Tag Archives: Books

Shokai’s Debut Memoir Opens A Window to the Spiritual Teachings of Buddha

“My wish for you is that you achieve the happiness that is yours to discover.” –Jindo Shokai*

His face glowed like solar energy as he spoke about the essence of love and how everything we do leads us to who we are and how we are all “mystically interconnected”.

The Search for Self book launch - reading by Jindo Shokai Photo 1 June 7, 2018

Jindo Shokai (also known as Richard Maxwell)

From a telecommunications employee to a funeral director to a certified Dharma Teacher, southwestern Ontario resident Richard Maxell (also known as Jindo Shokai to his on-line Buddhist community) revealed that his collected experiences (some of them magical) led him to this moment of publication.

At the young age of 81, he published his memoir The Search for Self: Confessions of a Dying Man and launched it last Thursday (June 7, 2018) at The Book Keeper in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.

The Search for Self book launch - booksi Photo 1 June 7, 2018

The Search for Self: Confessions of a Dying Man was officially launched on June 7 at The Book Keeper in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. A second edition has already been published and includes a glowing preface by Brenda Eshin Shoshanna, PhD.

The first time author attracted such a large audience that the indie bookstore staff had to set up more chairs.

The Search for Self book launch - intro by Susan Chamberlain June 7, 2018

“Richard has led an interesting life,” said The Book Keeper’s Susan Chamberlain in her opening remarks. “Tonight, we celebrate the author and his book.”

His inspirational, humorous, and informative reading kept everyone riveted to their seats. He also patiently answered a myriad of questions from “What is the purpose of shaving’s one head?” (To detach from the world and egotistical possessions) to “What brought you to the Lambton County area?” (You’ll have to read my next book).

The evening ended with supporters lined up from the cash register to the table where Shokai signed each purchased book.

“Jindo Shokai has written a wonderful book,” wrote author, speaker, and workshop leader Brenda Eshin Shoshanna PhD in her preface for the second edition of the memoir. “In this work we are taken on a journey through the course of his life, watching him grow in love and awareness.”

She highly recommended Shokai’s book to all.

I also enjoyed reading about Richard’s journey.

The Search for Self book launch - signing by Jindo Shokai with historical fiction wirter Bob McCarthy Photo 1 June 7, 2018

Sarnia’s renowned historical fiction author Bob McCarthy was one of several local writers who encouraged Richard Maxwell to write and share his story.

Below is my review, written from an advance reading copy received prior to the launch:

The Search for Self: Confessions of a Dying Man  By Jindo Shokai Three Monks Division of L & R Productions, 2018    ISBN-13:978-198420636-7

Jindo Shokai writes, “I am no philosopher but I have done a lot of thinking and decided I may have sufficient talent to write a book that would allow me to succeed in the challenge of making this a better world.”

Three cheers to Shokai (also known as Richard Maxwell) for writing and sharing his debut book, his memoir The Search for Self: Confessions of a Dying Man.

At a time when media headlines blast negative news of violence and natural disasters into our homes, Shokai’s writing invites the reader to slow down and watch for those ‘magical moments’ that transpire while sitting still.

The Search for Self - by Jindo Shokai

Deep and philosophical yet light and humorous at times, this memoir unfurls black and white and shades of grey snapshots of one man’s life journey towards becoming a Novice Priest and a certified Dharma Teacher. Shokai writes with the clarity of wisdom that can only be gleamed from his 80 plus years of experience. Although he touches on the subject of death (and shared personal struggles with loss), his memoir is more a celebration: a book about living each moment to the fullest.

At one point, he states, “Perhaps, poetry is the best way to get at the crux of death.” He seeks answers and shares his discovery with his readers.

For instance, his foreword quickly pulls the reader into the book with his question “What are you searching for?” and his final response: “I am pure energy; unconditional love.”

Written in a casual, conversational style, The Search for Self: Confessions of a Dying Man is divided into 18 chapters with each section exploring a different phase in the author’s life.

