Tag Archives: Poetry Events

Toronto’s Art Bar Poetry Series – A Must See and Do

We’re on our way to the famous Art Bar Poetry Series. Did I pack my camera?

Toronto skyline - October 19, 2014

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Large cities make me nervous. Prairie wheat and southwestern Ontario corn runs through my blood so its takes courage and an experienced driver like my husband to maneuver the heavy pedestrian and motor vehicle traffic surrounding this downtown Toronto poetry reading. Even with a GPS strapped to the car’s dashboard, we miss the discounted hotel we had booked on-line.

So many distractions like in a Where’s Waldo? book! When we finally spot the main entrance tucked behind some taller buildings, we can’t find a place to park. I fumble for my cell phone and call the hotel desk to request assistance.

Then there’s the problem with our dog. Not a sliver of grass to.. (you know)… relieve himself and so he leaves a nice puddle in the underground parking lot. We hope the incident isn’t captured on closed circuit cameras but that’s another story…

As a poet, I feel it’s important to push outside one’s comfort zone. It’s easy to hide behind a computer screen and allow the words to tractor across a white field and leave word-seeds typed and planted in a straight furrow for everyone to pick and read at a later date. However, poetry is more than written words. It’s organic (like soybeans) sprouting from a writer’s pen then growing and extending further into and beyond a consumer’s mind.

It’s also rhythm and sound so studying oral presentations is vital for improving one’s poetic voice. At least that’s the advice I received from award-winning Canadian sound poet Penn Kemp during a writer-in-residence session at Western University many poetic seasons ago.

Between the wailing sirens and the honking of impatient drivers, I can still recall what other poets have said about the Art Bar Poetry Series. “It’s a permanent fixture of Toronto”. “It has a huge following.” “It’s a great place to read.” Even in rural Ontario, I’ve felt its impact. Its reputation as Canada’s longest-running poetry-only weekly reading series is strong and many emerging poets dream about being asked and featured at least once in their writing careers.


The Art Bar Poetry Series (based in Toronto) is Canada’s longest-running poetry-only weekly reading series.

I never expected an invitation but was pleased when it arrived in my inbox last year.

And today, here we are…here I am…

…suitcase (and poetry books) in hand. We settle in the hotel room and I can’t wait to meet my close childhood friend. She noticed the Art Bar event advertised on Facebook and suggested a reunion. We hadn’t seen each other (in person) for close to 20 years and although Donna (one of my bridesmaids) has a strong creative side to her, this would be her first experience attending a poetry reading. I’m touched to have her join me since hubby and dog are not poetry fans and prefer to watch TV in the hotel room. She even brings along a neighbour-friend and tells me it is part of their goal to do something ‘new’ each week. I smile and feel my cheeks blush like a red pepper. She travelled 30 to 40 minutes for a quick visit. I hope she enjoys the show.

If you live in Toronto, the Art Bar reading venue is easy to reach via bicycle or public transportation, or so I’m told. The Mid East snack (2 skewers of marinated chicken breast served with 2 falafel, hummus, grilled veggies, salsa, chickpea-kale salad, pita) is excellent and was highly recommended by one of the co-hosts. The private room at the Free Times Café is ideal for showcasing the poets. There’s a stage, a microphone and I add a chair to hold my props which I forget to use. At first the spotlights challenge my eyes but then I find the right angle to connect with my printed words. Next time I’ll bring LARGER print or better yet, have my poems memorized.

Debbie Okun Hill at Art Bar Reading Series April 4, 2017 Photo 2 by Donna Henrikson

I smile and feel my cheeks blush like a red pepper. Photo by Donna.

During my Art Bar debut, over 60 people fill the room despite the competition of other poetry readings in the area including an earlier performance (by the well-known author Molly Peacock) held several blocks away. As a newcomer, I’m impressed by the variety of people in the audience. Not only are they culturally diverse but they represent a wide range of ages and include both emerging writers reading for the first time to the more experienced poets/editors/publishers. I’m comforted by seeing a few familiar faces, but many of the attendees are either strangers to me or writers I had heard about but had never met before. Call it a great place to feel the pulse of Toronto’s poetic scene!

On this evening, I share the spotlight with Phlip Arima and Ian Burgham, two well-known and experienced poets. Arima, a former artistic director of the ArtBar, dazzles the audience with his use of sound and his ability to perform his work by memory. The only time he reads from paper is when he is introducing new work. He is high energy combined with theatrics. I like how he changes his voice for each poem.

Phlip Arima (left) is a former artistic director of the series.  Ian Burgham (right) has read his work throughout Canada and the United Kingdom. Both were featured readers at the Art Bar on April 4, 2017.

Burgham is quieter (and sometimes apologetic when reading his new work) but like Arima he brings an entourage of friends and fellow poets with him. Although he has read his work throughout Canada and the United Kingdom, in an October 20, 2010 on-line interview with The Toronto Quarterly, he expressed his preference for writing versus the performing. (Many poets feel the same way.) He is the author of six poetry collections published in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

I’m in awe. Because this is my first time listening to these poets, I make note of Arima’s website here and Burgham’s feature on the Quattro Books website here. I look forward to reading more of their work in the future.

