Tag Archives: travel

Interrogating the Local – Deadline Approaches for Brooklin Poetry Society’s Inaugural Contest

Another summer poetry contest? Sure, why not? You don’t live in Brooklin? No worries! I’ve never been there either. Just, take your notepad and jot down what’s happening in your own neighbourhood. Or better yet, grab a GPS and ‘interrogate the locals’ from another area! Don’t wait another minute!

Brooklin Poetry Society 2018 contest flyer copy (1)

Deadline for submissions is July 31, 2018.

Poets have less than two weeks to polish their “local” themed poems for the Brooklin Poetry Society’s Inaugural Contest. Digital submissions are being accepted until midnight, July 31, 2018. As the contest judge, I look forward to reading your new and unpublished poetry.

What constitutes a prize-winning poem?  First of all, follow the contest guidelines! You’ll find them here on the Brooklin Poetry Society’s website.


Write the poem that only you can write!

Consider the theme: “interrogating the local”!  The contest organizers have even listed a few questions for reflection: “what does it mean to locate oneself in a given area? How significant are local communities in a globalized world? Why do we identify ourselves as local? How can we understand that term? How does the local speak to you?”

Don’t bore me with an essay! The guidelines state: “Poets are free to interpret the theme as they wish!” Have fun! Stretch your imagination like an elastic! Toss your words like frisbees into the air and see where they land!

I repeat, “don’t bore me”: Avoid the ordinary and ‘absolutely NO’ clichés unless they mimic the local language. This is a poetry contest: be poetic. Make sure each line scans well. Read it aloud! Show me with metaphors and similes. Use the five senses so I can taste the local pickerel or hear the coo of a regional bird or smell the bus diesel or feel the coarse texture of a brick school. Rant or rave if you wish!

Pay attention to your title. Razzle-dazzle with strong introductory lines and memorable last lines! Write the poem that only you can write. Move me emotionally or intellectually or both.

Consider local nuances. For example, whenever I travel by foot or car or bus or train or plane, I am reminded that each village, town, or city streetscape showcases its own characteristics. Where I live, summer is the season for local cherries, local festivals, and sunsets along local beaches. On the prairies, fresh picked saskatoons and home-made perogies with sour cream and fried onions are local favourites.

Will our global, transient, and nomadic wanderings eventually blur out the locals?

Can an animal or tree be local? Can you ever be a local again once you move from your hometown? How do you feel about the terms “buy local” or “locally made”?

From city rooftop mouse…to massive country mouse….I mean raccoon….

So many questions! Are you feeling inspired yet? Try brainstorming new ideas!

Still not sure about the value of entering contests, check my February 2015 blog post: “Poetry Contests: Is It Poetic Gambling?”

And who exactly is the Brooklin Poetry Society? Learn more here. They are a group based in the Durham Region of Ontario. Meet some of its members here.

Remember this contest is blind judging. I am not a member but have met several of the contest organizers in my travels.

Wishing you much success with your writing!


Keep mining for those ‘local’ gems.






Shokai’s Debut Memoir Opens A Window to the Spiritual Teachings of Buddha

“My wish for you is that you achieve the happiness that is yours to discover.” –Jindo Shokai*

His face glowed like solar energy as he spoke about the essence of love and how everything we do leads us to who we are and how we are all “mystically interconnected”.

The Search for Self book launch - reading by Jindo Shokai Photo 1 June 7, 2018

Jindo Shokai (also known as Richard Maxwell)

From a telecommunications employee to a funeral director to a certified Dharma Teacher, southwestern Ontario resident Richard Maxell (also known as Jindo Shokai to his on-line Buddhist community) revealed that his collected experiences (some of them magical) led him to this moment of publication.

At the young age of 81, he published his memoir The Search for Self: Confessions of a Dying Man and launched it last Thursday (June 7, 2018) at The Book Keeper in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.

The Search for Self book launch - booksi Photo 1 June 7, 2018

The Search for Self: Confessions of a Dying Man was officially launched on June 7 at The Book Keeper in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. A second edition has already been published and includes a glowing preface by Brenda Eshin Shoshanna, PhD.

The first time author attracted such a large audience that the indie bookstore staff had to set up more chairs.

The Search for Self book launch - intro by Susan Chamberlain June 7, 2018

“Richard has led an interesting life,” said The Book Keeper’s Susan Chamberlain in her opening remarks. “Tonight, we celebrate the author and his book.”

His inspirational, humorous, and informative reading kept everyone riveted to their seats. He also patiently answered a myriad of questions from “What is the purpose of shaving’s one head?” (To detach from the world and egotistical possessions) to “What brought you to the Lambton County area?” (You’ll have to read my next book).

The evening ended with supporters lined up from the cash register to the table where Shokai signed each purchased book.

“Jindo Shokai has written a wonderful book,” wrote author, speaker, and workshop leader Brenda Eshin Shoshanna PhD in her preface for the second edition of the memoir. “In this work we are taken on a journey through the course of his life, watching him grow in love and awareness.”

She highly recommended Shokai’s book to all.

I also enjoyed reading about Richard’s journey.

The Search for Self book launch - signing by Jindo Shokai with historical fiction wirter Bob McCarthy Photo 1 June 7, 2018

Sarnia’s renowned historical fiction author Bob McCarthy was one of several local writers who encouraged Richard Maxwell to write and share his story.

Below is my review, written from an advance reading copy received prior to the launch:

The Search for Self: Confessions of a Dying Man  By Jindo Shokai Three Monks Division of L & R Productions, 2018    ISBN-13:978-198420636-7

Jindo Shokai writes, “I am no philosopher but I have done a lot of thinking and decided I may have sufficient talent to write a book that would allow me to succeed in the challenge of making this a better world.”

Three cheers to Shokai (also known as Richard Maxwell) for writing and sharing his debut book, his memoir The Search for Self: Confessions of a Dying Man.

