Ryan Gibbs and David Stones in COUPLETS #12.

If you want to read at Couplets, you can make your chances very good indeed simply by getting in touch. Or, maybe even better, email me with a recommendation for someone else who would make a great Couplets collaborator.

Why is a reading series (like the one you are organizing) so important to a community?

There might be two separate questions here. If you’re asking why a reading series might be valued by a community, I’d say the events provide social validation and comfort by actually putting that community in a room. If you’re asking how an unconventional reading series might be good for a community, I’d say it can challenge that community by exposing fractures in taste that are indicative of political disagreement. This might invalidate easy assumptions about unity and push community members to question their political positions.

What are your long term plans for the series?

In the medium term, I’d like to bring a second organizer aboard so that Couplets is eligible to apply for funding that could pay collaborators not only for their performance time but for their collaborative labour. Also to resolve the irony of a collaborative reading series being run by a single person.

In the long term, t-shirts. In the longer term, world domination via app development.

For those who haven’t met you, who is Andy Verboom and why are you so passionate about promoting poetry within the London community and beyond?

The Wide Skirt a

Andy Verboom wants the audience to be surprised!

The fact that this is my least favourite type of question probably says all you need to know about me. I’m not sure “passion” is the right term. I’ll stop doing Couplets, for instance, when it stops producing interesting and entertaining results.

Before we go, please tell us about your own writing! I understand you have a chapbook with Baseline Press, a London-based publisher and a few other projects plus you worked on a joint project with David Hubert, one of the first poets showcased in this series.

Orthric Sonnets came out with Baseline in October, 2017, and Tower (Anstruther) and Full Mondegreens (Frog Hollow) the year before—the latter being the joint chapbook with David Huebert. More generally, for someone who crams the gospel of collaboration down everyone’s throats, I haven’t collaborated very much. Who has the time unless some crazed reading series organizer extorts you, right?

Chapbooks_2017_Verboom3 - photo courtesy Baseline Press

Snatched up quicky!! The limited edition of Orthric Sonnets (Baseline Press, 2017) by Andy Verboom is now sold out. Photo courtesy: Baseline Press website.

What are your future writing goals?

Convince an editor at a big-name small press that my poetry is emotionless on purpose.

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

One of my cats micro-reviews books on Instagram: @one.eyed.jack.reads

*Sounds like a talented cat! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I wish you much success with COUPLETS  and your writing career.

Mark your calendars for future COUPLETS events:

April 26th with Palimpsest Poetry Editor Jim Johnstone and multi-faceted human and cartoonist Megan Arnold. More details here.

Couplets 17 in London

Couplets Episode #17 will feature Jim Johnstone and Megan Arnold on Thursday, April 26 from 6 to 7 p.m., Main Gallery, The Arts Project, 203 Dundas Street in London, Ontario.

The third season also includes six more episodes to be held on the last Thursday of each month! Coming soon: Julie Cameron Gray, Vincent Colistro, Stevie Howell, Jess Taylor, Aaron Kreuter, and others.

Follow COUPLETS on Facebook  and on twitter or check their  website/blog.

Andy Verboom’s author website appears here.  

 FOLLOW THIS BLOG FOR FUTURE PROFILES AND OTHER LITERARY HAPPENINGS.

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Memories – The Love of Poetry Gathering

Today the grey clouds parted like curtains on a stage and the sun slid into view wearing a radiant coat! Melted snow dripped and dropped off the neighbourhood rooftops. It smelled like spring…like poetry…like love sneaking around a corner for Valentine’s Day.

If only Cupid had warmed the Earth a little sooner.

TOPS The Love of Poetry Gathering in North York invite

The Ontario Poetry Society held a members’ reading and open mic on February 11, 2018 at the Symposium Café Restaurant Bar & Lounge in North York, Ontario.

 

Last Sunday, several local members of The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS) braved the cold icy weather to attend “The Love of Poetry Gathering” at the Symposium Café Restaurant Bar & Lounge in North York, Ontario. According to TOPS Vice-President Joan Sutcliffe, “the event was reasonably well attended and enjoyed by all who made it.”

