Tag Archives: Books

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.
Advertisements

Sarnia-Lambton’s Sesquicentennial Celebration – A Literary Reflection

Some people stuff history into a closet. I can attest to that.

Any time I opened a history book in high school, all those dates/figures/names would cobweb my eyes and lull me to sleep at my desk. I’m surprised I even passed the course.

Sesquicentennial Reading Featured books photo 1 - August 22, 2017

History is all around us: a sample of featured books on display during Sarnia-Lambton’s Sesquicentennial Celebration held August 22, 2017.

When all the neighbors pulled out their Canadian flags and other memorabilia to celebrate the country’s 150th anniversary of its Confederation, I felt the urge to de-clutter my office and clear my mind of all the festive noise and streamers. Seriously, how does one erase the controversial rental cost ($120,000) and image of the world’s largest (six-storey, 30,000-ton) rubber duck that made its official Canadian debut at the Toronto harbour during the Canada Day weekend?

That’s when it hit me, as I tugged on a box of unsorted literary magazines, moved a pile of photo albums onto a shelf, and opened a small blue/white/gold cardboard box labelled “The Spirit of ’70: 1870 Manitoba Centennial 1970” .

Decluttering - 47-year-old box

De-cluttering can unearth some historic or memorable treasures.

 

History is someone’s memories. It doesn’t have to be about politics and war. It can be closer to home, even tucked in a drawer inside your own desk.

Why else was I saving this 47-year-old Souvenir Cake Box? I certainly don’t remember the taste or style of the miniature cake or the Centennial event in which I received it. Yet, for all these years, it housed approximately 30 little pencils from my childhood.

Sesquicentennial Reading - Group Photo - August 22, 2017

Featured readers at Sarnia-Lambton’s Sesquicentennial Celebration: (from left to right): Bob McCarthy, John B. Lee, Lynn Tait, Patrick Connors, Norma West Linder, and James Deahl.

Memories matter!

Last Tuesday, several writers gathered for Sarnia-Lambton’s Sesquicentennial Celebration! The audience appeared smaller than normal but similar to the dwindling attendance at other literary events I’ve attended this summer. The emcee (Sarnia poet James Deahl) wondered whether the event would have attracted more people if it had been advertised as a literary versus an historic event. I wondered if people were just overwhelmed by busy summer schedules and are just taking a much needed break.

For those who missed this local August 22nd celebration below are some snapshots spotlighting the six featured readers!

Each of the presentations was thought-provoking and inspiring.

Historian Bob McCarthy shared a moving (and humourous) story about the time his parents forgot to tell him that his family had moved to a different home. The story is part of his memoir collection The Book of Bob to be released November 2017.

Poet/photographer Lynn Tait read six poems including a new creation titled “The Bird Watcher’s Daughter” with the memorable line my heart flies with the cardinal and the powerful poem “Strip” with its hard-hitting line the punishment never fits the crime.

Out-of-town poet Patrick Connors read 8 poems including the poem “Madness” which won third prize in Big Pond Rumours’s Winter 2015 contest: Einstein defined insanity/as doing the same thing//over and over again, while/expecting different results.

Deahl shared work from his new book Red Haws to Light the Field (Guernica Editions, 2017) including the poem “Adoration & Prayer” with its lines Let my tongue be the stonemason’s hammer/let red haws light the field.

Prolific Sarnia writer Norma West Linder shared five poems from her book Adder’s-tongues (Aeolus House, 2012). In her humourous poem “Chokecherries” she reflected on her memories of Manitoulin Island and how her mother sprayed: crimson juice/across the spotless bosom/of her astonished hostess.

The evening concluded with six poems by the prolific out-of-town poet John B. Lee. From his book In the Muddy Shoes of Morning (Hidden Brook Press, 2010), from the poem “Vantage” he provided more sustenance for future thought: I grip at ghosts/and rise like mist in heat/where memory sets heaven/in a bowl of bone….

Sesquicentennial Reading Featured books photo 2 - August 22, 2017

John B. Lee often writes about the history and memory of farming in his poetry books. Most poets will include some form of history or current events in their work.

 

Thanks for the memories….for sharing what matters to you….for teaching me that history plays a vital role in everyone’s life.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE FEATURED READERS:

Patrick Connors: author of Scarborough Songs and Part-Time Contemplative (See Q & A here.) 

James Deahl: launched his 25th poetry title Red Haws to Light the Field (See Q & A here.)

John B. Lee: author of over 60 books and twice winner of both the Milton Acorn Memorial People’s Poetry Award and the CBC’s Canadian Literary Award 

Norma West Linder: author of 25 literary titles and contributor to From This Day Forward (Sarnia-Lambton’s sesquicentennial anthology) (See more info here and here.)

Bob McCarthy: Lambton historian and author of a Lambton Shield’s series of 150 videos celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday year. (See more info here.)

Lynn Tait: award-winning photographer and author of Breaking Away

Interested in attending a future literary event in the Ontario? Check my partial list of upcoming public events, updated weekly or as time permits.

Follow this blog for future Canadian author profiles.

Standing Ovation for Diana Koch’s “Prime Time Stories”

He couldn’t remember growing old. It hit him like a freak thunderstorm on a sunny afternoon– Diana Koch*

 Local author Diana Koch’s work appears flawless. The only wrinkles in Prime Time Stories, her debut short story collection, are found on the faces and hands of her characters. Almost all of her protagonists are older, coping with various challenges in the later stages of their lives. The suspense (what they ‘do or don’t do’) propels the reader to turn the page in rapid succession.

