Tag Archives: The Ontario Poetry Society

Embracing Books About Trees

“We need trees. They give us oxygen, wood, medicine, food, shelter, shade, paper –the list goes on and on.” –Dearborn Public Library; Dearborn Michigan*

When was the last time you hugged a tree? Admit it, during these pandemic on-again-off-again lockdowns, reading a good book or taking a quiet stroll through a tree-lined park often eased the emptiness from those missed social gatherings with family and friends. 

Forests have healing powers and that is one reason trees need to remain in good health for future generations.  On Sunday, March 21, 2021, concerned organizations and individuals with the help of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations celebrated International Day of Forests ( #IntlForestDay ). This year’s theme was “Forest restoration: a path to recovery and well-being.” For additional details, here is the link.

International Day of Forests March 21, 2021

International Day of Forests was celebrated March 21, 2021.

I’m not much of an activist, but as a writer and a reader, I’ve been impressed by some of the tree-themed literary projects that have been organized and promoted over the years. The following books were not affiliated with International Day of Forests, but I wanted to draw attention to them.

TREE BOOKS – HOT OFF THE PRESS:

Tree Anthology edited by Henry Fischer, Nicole Lane, Kathryn Takach, and Dan Lodge (Dearborn Public Library 2021) 294 pages.

What a beautiful book. I am hugging this anthology now and I look forward to reading the variety of stories and poems written by 67 contributors ranging from the school aged youth to the retired young at heart. There is also a Picture-a-Tree section featuring striking black and white images taken during Michigan’s stay-at-home orders.

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New Poetry Anthologies Are Like Automobile Showrooms

Dear reader, strap yourself in for a virtually wild ride! – Katerina Vaughan Fretwell*

What an exhilarating but bumpy road for Ontario writers who are trying to launch new books during this COVID-19 pandemic. One silver ‘hubcap’ shine to this ‘unexpected pause’ is that readers may have more free time to seek out new authors or to catch-up on the latest offerings by their favourite poets.

I don’t know about you but I’m feeling challenged by all the books I added to my Goodreads “to-read” list last year; never mind the list of new poetry collections released over the last eight months. A close friend of mine suggested that I needed to learn how to speed read. I told him, poetry is like a cup of tea, it needs to be sipped slowly or I would miss the taste of each word.

Infinite Passages 2020 (Beret Days Press) features the work of 60 members of The Ontario Poetry Society.

In my next two blog posts, I’ll be shining the headlights on The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS), a poetry-friendly grassroots organization that nurtures over 200 members at all levels and stages of their literary journeys.

My first feature will steer towards the anthologies that its members have participated in. These books remind me of automobile showrooms. I can browse through the variety of work, test drive or read several styles of work before deciding which poets I would like to invest more time with. Like art or music, poetry has such a wide range of offerings to attract different audiences.

Next week, I plan to introduce new poetry books and chapbooks by individual members.

The engines are revving…

Infinite Passages: Anthology 2020 (Beret Days Press 2020) Illustrated and compiled by Katerina Vaughan Fretwell  ISBN 978-1926495-66-8

Distances Navigated, Marked Movements, Otherworldly Sojourns, Embodied Routes, and Creative Jaunts. These are the five sections that compiler Katerina Vaughan Fretwell created to showcase the best work of each of the participants in this year’s TOPS membership anthology project.

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Throwback Saturday – The Love of Poetry Gathering 2020

somewhere between Arrivals and Departure/and Duty Free/we are grounded.* – K.V. Skene

Cancelled! Postponed! Grounded! Stay home! Stay safe! What is a lover of poetry to do?

Since March, due to the threat of COVID-19, Canadian literary and arts organizations have been banned from hosting public events or large gatherings. Non-essential travel has also been discouraged.

1 - TOPS Feb 9, 2020 in North York

Prior to the cancellation of events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Ontario Poetry Society held a members’ reading and open mic early February 2020 in North York, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Raj Moonsammy.

After two months of social distancing, The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS) website still states, “No events are being planned during the Pandemic.” That means the May reading in Cobourg has been cancelled and it is still not known when poets will be allowed to publicly (or even privately) gather in large groups again.

Yesterday, I received my copy of Verse Afire, the bi-annual publication of TOPS and was reminded of The Love of Poetry Gathering held February 9, 2020 at the union social eatery in North York, Ontario, Canada. It brought back so many fond memories of reuniting with and hugging poet-friends as well as meeting new people who also love the genre of poetry.

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Poet Roy J. Adams Proves Its Never Too Late to Start

Don’t fiddle with glitz, reject the quick-/go for the edge, the waltz, the weight.//Its where you’ve sizzled; what’s off your/list, whether or not you’ve felt the mist. – Roy J. Adams*

Using humour, Hamilton-based poet Roy J. Adams once described himself as a literary flop by the time he was 20. Now in his semi-retirement, he’s celebrating the publication of two debut poetry books. I admire this writer’s enthusiasm and the way he uses quick wit to overcome obstacles.

