Tag Archives: Poetry Review

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What inspires you and who are your mentors?

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

Fazio’s work recently appeared in these two anthologies.

Describe your writing process.

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

What are you currently working on?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Watch this blog for additional Canadian Author and Poet Profiles.                                             


Canadian Poet Allan Briesmaster Heightens Form in ‘River Neither’

“Or might I front, down steeper paths of thought,/some earthly light that verges on divine.” – Allan Briesmaster* 

The image of French sculptor Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker pops into my mind while reading Canadian poet Allan Briesmaster’s book River Neither.

Perhaps it is the way Briesmaster uses a more classical yet varied form of metre and rhyme that pulls me into the 19th Century or maybe it’s his concentration on nature, deep reflection, and abstract reasoning that challenges me and provokes additional study.


Canadian poet Allan Briesmaster is inspired by music, visual art, poetry and other writing from all historical periods and world literature, natural phenomena, and people who are close to him. Photo by Peter Rowe used with permission.

In his author’s notes, he states, “It is my cautious hope that, at a time when the creation, production and reading of poetry tends to be increasingly fragmented and over-specialized, and when in some quarters traditional form is deemed archaic or obsolete, a few discerning readers will set preconceptions aside and simply enjoy the journey along River Neither – one that will lead them to discoveries of their own.”

For me, the serendipitous moment arrives when I discover that Rodin originally called his famous sculpture, The Poet. It was also speculated that Rodin’s work was inspired by Dante Alighieri and his literary masterpiece The Divine Comedy, which outlines “a soul’s journey towards God or some spiritual realm.”

Continue reading

From England to the Yukon: Joanna Lilley Infuses a Magical Dimension into her Poetry

What if the dotted line/of the Arctic Circle just above me//on the map is a perforation?/What if the piece of the world/I’m on tears off? Joanna Lilley*

In a quiet space called imagination, a magical trail of ink flows from Joanna Lilley’s words and seeps inside my head. It swirls and stirs like eddies in a remote stream and my admiration deepens for the lyrical work of this award-winning Yukon-based and UK-born poet.


Yukon-based poet Joanna Lilley’s second poetry collection will be published by Turnstone Press in the Spring 2017.

Not all poetry books speak to me, but Lilley’s debut collection, The Fleece Era, ranks high with my favourites: North End Love Songs (J. Gordon Shillingford Publishing, 2012) by Katherena Vermette and The Shunning (Turnstone Press, 1980) by Patrick Friesen.

Published by Brick Books in 2014, her 96-page book has garnered many positive reviews including one by the current Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate, George Elliott Clarke who wrote in The Chronicle Herald: “I’m reminded of Emily Dickinson’s semi-mystical, epigrammatic lyrics, but also Elizabeth Bishop’s pointillist portraiture—the exquisite image and restrained emotion.”

For me, it’s Lilley’s gripping first line: “They could look down/on me from Google Earth” that draws me into her narrative plus the way she describes the northern community of Whitehorse where “aspen shadows dress/the snow in long blue ribbons” that gently nets me like an Arctic Grayling.

I’m on the edge of her poetic wilderness, turning each page, discovering new (and sometimes surreal) ways of looking at everyday living. For example, she writes: “I’m climbing the clay/looking for the steel/that holds up the clouds”. I applaud her dry wit where “cows/are the shape of the United States”.

Divided into four sections (A Riddle, Emotional Expenditure, At Each Exhale, and Nobody Else Dies), this book of 64 poems explores such common themes as familial relationships, (“you were a white-bread brother/in a brown bread house”) childlessness, the breaking away, the wanderer, environmental concerns (“my brain was a net/of dripping dead fish”), regrets, grief, and her move to the Yukon where “A mezzanine of mountains/surround this basement town”. However, what makes the book outstanding and worthy of a five-star rating on Goodreads is the simple yet beautiful language she uses and the way these themes are infused with original and enthralling metaphors.


The Fleece Era by Joanna Lilley received rave reviews and a five-star ranking by this blogger on Goodreads.

In her favourite poem “Earth Twin”, she writes: “If anyone asks whether I believe/in life on other planets, I say yes/right away.”

I love how she stretches the boundaries of her imagination and leaves the reader holding another strong and magical image.

In anticipation of her new book to be released by Winnipeg’s Turnstone Press in the spring 2017, I asked Lilley about her writing process. Below is her response:

Congratulations Joanna on your first poetry book The Fleece Era published by Brick Books. Please describe your book in a few sentences.

The Fleece Era is my first collection of poems and so I think it has its origins in many different stages of my life. The common theme for me is the awkwardness and difficulty of everyday living. The poems are very personal, though not to say autobiographical. They wrestle with the guilt that so many of us feel, from the detrimental impact we’re having on the planet to the pain we cause our families and others we love. I’ve been told the theme of childlessness is rather strong too which for me is very much connected to environmental worries.

What is your favourite poem in the collection and why do you like it so much?

