Tag Archives: Poet Laureate

Tom Cull, London’s Poet Laureate Loves to Make People Laugh

“Returning from a night ride,/the bat takes off his leathers.” – Tom Cull*

I laugh as I read and review this new book.

Let’s say bad animals (Insomniac Press 2018) is a hybrid between “a Red Bull of owls” hoot-enanny and “a threnody of hyenas”. Created by Tom Cull, London Ontario’s current poet laureate and a new poetic voice in the CanLit scene, this pocket-sized book (with a beaver-inspired cover) overflows with his fun-filled humour as he shines a flashlight on underlying concerns with our changing environment.

June 1, 2018 in London

Tom Cull’s bad animals was officially launched June 1, 2018 at London Bicycle Café in London, Ontario.

Overall, I liked Cull’s approach. His impressive debut collection of 41 wild (think mischievous) and bad-animal inspired poems surprised me (in a good way) with his surreal yet accessible images: drowning machines, a poet of dodos, Saturday six-pack anglers, schools of strollers, and a plethora of four- and two-legged animals including swimming pigs and teenaged boys!

Using his knowledge gleamed from his regular clean-ups of local waterways, Cull pulls the reader from urban decay into the murky river (and other locales) where shopping carts and vacuum cleaners morph into inanimate creatures and where humankind is not-so-kind but sometimes thought-provoking as the lines between animals and Homo sapiens blur.

Expect a few rough edges: Do I really want to go inside the YMCA Men’s Plus locker room to visualize his poem “The Dinks Are Out”? Hardly not but the audience roars and laughs like spotted hyenas whenever he reads that poem in public.

In contrast, in one of his more moving and insightful poems, he writes: “a great blue heron wallops/across the sky, beak down/a needle etching a record of this day/into the vinyl of a darkening night.” I love the beauty in that image!

Tom Cull Photo by Rob Nelson

Tom Cull is London, Ontario’s current poet laureate. Photo by Rob Nelson

Cull is like that great heron: wading with the flow, communing with nature, and slowing etching his name into the minds of his literary followers. Definitely, an emerging writer to watch!

This autumn, I was fortunate to attend several of Cull’s readings. He immediately makes an audience comfortable and is well respected in the London literary community. Although I must disclose that I first met Cull when he was a workshop facilitator for Poetry London, I knew little of his background and philosophy and had never read his work before.  It was fun to hear his responses to my questions.

Hi Tom, before we chat about your role as London’s poet laureate, let’s focus on your early years. I understand you grew up in the small southern Ontario community of Wingham. When you moved to London almost 10 years ago, you decided to help clean the Thames River. When did you first realize that the environment was important to you and how has the environment shaped you as a person?

Hi Debbie—I’m not sure if I had any moment of realization that the environment was important to me. I had a rural upbringing; our log cabin/house was situated on 70 acres of forest, ponds, and wetland bordered by a beautiful river. I spend a good deal of my childhood outdoors exploring the woods and learning about plants and animals. We had a stack of those nature books that identify trees, plants, reptiles, birds, mammals, etc. I’ve always been attracted to water, woods, wetlands, wildlife and wild spaces.

Tom Cull has a deep appreciation for the environment Photo by Miriam Love

Cull is inspired by the river. Photo by Miriam Love.

When did you first decide you wanted to be a poet?  Was there an incident that led you in that direction? Please explain.

I don’t remember any one moment where I said to myself, “you are now going to be a poet”—that happened gradually as I was finishing my doctorate in English Literature. It had a lot to do with moving to London and getting involved with the literary arts community. I started sharing my work with peers and the ball started to roll.

At a recent reading at the Oxford Book Shop, you said that the river influenced your writing and the writing influenced your involvement with the river. Please expand upon that.

I think that the river of my childhood (The Menestung/Maitland River) imprinted on me—it still flows from my early memories into my now-and-here. But the other river which is equally if not more important is Deshkan Ziibi or Thames River. I started writing poetry in London about the same time I discovered the river. Many of my poems come back to the river and questions of home, habitat, animals and history. My poetry is also tied in with the environmental work I do. My partner Miriam Love and I started Thames River Rally (a grassroots river protection/cleanup group) soon after we met. The river and my poetry have great reciprocity.

Poet Tom Cull and his partner Miriam Love are co-founders of Thames River Rally, a grassroots environmental group based in London, Ontario Photo by Mary Love

Cull and his partner Miriam Love co-founded Thames River Rally, a grassroots environmental group based in London, Ontario. Photo by Mary Love

This year Insomniac Press published your debut poetry book bad animals. Where did the idea for the title come from? Which came first the title/theme and then the writing or the writing first led to the title? Please expand.

