Tag Archives: The Ontario Poetry Society

The Spring into Poetry Party – May 5, 2018 in Cobourg

“My life is like the lotus/swelling in copper light of morning/undisturbed by torrents of falling water”* – Joan Sutcliffe

 I could listen to the voice of Canadian poet Joan Sutcliffe all day! Originally from Yorkshire, Sutcliffe captivates the audience and her accent adds another dimension to her casual reading style. On Sunday, she launched her poetry book From Time to Time during The Ontario Poetry Society’s The Spring into Poetry Party at Meet at 66 King East in Cobourg, Ontario.

One of the beauties of spring and the ease of safely travelling to out-of-town launches and poetry readings is that one often collects precious memories to take home to treasure. Sutcliffe’s reading was one of those memories. The other was the featured reading by Life Member Allan Briesmaster who has been spotlighted on this blog before. I also enjoyed meeting for the first time Greer Roberts, a Durham region resident who launched his self-published chapbook The Slaughters.

 

TOPS The Spring into Poetry Party - Featured Readers and Books Launched

Featured guest reader and TOPS life member Allan Briesmaster read from his recent books while Joan Sutcliffe launched her second book and Greer Roberts introduced his self-published chapbook during The Spring into Poetry Party in Cobourg.

Of course, it was nice to be in a room filled with other writers: from first time readers to veteran performers. All of the members, the open mic readers, and the appreciative audience made the afternoon special.

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The Ontario Poetry Society held a members’ reading and open mic on May 5, 2018 at Meet at 66 King East in Cobourg, Ontario.

Below is a report by Joan Sutcliffe that will appear in the next issue of Verse Afire, TOPS membership newsletter. It is printed here with permission from the author and The Ontario Poetry Society:

Reported by Joan Sutcliffe:

With first blossoms of May, members and friends of The Ontario Poetry Society enjoyed the bohemian charm of our favourite tea house in Cobourg, with its exquisite décor and china tea cups.

T.O.P.S. ever-active creator and organizer, Bunny Iskov, opened the afternoon with a warm welcome drawing attention to the attractive packages of book prizes, donated by our sponsors and  raffled off throughout the event.

First to read was Glenna Hall with an intriguing piece called Looking Glass which conjured up ethereal personifications of starlight and the dream weaver posing mystical questions. Then John Ambury paid tribute to the intuitive insight of women as the shamanic holders of the fabric of civilization in an interesting poem on the roles of men and women in traditional societies. President Fran Figge, using the metaphor of the juicy apple and the slithering serpentine male seduced by white innocence of the female, gave us a poem rich in sensual imagery, and followed with an ekphrastic poem on a painting titled Panspermia. Acknowledging his technical skill in setting up T.O.P.S. publications & webmaster skills, Bunny introduced Mark Clement, whose first reading brought to life old experiences at the high school dance, with following pieces depicting the throaty croak of the crow and fallen leaves.

TOPS The Spring into Poetry Party - members featured May 5, 2018 in Cobourg

Members’ reading with Glenna Hall, John Ambury, Fran Figge, Mark Clement, Debbie Okun Hill, I. B. (Bunny) Iskov, and Joanna Gale.

Next came a book launch by Joan Sutcliffe, presenting her new book From Time to Time (In Our Words, 2017), in which she followed the cycle from Beltane to Gemini, then touched on long-lost memories, finishing with a poem on Impermanence which suggests it is the briefness of all passing things that makes life so precious.

TOPS in Cobourg with Allan Briesmaster - May 5, 2018

Featured reader and TOPS Life member Allan Briesmaster launched his chapbook Pod and Berry (Aeolus House, 2017).

During the break, poets and audience mingled and got to know each other. To start the second half of the readings, feature poet, Allan Briesmaster began with a poem from the latest Verse Afire which had previously enjoyed its initial reading at Cobourg. This was followed by the launch of his new book Pod and Berry which is the product of a writers’ retreat in Bermuda and contains art by his wife, Holly. One of the poems came into being through a workshop on dreams, and after amusing us with dreaming experiences he gave us an Office Dream. Then came a descriptive piece suggestive of a parkland’s healing quality, where images of goldfinches and red cardinals emerged life-like from the lines. A moving poem on trees plummeted the depths of ideas from the book The Hidden Life of Trees. His final offering portrayed the poignant sweetness of the last day in Bermuda.