That’s a difficult question! It varies, I think, depending on what’s going on in the world and in my current writing. I seem to like including “Earth Twin” when I give readings. It’s the last poem in the book and I like sharing it because it came out of such an ordinary, everyday activity, namely doing the dishes and listening to the radio. I love how we can find poetry in absolutely everything. That’s why poetry is magical for me. I love how everything from doing the dusting to, say, designing a space ship is all part of the human experience.

How does your work differ from others in the same genre?

I don’t think my writing achieves anything special in terms of form or subject matter. I think it’s more about content. My poems emerge entirely out of my individual experience. I’m the only person who has led my life just as you’re the only person who has led yours. Each of our lives is a unique configuration of possibilities, probabilities and inevitabilities. Only I could have written the poems I write, just as other poets could only have written theirs.

I have introduced you as a Yukon-based poet but you were actually born in Newmarket, Suffolk [in England] and according to your bio, you lived in England, Wales and Scotland before you moved to Whitehorse, Yukon about ten years ago. How important is travelling and living in different cities and countries to a writer? Where do your loyalties live? Would you consider yourself a Canadian or European writer? Or does it matter whether you are associated with a certain locale?

I think for me personally, travelling and moving has been very important for my writing but that’s not to say it’s important for every writer. I think you could live in one place all your life as a writer and perhaps even be a better writer because of it, as you’re delving deeper and deeper into your subject matter and paying more and more attention to the same, familiar surroundings.

For me, moving to Canada helped my writing a great deal as it enabled me to step out from under at least some of the weight of being brought up in a country with a very glorious and yet intimidating literary history. Canada has a rich literary history too, of course, but it wasn’t telling me from my childhood onwards that it was ridiculous and presumptuous for me to even imagine I could be part of the literary world.


Joanna Lilley reads from The Fleece Era during the Edmonton Poetry Festival in April 2015.

I find that geography inspires me, which is why moving around and living in different places has always been important to me. I find it easier to be an observer when I’m in a new setting and I admit I enjoy that role, although I also use the same observer device when I’m in a place that’s very familiar to me as it helps me be mindful and present.

As for loyalties, well, they’re certainly split. I feel very privileged that I can consider myself a citizen of two countries. I’ll always be English but I hope I’m considered as a Canadian writer too, especially as my books have been published by Canadian presses. I’ve never really felt European because growing up in Britain, Europe was across the sea. Europe was Abroad. However, I was very saddened by the Brexit decision when Britain voted to leave the European Union. Thats a mistake as far as I’m concerned.

I also feel lucky that within Canada I’m considered a Yukon writer. The Whitehorse community has been very welcoming to me and I’m grateful for that. I’m always happy to chat to people who want to know more about life in the north.

I understand Brick Books encouraged and supported you on your first book tour. Can you provide some details in a couple of lines? What did you like best about the experience? What did you like the least?

Kitty Lewis at Brick Books had the amazing idea of four of their poets, including me, doing a trans-Canada reading tour. The four of us – me with Karen Enns, Jane Munro and Arleen Pare – read all across the country coast to coast from Victoria to Fredericton. Brick Books provided some of the funding and so did the Government of Yukon’s Touring Artist Fund and the League of Canadian Poets.

It was the most amazing experience. I’d been trying to get a book published for so long, it was a dream come true. What I enjoyed most was reading with such amazing authors in such a variety of cities. What did I like the least? Well, at the very first reading, in Victoria, where the four of us had only just met a few minutes earlier, I, as the rookie poet with just one book, had to stand up and read first. So I had to read in front of a hundred people without having heard any of the others read which was terrifying. Thankfully everyone was very supportive and kind and I got through it and even had fun.


The Birthday Books (Hagios Press, 2015) is Joanna Lilley’s first short story collection.

Brick Books published your poetry collection in 2014 and in 2015, your short story collection The Birthday Books was published by Hagios Press in their Strike Fire New Authors Collection. That’s quite an accomplishment to be proficient in two different literary disciplines. How do you juggle your writing schedule to accommodate the two different writing disciplines?

I’ve been writing for a long, long time and so I suppose over the years you build up quite a bit of work even if you’re writing in different disciplines. And then, if you’re lucky and a miracle happens, you get published. I’ve always worked full-time and fitted my writing around that in the evenings and weekends. I’m usually either focusing on poetry or fiction at any one time. It’s hard to do both on the same day because I seem to go to a different part of my brain for each one. I see poetry and fiction though as part of the same rainbow, as it were; they might be at different ends or they might be different colours, but they’re all the same thing really.

Describe your writing process.

When I write I need silence and I need to be relaxed. Writing when I first wake up is lovely if I can manage it because I’m in a dreamy state and my editing hat is hopefully where I left it in another room. I need to know I have time to write slotted into my schedule or I get jittery. I can’t just write for five minutes, although if that was all I had then I would because not writing at all wouldn’t be an option. I aim to write every day and I admit I get rather grumpy if I have to go more than a day without writing.

What inspires you? Who are your mentors?

