Tag Archives: writing

Opening Doors and Windows with Editor Harold Rhenisch

“You sit/awake tonight, your fingers/over the pages scattered out before you,/listening too through your hands.”– Harold Rhenisch*

Allow your head to spin with ideas! If the mind is a wooden red door with frosted or cracked panes then Editor Harold Rhenisch opened several windows for me! That’s my view of a worthy editor or mentor. He opened and closed doors and windows until I felt unhinged and accepted new possibilities: a stronger voice (or voices) and an infinite imagination ‘summer’-saulting like tumbleweeds across a silent and vacant field.

Harold Rhenisch - author photo 1

The editor as magician? Harold Rhenisch says “an editor is a set of wise eyes with a sharp knife and a smile”.

If you are an editor and/or a writer who has worked with an editor, you may disagree. You may even slam the door on my fingers and tell me my observations are wrong. C’est la vie!

What I have learned is that in the literary world there are no clear paths. Writing begins as a solitary journey and it meanders and can transport you to places and people you never expected or imagined before. Each experience whether negative or positive becomes a lesson for growth.

When local mentor Canadian author Peggy Fletcher passed away in January 2012, I lost my steering wheel and felt lost. I missed the way she would close her eyes during a writers’ workshop, listen intently to a poem, and immediately pinpoint a misplaced beat or word. No one could ever replace this nature-loving writer and over time I just gave up looking.

In 2015, on a whim, I joined the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association (CAA) and two years later I decided to tap into its electronic writer in residence program. I had heard about Harold Rhenisch and wondered if his keen interest in the Earth would be the right fit for a manuscript I was working on.

The initial on-line meeting with Harold was brief but I felt an instant connection with his zen-like approach to writing and editing. We were both raised in rural environments and for some unknown reason that was important to me. His deep thinking and extensive knowledge base impressed me and I trusted him to navigate my thoughts through my storm of uncertainty. He had also lost his mentor. We agreed to work for a longer period.

For three months, he offered suggestions, taught me to let go, to dig deep, but to also play. He stretched my own knowledge base and nudged me into further research.  He made my head spin! What a wonderful experience!

Keith Inman, a Canadian Author’s Association member and author of The War Poems: Screaming at Heaven (Black Moss Press 2014) and SEAsia (Black Moss Press 2017) also enjoyed working with Harold.

He wrote: “Harold has a magical way of suggesting changes to your work, like filtered light, while at the same time, instilling confidence. He might suggest a few options for a line that isn’t quite working effectively, then add, “But, perhaps, your original line was better.” He can also zero-in on the overwritten, “Well, you’ve worked the poetry right out of that one.” For me, his voice still echoes in my head when I’m editing…a spritely cheer along a shaded forest trail.”

Sunrise at Big Bar Lake Photo by Harold Rhenisch

“Harold has a magical way of suggesting changes to your work, like filtered light,…” said Canadian Poet Keith Inman. Even Harold’s photographs are magical like this mystical sunrise captured at Big Bar Lake in British Columbia. Harold wrote, “The sun rose through this mist as a wind. Isn’t it grand?”

Today, I still haven’t met Harold Rhenisch in person. We live thousands of kilometers apart but last week via e-mail, we chatted about mentors, the importance of editing, and his plans for the future.

Hi Harold, thank you for agreeing to share your thoughts. Let’s start at the beginning. When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer? Describe that scene for me in a few lines.

I was going to be an entomologist and a consulting horticulturalist in the orchard industry. I took a creative writing course in Grade 11, in 1973. In 1974, I acted in a summer Shakespeare program at UVic, with the support of my writing teacher. I followed up with acting and writing in Grade 12, and played Puck at UVic in the summer of 1975. Playwriting was my first love, but as my speech coach noted, “You really like the poetic speeches, don’t you?” Indeed, I did. The Puck part was type casting. I have been playing the role ever since.

In your introduction to your 11th poetry book The Spoken World, you mentioned that your earlier role models were Rainer Maria Rilke, Ezra Pound, J. Michael Yates, and Al Purdy. In a couple of sentences, what did each of these poets teach you?

Rilke showed that a conversation across metaphysical boundaries was possible, and gave some models of how to do it. I was reading Rilke in translation, which is a very bad idea. What I really got out of it was the American transcendentalism it was translated into, but that was a start. I wound up at Rilke’s grave in Switzerland in 2013. By that time, I was the age he was when he died. It was profoundly moving.

The View from Rilke's Garden Photo by Harold Rhenisch

The view from Rilke’s Garden at Muzart Castle in Veyras, Switzerland. “My image looks over the grapes to the south slope of the Rhone,” explains Rhenisch. “[Rilke] rewrote the Duino Elegies (and wrote the Sonnets to Orpheus) here.” Photo by Harold Rhenisch

Pound showed that it was possible to speak of old things in new ways and to orient writing around moments of vision. There is expansiveness to that available nowhere else. Like Robert Graves, he had the ability to speak of a world of poetic certainty with deep cultural roots, quite different from the social positioning that poetry is often used for. I learned Classical Greek because of Pound’s model. My translations of Iamblichus which resulted were my real education in both old worlds and poetic form. I doubt anyone else has had this education in such old, old cultural roots, from before the time of the pharaohs.