Prime Time Stories Cover

“Prime Time Stories” (Greenstone Press, 2016) by Diana Koch is “a collection of 24 stories about men and women whose lives have been influenced by secrets, betrayals, regrets, illness, and even death”.  Cover image by the author.

Meet Mary, the woman who was now as withered as a forgotten summer apple that had rolled unnoticed under a storage bin. Sneak into Ivan Leeson’s barn as this widower/farmer touches the sinewy roughness of a rope as he contemplates suicide.

Will Mrs. M., a retirement home resident, lonely and confined to a wheelchair, be scammed by one of her visitors? What will become of Taylor Montgomery, a rich woman who steals trivial items to cope with her husband’s affairs? As Koch writes, Youth, in a slow trickle, is seeping out of her.

This focus on ageing (in its various forms) is like the yolk and egg whites that hold the nourishing bread of her book together. Consider it a loaf of 24 stories sliced and packaged with crusted secrets, yeast-bubbled humour, heart-warming sugar, flour-coated hauntings, unexpected crumbs, and cinnamon-twisted endings.

Like a baker or pastry chef, Koch slips in special ingredients to enhance the flavour of her work. Most notable is her use of the five senses such as scent: the captivating fragrance of “Promise Me” wafting around her like an exotic butterfly, the sweet smell of wood shavings and sound: the slamming of screen doors…his heavy steps on the stairs…water running in the bathroom…the ring of a telephone… the clanging of cutlery….

With a dinner-knife-sharpened imagination, she spreads her thoughts out like butter. The rhythm and flow of her words are silky-smooth and her sunny-yellow disposition slips between the sandwiched narrative and dialogue of her short stories.

Diana Koch Author Photo by Klaus Koch

Local author Diana Koch says writing fiction became a serious past-time after she retired. Photo by Klaus Koch.

There’s a caring motherly-maturity in her literary voice and yet, her intelligence fueled by her long career in the educational field adds a layer of depth to her writing. Don’t let her mild demeanor fool you. Some of her fictional material is more sinister than her settings let on.

Her characters are easily recognizable with just enough quirkiness to make them interesting. One of my favourite descriptions is from the story “Albino” where she writes, He stomped through the mire of daily living with bricks in his shoes, and a neon sign on his head that challenged people to gawk at him as if he were an invasive species.

Another strong description appears in “Assassin of Dream” where it was her unusual eyes that made people turn and stare at her. One was the brilliant blue of a summer sky, the other as brown as a chestnut.

Koch insists her stories are just average tales not worthy of notoriety. Those who are familiar with her work would disagree. Her fictional narratives are too strong to sit in a drawer.

The first time she shared her work aloud at a local writers’ workshop, I was mesmerized. The first time she submitted a story to a contest, it won first prize in the Ten Stories High Annual Short Story Competition organized by the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association.

When she officially released Prime Time Stories last November 27, 2016 at The Book Keeper in Sarnia, her family and friends applauded loudly.

Diana Koch Author Prime Time Stories Book Launch at The Book Keeper November 27, 2016 Photo by Klaus Koch

“Prime Time Stories” by Diana Koch was officially launched last November at The Book Keeper in Sarnia. Photo by Klaus Koch.

This summer, I asked Diana to share her thoughts about her writing process. Below are her responses:

Congratulations Diana on your debut collection of short stories! In a sentence or two, describe the theme or thread that binds your stories together. What inspired you to focus on characters in the ‘prime time’ of their lives?

 Prime Time Stories introduces the reader to people who are faced with an emotional crisis that must be dealt with in order for them to move on with their lives. The characters in these stories are from diverse walks of life, but all have dilemmas that cause them distress. Prime Time provides the reader an intimate view of people who have already travelled through the spring and summer of their lives and must somehow find their way toward a satisfying future. (Spoiler alert – some are successful, others not.)

People are fascinating at all stages of life, but they become more interesting as they grow older. Over the years, we have many experiences and interactions with our fellow humans, some positive, others that bring discontent or even heart-break. We make choices that determine our destiny. On some occasions, Fate plays a role. Lives become more complex when there are secrets, betrayals, regrets. (Provocative recipe ingredients for stories!) In the end, we all search for happiness, or at the very least, a degree of contentment or peace of mind.

Which of your stories in this book is your most favourite and why is it important to you?

Although all the people in Prime Time are fictitious, I have come to know them well. Ivan Leeson in the story “When the Dog Barksis a favourite. I grew up on a farm and understand the pride and attachment that farm people have to their land. As people age, they are often forced to give up a way of life that sustained them economically and emotionally. Ivan Leeson finds himself in this unfortunate situation. Although he had hoped for a different ending to his life, ultimately, he faces his future with the courage of his pioneer ancestors. Ivan Leeson reminds me of my Dad.

Your story “Rats is the Cellar” won first place in the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Author Association’s Ten Stories High Annual Short Story Competition. I recall it was the first story you ever submitted to a contest and it won the top prize. How did it feel to receive this honour? Is it important for writers to enter their work into contests or to submit their work to literary journals or consumer magazines? Why or why not?

To say I was surprised to learn that “Rats in the Cellar” had been selected as top prize is an understatement. If you recall, I submitted the story at your suggestion. I had no ambition at that point to have any of my writing published. It was thrilling to see my work in print in the anthology Ten Stories High. The experience encouraged me to keep writing and helped me overcome the shyness of sharing my work with others. I believe that my writing has improved and matured because I gained confidence to have my work critiqued and considered for publication.

Many of your stories have a twist at the end. Where do you find the ideas for your stories?

People intrigue me. I like to watch them and have conversations.

Sometimes, a few words strike me as significant. That was the case when a friend, who volunteers at a retirement home told me about a resident who “sits and waits for visitors who never show up.” It inspired the story “Waiting for Rhonda”.