Debbie Okun Hill then presented her two prize winning chapbooks, where in one poem from Drawing from Experience she describes the touching joy of drawing with her father-in-law in the nursing home. From her other chapbook, in her poem Pencil Crayons: Sharpened a companion theme with her father-in-law demonstrates the power of crayons as a medium of expression. Then, from an unpublished manuscript, her poem Turning a Corner was inspired by the loss of four ash trees in her garden which captures in similar vein the loss of some of the Sarnia writers.

Greer Roberts read from his new chapbook, and began with the light shining in the forest and blue moon bliss, before masterfully depicting the buildup of terror approaching a school massacre.

TOPS The Spring into Poetry Party - Open Mic Readers

Open mic readers Donna Wooton, Liz Hammond, and Walley Keller.

Bunny Iskov, first read her poem, Air Show, in which a host of starlings dazzled everyone with acrobatic flights of fancy over the corner of Finch and Yonge. In a stark contrast to this, she informed us poetically as a near witness, of Toronto’s recent van attack at Mel Lastman Square, and then changed to a lighter mode with a rhyming poem on Ontario in the Spring. Last T.O.P.S. member to read was Joanna Gale, first winding her way through a disappointment by a walk near the water’s edge and the exhilaration of sun-blown kisses through clouds. Her final poem, a lyrical evocation of spring, introduced a delightful vocabulary of willow-bough-willow complex words.

The afternoon culminated in readings at the open mike by three talented poets from the Cobourg area. Lots of poems and lots of prizes were acquired by all.

Thank you Joan for sharing your observations!

The Ontario Poetry Society’s next members’ reading and open mic will be held this August in London, Ontario. For more information about this and other literary events taking place in Ontario, check out the 2018 Event Section of this blog.

*Quote is from the poem “Impermanence” printed in the book From Time to Time (In Our Words Inc, 2017). Page 39. Copyright © 2017 Joan Sutcliffe. Used with permission.

Follow this blog for future event highlights as well as poet and author profiles.

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Memories – The Love of Poetry Gathering

Today the grey clouds parted like curtains on a stage and the sun slid into view wearing a radiant coat! Melted snow dripped and dropped off the neighbourhood rooftops. It smelled like spring…like poetry…like love sneaking around a corner for Valentine’s Day.

If only Cupid had warmed the Earth a little sooner.

TOPS The Love of Poetry Gathering in North York invite

The Ontario Poetry Society held a members’ reading and open mic on February 11, 2018 at the Symposium Café Restaurant Bar & Lounge in North York, Ontario.

 

Last Sunday, several local members of The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS) braved the cold icy weather to attend “The Love of Poetry Gathering” at the Symposium Café Restaurant Bar & Lounge in North York, Ontario. According to TOPS Vice-President Joan Sutcliffe, “the event was reasonably well attended and enjoyed by all who made it.”

Symposium Restaurant North York Feb 11, 2018 Photo Larry Iskov

“There were three book launches,” she wrote. “Reflections: Places, People, Love & Loss – a chapbook by John Hastings, published by Beret Days Press as Stanza Break Series #62; Bottom of the Wine Jar – an English/Spanish anthology launched by Patrick Connors as one of four contributors in connection with the Cuba Literary festival; and Letters to My Father by Banoo Zan, a Persian/English book published by Piquant Press in 2017.”

TOPS The Love of Poetry Gathering - book launches Feb 11, 2017 in North York

One book, one anthology, and one chapbook by members of The Ontario Poetry Society were spotlighted in North York, Ontario.

 

Additional readers (in alphabetical order) included: Marsha Barber, Sheila Bello, Allan Briesmaster, Howard Freedlander, I.B. (Bunny) Iskov, Mark Kruk, Joan Sutcliffe, Lilly Williams, and Victor Zurkowski.

TOPS The Love of Poetry Gathering - featured readers Feb 11, 2017 in North York

I, like many out-of-town poets, missed the gathering due to the inclement weather and the dangerous driving conditions. However, thanks to Larry Iskov, many of the memories were captured in these photographs.

Featured Readers North York event Feb 11, 2018 Photo by Larry Iskov

May you have a warm and wonderful week!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Celebrating Poetry in North York, Cobourg, St. Catharines, and more

If poetry is life, what then is life?/Or is that the abstraction/before the reflected surface. –Keith Inman*

You’ve got mail! Here’s your personal e-invitation! Gather your love poems and release your pink- and red-ribbon word-gifts to your poetic peers. This Sunday, February 11, 2018, The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS) travels to North York to host “The Love Of Poetry Gathering”, an afternoon of spotlight book launches, members’ readings, and an open mic for non-members.

TOPS The Love of Poetry Gathering in North York invite

The Ontario Poetry Society will host “The Love of Poetry Gathering” this Sunday, February 11 from 12 noon to 4 p.m. at the Symposium Café Restaurant Bar & Lounge, 5221 Yonge Street in North York, Ontario. Admission is free.