Yates wrote exquisite, highly-shaped intellectual objects which spoke of the country I knew outside of the cities, at an intersection of European and existential experience. What’s more, they were witty and clever and complex and musical. That appealed to me a lot. His Esox Nobilior Non Esox Lucius was a masterpiece of controlled randomness. I still don’t think it was random. I still think it was a high point worth emulating.

Purdy wrote about my Canada, and with a sense of loss I felt as well, in simple, clear speech, without setting aside rigour. “The Country North of Belleville,” that was a poem for me: wisdom, irony, beauty, history, humanity and its feet on the ground.

There were others: [Eugène] Guillevic, [Paul] Celan, W.S. Graham, [W.S.] Merwin, Kathleen Raine, and more. Raine for her mystical tradition, which I responded to.

Canadian poet Robin Skelton was a huge influence in your life. Not only did you edit his work posthumously into two poetry volumes, but you also wrote the book The Spoken World which blended the voices of you and Robin.  In “Drawing Hands”, one of your tribute poems to Robin, you penned the line, “I want to draw hands that touch fire.”  The poem ends with the epigraph that introduces this blog.  I could feel the kinetic energy between the two of you. It reminded me of the hands in Michelangelo’s famous painting “The Creation of Adam” where the God-like figure transfers life and knowledge to a human being. What do you miss most about Robin and what was the best advice he shared with you?

Robin wore numerous rings on his hands, even several rings per finger. They were all symbolic and were part of his magical practice. The poem plays with that. They were also the hands of a healer.

Robin was one of those poets who was rebuilding the ancient northern traditions of writing (in his case out of Wiccan tradition) in the greater anglo-saxon-nordic world. For him, poetry was a real thing in a real world, with real effects. I miss that, but, of course, I miss his voice and his laughter and the way he would greet people at the door. When you were welcomed into his house, you were welcomed into Robin. The house was a recreation of the Modern Gallery in the Manchester Art Gallery, plus the John Rylands Library, also in Manchester. That was Robin’s secret. That story has not been told. One was, however, being ushered into something with great depth and great warmth.

Two Books by Canadian poet Harold Rhenisch

A prolific writer, Harold Rhenisch has published 30 books of poetry, fiction, poetic nonfiction, translation, essays and environmental writing since 1982. Return to Open Water (Ronsdale Press, 2007) features new and selected poems while The Spoken World (Hagios Press, 2011) blends the voices of Harold and his mentor the late Robin Skelton. The latter book is still available through Radiant Press.

He gave many pieces of advice. Three stand out. One was “the poetry does not matter, but how else are we going to teach our children how to think?” From that, I understood that poetry is a way of thinking, not of self-expression.  Another was, “we all live in eternity but we live there alone.” This was shortly before he died in 1997. I understood this to mean that only on this Earth do we have a chance to love, touch each other, even hate and feel, then we are back to the elements. Very Nordic! The third came when I gave him a manuscript (that I am still straightening out, nearly 20 years later):  “I can’t hear the music in it, and the music never lies. If I can’t hear the music in it, it is not finished.” A simplification of that message might be that the music of a poem tells the story, that poetry has plots quite different from prose, and that it’s not up to the poet to make the story but to hear it. Again, very Nordic.

How important are mentors and what do you see are their roles in fostering excellent writing?

What else is there? Creative writing workshops are not a substitute if you believe in long traditions and craft. A mentor can even be wrong. It doesn’t matter. One gains courage and then rises to fill it. For example, after I had written only three good poems, Robin made a point of seeking me out specifically at one of his famous Thursday Night Parties. His guests would be artists and writers from across the city, the country and the world, and any students who got the courage to show up.

Robin brought two glasses and a bottle of red wine, poured us both a sloshy glass, and in a passageway between the hall and the dining room raised his glass in a toast to The Goddess, and drank it down like blood. Shaken, I did the same, knowing that he had accepted me into a rather special brotherhood. It took me thirty years to rise to fill that moment. Sadly, by that time Robin was gone.

There comes a time at which one stops quoting one’s mentors, as one is the mentor oneself, or at least the message. “One is either the poetry or one talks about it,” Robin once wrote, or something close to that. Paraphrasing that, at some point one becomes the poetry. It’s not synonymous with literary writing. Poetry is a calling. I am saddened when writers write poetry as if it were fiction. I try to help them see the poetry itself as the message.

Maybe that’s the role of a mentor: to help people see with two minds at once by standing in that middle space. Poetry tells stories, of course, but not in the way of “fiction,” and not according to the same story-telling rules. In a literary world dominated by fiction, I keep silent about that.

