Tag Archives: Poets

Launching TAMARACKS – Canadian Poetry for the 21st Century

“Canadian literature has emerged as a world literature in the full sense of the term,” – James Deahl, editor of TAMARACKS*

It’s not every day that an American publisher takes an exclusive look at Canadian poetry but last autumn Lummox Press from San Pedro, California forged ahead and published TAMARACKS – Canadian Poetry for the 21st Century, a 240-page anthology edited by Sarnia, Ontario resident James Deahl and compiled for the United States market.

Tamaracks - Lummox Press 2018 - front and back cover

TAMARACKS: Canadian Poetry for the 21st Century (Lummox Press 2018) was edited by Sarnia, Ontario resident James Deahl.

Now it’s time to celebrate!

In less than a month, over half of the 113 contributors of TAMARACKS will begin touring the province and sharing verses from this anthology filled with over 175 contemporary poems ranging in topics from World War I (Robert Acorn’s “Passchendaele”) to Canada’s Residential Schools tragedy (Rhonda Melanson’s “One Catholic’s Apology for Residential Schools”). As of today, eight celebration launches have been scheduled between late March and early May 2019 for such Ontario cities as Hamilton, Toronto, Welland, and Sarnia.

Another celebration, this one organized by the publisher, will be held in California in mid-April. Additional events in London and North Bay are being considered for the autumn.

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In Conversation with Edmonton Poet Kelly Shepherd

“We dream when we sleep; Magpies dream/when they fly in the rain. We might not always remember, /but every one of our dreams is about either leaves or feathers.” – Kelly Shepherd*

A few days ago, I posted a review of Kelly Shepherd’s Insomnia Bird: Edmonton Poems (Thistledown Press, 2018). The author impressed me with his “mind-warping, playful, and clever” work but who was this western Canadian poet with such layered words woven with humour and twigs?  I decided to find out. Below is our conversation (edited slightly for length, order, and flow).

Edmonton poet Kelly Shepherd Photo by Randell Edwards Photography

Introducing Canadian poet Kelly Shepherd  Photo by Randall Edwards Photography

Hi Kelly! Before I received your book Insomnia Bird for review, I wasn’t familiar with your work. I had never seen a magpie, one of the star attractions in your second collection of poetry. Even my first-hand knowledge of Edmonton was limited despite short visits over the years. Initially, I wondered whether your book would speak to me, the outsider looking in. As it turned out, it held me captive.

At what point in your writing process did you decide to set the poems in Edmonton versus somewhere more generic? What local insights would the book offer to the residents versus the universal themes that would appeal to readers living outside the area, province, or even another country?

This was a concern when I was starting to compile these poems: how accessible is this book going to be, to people who aren’t familiar with Edmonton? Will it even make sense?

Because Insomnia Bird is all about Edmonton-specific places, happenings, and landmarks. Some of the references are quite obscure, but they’re not inaccessible. I’ve had several people comment on the pleasant surprise of finding one of these details that they recognize from their own experience of Edmonton.

But hopefully, in spite of this ‘specificity’, there’s still enough of the familiar in the descriptions of public transit, for example, or urban wildlife, that people who don’t know Edmonton will still recognize these things. On one level, Edmonton is very uniquely Edmonton in this book; on another level Edmonton can stand in for almost any city. It becomes everycity’.

Some of these poems celebrate Edmonton, but others are quite critical of the city and its culture, for example our destructive addictions to fossil fuels and big trucks, and our tendency toward urban sprawl, and the thinly-veiled colonialism inherent in many institutions. And so on. Insomnia Bird is a study in shadow geography, which means it looks at those aspects of a place which are hidden, or repressed. It looks for the details a city wouldn’t include in its tourist brochures.

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Cleverly-woven –Kelly Shepherd’s Insomnia Bird – Edmonton Poems

“Magpie: twilight bird–…//nest builder and robber of nests –//you hop and clatter on the road like hail.” – Kelly Shepherd*

Kelly Shepherd’s Insomnia Bird: Edmonton Poems (Thistledown Press, 2018)** is not a clichéd-flighty-fly-by-night book about the black-billed magpies set against a northern Albertan cityscape. It’s mind-warping, playful, and clever: an a(musing)-gathering-of-facts-and-twigs-and-words, (by a trickster bird) architecturally structured and constructed and carefully woven into a literary nest inspired by Edmonton’s urban growth.

Insomnia Bird cover

Insomnia Bird: Edmonton Poems (Thistledown Press, 2018) by Kelly Shepherd ISBN 978-1-77187-169-3 (softcover)

CAUTION: Do not attempt to read this well-researched book in one sitting (especially at night). Each poem deserves a slow and careful read to fully appreciate the complexity and depth of the work. Reading the book several times is advised.