As someone who didn’t have a book published until later in life, I’m always inspired by hearing about writers who persevere and write what’s true to their heart. My most recent mentor was Gail Anderson-Dargatz. I did a novel mentorship program with her earlier this year which was an enormous help. She asks such powerful, probing questions and is so encouraging and inspiring.


Joanna Lilley in Vancouver’s Stanley Park during the 2015 Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour Celebrations.

I’m also part of a small writing group in Whitehorse which really helps me keep going. The other writers in the group are incredibly inspiring and we support each other through the inevitable ups and downs.

Every time I read a novel or a poem that I love I feel inspired – and envious of course! It was because I loved reading so much that I dreamed of being a writer. I remember a time when I didn’t really know any writers and now I feel so fortunate that I have friendships and connections with quite a few. It’s not easy being a writer and dealing with the frustrations of the writing process and all the rejections but I also feel blessed that I love writing so much and that I’m in that world.

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on a collection, hopefully, of poems about extinct animals. I’m also working on a novel.

What are your future plans?

I’m keen to keep working on the animal poems and the novel. My second poetry collection is coming out with Turnstone Press in spring 2017 so I’m absolutely delighted about that.

Do you have any special events this month where readers may hear your work?

As it happens I’m reading at The Word on the Street in Saskatoon on 18 September. I’m reading and talking about short stories with Donna Besel. There are some details here. I also put details of my upcoming readings on my website so that’s a good place to check for future events.

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

I’ve mentioned it already but I’m so grateful that I have writing in my life. It’s helped me so much through life’s difficulties. Just as there’s magic in reading, there’s magic in the process of writing itself and it brings me so much joy.

Thanks Joanna for the interview. I can’t wait to read your next book. Please keep in touch.

Find out more about Joanna at www.joannalilley.com

Information about The Fleece Era can be found on the Brick Books website.

Information about The Birthday Books can be found on the Hagios Press website.

*from the poem “Earth Crack” published in the book The Fleece Era (Brick Books, 2014) page 87. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright ©2014 Joanna Lilley

Watch this blog for additional Canadian Author and Poet Profiles.

Canadian Profile: Introducing Saskatchewan Poet Jan Wood

There are parables/that shouldn’t be told/ because there is no way/to marginalize their truth

Jan Wood*

 Saskatchewan poet Jan Wood leaves me speechless. She offers me a favourite excerpt from her debut book Love is Not Anonymous (Thistledown Press, 2015) and I thirst for more. One sip from the chalice is not enough.

I could fill a whole notebook with her thought-provoking words. In one poem she pens: “On Sundays a week’s supply of holy/melts on her tongue like a snowflake”. In another, “they stab my eyes with sequins”. In her poem “Meditation”, she writes “silence/unzips/the back of truth/with the hands/of a can’t-say-no-to-lover”.

I pause to reflect.

Love is Not Anonymous cover

Love is Not Anonymous by Jan Wood is part of the Thistledown Press 12th New Leaf Editions Series devoted to first books by emerging writers.

According to a description on the back cover, Wood’s book “is a spiritual journey into the many realms of love, a meditation on finding meaning and order in relationships and faith.”

If you think you know all there is about love, think again! Her poems skip the common garden variety where roses turn red and rhyming poems prevail. Instead, her work digs deep into real women’s lives as Wood skirts along controversial fences and flirts with love’s rocky edges. Even the famous Garden of Eden is marred by “half-eaten apples” in a “compost bin”.

Her 64-page (55-poem) free verse pilgrimage exposes the grit-thorn-bruises. As the poem “Leaving Eden” states: “there is more to love than a fairy tale”. However, there is also hope and Wood’s presentation is well-balanced and divided equally into four sections: Particles that Matter, Secrets and Silences, Defying Gravity, and The Colour of Light.

Her writing style is down-to-earth, yet intellectually stimulating. It is confrontational but also peaceful.

In a Verse Afire review**, Canadian poet April Bulmer wrote: “Wood’s focus on women is fresh, though mythological and allusive: “the full moon/cradled her and rocked/the hope in her pelvic hammock/to an ancient lullaby.” And then: “I am a beautiful mansion/with many rooms for rent.””

Not everyone will recognize the biblical parables. Some may not appreciate the scientific inquiry. Yet, Wood’s strength increases in her exploration for truth. Definitely, an emerging poet to watch!

A few weeks ago, I asked Wood about her writing process. Below is her response:

Congratulations Jan on your first book Love is Not Anonymous published as part of the Thistledown Press 12th New Leaf Editions Series. How would you describe your book in a few sentences?

Jan Wood with her debut poetry book

Jan Wood with her debut poetry book.


The poems are predominantly feminine and document a life journey. They examine the allusions and illusions while seeking proof of the existence of love and faith and ironically find a wholeness in their fracturing.

Please explain why there is a different font for some of the poems in the collection?

I refer to these poems as my god-talks. They are all in first person singular and are reference points for some of the poems that follow or precede them. They usually originate as questions that I am either afraid to ask or feel very provoked about. They often are the roots of much writing as I try to untangle the threads of my faith and female viewpoint in each issue.