Over the years, the Art Bar has perfected their format. Each week, the series usually features three guest readers. Some are local. Others, like me, are from out-of-town or even out-of-province like Carmelo Militano, a Winnipeg poet who featured a week earlier than my reading. The evening closes with an open stage with approximately ten emerging and experienced poets.

A half hour later, the lights dim and another Art Bar evening ends as patrons slip outdoors to head home. Overall, I’m impressed but please, if you are reading this, stop by on a Tuesday evening and judge for yourself. A list of future readers appears on the Art Bar website.

I’m told, in Toronto, it is common to have two or three readings scheduled each day of the week. If I resided in this urban centre, I could slip into the audience and study them all. Can you imagine what a wonderful ‘live’ classroom this would be?

Rosa Arlotto, host at Art Bar Reading Series, April 4, 2017 in Toronto

Rosa Arlotto emcees the April 4, 2017 event. She is one of several hard-working members of the current Art Bar organizing team.

As a former co-host of a monthly open mic event in the Sarnia area for approximately 8 years, I am aware of how difficult it is to not only organize a regular reading series but to also properly promote it so that it attracts a regular following. In my opinion, the Art Bar team does an excellent job in both areas.

Team members Rosa Arlotto and Margaret Code are pleasant and professional in dealing with featured readers, open stage presenters and audience members. They praise Rob Welch for his enthusiasm and drive in organizing the featured readers from a distance. (Unfortunately, Welch is out-of-the country during my reading but I look forward to meeting him in person one day.)

The following week, I return to Toronto to support Sarnia poet Sharon Berg who reads from her new chapbook ODYSSEY and Other Poems (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017). (Follow my blog for a future post about Berg and her new chapbook.) At the Art Bar, she features with Hamilton poet John Terpstra and Peterborough poet Betsy Struthers.

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

Sarnia poet Sharon Berg introduces her new chapbook ODYSSEY and other Poems (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017) during the April 11, 2017 reading at the Art Bar Poetry Series in Toronto.

During their readings, I lean back, sip my drink and relax. Being a member of the audience is fun. Later, I share some new work during the Open Stage and then it’s over.

The drive back home towards the United States border is long but the time goes by quickly despite the late hour. It helps to travel with another poet; Berg and I chat the whole way. By the time I walk in the door and turn on my computer, the Art Bar Poetry Series has already posted and shared photos on Facebook. The next morning, promotions begin for the next week’s performers. I’m impressed again. Not only does this assist in widening the poets’ regional recognition but it allows out-of-towners, who cannot travel, to learn more about Canadian poets.

I smile like a stuffed potato sack filled with new experiences. The Art Bar Poetry Series is more than a vital thread in our national poetic fabric. I’ve learned it’s a home where poets can come together on a weekly basis and experience the rhythmic sounds and varied voices of poetry performed on a stage.

For me, that’s exciting news! So much support for creative folk!

Happy National Poetry Month everyone!


Canadian Readings of Lummox 5

“In place of Romanticism there is a new cynicism.*” – James Deahl, one of 16 Canadian contributors to LUMMOX 5

Imagine an international poetry anthology filled with ‘isms’: nationalism, surrealism, environmentalism, alcoholism, Buddhism, existentialism, consumerism, idealism, even terrorism.

According to RD Armstrong, Editor-in-Chief, LUMMOX 5, “there are at least 850 isms on record.”  Many of which are included in the 255-page “isms-themed” book released earlier this fall by LUMMOX Press in San Pedro, California.

Titled LUMMOX 5, the collection features the work of close to 150 poets from the United States, Canada, the U.K., Australia, and Nepal.

Once again Ontario poets are well represented and include in alphabetical order: Ronnie R. Brown, James Deahl, Joseph A. Farina, Kate Marshall Flaherty, Debbie Okun Hill, Eryn Hiscock, Lawrence Hopperton, Susan Ioannou, Donna Langevin, John B. Lee, Norma West Linder, Deborah A. Morrison, Denis Robillard, Ken Stange, Lynn Tait, and Grace Vermeer.

To celebrate the Canadian contributions, three readings have been scheduled in the Ontario cities of Hamilton, Toronto and Sarnia. 

Mark these dates on your calendar:


Several Canadian contributors of LUMMOX 5 will travel to Hamilton, Toronto, and Sarnia to showcase ‘isms-themed’ work.

Saturday, November 5 in Hamilton: LUMMOX 5 will be spotlighted with the launch of three other books: To Be With a Woman (LUMMOX Press, 2016) by James Deahl, Landscapes (Swords and Cyclamens, Israel, 2016) by James Deahl and Katherine Gordon, and Tall Stuff (Hidden Brook Press, 2016) a novel by Norma West Linder. Featured readers include Kent Bowman, Patrick Connors, James Deahl, Lawrence Hopperton, Ellen S. Jaffe, Norma West Linder, Michael Mirolla, and Deborah A. Morrison. This free event begins at 8 p.m. at The Staircase, 27 Dundurn Street, North.

Wednesday, November 9 in Toronto: LUMMOX 5 will be launched with readings by James Deahl, Kate Marshall Flaherty, Jennifer L. Foster, Debbie Okun Hill, Eryn Hiscock, Larry Hopperton, Donna Langevin, Norma West Linder, Michael Mirolla, and Lynn Tait. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. at The Toronto Public Library, Main Street Branch, 137 Main Street. Admission is free.