For example, in the section on his “happy” childhood in Montreal, he describes playing on the chesterfield, “I would imagine riding up in the carriage and getting out to the sound of the wind whistling through the dark sycamore trees and the dogs following behind the coach would catch up to us and lick my fingers.”

The Search for Self - by Jindo Shokai - Back Cover

Other sections focus on: his neighborhood where kids played hockey with “a lump of frozen horse manure”; his time spend in school and Sunday school classes; his march into cadets with trips to Nova Scotia and Georgian Bay and cruises along waterways in Quebec, Ontario, and Bermuda; his first job picking up sticks and mowing the lawn; his 35 year career in the telecommunication industry; his foray into the funeral business; his explorations backstage with the Little Theatre Group; and his stay in Japan where he became “enamoured by Soto Zen Buddhism and the practice of Zazen”.

Sometimes the writer digresses “I promise not to preach or expound any further than I already have” but his desire to teach remains strong. “My hope to somehow convey the message that we are all dying and we should all be doing something concrete to spiritually prepare both ourselves and our loved ones for the eventuality is [sic] now multiplied infinitely.”

Sometimes, the writer provides too many details like in his chapters describing his work in the telecommunication industry. The reader can get wire-wrapped and short-circuited in all the technical explanations.

The Search for Self book launch - reading by Jindo Shokai Photo 3 June 7, 2018

At the book launch, Jindo Shokai held the audience captive with his anecdotes.

However, overall, this is a quick but satisfying read especially for those who are curious yet hesitant about learning more about Zazen (seated awareness) and the teachings of Buddha. The subject matter of the book is well balanced. For those wanting additional details: Shokai posts information about websites and includes biographies that explores the “Lineage of Soto Zen Buddhism as originated by Eihei Dogen-zenji in the thirteenth century as well as an explanation of Soto Zen Practice in two appendixes at the back of the book.

As a reviewer, I must disclose that this review was based on an advanced reading copy of Shokai’s book and that I know the writer. He was a regular participant and audience member at a local open mic event I co-hosted in southwestern Ontario. At the time, Shokai had a Canadian name and his quiet and kind personality would often light up the room. He rarely spoke about himself so I was thrilled to hear he was writing a memoir. In my opinion, each individual is special and it takes great courage (and dedication) to openly share one’s life and have the words published in a book.

I look forward to reading a possible sequel to his memoir.

As Shokai states in the last chapter of the book, “There is no greater miracle than a person becoming all that he or she can be!!!”

In Appendix II, under the heading “What is Solo Zen Practice?”, Shokai once again stresses, “the ability to be at rest completely, to realize the preciousness and wholeness of life in this moment is a skill we have lost in this busy world.”

Through his teachings, he has succeeded in reminding me to be still!

The Search for Self book launch - signing by Jindo Shokai Photo 1 June 7, 2018

Nice to see so many supporters for a local author.

An in-depth story about Shokai and his book appears in the Thursday, June 7 issue of Sarnia and Lambton County This Week. Read multimedia journalist Carl Hnatyshyn’s article here.

*From the Afterword of The Search for Self: Confessions of a Dying Man (Three Monks Division of L & R Productions, 2018) by Jindo Shokai. Used with permission from the author.

Interested in more literary events? A partial list of future literary happenings in Ontario appears here.

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

Advertisements

Gardening Words – A Literary Spring Cleaning

“North wind yanks her long skirt./A hand-knit scarf covers/her tulip-shaped face.”  -Debbie Okun Hill*

Call it a brain freeze or an ice-cream headache: that sensation of eating or drinking an ice cold substance during a hot summer’s day! (Insert laughter here!) Last week, the temperatures soared above 30 degrees Celsius: much too hot for planting seeds!

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

This week, the wind off the lake numbs my fingers. Words pile up like snow, like unread books on a shelf, like autumn leaves clogging the eaves trough, like spring cleaning that never gets completed!