How does your work differ from others in the same genre?

The collection has a spiritual nature and carries an interactive faith throughout that is genuine and searching rather than judgmental.

What inspires you? Who are your mentors?

Water always inspires me. I love it running wild and free in the lakes and rivers, in a warm bubble bath and in a tall cool glass. Its sound and energy, even in storms, is inviting and intoxicating to me.

Some of my favourite poets at the moment are: Rainer Maria Rilke, Rumi, Malcolm Guite, and Jan Zwicki.

Describe your writing process.

I write best in the morning and usually hand write everything in a journal for the first draft. The next step is a transferal to the computer where I edit and paste and cut and edit and edit again. I often store poems for a long time and then revisit them and edit again. I save all these draft copies and some of them become poems that speak in a different voice or take a different slant on the same theme. I find some poems fight me and I have to dissect them many times. When I am having difficulty with a poem it is invaluable to have someone in one of my poetry groups critique it or make suggestions.

What are you currently working on?

Jan Wood also makes handmade journals.

Jan Wood also makes handmade journals from up-cycled leathers. She says each one is unique and made in a small hand press.


I am working on a true account of my grandfather’s ice fishing camp on a Northern lake that tragically burned leaving its occupants injured. A First Nation’s dog sled and team rescued the men and transported them to an outpost hospital saving one of their lives. This has been an interesting project because I have sat with the Cree families that recall the event. Their oral stories differ with each retelling depending on audience and narrator and I am an invited participant only because this story is also about my people.  There is both a beauty and a frustration in the oral method of preserving history. I initially approached it in search of facts about the heroes, seeking times and dates and names. After many gatherings I am not much wiser in this department however, I have come to a much deeper understanding of the conditions and hardships faced by my grandfather and the people in the spring of 1923 and the sacrifice of giving aide when weakening your own life saving resources.

What are your future plans?

My husband and I are in the process of building a home along the river. We have visions of creating an Inspiration Centre, a quiet space close to nature for relaxing and refueling where individuals and groups striving to keep a spiritual element in their art forms can come and exchange ideas or have time for introspection.

Before you leave, please share another favourite excerpt from your book.


By Jan Wood

somewhere inside her

beyond apprehension

what she is not

yet/or might never be

glistens under water

and does to her shoreline

what prophecy does

in jagged letters

to the anointed

Thanks Jan for the interview. I look forward to reading more of your work.

 Jan Wood continues to pursue her passion for writing and words by teaching and leading workshops. Her home in the Northern Saskatchewan boreal forest provides seasonal inspirations and space to ponder the political and emotional issues that provoke her responses.

Poet Jan Wood

“Silence/unzips/the back of truth” – Jan Wood

Additional information about Wood can be found on the Thistledown Press website.

 To purchase a copy of Jan Wood’s Love is Not Anonymous, please send a cheque for $16.00 (includes postage and tax) to: Out of Ink, Box 298; Big River, Saskatchewan, S0J 0E0

*from the poem “Fundamental States of Matter” published in the book Love is Not Anonymous (Thistledown Press, New Leaf Series, 2015) page 37. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright ©2015 Jan Wood

**The full book review by April Bulmer appears in Verse Afire, A Tri-Annual Publication of The Ontario Poetry Society, Jan. to Apr. 2016 issue. 

***“Prophecy” originally published in the book Love is Not Anonymous (Thistledown Press, New Leaf Series, 2015) page 23. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright ©2015 Jan Wood

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I. B. Iskov’s New Poetry Book Skirts the Edge

“Bunny Iskov writes poems that skirt the edges and plunge the swirling eddies of sorrow and joy bringing with her the light of language and music of poetry.”

~ John B. Lee, Poet Laureate of Brantford; Poet Laureate of Norfolk County*

Canadian poet I. B. (Bunny) Iskov reminds me of the Energizer® Bunny and the TV commercial where the batteries in the pink-plush, sunglasses wearing, hare “keep going and going and going”. Even the Oxford Dictionary’s description of the generic ‘energizer bunny’ phrase resonates with her character and enthusiasm. She is indeed a “persistent or indefatigable person or phenomenon.”

Larry and Bunny Iskov Photo courtesy of the author

Family and friends are important to Canadian poet I.B. (Bunny) Iskov.

As the founding member of The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS), she has worked and continues to work tirelessly for this grassroots poetry-friendly organization which currently serves over 250 members. She has launched the writing careers of many emerging poets and embraces and caters to all writers from hobbyists to poet laureates. With the help of her executive, she has created contests, workshops, readings and open mic events. Through Beret Days Press, she has published newsletters, anthologies, and chapbooks for other people.

In 2009, she won the inaugural R.A.V.E. Award – Recognizing Arts Vaughan Excellence –for her work as Art Educator and Mentor in the Literary Arts.

Skirting The Edge by I.B. Iskov (IOWI, 2015)

Skirting the Edge by I.B. Iskov was spotlighted at The Ontario Poetry Society’s Autumn Harvest Poetry Gathering, October 18 in Oakville.