Layered with wit and dust and city noise, a cacophony of provocative sounds and images, some illuminated like LED billboards, some more subdued like sandblasted cement, this collection of 53 found and lyrical poems kept this country night owl awake: thinking and staring outside an imaginary bus window and into the hum of the glaring street lights.

Expect some travelling on highways littered with snake-skinned truck tires, and congested roads along homeless shelters, construction zones, city buildings, and trees that breathe with plastic bag lungs (p.97). I especially marveled at how the poems with couplets and tercets rhythmically reminded me of riding an early morning bus (or train), half-asleep like a zombie, void of emotion despite reading the daily paper and ripping out tidbits of information for future consumption.

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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.”

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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?

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#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.

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Lummox Press Seeks Poetry for New “Canadian Only” Anthology

If you’re a Canadian poet, polish up your poems but don’t wait too long! Lummox Press of San Pedro, California wants to see your best work for a new “Canadian Only” anthology. The deadline for submissions is February 7, 2018.

LUMMOX 6 - Sarnia reading - James Deahl - Photo 1 November 18, 2017

Canadian poet James Deahl will edit a new “Canadian Only” poetry anthology for Lummox Press. The book is expected to be released in October or November 2018 with readings in early 2019.

James Deahl (the Canadian poet assigned to edit the project) has already started some of the pre-editing but expects more poetry to come in over the next few weeks. The target size of the book will be 200 pages.

“My working title is Tamaracks: Canadian poetry for the 21st century,” he said. “Publication should be in late October/November…There will be contributors’ readings early next year in cities like Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, Sarnia, etc. Los Angeles too. All contributors will be invited to participate in all readings.”

Deahl’s passion for poetry is evident. He is the author of 26 literary titles and many of his accomplishments have been featured on this blog before. Two of his books To Be With a Woman (2016) and Unbroken Lines (2015) have been published by Lummox Press. For four years he has also encouraged Canadian poets to submit work to LUMMOX, an American poetry anthology published by the same press and has helped to organize Canadian launches for these books.

LUMMOX 6 - Sarnia reading - N. Leonard Segall - Photo 1 November 18, 2017

Leonard Segall, board rep, Lawrence House Centre for the Arts, says a few words at the Lummox Number 6 launch in Sarnia.

Last fall, several Canadian contributors of LUMMOX Number 6 participated in a reading in Hamilton.

On November 18, the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts hosted a launch for the same anthology in Sarnia.

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

Seven of the 23 Canadian contributors plus a previous Canadian contributor were on hand to share their work during this afternoon event.

Additional information about the anthology featuring American, Canadian, and International poets and authors appears here.

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

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

Toronto skyline - October 19, 2014

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

art-bar-reading-april-4-2017

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

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

And today, here we are…here I am…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy National Poetry Month everyone!

When Poets Heard Music They Painted

Music-Evoked Imagery created during a League of Canadian Poets workshop June 6, 2014

Music-Evoked Imagery created during a League of Canadian Poets workshop June 6, 2014

Imagine my surprise when I saw a table wrapped in white paper with various crafts supplies and paints scattered on top. After all, I was attending my first League of Canadian Poets conference. I had just finished sharing my work during the Joseph Sharman Memorial New Members Reading and was still somewhat nervous about meeting so many poets that I only knew by a name in a poetry book or anthology.

Memories of grade 1 art class flashed through my mind. I relaxed. This looked like fun and it was. Mary Rykov, an accredited music therapist and experienced Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) facilitator guided us through the workshop. 

Poets were asked to listen carefully to the selected music and while doing so, we were encouraged to create images using the supplies provided. The goal was to allow the music to guide us. I grabbed a paint brush. So did others but in time, sparkles and ribbon and other craft supplies were utilized. Then we were asked to walk around the long, long table and when inspired to do so, we could add our creative touches to someone else’s work. Some of the poets added words. Others continued to create art.

Music Evoked Imagery Workshop June 6, 2014 photo 4

In a hand-out sheet called “Music-Evoked Imagery”, Rykov wrote: “Some writers and poets work while listening to music. Some use music initially for inspiration, and then proceed in silence. Others do not use music at all.”

Music Evoked Imagery Workshop June 6, 2014 photo 2

How do you use or not use music to guide your writing? Some writers turn to artwork for inspiration. Perhaps some of these images created by professional Canadian poets during this June 6, 2014 workshop may evoke a poem or two in you.

Music Evoked Imagery Workshop June 6, 2014 photo 3

Can you guess which music-evoked image is mine?