Quick, grab me a broom and a rake to smooth out this unruly tangle of rejection slips and word roots gnarled and snarled on my desk and in my yard.

I’m waiting for my garden-gloved fingers to unthaw.

In the meantime, browse through the good news gathered in my in-basket:

CHECK IT OUT!

Am I dreaming? Is that really an ash sapling (one of several) growing in my back yard? Shhhh,  please don’t tell the emerald ash borer!!! Yes I’m still looking for a publisher for my ash tree themed manuscript!

Ash perhaps - May 22, 2018 FB size

Thank you Andrews Gripp of Harmonia Press in London, Ontario for posting three of my poems “Tasseography”, “Rehabilitation” and “Bottled Water” in the third issue of his on-line zine Synaeresis.

Synaeresis Issue Three

Published on-line June 1, 2018 by Harmonia Press

Here’s the line-up of featured poets. More information about Harmonia Press here.

SAMSUNG

Also thank you to the Lake Winnipeg Writers’ Group for including my poems “No Sign of Spring”, “Nocturnal Creatures” and “Turning a Corner” in their latest anthology Voices, Volume 18, Number 1 launched earlier this spring at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The book arrived a few days ago and I can’t wait to read it. They are organizing a contest for fiction and poetry with an extended June 14 deadline. More information can be found here.

Voices 18-1 LWWG anthology published by BK Publishing - launched May 6, 2018 in Winnipeg, Manitoba Low Res Cover

Published by BK Publishing – launched May 6, 2018 in Winnipeg, Manitoba

Coming soon, a sample of my previously published poems translated into Greek! How cool is that? More details to come!

MARK YOU CALENDARS!

I love watching regional authors bloom.

The Search for Self - by Jindo Shokai

TONIGHT (June 7) at 7 p.m. at the Book Keeper in Sarnia, Ontario, Jindo Shokai (also known at Richard Maxwell) will be launching his debut book, a memoir called The Search for Self: Confessions of a Dying Man (Three Monks Division of L & R Productions, 2018). Local writers will remember Richard from the Spoken Word events held at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts. Expect an inspiring presentation as Shokai shares his spiritual journey towards Zen Buddhism. Follow this blog for a book review and photos from tonight’s launch.

On June 21, London’s Poet Laureate Tom Cull will lead a workshop on ekphrastic poetry (writing poems inspired by art), 6 to 8:30 p.m. TAP Centre for Creativity, 203 Dundas Street. There is a charge for this event. Advanced registration required. Scroll down to see more info about Cull’s debut book.

On June 22 at 11 a.m. at Maawn Doosh Gumig Community and Youth Centre, 1972 Virgil Avenue, Sarnia, Ontario, indigenous writer David D Plain will launch his latest historical non-fiction book A Brief History of the Saugeen Peninsula.  The event is hosted by Aamjiwnaang Heritage & Culture E Maawizidijig. A previous blog post about Plain appears here.

Aboriginal Day Events June 22, 2017

Micro-press Big Pond Rumours under the ownership of Sharon Berg and based in Sarnia continues to offer publishing opportunities for writers. See the poster below as well as the press’s updated website for current and future activities. Two new prize-winning chapbooks were launched earlier this spring and several readings are being planned for the summer.

Big Pond Rumours Upcoming Projects

And three cheers to local indie bookseller The Book Keeper who continues to invite special guest readers to Sarnia. On June 19, staff have organized an Intimate Evening with Karen Connelly, author of The Change Room. This ticketed event includes a copy of the book, dinner, a glass of wine, and a fantastic night.  Space is limited. More information is available from The Book Keeper.