At a time when media headlines blast negative news of violence and natural disasters into our homes, Shokai’s writing invites the reader to slow down and watch for those ‘magical moments’ that transpire while sitting still.

The Search for Self - by Jindo Shokai

Deep and philosophical yet light and humorous at times, this memoir unfurls black and white and shades of grey snapshots of one man’s life journey towards becoming a Novice Priest and a certified Dharma Teacher. Shokai writes with the clarity of wisdom that can only be gleamed from his 80 plus years of experience. Although he touches on the subject of death (and shared personal struggles with loss), his memoir is more a celebration: a book about living each moment to the fullest.

At one point, he states, “Perhaps, poetry is the best way to get at the crux of death.” He seeks answers and shares his discovery with his readers.

For instance, his foreword quickly pulls the reader into the book with his question “What are you searching for?” and his final response: “I am pure energy; unconditional love.”

Written in a casual, conversational style, The Search for Self: Confessions of a Dying Man is divided into 18 chapters with each section exploring a different phase in the author’s life.

For example, in the section on his “happy” childhood in Montreal, he describes playing on the chesterfield, “I would imagine riding up in the carriage and getting out to the sound of the wind whistling through the dark sycamore trees and the dogs following behind the coach would catch up to us and lick my fingers.”

The Search for Self - by Jindo Shokai - Back Cover

Other sections focus on: his neighborhood where kids played hockey with “a lump of frozen horse manure”; his time spend in school and Sunday school classes; his march into cadets with trips to Nova Scotia and Georgian Bay and cruises along waterways in Quebec, Ontario, and Bermuda; his first job picking up sticks and mowing the lawn; his 35 year career in the telecommunication industry; his foray into the funeral business; his explorations backstage with the Little Theatre Group; and his stay in Japan where he became “enamoured by Soto Zen Buddhism and the practice of Zazen”.

Sometimes the writer digresses “I promise not to preach or expound any further than I already have” but his desire to teach remains strong. “My hope to somehow convey the message that we are all dying and we should all be doing something concrete to spiritually prepare both ourselves and our loved ones for the eventuality is [sic] now multiplied infinitely.”

Sometimes, the writer provides too many details like in his chapters describing his work in the telecommunication industry. The reader can get wire-wrapped and short-circuited in all the technical explanations.

The Search for Self book launch - reading by Jindo Shokai Photo 3 June 7, 2018

At the book launch, Jindo Shokai held the audience captive with his anecdotes.

However, overall, this is a quick but satisfying read especially for those who are curious yet hesitant about learning more about Zazen (seated awareness) and the teachings of Buddha. The subject matter of the book is well balanced. For those wanting additional details: Shokai posts information about websites and includes biographies that explores the “Lineage of Soto Zen Buddhism as originated by Eihei Dogen-zenji in the thirteenth century as well as an explanation of Soto Zen Practice in two appendixes at the back of the book.

As a reviewer, I must disclose that this review was based on an advanced reading copy of Shokai’s book and that I know the writer. He was a regular participant and audience member at a local open mic event I co-hosted in southwestern Ontario. At the time, Shokai had a Canadian name and his quiet and kind personality would often light up the room. He rarely spoke about himself so I was thrilled to hear he was writing a memoir. In my opinion, each individual is special and it takes great courage (and dedication) to openly share one’s life and have the words published in a book.

I look forward to reading a possible sequel to his memoir.

As Shokai states in the last chapter of the book, “There is no greater miracle than a person becoming all that he or she can be!!!”

In Appendix II, under the heading “What is Solo Zen Practice?”, Shokai once again stresses, “the ability to be at rest completely, to realize the preciousness and wholeness of life in this moment is a skill we have lost in this busy world.”

Through his teachings, he has succeeded in reminding me to be still!

The Search for Self book launch - signing by Jindo Shokai Photo 1 June 7, 2018

Nice to see so many supporters for a local author.

An in-depth story about Shokai and his book appears in the Thursday, June 7 issue of Sarnia and Lambton County This Week. Read multimedia journalist Carl Hnatyshyn’s article here.

*From the Afterword of The Search for Self: Confessions of a Dying Man (Three Monks Division of L & R Productions, 2018) by Jindo Shokai. Used with permission from the author.

Interested in more literary events? A partial list of future literary happenings in Ontario appears here.


Toronto’s Art Bar Poetry Series – A Must See and Do

We’re on our way to the famous Art Bar Poetry Series. Did I pack my camera?

Toronto skyline - October 19, 2014

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Large cities make me nervous. Prairie wheat and southwestern Ontario corn runs through my blood so its takes courage and an experienced driver like my husband to maneuver the heavy pedestrian and motor vehicle traffic surrounding this downtown Toronto poetry reading. Even with a GPS strapped to the car’s dashboard, we miss the discounted hotel we had booked on-line.

So many distractions like in a Where’s Waldo? book! When we finally spot the main entrance tucked behind some taller buildings, we can’t find a place to park. I fumble for my cell phone and call the hotel desk to request assistance.

Then there’s the problem with our dog. Not a sliver of grass to.. (you know)… relieve himself and so he leaves a nice puddle in the underground parking lot. We hope the incident isn’t captured on closed circuit cameras but that’s another story…

As a poet, I feel it’s important to push outside one’s comfort zone. It’s easy to hide behind a computer screen and allow the words to tractor across a white field and leave word-seeds typed and planted in a straight furrow for everyone to pick and read at a later date. However, poetry is more than written words. It’s organic (like soybeans) sprouting from a writer’s pen then growing and extending further into and beyond a consumer’s mind.

It’s also rhythm and sound so studying oral presentations is vital for improving one’s poetic voice. At least that’s the advice I received from award-winning Canadian sound poet Penn Kemp during a writer-in-residence session at Western University many poetic seasons ago.

Between the wailing sirens and the honking of impatient drivers, I can still recall what other poets have said about the Art Bar Poetry Series. “It’s a permanent fixture of Toronto”. “It has a huge following.” “It’s a great place to read.” Even in rural Ontario, I’ve felt its impact. Its reputation as Canada’s longest-running poetry-only weekly reading series is strong and many emerging poets dream about being asked and featured at least once in their writing careers.


