Tag Archives: Reading Series

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?

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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.

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Introducing CADENCE, Sarnia’s Newest Reading Series with A Little Music

Leave them wanting more. – Sharon Berg, organizer/hostess of CADENCE: a reading series with a little music

 When Big Pond Rumours founder/editor Sharon Berg moved to Sarnia in August, she didn’t know what to expect. She had just retired from teaching and was hoping to jump-start a return to her prolific literary career from the 1980s.

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Sharon Berg, founder/editor of Big Pond Rumours E-Zine, is the organizer/hostess of CADENCE, Sarnia’s newest reading series to be held on the third Wednesday of the month. Photo by Melissa Upfold for the Calculated Colour Co.

The timing proved perfect in one regard. Spoken Word Sarnia under the leadership of Melissa Upfold was seeking volunteers to reinvent the long-standing open mic event and voila, all the magical ingredients fell into place. Berg gladly took over the reins and her fresh ideas and enthusiasm continue to inspire those around her.

Her initial goal was “to create and provide a venue for short readings of poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction, interspersed by short sets of music offered by individuals and very small groups in the folk and/or classical vein.”

Last month, CADENCE: a reading series with a little music was officially launched. Visiting author and poetry editor Stuart Ross read from his latest poetry book A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent (Wolsak and Wynn) while Lambton County musician Gregger Botting performed work from his debut album Never Saw A Thing Coming expected to be released soon. An open mic allowed members of the audience to also share their work.

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Lambton County musician Gregger Botting performs during the first CADENCE reading series event. Photo by: Melissa Upfold for the Calculated Colour Co.

So far the response and support has been positive.

“This series has my full support,” said Melissa Upfold, former host of Spoken Word Sarnia, “and I hope it can grow into something amazing. Sarnia needs poetry and Spoken Word in our community.”

James Deahl, a committee member of the defunct Bluewater Reading Series also gave his support, applauding loudly from the audience.

My own views are glowing. I can’t wait to see what Berg has planned for the community. This week, I had a chance to chat with her about some of her personal goals and future plans for CADENCE as well as her on-line e-zine Big Pond Rumours.

Sharon, welcome to Sarnia! 

Thank you! I have been overwhelmed by the welcome I have received and the friendliness of the people living in Sarnia. It really is a beautiful city to live in with all of its trees and parks, but the special character of this city is definitely in its people.

It’s so nice to finally meet. Back in 2006, you created quite a stir around the local writers’ group workshop when the late Peggy Fletcher and the alive-and-still-kicking Joseph A. Farina had poems published in the first issue of Big Pond Rumours E-Zine. Please share your recent literary journey with the readers.

I have just retired from teaching elementary school in Brampton and Mississauga, and so it is not as simple as saying “Hi! I am Sharon Berg and I have just moved to Sarnia.” To a very large degree, I am switching channels as-it-were, rediscovering my writing self as I retire, and rediscovering the public voice I once had, even as I am adjusting to living in this new city. It has been three decades since I last published a full book of poetry, yet I did keep my connection to the writing community through founding and editing Big Pond Rumours, an International Literary E-Zine. I founded the Zine in 2006, and through an associated micro press I published several chapbooks of poetry, including Brian Purdy and John Oughton in 2016, with plans to publish James Deahl and several others in 2017.

Sounds like you’re going to be busy. Tell us about your own writing!

During my post graduate education, I researched the founding of the first Native Way school in Canada in 1976, recording that history through the narratives of its founder, Pauline Shirt, several former teachers, former students, and volunteers at that school for my M.Ed. thesis. That sort of study is another direction I have taken in my writing. I also write short stories, and writing fiction has become vitally important to my personal identity as an author over the past several decades.

So, I am a retired elementary school teacher, a writer, an editor, a publisher, and an educational historian with a specialization in First Nations history and education. It is a bit of a juggling act.

And now you have the title of founder/host of a new readings series for the Lambton County area. What have you planned so far?

About 3 weeks after I moved to Sarnia, I began to advertise a new reading series. I am calling it CADENCE: a Reading Series with a little music. The name has to do with the cadence in both poetry and music, the pattern of sounds, and levels of voice. CADENCE is held on the 3rd Wednesday of every month at The Coffee Lodge, 400 Exmouth Street, Sarnia and it will usually feature a renowned visiting author and a musician. The idea is to draw in authors that people in Sarnia don’t usually have the opportunity to see live, partnering them with musical performance. The setting is very comfortable with its beautiful stone fireplace, it is easy to reach by bus or car, and people can help themselves to a great variety of drinks or tasty foods while they listen.

Sounds great! Sarnia has been home to many successful reading series including the long-standing Spoken Word Sarnia event created by the late Peggy Fletcher and the late Hope Morritt and the more current Bluewater Reading Series held at John’s Restaurant’s Famous Room. How will the CADENCE reading series differentiate from the other series which are now defunct?

One of the big differences in the CADENCE series, I would guess, is it is not focused on poets but it will include prose artists and authors of children’s literature. Really, the idea is to feature any writing that people in Sarnia are interested in, so it may include humourists at some point, or well-written histories or biographies. The time each feature artist has on the stage is also different. We start with an Open Set, which allows local authors and songwriters to share their work with the audience. That set is followed by a second set, introducing a musician for 10 minutes followed by an author for 20 minutes. This is repeated in the third set, giving the musician a total of 20 minutes and the author a total of 40 minutes. That change means that we may see higher profile authors deciding to visit Sarnia.