NEW TO MY BOOKSHELF:

Bad Animals by Tom Cull

Bad Animals (Insomniac Press, 2018) by creative writing instructor and London, Ontario’s current poet laureate Tom Cull. According to the book’s back cover, “Cull’s debut collection is equal parts zoo, funhouse, and curio cabinet.”  The book was officially launched in London, last Friday (June 1), but another reading with Laurie D Graham is planned for June 11, 2018 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Open Sesame, 220 King Street West in Kitchener. He will also be reading with Jeffery Donaldson on June 20 at 7 p.m. at Epic Books, 226 Locke Street South in Hamilton. See this blog’s event section for more details.

Thin Moon Psalm (Brick Books, 2007) by Sheri Benning and Lost Gospels (Brick Books, 2010) by Lorri Neilsen Glenn. Thank you to Poetry London for gifting me these two books as partial payment for a recent regional reading I did in London.  I’ve added the books to my summer reading list.

BOOKS ON ORDER:

Our Plan to Save The WorldOur Plan to Save the World , an anthology of short stories by Nancy Kay Clark, Lambton County writer Phyllis Humby, Michael Joll, Steve Nelson, and Frank T. Sikora. Phyllis will be sharing work from this book at a Big Pond Rumours event scheduled for late summer in Sarnia. Follow this blog for more details as well as a review.

The Spoken World: Poems (Hagios Press, 2011 – now available through Radiant Press) by Harold Rhenisch. I’ve been admiring the work of this prolific Canadian poet, short story writer, novelist, blogger, translator, and editor, from a distance. Here’s a link to his author’s website and a link to his many blogs.

The Spoken World by Harold Rhenisch

At the moment, I feel ill-equipped to engage in a meaningful conversation with this talented individual (who recently helped me with some of my work) but my goal is to post a future interview with him. (Wish me luck.) I am particularly interested in this book as it explores Rhenisch’s “relationship with his long time mentor and friend Robin Skelton”. I want to read it first.

People Places Passages: An Anthology of Canadian Writing (Longbridge Books, 2018) edited by Giulia De Gasperi, Delia De Santis and Caroline Morgan Di Giovanni. Bright’s Grove editors Delia De Santis (and the late Venera Fazio) are renowned for their work in promoting Italian-Canadian writers.

People Places PassagesAccording to the publisher’s blurb: “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), whose thirtieth anniversary coincides with the publication of this volume.” An interview with De Santis re: her involvement in the project will be posted later this summer.

So much to ponder! Can you feel the June sun nudging the ‘word’ buds to grow?

“Time slips forward….You turn around, refreshed/pink colour returns to your cheeks”**

*From the poem “No Sign of Spring” from the anthology Voices: Volume 18, Number 1 (BK Publishing, 2018) Page 78 Used with permission from the author © Debbie Okun Hill 2018 
**From the poem “Rehabilitation” from the zine Synaeresis III (Harmonia Press, 2018) Page 58-59 Used with permission from the author © Debbie Okun Hill 2018

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

 

 

 

 

The Spring into Poetry Party – May 5, 2018 in Cobourg

“My life is like the lotus/swelling in copper light of morning/undisturbed by torrents of falling water”* – Joan Sutcliffe

 I could listen to the voice of Canadian poet Joan Sutcliffe all day! Originally from Yorkshire, Sutcliffe captivates the audience and her accent adds another dimension to her casual reading style. On Sunday, she launched her poetry book From Time to Time during The Ontario Poetry Society’s The Spring into Poetry Party at Meet at 66 King East in Cobourg, Ontario.

One of the beauties of spring and the ease of safely travelling to out-of-town launches and poetry readings is that one often collects precious memories to take home to treasure. Sutcliffe’s reading was one of those memories. The other was the featured reading by Life Member Allan Briesmaster who has been spotlighted on this blog before. I also enjoyed meeting for the first time Greer Roberts, a Durham region resident who launched his self-published chapbook The Slaughters.

 

TOPS The Spring into Poetry Party - Featured Readers and Books Launched

Featured guest reader and TOPS life member Allan Briesmaster read from his recent books while Joan Sutcliffe launched her second book and Greer Roberts introduced his self-published chapbook during The Spring into Poetry Party in Cobourg.

