Tag Archives: poetry

Ten Cities with Wayne Johnston – May 23 in London, Ontario, Canada

“Wayne Johnston has the ability to keep you on the edge of your seat with his tales of urban scenes.”* – Jim Chan, New York City videographer

 I’m sitting on the edge of my chair,

staring at all the accolades for Ten Cities: The Past Is Present, a free literary performance by Wayne Johnston to be held Wednesday, May 23 at 7 p.m. at the Arts Project Theatre, 203 Dundas Street in London, Ontario, Canada.

Ten Cities illustration by Wayne Johnston 2015

“Ten Cities: The Past Is Present” is a literary performance by Wayne Johnston. Illustration copyright © 2015 by Wayne Johnston. Used with permission from the artist.

“It’s brilliant! It’s funny, and sad, and unsettling and surprising.”* This quote is attributed to Guelph librarian Robin Bergart.

I’m intrigued!

Promotional material for the show explains that Johnston is visiting “ten sites in each of ten cities that have had a formative impact on his life.”

Wayne Johnston at Dixon Place in New York City

Johnston performs “Ten Cities” at the Dixon Place in New York City. Still image pulled from a video taken by Jim Chan. Used with permission from the videographer. Check out Chan’s website here.

He has already performed in New York City, Toronto, Accra (Ghana), Geneva (Switzerland), and Zagreb (Croatia). London represents his sixth stop with future performances scheduled for June 7 at the Arts Court in Ottawa and July 28 at Quixote’s Cove in Kathmandu (Nepal).

Events in Iqaluit and La Paz will also be planned but dates have not been confirmed at the moment. Each of the literary performances will feature Johnston’s drawings as well as his writing which mimics prose poetry, creative nonfiction or postcard stories.

 I’m still sitting on the edge.

In his tale entitled “London: Lord Nelson Public School”, he writes: “We hatch a plan to sneak out into the night. He leaves a note on his bedroom window. I sleep through the night and the note is found by his father the next day.”

Do I dare to read more?

In an artist statement e-mailed to Poetry London organizers, Johnston stated he wanted to “formalize a process for saying goodbye to the places where so many of [his] memories were born.”

Wayne Johnston - Self-portrait Painting

Johnston is a painter, performance artist, writer, and librarian from Guelph, Ontario.   Self-portrait painting copyright © 2015 by Wayne Johnston Used with permission from the artist.

In London, he focused on his experiences at Beaver Lumber, the Richmond Hotel, Clarke Road Secondary School, Victoria Hospital and six more locations.

“At each site I allow the sights, sounds and smells of the place to awaken my memories,” explained Johnston. “I write about those memories but I also write about the current experience visiting the site. I look for common threads between the past experiences and the current visit. I also do a drawing. The end result is a bit of a collage where multiple stories and an image emerge. I look for common motifs or structuring elements that tie the various elements together, sometimes in very subtle ways. Sometimes those connections may be apparent to the reader/listener. Other times there may be disparities and contrasts that are hopefully evocative without being necessarily coherent.”

“One of the strategies I’ve employed is to write always in the present tense. That can be confusing when elements clearly come from very different points in time. What I’m trying to suggest is that the past is not something fixed in a point in time. The past as it exists in memory is alive, impacting the present, being impacted by the present. To quote Slaughterhouse Five again, it’s like being unstuck in time.”

To say Johnston’s work is edgy is an understatement.

In some cases, his words will push you over. He warns, “I know the piece won’t connect with everyone who attends but some people have told me that this exploration of the relationship between place and memory has been very meaningful to them, that it left them thinking about similar dynamics in their own experience.”

Wayne Johnston is a painter, performance artist, writer and librarian from Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

His writing accomplishments include publication of an oral history on a tavern that had historic impact on Canada’s art community in the sixties. Making a living as a librarian has taken him to places such places as Geneva, Zagreb, Accra, Kathmandu, La Paz, Manhattan, Ottawa and Iqaluit.

*Additional praise for Johnston’s performances is posted on The Arts Project website (which was recently re-branded as TAP: centre for creativity).

His London appearance is being hosted by Poetry London and will also include a regional poets’ showcase featuring Frank Beltrano, Stan Burfield, Debbie Okun Hill, and Ron Stewart who will read approximately 5 to 7 minutes each.

Poetry London Presents - Wayne Johnston - Regional Poet Showcase - May 23, 2018 in London - Revised location

Poetry London is hosting a special literary event featuring Wayne Johnston and regional poets Frank Beltrano, Stan, Burfield, Debbie Okun Hill, and Ron Stewart, Wednesday, May 23 starting at 7 p.m. at The TAP Centre for Creativity, 203 Dundas Street in London, Ontario.

Admission is free. Hope to see you there!

Poetry London logo

Poetry London’s regular reading series runs from September to April of each year. Logo used with permission from Poetry London.

The website in partnership with the London Public Library, hosts monthly readings and poetry workshops in London, Ontario. Johnston’s performance is a special event to be held outside the regular reading season. For the latest news from Poetry London, follow their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Follow this blog for future event highlights as well as poet and author profiles.