For instance, we started off the series with Stuart Ross who also ran a Pitch Up Poetry Workshop in the afternoon. That is very different from other series. The pairing with music is also different from most of the reading series, though I have noticed there are several which are beginning to partner music and poetry.

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Poetry Editor/author Stuart Ross dazzles the audience during the first CADENCE Reading Series event held last month at the Exmouth Street Coffee Lodge in Sarnia, Ontario. Photo by: Melissa Upfold for the Calculated Colour Co.

I understand you are also planning some community-based contests. Please elaborate!

This is where other people in the region are needed as volunteers. What makes the series really special is its focus on giving back to the community – by offering chances for leadership through becoming members of the CADENCE committee or by becoming Contest Judges. We are offering four separate contests to promote the literary arts and song writing in Sarnia. The first contest has already been launched and the idea is to inspire the writing of a collection of Limericks. The winners of the contest and the honorary mentions are all invited to come to CADENCE in December, to present them in their own voice. That contest will be followed by a High School writing contest in January, followed by a Song Writing contest in February, and then a Writing Contest that is open to anyone in Lambton county – published or unpublished, prose or poetry – in March.

Why do you think a reading series is important to a community?

 Sarnia is somewhat isolated, especially during the winter months, due to the danger in driving on the 402 in bad weather. In any community, there are always people who write and people who are aspiring song writers. Those people want to be able to see themselves in relationship to other communities which surround them. This is a series that hopes to bring those authors and song writers out of the shadows and inspire them to perform and share their works with their community on stage. It is also a chance to assume a leadership role in the community through the committee or through offering to judge those contests. A reading series helps to attract some attention to Sarnia, and vice versa. It will introduce Sarnians to the stage so they feel more comfortable when they reach out to perform on stage in other communities. Yet, it will also introduce Sarnians to higher profile authors, in a comfortable setting, allowing them to approach those authors as real people.

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Maureen Hynes’s most recent  collection, The Poison Colour, was nominated this year for both the Pat Lowther Award and the Raymond Souster Award. She will read at the Cadence Reading Series, October 19 in Sarnia. Photo by Vivek Shraya

What are your future plans for the series?

Right now, I am focused on fund raising to continue with the series. So far, the funds have come entirely from myself and passing a jar at the events, but that is not sustainable. The League of Canadian Poets and The Writers Union offer funding for two readers each, but there are still some associated costs. And the existing funding does not pay for musicians.

As I have said, we began in September with the fabulous Stuart Ross. Stuart is a perfect example of what I hope to bring to the series, as he is so dedicated to writing he agreed to offer a Pitch Up Poetry Workshop in the afternoon. That workshop was an entity unto itself, and just as successful as the Reading. I have heard from authors who attended the workshop how much they enjoyed and were inspired by it. In fact, one person who attended ended up losing the poems that they wrote during the workshop on their journey home. So they immediately tried to rewrite each of the poems they created during the workshop. That is how special the experience of writing is. That is how special I hope the Readings will be for those people who attend them. Perhaps other authors will be willing to do similar workshops, or participate in other events, in addition to appearing in CADENCE.

I have made efforts to raise funds to continue, going so far as to announce a Fund Raising Pasta Dinner in my home on October 22nd. I really hope to inspire people with a similar vision to help me get this series off the ground with enough funding to continue indefinitely.

You are also a writer and publisher of the e-zine Big Pond Rumours? What are you future writing and editing goals?

I have so many writing goals I have to create a list:

  1. editing my 3rd poetry manuscript
  2. finishing the connected stories in a young person’s novel called Chepi-Cumay Returns
  3. editing the 400-page manuscript for a narrative history of Wandering Spirit Survival School designed to be read by the regular public
  4. continuing to write short stories for a collection of prose that I am creating
  5. writing new poems
  6. sharing my work with the public on stage once again

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

I am both a creative writer and an academic, having done my D.Ed. at the University of British Columbia. In the Spring of 2017, my next publication will appear as “The Name Unspoken: Wandering Spirit Survival School”. It is Chapter 11 in a book called Alternative Schooling: Canadian Stories of Democracy within Bureaucracy. The editors are Nina Bascia, Esther Fine and Malcolm Levin. This book has been in-process for some time. It will be published by Palgrave MacMillan and is expected to become a well-used university text.

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Sarnia (classical) musician Colin Graf will perform at CADENCE on Wednesday, October 19 at the Exmouth Street Coffee Lodge in Sarnia, Ontario.

Congratulations Sharon. Sarnia is fortunate to have someone with your skills to motivate our local writers. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I wish you much success with the reading series and your ongoing projects.

Follow CADENCE on Facebook and mark your calendars for future events:

October 19th with visiting poet and editor Maureen Hynes and Sarnia ‘classical’ musician Colin Graf

November 16th with spotlight readers Nelson Ball (author of Chewing Water (Mansfield Press, 2016) and CADENCE host Sharon Berg plus local musician Mike Blackmore.

December 21 event will spotlight the winners of the Limerick Contest and a musician TBA. More details here. 

Also find notices for the series online in many of the local newspapers, read the posters at The Coffee Lodge, 400 Exmouth Street in Sarnia, or phone Sharon Berg at 289 – 808 – 1025.

Check out Sharon Berg’s website.

Additional information about Big Pond Rumours is located here.