Of course, it was nice to be in a room filled with other writers: from first time readers to veteran performers. All of the members, the open mic readers, and the appreciative audience made the afternoon special.

fullsizeoutput_c81

The Ontario Poetry Society held a members’ reading and open mic on May 5, 2018 at Meet at 66 King East in Cobourg, Ontario.

Below is a report by Joan Sutcliffe that will appear in the next issue of Verse Afire, TOPS membership newsletter. It is printed here with permission from the author and The Ontario Poetry Society:

Reported by Joan Sutcliffe:

With first blossoms of May, members and friends of The Ontario Poetry Society enjoyed the bohemian charm of our favourite tea house in Cobourg, with its exquisite décor and china tea cups.

T.O.P.S. ever-active creator and organizer, Bunny Iskov, opened the afternoon with a warm welcome drawing attention to the attractive packages of book prizes, donated by our sponsors and  raffled off throughout the event.

First to read was Glenna Hall with an intriguing piece called Looking Glass which conjured up ethereal personifications of starlight and the dream weaver posing mystical questions. Then John Ambury paid tribute to the intuitive insight of women as the shamanic holders of the fabric of civilization in an interesting poem on the roles of men and women in traditional societies. President Fran Figge, using the metaphor of the juicy apple and the slithering serpentine male seduced by white innocence of the female, gave us a poem rich in sensual imagery, and followed with an ekphrastic poem on a painting titled Panspermia. Acknowledging his technical skill in setting up T.O.P.S. publications & webmaster skills, Bunny introduced Mark Clement, whose first reading brought to life old experiences at the high school dance, with following pieces depicting the throaty croak of the crow and fallen leaves.

TOPS The Spring into Poetry Party - members featured May 5, 2018 in Cobourg

Members’ reading with Glenna Hall, John Ambury, Fran Figge, Mark Clement, Debbie Okun Hill, I. B. (Bunny) Iskov, and Joanna Gale.

Next came a book launch by Joan Sutcliffe, presenting her new book From Time to Time (In Our Words, 2017), in which she followed the cycle from Beltane to Gemini, then touched on long-lost memories, finishing with a poem on Impermanence which suggests it is the briefness of all passing things that makes life so precious.

TOPS in Cobourg with Allan Briesmaster - May 5, 2018

Featured reader and TOPS Life member Allan Briesmaster launched his chapbook Pod and Berry (Aeolus House, 2017).

During the break, poets and audience mingled and got to know each other. To start the second half of the readings, feature poet, Allan Briesmaster began with a poem from the latest Verse Afire which had previously enjoyed its initial reading at Cobourg. This was followed by the launch of his new book Pod and Berry which is the product of a writers’ retreat in Bermuda and contains art by his wife, Holly. One of the poems came into being through a workshop on dreams, and after amusing us with dreaming experiences he gave us an Office Dream. Then came a descriptive piece suggestive of a parkland’s healing quality, where images of goldfinches and red cardinals emerged life-like from the lines. A moving poem on trees plummeted the depths of ideas from the book The Hidden Life of Trees. His final offering portrayed the poignant sweetness of the last day in Bermuda.

Debbie Okun Hill then presented her two prize winning chapbooks, where in one poem from Drawing from Experience she describes the touching joy of drawing with her father-in-law in the nursing home. From her other chapbook, in her poem Pencil Crayons: Sharpened a companion theme with her father-in-law demonstrates the power of crayons as a medium of expression. Then, from an unpublished manuscript, her poem Turning a Corner was inspired by the loss of four ash trees in her garden which captures in similar vein the loss of some of the Sarnia writers.

Greer Roberts read from his new chapbook, and began with the light shining in the forest and blue moon bliss, before masterfully depicting the buildup of terror approaching a school massacre.