The title came after the collection was pretty much finished. I was thinking about the themes and motifs that unite the collection. Bad Animals popped into my head along the way somewhere. The word “bad” has many meanings: deficient, rebellious, immoral, poorly behaved, libidinous. “Animals” also has several meanings. People often think of animals as separate from humans. The poems in the book play with these meanings.

At your Poetry London feature last month, your friend Chris introduced you with these words, “He is a community and cultural individual. He is also a bad animal”. Obviously, there must be a hidden dark side of you that the public is not aware of. Please respond to his comments.

Ha! Well, I think he was specifically talking about my competitive nature on the squash court. I’ve always loved sports and I am competitive. Sports offers a great social way to channel energy. Regular exercise is crucial to my mental health and to my writing. Most of my poems come to me when I’m walking.

One of the prominent literary devices in your poetry is your use of humour. For many individuals, humour is difficult to write and yet, it appears to come naturally to you. I noticed that your editor for the book was Stuart Ross who is also known for his wit. What role can humour play in the genre of poetry? Do you feel it takes away from the seriousness of your environmental concerns? Why or why not?

I love to make people laugh. I think humour can create consensus while also offering critical perspective. Humour can be used to “punch up,” to subvert and critique, to investigate taboo, troubling drives, the unconscious, the uncanny, and the weird.

Environmental concerns are not only serious, they are absurd, complex, baffling, and pressing. Humour can help negotiate and explore, nudge and niggle. When poetry becomes too didactic or preachy it risks turning people away, and I think it also loses its ability to open up space for creative intervention.

Tom Cull at Oxford Book Shop - September 23, 2018 photo 2

Cull reads from bad animals, September 23, 2018 at the Oxford Book Shop.

One of the poems in your collection has stumped me. It is section iii. in your long poem “The Sleuth of Bears”. The section is titled, “Bear Breaks into House, Plays Piano but Not Very Well” which is a headline based on an article in the Washington Post, June 2017. After your title, the page is blank. Does that mean the people in the house ran away? Please explain.

The other poems in that grouping (or Sleuth) are erasure poems. For the “Bear Breaks into House” story I erased everything but the title. The title is funny and weird and I thought the story that followed only weighed down or compromised the power of the title. It also leaves space for the reader to create their own story as you did!

Wow, I totally missed the erasure part. That is too funny! On a more serious note, my favourite poems were “Backspace” (no bad animals here) and “The Granite into Which It Reaches” which includes the great blue heron line quote in my review of your book. I wasn’t as fond of “Conibear”, “dad bod” and “Auscultation”.  Which was your favourite poem in the book and explain why?

I think my favourite poem changes. My relationships with all the poems shift depending on mood, context, familiarity, time of year, etc. Sometimes a new audience will help me find a new love for an older poem. I often come back to the first poem in the book “After Rivers” — I’m glad Stuart suggested that one as the first in the collection.

What inspired you to apply for the role as London’s poet laureate? What did you enjoy most about the role? The least?

I was inspired to apply for the role of Poet Laureate because I saw it as an opportunity to build on and combine my love of poetry, community, and environmentalism. The role also offered an opportunity to work as a professional artist. I love so much about this role. I loved collaborating with so many excellent London and area artists and working with a great team at the London Arts Council. I loved creating programming to help London artists grow and share their work. I loved bridging the worlds of art and social justice. I loved being an ambassador for the City. I loved writing poems for dedications and occasions, and I loved meeting new people and hearing their stories. I loved mentoring emerging writers. Finally, I loved making a case for the continued relevance and importance of poetry in civic and public spaces. That’s the short list.

Sometimes I found it challenging to negotiate my private life and artistic freedom with my public role, but I wouldn’t say that I disliked this or liked this the least—in fact, it was a crucial part of the job and a challenge that deepened my understanding of the complexity of art in the public realm.

Tanis MacDonald, Tom Cull, and Penn Kemp at Oxford Book Shop - September 23, 2018 Photo 1

Cull shares the spotlight with writer Tanis MacDonald and former poet laureate Penn Kemp during a reading September 23, 2018 at the Oxford Book Shop.

Your appointment as London’s Poet Laureate ends in a couple of months. What are your plans for the future, personally and professionally?

I think I’m going to take some time to rest, recharge, and write. I’d like to tour my book across Canada, and I’ve got some collaborations in the works that are exciting. I will remain active in the community and always work to bridge the University campus and the London Arts community

Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers? Perhaps a plug about the WORDS festival in London which I’m assuming you are involved with again this November? Or your November 7th feature reading as part of the Creative Writers Speakers Series at Western University?