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Sarnia’s #NPM18 Celebration – Captivating and Hilarious

“Crocuses, you’re down there somewhere,/but sorry to say, I forgot you existed.”* – Kateri Lanthier

Laughter rolled onto the floor like a magic wand, like candy eyes, like snowdrops and crocuses sprouting and blooming in fast-forward-motion. What a finale for Sarnia’s National Poetry Month celebration held Saturday, April 28, 2018 at John’s Restaurant on the fringe of the city!

Sarnia's 2018 National Poetry Month Celebration April 28, 2018 fb version

Sarnia’s 2018 National Poetry Month celebrations featured great performances by local and out-of-town guests. Back row from left to right: Grace Vermeer, Lois Nantais, Ryan Gibbs, Laurie Smith, and Kateri Lanthier. Front row: Marty Gervais.

Toronto poet Kateri Lanthier, who arrived in London, Ontario by train and then was chauffeured for an hour via car to Sarnia, has been praised for her highly original and witty poems. She was one of three out-of-town readers, joining Black Moss Press publisher Marty Gervais and Cranberry Tree Press co-publisher Laurie Smith, for the event.Guest Reader Kateri Lanthier photo 1 at Sarnia's 2018 National Poetry Month Celebration April 28, 2018

To see and hear this award-winning poet recite some of her work was like watching the famous Stratford swans glide across the Avon River. Her interest in Shakespeare rippled like fine wine through her work. Not only was she awarded the prestigious Walrus Poetry Prize in 2013 (the winning poem is included in this collection) but her second book Siren (Véhicule Press, 2017) is currently long-listed for The League of Canadian Poets’ Pat Lowther Memorial Award. (The short-list will be announced today on Monday, April 30.)

Her initial decision to establish eye contact with the audience versus reading from a book set the stage for her performance. Her repertoire from Siren included several of her modified ghazals (a historic Persian form) and a long poem “Haiku” which began with the traditional 5-7-5 form: “Plums from the icebox?/Was he kidding? My teeth hurt./Poets are liars.” Lanthier also read from her first book Reporting from Night (Iguana, 2011). Additional information about Siren can be found on the publisher’s website.

Gervais and Smith drove in from Windsor via the Canadian scenic route versus cutting through Detroit and Port Huron on the U.S. side. Gervais, who is no stranger to Sarnia, but hasn’t read in the city for at least a decade, is not only Windsor’s first poet laureate but the person behind the popular “Poet at the Manor” literary event held annually at the Willistead Manor, a former Hiram Walker family residence.

Guest Reader Marty Gervais photo 1 at Sarnia's 2018 National Poetry Month Celebration April 28, 2018

“At six, or eight, or nine, the concept of indulgences sounded a lot like the game of Monopoly and being handed a get-of-jail card,” quipped Gervais during his reading of the tale “Sin” from his book Afternoons With the Devil: Growing Up Catholic in a Border Town (Mosaic Press, 2010). “But you didn’t dare mention that to the nuns.”

A storyteller extraordinaire, Gervais has learned what it takes to capture an audience: warm them up with some humour, and continue to inject heart-warming tales as a preamble to his poetry. Yesterday, his off the cuff narratives about his storytelling grandson and his adventures with magic wands left the audience craving more. His poems are down-to-earth-accessible with a step back into history or a reflection of ordinary life during current times. Humour often reinforces his message. His accomplishments are too numerous to list in one article. Check his website here. Watch for his next book Table Manners: Selected and New Poems 2004-2018 to be released by Mosaic Press this fall.

Featured books Photo 2 Sarnia's 2018 National Poetry Month Celebration April 28, 2018 fb version

Smith is a hidden gem in the rough or (if the cliché is removed), she’s the sturdy backbone in a graveyard of osteoporosis. She “likes her steak rare”. Like the other two readers, Smith is also an award-winning poet. She was the first recipient of the Adele Wiseman Poetry Prize and her accomplishments are too numerous to mention here.

Guest Reader Laurie Smith photo 2 at Sarnia's 2018 National Poetry Month Celebration April 28, 2018

Her performance on Saturday night (with all her theatrics and voice transformations) was either on the razor cutting-edge of entertainment or leaning close to the macabre. Bring out the celery and ‘Bloody Marys’! What could one expect with a new poetry book called Said the Cannibal (Urban Farmhouse Press, 2017)? Her ‘tongue in cheek’ dark humour left the audience rolling their eyeballs or releasing their inner laugh tracks or both.

For example in her poem “eye candy” she shared, “i used to collect/candy eyes,/the colourful little/embellishments on/easter bunnies./lambs, duckies, chicks….so pretty to look at.” Yuck!! But the audience ‘gobbled’ it up. As for her critics, Smith has her answer all ready and even ends her poetry collection with a simple “fork it”.

For those seeking less queasy poetry, Smith also read from her book The Truth About Roller Skating (Cranberry Tree Press, 2011). From the poem “breasts”, she teased “there were the kleenex years, after all.” Learn more about Cranberry Tree Press here.

Featured books Photo 1 Sarnia's 2018 National Poetry Month Celebration April 28, 2018 fb version

Bravo to local organizers James Deahl and Sharon Berg (both established poets and experienced publishers) who invited the right mix of bards to showcase poetry as a form of entertainment.

Guest Reader Lois Nantais photo 1 at Sarnia's 2018 National Poetry Month Celebration April 28, 2018

In addition to the out-of-town readers, three local poets from Sarnia’s After Hours Poetry group also showcased their work. All three are serious and passionate about their writing and have had their work published in national publications. They manage to write despite their full-time work and other familial commitments; all three had unique presentation styles that kept the audience attentive.