The event starts at 12 noon and runs until approximately 4 p.m. at the Symposium Café Restaurant Bar & Lounge, 5221 Yonge Street, (2 Blocks north of North York Centre, South of Finch Avenue) in North York, Ontario. Sign-up for book launch spotlights and readings is at the door. Admission is free. Everyone (including first time readers) is welcome. Depending on the number of people signed-up, each person should come prepared to read either two short poems or one longer poem. All styles from rhyming couplets to free verse to experimental to rap and spoken word are accepted. More information here.If you can’t attend the Sunday event, TOPS will be hosting at least three more open mic events in 2018. The next one will be the “Spring into Poetry Party” to be held Saturday, May 5, 2018 from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the café: Meet at 66 King East in Cobourg, Ontario. A summer event is tentatively planned for Sunday, August 26 in London and information about an autumn event will be announced at a later date.

On Saturday, March 3, 2018, Roy Adams and the Hamilton branch of The Ontario Poetry Society will team up with Brydge Builder Press for “A Hamilton Poetry Night”, 8 to 10:30 p.m. at The Staircase, 27 Dundurn Street North. Highlights include the launch of Vagabond Post Office: A Poet’s Path Home by David C. Brydges (TOPS Cobalt branch manager), featured readings by Kathy Fisher and Gary Barwin plus music by David McIntosh. TOPS president Fran Figge will emcee the evening. An open mic will follow. Admission is free.

March 3, 2018 in Hamilton, Ontario

TOPS Cobalt branch manager (David C. Brydges) will be launching his new book Vagabond Post Office: A Poet’s Path Home, Saturday, March 3 in Hamilton.

THROWBACK THURSDAY:

For those who missed it: TOPS travelled to St. Catharines for the first time last November 12, 2017. Six members took to the stage and two new books and two new chapbooks were spotlighted during the “Autumn Harvest Poetry Festival”.

Keith Inman introduced his second trade book SEAsia (Black Moss Press, 2017). Canadian poet John B. Lee stated in his review published in the January 2018 issue of Verse Afire “..in Niagara poet Keith Inman’s book of poetry we take something of a cultural journey in which we accompany the poet on his travels seeing the southeast Asian world through the filter of language as we depart by way of poetry from our common home in Canada travelling east by way of Cambodia and Vietnam and returning to our Native land changed by the experience of having been away. …we are companions on a journey. We are fellow travelers having knowledge of going hence from the familiar and returning from the foreign. And we wonder what it means to belong. How is it for the exile?” Check the Black Moss Press website for the full review plus info about Keith Inman and his books.

Transitory Tango, TOPS 2017 membership anthology edited and compiled by Ottawa poet Ronnie R. Brown was also introduced with readings by several members. Additional information about this anthology and the list of contributors is posted on the TOPS website.

Debbie Okun Hill shared two new chapbooks: Drawing from Experience (a runner-up in the 2017 Big Pond Rumours Chapbook contest) and Chalk Dust Clouds (this year’s winner of TOPS Golden Grassroots Chapbook Award.) Info about the first chapbook appears here. In a recent Verse Fire review of Chalk Dust Clouds, Canadian poet Ronnie R. Brown states “Replete with unique and unexpected images, Okun Hill manages to produce a small collection that stands large in the readers’ minds. From the boy who writes his love’s name on his arm in ball point, to a recycled book of paper dolls, Okun Hill pushes all the buttons, rewinding the reader’s mind back to an earlier and simpler time when erasing the blackboard and slapping the erasers was a reward worth fighting for.” The contest results appear here.

Other spotlight readers (in alphabetical order) were Roy Adams, Fran Figge, I. B. (Bunny) Iskov, and Kamal Parmar. Work by non-members were also shared.

TOPS Members Reading in St Catharines - November 12, 2017 blog version

The Ontario Poetry Society held a members’ reading and open mic on November 12, 2017 at the Mahtay Café & Lounge in St. Catharines. Featured readers included: (back row, left to right) Roy Adams, Keith Inman, Debbie Okun Hill, Fran Figge, and Kamal Parmar. (Front row) I. B. (Bunny) Iskov.

The Ontario Poetry Society is a poetry friendly grassroots organization with over 240 members. It was founded to create a democratic organization for members to unite in camaraderie, friendship, emotional support and encouragement in all aspects of poetry, including writing, performing and publishing. Additional information can be found on its website.

Several other articles about this organization have been posted on this blog over the years.

