Tag Archives: Kelly Shepherd

In Conversation with Edmonton Poet Kelly Shepherd

“We dream when we sleep; Magpies dream/when they fly in the rain. We might not always remember, /but every one of our dreams is about either leaves or feathers.” – Kelly Shepherd*

A few days ago, I posted a review of Kelly Shepherd’s Insomnia Bird: Edmonton Poems (Thistledown Press, 2018). The author impressed me with his “mind-warping, playful, and clever” work but who was this western Canadian poet with such layered words woven with humour and twigs?  I decided to find out. Below is our conversation (edited slightly for length, order, and flow).

Edmonton poet Kelly Shepherd Photo by Randell Edwards Photography

Introducing Canadian poet Kelly Shepherd  Photo by Randall Edwards Photography

Hi Kelly! Before I received your book Insomnia Bird for review, I wasn’t familiar with your work. I had never seen a magpie, one of the star attractions in your second collection of poetry. Even my first-hand knowledge of Edmonton was limited despite short visits over the years. Initially, I wondered whether your book would speak to me, the outsider looking in. As it turned out, it held me captive.

At what point in your writing process did you decide to set the poems in Edmonton versus somewhere more generic? What local insights would the book offer to the residents versus the universal themes that would appeal to readers living outside the area, province, or even another country?

This was a concern when I was starting to compile these poems: how accessible is this book going to be, to people who aren’t familiar with Edmonton? Will it even make sense?

Because Insomnia Bird is all about Edmonton-specific places, happenings, and landmarks. Some of the references are quite obscure, but they’re not inaccessible. I’ve had several people comment on the pleasant surprise of finding one of these details that they recognize from their own experience of Edmonton.

But hopefully, in spite of this ‘specificity’, there’s still enough of the familiar in the descriptions of public transit, for example, or urban wildlife, that people who don’t know Edmonton will still recognize these things. On one level, Edmonton is very uniquely Edmonton in this book; on another level Edmonton can stand in for almost any city. It becomes everycity’.

Some of these poems celebrate Edmonton, but others are quite critical of the city and its culture, for example our destructive addictions to fossil fuels and big trucks, and our tendency toward urban sprawl, and the thinly-veiled colonialism inherent in many institutions. And so on. Insomnia Bird is a study in shadow geography, which means it looks at those aspects of a place which are hidden, or repressed. It looks for the details a city wouldn’t include in its tourist brochures.

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Cleverly-woven –Kelly Shepherd’s Insomnia Bird – Edmonton Poems

“Magpie: twilight bird–…//nest builder and robber of nests –//you hop and clatter on the road like hail.” – Kelly Shepherd*

Kelly Shepherd’s Insomnia Bird: Edmonton Poems (Thistledown Press, 2018)** is not a clichéd-flighty-fly-by-night book about the black-billed magpies set against a northern Albertan cityscape. It’s mind-warping, playful, and clever: an a(musing)-gathering-of-facts-and-twigs-and-words, (by a trickster bird) architecturally structured and constructed and carefully woven into a literary nest inspired by Edmonton’s urban growth.

Insomnia Bird cover

Insomnia Bird: Edmonton Poems (Thistledown Press, 2018) by Kelly Shepherd ISBN 978-1-77187-169-3 (softcover)

CAUTION: Do not attempt to read this well-researched book in one sitting (especially at night). Each poem deserves a slow and careful read to fully appreciate the complexity and depth of the work. Reading the book several times is advised.

Layered with wit and dust and city noise, a cacophony of provocative sounds and images, some illuminated like LED billboards, some more subdued like sandblasted cement, this collection of 53 found and lyrical poems kept this country night owl awake: thinking and staring outside an imaginary bus window and into the hum of the glaring street lights.

Expect some travelling on highways littered with snake-skinned truck tires, and congested roads along homeless shelters, construction zones, city buildings, and trees that breathe with plastic bag lungs (p.97). I especially marveled at how the poems with couplets and tercets rhythmically reminded me of riding an early morning bus (or train), half-asleep like a zombie, void of emotion despite reading the daily paper and ripping out tidbits of information for future consumption.

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

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

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

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

FOR THE READERS:

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

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

New Books on my Shelf Autumn 2018

New books on my shelf.

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

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