Tag Archives: poetry

23 Canadian Poets Selected for LUMMOX Number 6

“If creation (life) is like a river, then surely poetry is one of the many eddies that feeds the river and makes our journey possible.*” – RD Armstrong, Editor-in-Chief, LUMMOX Number Six

Canadian poet James Deahl has done it again! For four years, he has been encouraging Canadian poets to submit work to LUMMOX, an American poetry anthology published by LUMMOX Press in San Pedro, California. His goal was (and is) to promote Canadian writers to an American market and he has certainly done that.

Lummox 5 Sarnia Launch with James Deahl Photo 2 November 12, 2016

Canadian poet James Deahl is interested in promoting Canadian poets and their work to an American and international market.

“This year, there are 23 Canadian poets in LUMMOX Number Six,” said James Deahl in a recent announcement. “The most ever. And once again the city of Sarnia leads the way with seven contributors.”

Two of those Canadian poets have won awards for their submissions. Hamilton poet Ellen S. Jaffe won second prize for her poem “Another Kind of War Story” while Barrie poet Dr. Bruce Meyer won third place for “The Beautiful Neanderthals”.

Other Canadian contributors include: Rosemary Aubert, Ronnie R. Brown, Patrick Connors, James Deahl, Joseph Farina, Venera Fazio, Kate Marshall Flaherty, Jennifer L. Foster, Katherine L. Gordon, Debbie Okun Hill, Eryn Hiscock, Susan Ioannou, Donna Langevin, John B. Lee, Bernice Lever, Norma West Linder, Rhonda Melanson, Deborah A. Morrison, Lynn Tait, Grace Vermeer, and Jade Wallace.

Lummox6Cover-240x300

Launching in Canada: LUMMOX Number Six (LUMMOX Press, 2017)

Edited by American poet RD Armstrong, the 216-page book features the work of over 150 poets from the United States, Canada, the U.K., Australia, China, and Dubai. “There is [sic] also a lot of other interesting goodies as well,” wrote Armstrong is his foreword to the anthology. “We have a conversation between the Queen of Bohemia, Philomene Long and Allen Ginsberg…This little gem comes from the old LUMMOX Journal. There are a number of essays ranging from a “newbie” poet in Dubai writing about dealing with rejection to two portraits of influential poets – Canadian Al Purdy (James Deahl) and American Ed Dorn (John Macker) to Murray Thomas’s “Music and Memory”.”

The anthology also includes flash fiction, several reviews about Canadian poetry collections written by Canadians, photography by Sarnia’s Lynn Tait, and the essay “On Writing and Dreaming” by Bright’s Grove editor/author/poet Venera Fazio.

LUMMOX 6 Back Cover

This 216-page anthology features the work of over 150 poets from the United States, Canada, the U.K., Australia, China, and Dubai.

To celebrate and promote this inclusion of Canadian poets in an American publication, Deahl has organized two FREE readings in Ontario, Canada: Wednesday, November 1, 2017 starting at 7 p.m. at the Staircase Café, 27 Dundurn Street North in Hamilton and Saturday, November 18, 2017 from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Turret Room of the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts, 127 Christina Street South in Sarnia. Both local and out-of-town LUMMOX contributors will share their work at the events. Admission is free and open to the public. (Special thanks to The Lawrence House Centre for the Arts for presenting/hosting the Sarnia launch.)

LUMMOX Six launch dates November 2017

Mark your calendar for these two Ontario launches featuring several Canadian contributors to LUMMOX Number Six.

A reading in Toronto is also being planned for April 2018.

Deahl mentioned that LUMMOX Press has expressed an interest in publishing an anthology of Canadian poetry. “This would be the first anthology of Canuck poetry to come out in the United States in over 30 years,” said Deahl. He expects an announcement with more details to be made soon.

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

Additional information about LUMMOX PRESS can be found here.

Follow this blog for future event highlights. A partial list, of upcoming literary events planned for various Ontario locations, can be found here.

*This epigraph is from the foreword “The View From Down Here” by RD Armstrong published in LUMMOX Number Six (LUMMOX Press, 2017).

 

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Writing and Reading Poetry is like Test Driving a Car

Yesterday, today, tomorrow…

Autumn Leaves October 2017

Words fall like autumn leaves. In my backyard, ash saplings fight to survive. Listening to their young voices has inspired me. After a two-year dormancy, my ash tree-themed manuscript has been dusted off and is currently being updated with encouragement from a new mentor.

This autumn, I learned something valuable about writing. If you don’t like where you’re going, just get out of the car and start walking in a different direction. It’s as simple as that or is it?

For about a year (maybe longer), I’ve been sitting idle, spinning my wheels and wondering how to get out of this ‘hanging on the literary fence’ rut. I could blame it on my husband who retired almost three years ago. He and the barking-just-found-his-voice elderly dog (with a cone around his head) were quite the distraction. I missed those long hours of quiet time at my computer. However, I also went through the getting old, feeling empty-nested, and craving  a change in my scenery-humdrum blues. I knew I loved writing but…it had become a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week job! I needed a change.

Chalk Dust Clouds by Debbie Okun Hill - Books arrive September 29, 2017

Sometimes a person strolls in one direction and life throws some chalk to do a rewrite. This happened to me. My manuscript Chalk Dust Clouds (rejected and rewritten several times under different titles) won first prize in The Ontario Poetry Society’s 2017 Golden Grassroots Poetry Chapbook Award. Stop by my half-booth at London’s Souwesto Book Expo, Saturday, November 4 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Museum London.

My husband (in his wisdom) dropped a book (Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and David Evans) on my desk and said “Read this”. I don’t always listen to my husband’s advice but he caught me at a weak moment and he was right. It was an excellent book. Through one of the exercises, I learned that I spend the majority of my time working while my husband spends much of his retirement playing. Both of us needed more balance. What a great idea! All I needed was to dump some of my work onto him and then go do something fun. This wasn’t the reaction he was hoping for. (Of course, I’m teasing.)

October 25, 2017 in Windsor

Back on tour with two new chapbooks. If you’re in or near the Windsor area, stop by and say hello at this October 25, 2017 event. Special thanks to Vanessa Shields for organizing this special evening and to The League of Canadian Poets for its sponsorship.