A few years ago while in Toronto, I observed an attractive, exquisitely dressed and groomed woman in a coffee shop. She was sitting alone, clutching her handbag and staring into space. Her sombre expression suggested that all was not well in her life. She became the protagonist in “Taylor Montgomery Plays Chicken”.

Newspaper articles can also be an inspiration for stories. I once read about a man who had spent considerable time and money building his own coffin. Why would someone do that? My musing resulted in “Magnum Opus”. 

Other times, I imagine what it would be like to lead a totally different life from my own. How would I feel? What would I do? How resilient would I be? “The Sewing Circle” is such a story.

The twist at the end of my stories? Isn’t life like that? We think we have a plan, a certain path we wish to follow, a goal in sight – then something unexpected happens and everything changes.

Diana Koch Author Walking the Beach Photo by Klaus Koch

Walking down the beach is one of Diana Koch’s go-to places to get her creative juices flowing. Photo by Klaus Koch.

You had a long and successful career in the educational field. When did you decide that you wanted to write on a more regular basis?

I have always enjoyed putting thoughts on paper. I took pleasure in letter writing when that was in vogue. From the time I was a child, I fabricated stories – not always with the blessing of my Mom! Writing fiction became a serious past-time after I retired. I find the process of creative thinking satisfying and relaxing.

Describe your writing process.

Almost always, the process begins with a main character. It’s important that the character has a name. From that point, physical attributes and personality develop. It often takes weeks, months, sometimes years before I truly know that character. Only then can I build a story. It happens in my head before I can write it.

I am a methodical writer. I need time to let a story develop and grow. However, once it is written, I seldom change either the character or the plot. I do many revisions to mechanics such as sentence structure and vocabulary, but the story remains the same because it is character driven.

What are you currently working on?

I’m still writing short stories. I like the variety and the neatness of completing a project in just a few pages and then moving on to something new. My writing style tends to be succinct and lends itself to the short story format.

I have one completed novel. It is a coming of age story that takes place in Germany during WWII. For years, the characters and story rattled around in my head until I finally succumbed to the irritating mental prod to write it.

Currently, I am also working on a second novel about a modern-day woman who is the reincarnation of a historical figure from the 19th century – basically a story within a story. At the moment, it’s causing me some grief. One of the characters is not cooperating. I will have to give her some one on one attention.

Diana Koch Author with her favourite book Photo by Klaus Koch

“Wuthering Heights” has been on Koch’s book shelf for over half a century. She purchased it for $1.05 while she was a student at the University of Western Ontario. She says, “it’s timeless. A book for all seasons.” Photo by Klaus Koch.

What are your future plans? 

I’m happy to continue writing at my own pace, with abundant time to think things through. Aside from completing the novel, I hope to revisit a collection of short stories called Loss of Innocence that I wrote several years ago.

Your work is so strong and yet you decided to self-publish your collection versus submit your work to a trade publisher. Would you follow this path for your next book? Why or what not?

My decision to self-publish Prime Time was an easy one for a number of reasons.

After doing some research, I discovered that books of short stories are not popular with publishers. I also wanted to experience the publishing process myself. I enjoyed the creative aspects of designing the actual book – format, font, and cover.  My writer friend Bob McCarthy was a great mentor in the process.

By self-publishing, I was able to get a sense of how readers respond to my writing. It has been a positive experience beyond my expectations.

Seeking a suitable agent and publisher is a time consuming task. So much more than writing is expected of authors. I’m still not certain that I have the talent or the resilience to deal with agents and publishers.

It gives me pleasure to write. My reward comes from readers who enjoy reading my work. With that in mind, I will have to make a decision regarding my completed novel, The Button Girl.

Thanks Diana. Over the years, you’ve shared several draft chapters of your books with various local and out-of-town writers’ groups. I can’t wait to see more of your work in print. I wish you continued success with your writing. Please keep in touch.

Diana Koch was born in the Netherlands. She arrived in Canada as a young child with her parents and younger sister. Raised on a farm, she developed a love for the outdoors and spent many hours reading in the apple orchard or daydreaming in the meadow. Her collection of stories Loss of Innocence (as yet unpublished) relates the experiences of an immigrant child growing up in rural Ontario.    

After graduating from the University of Western Ontario, she taught French and German at the secondary level, and a variety of subjects in elementary schools. She obtained a Masters degree in education and enjoyed the years in her leadership role as Principal.

Since retirement, she has spent many enjoyable hours reading and writing. Some of her work has been published in chapbooks and anthologies. Prime Time is her first published book.

A review of Koch’s debut book appears on Sharon Berg’s blog and on the Lambton Shield website.

Additional information about Prime Time can be found on The Book Keeper website.

*from the short story “When the Dog Barks” published in the book Prime Time Stories (Greenstone Press, 2016) page 50. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright © Diana Koch, 2016 
PLEASE NOTE: Several other quotes from Prime Time have been reprinted with the author’s permission. They appear in italics within the body of the blog post.

Watch this blog for additional Canadian Author and Poet Profiles.                        

Three Ontario Publishers Offer Advice Spiked with Harsh Reality

“Publishers want champions…books that they love.” –Dan Wells, Biblioasis

Forget the magic wand and lucky charms! There’s no secret shortcut for a wannabe author or poet seeking a book deal from a traditional publisher. If you want your manuscript published in Canada, you’ll need to work hard and have patience, lots of patience. That’s the consensus from three Ontario publishers during a “Getting Published in Canada” panel discussion held last week (July 20, 2017) at Biblioasis, an award-winning independent publishing house and bookstore in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

Summer Reading Bookshelf July 28, 2017

We all have our favourite books! Check your home library to see who had published the earlier work of your favourite writers. If you write in a similar style, that independent publisher is worth investigating.