A partial listing of Ontario literary events for 2018 appears here.

Follow this blog for future news about Canada’s literary community.

*From the poem “What is Poetry?” from the book SEAsia (Black Moss Press, 2017). Used with permission from the author. Copyright © Keith Inman 2017

Congratulations I. B. Iskov – More Applause for this Arts and Culture Leader

Some women are absolutely fabulous.

I. B. (Bunny) Iskov is one of them.

Last Sunday (March 5, 2017), Iskov was one of forty Greater Golden Horseshoe residents honoured during the 4th Annual Absolutely Fabulous Women – 40 over Forty Awards Gala. According to the organizers, “this prestigious annual award ceremony celebrates inspirational individuals and recognizes their outstanding contributions to the community.” Iskov received her award for her long-standing service to the Arts and Culture community (more specifically for her dedication and leadership with The Ontario Poetry Society).

Photo 3 Bunny Iskov win her award March 5, 2017 Photo courtesy Anna Yin

Canadian poet I. B. (Bunny) Iskov was recently honoured at the 4th Annual Absolutely Fabulous Women – 40 Over Forty Awards Gala held in Mississauga, Ontario. Photo Courtesy: Anna Yin

 

I’ve written about Bunny before. Back in 2015, I stated, “Canadian poet I. B. (Bunny) Iskov reminds me of the Energizer® Bunny and the TV commercial where the batteries in the pink-plush, sunglasses wearing, hare “keep going and going and going”. Even the Oxford Dictionary’s description of the generic ‘energizer bunny’ phrase resonates with her character and enthusiasm. She is indeed a “persistent or indefatigable person or phenomenon.”  See the full blog post including a question and answer segment here.

Bunny was also featured in two blogs about her involvement as editor/compiler of the recent Memory and Loss fundraising anthology and tour where monies were raised for the Alzheimer Society of Ontario. See those blogs here and here.

As I’ve mentioned before, Bunny is one of the hardest working individuals I know and is a crusader for all poets, especially those at the grassroots level who need a nudge and boost of confidence to keep writing.

Photo 1 Bunny Iskov at Absoluately Fabulous Women March 5, 2017 event photo courtesy Larry Iskov

For over 16 years, Bunny Iskov has inspired poets through The Ontario Poetry Society, a not-for-profit organization she founded and runs with the help of several volunteers. Photo Courtesy: Larry Iskov

 

With permission from the nominating committee (Fran Figge, Ronnie R. Brown, and me), below are some of the highlights of Bunny’s achievements that were shared with an independent panel of judges. I am thrilled that the judges accepted the nomination.

Toronto poet I. Bunny Iskov is the dynamic leader and Founder of The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS). For over 16 years she has funneled her enthusiasm for words into the creation and ongoing development of this highly successful not-for-profit provincial literary arts organization which currently serves over 260 members.

Through Beret Days Press, Iskov has published over 150 books including member anthologies and private collections as well as a triannual newsletter Verse Afire.  Through her poetry initiatives, over $1500 has been donated to several non-profit charitable organizations.  She has also established a poor poet fund and the Make-A-Chapbook Foundation for poets in financial need.

As a volunteer and poetry promoter, Iskov helps launch the writing careers of emerging poets. She embraces writers from every ethnic and cultural background, from hobbyists to poet laureates. She creates, organizes and runs several contests, workshops, readings and open mic events each year.

In 2009, she was the recipient of the inaugural RAVE (Recognizing Arts Vaughan Excellence) Award for her work as Art Educator and Mentor in the Literary Arts Discipline.

Bunny Iskov is inspirational, irreplaceable and deserves recognition for her achievements.

Additional information about her personal literary credentials are posted on-line on The Ontario Poetry Society website.

Photo 2 Anna Yin and Bunny Iskov at award ceremony March 5, 2017 Photo Courtesy Larry Iskov

Anna Yin, Mississauga’s first poet laureate, congratulates Bunny Iskov on her award. Photo Courtesy: Larry Iskov

 

Bunny is indeed amazing. A few hours after winning her award, she was back at The Ontario Poetry Society headquarters sending e-mails and promoting other poets.

And there’s more….

Later this month, she’ll be releasing a new limited edition chapbook called Hold The Applause (Ink Bottle Press, 2017). The collection will include a sample of her poems that have either won poetry awards or have come close as Honourable Mentions and/or Judge’s Choice Awards.

She will also be preparing all the files for Transitory Tango, a poetry membership anthology to be edited and compiled by Ronnie R. Brown and released in late summer by Beret Days Press. Submissions for Verse Afire, TOPS membership newsletter must also be compiled. Several contests and members’ readings and open mic events have also been organized for 2017.