As an organizer and planner, she is simply amazing, but then I must disclose, we have been colleagues and friends for a long time. She is passionate about poetry, loves her family and friends and goes the extra mile to help others. Her own writing often takes a back seat in her busy schedule so I was thrilled when In Our Words Inc. (IOWI) officially released her new poetry book Skirting the Edge last Sunday, November 22 in Mississauga. Bunny also showcased her book at TOPS Autumn Harvest Poetry Gathering, October 18 in Oakville.

I asked her to share her thoughts on her writing process. Below are her responses:

1) Congratulations Bunny on your new book. What inspired you to write it?

The world around me inspires me to write poems.  Whether the muse comes from a personal experience, a news item or a work of art, I get motivated and words flow forth on the page.

In A Wintered Nest by I.B. Iskov (Serengeti Press, 2013)

In a Wintered Nest by I.B. Iskov  published by Serengeti Press, 2013.

2) How does your work differ from other writers? What makes it unique and special? 

I believe all poets are unique and special.  I sometimes will read a poem that I wish I had written and sometimes I get that same compliment from another poet I admire.  We all differ in our approach, in our use of metaphor and in our methods to create concrete visual imagery in different ways that are all worth sharing.

3) What is your writing process? And why do you write the way that you do?

I don’t really have a writing process.  Sometimes, a few months will go by without a poem, and other times, I may write 2 or 3 poems in a day. It all depends on my muse and on what I may be exposed to that conjures a poem or poems.

4) Who are/were your mentors?

My mentors include Katherine L. Gordon, Ronnie R. Brown, Fran Figge, K.V. Skene, Nancy Walden, Joan Sutcliffe, Marsha Barber, Jean Kallmeyer, Allan Briesmaster, Honey Novick, and you, Debbie Okun Hill.

Sapphire Seasons by I. B. Iskov (Aeolus House, 2009)

Sapphire Seasons by I.B. Iskov published by Aeolus House,  2009.

5) Ha ha! I think it’s the other way around. YOU are one of my mentors. What writing project will you be working on in the future?

I haven’t decided on my next writing project yet.  I am taking a cruise this coming January and maybe something on this voyage will awaken my muse to write.  I have a lot of personal responsibilities and I must give all of them adequate attention.  Writing poetry is a luxury that I must make time for when I have the time, which isn’t as often as I would like.

6) Is there anything else you would like to add about your book, your writing, your past or future?

I am grateful to Ronnie R. Brown, for taking the time to read all of my poems and put them in the best order and make all the sections for the book. I am grateful to John B. Lee and Anna Yin for their kind blurbs on the back of my book and I am grateful to my publisher, Cheryl Antao-Xavier for her expertise in making my book so beautiful.  I look forward to writing new poems yet to be created.  I know I can count on my all friends to keep me writing.

7) Thanks Bunny. I look forward to reading your new book. The reviews have been most favourable. Enjoy your literary journey!

Below is a review** written by poet Fran Figge:

Skirting the Edge  I. B. Iskov In Our Words Inc., 2015, 78pp ISBN 978-1-926926-57-5

Skirting The Edge by I.B. Iskov (IOWI, 2015)

Skirting the Edge by I.B. Iskov was recently released by In Our Words Inc (IOWI).

Creativity and cruelty are themes woven throughout I.B. (Bunny) Iskov’s latest book, Skirting the Edge. Creativity comes in many forms, from a handmade rug, to a stitched tapestry, from sculpture to painting, from theatre to film. In the book’s first section, the beauty of these diverse forms has been ‘restored by loving hand’ into poetry. Iskov captures their undercurrents, their messages and their whimsy, using her pencil/brush for ‘encapsulating fantastic footage’ of art forms and the artists who created them. Countering the lightness of creativity is the darkness of cruelty. In her middle book section, Iskov states others say she holds “the pencil like a knife”, an apt description of her evisceration of situations of cruelty, violence, alienation and oppression. In Though my Voice Breaks, she writes, “I am a wingless creature / on a hard impenetrable ledge,” nailing the feeling of helplessness experienced by the maligned. Iskov’s poems are a window to her deep and personal encounters with the world. They are also her catharsis. As she reveals in Dreaming of Poetry, “I look for metaphor / inside every human exchange.” These poems are a tribute to the successful realization of that goal.

Additional info:  I.B. Iskov,  The Ontario Poetry Society, and In Our Words, Inc. (IOWI).

Meet I. B. Iskov and hear her read at TOPS Winter Warmup Poetry Gathering, Sunday, December 6, noon to 4 p.m. at The Central in Toronto. The event includes a members’ reading followed by an open mic. Everyone is welcome. Reading sign-up will be at the door.

*John B. Lee’s quote appears on the back cover of Skirting the Edge (In Our Words Inc. (IOWI), 2015) by I. B. Iskov. Reprinted with permission. Copyright © Bunny Iskov.

**Fran Figge’s review of Skirting the Edge (IOWI, 2015) by I. B. Iskov will appear in a future issue of Verse Afire (TOPS’ membership newsletter) and was reprinted here with permission from the author.





Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews Polishes Poetic Word Gems

Sea glass/broken pieces/more beautiful now/than the original object/they once formed—Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews*      

Canadian poet Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews polishes and re-polishes her work. Call her writing a labour of love! She writes when she can, between family and teaching obligations, and takes her time to ensure each word shines. This year, she released two new poetry collections: A Jar of Fireflies (Mosaic Press, 2015, 108 pp. ISBN 978-1-77161-138-1) and Letters from the Singularity (In Our Words Inc., April 2015, ISBN 978-1-926926-50-6). Below is a review of A Jar of Fireflies that will soon appear in Verse Afire, the membership newsletter of The Ontario Poetry Society:

A Jar of Fireflies by Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews

A Jar of Fireflies by Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews was recently released by Mosaic Press.

Canadian poet Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews collects memories like she collects sea glass along the shore. It’s her quiet polishing of word gems that first drew me to her work in 2008 when her chapbook The Whispers of Stones was released by Beret Days Press.

In her latest poetry book, A Jar of Fireflies (Mosaic Press, 2015), she continues to collect the past and states that “memories light up the landscapes of our nights like fireflies”. Themes inspired by her familial remembrances, nature, love, flowers and dreams dominate this collection. What makes her work shine is her ability to pull in the reader with both her narrative style and sparkling-fresh metaphors. Three examples include: “summer days split open/like slices of ripe watermelon”, “the leaves are velvet tongues” and “I strike a match on stone/and memory ignites it to diamond.”      

Fans of Di Sciascio-Andrews’ work will recognize such favourites as “Sea Glass” where memories are broken and scattered and fused back again and “Immigrants Fishing on the Oakville Pier” where “Across the lake, white sails/Bite the sky’s pale lip./A regatta of shark’s teeth/Aimed at the unsuspecting neck of night.”

Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews- A Selfie

Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews – Self Portrait

Her poetry has been shortlisted for the 2013 Descant’s Winston Collins Best Canadian Poem Prize and the 2014 The Malahat Review’s Open Seasons Award. These and other award-winning poems are seamlessly woven with never before seen work to present a strong album of heartfelt and layered messages: “Behind me hangs the dream of you.”

Housed in a “blue daiquiri” painted cover with golden fireflies, her poetic work is showcased like framed petals on fancy crème paper, “like sunlit glass in her hands”.

Letters from the Singularity by Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews

Letters from the Singularity by Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews was launched by In Our Words Inc. (IOWI) in April 2015.

Additional information about Di Sciascio-Andrews can be found on-line. She is the Oakville branch manager of The Ontario Poetry Society and a full member of The League of Canadian Poets.

Last October, she launched A Jar of Fireflies during a members’ reading organized by The Ontario Poetry Society.

This Sunday, November 22 from noon to 3 p.m. in Mississauga, she will join other writers in the launch of The Literary Connection Volume II, an anthology of prose, poetry, artwork, and photography  released by In Our Words Inc. (IOWI).

Her poetry as well as an essay about her writing will appear in a forthcoming anthology spotlighting Italian-Canadian women writers compiled/edited by Lambton County writers Delia De Santis and Venera Fazio.

*from the poem “Sea Glass” by Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews, A Jar of Fireflies (Mosaic Press, 2015)


Celebrating the work of Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews and other authors of In Our Words Inc. (IOWI)

Writing Has No Age Restrictions: An Introduction to Poet yaqoob ghaznavi

“I am still circling/the same space of porcelain”
-yaqoob ghaznavi from his award-winning poem “Alzheimer”

A close writing friend recently wrote a column about retirement. It was a timely piece, considering that many of our friends were either retired or thinking about it. It made me wonder: “can writers retire?” What about those who have extra free time to consume? “Can you start a writing career in your silver-haired years?”

ghaznavi presented his new book during a spotlight performance last November at The Ontario Poetry Society’s members’ reading in Oakville.

ghaznavi presented his new book during a spotlight performance last November at The Ontario Poetry Society’s members’ reading in Oakville.

I immediately thought of poet yaqoob ghaznavi. I had just finished reading his first book under the almond tree (A Beret Days Book, 2014) and was surprised to learn that he had first discovered writing poetry in his sixties. Since that time he’s had work published in All Rights Reserved, Carousel, carte blanche, Descant, and the Toronto Quarterly in Canada as well as in publications based in the U.K., Ireland, the U.S. and Austria.

Back in 2008, The Ontario Poetry Society named ghaznavi, as the recipient of The Ted Plantos Memorial Award. At the time, John B. Lee, Poet Laureate of Brantford said “The poems by yaqoob ghaznavi have clarity of image, simplicity of language, maturity of content and they come ‘real’ to the page as it is with lived experience well expressed.”  See more details here.

ghaznavi certainly has a flare for words. During my blind judging for the 2010 Emerging from the Shadows Poetry Contest, I read and re-read 180 poems by new writers. The poem “Alzheimer” kept rising to my top five pile. At the time, I didn’t know it was ghaznavi’s work but I recall how the writing style pulled me into the confusing world of those suffering with Alzheimer’s. The poem placed third in the contest.

