Tag Archives: poetry

Sarnia’s Big Pond Rumours Organizes Regional Tour of Prize-Winning Poet

“This morning, my stomach is a helicopter,/on top and in the rear, thrum, rumble, flutter/look how I run; will I need a mop?” – Tom Gannon Hamilton*

A southwestern Ontario poetry tour** featuring headliners Toronto poet and musician Tom Gannon Hamilton and Sarnia author and micro-press owner Sharon Berg will demonstrate how poetry can tell a story, be entertaining, serious and/or humorous based on such subjects as the war in El Salvador, dysfunctional relationships, art, suicide, cannibalism, nature, and more.

Tom Gannon Hamilton

Prize-winning poet Tom Gannon Hamilton will headline Big Pond Rumours Southwestern Ontario Tour with events in London, Sarnia, Petrolia, and Windsor  between August 19 to 28, 2018.

Organized by Sarnia’s Big Pond Rumours (BPR), the five readings will take place in four urban settings (London, Petrolia, Sarnia, and Windsor) between August 19 and 28, 2018. The tour also features a variety of other authors (Toronto poet Heather Roberts Cadsby, London author and visual artist Sile Englert, Lambton poet/blogger Debbie Okun Hill, Lambton author/blogger/columnist Phyllis Humby, and Windsor poet and co-owner of Cranberry Tree Press Laurie Smith) who will read on specified dates and in different locations.

“My goal for these free community events is to introduce people who have little familiarity with poetry to an appreciation of what this form of writing can accomplish,” said Berg who is also the tour organizer. “Poetry was once revered by kings and practised by people of the highest intellect. But in Canada, poetry has been celebrated as an art form for the people, which led to the appointment of poet laureates in tens of cities across the country. Every poem tells a story, and on this tour, with these authors, you are sure to receive a variety of stories.”

Sharoon Berg

Featured reader and tour organizer Sharon Berg says “my goal for these free community events is to introduce people who have little familiarity with poetry to an appreciation of what this art form can accomplish.”

Headliner Hamilton has a unique story to share. In addition to being the founder, curator, and host of the Urban Folk Art Salon (in partnership with the Toronto Public Libraries), he was also an aid worker during the war in El Salvador. His chapbook manuscript El Marillo, which won 1st place in an annual contest organized by Big Pond Rumours E-zine and Press, focuses on the havoc of events taking place in the 1980s during the extreme violence of the 12-year Civil War in El Salvador.

He has also just released Panoptic, a full-sized book, with Aeolus House, a micro-press owned by Canadian poet/editor Allan Briesmaster.

“This means that he has two books of stunning poetry to promote on this tour,” said Berg. “Hamilton is also an accomplished musician who makes his daily living performing music. He is likely to share a tune or two at each of the readings.”

Headliner Berg is returning to active participation in the Canadian poetry scene after a long hiatus while she worked as a teacher. She founded Big Pond Rumours International Literary E-Zine & Press in 2006.

“The existence of the BPR press in Sarnia is significant,” said Berg. “Indeed, both the international literary magazine and the press have gradually gained attention across the country for the work they are doing in promoting Canadian authors and providing an international forum for literary work.”

The press has already published chapbooks featuring Nelson Ball, Sharon Berg, Harold Feddersen, Tom Gannon Hamilton, Debbie Okun Hill, John Oughton, Brian Purdy, and Bob Wakulich. Plus, in 2016, Big Pond Rumours also released Paper Reunion: An Anthology of Phoenix A Poet’s Workshop (1976 to 1986) which includes authors like: Heather Roberts Cadsby, Richard Harrison, Stuart Ross, and Libby Scheier.

THE TOUR SCHEDULE

August 19 in London: Hamilton launches his chapbook at The Ontario Poetry Society’s Summer Sultry Poetry Gathering, 1 p.m. at Mykanos Restaurant.

August 23 in London: London author and visual artist Síle Englert reads with Hamilton and Berg, 7 p.m. at Brown and Dickson Bookstore.

August 25 in Sarnia: Toronto poet Heather Roberts Cadsby and Lambton County author/blogger/columnist Phyllis Humby will read with Hamilton 1 p.m. at the Sarnia Public Library on Christina Street.

August 26 in Windsor: Windsor poet and co-owner of Cranberry Tree Press Laurie Smith will read with Hamilton and Berg 1 p.m. at Storyteller Bookstore.

August 28 in Petrolia: Lambton Country poet/blogger Debbie Okun Hill will read with Hamilton and Berg 6 p.m. at The Cottage Petrolia on Petrolia Line.

Each event is open to the general public. Admission is free.

INTERESTED IN LEARNING MORE ABOUT BIG POND RUMOURS PRESS?