Symposium Restaurant North York Feb 11, 2018 Photo Larry Iskov

“There were three book launches,” she wrote. “Reflections: Places, People, Love & Loss – a chapbook by John Hastings, published by Beret Days Press as Stanza Break Series #62; Bottom of the Wine Jar – an English/Spanish anthology launched by Patrick Connors as one of four contributors in connection with the Cuba Literary festival; and Letters to My Father by Banoo Zan, a Persian/English book published by Piquant Press in 2017.”

TOPS The Love of Poetry Gathering - book launches Feb 11, 2017 in North York

One book, one anthology, and one chapbook by members of The Ontario Poetry Society were spotlighted in North York, Ontario.

 

Additional readers (in alphabetical order) included: Marsha Barber, Sheila Bello, Allan Briesmaster, Howard Freedlander, I.B. (Bunny) Iskov, Mark Kruk, Joan Sutcliffe, Lilly Williams, and Victor Zurkowski.

TOPS The Love of Poetry Gathering - featured readers Feb 11, 2017 in North York

I, like many out-of-town poets, missed the gathering due to the inclement weather and the dangerous driving conditions. However, thanks to Larry Iskov, many of the memories were captured in these photographs.

Featured Readers North York event Feb 11, 2018 Photo by Larry Iskov

May you have a warm and wonderful week!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Celebrating Poetry in North York, Cobourg, St. Catharines, and more

If poetry is life, what then is life?/Or is that the abstraction/before the reflected surface. –Keith Inman*

You’ve got mail! Here’s your personal e-invitation! Gather your love poems and release your pink- and red-ribbon word-gifts to your poetic peers. This Sunday, February 11, 2018, The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS) travels to North York to host “The Love Of Poetry Gathering”, an afternoon of spotlight book launches, members’ readings, and an open mic for non-members.

TOPS The Love of Poetry Gathering in North York invite

The Ontario Poetry Society will host “The Love of Poetry Gathering” this Sunday, February 11 from 12 noon to 4 p.m. at the Symposium Café Restaurant Bar & Lounge, 5221 Yonge Street in North York, Ontario. Admission is free.

The event starts at 12 noon and runs until approximately 4 p.m. at the Symposium Café Restaurant Bar & Lounge, 5221 Yonge Street, (2 Blocks north of North York Centre, South of Finch Avenue) in North York, Ontario. Sign-up for book launch spotlights and readings is at the door. Admission is free. Everyone (including first time readers) is welcome. Depending on the number of people signed-up, each person should come prepared to read either two short poems or one longer poem. All styles from rhyming couplets to free verse to experimental to rap and spoken word are accepted. More information here.If you can’t attend the Sunday event, TOPS will be hosting at least three more open mic events in 2018. The next one will be the “Spring into Poetry Party” to be held Saturday, May 5, 2018 from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the café: Meet at 66 King East in Cobourg, Ontario. A summer event is tentatively planned for Sunday, August 26 in London and information about an autumn event will be announced at a later date.

On Saturday, March 3, 2018, Roy Adams and the Hamilton branch of The Ontario Poetry Society will team up with Brydge Builder Press for “A Hamilton Poetry Night”, 8 to 10:30 p.m. at The Staircase, 27 Dundurn Street North. Highlights include the launch of Vagabond Post Office: A Poet’s Path Home by David C. Brydges (TOPS Cobalt branch manager), featured readings by Kathy Fisher and Gary Barwin plus music by David McIntosh. TOPS president Fran Figge will emcee the evening. An open mic will follow. Admission is free.

March 3, 2018 in Hamilton, Ontario

TOPS Cobalt branch manager (David C. Brydges) will be launching his new book Vagabond Post Office: A Poet’s Path Home, Saturday, March 3 in Hamilton.

THROWBACK THURSDAY:

For those who missed it: TOPS travelled to St. Catharines for the first time last November 12, 2017. Six members took to the stage and two new books and two new chapbooks were spotlighted during the “Autumn Harvest Poetry Festival”.