A professed warrior for justice, Lois Nantais often reaches deep inside her emotions to write about loss, grief, and the healing process for herself and for those around her. Her quest for truth and understanding about complex matters such as religion was evident in her poem about her uncle. She also touched on the impact of the recent college strike. As a Lambton College psychology and philosophy professor, she has a deep concern for students’ needs and has a deep appreciation for the arts as evident by her former roles as a literary board rep for the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts and co-host of Sarnia’s Spoken Word event.  She has two poetry chapbooks published by Willow Path Press: of tender days: Poetic Reflections (2003) and The Heaviness of Rain (2008). Nantais is definitely a poet to watch.

Guest Reader Ryan Gibbs photo 1 at Sarnia's 2018 National Poetry Month Celebration April 28, 2018

Ryan Gibbs, another Lambton College professor and another former co-host of Sarnia’s Spoken Word event, is starting to get his name out into the literary community. He often writes about his travels and yesterday’s performance was no exception. For example, “Zealous travelling poets/recount their journey/along a path uprooted,” set the scene for his poem “The Buddha Room” published in the anthology Whisky Sour City (Black Moss Press, 2013). He also read a tribute poem for the late Sarnia writer Peggy Fletcher and another poem about Sarnia poets which was written in response to a comment made by an audience member during a reading in St. Catharines. Gibbs splits his time between Sarnia and London and can often be seen attending literary events in both locations. His poetry continues to grow in strength. Additional information about Gibbs appears here.

Guest Reader Grace Vermeer photo 2 at Sarnia's 2018 National Poetry Month Celebration April 28, 2018

Grace Vermeer shared several long and interconnected poems that were influenced by spiritual readings and in particular the Bible’s Book of Genesis. She credits Professor Cliff Johnson for fostering her love of poetry and encouraging her early efforts which won the Eleanor B. Mathews Award.  She attended Western where her poetry won the Lillian Kroll Prize in Creative Writing.  In 2014, she was awarded the Monica Ladell Prize as part of the Scarborough Arts Big Art Book 2014. Another poet to watch. Additional information about Vermeer appears here.

Prior to the readings, poets and members of the general public gathered in a private dining area to wine, dine, and chat about literary matters. Special thanks to the League of Canadian Poets for their support of the out-of-town readers.

Co-host Sharon Berg Photo 1 at Sarnia's 2018 National Poetry Month Celebration April 28, 2018

Co-host Sharon Berg

As co-host Sharon Berg applauded in Sunday’s Facebook post, “You really missed a good reading if you were not there to join in this event. The evening was filled with deep thoughts provoked by their words and peppered by roaring belly laughs.”

The out of town readers were pleased and responded positively on Facebook.

“Many thanks to Sharon Berg, James Deahl, and Deb Hill for a warm welcome and a wonderful evening,” wrote Lanthier. (Blogger’s note: Thanks Kateri but credit for all the hard work for this event should go to Sharon and James. My task was the unofficial blogger/photographer.)

“It was terrific,” wrote Gervais. “Thanks so much for the warm welcome!”

Co-host James Deahl Photo 1 at Sarnia's 2018 National Poetry Month Celebration April 28, 2018

Co-host James Deahl

“What a wonderful audience last night,” wrote Smith. “Thanks again for inviting me to be part of this.”

As the temperature rises and spring somersaults through the crocuses and daffodils, the 30-day poetic celebration winds down.

On Tuesday, May 1st, National Poetry Month officially ends for another year but hark…is that the sound and scent of new poetry books already lined up for future release? Some folks celebrate poetry all year!

For additional information about upcoming Ontario reading events, check the event section of this blog. Updates are made approximately once a week.

*Quote is from the poem “A Colder Spring” printed in the book Siren (Véhicule Press, 2017). Page 30. Copyright © Kateri Lanthier 2017

#pocketpoem with Canadian Poet Bernice Lever

Have you checked your pockets lately? Today (April 26) is Poem In Your Pocket Day and The League of Canadian Poets is encouraging bards (and the general public) to “carry a poem, share a poem, or even start your own Poem In Your Pocket event.”

Anything can happen during National Poetry Month!

Poem in Your Pocket 2018 - Not Just My Bunions by Bernice Lever

What a surprise! A postcard with the poem “Not Just My Bunions” by Bernice Lever arrived in my mailbox this week.

A few days ago, to my surprise, an unusual postcard appeared in my mailbox. On the front of the card was a poem: “Not Just My Bunions” by Bernice Lever. I laughed! Move over Rupi Kaur, the Indian-Canadian poet who recently became a household name penning poems about menstrual cycles and other intimate bodily concerns. Kaur’s books Milk and Honey (which I did read) and The Sun and Her Flowers (which I may not read) have attracted large followings by the general public.

Forward-thinking and daring poet Bernice Lever also likes to push the boundaries of what is acceptable: her postcard poem about bunions and crooked noses originally appeared in her book Yet Woman I Am (Highway BookShop Press, 1979) and just a few years ago, in her 10th book Small Acts (Black Moss Press, 2016) she penned in her poem “Faceless – Too Many Proposals”: “I am only 80, but I shock listeners & readers,/by my descriptions of delicious orgasms at 90!”