Four years later I am pleased to see it included in his first collection of poems. Below is my book review that will appear in the next issue of Verse Afire, a membership newsletter for The Ontario Poetry Society:

under the almond tree                  Reviewed by Debbie Okun Hill
by yaqoob ghaznavi
Premier Poet Tree Series #16 A Beret Days Book 2014, 58 pages
I.S.B.N. 978-1-926495-02-6

under the almond tree (A Beret Days Book, 2014)

under the almond tree (A Beret Days Book, 2014)

Canadian poet yaqoob ghaznavi writes “it is love/that makes me transparent/even over the phone” and it is love and loneliness, in all its various dimensions that form the base for under the almond tree, his first full-collection of poems. The book’s strength stems from his use of simple narrative language: minimal like a delicate dance or brushstroke of watercolour and yet, skillfully crafted to describe complex and deep emotions. For example, “I want to cut the monkey’s paw”, “lonesome waves/come to rest/after the long journey/through the melting sea” and “dreams illuminate my inside”. Reading his poetic work is like strolling through a dream montage “with centuries of wanderings”. Meet actresses “naked/as peeled cinnamon”, a character craving blueberry cheesecake, a geisha “making and breaking/her lovers”, a grandmother facing a tsunami, an immigrant yearning for his lost love/home and much more. Not only does this award-winning poet transport the reader across various heart-felt scenes in Berlin, Barcelona, Paris, Niagara Falls, Manhattan, New Orleans, and the Artic, but he also experiments with free verse, dialogue, glosa, and villanelle forms.  Recurrent images of the moon, birds, water/rain, and circles help to reinforce such messages as “I am still circling/the same space of porcelain” and “with the dust of lilac/I glue together/my broken mirror”. Bravo! An impressive debut collection from a poet who has already attracted the attention of several judges and editors of prestigious literary magazines.



When Poets Gather…”The Room Begins to Warm”

In the poem “The Living Room”, Sarnia writer Najah Shuqair mentioned turning on an electric green fireplace before “The room begins to warm.”

Najah Shuqair launches her secondn chapbook Sarnia, You Are In My Heart

Najah Shuqair launches her second chapbook Sarnia, You Are In My Heart

Last Sunday, the room’s warmth stemmed from friends and local writers who stopped by on a beautiful sunny long weekend to join the celebration launch of her second chapbook Sarnia, You Are In My Heart. Shuqair shared several heart-themed and acrostic poems as well as background information on her writing process.

Special guest Wendi Anderson, from the Sarnia and District branch of The Canadian Diabetes Association provided insight into this medical condition in which more than nine million Canadians are currently living with. She also outlined some of the activities the association is involved in. More information appears here. Fifty percent of the book’s proceeds will be donated to the Sarnia and District Branch of the Association.

Several guest readers: TOP (l to r): Anne Mason, Wendi Anderson; BOTTOM; Wendy Washing and Norma West Linder. MISSING: Debbie Okun Hill

Several guest readers: TOP (l to r): Anne Mason, Wendi Anderson; BOTTOM; Wendy Washington and Norma West Linder. MISSING: Debbie Okun Hill

Guest readers also included master of ceremonies Norma West Linder, area writers Anne Mason, Wendy Washington and Debbie Okun Hill.

A review of Sarnia, You Are In My Heart by Najah Shuqair appears here.


Launching This Sunday, Sarnia, You Are In My Heart by Najah Shuqair


Sarnia poet Najah Shuqair

Sarnia poet Najah Shuqair

Sarnia resident Najah Shuqair is a fighter. As a cancer survivor with a double mastectomy, she continues to stay positive despite life’s challenges. Almost two years ago, she lost her oldest son and just recently her father passed away. Now she is experiencing periods of low blood sugar. Still, she is a firm believer that having a healthy mind leads to a healthy body.

Raised and educated as a journalist in Jordan, Shuqair is determined and courageous. One of her goals upon moving to Canada was to write proficiently in English which is her second language. To hone her skills, she belongs to Writers International Through Sarnia (WITS), The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS), and Artists For A Better World (AFABW) in Hollywood, California. She recently joined Lambton Toastmasters Club in Sarnia

This Sunday, August 3, her second collection of poems Sarnia, You Are In My Heart will be officially launched from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Kinsmen Club of Sarnia, 656 Lakeshore Road in Sarnia. The book is dedicated to the City of Sarnia, in honour of its 100th birthday.

The afternoon will be hosted by well-known Sarnia writer Norma West Linder and will include a spotlight reading by Shuqair as well as poetic presentations by other local writers.

Refreshments will be served. Admission is free. Books are available at the launch and at the local indie store The Book Keeper in Sarnia.  Fifty percent of the book’s proceeds will be donated to the Sarnia Branch of The Canadian Diabetes Association.

