Tag Archives: Canadian Authors Association

Chatting with Canadian Poet Bernice Lever

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

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

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

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

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

Tamaracks - Lummox Press 2018 - front cover

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

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

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

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

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

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


Canadian poet Bernice Lever – Photo by Juergen Bruhns

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are an inspiration to so many writers!

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

Small Acts by Bernice Lever

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

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

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

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

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



Poetry Contests: Is It Poetic Gambling?

A poet’s husband once won a trip for two to St. Lucia. I call that luck! For me, buying a lottery ticket is like throwing cash into a burning roulette wheel. It’s a waste of money unless you want to support a good cause like the Canadian Cancer Society or need a stocking stuffer or a compact gift for a friend or relative who enjoys playing bingo or a scratch version of crossword.

Let’s face it, how many of us are going to win a million dollars or a dream home during our life? What would a poet even do with that kind of cash?  Buy some exotic groceries? Quit his or her day job? Purchase more poetry books and new matching bookshelves for the office? You know I’m teasing here. A retreat might be nice, perhaps some sabbatical or retirement travelling to inspire the next book? Poets just aren’t that lucky or at least I’ve never met a poet or anyone who has taken home a sack of gold coins.

Entering poetry contests can be fun. Here the ghost of Dr. William Henry Drummond appears during a contest winners reading in Cobalt, Ontario last spring 2014.

Entering poetry contests can be fun. Here the ghost of Dr. William Henry Drummond appears during a contest winners’ reading in Cobalt, Ontario last spring 2014.

I will, however, gamble or (in softer terms) take a chance with poetry contests. Below are a dozen reasons why I believe entering literary competitions can be beneficial for a writer. Keep in mind, there are also drawbacks and some writers may have varying opinions based on his/her own experiences and viewpoints. I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

  1. Contests provide a deadline. Some writers work better under pressure. Deadlines can motivate some poets into action. It helps me focus.
  2. Contests encourage writers to dig deep into their files for old poems to tweak or word snippets to expand and nurture. Recycling is good for the environment.
  3. Contests nudge writers to explore new themes or poetic forms. Some will jump start new poems. For example, some contests like The Binnacle’s Annual International Ultra-Short Competition seeks poems with 16 lines or less. (Deadline March 15, 2015.) The Betty Drevniok Award 2015 organized by Haiku Canada seeks work based on the three-line haiku format. (Deadline February 25, 2015.) Earlier this month, The Malahat Review was accepting submissions of a single poem or a cycle of poems that was between 10 to 20 pages long for its 2015 Long Poem Prize.

    The Dr. William Henry Drummond Contest is an annual contest held in conjunction with the Spring Pulse Poetry Festival in Cobalt, Ontario. Contest submissions for this year must be postmarked by February 27, 2015

    The Dr. William Henry Drummond Contest is an annual contest held in conjunction with the Spring Pulse Poetry Festival in Cobalt, Ontario. Contest submissions for this year must be postmarked by February 27, 2015

  4. Contests can introduce you to organizations and magazines that you are not familiar with. HINT: It’s vital to research an organization and magazine to not only ensure the contest is legitimate but to get a feel for what that particular market might be looking for. For example, if you are a Canadian poet, seek out professional national organizations like the Canadian Authors Association, The League of Canadian Poets and the Writers Union of Canada or provincial organizations like The Ontario Poetry Society. Check out what contests these members are submitting to. For example, The Dr. William Henry Drummond Poetry Contest was established as part of the annual Spring Pulse Poetry Festival held in Cobalt, Ontario. (Deadline: February 27, 2015.) Also consider contests organized by established magazines affiliated with universities.
  5. Contest fees help support literary organizations and magazines that might not be able to survive otherwise. HINT: Set an annual budget. Be firm with the total amount of fees you wish to spend spent and establish the number of contests you have time for. Make sure the contest isn’t a scam. It should be affiliated with a well-known organization and/or has a reputable judge. Remember some contests like those organized by The Binnacle and Haiku Canada are free so they fit well into a poet’s budget.

    The Binnacle Annual International Ultra-Short Competition is a free contest that seeks poems with 16 lines or less. This year’s deadline is March 15, 2015.

    The Binnacle Annual International Ultra-Short Competition is a free contest that seeks poems with 16 lines or less. This year’s deadline is March 15, 2015.

  6. Some contest fees include the subscription of a literary magazine. This provides valuable market research and reading material. HINT: If you are planning to purchase a subscription, why not spend a few extra dollars and enter the magazine’s annual contest?
  7. Contests can introduce you to judges and established writers who you are unfamiliar with. HINT: It’s beneficial to study a judge’s work prior to entering any contest.

    The Crooked Ledge of Another Day: An Anthology of the Bizarre spotlights the results of Ascent Aspirations Publishing’s 2014 poetry and flash fiction contest.

    The Crooked Ledge of Another Day: An Anthology of the Bizarre spotlights the results of Ascent Aspirations Publishing’s 2014 poetry and flash fiction contest.

  8. Contests can introduce you to names of past winners. HINT: One way to improve your writing is to read what other poets are writing and if possible read winning poems to determine what makes them unique or award-winning.
  9. Contests teach us about sportsmanship. Not all poems entered into a contest will win a prize. That’s the reality of both contests and general submissions. Poets like writers must develop a tough skin. Just because a work is rejected does not mean it is a poorly written poem. What one judge may dislike, another judge may treasure. The key is to keep submitting. If the work is rejected take a closer look at the poem. Should it be rewritten? Should it be work shopped with other poets? Or does it belong in a different market? Treat this as a learning exercise then move on. Even the best writers receive rejections but they continue to submit their work.
  10. Surprise, surprise. Sometimes, a poet’s submission does win a prize. If you never enter a contest, you may never experience that unexpected joy of accomplishment. Each year, a Canadian and an International writer will win the $65,000 Griffin Prize for Poetry, “the world’s largest prize for a first edition single collection of poetry written in, or translated into English, from any country in the world.” The publicity surrounding this Prize has also been known to increase book sales. However, even smaller prizes can draw a publisher’s or reader’s attention to a poet’s work.
  11. Contests can reward contributions with the publication of a poem even if the work is not awarded a top prize. For example the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association will publish not only the top winning poems from their annual contest but will include honourable mentions and judge’s selections work in their Saving Bannister anthology. Ascent Aspirations Publishing also has an annual anthology where top prize winners are published with other selected work.

    The Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association organizes a provincial contest for Ontario residents. Their 29th Saving Bannister poetry anthology was launched last autumn 2014. Submission guidelines for their 30th poetry contest will be announced soon.

    The Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association organizes a provincial contest for Ontario residents. Their 29th Saving Bannister poetry anthology was launched last autumn 2014. Deadline for the 30th poetry contest is May 31, 2015. Submission guidelines will be posted soon.

  12. Finally, entering a contest is just plain fun. For example, every April, the literary magazine Contemporary Verse 2 hosts the CV2 Two Day Poem Contest. Registered participants receive 10 words at midnight Friday and then the new poem using those 10 words must be finished and submitted two days later. It’s a great activity for National Poetry month.

Poetry Contests: Should we even call it gambling? Absolutely not!

What are your reasons for entering or not entering a contest? Feel free to leave a comment or share this posting with your literary community.