Saturday, November 12 in Sarnia: Poets James Deahl, Debbie Okun Hill, John B. Lee, Norma West Linder, Denis Robillard and Lynn Tait will read from the LUMMOX 5 anthology. Local historical fiction writer Bob McCarthy will be a special guest reader. This free event begins at 2 p.m. at John’s Restaurant’s Famous Room, 1643 London Line.


Canadian poets have also been featured in previous LUMMOX anthologies. Norma West Linder is seen reading in Hamilton on October 18, 2015.

Additional information about previous LUMMOX readings in Canada can be found here and here.

Additional information about 2016-2017 readings in the United States can be found here.

Non-themed submissions for LUMMOX 6 will be accepted from April 1 to May 31, 2017. In addition to poetry, essays on poetics, biographies, and the craft of writing, along with well-written rants and interviews will also be considered. For additional information check the LUMMOX Press website.

 *quote is from the essay “A Yankee in the Closet” by James Deahl published in LUMMOX 5 – 2016, page 198 Copyright © James Deahl 2016 used with permission from the author.

Squirreled Away With More Books: Preparing for the End of Summer

And then I turn to the piles of books. – Bob Armstrong*

Last week, I finished reading Dadolescence, a humourous novel about a stay-at-home dad written by Winnipeg playwright Bob Armstrong and published by Turnstone Press in 2011. (Yes, I took a welcome break from reading poetry.) In one of the chapters, the main character (Bill Angus) decided it was time to de-clutter his office and he was faced with piles of unread books, magazines, papers, and restaurant take-out menus.

Summer Reading 2016 photo 1

My 2016 summer reading pile. I still have a long way to go.

I laughed aloud. It reminded me of my own summer goal to de-clutter my living space without much success. Yes, the yard looks less like a jungle and I can see (well almost see) the top of my desk but my reading pile appears to have grown.

I’m convinced, books are like autumn leaves. As soon as the weather cools, new novels and poetry collections fall from publisher-heaven and swirl into “must read” piles. The stacks grow higher and higher, the lists stretch longer and longer, and my eyes open wider and wider. I want to rake them into my mind and read them all.

TOPS London event August 24, 2016 MC Fran Figge

Fran Figge, President, The Ontario Poetry Society, introduced the poets at The Sultry Summer Poetry Gathering in London, Ontario, Canada.

Yikes, I wonder if all writers have this problem: the love of books and the lack of time to read or review then all! Maybe if I stopped writing and attending literary events (which I tried almost successfully this summer), I would have that extra time to catch up. Maybe if I gave up watching all 10plus seasons of the TV series Bones on Netflex, my mind would be more poetic and less inclined to wander into some fictional mystery genre. Dream on….I’m afraid, I’m a bit like Bill, the stay-at-home dad, except I’m female, and have no interest in writing a PhD thesis called ‘participatory anthropological research’ nor being the next Kathy Reichs, the famous crime fiction author and brains behind the long-running TV series.

One event I refused to miss was The Sultry Summer Poetry Gathering organized by The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS) and the London Open Mic Poetry group. Held last Sunday, August 21 in London, Ontario, Canada, this poetry friendly event welcomed all levels of poets from the experienced to the first time reader. Many were London residents but over half of the attendees drove in from out-of-town: Sarnia, Toronto, Windsor and more. Everyone and anyone who wanted to share their work could do so which made for a long but enjoyable afternoon.

Congratulations to all the poets who launched and/or showcased new books!

TOPS London event August 24, 2016 mini-launches

A record number of TOPS members received spotlight launches/readings for their new books. The next TOPS event will be held in Oakville on Sunday, October 30, 2016.

They included in alphabetical order according to the author’s last name: Moving Waters: Poems and Stories (In Our Words Inc. (IOWI), 2016) by John Ambury; A Hundred Poems About Flowers – the first twenty-five (Boularderie Island Press) and A Hundred Poems About Flowers – the next twenty-five (Boularderie Island Press) by Robyn Marie Butt; Landscapes: Poems from the seasons of Ontario’s soul (Cyclamens and Swords Publishing, 2016) by Katherine Gordon and James Deahl; Zapped by Design, Zithered by Wit, The Artisan’s Well (2011) by R. Patrick James; Two Paths Through the Seasons (Cyclamens and Swords Publishing, 2014) by Norma West Linder and James Deahl; On Wings of Time: Poems Selected & New (Beret Days Books, 2016) by Kamal Parmar; Poems From An Eclectic Mind (Trafford Publishing, 2016) by David D Plain; and Look at Her (Black Moss Press, 2016) by Vanessa Shields.

TOPS London event August 24, 2016 members in attendance

A warm, dreamy day…close to 20 members of The Ontario Poetry Society shared their poems during the August 21st event at Mykonos Restaurant. Four non-members also read their work during the open mic.

Wow, more books to consider! What a great way to hear a sample from each collection and to learn more about some of the Ontario poets who are contributing to our rich Canadian culture. Rather than gush forth with all the details, I encourage you to check out additional photos on Facebook here and/or stop by some of the future readings held in your area.