Keith Inman introduced his second trade book SEAsia (Black Moss Press, 2017). Canadian poet John B. Lee stated in his review published in the January 2018 issue of Verse Afire “..in Niagara poet Keith Inman’s book of poetry we take something of a cultural journey in which we accompany the poet on his travels seeing the southeast Asian world through the filter of language as we depart by way of poetry from our common home in Canada travelling east by way of Cambodia and Vietnam and returning to our Native land changed by the experience of having been away. …we are companions on a journey. We are fellow travelers having knowledge of going hence from the familiar and returning from the foreign. And we wonder what it means to belong. How is it for the exile?” Check the Black Moss Press website for the full review plus info about Keith Inman and his books.

Transitory Tango, TOPS 2017 membership anthology edited and compiled by Ottawa poet Ronnie R. Brown was also introduced with readings by several members. Additional information about this anthology and the list of contributors is posted on the TOPS website.

Debbie Okun Hill shared two new chapbooks: Drawing from Experience (a runner-up in the 2017 Big Pond Rumours Chapbook contest) and Chalk Dust Clouds (this year’s winner of TOPS Golden Grassroots Chapbook Award.) Info about the first chapbook appears here. In a recent Verse Fire review of Chalk Dust Clouds, Canadian poet Ronnie R. Brown states “Replete with unique and unexpected images, Okun Hill manages to produce a small collection that stands large in the readers’ minds. From the boy who writes his love’s name on his arm in ball point, to a recycled book of paper dolls, Okun Hill pushes all the buttons, rewinding the reader’s mind back to an earlier and simpler time when erasing the blackboard and slapping the erasers was a reward worth fighting for.” The contest results appear here.

Other spotlight readers (in alphabetical order) were Roy Adams, Fran Figge, I. B. (Bunny) Iskov, and Kamal Parmar. Work by non-members were also shared.

TOPS Members Reading in St Catharines - November 12, 2017 blog version

The Ontario Poetry Society held a members’ reading and open mic on November 12, 2017 at the Mahtay Café & Lounge in St. Catharines. Featured readers included: (back row, left to right) Roy Adams, Keith Inman, Debbie Okun Hill, Fran Figge, and Kamal Parmar. (Front row) I. B. (Bunny) Iskov.

The Ontario Poetry Society is a poetry friendly grassroots organization with over 240 members. It was founded to create a democratic organization for members to unite in camaraderie, friendship, emotional support and encouragement in all aspects of poetry, including writing, performing and publishing. Additional information can be found on its website.

Several other articles about this organization have been posted on this blog over the years.

A partial listing of Ontario literary events for 2018 appears here.

Follow this blog for future news about Canada’s literary community.

*From the poem “What is Poetry?” from the book SEAsia (Black Moss Press, 2017). Used with permission from the author. Copyright © Keith Inman 2017

My 2018 #CanLit Staycation Reading List

Call it snow. Call it a TV igloo to crawl inside and escape. – Debbie Okun Hill*

 Reading Canadian poetry and literature is one way to escape this recent cold snap across the country. Binge watching The Crown and Grand Hotel on Netflix is another. For those with a flair for the imagination, retreating to write can turn a snowflake into a multi-faceted poem or story.

Lost in Reality TV Snow - Okun Hill - January 9, 2018

Snow cradles emerald ash borer damaged trees.

Two months ago, I tried escaping. I slowly slipped away from social media and blogging, to concentrate on final revisions for a poetry manuscript that needed major surgery. I sought help from a professional editor and mentor who not only challenged my thinking but taught me how to play with the words and to heal the open wounds. Carving some quiet time to focus on one project proved productive. Expect to hear more about this in a future blog post.

As the holiday season unfolded, I retreated again to deal with the loss of two special people in my literary life: one was a member of a local book club I used to attend while the other was a long-time literary organizer, editor, writer, and friend. Spending time with family and friends became a priority with quiet moments spent in reflection.