The Art Bar Poetry Series (based in Toronto) is Canada’s longest-running poetry-only weekly reading series.

I never expected an invitation but was pleased when it arrived in my inbox last year.

And today, here we are…here I am…

…suitcase (and poetry books) in hand. We settle in the hotel room and I can’t wait to meet my close childhood friend. She noticed the Art Bar event advertised on Facebook and suggested a reunion. We hadn’t seen each other (in person) for close to 20 years and although Donna (one of my bridesmaids) has a strong creative side to her, this would be her first experience attending a poetry reading. I’m touched to have her join me since hubby and dog are not poetry fans and prefer to watch TV in the hotel room. She even brings along a neighbour-friend and tells me it is part of their goal to do something ‘new’ each week. I smile and feel my cheeks blush like a red pepper. She travelled 30 to 40 minutes for a quick visit. I hope she enjoys the show.

If you live in Toronto, the Art Bar reading venue is easy to reach via bicycle or public transportation, or so I’m told. The Mid East snack (2 skewers of marinated chicken breast served with 2 falafel, hummus, grilled veggies, salsa, chickpea-kale salad, pita) is excellent and was highly recommended by one of the co-hosts. The private room at the Free Times Café is ideal for showcasing the poets. There’s a stage, a microphone and I add a chair to hold my props which I forget to use. At first the spotlights challenge my eyes but then I find the right angle to connect with my printed words. Next time I’ll bring LARGER print or better yet, have my poems memorized.

Debbie Okun Hill at Art Bar Reading Series April 4, 2017 Photo 2 by Donna Henrikson

I smile and feel my cheeks blush like a red pepper. Photo by Donna.

During my Art Bar debut, over 60 people fill the room despite the competition of other poetry readings in the area including an earlier performance (by the well-known author Molly Peacock) held several blocks away. As a newcomer, I’m impressed by the variety of people in the audience. Not only are they culturally diverse but they represent a wide range of ages and include both emerging writers reading for the first time to the more experienced poets/editors/publishers. I’m comforted by seeing a few familiar faces, but many of the attendees are either strangers to me or writers I had heard about but had never met before. Call it a great place to feel the pulse of Toronto’s poetic scene!

On this evening, I share the spotlight with Phlip Arima and Ian Burgham, two well-known and experienced poets. Arima, a former artistic director of the ArtBar, dazzles the audience with his use of sound and his ability to perform his work by memory. The only time he reads from paper is when he is introducing new work. He is high energy combined with theatrics. I like how he changes his voice for each poem.

Phlip Arima (left) is a former artistic director of the series.  Ian Burgham (right) has read his work throughout Canada and the United Kingdom. Both were featured readers at the Art Bar on April 4, 2017.

Burgham is quieter (and sometimes apologetic when reading his new work) but like Arima he brings an entourage of friends and fellow poets with him. Although he has read his work throughout Canada and the United Kingdom, in an October 20, 2010 on-line interview with The Toronto Quarterly, he expressed his preference for writing versus the performing. (Many poets feel the same way.) He is the author of six poetry collections published in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

I’m in awe. Because this is my first time listening to these poets, I make note of Arima’s website here and Burgham’s feature on the Quattro Books website here. I look forward to reading more of their work in the future.

Over the years, the Art Bar has perfected their format. Each week, the series usually features three guest readers. Some are local. Others, like me, are from out-of-town or even out-of-province like Carmelo Militano, a Winnipeg poet who featured a week earlier than my reading. The evening closes with an open stage with approximately ten emerging and experienced poets.

A half hour later, the lights dim and another Art Bar evening ends as patrons slip outdoors to head home. Overall, I’m impressed but please, if you are reading this, stop by on a Tuesday evening and judge for yourself. A list of future readers appears on the Art Bar website.

I’m told, in Toronto, it is common to have two or three readings scheduled each day of the week. If I resided in this urban centre, I could slip into the audience and study them all. Can you imagine what a wonderful ‘live’ classroom this would be?

Rosa Arlotto, host at Art Bar Reading Series, April 4, 2017 in Toronto

Rosa Arlotto emcees the April 4, 2017 event. She is one of several hard-working members of the current Art Bar organizing team.

As a former co-host of a monthly open mic event in the Sarnia area for approximately 8 years, I am aware of how difficult it is to not only organize a regular reading series but to also properly promote it so that it attracts a regular following. In my opinion, the Art Bar team does an excellent job in both areas.

Team members Rosa Arlotto and Margaret Code are pleasant and professional in dealing with featured readers, open stage presenters and audience members. They praise Rob Welch for his enthusiasm and drive in organizing the featured readers from a distance. (Unfortunately, Welch is out-of-the country during my reading but I look forward to meeting him in person one day.)

The following week, I return to Toronto to support Sarnia poet Sharon Berg who reads from her new chapbook ODYSSEY and Other Poems (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017). (Follow my blog for a future post about Berg and her new chapbook.) At the Art Bar, she features with Hamilton poet John Terpstra and Peterborough poet Betsy Struthers.

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

Sarnia poet Sharon Berg introduces her new chapbook ODYSSEY and other Poems (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2017) during the April 11, 2017 reading at the Art Bar Poetry Series in Toronto.

During their readings, I lean back, sip my drink and relax. Being a member of the audience is fun. Later, I share some new work during the Open Stage and then it’s over.

The drive back home towards the United States border is long but the time goes by quickly despite the late hour. It helps to travel with another poet; Berg and I chat the whole way. By the time I walk in the door and turn on my computer, the Art Bar Poetry Series has already posted and shared photos on Facebook. The next morning, promotions begin for the next week’s performers. I’m impressed again. Not only does this assist in widening the poets’ regional recognition but it allows out-of-towners, who cannot travel, to learn more about Canadian poets.