I have one more event planned as Poet Laureate: Poet Laureate Presents River of Words, which will take place at Words London at Museum London on Saturday, November 3rd . Additional information here.

I will also be reading at Words; I’ll be on a panel with Julie Bruck and Deanna Young (November 3rd at noon). Additional information here.

November 3, 2018 in London with Tom Cull

See London’s current Poet Laureate during WORDS “In Conversation” with Julie Bruck and Deanna Young, Saturday, November 3 at noon at Museum London.

Finally, I’ll be reading at Western (open to the public) in Dr. Aaron Schneider’s class, Write Now. Additional information here.

What the Badger Said (Baseline Press 2013) a chapbook by Tom Cull

What the Badger Said (Baseline Press, 2013) is Cull’s first poetry chapbook.

Thanks Tom for taking time from your busy schedule to chat. You appear to be having so much fun! Wishing you continued success and enjoyment with your future plans.

According to the inside back cover of Cull’s book, “Tom Cull grew up in Huron County and now resides in London, Ontario, where he teaches creative writing and serves as the city’s current Poet Laureate. His chapbook What the Badger Said, was published in 2013. Since 2012, Tom has been the director of the Thames River Rally, a grassroots environmental group he co-founded with his partner Miriam Love, and their son Emmet.”

*from the poem “Like a Bat” printed in bad animals (Insomniac Press 2018) by Tom Cull. Reprinted with the author’s permission Copyright © 2018 by Tom Cull (p.34)

 

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Six Canadian Poets Laureate To Gather in Windsor – October 27, 2016

Poet Laureate – one regarded by a country or region as its most eminent or representative poet – Mirriam-Webster On-Line Dictionary

 A newspaper editor once told me, “if this city ever gets a poet laureate, that would be BIG news.” I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not (he’s definitely not a fan of poetry) but if he was poking fun at the concept he should have been more open-minded and checked the facts.

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Black Moss Press publisher Marty Gervais says Poetry at the Manor is “proving to be the most popular and largest gathering of poets across the country”.

First of all, poets are similar to journalists in that they are also wordsmiths recording images of the world around them. True the writing style may differ between the two, but the passion and commitment are still there. Respect your colleagues.

Second, if you don’t like poetry, you haven’t met the right poet or read the right poem yet. Poems are like art or music or dance. There are different poetry styles to attract different people. Keep searching until you find something that you like. You may be surprised.

Third, at one time a poet laureate’s job was to write poems for special occasions as requested by the government or funding organization. Today his/her tasks may include writing for a new poetry collection or project, organizing community events, promoting poetry (and/or other cultural activities) and/or creating greater awareness among members of the general public. A daunting task at times with the job description tailored to each position.

Now, imagine what it would be like to meet not one but six poets laureate in one location. Better yet, see what all the excitement is about during the 4th Annual Poetry At the Manor” event to be held Thursday, October 27, 2016 at the Willistead Manor, Windsor, Ontario. This is no ordinary poetry celebration.

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Mark your calendar for the “4th Annual Poetry at the Manor”: Thursday, October 27, 2016 in Windsor.

Still not convinced? Check out the information and photos from last year.

Marty Gervais, the Poet Laureate of Windsor, also shares a non-exclusive sneak peek at what guests can expect to hear or see at Thursday’s FREE event. Below is an article he sent to me earlier this week. Used with permission from the author.

POETRY AT THE MANOR OCT. 27, 2016

Willistead Manor, Windsor, Ontario 

By Marty Gervais, Windsor’s First Poet Laureate

Nearly five years ago, Windsor set the standard across Canada for bringing together poets laureate from various Canadian cities for a major literary event.

The idea for such a gathering of poets was born here in 2012 when with the collaborating efforts of Cultural Affairs Office of the City of Windsor, I initiated “Poetry at the Manor” as part of my role as Windsor’s first poet laureate.

Since then, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria, Sudbury, Kingston, Mississauga, and other cities have followed suit with festivals of their own.

my-town-biblioasis-2011-by-marty-gervais

Marty Gervais wears many hats. Not only is he Windsor’s first Poet Laureate but he is an award-winning journalist/poet/photographer/editor. He is the driving force behind Black Moss Press and has written more than a dozen books of poetry, two plays, and a novel. His book My Town: Faces of Windsor (Biblioasis, 2011) is a collection of 70 snapshots of people and places that call Windsor home.

Windsor, however, leads the pack, having brought some 16 writers from across Canada to this city for an intimate autumn evening of poetry and storytelling at Willistead Manor.