Panel members Dan Wells (Biblioasis publisher), Aimee Dunn (publisher, Windsor’s Palimpsest Press), and Paul Vermeersch of Buckrider Books (an imprint of Hamilton publisher Wolsak and Wynn) held the ‘standing room only’ crowd captive. Each shared his or her view about the publishing industry and answered questions from individuals in the audience.

Moderator Jael Richardson, a published author and the Artistic Director for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD), ensured the evening moved along at a steady pace.

For those who missed this hour and a half ‘free to the public’ presentation, below are some of the highlights:

CONCENTRATE ON CREATING A STRONG MANUSCRIPT

“Don’t think about publishing until the writing is ready,” emphasized Vermeersch. “Be a writer first. Picture yourself with all your love & passion for words plus focus on what you feel is important…never submit a book that is still rough around the edges.”

Biblioasis - Patricia Young - July 28, 2017

Award-winning poet Patricia Young had fiction and poetry published by Biblioasis.

One of the ways to polish a book and to ensure the manuscript is ready for submission is to find people who will give honest feedback that is both useful and constructive. A writer can also take classes, join a writing circle or find a mentor. This should be done before the work is submitted.

RESEARCH ALL THE PUBLISHERS

Dunn stated that once the writing is complete, the real work begins. For example, before submitting any work, writers should do their homework. Research is important. “Check the websites of the publishers to determine what they publish, what their submission guidelines are, and when their deadlines are.”

For example, Palimpsest Press and Wolsak and Wynn only accept queries between January 1 and March 31. Dunn is surprised by how many authors ignore that rule. It’s an automatic rejection.

“Know who you are submitting to,” added Wells. “All the presses are different…so get to know the press.” Even editors amongst the same press have different opinions and interests.

“Read some of the publisher’s books,” said Dunn. If you feel your book is the right fit, then prepare your submission. For Palimpsest Press, she said it’s important to query first. “If we don’t like your work, we will e-mail right away, sometimes within a day or two. If we ask to see a manuscript, our response could take months.”

Palimpsest Press July 28 2017

According to its website, Palimpsest Press “publishes poetry, fiction, and select nonfiction titles that deal with poetics, the writing life, aesthetics, cultural criticism, and literary biography”.

Most presses will respond in six months (sometimes longer) but it’s best to check the publisher’s guidelines. If you don’t hear from the press in a reasonable amount of time, check to make sure the query or manuscript was received.

“Sometimes submissions get lost,” said a member from the audience. “It happened to me and shortly after the manuscript was found, I received an acceptance.”

As for multiple-submissions, Vermeersch said “most publishers don’t mind…but make sure you withdraw your manuscript if it is accepted by someone else.”

BE PATIENT AND LEARN HOW TO DEAL WITH REJECTION

“If you get a rejection don’t take it personal,” advised Dunn. “It may be the wrong press or the wrong editor.”

According to Wells, Biblioasis wants books that they love. They often receive 400, 500, 600 submissions a year. However, the editors at Biblioasis also read literary magazines and keep their eyes on the literary scene to solicit work not only from established authors but those who are deemed up-and-comers. The majority of their 25 to 35 titles per year total are selected this way. Your chance for acceptance by a trade publisher improves if you have a strong publishing record with numerous credits in prestigious journals. Winning a major literary award is an added bonus.

The harsh reality is that the number of manuscripts accepted is a small fraction of all the submissions received.

Vermeersch revealed that Wolsak and Wynn may receive 300 to 400 submissions a year. “I can only accept a few.” He usually selects 8 books (2 poetry manuscripts and 2 fiction manuscripts per season) for his imprint and another 8 to 10 books are selected by the main press for an annual total of approximately 18 books.

Wolsak and Wynn July 28, 2017

At one time Wolsak and Wynn Publishers Ltd. was based in Don Mills, Ontario. Today its website states “they are a quirky literary press based in the heart of Hamilton, Ontario”.

Dunn has been the publisher of Palimpstet Press for only three years. Each year, the press has worked hard to increase the number of works published. In 2017, they will publish 7 books and in 2018, 8 books have been scheduled for release.

“If your manuscript is rejected,” said Vermeersch, “put it in a drawer and start something else or send the work elsewhere.”

Successful writers keep moving one step at a time.

BE AWARE OF SCAMS AND VANITY PRESSES

Some authors are impatient and opt to self-publish or work with a vanity press. Caution is advised.

“Many vanity presses charge for printing and marketing,” said Vermeersch. “Traditional publishers don’t…..why pay for someone to publish your manuscript when a traditional publisher will actually pay you an advance with the possibility of additional royalties?”

Dunn said there is one small exception. “The only time a traditional publisher asks for money is when the author wants to buy extra books to sell.”

THE WAIT FOR A TRADITIONAL PUBLISHER IS WORTH IT

Many authors aren’t aware of the benefits of working with a traditional publisher.

Wells explained that “our investment in a book is $20,000 to $30,000 per title.”

“If you want an advance and a professional experience (for free),” said Vermeersch, “then the traditional publisher is the way to go.”

The cons of self-publishing are numerous.

According to Dunn, unless you pay for it, you won’t have a collective who can market and put the book into international, national and big-chain bookstores and libraries. Also, self-published books cannot qualify for awards, the author cannot apply for writing, travel and reading grants, and in many cases it becomes difficult to obtain professional status as a writer.

Moderator Richardson added that “literary festivals won’t allow self-published authors to read because the quality of self-published books is inconsistent and there are already enough traditionally published authors who are willing to share their work.”