I smile like a stuffed potato sack filled with new experiences. The Art Bar Poetry Series is more than a vital thread in our national poetic fabric. I’ve learned it’s a home where poets can come together on a weekly basis and experience the rhythmic sounds and varied voices of poetry performed on a stage.

For me, that’s exciting news! So much support for creative folk!

Happy National Poetry Month everyone!

Poetry Review – Time Slip by John Oughton

Know the earth/through white toes/sail the earth/for all winter/and greet spring/forthcoming with soft/green applause – John Oughton

Seconds melt like snowflakes against a heated window. 2017 slips in. 2016 slips out. I yearn for the holidays to linger a few moments longer but time rests for no one. Another season of literary news unfolds but first…a glimpse back at John Oughton’s poetry collection Time Slip published by Guernica Editions in 2010.

Special thanks to Aeolus House poet Kate Rogers for gifting me this NEW review to kick start the New Year!

Time Slip                                               Reviewed by Kate Rogers

by John Oughton

Guernica Editions, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-55071-302-2

About twenty years ago I sat with John Oughton under the leafy canopy of a Toronto backyard with other poets workshopping our pieces. At that time I knew that John was a Professor at Centennial College, and taught writing, but I was unaware of the life events John describes in the introduction to the collection reviewed here–Time Slip. The collection spans his travels in Iraq and Egypt and around Asia; six months spent in Japan; and significant personal losses.


Time Slip (Guernica Editions, 2010) by John Oughton

In fact, Time Slip includes thirty years of poetry by John Oughton–from poems about his travels, to persona poems from the perspective of spy and courtesan, Mata Hari. As a Canadian poet who has been teaching literature, creative writing and other subjects in Asia for 17 years, I can appreciate his poetic responses to Asian aesthetics and spiritual places.

In “For Yuan Mei”, an 18th century Chinese poet, Oughton’s words flow like calligraphy strokes: As a brush/ sublimes stone/and water to song (p. 29).

I have been to Buddhist temples and shrines in Kyoto, Japan, like the one Oughton describes with both humor and awe in “Taizo-In Rock Garden, Kyoto” (p. 31), …a waterfall for each ear/…carp chorus/gold and silver below the mirror/of the still pond

In fact, there are many strong pieces on other subjects—especially love. They are distinguished by tight writing, original metaphor, and visceral feeling.

His love poems are sensual and deeply felt: two examples are “Back Again for Mary” (p.25) and “For Jan Apart” (p.26) where beautiful lines such as this from the latter poem evoke the loved one, …/I don’t /sense you swimming in dreams/green or flying the kite/of your bright art on/the images singing through/your brain thunder…

His poems inspired by nature are often as visceral, and as taut. A good example is “Trees Two” (p.17): Know the earth/through white toes/sail the earth/for all winter/and greet spring/forthcoming with soft/green applause

In “The Boulder” (p.75), Oughton introduces landscape with visceral intensity in this first stanza, Near Riviere-du-Loup/above the sweeping St.Lawrence/a granite heart/taller than a man…


Poet John Oughton is the author of five poetry books, several chapbooks, and a mystery novel.

Sound and rhythm are powerfully evoked In “That Line”, (p.19), I turn my life upside down/nothing falls out. No change/in the pockets of this train/six sprockets the head’s projector/unreels, grinding land through…

In “Training” (p.21), a similar rhythm pulls the reader along, But sight tows a zipper that shuts/the gap of where we were

There is much to praise about the poetry in Time Slip, but the collection is not without weaknesses. Time Slip appears to be a volume of “collected poems”—“selections” is the word used by Oughton in his introduction (p. 13)—therefore some of the poems were not written by the mature poet who penned the introduction. I can’t say how many poems from early in his poetic career were revised for inclusion in Time Slip, but my impression is that they were not revisited before publication in this volume. If that’s the case, I think that was a mistake. As British poet Billy Mills reflects in a piece on collected works in The Guardian*, even poets such as W.B. Yeats often revised old poems for collected works.

One example of a poem which is not Oughton’s most sensitive work is “Foreign”, set in Japan, (p.30). The poem starts well with the narrator effectively mocking himself: Beard like a brush that quit/painting and eloped with the ink But a false note is struck when the narrator quips near the end, Almond eyes seek the nut I am.

It is hard to know whether the reference to “almond eyes” is part of the self-mockery in this context. This kind of description would be seen by some contemporary critics as objectifying and exoticizing the locals strolling through Kyoto’s Botany Gardens.

In some respects, John Oughton’s collection Time Slip reminds me of one assembled by Australian peripatetic lecturer- poet Dennis Haskell which I reviewed six months ago for the Malaysian literary journal ASIATIC .** Oughton’s collection, Time Slip like Haskell’s collected poems, What Are You Doing Here? ,***spans decades of travel and long periods spent by the poet in other cultures. Both collections raise a question for me, namely: Is it wise to include early travel poems in unrevised form in a “Selected Poems”?

In Time Slip, “Xmas Pageant, 1961” (p.85), the narrator reflects on his travels as a teenager as he also recalls a Christmas pageant. The narrator’s glib tone makes the poem more told than seen. One example can be found at the start of the third stanza: I had spent the Christmas before in Iraq/the hills bleached and biblical…

Some of the other poems which seem too told are Mata Hari poems, such as “Typhoid Fever” (p.56), and “Debut at the Musee Guimet, Paris” (p.60). I understand the challenges of creating context and sharing history for the reader of persona poetry. Yet in the latter poem, Mata Hari’s life events are reduced to a list, as in the first three lines of the third stanza below:

The truth of dance animates me/I take my past, my grief, my marriage/my failure as wife, artist’s model, circus rider…


Oughton will be a featured reader during the January 24, 2017 Art Bar Reading Series event.