Both women write edgy (and accessible) work. Not everyone will like this type of poetry just like not everyone likes rhyming poetry or the obscure verse analyzed in high school literature classes. However, that is the beauty of poetry. I have a philosophy, “if you don’t like poetry, you haven’t read the right poem yet. Poetry is as varied as music, as art, as dance.”

RedShirtFace.pages

Canadian poet Bernice Lever feels honoured and delighted that her poem was one of 20 Canadian works featured in this year’s Poem in Your Pocket Day literature. Photo by Juergen Bruhns

Lever’s work can also be humorous and inspirational. Her contributions to the literary scene are far reaching and according to her author bio: “she has won four Lifetime Achievement awards including the Canadian Author Association (CAA) Sangster Award, 2005.

Back to the postcard: what a great way to share and introduce poems with the public! On the other side of Lever’s postcard poem is a note: “This postcard showcases one of 20 poems selected by The League of Canadian Poets to celebrate the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month in Canada: hand it out, drop it off, or send it to a friend.”

So here’s my plan. I’ve decided to share the postcard on my blog with the hope that others will take the poem (and/or this blog) and share it today as part of the #pocketpoem celebration! It’s just a small act of kindness which leads me back to Bernice Lever again!

To fully appreciate Lever, visit her Colour of Words website . A year ago, I wrote a review for her 10th poetry collection Small Acts. It is reprinted below with permission from The Ontario Poetry Society and the editor of Verse Afire where the review first appeared in the May to August 2017 issue.

Book Review

Small Acts by Bernice Lever; Black Moss Press, 2017, 68 pages; I.S.B.N. 978-0-88753-571-0    

“Oh, Mother Ocean, we’re sorry,” laments Canadian poet Bernice Lever in the opening environmental-themed poem of her 10th and most recent book. Not only does this award-winning and prolific author dive deep into her poetic “wave of words” but she skillfully breaststrokes through an additional 40 poems seamlessly harboured in such sections as ‘Water Wisdom’, ‘Love and Gambles’, ‘Poets and Fakes’. In her closing poem, she quips “Great Grannies are the latest in-demand category”. Heartfelt experiences matter.

Small Acts by Bernice Lever

Small Acts is Bernice Lever’s 10th book. It was published by Black Moss Press in 2016.

Titled Small Acts, Lever’s 68-page poetry collection compliments the Random Acts of Kindness movement, like a lifesaving buoy, where strangers go out of their way to help other strangers. Using accessible yet precise words to describe complex concepts such as concern for the environment, peace, love, and even the ramifications of social media, Lever often asks questions, shares humorous tongue-in-cheek rants and provides serious lessons based on her observations. For example, “may our words on water not sink”, “Be a peace gardener”, “Be an anger soother”. In the poem “Say ‘Thank You’, she concludes: “Gifts – all these are given to preserve/our many blessings of being alive.”

Her best poetic lines twist and swirl the imagination: “The glow from mom’s eyes/some where between warm caramel/and creamy cocoa” and “We pray for lashes of rain/deep puddles everywhere,/day long torrents of Heaven’s tears.”. In addressing Facebook, she rants, “You are a fake book, all blank pages for us/to donate our fake lives.”

Written by an experienced and life member of The Ontario Poetry Society and many other literary organizations, Small Acts nudges the reader to “float free”, to create word-waves, to turn this world into a better place.

I’m looking forward to chatting with Bernice during a less busy time.  A Q & A will be posted soon. Follow this blog for an update.

Get more poems in your pockets!

Additional information about Poem In Your Pocket Day, more postcards as well as the full selection of postcard poems can be found on The League of Canadian Poets website.

Check the resources available to teachers.

And finally, as the League reminds us: “if you’re participating online, be sure to tag @CanadianPoets and use the hashtags #NPM18 and #pocketpoem!”

National Poetry Month Events:

Here are additional reminders of other National Poetry Month events taking place in the London and Sarnia area:

April 2018 - NPM2018_Poster-665x1024

National Poetry Month 2018 officially started on April 1, 2018 and will continue until the end of the month.

Tonight (April 26) from 6 to 7 p.m., the COUPLETS: a collaborative poetry reading series will present Andy Verboom and Angie Quick for this month’s feature at The Arts Project on 203 Dundas Street in London, Ontario. Please note the last-minute change in the featured readers. More info about Couplets can be found here.

This Saturday, April 28, Sarnia-Lambton’s #NPM18 event will feature out-of-town readers Marty Gervais, Kateri Lanthier, and Laurie Smith and local poets Ryan Gibbs, Lois Nantais and Grace Vermeer at the Famous Room in John’s Restaurant, 1643 London Line in Sarnia. A pre-reading dinner that allows audience members to mingle with the guest readers will begin at 5 p.m. with the free reading to start at 6:30 p.m. (Please note: the earlier start-time for the dinner.) This National Poetry Month reading is made possible with financial assistance from The League of Canadian Poets.

FOLLOW THIS BLOG FOR FUTURE REVIEWS AND CANADIAN POET PROFILES!

Happy National Poetry Month Everyone!

 

Couplets – London’s Collaborative Poetry Series Returns for Third Season

“A unique blend of collaborative writing, collaborative performance, and live dialogue.” – Andy Verboom, organizer/host of COUPLETS: a collaborative poetry series

Spring rain collected in grey puddles on the parking lot, on the cracked sidewalk, and on Dundas Street in front of The ARTS Project in downtown London, Ontario, Canada.