Then I discovered a section about keeping a diary and recording what you liked and didn’t like to do and how you could brainstorm to create new ways to do more of the things that made your waking hours more enjoyable. In one chapter, the authors talked about the bench test and how the best advice was that you shouldn’t listen to anyone else’s advice but just try different things until you found something that felt right for YOU. If you couldn’t find what you were looking for then it was suggested that you just create it or at least move forward and engage in some meaningful activity while you continued to look. A few of my friends tried that, without even reading the exercises in the book.

November 11, 2017 event in Sarnia with correct spelling

Thank you to Big Pond Rumours Press for recognizing my love for art in this ekphrasic-themed chapbook Drawing from Experience to be officially launched Saturday, November 11, 2017 at the Coffee Lodge in Sarnia. Stop by to hear Ryan and Anne and bring something to read. Everyone is welcome to share.

For example, one out-of-town author moved out of the big city to take up residence in a smaller community. She’s now concentrating on the novel she’s always wanted to write. Another writer took a break from writing to socialize more. She joined a literary board and spent the summer and most of the fall in a small resort area. She loved being with people and having that time away from her normal routine. Another friend decided to teach and is still testing the waters as they say. All three writers took a test drive to see what they liked and didn’t like. As the book states and I paraphrase, “there are no mistakes, just lessons learned.”

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For the first time ever, LUMMOX Press, a California-based press will be publishing an all-Canadian anthology for 2018. Several Canadian poets have already been in previous issues. Check out the Canadian launches of LUMMOX Number Six on November 1 in Hamilton and on November 18 in Sarnia.  A Toronto launch is being planned for April 2018.

In my opinion, reading and writing poetry works on a similar premise. I’ve often said, “if you don’t like poetry, you haven’t read the right poem or met the right poet yet.” Writers, even within the same genre, can differ in style and content. The same works for writing poetry. Some forms and topics will interest you more than others. Find what works for you and run with it.

The same goes for selecting a literary magazine or a publisher to submit to. Also, try different critique groups, attend different open mics, and research different agents and editors to see who might be the right fit for you and your projects. In early 2012, my literary mentor passed away. After five years of searching, I may have found a replacement. Time will tell. You can even test drive your poems to see which version feels right to you.

For those who are interested in attending or trying out a few different literary events, check out the 2017 event schedule on my blog. I try to update it at least once a week. If I seem rather quiet, am skipping regular critique groups and/or am not blogging or writing as much poetry, it’s because I’m still cruising the landscape, pausing on a bench to reflect, and/or seeking balance in the noisy world in which I live.

Have a great week!

P.S. Mark your calendars for two more special literary events:

November 19, 2017 in Sarnia

For the first time, The Ontario Poetry Society will travel to St. Catharines for several mini-spotlight launches, a members’ reading and an open mic for non-members on November 12, 2017. Everyone is welcome.

A shout-out to Sarnia’s historical fiction writer Bob McCarthy who took a detour from his normal fare to focus on writing an amusing memoir about his life. The Book of Bob will be launched Sunday, November 19, 2017 at the Book Keeper.

Additional information about times and locations are listed on the event page of my blog. Once you’re on the page, just scroll down to the right date.

Coming soon…that blog feature and Q & A with Lambton County musician Gregger Botting  and a Q & A with London poet Penn Kemp with a belated book review of her latest poetry collection from Quattro Books.

Introducing My Chapbook – Drawing From Experience

“If we had more breath, more time/we might have taken art lessons.” -Debbie Okun Hill*

It’s late, almost midnight.

A full moon zip-lines through the bow window and shines a flashlight on my copy of Drawing from Experience, a chapbook of 15 ekphrastic** and art-themed poems recently released by Big Pond Rumours Press.

Hold that image! Hold that spotlight on the ballerina sculpture immortalized on the book’s cover!

Tonight, I’m brainstorming promotional ideas, sketching prototypes, being silly, playing with words as if they were clay.

Drawing From Experience by Debbie Okun Hill -Big Pond Rumours Press 2017 Front Cover

HOT OFF THE PRESS…Drawing from Experience (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017) by Debbie Okun Hill

I could try cartwheeling or breakdancing on the kitchen floor.

Hold that youth-inspired thought.

Perhaps I should celebrate my NEW 30-page chapbook with the release of white butterflies on the rooftop of The Winnipeg Art Gallery or in the foyer of a national museum.

That’s not my style either.

Promoting other writers energizes me. Marketing my own work exhausts me but tonight I persevere.

Who is my target audience? Male? Female? Artist? Poet? I should know this by now. What is the best message and medium to grab a reader’s attention?

Art lessons and painting parties pop into my mind. I read that Instagram is where it’s at. Imagine 700 million registered users as of April 2017! Would any of them be interested in poetry? My head spins as I stash more images inside my cluttered brain bank!

For a moment, an imaginary paint brush swirls ideas like the wind-twirled sky in Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night. Call it magical! Call it spiritual! Call it serendipity! I love this creative process where the visual and literary arts converge. I hope the reader will feel this too. Take my poetic words and allow them to be organic! Feed them with quiet reflection! Watch them transform, grow, and speak beyond the page!

Last winter when Big Pond Rumours, a newly-transported (now local) micro-press, announced a contest for chapbook manuscripts, I was consumed by my husband’s house renovations and his desire for me to de-clutter and re-organize our storage area.

My mind drifted to painting art for the walls which led me to dusting off several previously published art-themed poems written between 2006 and 2017. I had nothing to lose except time.

Tonight, the full moon keeps me focused. I pick up a copy of my printed book and read the last line on the back cover: “This chapbook was the third place winner in the 2017 Chapbook Contest run by Big Pond Rumours Press.”

Always a night owl - I found inspiration in my father-in-law and his closet filled with bird sketches

My artistic father-in-law inspired me with his bird sketches including this night owl “whoo-whoo” reminded me of my own nocturnal writing habits.