Now I’m back at my desk. As a tribute to all the creative folk I wanted to thank, support and promote in 2017 (and didn’t) expect a flurry of blog posts in the next few weeks. (Yes, I will finally edit and post those photos from November and December literary events.) For those looking for something to read, I’ve pulled an eclectic selection of books from my unread (and to read again) shelves. (See below.)

Perhaps you will seek out a few of these books to add to your own reading list. Remember authors love reviews. Post your thoughts on Amazon and/or Goodreads. If you have a recommendation for 2019, leave the book title and the poet’s name in the comment section. (Comments will take a day or two before they appear.) Thanks for your patience.

In support of fellow poets and poetry readings I attended in 2017:

 You Can’t Make the Sky a Different Blue (Big Pond Rumours Press 2017) an award-winning chapbook by award-winning Paris, Ontario resident and minimalist poet Nelson Ball; Not Even Laughter (Salmon Poetry, Ireland 2015) a collection of poems by Phillip Crymble, a Fredericton resident and poetry editor for The Fiddlehead; The Poison Colour (Coach House Printing 2015) a collection of poetry by award-winning Toronto writer Maureen Hynes; SEAsia (Black Moss Press 2017) is the second collection of poetry by Thorold poet Keith Inman, member of the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association and assistant for their annual Banister Poetry Anthology; Barbaric Cultural Practice (Quattro Books 2016) a poetry collection by Penn Kemp, the inaugural Poet Laureate for London, Ontario and a League of Canadian Poets Life Member; and Infinite Sequels: Poems (Friesen Press 2013) the first poetry collection by Toronto poet David Stones.

Misc Books to Read 2018 to post

A mix of Ontario writers and one from the east coast.

In support of poetry chapbooks:

Pod and Berry (Aeolus House 2017) a new collection of poems by another Life Member of The League of Canadian Poets and The Ontario Poetry Society Allan Briesmaster (See previous blog post here); Orthric Sonnets (Baseline Press 2017), a limited edition chapbook of poems by Andy Verboom, the organizer of London’s Couplets, a collaborative poetry reading series; and leave the door open for the moon (Jackson Creek Press 2015) a collection of poems by Peterborough artist, teacher and writer Nan Williamson.

Chapbooks Manitoba Northern Books to Read 2018 to post

An eclectic mix: poetry chapbooks by Ontario poets, books by Manitoba writers, and books written (and illustrated) by residents/visitors to the great white North.

In support of poetry books:

 Groundwork (Biblioasis 2011) is Amanda Jernigan’s debut poetry collection which was shortlisted for the League of Canadian Poets’ Pat Lowther Award; and The Cinnamon Peeler (McClelland & Stewart 1989) features selected poems written between 1963 and 1990 by internationally acclaimed, award-winning author Michael Ondaatje.

In support of novels:

Alone in the Classroom (McClelland & Stewart 2011) a novel by Scotiabank Giller Prize-Winning author Elizabeth Hay; and Sanctuary Line (McClelland & Stewart 2010) a novel by bestselling Canadian author Jane Urquhart.

Older Work to Read 2019 to post

Older novels and poetry books.

 In support of anthologies and literary journals:

Another London: poems from a city still searching for itself (Harmonia Press 2016); LUMMOX Number Six (Lummox Press 2017) (See a previous blog post here.); Paper Reunion: An Anthology of Phoenix: A Poet’s Workshop (1976-1986) (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2016); Philadephia Poets 2017 Volume 23; and Voices 20 Anniversary: The Journal of the Lake Winnipeg Writers’ Group (BK Publishing, 2016).

Anthologies to Read 2018 to post

Canadian and American anthologies and a literary journal from Philadelphia.

 In support of local writers in the Sarnia-Lambton area:

            Released in 2017:

Red Haws to Light the Field (Guernica Editions 2017) a poetry collection by the prolific and well-known Canadian poet James Deahl (See an earlier blog post here.); Book of Bob: Stories Remembered (Quinn Riley Press 2017), a memoir by Bob McCarthy (See an earlier blog post here); and Any Light With Do, a special edition poetry book by former Lambton College English and Literature instructor Pat Sheridan.