Couplets - small log

Inside the Main Gallery, away from the splash and splatter of running water, I noted the empty chairs and checked my cellphone. Thursday, March 29. Did I have the wrong date? Was the inclement weather a problem?

COUPLETS host Andy Verboom noted my perplexed look and assured me with a smile. “We changed the start time. Did you see our Facebook post?” (I hadn’t.)

verboom-author-photo-3

For the 2018 season, COUPLETS host Andy Verboom is expecting to bring in more out-of-town and inter-art collaborators to London, Ontario.

He explained the featured poets travelling from Toronto were late! Not their fault! Something about a bus breaking down! No worries because they were on their way. No worries because in the interim, a table was set up for the audience to create collage poems using words found in a book about an unpopular politician. A few poets had already gathered with scissors in hand. Other people just chatted.

An hour later, the third season of COUPLETS officially launched without too much fanfare but with a relaxed host welcoming both the guest readers and a large audience that filled those empty chairs.

On that evening, former Detroit resident and Puritan Interviews Editor E. Martin Nolan and former Victoria, B.C. resident and Pivot Reading Series committee member Michelle Brown shared work from their new books Still Point (Invisible Publishing, 2017) and Safe Words (Palimpsest Press, 2018).

E Martin Nolan and Michelle Brown at Couplets Photo 6 March 29, 2018

Former Detroit resident and Puritan Interviews Editor E. Martin Nolan and former Victoria, B.C. resident and Pivot Reading Series committee member Michelle Brown shared work from their new books Still Point (Invisible Publishing, 2017) and Safe Words (Palimpsest Press, 2018), during COUPLETS Episode #16 on March 29, 2018.

The poignant poems of Martin and the exuberance of Brown reminded me of the multi-faceted sides of rain: how a water droplet can either destroy or soothe with a twist of the wind; how one’s perspective of work or play can vary; how even an incident on a bus on a rain-clad ride can turn into a gift like the collaborative poem presented by the featured couple towards the end of the evening.

It’s that exquisite and organic nature of the one hour COUPLETS events that make the drive into London worthwhile. Expect the unexpected! No two events are alike!

Originally advertised in May 2016 as ‘COUPLETS: Poets in Dialogue’, London Ontario’s newest poetry series now boasts the name ‘COUPLETS: A Collaborative Poetry Series’. With 16 episodes behind them, the series is definitely evolutionary: the subtle result of continuously blending two poetic and creative minds in an artistic setting. If you’re looking for the traditional rhyming and metered expressions of the couplet form, you may need to look elsewhere. This is more innovative than that.

Couplets 9 - Andy McGuire in front of collaborator Angie Quick's painting

COUPLETS #9 featured guest Andy McGuire in front of collaborator Angie Quick’s painting.

This week, I chatted with COUPLETS host Andy Verboom about some of his personal goals and his future plans for this unique event.

Andy, you’ve done something amazing here with your poetry series. As the new kid on the block, you immediately differentiated the series from the more established literary offerings in London.

For example Poetry London offers a pre-reading workshop followed by the readings by one or two high-profiled and established poets.

The London Open Mic Poetry series presents a featured local poet followed by an open mic in which anyone (even first time readers) can share their poems.

Couplets offers an unstructured yet structured presentation style whereby an experienced poet is paired with an emerging poet to create a unique collaboration. For those who are unfamiliar with this series, please take us behind the scenes. Where did the idea for the series come from and why did you decide to organize it?

Thanks, Debbie! In general, because the collaborators do so much more work than I do, I try to accept no credit for a good Couplets event and as little blame as possible for a not-as-good one. The same holds true for the series, which has been deemed ‘good’ by a number of encouraging folks.

That said, the series that would become Couplets was initially slated to be an ‘offshoot’ of London Open Mic, a simple recycling of former featured readers in a new venue. I accepted an invitation to helm it at a time when the scope of my own writing had suddenly widened from the single poem to the suite or project. And from that perspective—where form and structure become essentially generative—the journal that publishes ‘the best’ lit, the first collection that’s also a ‘collected works of,’ and the generalist reading series were all just plastic bags for stuffing poems into. I supposed I wanted a container that was more rigid, more demanding in terms of performance, but also less self-serious. The encyclopedia salesman’s briefcase, maybe?

Couplets logo

In any case, I wanted each Couplets to be generative rather than iterative, surprising both for audiences and for readers. This eventually required finding the series a better home than the original venue and disaffiliating it from other series. Couplets has shifted and matured so quickly, thanks to the support of many others, that I can’t take any credit for “deciding” to organize what it is now. Happy to be here, though!

Two weeks ago, you launched your third season with two young and vibrant poets E. Martin Nolan and Michelle Brown. What can the audience expect for the upcoming episodes?

Couplets 16 Banner

Expect the unexpected! Each COUPLETS episode like the one with E. Martin Nolan and Michelle Brown will inspire you!