TOPS London event August 24, 2016 Host Stan Burfield

Stan Burfield, London branch manager for TOPS and co-host of London Open Mic Poetry held the first Wednesday of the month at Mykonos Restaurant.

As for what happened to the fictional character Bill Angus and his pile of books, you’ll have to read Bill Armstrong’s book to find out. Or wait for my official review which may be posted at a later date. That’s my Canadian author’s plug and cliffhanger for today.

Times up! Supper break! See me escaping my chores, diving into another book, before the sun sets on this last week of summer reading.

Additional information about The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS) as well as their future readings can be found on their website. Or check out previous blog posts on this site.

Additional information about London Open Mic Poetry and their upcoming readings can be found on their website.

Information about upcoming literary events in Ontario can be found here on my website.

The League of Canadian Poets has an excellent blog post about how to start a new reading series. An event listing is also posted on their site.

COMING SOON: Information about CADENCE, a new reading series being planned for the Sarnia, Ontario, Canada area will be posted on this blog at a later date.  I can’t wait to hear what Sharon Berg and her committee have planned.

*quote is from the book Dadolescence (Turnstone Press, 2011) Copyright © Bob Armstrong, page 84.

Throwback Thursday – Sarnia’s #NPM16 Celebration

Every April, poets across Canada celebrate National Poetry Month. Some travel to read and/or visit out-of-town events while others stay close to home to organize or attend festivities in their own regions. It’s an opportunity to meet new people, to share common interests, to hear other people’s work, and to grow as a poet.

Last April, The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS) travelled to Sarnia, Ontario to host “The Pathways of Poetry Gathering” and to showcase some of its recent anthology editors and contributors. Non-members were encouraged to share their poems during an open mic.


Keith Inman reads at TOPS NPM16 event in Sarnia Photo- Melissa Upfold of The Calculated Colour Co.

Latchkey Lyricality Anthology editor/compiler Keith Inman travelled to Sarnia last April thanks to support of the Canada Poetry Tours program.


Special thanks to The League of Canadian Poets Canada/Canada Council for the Arts “Canada Poetry Tours” program for sponsoring Thorold poet Keith Inman’s visit and reading. (Note: the Canada Poetry Tour funding deadline for the October 2015 to March 2016 period is the end of July. The host is responsibility for submitting the application. More information here.)


Fran Figge reads at TOPS NPM16 event in Sarnia Photo by Melissa Upfold of Calculated Colour Co.

Fran Figge, President of The Ontario Poetry Society and Scarlet Thistles anthology editor/compiler.


Special thanks to TOPS Founder/Treasurer Bunny Iskov and TOPS President Fran Figge for supporting Sarnia’s #NPM2016 celebration. (Note: check the TOPS website for additional ways in which this organization supports poets.)

Norma West Linder reads at TOPS NPM16 event in Sarnia Photo by Melissa Upfold of Calculated Colour Co.

Norma West Linder, editor/compiler of Enchanted Crossroads.

Three cheers for all the featured poets  (Keith Inman, Fran Figge, Rhonda Melanson, Venera Fazio, Norma West Linder, and Carmen Ziolkowski) open mic readers (Alanna McGraw, Alexandra Ziolkowski, Bill Ansell, Don Gillatly, Kamal Parmar, Paul Ritchie, Melissa Upfold, Kara Smith, Heather Dunlop, Robert Hall, James Deahl, and Colin Graf) and members of the audience who braved the inclement weather to attend the celebration.


Enjoy the event photos taken by Melissa Upfold for The Calculated Colour Co. (Watch for a blog feature on Upfold this fall. Here’s her website.) 

Below is a report by Kamal Parmar, written for an upcoming issue of Verse Afire, TOPS membership newsletter. Parmar is the TOPS branch manager for the York Region. (News about her new poetry book will be announced soon.)

The Pathways of Poetry Gathering in Sarnia Report

By Kamal Parmar

The Sarnia poetry event emceed by Debbie Okun Hill, was held at the popular John’s Restaurant on April 3rd. There 50 poets/readers, including non-members and out-of-town poetry lovers in spite of the inclement weather and the forecast of an impending snowstorm.  Light snacks were graciously donated for this event. Everyone got to enjoy cheese and crackers, fruit, veggies and dip as well as a platter of butter tarts, brownies and carrot cake squares. It was a group effort.

Featured readers include Keith Inman from Thorold. He read poems from his War Poems collection, and Fran Figge, our President.  She read a few poems from The Poetrain Anthology as well as a few poems from her new chapbook, fall float fly.


Local and out-of-town guests at TOPS NPM16 event in Sarnia Photo by Melissa Upfold of The Calculated Colour Co

Local and out-of-town featured readers and guests at The Ontario Poetry Society’s Pathways of Poetry Gathering in Sarnia, April 3, 2016.


Other featured poets were Venera Fazio whose poetry was read by her friend Delia De Santis, Norma West Linder, and Carmen Ziolkowski whose poetry was read by her granddaughter, Alexandra. Other T.O.P.S. members who read were Debbie Okun Hill and Kamal Parmar. Members David D. Plain and Grace Vermeer came to be an appreciative audience.  Lynn Tait was unable to attend, due to a bad cold.  Debbie introduced her and showcased her work. We had thirteen open mic poets. There were seven gift wrapped prizes of books won by lucky purchasers of the raffle tickets.  It was an event to be remembered.