            Released prior to 2017:

 The Fabric of My Soul: Poems (Longbridge Books 2015) the first collection of poetry by the late Venera Fazio (See an earlier blog post here); Straight Lines (Penumbra Press 2003), a poetry collection by former Thunder Bay resident and new Sarnia resident Mary Frost; No Common Thread: The Selected Short Fiction of Norma West Linder (Hidden Brook Press 2013) by one of Sarnia’s finest writers (see an earlier blog post here); The Belles of Prosper Station (Friesen Press 2014) the first work of historical fantasy by Gloria Pearson-Vasey (See an earlier blog post here); 1300 Moons (Trafford Publishing 2011) a historical fiction novel by Aamjiwwnaang First Nation writer David D Plain (See an earlier blog post here); and Live From the Underground (Mansfield Press 2015) a novel by Corinne Wasilewski.

Local Books 2018 to post

New and not so new books written by Sarnia-Lambton writers.

 Manitoba based or influenced:

Dadolescence (Turnstone Press 2011) a witty novel by Winnipeg author and journalist Bob Armstrong; Arctic Comics (Renegade Arts Canmore Ltd. 2016) a collection of graphic tales of myth written and drawn by Inuit and Northern Canadian storytellers and artists with a special shout out to Manitoba artist Nicholas Burns; If There Were Roads: Poems (Turnstone Press 2017) a Winnipeg published collection by award-winning Whitehorse resident and poet Joanna Lilley (See an earlier blog post here.); and Magpie Days (Turnstone Press 2014) the debut poetry collection by Winnipeg writer Brenda Sciberras, winner of the Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for Best First Book.

From British Columbia:

What the Soul Doesn’t Want (Freehand Books 2017), the newest collection by the award-winning Swift Current born, Vancouver Island poet Lorna Crozier; After All the Scissor Work Is Done (Leaf Press 2016), a collection of poems by Nanoose Bay poet David Fraser, the founder and editor of Ascent Aspirations Magazine; The Spirit of the Thing and the Thing Itself (Ekstasis Editions 2015), the 12th book by D.C. Reid, past president of The League of Canadian Poets; and return to open water: Poems New & Selected (Ronsdale Press 2007) featuring the best work gleamed from 10 poetry collections by mentor and editor Harold Rhenisch who recently had his poem shortlisted for the 2017 CBC Poetry Prize.

Canadian West Coast Books to Read 2018 to post

From western Canada.

So that’s my 35-book reading challenge for my next ‘Staycation’ escape. If I missed mentioning your book, it may appear in a new list. Additional recommendations, book reviews, and reading lists appear on my Goodreads page.

What are you doing to cope with the cold?

Can you hear the celebratory music in the background? Sleigh bells ring…and I’m drifting….drifting asleep in the snow, reliving my youth, bundled in a snowmobile suit with a brightly knit scarf wrapped around my face. The horses’ hooves clip-clop along the snow-dusted trails as their powerful muscles pulls the sleigh through a wooded area. A child’s laughter appears like cloud puffs in the frosty air. I laugh too but I can’t help noticing how the leather blinders on the bridle keep the horses un-spooked and focused forward.

Tonight, as the melted snow ices in preparation for another snowfall, I shut my eyes and I become that grey mare clip-clopping down the trail. The jingle of silver bells lulls me to sleep as visions of #CanLit books swirl like snowflakes in my head.

*From the unpublished poem “Lost in Reality TV Snow” from the manuscript Ash Leaves. Used with permission from the author © Debbie Okun Hill 2018

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

23 Canadian Poets Selected for LUMMOX Number 6

“If creation (life) is like a river, then surely poetry is one of the many eddies that feeds the river and makes our journey possible.*” – RD Armstrong, Editor-in-Chief, LUMMOX Number Six

Canadian poet James Deahl has done it again! For four years, he has been encouraging Canadian poets to submit work to LUMMOX, an American poetry anthology published by LUMMOX Press in San Pedro, California. His goal was (and is) to promote Canadian writers to an American market and he has certainly done that.