Last week, I had a chance to read an advance copy of Shuqair’s second chapbook. Below is my review:

Sarnia, You Are In My Heart                                Reviewed by Debbie Okun Hill
Poetry by Najah Shuqair
Akhdar Press; 2014, 38 pages
I.S.B.N. 978-0-9811478-1-9

Six years after launching her debut chapbook Enter My Heart: Poems for the Soul, poet Najah Shuqair continues to focus on the heart: her love and passion for family, nature, and even the colour green. In fact, the word “heart” is mentioned over 15 times in her new book with her introductory poem stating “My heart is in every inch I walk on.” Her interest in the soul and spirits is still strong as evident in her poems “The Spirit”, “The Ghoul” and “White Angel with Green Outfit”.

Sarnia, You Are In My Heart by Najah Shuqair will be launched Sunday, August 3 in Sarnia.

Sarnia, You Are In My Heart by Najah Shuqair will be launched Sunday, August 3 in Sarnia.

However, in this second chapbook Sarnia, You Are In My Heart, Shuqair showcases her growth as a poet by experimenting with various poetic devices such as internal and end rhyme, free verse, alliteration and similes. Six of the 28 poems are written in acrostic form.

Raised and educated as a journalist in Jordan, Shuqair has embraced her Canadian home of Sarnia, Ontario but has also added some Arabic references which enrich her work. Her narrative exploration in new settings is welcomed. For example, in the poem “Sarnia” she writes “Your airport provides wings/to Toronto and beyond” and later in the poem “Car Rolls Over” she states “A car races the wind…not all people strapped in seat belts”.

With deep love, there is deep loss as shown in her poem dedicated to her late son: “Did the rose shrivel/ It was ripe yesterday./I watered it with my tears/covered it with my eyelids.” In this same poem, she writes: We hugged under the tree,/we became a pile of straw./The wind came and separated us.” In “One Winter Night”, one of the strongest poems in the book, she writes “the dark outside is hugging the dark inside” and towards the end of the book in the poem “One Spring Day” she asks “Did the thunder call the clouds to empty their tears?”

            To balance the book’s melancholic moments, Shuqair includes whimsical portraits of lawnmowers, raccoons, owls, herbs and flowers. One of her more humourous lines is: “Eating an apple a day helps me lose weight. As she states in an earlier poem: “We share our sorrow and happiness” Shuqair goes beyond that by showing how the heart heals. Bravo on a job well done.

Linder & Deahl: Two Canadian Poets Travelling Hand-in-Hand with New Book

Something magical ignited in Al Purdy country when Canadian poets James Deahl and Norma West Linder saw each other during a weekend launch of the Hidden Brook Press anthology And Left a Place To Stand On: Poems and Essays on Al Purdy.  Their friendship grew stronger and this Saturday, May 10, they will be in Sarnia, Ontario to launch their first collaborative work Two Paths Through the Seasons.

This Bluewater Reading Series event will also feature readings by London Poet Andreas Gripp who will launch his latest book The Better Kiss (Harmonia Press) and Toronto’s short story writer, novelist, poet and children’s picture book author Carol Malyon will read a short story from her book Lovers & Other Strangers (The Porcupine Quill).

Below is a reprint of my review* on Linder and Deahl’s new book:

Two Paths Through the Seasons: Poems by Norma West Linder and James Deahl will be officially launched in Sarnia, Saturday, May 10 as part of the Bluewater Reading Series.

Two Paths Through the Seasons: Poems by Norma West Linder and James Deahl will be officially launched in Sarnia, Saturday, May 10 as part of the Bluewater Reading Series.

Two Paths Through The Seasons
Poems by Norma West Linder and James Deahl
Cyclamens and Swords Publishing (Israel), 2014, 44 pp
ISBN 978-965-7503-15-7

Review by Debbie Okun Hill

North wind howls during this mid-March blizzard and thoughts drift to a familiar poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” written in 1922 by Robert Frost. This American poet often described nature and the solitary traveler in his writing. In an earlier poem “The Road Less Taken” he penned the lines: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,/And sorry I could not travel both.”

When Canadian poet James Deahl started his poetic journey, Norma West Linder was already five years ahead of him and strolling down a different path. Season after season passed until the fork in their travels lead them both to a literary event in Brighton, Ontario. Since then, they have travelled extensively side-by-side and hand-in-hand to poetry readings from Edmonton in the west to the Canadian east coast then south to Philadelphia in the United States.

Now thanks to Cyclamens and Swords Publishing in Israel, their first poetic collaboration has resulted in a 44-page book: Two Paths Through The Seasons. Not only does the collection showcase some of their best work written during the long and separate literary careers of these seasoned poets but it demonstrates the mystical charm that occurs when two writers weave their personal and poetic lives together.

As individual writers each could be considered a legend in his/her own field. Deahl who lives-breathes poetry is most prolific as the author of 22 literary titles. Linder who is better known as a novelist, started writing poetry in her forties. Her poetic career now spans over 40 years with fourteen poetry books to her credit.
To review their work is a daunting task.

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