TOPS NPM16 event in Sarnia

Special thanks to Melissa Upfold of The Calculated Colour Co. for capturing all the memories. I wish I had space to share them all.


Detailed information about the featured readers, books, and anthologies can be found here.

Future TOPS events include “The Sultry Summer Poetry Gathering, August 21 in London, Ontario; “The Autumn Harvest Poetry Gathering”, October 30 in Oakville; and “The Winter WarmUp Poetry Festival”, November 27 in Toronto. More details here.

Upcoming Sarnia and other Ontario literary events are posted on my Event page.

Mark your calendar for the official launch of Landscapes, a joint book featuring the work of James Deahl and Katherine L. Gordon on Monday, August 15, 2016 in Sarnia. Out-of-town poet Pat Connors will also be reading. Follow my blog for more details.

Windsor poet Vanessa Shields will also be launching her new Black Moss Press book in Sarnia this fall. More details to be announced soon. Follow her website/blog.

Approximately 50 people attended TOPS NPM16 event in Sarnia Photo by Melissa Upfold of The Calculated Colour Co.

Can’t find a literary event or reading in your area? Consider organizing one. Several reading series/open mic events have started from just an idea and the enthusiasm to just ‘do it’.

Throwback Thursday – Niagara Literary Arts Festival 2015

Summer’s sun rolled like a beach ball into our yard. I ran outdoors to catch it and wound up lost in my flower gardens. So much for spring cleaning! However while tidying my desk (to escape the heat) I discovered some photos I promised to share.


Niagara Literary Arts Festival 2015 Featured Readers June 20, 2016

Featured readers at the 2015 Niagara Literary Arts Festival held over a year ago at the Mahtay Café in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.


Consider this a memory from my digital scrapbook, more images than words. A thank you to the host/emcee/organizer Keith Inman, a fellow Black Moss Press author, for showcasing regional poets. (Almost all the readers are members of the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association.) The event held over a year ago at the Mahtay Café in St. Catharines, was one of several spotlight readings held during the month-long 2015 Niagara Literary Arts Festival.

From left to right: The official poster for just one of several events during the 2015 Niagara Literary Arts Festival, Canada. Keith Inman organized several readings during the 2015 festival.

For those who are interested in this year’s program, check out the NLAF2016  website. There is still one more event scheduled for tonight (Thursday, June 23) featuring Andrew Porteus and Sherman Zavitz, 7 p.m. at the Niagara Falls History Museum.

Mark Your Calendars!

Summer is a great time for travelling and for attending literary events and festivals. I just received a poster listing all the events for the 2016 Leacock Summer Festival including an August 6 reading by Billy Collins, a former US Poet Laureate and a popular poet who often writes with a sense of humour. Mark the location Orillia, Ontario as a possible summer destination.

If you’ve never travelled to Niagara Falls and area, check a few more of my vacation photos here.

If you are currently seeking inspiration outside the house or office, consider attending one of several literary offerings scheduled for this week:

NLAF 2015 - Kelsey

Kelsey Knight was an open mic reader during the 2015 Niagara Literary Arts Festival, June 20 at the Mahtay Café in St. Catharines. She will also be a featured poet/performer at tonight’s (Thursday, June 23, 2016) Poetics Melodies at The Spice Factory in Hamilton, Ontario.


Tonight (Thursday, June 23 from 8 to 10 p.m.) in Hamilton, poet Kelsey Knight will be performing with pianist Ian Green, singer Lauren Mikaela and special guest Klyde Broox during Poetic Melodies at The Spice Factory.

In London, Andrews Gripp and Koral Scott will be featured in Couplets: Poets in Dialogue, Friday, June 24, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Chapters South London while Joan Clayton will launch her first novel When the Bones Speak, Saturday, June 25 at 2 p.m. at the RCAF Wing Association, 2155 Crumlin Road (near the airport).

In Mississauga, John Ambury, Moving Waters (IOWI 2016), Bradley McIlwan, Elementals (IOWI 2015) and Brandon Pitts, Tender in the Age of Fury (Mosaic Press) will showcase their work in a triple launch, Saturday, June 25, 2 p.m. at Sudio 89 – 1065 Canadian Place, Unit 104 (E. off Tomken Road, S. of Eglinton Avenue).

Future Literary Events!

For additional summer literary events scheduled for the Ontario area, check out my events page. (Please note this list represents only those event notices that have crossed my newsfeed or desk.  It does not represent all the events scheduled for the province. I share and promote as much as I can but I am only human.)

The League of Canadian Poets website also posts a list of poetry events scheduled across Canada.

Have an amazing summer everyone!

Follow this blog for upcoming Canadian Author and Poet Profiles.

Celebrating National Aboriginal History Month with Local Author/Poet David D Plain

He takes out cigar his favourite pass-time/To smoke on his thoughts of past paradigms – David D Plain*

As a young boy, David D Plain remembers sitting with his grandfather on a veranda in Sarnia, Ontario and feeling the “awesome power” of Nimikiins or Little Thunder, an Ojibwa War Chief who was also his grandfather’s great-great-grandfather. This vivid childhood memory comes alive in “Rendezvous with an Ancestor”, one of 43 poems in Plain’s newest book Poems from an Eclectic Mind published earlier this spring by Trafford Publishing.