Lummox 5 Sarnia Launch with James Deahl Photo 2 November 12, 2016

Canadian poet James Deahl is interested in promoting Canadian poets and their work to an American and international market.

“This year, there are 23 Canadian poets in LUMMOX Number Six,” said James Deahl in a recent announcement. “The most ever. And once again the city of Sarnia leads the way with seven contributors.”

Two of those Canadian poets have won awards for their submissions. Hamilton poet Ellen S. Jaffe won second prize for her poem “Another Kind of War Story” while Barrie poet Dr. Bruce Meyer won third place for “The Beautiful Neanderthals”.

Other Canadian contributors include: Rosemary Aubert, Ronnie R. Brown, Patrick Connors, James Deahl, Joseph Farina, Venera Fazio, Kate Marshall Flaherty, Jennifer L. Foster, Katherine L. Gordon, Debbie Okun Hill, Eryn Hiscock, Susan Ioannou, Donna Langevin, John B. Lee, Bernice Lever, Norma West Linder, Rhonda Melanson, Deborah A. Morrison, Lynn Tait, Grace Vermeer, and Jade Wallace.

Lummox6Cover-240x300

Launching in Canada: LUMMOX Number Six (LUMMOX Press, 2017)

Edited by American poet RD Armstrong, the 216-page book features the work of over 150 poets from the United States, Canada, the U.K., Australia, China, and Dubai. “There is [sic] also a lot of other interesting goodies as well,” wrote Armstrong is his foreword to the anthology. “We have a conversation between the Queen of Bohemia, Philomene Long and Allen Ginsberg…This little gem comes from the old LUMMOX Journal. There are a number of essays ranging from a “newbie” poet in Dubai writing about dealing with rejection to two portraits of influential poets – Canadian Al Purdy (James Deahl) and American Ed Dorn (John Macker) to Murray Thomas’s “Music and Memory”.”

The anthology also includes flash fiction, several reviews about Canadian poetry collections written by Canadians, photography by Sarnia’s Lynn Tait, and the essay “On Writing and Dreaming” by Bright’s Grove editor/author/poet Venera Fazio.

LUMMOX 6 Back Cover

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

To celebrate and promote this inclusion of Canadian poets in an American publication, Deahl has organized two FREE readings in Ontario, Canada: Wednesday, November 1, 2017 starting at 7 p.m. at the Staircase Café, 27 Dundurn Street North in Hamilton and Saturday, November 18, 2017 from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Turret Room of the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts, 127 Christina Street South in Sarnia. Both local and out-of-town LUMMOX contributors will share their work at the events. Admission is free and open to the public. (Special thanks to The Lawrence House Centre for the Arts for presenting/hosting the Sarnia launch.)

LUMMOX Six launch dates November 2017

Mark your calendar for these two Ontario launches featuring several Canadian contributors to LUMMOX Number Six.

A reading in Toronto is also being planned for April 2018.

Deahl mentioned that LUMMOX Press has expressed an interest in publishing an anthology of Canadian poetry. “This would be the first anthology of Canuck poetry to come out in the United States in over 30 years,” said Deahl. He expects an announcement with more details to be made soon.

Additional information about previous LUMMOX readings in Canada can be found here , here, and here.

Additional information about LUMMOX PRESS can be found here.

Follow this blog for future event highlights. A partial list, of upcoming literary events planned for various Ontario locations, can be found here.

*This epigraph is from the foreword “The View From Down Here” by RD Armstrong published in LUMMOX Number Six (LUMMOX Press, 2017).

 

Introducing My Chapbook – Drawing From Experience

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

It’s late, almost midnight.

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

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

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

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

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

I could try cartwheeling or breakdancing on the kitchen floor.

Hold that youth-inspired thought.

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

That’s not my style either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer closes her eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ottawa Sightseeing October 2014 photo 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you at some of the readings!

Night all…

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