Tag Archives: Sharon Berg

Introducing Canadian Poet Sharon Berg and Big Pond Rumours Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch this blog for additional Canadian Author and Poet Profiles.

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Sarnia-Lambton Poets Prepare For #NPM17 Celebrations

Shift the colours on your page;/and softly coax your reds and purples,/that have concealed themselves/for years…” – Kara Ghobhainn Smith*

Close your eyes for a minute or two. Imagine what it would be like to be a poet. What does today’s poet even look like? Listen to the words melting into a new sound or image. What does a poet write about? Perhaps, you are a closet poet afraid to admit that you are moved by words.

Kara Ghobhainn Smith, author The Artists of Crow County

Kara Ghobhainn will be one of two spotlight readers at Sarnia-Lambton’s 2017 April is Poetry Month Celebration.

Today’s poetry, like colour, shifts on the world stage and April is one of the best times to not only explore this form of writing but to seek answers to your questions. All across Canada and the United States, poets are planning launches and readings for the big #NPM17 celebration.

According to The League of Canadian Poets’ website, this professional organization for established and emerging poets boasts over 700 members. The Ontario Poetry Society, a provincial grassroots not-for-profit organization has over 250 members.

The Sarnia-Lambton area houses poets from both organizations as well as The Writers’ Union of Canada, the Canadian Authors Association, the Association of Italian Canadian Writers (AICW), and such local groups as AfterHours Poets, Lambton Writers Association, Writers Helping Writers (WHW), and Writers International Through Sarnia (WITS).

Every poet whether published or not, deserves to be applauded for his/her efforts. If you know a poet, take time to get to know him or her. Ask why writing is so important to them.

Below is an event featuring six area writers who wish to show the public what their poetry is all about and why poetry matters. Hope to see a few of you there!

National Poetry Month April 18, 2017 in Sarnia for distribution

Mark your calendars for this FREE public event – Tuesday evening – April 18, 2017

Six former and current members of The Writers’ Union of Canada will showcase their work during Sarnia-Lambton’s 2017 National Poetry Month (#NPM17) celebration, Tuesday, April 18 from 7 to 9 p.m. at John’s Restaurant’s Famous Room, 1643 London Line.

Featured poets Kara Ghobhainn Smith (from Chatham-Kent) and Sharon Berg (who recently moved to Sarnia) will share the spotlight thanks to the financial assistance of the Canada Council for the Arts through The Writers’ Union of Canada.

Ghobhainn was the Chatham-Kent Cultural Centre’s 2015-2016 Writer-In-Residence. She recently launched her book The Artists of Crow County (Black Moss Press) which includes the poem shortlisted for the 2016 Walrus Poetry Prize. Many of her poems (within this collection) were inspired by artists in the Chatham-Kent area as well as her trip to Mâlain, France.

Author Sharon Berg, founder-publisher-editor Big Pond Rumours E-zine and Micro-Press

Sharon Berg will be one of two spotlight readers at Sarnia-Lambton’s 2017 National Poetry Month Celebration.

Berg is the founder/publisher/editor of Big Pond Rumours (the literary e-zine and micro press) and former host of Sarnia’s Cadence Reading Series. Her third manuscript, The Book of Telling, reveals many secrets that wait on the other side of truth.

Four local poets (James Deahl, Debbie Okun Hill, Norma West Linder, and Carmen Ziolkowski) will also share the stage. Ziolkowski, who is in her nineties, is Sarnia’s oldest living poet. Her granddaughters will assist with her reading. 

“One of the exciting developments in recent years is how Sarnia has emerged as a poetry hot spot”, said James Deahl, one of the organizers and the emcee for the event. “Indeed, it can now be said that Sarnia is an important literary focal point in Ontario. Local poets commonly travel from Nova Scotia to British Columbia to present readings or participate in literary festivals, and several Sarnia poets have contributed to the sesquicentennial anthology celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday. This is your chance to hear them.”

Sarnia-Lambton’s April 18th celebration is free and open to the public.

As part of National Poetry Month, several Sarnia-Lambton poets have also been invited to read at out-of-town and local events in April.

Both Okun Hill and Berg will be reading in Toronto at The Art Bar, considered to be “Canada’s longest running poetry-only weekly reading series”. Okun Hill will be the sharing the stage with poets Phlip Arima and Ian Burgham on Tuesday, April 4 while Berg will showcase with John Terpstra and Betsy Struthers on April 11. The Art Bar series is held at the Free Times Café, 320 College Street (College and Spadina). Featured readings begin at 8 p.m. followed by an open mic.

art-bar-reading-april-4-2017

The Art Bar in Toronto is considered to be “Canada’s longest running poetry-only weekly reading series”.

On Wednesday, April 5 in London, Deahl and Linder are the featured guests at the London Open Mic Poetry Night held at Mykonos Restaurant, 572 Adelaide Street North. Their readings begin at 7 p.m. followed by an open mic.

James Deahl

James Deahl, the author of 26 literary titles, will emcee the April 18th event as well as read at numerous events.

Deahl and Linder will also read in Hamilton with several other poets including Sarnia’s Lynn Tait, Thursday, April 13 from 7 to 9 p.m. at The Staircase, 27 Dundurn Street North as well as in Toronto on Wednesday, April 26 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Main Branch of The Toronto Public Library, 137 Main Street.