David D Plain was a regular reader at Sarnia's Spoken Word event at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts

David D Plain is an aboriginal historian/author/poet from Aamjiwnaag Territory, Canada.

His non-fiction book The Plains of Aamjiwnaaang won a Golden Scribe Award in 2008 and was short listed for an Eric Hoffer Award in 2014. Two other non-fiction books (Ways of Our Grandfathers and From Ouisconsin to Caughnawaga) plus his historical fiction 1300 Moons have also won Gold Seals for Literary Excellence and were nominated for an Eric Hoffer Award. All four books were reviewed by the U.S. Review of Books.

His interest in history and culture is also evident in his debut poetry book where he touches on such indigenous themes as an Ojibwe creation story told in tercet form, a cinquain with an echoing Sioux expression “hoka hey”, a rhyming narrative about a windigo from Ojibwa folklore as well as references to an Ojibwe sweat lodge. However, non-indigenous themed works like “Limericks in Honour of John” are also featured.

Many of these traditionally-formed poems stemmed from assignments provided during weekly workshop meetings of Writers International Through Sarnia (WITS), one of several local writing groups in the Lambton County area.


Poems from an Eclectic Mind by David D Plain Book Cover 2016

Poems from an Eclectic Mind (Trafford Publishing, 2016) explores such universal themes as passion, spirituality, science and nature.


As a new poet, Plain takes risks and jumps in with confidence. As he revealed in the book’s preface: “In the spring of 2014, I was challenged to write a poem around a specific word, nemophilist. I had never written a poem, indeed I didn’t think I could. But, always up to a challenge I accepted and the result is in this work.”**

Plain’s work embraces his willingness to experiment and to try different styles including a concrete poem “Thirteen Essential Literary Terms” written in the shape of an umbrella. The front cover carries a surreal streetscape “Paris in the Rain” oil painted by Plain’s mother, Helen M. Coghill.

As shared on the back cover of his book:

“Eclectic and electric with ‘thunderous cracks’ of a summer storm!…Plain opens his literary umbrella to slosh and play in the poetic puddles and rhythmic-rhyming landscapes of his debut collection! Daring and exploratory through an ‘indigenous lens’, his literary trek reclaims such universal themes as passion, spirituality, ‘quasars and quarks’ nature’s ‘gurgling spring swirls’ and ‘past paradigms’. “

Promotion for his new book has already begun.

Earlier this month, Plain was one of three featured poets at Sarnia’s First Friday launch of LOCAL: Curated Art Show and Mural Project.http://localsarniashow.wix.com/local

In early May, he read with two other indigenous writers (Charmaine E. Elijah and Gloria Alvernez Mulcahy) during the London Open Mic Poetry Night in London, Ontario. Additional information: http://www.londonpoetryopenmic.com/may-4th-2016-photos-and-summary-featuring-indigenous-poetry.html

As a new member of The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS), Plain will have a mini spotlight reading at The Sultry Summer Poetry Gathering, Sunday, August 21 starting at 12:30 p.m. at Mykonos Restaurant in London, Ontario. More info: http://www.theontariopoetrysociety.ca/Poetry%20London%2016.html

With June being National Aboriginal History Month and June 21 being National Aboriginal Day, I asked Plain to share his thoughts on his writing process. Below are his responses:

(1) You have written several historical based books. What inspired you to switch your writing focus to poetry?          

I didn’t really change my focus, but more expanded my horizons. I am still writing history, but I now also write poetry for r&r (rest and relaxation). I was challenged to write a poem a couple of years ago and I took up that challenge, although I didn’t think I was capable. I found not only was capable, but I found writing poetry relaxing.


A Sample of David D Plain's books.

David D Plain is the author of five books: three non-fiction, one historical fiction and his latest a college of poetry Poems from an Eclectic Mind.


(2) Today’s contemporary poets often write in free verse format but your book focuses mainly on more traditional closed forms with end rhymes.  Explain why you prefer to work in these older forms.

I prefer rhyming forms of poetry, because of the challenges they present. For example, the sonnets I write must have 14 lines consisting of rhyming couplets and ten syllables per line. I just find the stricter form more fun to try to accomplish, although, I do write some free verse.

(3) Which is your favourite poem in your new collection and why do you like it so much?  

My favorite poem in my new collection is “Death’s Sudden Embrace”. It’s a love sonnet. It takes place in World War II and the two lovers in it are my parents, so it’s very personal.

4) Describe your writing process. For example where do your ideas come from and what do you do to turn that idea into a poem? Also do you write long hand or compose on the computer? What time of day/night do you like to write?

Often my writer’s group is given an exercise to try involving the writing of a poem using a certain form and/or a particular topic. Other times I select a topic from a list of writing prompts or sometimes my muse inspires me. I never write longhand, but type directly into my word processor. My most productive time is in the mornings so that is when I set aside a block of time to write.

(5) What are you currently working on? 


1300 Moons Book Launch1

Plain’s historical fiction book 1300 Moons may be turned into a TV drama series. A screenplay for the pilot episode has already been written.