The Mata Hari poem, “Salome” (p. 62-63), could have begun half way through with these powerful lines: When I dance Salome I’ll take their heads off/while the music cracks and thumps/like a soul forced back into flesh

Instead of with the opening stanza which tells, rather than shows: What Carmen only hints at, this opera shrieks/Women murder as well as they conceive/using all the power of mistress/mother harpy

In addition to further editing, Time Slip would have flowed better with transitions between the poems selected from several collections—especially in the case of the Mata Hari poems. Sub-sections would have given those poems more opportunity to breathe.

A second edition of John Oughton’s poetry collection, Mata Hari’s Lost Words, will be released in 2017. I look forward to reading those persona poems, because I appreciate how challenging it can be to fully inhabit a character on the page. I will be interested to see whether any of the Mata Hari poems which appeared in Time Slip have been revised.

John Oughton’s collection, Time Slip showcases a lot of strong writing from his thirty plus years as a poet. This reviewer has not chosen to comment on his poems of loss, and I have barely touched on his sense of humor. The latter makes regular appearances as in the aforementioned, “Foreign”, set in Japan, (p.30), where the narrator starts off by effectively mocking himself.

In “Canadian Love Song” (p.99), the narrator jokes about that emotion which inspires so much poetry: yearning, I have an itch/ which is you/calamine pink/mosquito blue…

Oughton’s poetry in Time Slip is funny, and ironic—even in its moments of grief—but also at times, deeply felt.  His writing is often taut and original. I recommend slipping into his time machine, and taking a trip.

*July 2009:  The Guardian article appears here.
** Literary Journal of the International Islamic University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.

Additional information about featured poet John Oughton and his work:


The second edition of John Oughton’s poetry collection, Mata Hari’s Lost Words, will be released by NeoPoiesis Press in 2017.

John Oughton lives in Toronto, Canada, and is about to retire as Professor Learning and Teaching at Centennial College. He attended York University and the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. He is the author of five books of poetry, several chapbooks, a mystery novel titled Death by Triangulation, and close to 500 articles, blogs, reviews and interviews. Follow his website.

He is also a photographer. See his photography website.

Additional information about Time Slip (Guernica Editions, 2010) can be found here.

Additional information about his chapbook Vertex/Vertigo (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2016) can be found here and the second edition of Mata Hari’s Lost Words, (NeoPoiesis Press, 2017) here.

The Toronto launch for this second edition will be held Wednesday, February 1, 2017 from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Free Times Café, 320 College Street. The launch will also include a performance by belly dancer Anjelica Scannura, and guest readings by writers Heather Babcock, Brenda Clews, and Kath MacLean. Admission is free.

Meet John Oughton at the Art Bar Poetry Reading series, Tuesday, January 24, 2017 at 8 p.m. at Free Times Café, 320 College Street, Toronto. He will be a featured reader with Steve Venright and Stephen Humphrey. More information here.

On April 23, 2017 at 2 p.m., he will also be part of the 10th annual Arts and Poets Collaboration, an exhibition and reading which is at the Women’s Art Association of Canada, 23 Prince Arthur Avenue in Toronto.

About the reviewer:


Special thanks to Kate Rogers for writing and sharing her review of John Oughton’s fifth poetry book Time Slip.

Kate Rogers’ new poetry collection, Out of Place will be published by Aeolus House in 2017. In the summer of 2016 Kate was a featured reader for the Toronto reading series, Hot Sauced Words, at the League of Canadian Poets new members reading, and at Artfest, in Kingston, Ontario. Kate’s poetry collection, Foreign Skin, debuted with Toronto’s Aeolus House Press in 2015.
Kate is co-editor of the OutLoud Too anthology (MCCM 2014), and the world poetry anthology, Not a Muse: the Inner Lives of Women (Haven 2009).
Her poetry has appeared in The Guardian; Quixotica; Eastlit; Asia Literary Review; Cha: an Asian Literary Journal; Morel; The Goose: a Journal of Arts, Environment and Culture; Kyoto Journal; ASIATIC: the Journal of the Islamic University of Malaysia; Many Mountains Moving; Orbis International and Contemporary Verse II.
Kate lectures in literature and media studies at the Community College of City University, Hong Kong.

Follow this blog for future book reviews and interviews with Canadian authors and poets.

The Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour 2015 – A Retrospective by David Brydges

The Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour (Ottawa to Vancouver – April 15 to 26, 2015) was a great success.

In spite of having to change our travel itinerary in being unable to travel by train to Winnipeg due to derailments and a backlog of freight trains, plus the late train arrivals in Winnipeg and Edmonton, the PoeTrainers adapted showing much patience and flexibility.

D.C. Reid was the PoeTrain Laureate for the Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour 2015.

D.C. Reid was the PoeTrain Laureate for the Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour 2015.

Our mission/mandate was to travel across Canada to support and stimulate the celebration and promotion of poetry for National Poetry Month.

A grand coalition of 22 poets, musicians, and train lovers co-created cultural festivities to engage the general public on and off the train. Key events were organized in Ottawa (Pressed Café), Toronto (Hot House Restaurant & Bar), Winnipeg (Fort Garry Hotel Salon A), Edmonton (Edmonton City Hall), and Vancouver (Café Deux Soleils).  These readings enthused local poetry communities along the route to revitalize Spring’s poetic pulse.

Joanna Lilley and Kelsey Knight during Marsha Barber's launch of her new book. DC Reid passes the talking feather.

Joanna Lilley and Kelsey Knight during Marsha Barber’s launch of her new book. (Four poets received Canada Poetry Tour grants thanks to the League of Canadian Poets and the Canada Council for the Arts.) DC Reid passes the talking feather.

Four past and present Poet Laureates participated in our city stop events. George Elliott Clarke Toronto Poet Laureate, Alice Major Edmonton’s first Poet Laureate, Rachel Rose Vancouver Poet Laureate, and our Parliamentary Poet Laureate Michel Pleau attended our final show in Vancouver.

Alice Major, Edmonton's first poet laureate welcomes the PoeTrainers to the Edmonton Poetry Festival event at City Hall.