TOPS The Spring into Poetry Party - Open Mic Readers

Open mic readers Donna Wooton, Liz Hammond, and Walley Keller.

Bunny Iskov, first read her poem, Air Show, in which a host of starlings dazzled everyone with acrobatic flights of fancy over the corner of Finch and Yonge. In a stark contrast to this, she informed us poetically as a near witness, of Toronto’s recent van attack at Mel Lastman Square, and then changed to a lighter mode with a rhyming poem on Ontario in the Spring. Last T.O.P.S. member to read was Joanna Gale, first winding her way through a disappointment by a walk near the water’s edge and the exhilaration of sun-blown kisses through clouds. Her final poem, a lyrical evocation of spring, introduced a delightful vocabulary of willow-bough-willow complex words.

The afternoon culminated in readings at the open mike by three talented poets from the Cobourg area. Lots of poems and lots of prizes were acquired by all.

Thank you Joan for sharing your observations!

The Ontario Poetry Society’s next members’ reading and open mic will be held this August in London, Ontario. For more information about this and other literary events taking place in Ontario, check out the 2018 Event Section of this blog.

*Quote is from the poem “Impermanence” printed in the book From Time to Time (In Our Words Inc, 2017). Page 39. Copyright © 2017 Joan Sutcliffe. Used with permission.

Follow this blog for future event highlights as well as poet and author profiles.

#pocketpoem with Canadian Poet Bernice Lever

Have you checked your pockets lately? Today (April 26) is Poem In Your Pocket Day and The League of Canadian Poets is encouraging bards (and the general public) to “carry a poem, share a poem, or even start your own Poem In Your Pocket event.”

Anything can happen during National Poetry Month!

Poem in Your Pocket 2018 - Not Just My Bunions by Bernice Lever

What a surprise! A postcard with the poem “Not Just My Bunions” by Bernice Lever arrived in my mailbox this week.

A few days ago, to my surprise, an unusual postcard appeared in my mailbox. On the front of the card was a poem: “Not Just My Bunions” by Bernice Lever. I laughed! Move over Rupi Kaur, the Indian-Canadian poet who recently became a household name penning poems about menstrual cycles and other intimate bodily concerns. Kaur’s books Milk and Honey (which I did read) and The Sun and Her Flowers (which I may not read) have attracted large followings by the general public.

Forward-thinking and daring poet Bernice Lever also likes to push the boundaries of what is acceptable: her postcard poem about bunions and crooked noses originally appeared in her book Yet Woman I Am (Highway BookShop Press, 1979) and just a few years ago, in her 10th book Small Acts (Black Moss Press, 2016) she penned in her poem “Faceless – Too Many Proposals”: “I am only 80, but I shock listeners & readers,/by my descriptions of delicious orgasms at 90!”

Both women write edgy (and accessible) work. Not everyone will like this type of poetry just like not everyone likes rhyming poetry or the obscure verse analyzed in high school literature classes. However, that is the beauty of poetry. I have a philosophy, “if you don’t like poetry, you haven’t read the right poem yet. Poetry is as varied as music, as art, as dance.”

RedShirtFace.pages

Canadian poet Bernice Lever feels honoured and delighted that her poem was one of 20 Canadian works featured in this year’s Poem in Your Pocket Day literature. Photo by Juergen Bruhns

Lever’s work can also be humorous and inspirational. Her contributions to the literary scene are far reaching and according to her author bio: “she has won four Lifetime Achievement awards including the Canadian Author Association (CAA) Sangster Award, 2005.

Back to the postcard: what a great way to share and introduce poems with the public! On the other side of Lever’s postcard poem is a note: “This postcard showcases one of 20 poems selected by The League of Canadian Poets to celebrate the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month in Canada: hand it out, drop it off, or send it to a friend.”

So here’s my plan. I’ve decided to share the postcard on my blog with the hope that others will take the poem (and/or this blog) and share it today as part of the #pocketpoem celebration! It’s just a small act of kindness which leads me back to Bernice Lever again!