The tug and gap between the busy-ness of selling and the tranquility of creating increases. I glance at my cluttered desk, the remaining stacks of unread books on my vacation reading list, the blogs I had hoped to post. From my patio door, I stare into backyard shadows. I strain to see the Canadian thistle and milkweed co-existing in my flower gardens and to hear how the wind rustles the first fallen maple leaf.

Summer closes her eyes.

Tomorrow I’ll welcome a new chapter with a new publisher as this literary journey continues.

This Sunday, September 10, 2017, from noon to 5 p.m. Big Pond Rumours Press will be promoting its products and services at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival. If you’re in the area, drop by and browse through the vast selection of chapbooks (including my own) that will be on display along Publishers’ Way. Can’t attend? A list of available titles and order information appears on the publisher’s website.

Additional information about my upcoming reading dates and locations will be posted on-line as soon as details are confirmed.

Special thanks to the early reviewers who have shared their thoughts about my chapbook:

From Kara Ghobhainn Smith, author of The Artists of Crow County (Black Moss Press, 2017):

‘Okun Hill “recoats our sandpapered arms/ with orchid leis and tropical oils”, breathing new energy into our old lives….[The poem] “Things We Might Have Done” really spoke to me. The voice fit my place in life like a glove; and I LOVED the line, “I could buy your coffin/stuff you in a boutique bag”.  

Ottawa Sightseeing October 2014 photo 2

All of the previously published poems in my third chapbook were inspired by my love for art, galleries, museums, and the creative process.

From Canadian visual artist/poet John Di Leonardo  who wrote this review*** for  Verse Afire, the official newsletter for The Ontario Poetry Society:

Phil Yorke’s photograph of a woman observing a Degas sculpture of a lithe ballerina on the cover is an apt image to set the stage for Debbie Okun Hill’s new collection of poems Drawing from Experience. Her words scumble a tender palette on which the poet lays and mixes images experienced through art, artists, and the poet’s keen power of observation. 

Debbie’s poems make clear she has the love and eye of an artist, her rich visual imagery whether observed from museum masterpieces, a dramatic tribute to Emily Carr, or from a tarantula framed in a gallery gift shop touch on the necessity for art and artists to enrich our lives.

Debbie Okun Hill at the Music Evoked Imagery Workshop held during the League of Canadian Poets conference June 6, 2014 in Toronto. Photographer unknown.

In this Music Evoked Imagery Workshop offered at the League of Canadian Poets 2014 conference in Toronto, poets explored the relationship between various creative forms.

There is a wonderful sense of surprise in reading this collection, as the poet presents many perspectives in framing our ekphrastic experience. From the very first poem “Shades of Grey,” we are guided through secret feelings of loss, and the visual pleasures art offers “…from light to shadow/white washed with air brushed pendulum/grey hues that make us human.”

Through minute details we feel the loneliness of a little girl, painted in a museum masterpiece (A Sunday Afternoon On The Island of La Grande Jatte, by Georges Seurat.) where “Even her guardian-mother/turns, looks away…Even the four opened umbrellas/draw more attention/ than the sun and her blurry eyes.”

In the poem “Pinned by Your Image on the Web” the poet muses on a framed tarantula at a museum gift shop and offers a meditation on the fine line where life and art are interchangeable, “…stuff you in a boutique bag/ walk out the door/ and call you ART/ …And I try to calculate/ how long your body will last/…had you crawled quicker into hiding.”

Rich rhythms and visual imagery abound in these poems as when the poet reflects on the pain of a loved one, “you whisper your last words/ like pencil sketches, grey smeared/ a half-breath we strain to absorb/ lean close…” This collection contains excellent examples of ekphrastic poetry, and thoroughly satisfies the mind’s eye for readers who enjoy the pleasures of visual art.

Thank you Kara and John for your insights. Both reviewers are poets with full collections of work using the ekphrastic form. Additional information about Kara and John can be found on the links posted above their comments.

For those who are interested in exploring the relationship between various art forms, check out this earlier post “When Poets Heard Music They Painted”.

Follow this blog for more exciting news to be announced soon!

Hope to see you at some of the readings!

Night all…

*From the poem “Things We Might Have Done” from the chapbook Drawing from Experience (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017) Page 20 Used with permission from the author © Debbie Okun Hill 2017
**Ekphrastic poetry is a poetic term referring to detailed poems written about specific works of art including paintings, photographs, sculpture, or anything else that is considered aesthetically pleasing.
***John Di Leonardo’s review will appear in the January 2018 issue of Verse Afire. Used with permission from John Di Leonardo and The Ontario Poetry Society.

Sarnia-Lambton’s Sesquicentennial Celebration – A Literary Reflection

Some people stuff history into a closet. I can attest to that.

Any time I opened a history book in high school, all those dates/figures/names would cobweb my eyes and lull me to sleep at my desk. I’m surprised I even passed the course.

Sesquicentennial Reading Featured books photo 1 - August 22, 2017

History is all around us: a sample of featured books on display during Sarnia-Lambton’s Sesquicentennial Celebration held August 22, 2017.

When all the neighbors pulled out their Canadian flags and other memorabilia to celebrate the country’s 150th anniversary of its Confederation, I felt the urge to de-clutter my office and clear my mind of all the festive noise and streamers. Seriously, how does one erase the controversial rental cost ($120,000) and image of the world’s largest (six-storey, 30,000-ton) rubber duck that made its official Canadian debut at the Toronto harbour during the Canada Day weekend?

That’s when it hit me, as I tugged on a box of unsorted literary magazines, moved a pile of photo albums onto a shelf, and opened a small blue/white/gold cardboard box labelled “The Spirit of ’70: 1870 Manitoba Centennial 1970” .

Decluttering - 47-year-old box

De-cluttering can unearth some historic or memorable treasures.

 

History is someone’s memories. It doesn’t have to be about politics and war. It can be closer to home, even tucked in a drawer inside your own desk.

Why else was I saving this 47-year-old Souvenir Cake Box? I certainly don’t remember the taste or style of the miniature cake or the Centennial event in which I received it. Yet, for all these years, it housed approximately 30 little pencils from my childhood.