I am currently working on a sequel to my historical fiction 1300 Moons. I am also involved with an ongoing TV drama series based on that novel. I co-wrote the screenplay for the pilot episode and it is currently being shopped around by the film production company. I am also working on a book on Saugeen history. It is non-fiction and I have about 50 pages written so far. All the while I continue to write poetry during my down time, as I stated earlier, for r&r.

(6) A week ago, you mentioned a new history group project that you are involved in. Could you expand upon that?

Yes, I belong to the Aamjiwnaang Heritage and Culture Club here on the rez (the local reservation). We have decided to publish a history of Aamjiwnaang. It is a collaborative effort by the club’s members. Individual community members will be interviewed with the taped interviews transcribed into oral histories of the community. At least that’s how it’s starting out!

(7) What are your future goals as a writer?

My immediate goal is to finish the sequel. The working title is Honorable Decent. I also plan to be more involved in writing screenplays. When I have enough of a collection of poems built up I will probably publish another poetry book.

Thanks David for the interview. I wish you continued success with all your literary projects.

Plains Launch Thumbnail

Another author profile on Plain appears on the “Writers Networking” section of Gloria Pearson-Vasey’s May 23, 2015 blog post: http://www.gloriapearsonvasey.com/writers-networking-david-d-plain/blog.

Also check out Plain’s website/blog: https://theplainsofaamjiwnaang.wordpress.com/

National Aboriginal History Month was created and officially declared by the Canadian House of Commons in 2009. The celebration takes place each June to “honour the heritage, contributions and cultures of First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities across Canada. Canadians are also invited to celebrate National Aboriginal Day on June 21st of each year.”

*from the poem “Rendezvous with an Ancestor” published in the book Poems from an Eclectic Mind (Trafford Publishing, 2016) page 66. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright ©2016 David D. Plain

**from the “Preface”, Poems from an Eclectic Mind (Trafford Publishing, 2016) page ix. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright ©2016 David D. Plain

Watch this blog for additional Canadian Author and Poet Profiles.


Denis Robillard, Winner of the Cranberry Tree Press 2015 Poetry Chapbook Contest

“Denis Robillard celebrates water…(His) poems fill the cup and the bowl. They slake the thirst of all who thirst for poetry…”

~ John B. Lee, Poet Laureate of the City of Brantford and of Norfolk County*

Early morning rain tap-dances against the window pane. This rhythmic thrum and translucent shower reminds me of Canadian poet Denis Robillard and the blue-gray drenched cover of his first poetry collection The History of Water. For me, water, on the surface, is light on its toes, refreshing, but dive deeper and a murkier metaphor lurks in the mud-lined puddles and swirling streams.

Denis Robillard - Photo by Joyce Robillard

Canadian Poet Denis Robillard**

This is where Robillard wades: into his haunting memories of a near-drowning, the loss of a parent, the destructive nature of not one but two flash floods. The result is a silver lining: a first place finish in the Cranberry Tree Press 2015 Poetry Chapbook Contest for his water-themed manuscript.

According to Bruce Meyer, past Poet Laureate of Barrie, Ontario and adjudicator for the contest, “There is a very interesting sense of narrative behind these poems that is at its best when it does what I love best in good poetry: it engages something larger than itself and its subject matter…”*

Last fall to celebrate Robillard’s award-winning work, Cranberry Tree Press published his water-themed book, The History of Water. A book-signing was held in Windsor in early December, however, the official launch party will take place on Tuesday, April 26 from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Teutonia Club, 55 Edinborough Street in Windsor, Ontario.

The History of Water by Denis Robillard FRONT COVER

The History of Water by Denis Robillard was recently published by Cranberry Tree Press in Windsor, Ontario.**

This National Poetry Month event will also include the launch of contest finalist Songs of Zambia by Rosalind Knight plus two other books: winner of the 2015 Cities of the Straits poetry contest smack in the middle of spotlit obvious (Farmhouse Press) by Laurie Smith and Curious Connections (Farmhouse Press), an award-winning short story collection by Karen Rockwell.

Robillard is no stranger to the Canadian literary scene. For the past 15 years, several hundred of his poems have appeared in the small presses and on line magazines across Canada, the USA, England and Scotland. Those include: Rattle, Rampike, Word Riot, Nashwaak Review, Algoma Ink, Cliff Soundings, Sidereality, Orange Room Review, Dusty Owl, Ditch, Windsor Review and many more. Robillard’s poems were also featured in An Unfinished War, a Black Moss Press anthology about the War of 1812. Born in Northern Ontario, he now teaches high school in Windsor, Ontario. He is also an avid photographer and traveler.

Several weeks ago, I asked Robillard to share his thoughts about his writing process. Below is his response:

  • Congratulations Denis on your award-winning manuscript. What inspired you to write a collection of poems based on a water theme?

Many of the poems in The History of Water touch upon my father’s death and my mom’s subsequent flood experience. (In the Fall of 2013, two flash floods in the same month virtually wiped away her home, belongings and dignity within days. It was like the final nail in a floating coffin.) Hence the idea of water rushing in and washing over our fragile lives. It seems like water has been the one true constant metaphor or archetype running through my poems. By the time I turned around I had written more than 40 “water based’ poems. Surely enough for a collection. I nearly drowned twice as a child, so again those images and experiences welled up to the surface and found their final form in these poems.