Expect a departure from the foundational established/emerging dichotomy. With several collaborators playing ‘emerging poet’ in one episode when they could’ve played ‘established poet’ in another, the distinction was always just a numbers game. Also, I worry that ‘emerging poet’ reads like a euphemism for “don’t expect (as) much from.” And that both terms are fraught with ageism. As I get deeper into that uncanny terrain where I’m post-30 without a book of my own in sight—or ‘uggghh, still emerging, I guess’—I’m focusing more on scheduling collaborators whose work I can candidly and enthusiastically promote regardless of their publication credits.

Expect more inter-art collaborations. London isn’t hurting when it comes to collaborations across artistic disciplines (e.g., Tom Cull’s curations as Poet Laureate and The ARTS Project’s upcoming LDN Convergence), so a Couplets restricted to poetry threatens to get stale.

And expect more out-of-town collaborators. This season, for instance, will draw eight or nine collaborators from Toronto. Subsequent seasons might draw from other cities.

For the past two years, you’ve featured an eclectic mix of readers with veterans John B. Lee and Laurie Graham to emerging yet award-winning scribes such as David Hubert. How does one get involved with this reading series and what criteria do you use to not only select your featured guests but to create partners for each episode?

I can’t reveal my proprietary formula for matchmaking, but I’ll say that the robustness of the collaborative format has surprised me: it serves seriousness just as well as lampoon, and it can bear three months of overwrought collaboration or float atop a renga written on a bus on the way to the venue. So each performer’s fit with the series—their willingness to be (stealing from Dan Savage) good, giving, and game for anything—has proven more important than their fit with their collaborator. (Almost always. I did make a not-so-good match once.)

Couplets 12 - Ryan Gibbs & David Stones

Collaborators Ryan Gibbs and David Stones in COUPLETS #12.

If you want to read at Couplets, you can make your chances very good indeed simply by getting in touch. Or, maybe even better, email me with a recommendation for someone else who would make a great Couplets collaborator.

Why is a reading series (like the one you are organizing) so important to a community?

There might be two separate questions here. If you’re asking why a reading series might be valued by a community, I’d say the events provide social validation and comfort by actually putting that community in a room. If you’re asking how an unconventional reading series might be good for a community, I’d say it can challenge that community by exposing fractures in taste that are indicative of political disagreement. This might invalidate easy assumptions about unity and push community members to question their political positions.

What are your long term plans for the series?

In the medium term, I’d like to bring a second organizer aboard so that Couplets is eligible to apply for funding that could pay collaborators not only for their performance time but for their collaborative labour. Also to resolve the irony of a collaborative reading series being run by a single person.

In the long term, t-shirts. In the longer term, world domination via app development.

For those who haven’t met you, who is Andy Verboom and why are you so passionate about promoting poetry within the London community and beyond?

The Wide Skirt a

Andy Verboom wants the audience to be surprised!

The fact that this is my least favourite type of question probably says all you need to know about me. I’m not sure “passion” is the right term. I’ll stop doing Couplets, for instance, when it stops producing interesting and entertaining results.

Before we go, please tell us about your own writing! I understand you have a chapbook with Baseline Press, a London-based publisher and a few other projects plus you worked on a joint project with David Hubert, one of the first poets showcased in this series.

Orthric Sonnets came out with Baseline in October, 2017, and Tower (Anstruther) and Full Mondegreens (Frog Hollow) the year before—the latter being the joint chapbook with David Huebert. More generally, for someone who crams the gospel of collaboration down everyone’s throats, I haven’t collaborated very much. Who has the time unless some crazed reading series organizer extorts you, right?

Chapbooks_2017_Verboom3 - photo courtesy Baseline Press

Snatched up quicky!! The limited edition of Orthric Sonnets (Baseline Press, 2017) by Andy Verboom is now sold out. Photo courtesy: Baseline Press website.

What are your future writing goals?

Convince an editor at a big-name small press that my poetry is emotionless on purpose.

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

One of my cats micro-reviews books on Instagram: @one.eyed.jack.reads

*Sounds like a talented cat! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I wish you much success with COUPLETS  and your writing career.

Mark your calendars for future COUPLETS events:

April 26th with Palimpsest Poetry Editor Jim Johnstone and multi-faceted human and cartoonist Megan Arnold. More details here.

Couplets 17 in London

Couplets Episode #17 will feature Jim Johnstone and Megan Arnold on Thursday, April 26 from 6 to 7 p.m., Main Gallery, The Arts Project, 203 Dundas Street in London, Ontario.

The third season also includes six more episodes to be held on the last Thursday of each month! Coming soon: Julie Cameron Gray, Vincent Colistro, Stevie Howell, Jess Taylor, Aaron Kreuter, and others.

Follow COUPLETS on Facebook  and on twitter or check their  website/blog.

Andy Verboom’s author website appears here.  

 FOLLOW THIS BLOG FOR FUTURE PROFILES AND OTHER LITERARY HAPPENINGS.

It’s Here! National Poetry Month 2018! Let’s Celebrate!

 

The poet guests have arrived carting their suitcases of books and waving their pocket poems in the air. Expect to see them sprouting like snowdrops and daffodils across the Canadian landscape. April nudges the scribes from their wintry abodes to share their words with the public.

This year, the League of Canadian Poets (LCP) shares the news in a black, white and gold poster trumpeting the words “Celebrating twenty years of National Poetry Month in Canada.” Similar to other years, the 30-day party will prod people to experience the power of poetry: write or read a poem a day or think outside the box and create personal poetic memories. Mayors and municipal politicians can expect visits from poets during their council meetings. Students may find a poet or two in their schools. Libraries may offer special writing workshops.