Sesquicentennial Reading - Group Photo - August 22, 2017

Featured readers at Sarnia-Lambton’s Sesquicentennial Celebration: (from left to right): Bob McCarthy, John B. Lee, Lynn Tait, Patrick Connors, Norma West Linder, and James Deahl.

Memories matter!

Last Tuesday, several writers gathered for Sarnia-Lambton’s Sesquicentennial Celebration! The audience appeared smaller than normal but similar to the dwindling attendance at other literary events I’ve attended this summer. The emcee (Sarnia poet James Deahl) wondered whether the event would have attracted more people if it had been advertised as a literary versus an historic event. I wondered if people were just overwhelmed by busy summer schedules and are just taking a much needed break.

For those who missed this local August 22nd celebration below are some snapshots spotlighting the six featured readers!

Each of the presentations was thought-provoking and inspiring.

Historian Bob McCarthy shared a moving (and humourous) story about the time his parents forgot to tell him that his family had moved to a different home. The story is part of his memoir collection The Book of Bob to be released November 2017.

Poet/photographer Lynn Tait read six poems including a new creation titled “The Bird Watcher’s Daughter” with the memorable line my heart flies with the cardinal and the powerful poem “Strip” with its hard-hitting line the punishment never fits the crime.

Out-of-town poet Patrick Connors read 8 poems including the poem “Madness” which won third prize in Big Pond Rumours’s Winter 2015 contest: Einstein defined insanity/as doing the same thing//over and over again, while/expecting different results.

Deahl shared work from his new book Red Haws to Light the Field (Guernica Editions, 2017) including the poem “Adoration & Prayer” with its lines Let my tongue be the stonemason’s hammer/let red haws light the field.

Prolific Sarnia writer Norma West Linder shared five poems from her book Adder’s-tongues (Aeolus House, 2012). In her humourous poem “Chokecherries” she reflected on her memories of Manitoulin Island and how her mother sprayed: crimson juice/across the spotless bosom/of her astonished hostess.

The evening concluded with six poems by the prolific out-of-town poet John B. Lee. From his book In the Muddy Shoes of Morning (Hidden Brook Press, 2010), from the poem “Vantage” he provided more sustenance for future thought: I grip at ghosts/and rise like mist in heat/where memory sets heaven/in a bowl of bone….

Sesquicentennial Reading Featured books photo 2 - August 22, 2017

John B. Lee often writes about the history and memory of farming in his poetry books. Most poets will include some form of history or current events in their work.

 

Thanks for the memories….for sharing what matters to you….for teaching me that history plays a vital role in everyone’s life.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE FEATURED READERS:

Patrick Connors: author of Scarborough Songs and Part-Time Contemplative (See Q & A here.) 

James Deahl: launched his 25th poetry title Red Haws to Light the Field (See Q & A here.)

John B. Lee: author of over 60 books and twice winner of both the Milton Acorn Memorial People’s Poetry Award and the CBC’s Canadian Literary Award 

Norma West Linder: author of 25 literary titles and contributor to From This Day Forward (Sarnia-Lambton’s sesquicentennial anthology) (See more info here and here.)

Bob McCarthy: Lambton historian and author of a Lambton Shield’s series of 150 videos celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday year. (See more info here.)

Lynn Tait: award-winning photographer and author of Breaking Away

Interested in attending a future literary event in the Ontario? Check my partial list of upcoming public events, updated weekly or as time permits.

Follow this blog for future Canadian author profiles.

Behind the Scenes with Writer Ryan Gibbs

“There’s no quicksand in the creek,” I said./ Aunt Helen stopped and glared at me.* – Ryan Gibbs

 Call it a mystery! Call it serendipity! When I first read Ryan Gibbs’s “Quicksand”, an honourable mention short story in Indelible (a 2006 Cranberry Tree Press contest anthology), I was curious. Who was this phantom local writer and why was he hiding at the local college versus socializing with like-minded scribes from the literary community?

Ryan Gibbs Profile Photo

Canadian writer Ryan Gibbs Photo by Lois Nantais

Super sleuth-college colleague-local poet Lois Nantais tracked his whereabouts and eventually nudged him to attend a Spoken Word event in the Turret Room of the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts. Gibbs’s kind demeanor immediately left a huge impact on those in attendance.

When Nantais and Ena Forbes stepped down from hosting this popular open mic event, he joined the organizing team as the new co-host.

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Mysterious, a bit of a sleuth, Ryan Gibbs appears in costume during one of the themed Spoken Word events at the Lawrence House.

For six years (September 2007 to June 2013), this Lambton College English Professor played a major role in Sarnia’s literary scene. Spoken Word, a vital forum for emerging and professional local talent as well as those interested in the arts, was held on the last Friday of every month except July and August.

During that time, Gibbs exhibited a flair for making readers feel comfortable. His experience with teaching college students made him the perfect emcee and his ability to speak on his feet was something that others in the audience wished to emulate. Certainly, even at his young age, he was a role model for me, although this may be a surprise to him.

Upon reflection, the protagonist in his “Quicksand” story now reminds me of an even younger version of Gibbs: adventurous, mysterious, the making of a sleuth! Without spoiling the plot and ending, let me just say that Gibbs (the adult) continues to seek truth in his surroundings and to have compassion for others.

For example, in “watercolour poet”, his tribute poem to the late Peggy Fletcher, he wrote: she stained a blank canvas in tears and/shaped them with meticulous strokes/delving deep into our prismatic hearts/illuminating colours we had never seen.

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Co-host Ryan Gibbs created six years of Spoken Word memories in Sarnia.

His love for animals shines in his popular children’s poem “My Kitty Cat”. Even though he states that his cat hunts me down throughout the house/As though I were a hiding mouse, the poem ends with She licks my feet to make amends,/Letting me know we are still friends.

As a storyteller/poet, he gathers facts, swirls ideas/images/words in his head, and then precisely records the final product on paper or his computer. He often uses an element of surprise and/or darkness in his work as shown in his opening lines: Didn’t I tell you I’m the best from his poem “Maestro” published in The Saving Bannister, Volume 23 and I broke into your house/And lived in your place: from his poem “Just to be You” printed in Delicious.