To fully appreciate Lever, visit her Colour of Words website . A year ago, I wrote a review for her 10th poetry collection Small Acts. It is reprinted below with permission from The Ontario Poetry Society and the editor of Verse Afire where the review first appeared in the May to August 2017 issue.

Book Review

Small Acts by Bernice Lever; Black Moss Press, 2017, 68 pages; I.S.B.N. 978-0-88753-571-0    

“Oh, Mother Ocean, we’re sorry,” laments Canadian poet Bernice Lever in the opening environmental-themed poem of her 10th and most recent book. Not only does this award-winning and prolific author dive deep into her poetic “wave of words” but she skillfully breaststrokes through an additional 40 poems seamlessly harboured in such sections as ‘Water Wisdom’, ‘Love and Gambles’, ‘Poets and Fakes’. In her closing poem, she quips “Great Grannies are the latest in-demand category”. Heartfelt experiences matter.

Small Acts by Bernice Lever

Small Acts is Bernice Lever’s 10th book. It was published by Black Moss Press in 2016.

Titled Small Acts, Lever’s 68-page poetry collection compliments the Random Acts of Kindness movement, like a lifesaving buoy, where strangers go out of their way to help other strangers. Using accessible yet precise words to describe complex concepts such as concern for the environment, peace, love, and even the ramifications of social media, Lever often asks questions, shares humorous tongue-in-cheek rants and provides serious lessons based on her observations. For example, “may our words on water not sink”, “Be a peace gardener”, “Be an anger soother”. In the poem “Say ‘Thank You’, she concludes: “Gifts – all these are given to preserve/our many blessings of being alive.”

Her best poetic lines twist and swirl the imagination: “The glow from mom’s eyes/some where between warm caramel/and creamy cocoa” and “We pray for lashes of rain/deep puddles everywhere,/day long torrents of Heaven’s tears.”. In addressing Facebook, she rants, “You are a fake book, all blank pages for us/to donate our fake lives.”

Written by an experienced and life member of The Ontario Poetry Society and many other literary organizations, Small Acts nudges the reader to “float free”, to create word-waves, to turn this world into a better place.

I’m looking forward to chatting with Bernice during a less busy time.  A Q & A will be posted soon. Follow this blog for an update.

Get more poems in your pockets!

Additional information about Poem In Your Pocket Day, more postcards as well as the full selection of postcard poems can be found on The League of Canadian Poets website.

Check the resources available to teachers.

And finally, as the League reminds us: “if you’re participating online, be sure to tag @CanadianPoets and use the hashtags #NPM18 and #pocketpoem!”

National Poetry Month Events:

Here are additional reminders of other National Poetry Month events taking place in the London and Sarnia area:

April 2018 - NPM2018_Poster-665x1024

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

Tonight (April 26) from 6 to 7 p.m., the COUPLETS: a collaborative poetry reading series will present Andy Verboom and Angie Quick for this month’s feature at The Arts Project on 203 Dundas Street in London, Ontario. Please note the last-minute change in the featured readers. More info about Couplets can be found here.

This Saturday, April 28, Sarnia-Lambton’s #NPM18 event will feature out-of-town readers Marty Gervais, Kateri Lanthier, and Laurie Smith and local poets Ryan Gibbs, Lois Nantais and Grace Vermeer at the Famous Room in John’s Restaurant, 1643 London Line in Sarnia. A pre-reading dinner that allows audience members to mingle with the guest readers will begin at 5 p.m. with the free reading to start at 6:30 p.m. (Please note: the earlier start-time for the dinner.) This National Poetry Month reading is made possible with financial assistance from The League of Canadian Poets.

FOLLOW THIS BLOG FOR FUTURE REVIEWS AND CANADIAN POET PROFILES!

Happy National Poetry Month Everyone!

 

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.

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