Alice Major, Edmonton’s first poet laureate welcomes the PoeTrainers to the Edmonton Poetry Festival event at City Hall.

We met a poet from Nova Scotia Quincy who joined us along with a Via Rail employee who has written every day for the past 10 years. Via’s David shared a couple of poems he wrote specifically for us.

Laura Byrne Paquet , an international travel writer who travelled with the group, also reawakened her poetic pulse. In a recent e-mail, she said, “Hi David, It’s taken me a few days to come back to earth after the amazing PoeTrain trip! Thank you SO much for inviting me along. It was one of the memorable trips of my life.” Laura also wrote a haiku saying she had not written poetry since she was sixteen.

A special thank you to the League of Canadian Poets and the Canada Council for the Arts for providing seven grants including four Canada Reading Tour grants for Blaine Marchand, Marsha Barber, DC Reid, and Debbie Okun Hill to perform/workshop on the train. Also thanks for three food and poetry grants for Blaine Marchand Ottawa, Kathy Figueroa Toronto, and Rachel Rose Vancouver. The food and poetry theme was well integrated into six food inspired event dinners in a private home, cafes, and a final picnic in Stanley Park to honour Pauline Johnson.

Kent Bowman, one of the key organizers behind the tour, is seen with the talking feather.

Kent Bowman, one of the key organizers behind the tour, is seen with the talking feather.

DC Reid was our first Poetrain Laureate and carried the talking feather (a symbol of respect for the one who speaks their truth) to events on and off the train. We had Algonquin elder/poet Albert Dumont in Ottawa bless the talking feather before it embarked on its journey. The feather was gifted to hosts in Ottawa Lesley Strutt, Toronto Kate Marshall Flaherty, and Winnipeg Bruce Symaka for Speaking Crow reading series coordinator Chimwemwe Undi, and in Edmonton Alice Major. In Vancouver Bonnie Nish and Kathy Figueroa received the talking feather to take back to their poetry communities.

Via Rail Canada provided us with a skyline dome car for our performances, workshops, and music concerts. Much gratitude to League members Paul Sanderson and Ian Ferrier for performing for the Artist On Board program. Your great chemistry and musical magic was well enjoyed by all.

Kelsey Knight reflects in VIA's Skyline Dome Car.

Kelsey Knight reflects in VIA’s Skyline Dome Car.

Two publishers participated in providing  two League members for readings/book launches on the PoeTrain. Brick Books from Eastern Canada sponsored Joanna Lilley and Western Canada University of Alberta sponsored Ella Zeltserman.

Poets, passengers, and the public met the world’s first robot poet my kulturBOT 3.0 co-designed by Ryerson University professor Dr. Frauke Zeller and McMaster University professor Dr.  David Harris Smith. This digitally-savvy guest rode the rails in an inaugural trip. The world’s first robot poet my kulturBOT 3.0 couldn’t talk but would only print out poems connected to the content of the famous explorer David Thompson’s diaries.

David Brydges, artistic director for the Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour as well as Pat Connors, one of the key organizers interacts with My kulturbot 3.0, the world's first robot poet to ride a train.

David Brydges, artistic director for the Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour as well as Pat Connors, one of the key organizers interacts with my kulturBOT 3.0, the world’s first robot poet to ride a train.

Several poets and some of the general public read short 100 word poems on and off the train. A social media campaign was organized by Alexandra Pavliuc a Ryerson student who posted photos /videos on www.hitchbot.me . We human poets had fun breathing real life into these whimsical style poems throughout the trip. A poet in Edmonton reading one of the David Thompson diary inspired poems said she liked a phrase and would use it in her next poem.

Canadian Poet Blaine Marchand finds inspiration in VIA's Skyline Dome Car.

Canadian Poet Blaine Marchand finds inspiration in VIA’s Skyline Dome Car.

Kids at the Edmonton train station loved it and had all kinds of suggestions for hats. One guy at the Jasper train station thought the lemon squeezer on top of robot’s head was a tip tray and threw a loonie in as one of the poet/musicians played in front of the BOT. In Vancouver robopoet was seated on a table along with the poets. Amusing, entertaining the curious…for when do you have a robot poet attend a poetry event or for that matter travel across Canada on the train? A perfect complement to a most innovative week of poetry celebrations.

If a group bonds in community, happiness naturally magnifies. When we begin to serve/dedicate ourselves to the better happiness of others we all prosper. Our collective spirits indeed did shine.

Poetry at heart is a pure journey.

Travelling a literary landscape

of discoveries and re-discoveries.

In the end the poetry pioneer

arrives at the same place

as where they began.

Collecting gold dust memories

along the brightened trail.

Special appreciation and thanks to the volunteer organizing team of Kent Bowman, Marsha Barber, Kate Marshall Flaherty, and Patrick Connors. Your go getter and go giver attitude made this a reality of legacy memories. Patrick Connors read a Nik Beat poem throughout the trip as he originally was part of the organizing team but died suddenly in September 2014.

Participants in the Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour 2015 Supplied Photo

Participants in the Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour made an unexpected and extended stop in Winnipeg. Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet

Congratulations to the PoeTrainers for keeping the spirit of adventure alive and bonding into a beautiful and epic memory journey. Much poetry was read by the PoeTrainers in each city visited and several open mics on the train. Your diverse and varied voices were an oral mosaic of the Canadian poetic identity. New poetry flowed on the train for a selection of train poems by Canadian poets for an anthology that is to be published shortly.

Ian Ferrier performed both off the on the train.

Ian Ferrier performed both off and on the train.

A huge thank you to all our 40 sponsors and supporters who generously provided grants, gifted their services, and financial donations. In particular my Vancouver coordinator contact Josephine Wasch  Sr Manager, International & Domestic Sales  who was highly professional, efficient, and  immaculate in helping organize the many moving parts of this PoeTrain project.

Via Rail provided the complementary Skyline Car between Winnipeg and Edmonton on Tuesday April 21 and again on the final journey between Edmonton and Vancouver on Friday April 24.