As a person, he’s reliable and a pleasure to work with.

After he stepped down from his co-hosting position in 2013 to pursue his PhD in Literature at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada, several of the regular Spoken Word attendees lost track of him. Where did he go? Was he still writing? Or had his literary goals changed? Did the study halls of academia swallow him up?

 The mystery has been solved.

For those living in or within driving distance to London, mark your calendars. Gibbs will join poet/performer/spoken word artist David Stones for Couplets #12: a collaborative poetry reading to be held Thursday, August 24, 2017 from 6 to 7 p.m. at The Arts Project, 203 Dundas Street. The teaser on Stones’s Twitter account asks, “What do #DavidStonesPoet and #RyanGibbs have in common with Shakespeare and Chaucer?…Find out…”  I can’t wait.

August 24, 2017 in London

London-based poet Ryan Gibbs will be performing with David Stones during an upcoming Couplets poetry event to be held Thursday, August 24, 2017 in London, Ontario, Canada. Combined image courtesy of Couplets.

In anticipation of his reading, I contacted Ryan via e-mail to catch up with his news. Below are his responses to my questions:

Ryan, welcome back to the literary scene! So much has happened since your 2013 retirement as co-host for Spoken Word. You moved away from the Sarnia area. You started and finished classes at Western. You moved back to teach in Sarnia and then you eventually changed your home base and settled back in London. Did these changes hamper or stimulate your writing? Please expand.

These changes ultimately stimulated my writing. I’ve been torn between the two locations, but London seems the right home for me. There are more literary events here, and it is also closer to Toronto, a city I have been frequenting a lot lately.

Without ruining the surprise, what can people expect to see and/or hear during your Couplets performance in London with Toronto/Stratford poet David Stones?

People can expect a great evening. David and I have been working on the program for weeks now. His experience as a spoken word poet has made me reflect upon the difference between a poetry reading and a poetry performance. I’m looking forward to interpreting my poetry differently and to sharing new work for the first time.

Writing poetry is often a labour of love and yet one of your poems was discovered by the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Assessment in the United States and is now part of their testing program. You were paid a nice sum for the poem’s use. How did this news impact your future writing?

It encouraged me to send my work out – you never know where it will end up. Even before it was picked up by STAAR, “My Kitty Cat” was a poem I was known for at poetry readings, so it seems fitting that it should be my most recognized work. Its success reminds me of the value in simplicity.

When you first joined a local writers group under the leadership of the late Peggy Fletcher, you were workshopping a young adult fantasy novel. Your characterization, setting, dialogue, and sentence structure were strong and you were taking a correspondence course on Writing For Children/Young Adults. Somewhere along the line, like many of us, you turned to poetry and had additional publishing success in that area. You are now a member of Sarnia’s After Hours Poets and an associate member of the League of Canadian Poets. What genre have you enjoyed writing the most? Why does it appeal to you?

I enjoy all genres. I’ve been writing poetry exclusively lately, and that’s because of time restrictions balancing academic and creative writing with teaching. But I hope to write more fiction, particularly travel writing.

That doesn’t surprise me. You’ve become a world traveller and it seems like every summer you are off to another historic or exotic place. Out of all the trips you have taken, which location or setting has inspired you the most? Please explain why.

Paris. There is something magical about the City of Lights. I first visited Paris five years ago and returned there this summer to join the Left Bank Writers Retreat. Writing in Tuileries Garden, visiting art museums, and eating in cafés were all inspirational. I frequently return to these places in my imagination.

Ryan Gibbs Musee Rodin

A world traveller! Ryan Gibbs at the Musee Rodin in Paris, in front of the sculptor’s famous Le Penseur (“The Thinker”). Photo by Kendra Adele Hinkle.

What other activities inspire your writing? Who are your favourite writer/s or mentor/s? What trait/s do you admire in these people?

Reading. I’ve done a lot of reading in my doctoral studies and have compiled a list of ideas for poems and stories. One of my favourite poets is former poet laureate of Ireland, Paula Meehan. I attended a reading of hers last year in Allihies, Ireland, and it inspired me to write. Her poems are lyrically narrative, and she remains humble despite her accolades.

Share your writing process with me. Do you have a specific routine or do you just write when the muse nudges you? Is there a certain place where you like to write? Please elaborate.

I used to write when inspired, but I’ve found that results in too infrequent writing, so I try to write a little each day. Early morning and late evening are best – times closest to dreaming – which is why I often write in bed.

In a sentence or two, tell me a little more about the dissertation that you are currently working on? How’s that going?

My dissertation focuses on the redress politics behind contemporary Canadian internment narratives and how literature serves as an intermediary between state interests and ethnocultural advocacy groups. The writing process is long, but I continue to make progress. I’m heading to Halifax this weekend to give a paper at Dalhousie University on Behind Barbed Wire: Creative Works on the Internment of Italian Canadians, a text that features two Sarnia writers, Delia De Santis and Venera Fazio. My interest in their work inspired my dissertation.

Sounds like an ambitious but important project! What’s next for Ryan Gibbs in terms of your life and/or your literary aspirations?

Hopefully, books. My upcoming Couplets performance has caused me to look over the extent of my poems and consider putting together a manuscript. As well, I’ll be revisiting my novel again when I attend a writing workshop with Toronto editor and creative writing instructor Brian Henry at Algonquin Park next month.

What writing projects are you working on now?

I’m writing vignettes about my travels. I’ve been inspired by the writing exercises I did in Paris this summer. I’m also feeling the influence of my dissertation work as I’m starting with my trip to Italy a few years ago. This trip marked the first time I left the tour to explore Cerveteri, Sicily, and Sardinia on my own.

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

I haven’t disappeared. I continue to write and go to events. I’m planning to attend London’s Open Mic and Sarnia’s Open Stage next month.

I’m glad. It will be great to see you again! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and literary news. I wish you continued success for your future goals and projects. Safe travels. May you get a huge turnout for your reading.

Ryan Gibbs - Samples of published work

Ryan Gibbs’s work has appeared in numerous literary journals including The Windsor Review and anthologies such as Under the Mulberry Tree, The Saving Bannister, and Whisky Sour City.