Like the Energizer® Bunny, she keeps “going and going and going”. She continues to make a difference in so many lives. Thank you for all that you do!

 

Squirreled Away With More Books: Preparing for the End of Summer

And then I turn to the piles of books. – Bob Armstrong*

Last week, I finished reading Dadolescence, a humourous novel about a stay-at-home dad written by Winnipeg playwright Bob Armstrong and published by Turnstone Press in 2011. (Yes, I took a welcome break from reading poetry.) In one of the chapters, the main character (Bill Angus) decided it was time to de-clutter his office and he was faced with piles of unread books, magazines, papers, and restaurant take-out menus.

Summer Reading 2016 photo 1

My 2016 summer reading pile. I still have a long way to go.

I laughed aloud. It reminded me of my own summer goal to de-clutter my living space without much success. Yes, the yard looks less like a jungle and I can see (well almost see) the top of my desk but my reading pile appears to have grown.

I’m convinced, books are like autumn leaves. As soon as the weather cools, new novels and poetry collections fall from publisher-heaven and swirl into “must read” piles. The stacks grow higher and higher, the lists stretch longer and longer, and my eyes open wider and wider. I want to rake them into my mind and read them all.

TOPS London event August 24, 2016 MC Fran Figge

Fran Figge, President, The Ontario Poetry Society, introduced the poets at The Sultry Summer Poetry Gathering in London, Ontario, Canada.

Yikes, I wonder if all writers have this problem: the love of books and the lack of time to read or review then all! Maybe if I stopped writing and attending literary events (which I tried almost successfully this summer), I would have that extra time to catch up. Maybe if I gave up watching all 10plus seasons of the TV series Bones on Netflex, my mind would be more poetic and less inclined to wander into some fictional mystery genre. Dream on….I’m afraid, I’m a bit like Bill, the stay-at-home dad, except I’m female, and have no interest in writing a PhD thesis called ‘participatory anthropological research’ nor being the next Kathy Reichs, the famous crime fiction author and brains behind the long-running TV series.

One event I refused to miss was The Sultry Summer Poetry Gathering organized by The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS) and the London Open Mic Poetry group. Held last Sunday, August 21 in London, Ontario, Canada, this poetry friendly event welcomed all levels of poets from the experienced to the first time reader. Many were London residents but over half of the attendees drove in from out-of-town: Sarnia, Toronto, Windsor and more. Everyone and anyone who wanted to share their work could do so which made for a long but enjoyable afternoon.

Congratulations to all the poets who launched and/or showcased new books!

TOPS London event August 24, 2016 mini-launches

A record number of TOPS members received spotlight launches/readings for their new books. The next TOPS event will be held in Oakville on Sunday, October 30, 2016.

They included in alphabetical order according to the author’s last name: Moving Waters: Poems and Stories (In Our Words Inc. (IOWI), 2016) by John Ambury; A Hundred Poems About Flowers – the first twenty-five (Boularderie Island Press) and A Hundred Poems About Flowers – the next twenty-five (Boularderie Island Press) by Robyn Marie Butt; Landscapes: Poems from the seasons of Ontario’s soul (Cyclamens and Swords Publishing, 2016) by Katherine Gordon and James Deahl; Zapped by Design, Zithered by Wit, The Artisan’s Well (2011) by R. Patrick James; Two Paths Through the Seasons (Cyclamens and Swords Publishing, 2014) by Norma West Linder and James Deahl; On Wings of Time: Poems Selected & New (Beret Days Books, 2016) by Kamal Parmar; Poems From An Eclectic Mind (Trafford Publishing, 2016) by David D Plain; and Look at Her (Black Moss Press, 2016) by Vanessa Shields.

TOPS London event August 24, 2016 members in attendance

A warm, dreamy day…close to 20 members of The Ontario Poetry Society shared their poems during the August 21st event at Mykonos Restaurant. Four non-members also read their work during the open mic.

Wow, more books to consider! What a great way to hear a sample from each collection and to learn more about some of the Ontario poets who are contributing to our rich Canadian culture. Rather than gush forth with all the details, I encourage you to check out additional photos on Facebook here and/or stop by some of the future readings held in your area.

TOPS London event August 24, 2016 Host Stan Burfield

Stan Burfield, London branch manager for TOPS and co-host of London Open Mic Poetry held the first Wednesday of the month at Mykonos Restaurant.

As for what happened to the fictional character Bill Angus and his pile of books, you’ll have to read Bill Armstrong’s book to find out. Or wait for my official review which may be posted at a later date. That’s my Canadian author’s plug and cliffhanger for today.

