Tag Archives: Spoken Word

Behind the Scenes with Writer Ryan Gibbs

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

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

Ryan Gibbs Profile Photo

Canadian writer Ryan Gibbs Photo by Lois Nantais

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

 The mystery has been solved.

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

August 24, 2017 in London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan Gibbs Musee Rodin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What writing projects are you working on now?

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

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

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

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

Ryan Gibbs - Samples of published work

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

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

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

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

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

Overcoming the Terror – Open Mic Readings

“We may get scared tonight/but we have each other” –Tom MacGregor*

Last Friday, I attended an open mic event and hid inside a “Tree Spirit” costume. I sat at the back of the room, as far away from the open mic podium as possible, and scanned the audience. Not everyone wore a costume for this Halloween event but many had.

Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking. Makes you feel like you’re in the middle of a horror movie!

Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking. Makes you feel like you’re in the middle of a horror movie!

On my right, a black-wigged man in a red housecoat held what appeared to be the skeleton of a cow’s head. On my left, a woman arrived as a social media butterfly. Her back dress was adorned with social media logos.

Writers are indeed a creative bunch but those who are introverts (and many are) may limit their exposure to social settings so that they can relax with their writing at home.

Did I mention in my early twenties, I dressed as a bookworm so I could sneak into a quiet corner of a party and read? That’s another story.

For some, standing in front of an audience and reading a poem or story is frightening enough. Would wearing a costume and a mask make it easier? Yes and no! Some masks (like my own) made it difficult to see my notes.

Not all writers are social or even social media butterflies. Open mic events provide emerging poets, authors and musicians a safe place to experiment and test out new material with a supportive and encouraging audience.

Not all writers are social or even social media butterflies. Open mic events provide emerging poets, authors and musicians a safe place to experiment and test out new material with a supportive and encouraging audience.

I don’t know when I lost my own jitters for spoken word events but I do recall the transformation of others.

Years ago, one reader was so nervous about reading his work that one of the co-hosts of the open mic offered to read his work for him. When he discovered the audience embraced his words, he eventually found the courage to read at future events. Today, he not only offers to read the work of other new guests but has learned to work the stage and tell stories without a script in front of him.

In London, Ontario, Stan Burfield who publically wrote about his transformation as a shy and nervous open mic reader is now one of the key organizers behind London Open Mic Poetry Night a successful open mic event that often draws over 60 people each month. He is also helping other introverts to share their work in a warm and accepting environment and is looking for ways to branch out into other areas such as organizing open mics for prisoners.

For me, studying theatre as a child and as an adult helped me to face an audience with a memorized script. An organization like Toastmasters International could help with ad lib performances. Its website offers excellent articles and suggestions for public speaking.

Read something you've written, something from your favourite author/poet or just sit back and listen.

Spoken Word at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts was introduced by literary board members the late Peggy Fletcher and the late Hope Morritt. It is now co-hosted by poet/photographer Melissa Upfold. Read something you’ve written, something from your favourite author/poet or just sit back and listen. Photo courtesy – The Calculated Colour Co.

Attending and sharing work at a literary open mic event such as Spoken Word Sarnia also provides necessary practise in refining one’s skills. Watch how other people present themselves. Experiment to see what works and doesn’t work to entertain the audience. Try reading and sharing the work of a favourite writer then build up to presenting your own original material.

Unless it is a slam or spoken word contest, most open mics welcome new and emerging writers. For those who are serious about his/her writing, open mics offer friendship and encouragement from other writers. More experienced authors and poets are there to help or mentor you. Most can relate to their own first experiences. If you like to travel, open mics in other locations provide new opportunities for learning and networking.

Of course, open mics aren’t for everyone and even at my age, I am still forever learning. For those in the southwestern Ontario area, this November offers some unique opportunities to share your work. What are you waiting for?

TONIGHT (Wednesday, November 4) IN LONDON: Now in its fourth season, London Open Mic Poetry Night presents a spotlight feature with poet Charles Mountford followed by an open mic.  A wide range of ages and styles. Check out their website. Facebook event info here.

November 2015 at Lawrence House Centre for the Arts, Sarnia, Ontario, Canada

November 2015 at Lawrence House Centre for the Arts, Sarnia, Ontario, Canada

FRIDAY (November 6) IN SARNIA: For the first time, Spoken Word Sarnia will be highlighted during Sarnia’s First Friday event at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts. The three-hour ( 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.) event is being held in conjunction with the month long Sustenance art show featuring the creative works of Lambton College Student and Faculty Artists. The Spoken Word Sarnia portion will present video poetry as well as readings by local poets, musicians, storytellers and other presenters followed by an open mic. See the Facebook event listing here.

SATURDAY (November 7) IN LONDON – Guerilla poetry in the morning. See info here.  Featured guest poet Lucas Crawford followed by open mic. Music start time: 7:30 p.m. Reading info here. Facebook event info here. Both events are part of the three day celebration WORDS: the Literary and Creative Arts Festival. More Facebook event information here . The official website is here.

In London, Ontario, Canada

In London, Ontario, Canada

SATURDAY (November 7) IN ST. THOMAS: For those interested in invasive species, Morel Magazine is hosting a community event. An afternoon reading with poets Julie Berry and Tanis Rideout will be followed by an open mic event. More info here.

SUNDAY (November 8) IN DUNDAS: Tower Poetry Society hosts its annual Art Walk in collaboration with the Carnegie Art Gallery in Dundas. Some opportunities to share poetry. Contact info here.

NOVEMBER 27 (Friday) IN SARNIA: Spoken Word Sarnia is held on the last Friday of every month at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts. This season’s co-host is Melissa Upfold. See the Facebook page here and the website here.

The Ontario Poetry Society has helped many grassroots poets to hone their skills including public speaking at their members' readings and open mic events.

The Ontario Poetry Society has helped many grassroots poets to hone their skills including public speaking at its members’ readings and open mic events.

DECEMBER 6 (Sunday) IN TORONTO: The Winter WarmUp Poetry Gathering! The Ontario Poetry Society, a grassroots poetry friendly organization advertises several members’ readings and open mic events throughout Ontario. Previous events have been held in Oakville, London, Sarnia, Stratford and other locations. More info about the December 2015 event here.

For those interested in sharing work in a competitive environment, check out the poetry slam and spoken word competitions in the area.

For storytellers, there’s Mouth Piece – Put Your Story Where Your Mouth Is, a Windsor/Essex County based storytelling series organized and hosted by Vanessa Shields. Additional information can be found here.

Future literary events can also be found on my literary events page. Check back frequently as postings are added when I can squeeze in the time. Apologies re: those events I may have missed or have not been informed of.

Highlights of some of these events may appear in future blog posts. I’ll be working on my backlog soon!

*From the poem “Fright Night” by Tom MacGregor, MINDSHADOWS: A Canadian Anthology of Poetry 2015 (Beret Days Press, 2015) Page 134


Poets Clara Blackwell, Lynn Tait, Allan Briesmaster and John Wing Jr. during Sarnia's 2014 National Poetry Month Celebrations!

Poets Clara Blackwood, Lynn Tait, Allan Briesmaster and John Wing Jr. during Sarnia’s 2014 National Poetry Month Celebrations! Photo collage courtesy: Bob McCarthy

“Poetry has always been a “spoken word” art, not a “book page” art…Through National Poetry Month, poets are able to travel all over Canada and present live readings.” –James Deahl, spokesperson, Bluewater Reading Series