As the owner of Big Pond Rumours E-Zine and Press (BPR) and a recent retiree, Sharon Berg moved to Sarnia and a new home in August 2016. “I moved here, in part, because Sarnia has a small but vital community of authors,” she said. Her work on the magazine and as a publisher had gone on for years as a sideline while she worked, but both the E-Zine and her press were “small potatoes back then. Indeed, I refer to the press as a micro press because it publishes just four chapbooks (30 pages or less) for Canadian authors a year, the press runs being limited to 100 copies. Still, most Canadian poets and first time novelists have press runs of 500 copies with larger presses, so the existence of the BPR press in Sarnia is significant.”

Additional information about Big Pond Rumours Press can be found here and on its website.

MORE INFO ON THE SPOTLIGHT READERS AND THEIR WORK

 TOM GANNON HAMILTON:

El Marillo (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2018) by Tom Gannon Hamilton

In March 2018, Tom Gannon Hamilton won 1st place in an annual Chapbook Contest run by Big Pond Rumours E-Zine and Press. Hamilton’s poetry in El Marillo, is of a different character than most authors in Canada present to their readers. It is literary, but it also reveals the effect of being an eye witness to atrocities through lines of poetry that bring readers right into the scene as a witness. Hamilton was a relief worker with Salvaide, an organization promoting social justice, during his time in El Salvador. He worked to provide medical supplies and other aid to the low income civilians in El Marillo. While thousand of people were being disappeared, the UN reports that the war killed at least 75,000 people between 1980 and 1992.

Hamilton has turned those tragic events into moving poetry. His award-winning chapbook is a dramatic and startling piece of work filled with every human emotion: from horror to terror, from grief and misery to sweet remembrance of others who joined him on that project in El Salvador. As one reviewer wrote of his work, “a lesser man would have had a nervous breakdown rather than turning those events into poetry”. Hamilton put his chapbook together as a way of making a public record about what he witnessed and of celebrating the work Salvaide did to save thousands of lives. It is also a text with special meaning for him as his wife died due to drowning under suspicious circumstances while she was in El Salvador. The pain he deals with related to this loss, is transformed into a celebration of her efforts to gain justice for the people she had devoted her life to.

Quattro Books Presents

As for his book Panoptic recently released by Aleous House, Canadian poet Donna Langevin wrote “Maestro Hamilton composes poems with the same musicality, virtuosity and fidelity that he brings to the violin he feels wed to.” This full-length collection will be officially launched in Ottawa on September 9 and in Toronto on September 12. 

SHARON BERG:

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

Sharon Berg is founder of Big Pond Rumours Literary E-Zine & Press in Sarnia. Her first book was published in 1979 and her work includes: The Body Labyrinth, Coach House (1984), Black Moths, Big Pond Rumours (2006), The Great Hoop Dance, Big Pond Rumours Press (2016), Odyssey & Other Poems, Big Pond Rumours (2017) and two audio cassette tapes (Tape 5, Gallery 101 Productions and Black Moths, Public Energies, 1986). She also publishes academic work on the history of First Nations education.

Referring to her first poetry book with Borealis Press, John Robert Colombo said “love becomes lyric in your hands, and poem after poem I am moved from delight to delicious delight.” With the release of her second book from Coach House Press in 1984, Dennis Lee said, “She is one of the younger poets to watch,” while a book review in Malahat Review said, “These are vigorous, quick moving poems with a surprising tension and strength.” After more than 30 years, she will read from her long anticipated third poetry manuscript on this tour.

 ADDITIONAL GUEST READERS IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER:

 Heather Roberts Cadsby: In the 1980s, Cadsby co-produced Poetry Toronto and co-founded the press Wolsak and Wynn. She also organized poetry events at the Axle-Tree Coffee House in Toronto and the Phoenix: A Poet’s Workshop. In recent years, she served as the director of the ArtBar Poetry Series. Standing in the Flock of Connections (Brick Books 2018) is her fifth poetry collection. More info here.

Sile Englert is a poet, fiction writer, and visual artist from London, Ontario. Her stories have shortlisted in contests for Room Magazine and longlisted in Prism International. Her poetry placed second in Contemporary Verse 2’s 2-Day Poem Contest and featured in Room Magazine, Ascent Aspirations Anthology, The Canadian Authors Association’s Saving Bannister Anthology, Misunderstanding Magazine, and Crannog Magazine (Ireland). Read her Contemporary Verse 2 poem here.

Debbie Okun Hill is a Lambton County poet/blogger with over 30 years of writing and promotional experience. Drawing from Experience is a collection of ekphrastic poems that present her impression of various works of art. Her books are: Tarnished Trophies, Black Moss (2014), Chalk Dust Clouds, Beret Day Press (2017) and Drawing from Experience, Big Pond Rumours (2017). More info here.