Adams headshot 2018

Poet Roy J. Adams began writing poetry during his semi-retirement as an industrial relations professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Marilyn Adams

Upon first glance, his roller-coaster life reminds me of Looney Tunes’ Wile E. Coyote, the animated character who always picked himself up despite all the challenging attempts to capture the Road Runner or in his case, his ongoing dreams.

For example, in his poem “High”, he refers to his Jump School training with the U.S. Army: “you tumble” out of a packed plane and “become a ragdoll whirling/in the blast” only to end up “Splat! You’re back, flat, a blacked-out/crash test dummy.”

The next day, he’s back on the plane with even more determination.

He also survived the rejection of his father and stepmother and transformed himself from an 18-year-old university drop-out to an industrial relations professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

In a more recent personal essay posted on a Bloom-site.com blog he wrote “In my seventies, I fell off a mountain into another dimension.”**

That dimension led him to a more serious full-time commitment to poetry and the release of two publications: Bebop From Beau’s Caboose (a 24-page chapbook described by The Ontario Poetry Society president Fran Figge as “a smorgasbord spiced with tasty bites of unusual and invented words”) plus Critical Mass (a 64-page collection that New Westminster Poet Laureate Emerita Candice James promoted as a “nostalgic walk down memory lane”.) Verse Afire Reviewer John Ambury wrote that “Adams is a natural story-teller: a vivid narrator with a talent for the much-abbreviated story arc, relating much but not over-explaining.”

two books by Roy J Adams

Adams is the author of one chapbook printed by Beret Days Press and one trade book published by Silver Bow Publishing.

A few days ago, I chatted with Roy (via e-mail) about his recent books, his writing space, and his plans for the future. Continue reading

More Advice from Poetry Contest Judges

Who licks the gold stars/Decides on the winner,/The one who rises to/The next level? –Debbie Okun Hill from the poem “Licking Glue from Gold Stars”*

Behold the various opinions of poetry contest judges!

When I was an elementary school student, the grade one teacher would place a shiny gold star on any assignment deserving top marks. Sometimes, for special occasions, she would replace the star with a seasonal sticker such as a jack-o-lantern, a holiday wreath, and/or a bright red valentine. Oh, how this little reward was intended to motivate classmates to do their best! Not once did I ever doubt the teacher’s ability to judge.

Gold Stars - yellow 1

However, over time, I’ve discovered that to judge another person’s work is a huge responsibility, sometimes it’s subjective depending on the judge’s preferences, and when it comes to evaluating poetry, it’s not an easy task.

Earlier this summer, I posted a blog feature outlining my criteria or rough guidelines for blind-judging and selecting My Sister Rides A Sorrow Mule by John B. Lee as the a prize-winning poetry chapbook for a recent contest. See the blog post here. Upon sharing the information, I asked for opinions from other contest judges.

Below are the responses I received:

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Behold the Characteristics of a Prize-Winning Poetry Chapbook

The life of those/who went before/their bodies take the shape of sheers/that breathe upon the window ledge – John B. Lee – author of My Sister Rides a Sorrow Mule, winner of The Ontario Poetry Society’s 2019 Golden Chapbook Poetry Prize.

If someone asked you to judge a poetry chapbook contest, what would you look for? The squish of rain beneath rubber boots? The whirl and clang of a pinball machine? Would you seek out manuscripts focusing on your favourite subjects or would you evaluate the work on originality or the strength of the writing? How does one evaluate and compare a collection of Shakespearian sonnets to a test tube of experimental poems? Can a bushel of McIntosh apples compete with a box of Mandarin oranges? Can the writing of a people’s poet battle with a scholar’s life’s work and vice versa?

How many of you have entered manuscripts into contests and upon release of the winner’s list have asked, where did I go wrong? How can I improve my chances for the next submission call? Where can I go for advice? Should I even bother to enter another contest?

Apples and Oranges Photo by Okun Hill

Judging a poetry contest is like comparing apples with oranges. Find a manuscript with hackneyed clichés and themes and it’s quickly eliminated from the competition.

Last May, a cardboard box filled with poetry chapbook manuscripts arrived at my door with the instructions to select a top winner and five honourable mentions by November 2019. My head spun like a flying saucer heading straight for a chain-link fence. I had judged poetry contests before but this was my first assignment judging a manuscript contest. Just reading through the poems once could take months. I finally understood the weight thrust upon publishers inundated with a year’s worth of manuscripts. This would be no easy task.

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#NPM19 – Poems In Your Pockets, Submission Calls, Events, etc.

i’m in the bus which is really just an old car/and it’s night and pouring rain and i’m/thirteen and the car is jammed with bodies… – Eleonore Shönmaier*

april 2019 - national poetry month 2019

Have you filled your pockets with poems yet? Have you dropped a poetic postcard in the mail? There’s still time to swirl in this whirlwind of poetic celebration. Below is a cluster of literary news items collected and raked up like paper leaves off my desk. Quick, line your calendar pockets with the words of poetry.