Ryan Gibbs lives in London, Ontario, and is pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Western Ontario. He works as an English professor and coordinator at Lambton College in nearby Sarnia, where he is a member of the After Hours Poets and has read his poetry in the City Council as part of the nation-wide Mayor’s Poetry City Challenge. His poems have appeared in Tower Poetry, The Windsor Review, and the anthologies Under the Mulberry Tree and Whisky Sour City. His children’s poetry has been included in the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness.

Additional information about Couplets: London’s collaborative poetry series can be found here.

Follow this blog for additional Canadian author and poet profiles as well as a feature post about London’s Couplets poetry series and Sarnia’s Open Stage event.

*Quote is from the short story “Quicksand” printed in the anthology Indelible (Cranberry Tree Press, July 2006). Page 30. The story won honourable mention in the “FIBZ”, 2006 short story anthology contest as judged by Nino Ricci. “Quicksand” © Ryan Gibbs, 2006. Used with permission from the author.

Introducing Canadian Poet Sharon Berg and Big Pond Rumours Press

And the truth is horrible/for this is just a paragraph in the story of a river* – Sharon Berg

 A dark current runs through Sharon Berg’s latest chapbook Odyssey and Other Poems (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017). Whether she is writing about the atrocities of a global war, the shadows associated with Canadian poet Al Purdy or the individual pain associated with a dysfunctional family, Berg adds a layer of depth that enriches her work. In the second section of her two-part poem “2 Songs, Almost a Lullabye” she writes: “you stretch your odd bubble/this space shuttle under my skin by which/you travel toward a small blue planet”.

Odyssey and Other Poems (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017) by Sharon Berg

Odyssey and Other Poems (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017) by Sharon Berg is a powerhouse of words and phrases.

Her journey or odyssey theme (reinforced by her book cover with the looming grey clouds and fork in the rural trail) may first appear as a cliché, but don’t let the six-poem, 20-page book fool you. What may appear as a thin volume of poetry is actually a powerhouse of words and phrases that leaves the reader either loving the material presented or squirming in his/her seat in discomfort.

For example, in two poems, Berg challenges Al Purdy’s reputation as a legendary giant by jabbing his abilities as a father. In the poem “Voice of the Land”, she writes “My first memory of you-/was a shadow that crept across/my brothers’ future”. For some the work will be shocking, even borderline daring, sometimes depressing. However, to evoke an emotional response is one sign of success. To keep the reader engaged with the work is another important trait.

Berg’s new chapbook does both. I also admire her unique imagery. In the poem “Bone Shards” she writes: “he arrived like a shard/off the old bone, white and delicate/in my mother’s arms” and in “Trouble”, a dark poem about accidents, falling, and stumbling, she pens “the lamp is a crashing globe/that turns out the lights”.

Her strongest poem in the collection is “Odyssey: Contemplations The Angels Have Not Left Us”. Each of the eight sections builds upon and reinforces the complexities of the River of Life. It is a dance between the atrocities in the world and the saving spirit where “My prayers rise on tobacco smoke” and “I decide to trust the current/as my guide.”

A few weeks ago (Tuesday, April 11), Berg introduced and read her new chapbook at the Art Bar Poetry Series in Toronto. On Tuesday, April 18, Berg was one of two featured guests at Sarnia-Lambton’s National Poetry Month celebration. Her reading was made possible thanks to the financial assistance of the Canada Council for the Arts through The Writers’ Union of Canada.

Sharon Berg's reading during Sarnia-Lambton's 2017 National Poetry Month Event was made possible thanks to financial assistance from the Canadian Council for the Arts through The Writers

Berg’s reading at Sarnia-Lambton’s 2017 National Poetry Month Celebration was made possible with thanks from the Canada Council for the Arts through The Writers’ Union of Canada.

Seven months ago, I chatted with Berg about Sarnia’s new CADENCE reading series as well as her on-line e-zine Big Pond Rumours. That interview appears here.

Recently, I asked Sharon about her new chapbook, her upcoming projects, and an update on her involvement with the micro-press Big Pond Rumours. Below are her responses:

Welcome back to my blog Sharon. When we last chatted here, you were the organizer/host of CADENCE: a reading series with a little music. Despite the lack of volunteers, you organized four highly successful events before deciding to refocus your energies elsewhere. Now you are writing and posting book reviews, which is in high demand by poets and other writers! In your opinion, why are book reviews so important?

Every artist hopes to have an audience. That is why they do what they do – for the audience. And in that audience, they hope to discover a response to their work. The critique is part of the integral response an author receives from others about specific pieces of their work. Book reviews are meant to be a public, critical response, an evaluation. They should point out both the areas of success and the missteps in the work being reviewed. The best reviews offer both affirmations and suggestions for improvement as they point out any problems. I know some people say they never read their reviews but it would take an incredibly tough ego to resist reading them. I write book reviews to assist the author in judging the things they can pat their own back for, and the things they need to improve upon. Yes, it is only one opinion, but that is why every author hopes for several book reviews. Book reviews can also alert readers to points that may persuade them to read a book, and every author knows that. 

You have a reputation as a tough critic, providing praise where it’s due but also offering suggestions for improving a book. In your opinion what constitutes a good poetry book? What is your definition of a poorly written one? 

Two questions there. First, a good piece of writing connects with its audience, whether it is poetry or prose. The connections that can be made are many, from the use of language that provides a visual imagery through metaphor and simile to the way it draws up an emotional response in the readers. The topic of the work can vary, but it is also in their manipulation of the flow of words and line breaks, the depiction of the characters, theme, conflict, and resolution that an author demonstrates their skill. It has to do with their ability to tell a story and hold the reader’s attention. That is key. Human kind is a storytelling animal. That is a huge part of our communication to one another. Even a haiku tells a story. Integrity is also important. The story has to feel authentic.