And once again, October 27, the city will host the now-popular “Poetry at the Manor” where five writers hailing from as far away as Vancouver, Calgary and Regina and as close as Mississauga and Sudbury, will represent their respective cities at this literary event in the “Great Hall” at Willistead.

This annual event is proving to be the most popular and largest gathering of poets across the country.

This year I have invited five poets laureate from across Canada to travel to Windsor, and read their work to Windsor audiences. These include such award-winning poets as Yvonne Blomer (Victoria, British Columbia), Micheline Maylor (Calgary, Alberta), Anna Yin (Mississauga, Ontario), Kim Fahner (Sudbury, Ontario) and Gerry Hill (Regina, Saskatchewan).

The poets, too, will be going into Windsor high schools to conduct writing workshops and readings.

“Poetry at the Manor, Vol. 4” is free, and there will also be food and song.

This year, the welcome musical guest Crissi Cochrane, a pop-soul singer-songwriter now based in Windsor, will entertain with what critics have described as “the silky vocals reminiscent of Billie Holiday and Norah Jones.”

In addition to public readings and discussion, there will be book signings and sales, literary giveaways, and Poetry-On-Demand with Windsor poet and published author Vanessa Shields.

Background on Invited Writers:

GERRY HILL: Two-time winner of the Saskatchewan Book Award for Poetry, Gerald Hill published his sixth poetry collection, Hillsdale Book, with NeWest Press, and A Round For Fifty Years: A History of Regina’s Globe Theatre with Coteau Books, both in 2015. In the fall of 2015 he was Doris McCarthy Artist-in-Residence at Fool’s Paradise in Toronto. He lives and writes in Regina. He is Saskatchewan’s 6th Poet Laureate.

ANNA YIN: Anna Yin was born in China and immigrated to Canada in 1999. A finalist for Canada’s Top 25 Canadian Immigrants Award in 2011 and in 2012, Anna has authored five poetry books, including Wings Toward Sunlight (2011) and Inhaling the Silence (2013). Anna won the 2005 Ted Plantos Memorial Award, the 2010/2014 MARTY Literary Arts Awards and the 2013 Professional Achievement Award from CPAC. Her poems and translations have appeared in the New York Times, Arc Poetry, CBC Radio, Rogers TV, China Daily, World Journal, Poetry in Transit, Rice Paper, Room, and more. Anna is Mississauga’s Inaugural Poet Laureate.

YVONNE BLOMER: Writer, critic, teacher and poet, Yvonne Blomer was born in Zimbabwe, and came to Canada when she was two. With her husband she has taught in Japan, cycled through Southeast Asia, and lived in the UK, where she completed a Masters in Creative Writing with Distinction at The University of East Anglia. Yvonne is proud to be serving as the Poet Laureate for the City of Victoria, BC, and is the Artistic Director emeritus of the Planet Earth Poetry reading series.

MICHELINE MAYLOR: Micheline Maylor has been short-listed for the Robert Kroetsch award for experimental poetry, and in 2013 was shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award.  She teaches creative writing at Mount Royal University where she won the teaching excellence award in 2015. She serves as guest editor at Frontenac Press’ renowned Quartet series for 2013-17. She serves as the Past-president and co-founder of Freefall Literary Society, and is the consulting editor of FreeFall literary magazine. Her latest works can be found in Partisan, The Literary Review of Canada, and Quill and Quire. Micheline is a member of the Alberta Magazine Publisher’s Association. Micheline was appointed Calgary’s Poet Laureate on April 25, 2016.

KIM FAHNER: Kim Fahner lives, writes and teaches English in Sudbury, Ontario.  She has published her work in a number of Canadian poetry journals and anthologies over the last twenty years.  She has published three volumes of poetry, including You Must Imagine The Cold Here (Your Scrivener Press, 1997), braille on water (Penumbra Press, 2001), and The Narcoleptic Madonna (Penumbra Press, 2012). Kim had the honour of studying with Timothy Findley as her mentor at the Humber School for Writers.  In April 2013, Kim took part in The Battle of the Bards at Harbourfront/IFOA. Kim has been named the fourth poet laureate for the City of Greater Sudbury (for the tenure of 2016-18) and she is the first woman to be appointed to this role.

This event is traditionally standing-room-only, so mark your calendars now and plan to attend on Thursday, October 27, 2016.

BIG News Indeed!!!

Click the link for more information on Marty Gervais and the Poet Laureate Program.