Times up! Supper break! See me escaping my chores, diving into another book, before the sun sets on this last week of summer reading.

Additional information about The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS) as well as their future readings can be found on their website. Or check out previous blog posts on this site.

Additional information about London Open Mic Poetry and their upcoming readings can be found on their website.

Information about upcoming literary events in Ontario can be found here on my website.

The League of Canadian Poets has an excellent blog post about how to start a new reading series. An event listing is also posted on their site.

COMING SOON: Information about CADENCE, a new reading series being planned for the Sarnia, Ontario, Canada area will be posted on this blog at a later date.  I can’t wait to hear what Sharon Berg and her committee have planned.

*quote is from the book Dadolescence (Turnstone Press, 2011) Copyright © Bob Armstrong, page 84.

Poet Profile: Marsha Barber Reflects on All The Lovely Broken People

This is a poem/for when you are broken…Marsha Barber*

The front cover of Marsha Barber’s latest book includes a snapshot of a rag doll with its head tilted and severed at the neck. Symbolically, it reminds me of childhood innocence and how easily it is lost.

book launch photo 2 for invitation with shadow

All The Lovely Broken People (Borealis Press, 2015) is the latest poetry collection by Ryerson journalism faculty member Marsha Barber.

At some point we all break and need to find a way to ease the pain.

As an award-winning Canadian poet, Barber cradles this universal theme of family ties, loss, brokenness, and grief and through poetry tries to make sense of it all.

For example, in her first poetry collection What is the Sound of Someone Unravelling (Borealis Press, 2011) she introduces the reader to the joys and tragedies of life and death. As she writes in her introduction, the book “begins with the suicide of someone else’s father and ends with the death of my own father.” It is her way of “trying to understand both the small and enormous losses that make up all our lives.” Her 62 poems are divided into three sections: Remembrance, Graveyard in Summer, and Watching My Father Rest.

This unravelling of emotions continues with her second book All The Lovely Broken People released by Borealis Press in 2015. The 98-page collection includes 64 poems divided into five sections: Inside the House, Difficult Journey, Swimming for My Father, Guided Tour, and Small Joys.

As a journalist and a documentarian, Barber hones in close to her subject matter and writes in a clear and accessible manner. In her poem, “Photo of the Doomed Man”, she examines the struggle between the journalist’s need to share the news and to protect the victims. At one point, she writes: “We’re inured/to gutting open/the fragile moments between/life and/death/like a Halloween pumpkin.”**

Marsha Barber photo from Ryerson website

Canadian Poet Marsha Barber writes about grief and healing in her two poetry collections published by Borealis Press. Photo Credit: Gary Gould

Her work is deep: both analytical and close to the heart. Of particular note is her use of the five senses, especially the sense of smell: “Inhale the smell of coffee and damp coats/still flecked with snow, like white icing.”***

In a Verse Afire review****, Canadian poet John B. Lee wrote: “Marsha Barber’s poems are consoling in their beauty and fortifying in their faith in the quality of a good life well lived and also in the purposefulness of dying well. She writes of loss and of the pain resulting from the terrifying awful things we humans are capable of inflicting at our worst reminding this particular reader of Yeats’ line “…the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” And she confesses more than once in these poems that she does not always understand. And it is that lack of understanding that renders her insights all the more luminous. Her poems are more than an anodyne to soothe the troubled mind. They often kick sideways into the dark realm of true experience.”

By the end of the book, Barber offers the reader hope: “This is a poem to sew those torn pieces/into ribbons//and eventually/into kites.”*

A few weeks ago, I asked Barber about her writing process. Below is her response:

Congratulations Marsha on your latest work. Describe your new book. What inspired you to write it?

I write about what’s important to me and this book was inspired by needing to write about themes that range from the intimate and personal, to events unfolding in the wider world. The poems are my attempt to make sense of those worlds.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Perhaps they’re more accessible than some. I love words and form, and have written experimental poems, but for me the real test of a poem is whether it will move readers. Will they relate to it? Will they laugh, or cry, or pause to think? Perhaps that comes from a deep desire to communicate with each person who is reading my book or hearing my words.

 

poems book cover McNally Robinson

What is the Sound of Someone Unravelling (Borealis Press, 2011) was Marsha Barber’s debut poetry collection.

 

You were a journalist first. How has your documentary experience influenced your poetry writing?