The answer to the second question is, if they allow the reader’s attention to wander too far from their writing then it is game over. Different people have different levels of tolerance, but if the author writes in a stumbling, self-conscious manner they will never capture the full attention of their audience. Consistency of language plays large in their writing skills, so likewise, inconsistency leaves the story like a bucket full of holes. A lack of integrity in the writing, a feeling that the author is not being authentic or truthful, can also lose the attention of the reader. These are subjective assessment tools though. Some authors experience a minor success because they appeal to small, specific segments of the population.

SHARE National Poetry Month - Sharon Berg Photo 5 - April 18, 2017 in Sarnia

Sharon Berg is a Canadian writer of poetry, prose, reviews, and educational materials about First Nations education.

 

Earlier this year, your micro press Big Pond Rumours held a chapbook contest and four manuscripts were selected for publication and will be launched in a few months. What did you look for in a prize winning manuscript? What do you feel were the strengths in the four collections that were selected? I understand they were all quite different from each other. Why were some manuscripts eliminated?

Actually, the 1st place winner, Bob Wakulich, is launching his chapbook of satiric poems, Channeling the Masters, at ‘Author for Indies’ in Cranbrook, British Columbia on April 29th, 2017. He is at ‘Lotus Books’ from 1 pm to 3 pm, and ‘The Heidout’ from 7:30 to 9:30 pm. The next chapbook I chose is You Can’t Make the Sky a Different Blue by Nelson Ball. I am planning to release it in Paris or Dundas, Ontario sometime in May. The details will be offered later. The other chapbook releases, for yourself and Harold Feddersen will follow in a few months.

I was hoping that running a contest would garner me a few submissions of quality, even one or two, but I was overwhelmed by the strength of so many of the manuscripts I received. The ability to use language to portray emotion, to paint visual pictures, and their consistency of form was key for me, rather than a particular topic or style of writing. I found it very difficult to decide on just four, but my press is limited to just four or five titles each year.

Yes, my choices show a range of approaches. I picked one collection of satiric poetry, one of minimalist poetry, one of thoughtful free verse, and one of haiku. It was very touch and go, in terms of who I picked. Often, the winners were simply a touch more consistent in the execution of their form than the other submissions.

Each of the authors managed to tell a story, or several stories, in their own way. That is their strength, their ability to convince a reader to submerge themselves in the poems.

What advice would you give to an emerging poet to present his/her work in the best possible light? Is there a formula for organizing a strong manuscript?

As I have said, the ability to tell a story in a poem is key for me. There are forms of poetry that don’t tell stories like this, mostly because there is little investment in portraying emotion, but I don’t connect with those forms as easily. Their audience is also much smaller. The organization of the poems (which poem follows this one) in the manuscript and presentation on the page, are often the key for getting noticed by an editor. If it seems the line breaks are not set at the best place, or the internal rhyme is erratic, or the focus of the poem itself seems to wander, an editor is unlikely to accept the challenge of walking you through the necessary changes to present your work to the public in its best light.

I think every book should be thought of as a negotiation between the publisher/editor and its author. Each has their own reasons for wanting to present the book in it best possible form. If an author is unwilling to entertain suggestions for improvement, then they are not ready to publish their work. They have to exhibit enough skill in their work that the editor can ‘feel’ the finished work. Some will get closer to that goal than others. I believe all authors can benefit from sharing their writing with others, taking their work to an author’s workshop, listening to the feedback and acting upon what rings true for them to make changes.

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

Berg introduced her new chapbook on April 11, 2017 at the Art Bar Poetry Series in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

You also found time to publish a chapbook of your own poems.  In a couple of sentences, describe your new book Odyssey and Other Poems?  

It is really difficult to describe one’s own work. I can say that my poetry usually presents the audience with a challenge. I am always trying to state my own truth on any given subject, and this chapbook is no different. I talk about water in the poem “Odyssey”, that is the main metaphor. Water is symbolic. Odyssey talks about spiritual, emotional, and physical endurance through a variety of human struggles. In that chapbook, I also share the effect that growing up in the shadow of Canada’s great poet, Al Purdy, had on his son (my half-brother, Brian Purdy) and my immediate family. I don’t tend to tell comfortable stories or paint pretty pictures with my words, rather I share personal truths with my readers.

Your latest book is indeed dark but there are elements of hope to present a balanced viewpoint! In your opinion, what is the role of poetry in today’s society? 

Anyone who is asked a question like this will hope to provide an insightful answer. Sometimes it is difficult to provide an answer that looks as intelligent to the outsider as it ‘feels’ on the inside. I have received criticism before for my view, but I want to be honest about what guides me. When I was young, my brother told me that poets always sit on the edge of their community, looking at it with a critical eye. I grew up believing that there has always been, and will always be, a role for poets in society. Poetry provides a forum for the discussion of social goals, large and small. We draw people’s attention to what is beautiful, yes, but we also call out the inconsistencies in the governing rhetoric of our society, the challenges of conscience, and even the horrible acts that human beings commit. We use pattern, end-of-line rhyme, internal rhyme, simile and metaphor to draw people into our word constructions. We use the effects of language to help people experience what we are talking about. Poetry or prose, we are storytellers. When we do it well, we point out the problems we have observed and hopefully suggest ways to solve those problems. 

Your first book “To A Young Horse” was published by Borealis Press in 1979. Has the literary world changed much since that time? Why or why not?

Yes, just as our social consciousness has evolved to address a variety of important issues we face now (racism, the strife behind the hierarchy in social class, environmental pollution) so the landscape for authors has changed. This is expected because culture is not a static thing, but something that evolves and changes in order to adapt to the situation. Economics change. So does culture. Social sensibilities change. So does culture. And poetry is a response to culture, either directly or indirectly. A poem about a bowl of fruit on the table will not fare well these days in comparison to a poem about the struggle to defend rivers from pollution. People are generally more alert to the problems faced by people in a larger community than they were in the 1970s or earlier. These days, the author who lives a sheltered life and writes from that point of view will not compare well to one who expresses heart-spoken truths about the battle to protect basic elements (water, air, land) from industrial or corporate abuse and pollution.