 

Mississauga’s Poet Laureate Anna Yin Brings Eastern and Western Cultures Together

Languages have colours.* – Anna Yin

            “The Year of the Monkey” has officially arrived and Chinese-Canadian poet Anna Yin continues to celebrate with her public readings and writing of poetry. Her work is simple yet complex: colourful like haiku lines extended with silk ribbon metaphors, often lyrical with wind-sock blown, water-painted words flowing from each page. Her writing is exotic like an Asiatic lily but ‘down-to-Earth’ grounded with the strength and vulnerabilities of bamboo. Her mastery of English, her second language, amazes me.

As a writer, she has travelled far.

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Anna Yin, Poet Laureate for the City of Mississauga (2015-2017)

Born in China, she immigrated to Canada in 1999. Since that time, her literary career has soared. Today, she is the inaugural Poet Laureate for the City of Mississauga (2015-2017) and has authored five poetry collections. Yin attributes much of her success to “luck” but many of her admirers feel she’s a natural literary ambassador with a unique poetic voice. In person, she is kind and warm: ambitious with her dreams but keen in helping others excel.

Follow her literary career on social media and you will see her positive and enthusiastic nature captured in promotional and celebratory photographs. Note the huge smile on her face and on the people around her.

Over the years, her poetry and translations have helped to bridge the language barriers between Eastern and Western cultures. She is a strong supporter and promoter of literary events.

On Sunday, February 21, she will participate in the 2016-RBC-Toronto Quinhuai Lantern Festival Lights Up where Chinese and Canadian poets from the League of Canadian Poets and more will read and perform poetry. The event is organized by Ontario-Jiangsu Friendship Association and Jiangsu Overseas Exchanges Association. More information can be found here.

 

LCP Members Anna Yin and Alice Munroe

Anna Yin with Alice Major, the first Poet Laureate for Edmonton. Yin will participate at the 2016 Edmonton Poetry Festival as part of the National Poetry Month Celebrations.

In addition to her functions as poet laureate, she continues to tour with her most current book Seven Nights With the Chinese Zodiac (Black Moss Press, 2015).  According to George Elliott Clarke, the Poet Laureate of Toronto ( 2012-2015) and Canada’s newest Poet Laureate, “Yin’s bravura poems—so exquisite and extraordinary—merit bravo over bravo.”

Below is my book review scheduled to appear in the next issue of Verse Afire, the membership newsletter of The Ontario Poetry Society:

Hypnotic and surreal! Reading Anna Yin’s latest book, Seven Nights With The Chinese Zodiac, is like drifting into a series of dreams and “moon-watered” poems.

A breath-taking collection! Hold onto your night caps! Her culturally-rich imagination surprises the reader with appearances of floating cities, a dragon that “thunders behind hefty clouds”, “winged horses pulling/a chariot”, a snake that “swallows the sky” and so much more.

SevenNights_COVER_FINAL

Seven Nights With the Chinese Zodiac (Black Moss Press, 2015) is Anna Yin’s 5th poetry book.

In the poem, “Night Waves”, the reader encounters “Wave upon wave…/inhaling”. Sometimes the images depict sadness, like a fish “desperate for air” or adversity when “shivering in storms/our bed is a fragile boat”. Other times, hope prevails when: “light is the anchor”… “You open your eyes/moonlight pours in”. This Asian moon symbol with its cyclical phases, its ebb and flow, its association with Yin’s versus Yang’s attributes is like an astrological thread or tributary that skillfully connects the poems together. 

Her poetic words are often water brushed with rain and snow petals, love lost and faith found, the change in seasons, mirrors and reflections, the scent of dried roses and the inhaling of silence.

In one poem, she pens: “My path is illuminated by the moon–/the same moon walked with Basho”. This reference to the Japanese haiku master as well as prominent Canadian poets Dorothy Livesay, John B. Lee, Margaret Atwood and others shows a deep respect and appreciation for her mentors. By mixing the more traditional haiku with her more layered and longer free verse poems, Yin blurs the lines between Eastern and Western cultures.

 Anna Yin is a writer who works diligently to make poetry more accessible and appreciated at home and abroad. As she states: “I long to tie a golden thread/in this labyrinth of dreams”. Anna Yin’s book awakens the poetic night: splits open the reader’s mind with each gentle or evocative line.

Additional information about Anna Yin and her books can be found on her author website, on the Black Moss Press website and in an on-line interview published by The Medium, The Voice of the University of Toronto Mississauga.

A YouTube video about Yin’s poetic journey leading up to her appointment as the first Poet Laureate of Mississauga can be found here.

*Quote is from the poem “My Accent” Anna Yin, first published in ARC Poetry Magazine and reprinted in Seven Nights With the Chinese Zodiac (Black Moss Press, 2015).