On Saturday, April 29 in Sarnia, Okun Hill (who has a manuscript of over 60 poems about the ash trees and the emerald ash borer) will share the stage with artist Mary Abma and other performers during the special event Signposts & Traces: Ash Tree Memorial Trail Performance from 10 to 11 a.m. at Canatara Park.

In Chatham-Kent, Ghobhainn will participate in Poetry City, an annual poetry celebration that encourages mayors and city councils in Canada to declare April as National Poetry Month. She will open a council meeting with a poetry reading.

Additional information about these and other upcoming literary events in Ontario can be found here.

Additional information about The Writers’ Union of Canada can be found on the organization’s website .             

OUT-OF-TOWN SPOTLIGHT READER/PERFORMER

KARA GHOBHAINN SMITHis the author of The Artists of Crow County (Black Moss Press, 2017), co-author of Next to the Ice (Mosaic Press, 2016), Teaching, Learning, Assessing (Mosaic Press, 2007), and the author of the blogspot poetry series, ‘The Travelling Professor’. Ghobhainn is Chatham-Kent’s 2015-2016 Writer-in-Residence, and Editor of the Journal of Teaching and Learning (JTL), as well as the books’ editor for the Canadian Journal of Education (CTL). Her poems have been shortlisted for the 2016 Walrus Poetry Prize and the Polar Expressions Prize.

LOCAL SPOTLIGHT READERS/PERFORMERS

SHARON BERGis an author of fiction, poetry and educational history related to First Nations. She is also the founder and editor of Big Pond Rumours E-Zine and Micro Press. She published widely up until the 1980s, with her poetry appearing in periodicals across Canada, the USA, the UK, The Netherlands, and Australia. Then she pursued her teaching career. Since she retired from teaching in April 2016, she has returned to her writing and has new work appearing in several places in 2017. She has produced two full books, three chapbooks, two audio tapes, and a CD of her work. Additional information on her website. Follow her review blog here.

Norma West Linder

Norma West Linder is a prolific Sarnia writer (novelist, poet, and short story writer).

JAMES DEAHL – is the author of twenty-six literary titles, the four most recent being: To Be With A Woman, Landscapes (with Katherine L. Gordon), Unbroken Lines, and Two Paths Through The Seasons (with Norma West Linder). A cycle of his poems is the focus of a one-hour television documentary, Under the Watchful Eye. Currently, Deahl is writing a series of essays on ten Canadian poets of the Confederation Period for Canadian Stories magazine for their sesquicentennial issues.

NORMA WEST LINDERis a member of The Writers Union of Canada, The Ontario Poetry Society, and WITS. A novelist, poet, and short story writer, she spent her formative years on Manitoulin Island and now lives in Sarnia where she taught English at Lambton College for 24 years. Her latest publications are The Pastel Planet (children’s novel), Tall Stuff (adult), and Two Paths Through The Seasons (poetry with James Deahl) published by Swords & Cyclamens, Israel. Her poem Valediction has been performed by choirs in Toronto and Calgary, set to music by Jeffrey Ryan, a West Coast composer.

DEBBIE OKUN HILLis Past President of The Ontario Poetry Society and a current member of The Writers’ Union of Canada and The League of Canadian Poets. She has been writing poetry since 2004 and has over 350 poems published in literary journals across Canada and the United States. Windsor publisher Black Moss Press published her first trade book Tarnished Trophies in 2014. This July, Big Pond Rumours Press will publish her art-themed chapbook manuscript Drawing From Experience. Okun Hill enjoys promoting the work of other writers and blogs about her literary journey on this site: Kites Without Strings.

Carmen Ziolkowski

Carmen Ziolkowski, an amazing woman and poet who is still writing in her nineties.

CARMEN ZIOLKOWSKIwas born in Italy and following WWII, lived in England where she worked as a registered nurse and later a midwife. In 1955, she emigrated to Canada and enrolled in the Port Huron Junior College, where she studied Journalism, finishing the course at Wayne State University. She has won several prizes for her poetry and in 1988, Ziolkowski received a special award for her contribution to Canadian and Italian literature from the Italian Vice Consul to Canada. Her first book of poems, Roses Bloom at Dusk, was translated into Italian and Japanese. Carmen has taught creative writing at Lambton College. She is a member of the Writers’ Union of Canada, the Canadian Authors Association, the Association of Italo-Canadian Writers, Pen International, Writers International Through Sarnia, and The Ontario Poetry Society. Ziolkowski’s first novel, House of Four Winds, was published in 1987, her 2nd book of poetry, World of Dreams, was published in 1995, her chapbook, Moments to Treasure, was published in 2008, and her latest work, The Moon Before the Sun, was published in 2009. Ziolkowski is currently working on her diary of life on La Monaca, where she was born, in Italy.

*from the poem “Change” published in The Artists of Crow County (Black Moss Press, 2017) page 19. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright © Kara Smith, 2017

 FOLLOW THIS BLOG FOR A FUTURE POET PROFILE ON KARA GHOBHAINN SMITH.

Poet James Deahl was profiled here and Norma West Linder was profiled here. Sharon Berg’s involvement in the Cadence Reading Series was featured here.

HAPPY NATIONAL POETRY MONTH EVERYONE!!

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.