As a journalist, my goal is to tell an interesting story to an audience. That’s made me very aware of the power of narrative and storytelling. Just as journalism uncovers truth, I aim to get to the heart and inner truth of what I write about. Also, I’ve been told my work appeals to the senses, including the visual. Perhaps that stems from my work as a documentary maker. And finally, the best broadcast writing is clear and concise and words are chosen carefully. I’ve learned from that, I think.

 What inspires you and who are your mentors?

Good poetry inspires me. I’m a traditionalist in my tastes, so books of poetry by Keats and Yeats are never far from my bedside. I love the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy and Jane Kenyon and Dorothy Livesay, among many others. The Canadian poetry community, which is wonderfully generous, is full of people who have been inspirations and mentors.

Describe your writing process.

I write my first drafts late at night. Usually I sit on the bed with my Hilroy notebook and start to write. I always complete my first draft in long hand and I write fast. Revisions are a different matter. Usually I type out the draft and revise as soon as I wake up in the morning. Reading the poem aloud helps with that. Then I let time pass before I return to the poem so I can see it with a fresh eye before I do additional revising.

 What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on my third poetry book. This spring I was in Europe on sabbatical and some of the poems were written overseas. It was inspiring to write in a new setting in the middle of intense new sensory experiences.

What are your future plans?

More writing. I’ve written since I could hold a pencil so I imagine I’ll continue until I can’t hold a pen anymore. I think the impulse to create is as powerful as the impulse to draw breath. For me, it’s largely what makes life worthwhile.

Thanks Marsha for the interview and for allowing me to share a reprint of one of your poems. I look forward to reading your future work.

The Condolence Call

By Marsha Barber*****

I cradle the phone gently.
You are so far away.

Your grief surrounds you now
like a moat full
of dark water.

I cannot reach
far enough to comfort you.

My words flit around, useless
as flies.
What, after all, can be said?

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare, you say.

I imagine I would have howled.
I imagine I would have rolled on the floor.
But in the end, I cannot begin to imagine.

I’ll be okay, you say,

but your voice is so remote as if
you’ve left us all
behind,
for a bleaker planet

where the air is charred,
and you cannot find the path
that leads
back home.

Marsha Barber’s next reading will be at the 100,000 Poets for Change event, Saturday, September 17, 2016, 5 to 8 p.m. at Mây Restaurant, 876 Dundas Street West in Toronto, Ontario. Hosted by Pat Connors and Steve O’Brien, the event will also include readings by Mahlikah Awe:ri, Sharon Berg, Luciano Iacobelli, Donna Langevin, Max Layton, Jeannine Pitas, Robert Priest, Dane Swan, and Anna Yin. More information here.

Marsha reading on train

Barber shares her work during the 2015 Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour.

Additional information about Marsha Barber can be found on The Ontario Poetry Society website.

Descriptions about her books are located on the Borealis Press website.

*from the poem “All the Lovely Broken People” published in the book All The Lovely Broken People (Borealis Press, 2015) pages 94 and 95. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright © by Marsha Barber, 2015

**from the poem “Photo of the Doomed Man” published in the book All The Lovely Broken People (Borealis Press, 2015) page 69. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright © by Marsha Barber, 2015

***from the poem “Writing in Cafés” published in the book All The Lovely Broken People (Borealis Press, 2015) page 82. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright © by Marsha Barber, 2015

****The full book review by John B. Lee appears in Verse Afire, A Tri-Annual Publication of The Ontario Poetry Society, Jan. to Apr. 2016 issue. Reprinted with permission.

*****“The Condolence Call” originally published in the book All The Lovely Broken People (Borealis Press, 2015) page 26. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright © Marsha Barber, 2015  Please note due to formatting limitations of this blog, the phrase “as flies” in the fourth verse could not be indented as it should be. My apologies to the author and Borealis Press.

Watch this blog for additional Canadian Author and Poet Profiles. 

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Throwback Thursday – Sarnia’s #NPM16 Celebration

Every April, poets across Canada celebrate National Poetry Month. Some travel to read and/or visit out-of-town events while others stay close to home to organize or attend festivities in their own regions. It’s an opportunity to meet new people, to share common interests, to hear other people’s work, and to grow as a poet.

Last April, The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS) travelled to Sarnia, Ontario to host “The Pathways of Poetry Gathering” and to showcase some of its recent anthology editors and contributors. Non-members were encouraged to share their poems during an open mic.

 

Keith Inman reads at TOPS NPM16 event in Sarnia Photo- Melissa Upfold of The Calculated Colour Co.

Latchkey Lyricality Anthology editor/compiler Keith Inman travelled to Sarnia last April thanks to support of the Canada Poetry Tours program.