READ AND UNDERSTAND THE CONTRACT

Once your work is finally accepted for publication, “make sure you read the contract,” said Vermeersch. “There should be no surprises….Working with a press is both a business and a creative relationship.”

Understand what an advance is. These payments are given to an author in anticipation of projected sales. The author gets to keep the payments but won’t receive any more royalties until he/she works through his/her advance. According to Vermeersch, poets will usually receive a $500 advance while a novelist will receive about $2,000. This can vary with the number of copies printed or the reputation of the author.

Dunn said “the normal print run for a literary trade publication is 500 copies.”

Biblioasis Books July 28, 2017

Biblioasis publishes “short fiction, novels, poetry, literary criticism, memoir, belle lettres, local and regional history, and general non-fiction.”

Wells added that Biblioasis “contracts are pretty fair or more fair than the Writers’ Union of Canada…Everything can be negotiated.” For those who want help, he suggests contacting the Writers’ Union.  As for agents, he said “in the 14 years that we’ve published books, we’ve only published one book with an agent…I wouldn’t worry about an agent in Canada.”

BE PREPARED FOR MORE WORK & ADDITIONAL PERIODS OF WAITING

It usually takes approximately two years from the time the contract is signed to the time the book is released.

“It’s at least a two-year process,” said Dunn. “The (release) deadline is often tentative and sometimes an author can get bumped.”

According to Vermeersch, the author is usually given one year to fix general edits, then another six months to work on more specific line edits. The last six months focuses on copy editing, design, and marketing.

“While the editor is working,” said Dunn, “the publisher is working on marketing. Lots of authors don’t realize that when your book is released, the publisher is already working on books that will be launched two years down the road.”

Wells explained it takes nine months to promote a book properly in other countries like the United States. It’s important to get advance copies and the word out early, long before the book is released. “In Canada, the buzz in conversation needs to happen at least six months before the book is launched.” Once released, the shelf life of a new book is also about six months. After that, the next season of books will be released. Therefore, those first few months of sales are important.

A FEW COMMENTS ON DIVERSITY

More Canadian publishers are seeking ways to diversify their title offerings. All three publishers stressed their need for more submissions.

“My male slush pile is high,” said Vermeersch. “We all want to tell all kinds of stories but we don’t always get the diverse submissions.”

“We get lots of female and white submissions,” said Dunn. “So we have to ask for more diversity. Geographically, we are good.”

ONE FINAL NOTE ABOUT MARKETING

“If you are not a salesperson,” said Dunn, “then you need to learn to take chances.”

As Vermeersch stated earlier, “Working with a press is both a business and a creative relationship”.

Publishers and writers must help each other. Gone are the days when publishers handle all the promotion on their own.

Paul Vermeersch books July 28, 2017

Paul Vermeersch is multi-talented. In addition to his editing work at Wolsak and Wynn, he is an established poet with work published by McLelland & Stewart.

“The Getting Published In Canada” event in Windsor was presented by the Ontario Book Publishers Organization and the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD). It was generously sponsored by the Ontario Media Development Corporation.

A similar event was held in Sudbury in June with Heather Campbell of Sudbury publisher Latitude 46; Christie Harkin of Clockwise Press; and Jennifer Knoch of ECW Press.

The next panel discussion will be held on Thursday, August 24, 2017 with publishers Renee K. Abram of Kegedonce Press; Naseem Hrab of Kids Can Press; and Hazel Millar of BookThug at the Six Nations Public Library, 1679 Chiefswood Road, Ohsweken, Ontario. Admission is free. Refreshments provided.

A partial listing of future Ontario literary events appears here.

Follow this blog for future posts about literary happenings and author profiles. Coming soon, a Q & A with Sarnia musician/songwriter Gregger Botting and his debut CD release as well as a look at a new collection of short stories by Sarnia writer Diana Koch.

Introducing Canadian Poet Sharon Berg and Big Pond Rumours Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch this blog for additional Canadian Author and Poet Profiles.

Venera Fazio Weaves Five Generations into “The Fabric of My Soul”

my thoughts glide back and forth, back and forth/to the rhythm of my loom – Venera Fazio*

A snip of thread. A quilter’s knot. A running stitch. Canadian writer/editor/poet Venera Fazio uses her extraordinary patience and attention to detail to pull together her passions for fabric art and literature.

Attend a local writers’ workshop in Sarnia and you’ll find Fazio with her quilting supplies. As a quilter, she carefully threads the needle and hand-stitches all the fabric petals and leaves together while listening to her peers read. Step into her home and you’ll find quilts-in-progress on the kitchen island, across her dining room table and in her living room.  Several walls display her finished creations featuring vibrant and detailed patterns.

Using these same creative talents, she also meticulously works with words. As an editor, she has co-edited eight anthologies related to her Italian Canadian heritage including the bestselling Sweet Lemons I and Sweet Lemons II.

cover-page-fabric-of-my-soul

The Fabric of My Soul (Longbridge Books, 2015) is Venera Fazio’s first solo trade publication.

More recently as a poet, she collected familial pieces (both past and present) and wove them together into her first solo trade book. The result was The Fabric of My Soul, a 64-page collection of poems, translations, photos, and short stories published by Montreal-based publisher Longbridge Books. The book resembles a family album, a memoir, and showcase of previously published work including poems from Philadelphia Poets and Italian Canadians at Table plus a short non-fiction piece from Accenti Magazine.

If you think the content of her book is all homespun goodness, it is and isn’t. Many of her peers were struck by her frankness. As Fazio reveals in her poem “Legacy”, “my mother wanted a daughter/to ribbon, stem and satin stitch/rather than me/my tangled French knots/inept fingers caressing books.” (p. 36)

venerafazioedit

Venera Fazio is a Bright’s Grove editor/writer/poet known nationally for her work with the Association of Italian Canadian Writers (AICW).