Paul Sanderson shared music and poetry.

Paul Sanderson shared music and poetry.

VIA Rail sponsored two poet/musicians (Ian Ferrier and Paul Sanderson) to travel on the Canadian, between Toronto and Edmonton, and then Edmonton and Vancouver as part of our Canadian Talent (musician/ poet) Artist On Board program. They entertained passengers in the Park car and in our skyline Car. On the last night they did a special concert for the economy class passengers that was warmly and enthusiastically welcomed. Paul Sanderson also did an impromptu music set at the Jasper station during our short stop.

Laura Byrne Paquet was given a complimentary cabin and she blogged, took photos, and is submitting her story of our journey to various travel magazines.

Ontario poet Fran Figge was one of several poets who had never seen the Rockies before.

Fran Figge, current President of The Ontario Poetry Society AND Tower Poetry Society, was one of several poets who had never seen the Rockies before but first, a stop in Edmonton.

So many memories...

So many memories…

The on board staff at Winnipeg and Edmonton departures were excellent in providing lunch/dinner vouchers for first call which helped us with our on board program. They were continuously supportive throughout the two legs of the trip from Winnipeg to Edmonton and then Edmonton to Vancouver.

A big thanks to Michael Wheelen who was commissioned to take photos of the “Canadian” passing the Rockies. We used his photos for our poster, website home page, t-shirt design, official program, and our train poem anthology book cover.

David Brydges is the artistic director of the Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour 2015. A special thank you for his guest blog post.

Clickity-clack...we'll be back...

Clickity-clack…we’ll be back…

For additional information about the Tour as well as a list of 2015 participants, check the official website here. Previous PoeTrain blog posts appear here , here, and here.

Additional photos and comments about the tour will be posted in the near future.


A Canadian Poet’s Fascination for Trains

Canadian poet David Brydges was the motivating force behind The Original PoeTrain Express Toronto-Cobalt-Toronto May 2012

Canadian poet David Brydges was the motivating force behind the original PoeTrain Express that transported poets, bloggers, and a film crew from Toronto-Cobalt-Toronto in May 2012

David Brydges likes to talk. Some days, he’s like a runaway train that never stops. Well, perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration. Pardon the pun, but he does have a multi-tracked mind when it comes to his love for trains and rail travel.

David Brydges with Cobalt's Poet Laureate Ann Margetson May 11, 2012

David Brydges with Cobalt’s Poet Laureate Ann Margetson May 11, 2012

When I first met Brydges over the phone, he was pitching an idea for what he considered to be a new and exciting poetry event: the 2012 PoeTrain Express.  His vision included a poetry festival on a train where poets, musicians, bloggers, and a film crew would climb aboard a passenger train at Union Station in Toronto and then be transported 8 to 9 hours to Cobalt, a small northern Ontario community. Would I go? His enthusiasm kept me on the phone for close to three hours; a conversation that may have lasted longer if the battery in his cell phone hadn’t died. Yes, he signed me up. Yes, the experience left a deep impression on me and yes, I would highly recommend train travel to others.

Not only is David Brydges a great salesman but he’s also a man of action. Once he gets an idea, he becomes that optimistic and determined train character in the childhood story The Little Engine that Could. However, instead of chanting “I think I can, I think I can”, Brydges has no doubts when stating “I know I can do this.” As the organizer behind seven Spring Pulse Poetry Festivals and the first PoeTrain Express to Cobalt, Ontario, he has already proven that dreams and ideas can become a reality.

The Original PoeTrain Express and 2012 Spring Pulse Poetry Festival participants May 12, 2012

The Original PoeTrain Express and 2012 Spring Pulse Poetry Festival participants May 12, 2012

Kent Bowman at the 2014 Spring Pulse Poetry Festival May 30, 2014

Kent Bowman at the 2014 Spring Pulse Poetry Festival May 30, 2014

This year, his dream turned national. He is the current engine behind the Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour a special “Poetry in Motion” event being planned for the 2015 April is National Poetry month celebrations. The tour which will begin Wednesday, April 15 in Ottawa and end 10 days later on April 25 in Vancouver will include a variety of poetry events both on and off the train. Registrations are now being accepted by original PoeTrain participant Kent Bowman. (NOTE: Registration now closed and link was removed March 8, 2017).

Will Brydges and his crew succeed in this project? I know they can and will.

If you wish to be part of this historical event, below is additional information being distributed by the organizing committee!

Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour Banner


On The Great Canadian POETrain Tour

An Historic, Once In A Lifetime

ViaRail Poetry Trip

Across Canada

The Original PoeTrain Express left Toronto May 10, 2012

The Original PoeTrain Express left Toronto May 10, 2012

Because we’re poets, we create. Because we’re poets, we seek out other poets.

Because there’s a POETrain, we can now take our poems, our thoughts, and our passions across Canada, writing, speaking, singing, listening to, and rolling in  – you got it – poetry.

Along the way, the gorgeous scenery and personal interactions matched with our own mighty creativity will help us write the world’s longest train poem.

The POETrain is a once in a lifetime chance to celebrate National Poetry Month 2015, while traveling across Canada with a group of other poets of all ages and backgrounds.

This is an historic venture – a poetic `Last Spike.’

Spaces are limited and discounts are only available up to December 1, 2014.

The original PoeTrain Express left Cobalt on May 13, 2012

The original PoeTrain Express left Cobalt on May 13, 2012



OTTAWA: Opening Ceremony, Wednesday, April 15, 2015

TORONTO:   Poetry Events from Thursday, April 16 through Saturday April 18 (VIA RAIL Canadian leaves for Edmonton on Saturday evening, April 18, arriving on Tuesday, April 21st)

EDMONTON:  From Tuesday, April 21 through Thursday, April 23, we will participate in the fabulous Edmonton Poetry Festival (leaving for Vancouver on April 24).

VANCOUVER:  Arriving early on Friday, April 25, we will be participating in the closing evening ceremony – a fitting end to National Poetry Month and an incredible journey.