April 2018 - NPM2018_Poster-665x1024

National Poetry Month 2018 (#NPM18) officially started on April 1, 2018 and will continue until the end of the month.

Expect Canadian publishers to be launching new books and literary organizations to be spotlighting poetry readings by well-known and lesser-known poets. Check out the League website for a list of events happening in your area plus information about their 700 plus members in Canada.

Our American neighbours will also be celebrating. In fact, they spearheaded the first NPM event and the Canadians followed a couple of years later. According to their United States website, “National Poetry Month was inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996. Over the years, it has become the largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets celebrating poetry’s vital place in our culture.” Check out their website for additional information and resource material from across the border.

Back in Canada and closer to home, for those in the Sarnia-Lambton area, Canadian poets James Deahl and Sharon Berg have organized a special #NPM18 event for Saturday, April 28 at the Famous Room in John’s Restaurant, 1643 London Line in Sarnia. Spotlight readers include Marty Gervais (Windsor poet laureate and publisher of Black Moss Press), Kateri Lanthier (winner of the 2013 Walrus Poetry Prize and the Toronto author of Siren published by Véhicule Press, 2017) and Stuart Ross (a well-known Toronto poet/editor and most recently the author of A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent published by Wolsak and Wynn, 2016 and Pockets launched by ECW Press, 2017.

REVISED April 18, 2018: PLEASE NOTE THAT STUART ROSS HAS HAD TO CANCEL HIS READING AND THAT LAURIE SMITH (Windsor poet and author of Said The Cannibal published by Urban Farmhouse Press 2017) WILL BE READING INSTEAD.

April 28, 2018 in Sarnia - revised guest

Check out the line-up of featured readers planned for Sarnia’s National Poetry Month event to be held Saturday, April 28, 2018.

Local readers include Lois Nantais, Ryan Gibbs, and Grace Vermeer.  (See circled images on the top of this blog post.) An optional pre-reading dinner that allows audience members to mingle with the guest readers will begin at 5:30 p.m. with the free public reading to start at 6:30 p.m. The event is made possible with support from The League of Canadian Poets.

In other news, Sharon Berg, publisher of the Sarnia micro-press Big Pond Rumours recently announced the winners of her 2018 chapbook contest and this month will be publishing El Marillio, the poems of the first prize winner Tom Gannon Hamilton. Below is the list of winners and the scheduled release dates for their chapbooks.

Big Pond Rumours chapbook winners

Sarnia is also the home to poet/editor James Deahl who recently edited the Canadian anthology Tamaracks to be published and distributed to a U.S. audience by Lummox Press later this autumn.  One hundred and thirteen Canadian poets were selected for the anthology.

According to Deahl in a recent e-mail to contributors, “Over three decades have passed since the most recent major survey of Canuck poetry. At least thirty of our important poets have left planet earth since then, including many of my personal friends like Milton Acorn, Gwendolyn MacEwen, Raymond Souster, Sam Simchovitch, Dorothy Livesay, Gwen Hauser, Marty Singleton, and Al Purdy. To renew our literature at least thirty new poets have emerged. So it was time for a fresh look at the full range of our poetry.”

He also mentioned, “Contributors’ readings will take place in Kitchener/Waterloo/Cambridge, Hamilton, Ottawa, Sarnia, Toronto, with three in Toronto. Also possible are North Bay and Kingston. (And I would be open to holding other Tamaracks readings where Ontario contributors live such as Oakville, Windsor, Barrie, St. Catharines, Brantford, Brighton, Port Dover, Cobourg, Thorold, etc.)”  Watch the event section of this blog for updates.

For those interested in having some fun with poetry, the Sarnia Library is encouraging people to celebrate National Poetry Month by dropping in to create a Collage Poem on Saturday, April 14 from 2 to 4 p.m. at 124 Christina Street. This event is open to all ages.

In the London area, Poetry London, the London Open Mic Poetry Night Series, and the COUPLETS: a collaborative poetry reading series will also host events during April.

Lummox 5 Sarnia Launch with Denis Robillard Photo 1 November 12, 2016

Poet Denis Robillard will be launching his first trade book on Wednesday, April 4, 2018 in Windsor.

In Windsor, highlights include the launch of the poetry books All the Words Between by Mary Ann Mulhern and Ask the River by Denis Robillard, April 4 from 7 to 10 p.m. at Fogolar Furtan Club of Windsor, 1800 North Service Road. The free event is being organized by The University of Windsor’s Editing and Publishing Practicum.

For additional information about these and other Ontario reading events, check the event section of this blog. If I’ve missed your provincial event, feel free to add a note in the comments section or send me info via the contact form on this blog.

For those who are wondering what my plans are for the month, my goal is to read (and review) as many poetry books as I can before I embark on my next project. Is it possible to read a poetry book a day? My sagging bookshelves are challenging me.

Coming soon on this blog is a profile on London poet Andy Verboom and his vision for COUPLETS, the collaborative poetry reading series he launched in southwestern Ontario a few years ago.

Also, follow this blog for a future insider’s look at the pros and cons of working with an editor.

Happy National Poetry Month Everyone!

Wherever you may be, let the celebrations begin!