Despite the tough childhood and recently revealed secrets, Fazio’s love for family, friends and her culture prevails. “The perfume of the blossoms/sweetened my thoughts/helped me forget.” (p. 50). In the last three lines of her last poem “My hope is/with time, my friends/will be granted the same resilience.” (p. 57)

Soft-spoken and diplomatic with a gentle demeanor, Fazio works diligently and possesses strong organizational skills as evident in her role as a past-president of the Association of Italian Canadian Writers (AICW). Locally, she helped to coordinate Sarnia’s Books and Biscotti literary events both at the Dante Club and in her home plus was a dedicated committee member of Sarnia’s Bluewater Reading series.

To present an objective view of her first poetry collection, (I’ve known Venera for over a decade), below is a review of her book written by John Di Leonardo, co-editor of The Ontario Poetry Society’s Verse Afire.**

A cover photo by Dwayne O’Neill of the lush Sicilian hilltop village of Bafia is an apt image to set the stage for Fazio’s new collection of poems The Fabric of My Soul. Her words weave a tender tapestry of family history and the Italian immigrant experience. Fazio’s poems are laid out between a prologue “My Biography According to the Number Three” and the epilogue “I’ve Got a Secret” both great sections as introduction and conclusion to her poetry. These two segments in the book resonate deeply for anyone new to Canada, the millions of post-war southern Europeans like myself and the author who journeyed by ship from Naples to Pier 21 in Halifax, then onward by train to the various destinations to a better life, where many immigrants as Fazio states “nourished the body//while neglecting the spirit.”

These clear-eyed and intimate poems rise and fall with a lyrical flow to express a wide range of emotions associated with memory, hardships and death.

From the very first poem “Broken” we are guided through secret feelings of loss, as a “shimmering Sicilian sun/stretches/across your tombstone”…we locked your name/in our family closet/sealed it shut with silence,” to family tragedies “I am ashamed//I never visited you/in the psychiatric ward:…you loved your dead son/more than a living daughter.” The hardships are juxtaposed with flavours of new Canadians, “fingers inflamed from pickle factory brine/…At noon she served penne//the colour of family blood.”

Glimpses of self-discovery appear in “Each day of my vacation/in the village of my birth//I drew elixir from the well.” Finally in the last poem, “The Unexpected” a new vision of hope merges. “My hope is/with time, my friends/will be granted the same resilience”.

In the epilogue Fazio writes, “For years, I felt I had two identities, a Canadian one and an Italian one”. This identity crisis is aptly resolved by the inclusion of Italian passages and full (traduzione) translations by Elettra Bedon, for poems such as “Nonna Marie”, “Lasciar andare”, “Tributo”, and “Le mani di mia madre”. Reading these poems in the original thoroughly satisfies the ear for many Italian-Canadian hearts.

Last May, Fazio’s poetry collection was officially launched with Exploring Voice: Italian Canadian Female Writers, another anthology she co-edited with Delia De Santis. Last week, I asked Venera to share her thoughts about her writing process. Below are her responses:

Venera, as past president of the Association of Italian Canadian Writers, you worked so hard to launch the careers of other writers. I was thrilled when I heard that your latest book focuses exclusively on your own work. Describe your new poetry book in a few sentences.

The book connects me with my family that raised me in Dundas, Ontario and the relatives that I only saw about six times in my life.

venera-fazio-at-a-books-and-biscotti-reading

Sharing laughter at a Books and Biscotti event in Sarnia, Ontario.

Which of the poems is your most favourite and why is it important to you?

The poem “Broken” is my favourite because it was written in memory of Zio Carlo Fazio (1922-1969). My uncle Carlo and his family didn’t speak to us for 50 years. The poem pulled us together. It is about forgiveness and how we can only live fully with each other.

How does your work differ from others of its genre? For example, you included black and white photos throughout your book.

I include a lot of history in this book. Some poets concentrate on the family and some just on history. I have melted the two together. And yes, I’ve also included photographs in the book.

Through your editing and volunteer work, you have been a cheerleader for Italian Canadian writers! What motivates you to work so hard for this special group?

When I was growing up, the Italians were frowned upon because of the war. Also they had these stereotypes of Italians being dirty and loud. They also ate smelly food like salami and garlic bread. As an Italian Canadian, I was always conscious of the underclass and so I wanted to focus on Italian Canadian writing. I wanted to let readers know that we weren’t like that. We were intelligent writers and it was my hope that it gave our culture a boost.

What inspires you and who are your mentors?

Quality of writing inspires me. I admire novelist Nino Ricci, author of Lives of the Saints plus poets Gianna Patriarca author of Ciao, Baby and Mary di Michele author of Tenor of Love.

Fazio’s work recently appeared in these two anthologies.

Describe your writing process.

I start with an idea, work at it and then decide it’s wrong. It takes me about ten “go-throughs” to be satisfied with the final product. I also like to go for walks. That’s when I get my ideas and thoughts for revisions. I usually create and edit my drafts straight onto the computer. My favourite place to write is in my downstairs office where it is quiet.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a chapbook of poems focusing on my cancer journey. So far I’ve completed seven poems and hope to do a few more.

The news of your medical condition came as quite a shock to many of your close friends. It is inspiring to see you back at your writing and to hear some of your new poems. Do you have any other plans for the future?

Yes, I’m going to do lots of travelling. I have several trips already planned. It gives me something to look forward to.

Venera, I look forward to reading more of your work as well as hearing news about your adventures. Thank you for welcoming me into your home and sharing your thoughts with me.