On the PoeTrain Express May 10, 2012

On the PoeTrain Express May 10, 2012

Not only will Poetrainers on this journey experience an amazing literary adventure of writing and reading their work, attending poetry workshops to learn about their passion, hearing others read as well as participate in new book launches and in writing the world’s longest train poem as well as attending the famous Edmonton Poetry Festival as invited guests, but you will also be a part of a remarkable voyage through the incredibly beautiful Canadian Rockies as seen through the vista of the Skyline cars; truly one of the miracles of our marvelous country. This historic tour is a unique destination vacation for those who truly love the art of poetry and the beauty of Canada.

Important deadlines:

December 15, 2014: Deadline for submitting your registration form and $50 registration fee. Also the deadline if you wish to take advantage of the one Via Rail on board entertainment poet-musician position, Canada Reading Tour Grants (if you are a full member of The League of Canadian Poets) or the PoeTrain laureate  position. (Ask for details.)

January 31, 2015: Deadline for obtaining discounted train tickets for travel April 11 to 25, 2014.


Ottawa: A Poetic Glimpse

“Looking for beavers, moose
and Mounties.”

He laughs. I laugh too, try

to pretend I wasn’t serious.

-Ronnie R. Brown*

Ottawa Sightseeing October 2014 photo 1If you are a travelling poet, a weekend visit to Ottawa isn’t long enough. Yes, in three days you can squeeze in an afternoon poetry reading, visit the National Gallery of Canada and wander across the river to Gatineau, Quebec to marvel at the towering totem poles in the Canadian Museum of History. You might even be fortunate to see wildlife such as beaver or moose venturing across a road or to encounter Mounties also known as members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). However, this glimpse of Canada’s capital city only represents a thin layer of the heightened cultural exchange that permeates the area.

Ottawa Sightseeing October 2014 photo 2

For example, a young poet once told me that after moving from Ottawa, she missed and craved the vibrant, creative literary scene that had become part of her university existence: poetry icons like prolific writer and promoter rob mclennan, bywords  (an on-line and print journal that provides a focal point for Ottawa poetry, literary information, and events) and the vast array of readings like the Tree Reading Series which is considered to be one of Canada’s longest running literary events.

Spotlight Reader Henry Beissel shares work from "Fugitive Horizons" (Guernica Press). The book was a finalist for the 2014 Ottawa Book Award: Fiction awarded for outstanding works of fiction including novels, short stories, children's literature and poetry.

Henry Beissel shared work from “Fugitive Horizons” (Guernica Press). The book was a finalist for the 2014 Ottawa Book Award: Fiction awarded for outstanding works of fiction including novels, short stories, children’s literature and poetry.

Ottawa is also the home of ARC Poetry magazine, a literary magazine that has shared poetry with readers across Canada and beyond for over 30 years. Twice a year, the Ottawa International Writers’ Festival celebrates the diversity of word with presentations by local and international writers. Last week, the Ottawa small press book fair celebrated its twentieth anniversary fall 2014 edition.

There is more: A quick search on the internet reveals a calendar filled with three or four literary events each day. Click here for more information.

Also it’s difficult to think or write about Ottawa now, without reflecting on Corporal Nathan Cirillo, the Canadian soldier who was fatally shot by a gunman at the National War Memorial last month. This horrific news impacted not only Ottawa residents but people across Canada and the world. Perhaps at some point, poetry can heal these emotional wounds but for now the mourning continues and cultural activities can help pull people together.

Spotlight Launch Reader Catina Noble shares work from two new Poetry Friendly Press chapbooks "Pussyfoot" (series #17) and "Clean Up in Aisle 4" (series #20). This year Catina was the 'poetry category' winner of the Canadian Author Association's 2014 National Capital Writing Contest. Congratulations

Catina Noble displays work from two new Poetry Friendly Press chapbooks “Pussyfoot” (series #17) and “Clean Up in Aisle 4” (series #20). This year she was the ‘poetry category’ winner of the Canadian Author Association’s 2014 National Capital Writing Contest.

Earlier in October, The Ontario Poetry Society was in Ottawa for a members’ reading and open mic held at Pressed, a Gladstone Street restaurant.  Three spotlight readers Ronnie R. Brown (Un-Deferred: A Draft Dodger’s Wife Remembers, Beret Days Press), Catina Noble (Poetry Friendly Press chapbooks Pussyfoot (series #17) and Clean Up in Aisle 4 (series #20) and Henry Beissel (Fugitive Horizons, Guernica Press) stepped onto the stage and introduced new work. Additional readers included: Gill Foss, Carol Stephen, Debbie Okun Hill, Fran Figge, I. B. Iskov, Tom McGregor and J. C. Sulzenko. New members were Helen Johansen, Sylvia Adams and Shery Alexander Heinis.

“What a beautiful day to network, meet new writers and celebrate the poetic gifts of others!”

This Sunday, November 16, The Ontario Poetry Society travels to Oakville where they will host The Winter Warm-up Poetry Gathering, their next members’ reading and open mic. Sign up for readers is at the door. More information can be found here. Admission free. Open to the public.

Spotlight Launch Reader Ronnie R. Brown shares work from "Un-Deferred: A Draft Dodger's Wife Remembers" (Beret Days Press) (winner of The Golden Grassroots Chapbook Award, 2013)

Ronnie R. Brown’s “Un-Deferred: A Draft Dodger’s Wife Remembers” (Beret Days Press) won The Golden Grassroots Chapbook Award, 2013.

*from the poem “IX. Another Kind of Road Trip”  Un-Deferred: A Draft Dodger’s Wife Remembers (Beret Days Press, 2013) © Ronnie R. Brown

The Ontario Poetry Society

The Ontario Poetry Society

Several members of The Ontario Poetry Society read during a Sunday, October 25, 2014 reading in Ottawa.

Several members of The Ontario Poetry Society read during a Sunday, October 5, 2014 reading in Ottawa.