 

 

Memories – The Love of Poetry Gathering

Today the grey clouds parted like curtains on a stage and the sun slid into view wearing a radiant coat! Melted snow dripped and dropped off the neighbourhood rooftops. It smelled like spring…like poetry…like love sneaking around a corner for Valentine’s Day.

If only Cupid had warmed the Earth a little sooner.

TOPS The Love of Poetry Gathering in North York invite

The Ontario Poetry Society held a members’ reading and open mic on February 11, 2018 at the Symposium Café Restaurant Bar & Lounge in North York, Ontario.

 

Last Sunday, several local members of The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS) braved the cold icy weather to attend “The Love of Poetry Gathering” at the Symposium Café Restaurant Bar & Lounge in North York, Ontario. According to TOPS Vice-President Joan Sutcliffe, “the event was reasonably well attended and enjoyed by all who made it.”

Symposium Restaurant North York Feb 11, 2018 Photo Larry Iskov

“There were three book launches,” she wrote. “Reflections: Places, People, Love & Loss – a chapbook by John Hastings, published by Beret Days Press as Stanza Break Series #62; Bottom of the Wine Jar – an English/Spanish anthology launched by Patrick Connors as one of four contributors in connection with the Cuba Literary festival; and Letters to My Father by Banoo Zan, a Persian/English book published by Piquant Press in 2017.”

TOPS The Love of Poetry Gathering - book launches Feb 11, 2017 in North York

One book, one anthology, and one chapbook by members of The Ontario Poetry Society were spotlighted in North York, Ontario.

 

Additional readers (in alphabetical order) included: Marsha Barber, Sheila Bello, Allan Briesmaster, Howard Freedlander, I.B. (Bunny) Iskov, Mark Kruk, Joan Sutcliffe, Lilly Williams, and Victor Zurkowski.

TOPS The Love of Poetry Gathering - featured readers Feb 11, 2017 in North York

I, like many out-of-town poets, missed the gathering due to the inclement weather and the dangerous driving conditions. However, thanks to Larry Iskov, many of the memories were captured in these photographs.

Featured Readers North York event Feb 11, 2018 Photo by Larry Iskov

May you have a warm and wonderful week!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Officially Launched – Drawing From Experience

“We sat on the ledge/weathered edge of life’s dock/…celebrating the ascent of friendship.”    -Debbie Okun Hill*

New books remind me of paper boats launched into a river. Some will float near the dock and amuse the locals who are fishing along the shoreline. Some may crash into a wave and sink like the Titanic to annoy the pickerel and bass. Others may venture beyond the sunset and entertain strangers in foreign ports.

Drawing from Experience - Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017 - by Debbie Okun Hill

I hope my poems reach you like a friend with an outstretched hand.

Unlike novels, a poetry chapbook can be fragile like origami and calligraphy mixed together. It is the watercolour of the literary arts and sometimes misunderstood like the mysteries of life.

The passage of time is a mystery too…like a drifting boat.

Over two months ago, Big Pond Rumours Press officially launched my poetry chapbook. Drawing From Experience, at the Exmouth Street Coffee Lodge in Sarnia. For me, the afternoon was more than an event to introduce my art-themed poems to an audience. It was an opportunity to spotlight the literary arts as well as to applaud the support of friends, family and other writers. What a celebration it was!

Drawing from Experience Launch Featured Readers and more November 11, 2018

An entertaining afternoon with featured readers Anne Kavanagh Beachey and Ryan Gibbs, the chapbook launch of Drawing From Experience (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017) by Debbie Okun Hill, emcee Bob McCarthy, and Big Pond Rumours Press founder Sharon Berg.

Special thanks to featured guest readers and former Lambton County residents and writers Anne Kavanagh Beachey and Ryan Gibbs who returned to Sarnia to share their stories and poems. Local historical fiction writer Bob McCarthy was the emcee and his humour warmed up the audience. (Bios on these authors can be found in an earlier blog post.)

Drawing from Experience Open Mic Readers November 11, 2018

Open Mic Readers: Top Row (left to right) – David D Plain, Lynn Tait, Norma West Linder, Bob McCarthy. Bottom Row (left to right) – Gloria Pearson-Vasey, Bob Boulton, Carmen Ziolkowski.

Belated thanks to the ‘collage of open mic performers” (in alphabetical order): Sharon Berg, Bob Boulton, Norma West Linder, Bob McCarthy, David D Plain, Lynn Tait, Gloria Pearson-Vasey, and Carmen Ziolkowski.

Plus a round of applause to Sharon Berg, publisher of Big Pond Rumours Press who worked hard to not only publish my chapbook but the work of three other poets: Bob Wakulich, Nelson Ball, and Harold Fedderson.

Additional information and earlier reviews focusing on my chapbook Drawing From Experience can be found here.

Big Pond Rumours Press 2nd Annual Chapbook Contest

Big Pond Rumours Press is currently seeking poetry, flash or short fiction, and non-fiction manuscripts for its next chapbook contest. Deadline is February 28, 2018.

Big Pond Rumours Press is a micro-press based out of Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. Submissions for its second annual chapbook manuscript contest is now open until February 28, 2018. Additional information about the press and the contest can be found on its website.

*From the poem “Starting a New Tradition” from the chapbook Drawing from Experience (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017) Page 5 Used with permission from the author © Debbie Okun Hill 2017