Phyllis Humby lives in Lambton and is a well-known blogger at The Write Break, a columnist at First Monday Magazine, and a member of Crime Writers of Canada. However, Our Plan to Save the World, may be the first time that four of her stories are collected in one place. Our Plan to Save the World is an anthology that features five authors. More info here.

Laurie Smith, is a poet, editor, and co-owner of Cranberry Tree Press in Windsor, Ontario. She is also an award-winning poet and author of short fiction. Among her collections are Said the Cannibal, Gallstones, One Ninth of a Cat’s Life, Menagerie, and an upcoming collection of poetry inspired by the work of Charles Darwin. Read about Smith’s humorous 2018 National Poetry Month reading in Sarnia here.

* From the poem “Running of a Country” from the prize-winning chapbook El Marillo (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2018) Used with permission from the author © Tom Gannon Hamilton, 2018

**Written from the files of Big Pond Rumours Press and Sharon Berg.

Additional information about upcoming literary events in Ontario can be found in the event section of this blog.

 

 

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#HeartwoodPoet – For the Love of Trees

“Poems fall like leaves until/wheelbarrows sag from collected rain.” -Debbie Okun Hill*

Yesterday’s e-mail from the League of Canadian Poets arrived unexpectedly like the popped cork from a champagne bottle.

“We are so excited that Heartwood is finally out in the world!” wrote Madison Stoner, Communications Coordinator for the League.

Heartwood - front cover image

Heartwood is published by The League of Canadian Poets, 2018. It includes 154 poems by League poets representing every province and territory in Canada.

I could feel the effervescence tingling in her words and the anticipated release of congratulatory balloons on a Facebook page. Bravo to editor Lesley Strutt and all the Canadian contributors and compilers and designers and more who worked behind the scenes on this important project. The League’s fundraising anthology Heartwood: Poems for the Love of Trees reinforced my own interest in nature and the importance of trees for our well-being. How wonderful to know that others felt the same way. I was pleased to tag along!

According to the Amazon posting, this collection published by the League “features poets from every province and territory celebrating the immeasurable value trees have for the environment and the soul.”

“Trees matter,” wrote Strutt on the back cover of the 288-page anthology, “and we have written about them with the windows of our hearts open, breathing in the good air that the forests provide.”

As one of over 100  #HeartwoodPoets involved in the project, I’m thrilled that the first section of my long poem “This trail of phragmites shrouds” was included in the book.

HEARTWOOD CONTRIBUTOR HD

Special thanks to the League of Canadian Poets for including my poem “This trail of phragmites shrouds – Part I” in its new fundraising anthology.

Since May 2011 (and also thanks to an Ontario Arts Council Writers’ Reserve Grant), I have written over 100 poems about southwestern Ontario’s ash trees destroyed by the invasive emerald ash borer. This particular poem was inspired by Bright’s Grove artist Mary Abma’s Signposts & Traces Ash Tree Memorial Trail installed in the spring of 2017 at Canatara Park in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. The poem described segments of the memorial service that she organized. More information about that service appears here. More information about Mary Abma’s project appears here. More information about the status of my ash-tree book…well, that will be shared at another time.

April 28 to May 2017

My tree-themed poem was inspired by the Ash Tree Memorial Performance organized by Bright’s Grove artist Mary Abma. The outdoor event was held April 29, 2017 at Canatara Park in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.

Another local poet involved in the League’s Heartwood anthology is Lynn Tait.  Her poem “If Our Mother Was a Tree” is featured. Tait is also a photographer and tree lover. According to the anthology notes, she “has published poetry in CV2, Freefall, Windsor Review, Literary Review of Canada, and in over 90 anthologies.

Sarnia audiences will also be familiar with these out-of-town contributors who have read in the area over the years: Allan Briesmaster, Keith Inman, John B. Lee, Michael Mirolla, Chad Norman, Vanessa Shields, and Glen Sorestad. Anthology contributor Heather Cadsby will be reading in Sarnia at the end of August. Also a special shout-out to Penn Kemp, London’s first poet laureate who has worked with area children as part of the League’s Poet In the Schools program.

However, there’s more than just a local connection to this national project.

In addition to the 154 tree-themed poems written by League members from across Canada, the book includes photographs by Chuck Willemsen and a foreword by Diana Beresford-Kroeger, author of The Sweetness of a Simple Life and The Global Forest: 40 ways trees can save us.

“We must turn to the poets to expand dreams,” wrote Beresford-Kroeger for the book’s back cover. “This is because trees are the parents to the child deep within us.” See her full quote below:

Heartwood - back cover image

“Praise for “Heartwood: Poems For the Love of Trees” published by the League of Canadian Poets.