Tomorrow (Thursday, April 18 to be exact), The League of Canadian Poets will roll out nature’s leafy-green carpet to present Poem in Your Pocket Day, another initiative for its National Poetry Month 2019 (#NPM19) celebration. According to the League’s website, “you can carry a poem, share a poem, or even start your own Poem in Your Pocket Day event.”

Have you checked your mailbox lately? Look at what the League snail-mailed to me the other day! I’ve decided to share it a few hours early.

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Artist John Di Leonardo Follows His Passion in Debut Poetry Book

Among cold things, I whisper your name/in the sweetness of morning jams, evening fruits/and the Atlantic that draws me towards you. – John Di Leonardo*

February perfumes the air with desire and passion fruit while the cover of John Di Leonardo’s debut poetry collection Conditions of Desire is scarlet like rose petals, like a daring shade of lipstick, like Cupid’s heart.

Launched in late October 2018 by The John B. Lee Signature Series imprint of Hidden Brook Press, this 74-page collection of 54 ekphrastic poems evolved from Di Leonardo’s visual art exhibition “The Contentious Nude in the History of Canadian Art.”

John Di Leonardo at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery Photo courtesy - Druworx Photography - for blog post

Before becoming a published poet, John Di Leonardo taught visual arts for 30 years. His latest exhibition of graphite drawings was at the Robert McLaughlin Art Gallery in Oshawa, Ontario. Photo courtesy: Druworx Photography

As Lee penned for the back cover, “John Di Leonardo’s masterful ekphrastic project involves the writing of a collection of fine poems each of which is inspired by an original work of art. Although he is working in the poetic tradition of Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts,” Di Leonardo is first and foremost a painter who brings to bear the eye of a man whose primary art is visual.”

His transition–from an established artist and visual arts teacher to a poet who paints with his words–has been fascinating to watch.

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Chatting with Canadian Poet Bernice Lever

Gonna kick up these old heels/Swing on that shiny pine floor/Stamp feet to that drum beat./Oh, find some lovin’ galore* – Bernice Lever

 You won’t find Canadian poet Bernice Lever resting on her laurels in an easy chair. Even at the golden age of 80 plus years, she’s much too busy for that.

Berrnice Lever at World Peace Poets 6th Read-In October 6, 2018 in Bellingham, Washington Photo courtesy Ashok K. Bhargava

Canadian Poet Bernice Lever reads at World Peace Poets 6th Read-In, October 6, 2018 in Bellingham, Washington. Photo courtesy of Ashok K. Bhargava

In addition to working on her 11th book of poetry expected to be published in 2019, she is still giving readings and workshops. Earlier this month, she was one of six Canadian and 31 American poets to read at the World Peace Poets 6th Read-In in Bellingham, Washington.  Two of her poems featured at that event will be published in a December chapbook.

Tamaracks - Lummox Press 2018 - front cover

Lever is one of 113 Canadian poets from Halifax to Vancouver published in TAMARACKS: Canadian Poets for the 21st Century (Lummox Press 2018)

Additional work recently appeared in two anthologies published by Lummox Press in San Pedro, California: LUMMOX Number 7 and TAMARACKS: Canadian Poetry for the 21st Century. She also had four poems featured in Delicate Impact, an anthology released by Beret Days Press in the summer

In April, the League of Canadian Poets highlighted her poem “Not Just My Bunions” for Poem In Your Pocket Day. (Read more here.) Plus one of her poems was selected for Poetry Pause the League’s new on-line showcase to be launched this November.

Recently, she was welcomed to share her praise of her multi-talented publisher, Marty Gervais and of his five decades of leading Black Moss Press and his national prize winning literary magazine. This coming book is edited by well-known writer Bruce Meyer.

Bernice Lever has made such an extensive contribution to the literary community that several organizations including the League, the Canadian Authors Association, and The Ontario Poetry Society have honoured her with Life Memberships.

I recently chatted with Bernice about her literary life, philosophy, and future goals.

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I. B. Iskov’s Latest Chapbook Embraces Her Best Poems

 

“I am visiting my childhood memories/green as tomatoes in May/stalked until they are red/and plucked like roses,” –I. B. Iskov, Founder, The Ontario Poetry Society.*

I B Iskov launches My Coming of Age (HMS Press, 2018)

Canadian poet I. B. (Bunny) Iskov in London, Ontario, Canada.

A huge bouquet of virtual roses for Canadian poet I. B. (Bunny) Iskov who recently launched her latest chapbook My Coming of Age (HMS Press, 2018). Over the years, she has not only acquired many accolades for her dedicated work with The Ontario Poetry Society but praise has also been bestowed on her writing. Many of these award-wining memory-infused poems are included in her new book. Almost all have been previously published between 2000 and 2017. I look forward to reading this new collection.

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