  • Not only did your water-themed poems win first place but I understand that your manuscript Little Read Writing Hood also placed third in the same contest. Some writers feel that entering contests is a waste of time. What motivated you to enter this contest organized by Cranberry Tree Press in Windsor?

After completing my manuscript, my next step was to shop them around. I sent these out to 3-4 publishers in 2013-2014. No dice. No movement. I stumbled across the Cranberry Tree Press manuscript contest in the spring of 2015 and quietly crossed my fingers and held my breath for results. I was not expecting anything big to happen. I was just exercising my poetic spirit by pushing a few poems out the door. Low and behold I won the contest and it was a real kick in the pants. It helped me formulate a game plan for the next chapter of my life. Once those poems had exorcised themselves, I started from scratch again. This is where today finds me.

  • How has your past influenced your writing?

I’ve always written, it seems. It started back in high school when I lived in Sault Ste Marie. I was part of the yearbook staff in high school so was able to slip in a couple of poems under the radar and get them published. In 1981 my parish priest caught wind that I had been writing “spiritual poems” so I offered up one of my journals to him to glean over. He read them through giving me high praise for my imagery and content.  He then published a few of those poems in the weekly church bulletin. Coupled with this love of writing was the instinctive love of reading. I was a voracious reader as a child, when in fact, my parents were scarcely ever seen with any books in hand. My interests flourished. From science to the supernatural, to spiritual and the panoply of biographies.  Again mostly poetry and biography were the mainstay.

  • Who are/were your mentors and how did they inspire you?

 I digested most of the Canadian pantheon by the time I left high school – Layton, Purdy, Waddington, Service, Atwood, Louis Dudek and many more. I got to meet Irving Layton at a school function in 1982 and his poems galvanized me.  At the tail end of high school, I wandered south with my cherry picking of books and took on some mild affectations with the Beats and Bukowski. More modern stuff entered the mix too.

Denis Robillard beside Archibald Lampman sign -  Photo by Joyce Robillard

Robillard feels “inspiration comes to the writer in various ways and incarnations.”**

In 2000 I moved to Windsor to pursue my teaching career. I would say that the motor city consciously or unconsciously got my poetry engine fired up on all fours. In Windsor I began to participate in the poetry community. I read at pub nights, was invited to read at university and took a more active role in the poetry community. I met some great people like Marty Gervais, Dan Wells, Gustave Morin, Vanessa Shields, Sal Ala, and many more who were a creative lot and very supportive. In 2002, I discovered Brantford poet John B. Lee and a vigorous correspondence ensued. An open line of communication was shunted open, one which still ensues to this day. He was another lightening rod or galvanizing point in my writing. My style changed of course over the years. Subjects matured and broadened. My reading tastes were also seasoned by more veteran writers. The Windsor Bookfest, opened my eyes to new and emerging writers on the scene like Steven Heighton, Stuart Ross, Jason Heroux and many more. I had essentially become hooked.

  • Describe your writing process and/or share some of your poetic insights.

Inspiration comes to the writer in various ways and incarnations. Mostly, unexpected, aleotoric ways. It could be something as simple as watching a cardboard box dipsey-doodle cavort and ballerina step its boxy self along a sidewalk or into oncoming traffic. Like seasoned rubberneckers we have an impulse to look and watch, to see what happens to the bouncing box in traffic. It seems to be propelled by some life force a benevolent poetic hand pushing it along.

A poem comes in the shape of a placid landscape imbued with morning light. The tender generator hum of cricket circuitry, the metronymic cicada rhythm of our breathing. Poetry is the shuffle of words caught in the act of remembering. Your thoughts rising above the smoke of the hills. The way you catch the sunburst in your loins, like a sugar maple swizzle stick. How sunlight floods through the cathedral of your bones. Insects making Morse sounds. Your eyes catching a bird’s stroboscopic shadow for the first time and you image to capture them onto paper.

It is the scrawl of a few tentative words on paper. Something seeking shape. A final varnish against fate. Damage control implemented across the universe with a sea of ghost faces parading in the Grand Abstract mode.

You sit by a pond soaking it all in. Write a few words then meditate upon them, sky, rain, earth, clock, eyes. Then looking through those false starts and aborted lines like a rag picker you re-examine those discarded pieces.

It comes in the guise of the skin of a building. Le Chien D’or. The castles of the Rhine, how they looked and felt under a prism of time. You seek to capture the one true essence, the zeitgeist of it and how it parades through the weathers of time.

  • Thanks Denis. I look forward to reading more of your award-winning work.

Follow Denis Robillard on Facebook.

Additional information about the April 26 launch appears here.

Additional information about Cranberry Tree Press as well as the shortlist of the 2015 Poetry Chapbook Contest finalists appear here.

*John B. Lee’s quote and Bruce Meyer’s statement appear on the back cover of The History of Water (Cranberry Tree Press, 2015) by Denis Robillard. Reprinted with permission from the publisher and creators.

**All photos courtesy of Denis and Joyce Robillard.

Follow this blog for future Canadian poet profiles.