 

Special thanks to The League of Canadian Poets Canada/Canada Council for the Arts “Canada Poetry Tours” program for sponsoring Thorold poet Keith Inman’s visit and reading. (Note: the Canada Poetry Tour funding deadline for the October 2015 to March 2016 period is the end of July. The host is responsibility for submitting the application. More information here.)

 

Fran Figge reads at TOPS NPM16 event in Sarnia Photo by Melissa Upfold of Calculated Colour Co.

Fran Figge, President of The Ontario Poetry Society and Scarlet Thistles anthology editor/compiler.

 

Special thanks to TOPS Founder/Treasurer Bunny Iskov and TOPS President Fran Figge for supporting Sarnia’s #NPM2016 celebration. (Note: check the TOPS website for additional ways in which this organization supports poets.)

Norma West Linder reads at TOPS NPM16 event in Sarnia Photo by Melissa Upfold of Calculated Colour Co.

Norma West Linder, editor/compiler of Enchanted Crossroads.

Three cheers for all the featured poets  (Keith Inman, Fran Figge, Rhonda Melanson, Venera Fazio, Norma West Linder, and Carmen Ziolkowski) open mic readers (Alanna McGraw, Alexandra Ziolkowski, Bill Ansell, Don Gillatly, Kamal Parmar, Paul Ritchie, Melissa Upfold, Kara Smith, Heather Dunlop, Robert Hall, James Deahl, and Colin Graf) and members of the audience who braved the inclement weather to attend the celebration.

 

Enjoy the event photos taken by Melissa Upfold for The Calculated Colour Co. (Watch for a blog feature on Upfold this fall. Here’s her website.) 

Below is a report by Kamal Parmar, written for an upcoming issue of Verse Afire, TOPS membership newsletter. Parmar is the TOPS branch manager for the York Region. (News about her new poetry book will be announced soon.)

The Pathways of Poetry Gathering in Sarnia Report

By Kamal Parmar

The Sarnia poetry event emceed by Debbie Okun Hill, was held at the popular John’s Restaurant on April 3rd. There 50 poets/readers, including non-members and out-of-town poetry lovers in spite of the inclement weather and the forecast of an impending snowstorm.  Light snacks were graciously donated for this event. Everyone got to enjoy cheese and crackers, fruit, veggies and dip as well as a platter of butter tarts, brownies and carrot cake squares. It was a group effort.

Featured readers include Keith Inman from Thorold. He read poems from his War Poems collection, and Fran Figge, our President.  She read a few poems from The Poetrain Anthology as well as a few poems from her new chapbook, fall float fly.

 

Local and out-of-town guests at TOPS NPM16 event in Sarnia Photo by Melissa Upfold of The Calculated Colour Co

Local and out-of-town featured readers and guests at The Ontario Poetry Society’s Pathways of Poetry Gathering in Sarnia, April 3, 2016.

 

Other featured poets were Venera Fazio whose poetry was read by her friend Delia De Santis, Norma West Linder, and Carmen Ziolkowski whose poetry was read by her granddaughter, Alexandra. Other T.O.P.S. members who read were Debbie Okun Hill and Kamal Parmar. Members David D. Plain and Grace Vermeer came to be an appreciative audience.  Lynn Tait was unable to attend, due to a bad cold.  Debbie introduced her and showcased her work. We had thirteen open mic poets. There were seven gift wrapped prizes of books won by lucky purchasers of the raffle tickets.  It was an event to be remembered.

 

TOPS NPM16 event in Sarnia

Special thanks to Melissa Upfold of The Calculated Colour Co. for capturing all the memories. I wish I had space to share them all.

 

Detailed information about the featured readers, books, and anthologies can be found here.

Future TOPS events include “The Sultry Summer Poetry Gathering, August 21 in London, Ontario; “The Autumn Harvest Poetry Gathering”, October 30 in Oakville; and “The Winter WarmUp Poetry Festival”, November 27 in Toronto. More details here.

Upcoming Sarnia and other Ontario literary events are posted on my Event page.

Mark your calendar for the official launch of Landscapes, a joint book featuring the work of James Deahl and Katherine L. Gordon on Monday, August 15, 2016 in Sarnia. Out-of-town poet Pat Connors will also be reading. Follow my blog for more details.

Windsor poet Vanessa Shields will also be launching her new Black Moss Press book in Sarnia this fall. More details to be announced soon. Follow her website/blog.

Approximately 50 people attended TOPS NPM16 event in Sarnia Photo by Melissa Upfold of The Calculated Colour Co.

Can’t find a literary event or reading in your area? Consider organizing one. Several reading series/open mic events have started from just an idea and the enthusiasm to just ‘do it’.