Contributors are being encouraged to organize and attend launch readings across the country. As the League website states: “Interested hosts can organize a joint screening and launch for Heartwood: Poems for the Love of Trees and the 1-hour documentary Call of the Forest: The Forgotten Wisdom of Trees.” What an excellent idea!

Last night, outside my window, Amur maples and Austrian pine waltzed in the rain. Liquid confetti drummed over the tree crowns. Such a joyous outburst!

This morning at my desk, the celebration continues.

“What can the trees teach us?”

I open the patio door, step outside, and breathe in the moist air.

Stay tuned to the League’s social media to find out about a Heartwood launch near you. Check out the twitter hashtags: #HeartwoodPoet #LCPHeartwood

Once additional information becomes available, I will also post Ontario launch details in the event section of this blog.

Read more about the book here.

The League also has an article about the book here.

According to its website, the League of Canadian Poets is “the professional organization for established and emerging Canadian poets. Founded in 1966 to nurture the advancement of poetry in Canada, and the promotion of the interests of poets, it now comprises over 700 members.”

I tip my water-filled wineglass to the trees, “Cheers!!” Looking forward to reading this anthology beneath a healthy green canopy.

Follow this blog for future Canadian poet profiles, literary news, and reviews.

Coming soon: an interview with Canadian poet/editor Harold Rhenisch, Electronic Writer in Residence for the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association.

*From the poem “This trail of phragmites shrouds – Part I” from the anthology Heartwood: Poems for the Love of Trees (The League of Canadian Poets, 2018) Used with permission from the author © Debbie Okun Hill 2018

Interrogating the Local – Deadline Approaches for Brooklin Poetry Society’s Inaugural Contest

Another summer poetry contest? Sure, why not? You don’t live in Brooklin? No worries! I’ve never been there either. Just, take your notepad and jot down what’s happening in your own neighbourhood. Or better yet, grab a GPS and ‘interrogate the locals’ from another area! Don’t wait another minute!

Brooklin Poetry Society 2018 contest flyer copy (1)

Deadline for submissions is July 31, 2018.

Poets have less than two weeks to polish their “local” themed poems for the Brooklin Poetry Society’s Inaugural Contest. Digital submissions are being accepted until midnight, July 31, 2018. As the contest judge, I look forward to reading your new and unpublished poetry.

What constitutes a prize-winning poem?  First of all, follow the contest guidelines! You’ll find them here on the Brooklin Poetry Society’s website.

DSC_0091

Write the poem that only you can write!

Consider the theme: “interrogating the local”!  The contest organizers have even listed a few questions for reflection: “what does it mean to locate oneself in a given area? How significant are local communities in a globalized world? Why do we identify ourselves as local? How can we understand that term? How does the local speak to you?”

Don’t bore me with an essay! The guidelines state: “Poets are free to interpret the theme as they wish!” Have fun! Stretch your imagination like an elastic! Toss your words like frisbees into the air and see where they land!

I repeat, “don’t bore me”: Avoid the ordinary and ‘absolutely NO’ clichés unless they mimic the local language. This is a poetry contest: be poetic. Make sure each line scans well. Read it aloud! Show me with metaphors and similes. Use the five senses so I can taste the local pickerel or hear the coo of a regional bird or smell the bus diesel or feel the coarse texture of a brick school. Rant or rave if you wish!

Pay attention to your title. Razzle-dazzle with strong introductory lines and memorable last lines! Write the poem that only you can write. Move me emotionally or intellectually or both.

Consider local nuances. For example, whenever I travel by foot or car or bus or train or plane, I am reminded that each village, town, or city streetscape showcases its own characteristics. Where I live, summer is the season for local cherries, local festivals, and sunsets along local beaches. On the prairies, fresh picked saskatoons and home-made perogies with sour cream and fried onions are local favourites.

Will our global, transient, and nomadic wanderings eventually blur out the locals?

Can an animal or tree be local? Can you ever be a local again once you move from your hometown? How do you feel about the terms “buy local” or “locally made”?

From city rooftop mouse…to massive country mouse….I mean raccoon….

So many questions! Are you feeling inspired yet? Try brainstorming new ideas!

Still not sure about the value of entering contests, check my February 2015 blog post: “Poetry Contests: Is It Poetic Gambling?”

And who exactly is the Brooklin Poetry Society? Learn more here. They are a group based in the Durham Region of Ontario. Meet some of its members here.

Remember this contest is blind judging. I am not a member but have met several of the contest organizers in my travels.

Wishing you much success with your writing!

100_3943

Keep mining for those ‘local’ gems.

 FOLLOW THIS BLOG FOR FUTURE CANADIAN LITERARY REVIEWS, EVENTS, AND AUTHOR/POET PROFILES.

 

 

 

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.

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.”

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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.)

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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.