But beyond that, there simply is not the same level of funding to support the arts that there once was. The whole idea of being philanthropic, of making it your goal to offer donations to support the arts, has lost its appeal to those in the top one or two percent in this consumeristic society. Instead of offering support to people who are gifted with the artful expression of ideas, the majority of one or two percenters seem to focus on and reward those who produce solid things, things that can be sold. This is reflected in our governments. Donald Trump has withdrawn financial support for the arts, sports, and science. Consider the fact that he is using a business model to govern his country. Other politicians may not operate with the same openness of ideology and intent, but that is how most of them are leaning these days.

For instance, the tobacco companies used to support the arts and sports, two areas that now rely almost exclusively on government or private sponsorship. That financial support from industry no longer happens because it is viewed as the advertising of a harmful product. Many of the old-style philanthropists who privately funded anthropological digs and other important geographical explorations have passed into the great beyond and no one has taken their place. Everyone now relies on the profit from sales of their books and paintings or a university or a variety of government run agencies that dole out money for their financial support. Even the important reading series, that are so vital to supporting authors, are mostly funded through government grants. That means that very little money is divided endlessly until the authors at each reading series receive little financial support.

In my view, based on my personal understanding of the role of authors in society, part of the responsibility for the current state of affairs has to be accepted by authors themselves. We all feel we are doing important work, but the measure of its importance has to be understood in terms of the number of lives that we impact. It has not always been the case that poets received small audiences, as we do today. We used to be invited into the courts of Lords and Ladies and Kings and Queens to entertain them. We used to call out in the town square. Poets were historians who shared their knowledge with the general public. We were the voice of social conscience. That is not highfalutin talk. Everyone has a role in society and that is our role. Yet the business frame of mind that guides our contemporary lives has narrowed over time and we have not been able to assist in stopping a similar constriction of public conscience. We have known for at least 200 years that the Industrial Revolution is harming not only the environment but human life. If we, as poets, want to honour our history and take up our previous powerful position in society, we need to find a way to enter the conscience of the people in positions of power again.

Imagine what it would be like if more people read poetry! Thanks Sharon for your thought-provoking words. Congratulations again on your new chapbook and all your accomplishments. I’m wishing you continued success re: your literary projects.

sharon-berg-at-cadence-sept-28-2016-photo-melissa-upfold-for-calculated-colour-co

Sharon Berg, founder/editor of Big Pond Rumours, was the organizer/host of CADENCE, Sarnia’s 2016 reading series. Photo by Melissa Upfold for the Calculated Colour Co.

Sharon Berg is an author of fiction, poetry and educational history related to First Nations. She is also the founder and editor of Big Pond Rumours E-Zine and Micro Press. She published widely up until the 1980s, with her poetry appearing in periodicals across Canada, the USA, the UK, The Netherlands, and Australia. Then she pursued her teaching career. Since retiring from teaching in April 2016, she has returned to her writing and has new work appearing in several places in 2017. She has produced two full books, four chapbooks, two audio tapes, and a CD of her work. Her academic work in First Nations history and education will be published as The Name Unspoken: Wandering Spirit Survival School in ‘Alternative Schooling: Canadian Stories of Democracy within Bureaucracy’, published by Palgrave MacMillan in June 2017. She is currently working on finalizing a full book about the history of Wandering Spirit Survival School.

Check out Sharon Berg’s website and her review site.

Additional information about Big Pond Rumours is located here.  The next submission deadline for her e-zine is June 30, 2017.

*from the poem “Odyssey: Contemplations The Angels Have Not Left Us” published in the chapbook Odyssey and Other Poems (Big Pond Rumours, 2017) page 5. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright © Sharon Berg, 2017

Watch this blog for additional Canadian Author and Poet Profiles.

Remembering the Ash Trees with Art, Music, Poetry, Dance, Words

“Somewhere someone/is planting a sapling/but not an ash.”* -Debbie Okun Hill

I can still remember the day the tree service workers came and removed four mature ash trees from my backyard. At the time (May 5, 2011), I jotted down notes with the hopes of writing several tribute poems to the ash trees which I did thanks to a 2012/2013 Ontario Arts Council Writers’ Reserve Grant. Years later, I’m still adding poems to my manuscript and was thrilled to hear that Mary Abma, a local artist has also been creating work to draw attention to those trees destroyed by the emerald ash borer (EAB).

As promised in an earlier blog, below is additional information (a poster) about her upcoming exhibition Signposts & Traces: Ash Tree Memorial Trail scheduled for April 28 to May 14, 2017 at the Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery (JNAAG), 147 Lochiel Street in downtown Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. I’m looking forward to seeing her work and will be posting a Question and Answer featuring Abma in the near future.

April 28 to May 2017

She will also be doing an artist talk TODAY (Thursday, April 27) from 7 to 9 p.m. at the gallery. Admission is free (or pay as you can). Pre-register to ensure enough seats are set up.

On Saturday, April 29, Abma has planned a Canatara Ash Tree Memorial performance from 10 to 11 a.m. at the Seaway Kiwanis Pavilion, Canatara Park (1200 Lake Chipican Drive in Sarnia. The program will include music performed by Kelly Kiyoshk (flute), Wavesong Vocal Ensemble, and Missy Burgess; dancing by Robi Williams & Lightning Strikes Clarke; and words by Allan McKeown and David D Plain. I will also share four of my ash tree themed poems: “Light On Their Toes”, “Arguing With The Neighbours”, “Dueling Chainsaws”, and “Meeting Poe in Canatara Park”.

Following the performance, Abma will invite everyone to walk the Ash Tree Memorial Trail, contemplate the loss of the trees, and leave birdseed offerings at numerous sites where numerous QR codes are posted to view each tree’s memorial page.

Both events will take place rain or shine.

Approximately 15 years have passed since the emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle from Asia was first detected in Detroit, Michigan. In Canada, the infestation began across the river in Windsor, moved towards Lambton County and then spread further into Ontario and Quebec.

According to the Emerald Ash Borer Information Network, the EAB has “killed hundreds of millions of ash trees in North America”. Updated information can be found on its website.

Have you experienced the loss of a tree? Stop by and see what Mary Abma has created to keep these trees in our thoughts. Here are links to her website and her ash tree themed projects.

*Quote is from the unpublished poem “Funeral Procession” © Debbie Okun Hill