According to the back cover of her book: Venera Fazio was born in Sicily and now lives in Bright’s Grove, Ontario. Before dedicating herself to writing and editing, she worked as a social worker (MSW)…Her poetry and prose has been published in literary magazines and anthologies in Canada and the United States.

venera-fazio-and-delia-de-santis-were-honoured-for-their-contributions-to-the-italian-canadian-community

Exploring Voice: Italian Canadian Female Writers is the eighth anthology focusing on Italian Canadian culture that Venera has co-edited. Here, she and co-editor Delia De Santis are honoured for their contributions.

In April 2016, the Association of Italian Canadian Writers (AICW) presented her and her writing/editing friend Delia De Santis with an award for their “extraordinary contributions to the Italian Canadian writing community and to Canadian literature.” See more info here.

An essay, “On Writing and Dreaming”, written by Fazio appears on the Gloria Pearson-Vasey website.

*from the poem “The Fabric of My Soul” published in the book The Fabric of My Soul (Longbridge Books, 2015) page 28. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright ©2015 Venera Fazio.
**John Di Leonardo’s review first appeared in the May to Sept. 2016 issue of Verse Afire. Reprinted with permission. Additional information about Di Leonardo can be found on his website.

Watch this blog for additional Canadian Author and Poet Profiles.                                             

Poetry Review – Time Slip by John Oughton

Know the earth/through white toes/sail the earth/for all winter/and greet spring/forthcoming with soft/green applause – John Oughton

Seconds melt like snowflakes against a heated window. 2017 slips in. 2016 slips out. I yearn for the holidays to linger a few moments longer but time rests for no one. Another season of literary news unfolds but first…a glimpse back at John Oughton’s poetry collection Time Slip published by Guernica Editions in 2010.

Special thanks to Aeolus House poet Kate Rogers for gifting me this NEW review to kick start the New Year!

Time Slip                                               Reviewed by Kate Rogers

by John Oughton

Guernica Editions, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-55071-302-2

About twenty years ago I sat with John Oughton under the leafy canopy of a Toronto backyard with other poets workshopping our pieces. At that time I knew that John was a Professor at Centennial College, and taught writing, but I was unaware of the life events John describes in the introduction to the collection reviewed here–Time Slip. The collection spans his travels in Iraq and Egypt and around Asia; six months spent in Japan; and significant personal losses.

time-slip-guernica-editions-2010-by-john-oughton

Time Slip (Guernica Editions, 2010) by John Oughton

In fact, Time Slip includes thirty years of poetry by John Oughton–from poems about his travels, to persona poems from the perspective of spy and courtesan, Mata Hari. As a Canadian poet who has been teaching literature, creative writing and other subjects in Asia for 17 years, I can appreciate his poetic responses to Asian aesthetics and spiritual places.

In “For Yuan Mei”, an 18th century Chinese poet, Oughton’s words flow like calligraphy strokes: As a brush/ sublimes stone/and water to song (p. 29).

I have been to Buddhist temples and shrines in Kyoto, Japan, like the one Oughton describes with both humor and awe in “Taizo-In Rock Garden, Kyoto” (p. 31), …a waterfall for each ear/…carp chorus/gold and silver below the mirror/of the still pond

In fact, there are many strong pieces on other subjects—especially love. They are distinguished by tight writing, original metaphor, and visceral feeling.

His love poems are sensual and deeply felt: two examples are “Back Again for Mary” (p.25) and “For Jan Apart” (p.26) where beautiful lines such as this from the latter poem evoke the loved one, …/I don’t /sense you swimming in dreams/green or flying the kite/of your bright art on/the images singing through/your brain thunder…

His poems inspired by nature are often as visceral, and as taut. A good example is “Trees Two” (p.17): Know the earth/through white toes/sail the earth/for all winter/and greet spring/forthcoming with soft/green applause

In “The Boulder” (p.75), Oughton introduces landscape with visceral intensity in this first stanza, Near Riviere-du-Loup/above the sweeping St.Lawrence/a granite heart/taller than a man…

johnoughton1

Poet John Oughton is the author of five poetry books, several chapbooks, and a mystery novel.

Sound and rhythm are powerfully evoked In “That Line”, (p.19), I turn my life upside down/nothing falls out. No change/in the pockets of this train/six sprockets the head’s projector/unreels, grinding land through…

In “Training” (p.21), a similar rhythm pulls the reader along, But sight tows a zipper that shuts/the gap of where we were

There is much to praise about the poetry in Time Slip, but the collection is not without weaknesses. Time Slip appears to be a volume of “collected poems”—“selections” is the word used by Oughton in his introduction (p. 13)—therefore some of the poems were not written by the mature poet who penned the introduction. I can’t say how many poems from early in his poetic career were revised for inclusion in Time Slip, but my impression is that they were not revisited before publication in this volume. If that’s the case, I think that was a mistake. As British poet Billy Mills reflects in a piece on collected works in The Guardian*, even poets such as W.B. Yeats often revised old poems for collected works.

One example of a poem which is not Oughton’s most sensitive work is “Foreign”, set in Japan, (p.30). The poem starts well with the narrator effectively mocking himself: Beard like a brush that quit/painting and eloped with the ink But a false note is struck when the narrator quips near the end, Almond eyes seek the nut I am.

It is hard to know whether the reference to “almond eyes” is part of the self-mockery in this context. This kind of description would be seen by some contemporary critics as objectifying and exoticizing the locals strolling through Kyoto’s Botany Gardens.

In some respects, John Oughton’s collection Time Slip reminds me of one assembled by Australian peripatetic lecturer- poet Dennis Haskell which I reviewed six months ago for the Malaysian literary journal ASIATIC .** Oughton’s collection, Time Slip like Haskell’s collected poems, What Are You Doing Here? ,***spans decades of travel and long periods spent by the poet in other cultures. Both collections raise a question for me, namely: Is it wise to include early travel poems in unrevised form in a “Selected Poems”?

In Time Slip, “Xmas Pageant, 1961” (p.85), the narrator reflects on his travels as a teenager as he also recalls a Christmas pageant. The narrator’s glib tone makes the poem more told than seen. One example can be found at the start of the third stanza: I had spent the Christmas before in Iraq/the hills bleached and biblical…

Some of the other poems which seem too told are Mata Hari poems, such as “Typhoid Fever” (p.56), and “Debut at the Musee Guimet, Paris” (p.60). I understand the challenges of creating context and sharing history for the reader of persona poetry. Yet in the latter poem, Mata Hari’s life events are reduced to a list, as in the first three lines of the third stanza below:

The truth of dance animates me/I take my past, my grief, my marriage/my failure as wife, artist’s model, circus rider…

johnoughton2

Oughton will be a featured reader during the January 24, 2017 Art Bar Reading Series event.

The Mata Hari poem, “Salome” (p. 62-63), could have begun half way through with these powerful lines: When I dance Salome I’ll take their heads off/while the music cracks and thumps/like a soul forced back into flesh

Instead of with the opening stanza which tells, rather than shows: What Carmen only hints at, this opera shrieks/Women murder as well as they conceive/using all the power of mistress/mother harpy

In addition to further editing, Time Slip would have flowed better with transitions between the poems selected from several collections—especially in the case of the Mata Hari poems. Sub-sections would have given those poems more opportunity to breathe.

A second edition of John Oughton’s poetry collection, Mata Hari’s Lost Words, will be released in 2017. I look forward to reading those persona poems, because I appreciate how challenging it can be to fully inhabit a character on the page. I will be interested to see whether any of the Mata Hari poems which appeared in Time Slip have been revised.

John Oughton’s collection, Time Slip showcases a lot of strong writing from his thirty plus years as a poet. This reviewer has not chosen to comment on his poems of loss, and I have barely touched on his sense of humor. The latter makes regular appearances as in the aforementioned, “Foreign”, set in Japan, (p.30), where the narrator starts off by effectively mocking himself.

In “Canadian Love Song” (p.99), the narrator jokes about that emotion which inspires so much poetry: yearning, I have an itch/ which is you/calamine pink/mosquito blue…

Oughton’s poetry in Time Slip is funny, and ironic—even in its moments of grief—but also at times, deeply felt.  His writing is often taut and original. I recommend slipping into his time machine, and taking a trip.

*July 2009:  The Guardian article appears here.
** Literary Journal of the International Islamic University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.
***http://journals.iium.edu.my/asiatic/index.php/AJELL/article/viewFile/758/628

Additional information about featured poet John Oughton and his work:

mata-haris-lost-words-neopoiesis-press-2017-by-john-oughton

The second edition of John Oughton’s poetry collection, Mata Hari’s Lost Words, will be released by NeoPoiesis Press in 2017.

John Oughton lives in Toronto, Canada, and is about to retire as Professor Learning and Teaching at Centennial College. He attended York University and the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. He is the author of five books of poetry, several chapbooks, a mystery novel titled Death by Triangulation, and close to 500 articles, blogs, reviews and interviews. Follow his website.

He is also a photographer. See his photography website.

Additional information about Time Slip (Guernica Editions, 2010) can be found here.

Additional information about his chapbook Vertex/Vertigo (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2016) can be found here and the second edition of Mata Hari’s Lost Words, (NeoPoiesis Press, 2017) here.

The Toronto launch for this second edition will be held Wednesday, February 1, 2017 from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Free Times Café, 320 College Street. The launch will also include a performance by belly dancer Anjelica Scannura, and guest readings by writers Heather Babcock, Brenda Clews, and Kath MacLean. Admission is free.

Meet John Oughton at the Art Bar Poetry Reading series, Tuesday, January 24, 2017 at 8 p.m. at Free Times Café, 320 College Street, Toronto. He will be a featured reader with Steve Venright and Stephen Humphrey. More information here.

On April 23, 2017 at 2 p.m., he will also be part of the 10th annual Arts and Poets Collaboration, an exhibition and reading which is at the Women’s Art Association of Canada, 23 Prince Arthur Avenue in Toronto.

About the reviewer:

kate-rogers-reviewer

Special thanks to Kate Rogers for writing and sharing her review of John Oughton’s fifth poetry book Time Slip.

Kate Rogers’ new poetry collection, Out of Place will be published by Aeolus House in 2017. In the summer of 2016 Kate was a featured reader for the Toronto reading series, Hot Sauced Words, at the League of Canadian Poets new members reading, and at Artfest, in Kingston, Ontario. Kate’s poetry collection, Foreign Skin, debuted with Toronto’s Aeolus House Press in 2015.
Kate is co-editor of the OutLoud Too anthology (MCCM 2014), and the world poetry anthology, Not a Muse: the Inner Lives of Women (Haven 2009).
Her poetry has appeared in The Guardian; Quixotica; Eastlit; Asia Literary Review; Cha: an Asian Literary Journal; Morel; The Goose: a Journal of Arts, Environment and Culture; Kyoto Journal; ASIATIC: the Journal of the Islamic University of Malaysia; Many Mountains Moving; Orbis International and Contemporary Verse II.
Kate lectures in literature and media studies at the Community College of City University, Hong Kong.

Follow this blog for future book reviews and interviews with Canadian authors and poets.