Horsethief Butte Photo by Harold Rhenisch

Harold wrote “maybe that’s the role of a mentor: to help people see with two minds at once by standing in that middle space.” I didn’t ask Harold why he sent me this photo of  Horsethief Butte  located near Dalles, Oregon.  Is it because the person is standing on the edge of darkness and light? Or did something happen here that should be written about?  Thought-provoking isn’t it? A great springboard for a poem! Photo by Harold Rhenisch

Let’s chat a bit about editing. You’ve been the Electronic Writer in Residence with the Canadian Authors Association in Niagara for twenty years and this is the window through which I first met you. (More information about the program can be found its website. Please note you must be a member of the Niagara Branch to participate in this program.) What do you feel is the role of the editor in today’s literary community? Should writers personally hire an editor or should writers rely on the editorial services of a trade publisher? I have heard arguments from both sides. Please expand your answer.

An editor is a set of wise eyes with a sharp knife and a smile.

More specifically, when I was beginning, the role of an editor was to encourage a writer to fit into a national style. It fit poorly, but had to be done. Now there is only a global style and editors, in that sense, are redundant. However, the primary task remains: are you going to write poetry or be a poet? Not the same. An editor can guide you through that process.

But, more practically, few trade publishers offer editorial services and if they do they are likely reverting to a market-driven model, which is fine if you are writing as a social gesture and not in a conversation with eternity. Your choice.

What should a writer watch out for when hiring and/or working with an editor? 

An editor should help you see what works and should admit when something doesn’t and use your response as a guide to find a better solution, drawing from tradition. If an editor just tells you to do something prescriptively, run. That’s just book learning.

As an editor, how would you define strong writing? What do you look for when helping a writer to polish his/her manuscript for publication? 

All writing is strong writing when it is aware of itself and refuses itself indulgences. No excuses. I look for a sense of language as an art form, a sense of play, and a sense of form. When I find explanation or argument, I skim very quickly until I find story again. When I travelled on the Camino through East Germany in 2010 and 2012, I learned how to follow a story not of my own making, relentlessly, along a burning line. That is the editor’s skill: just the story, please. In a poem, however, the story can be the radiance of the colour blue, for example. Delight helps.

Can an editor fix ‘bad’ writing? Why or why not

There is no bad writing. There is writing that is poorly arranged or that bounces over the surface. So? I can do that myself. Blush. An editor can cut all that, without guilt, and at the same time encourage the writer to write more. These are skills one can learn from writing play scripts. Everything there is for the jugular.

As our population ages, do you feel that writers have an expiry or best before date? Why or why not?

Marie Louise Kaschnitz came into her own in the 1960s by writing beautiful but very reactionary prose in very revolutionary West Germany. There is absolutely no best before date. I have had many aging clients writing extraordinarily well. The only question is one of audience. The only answer is one of honesty. You can skip two or three generations with honesty. It is hard. The ego you need to push yourself forward is in the end not always your best friend. You might need an editor to stand at your side. The editor’s job might be to gain trust. At some point, both must accept the point they have arrived at together. And why not? It is a great journey, no matter how far it goes.

Harold Rhenisch at Goðafoss, photo by Diane Rhenisch

Rhensich believes “poetry is a calling”. One day Iceland called him and he answered. His journey took him to a farm built by Icelandic author Gunnar Gunnarsson. Here is Harold near Godafoss, known as the ‘waterfall of the gods’ in Iceland. Photo by Diane Rhenisch.

In 2017, your poem “Saying the Names Shanty” was short-listed for the CBC Poetry Prize. This is not the first time your work has been recognized. How important are contests (which are often judged subjectively) to helping or hindering a writer’s career? Can a writer have a successful writing career without winning or placing in any literary contest?

Anything that encourages a writer to go on in the echoing silence is great. Is the CBC contest important? It was for Gail Anderson Dargatz. For me, with two awards and multiple short-listings, no… except it kept me finishing works I would have otherwise felt there was no audience for… and that’s the thing: without audience it is very hard to write at all. Even an audience of one is a boon. It is the greatest gift to another person: to listen. Especially to listen deeply to what they find most important.

You’ve had a successful career as a writer and as an editor you’ve helped to polish several books by Canadian poets including Rove by Laurie D. Graham, shortlisted for the League of Canadian Poets 2014 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. So far, I’ve read only a couple of your poetry books but I have loved both of them. You have an amazing sense of humour and a broad knowledge base and yet, you can connect with the reader emotionally and spiritually as well. What’s next for Harold Rhenisch? Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

Canada is becoming a country divided between various literary and creative writing elites. I hope to make a solid contribution that bridges indigenous and non-indigenous divides. More and more, I find the conceits of literature to be limiting, and am learning to read the land. This is not a new journey.

In 1994, I chose to present a workshop on mythology with Garry Gottfriedson rather than poetry. Garry went along willingly.

In 2009, I walked out of the League of Canadian Poets convention in Vancouver in great pain after being asked to take on Bliss Carman as my poetic ancestor, which was a profound colonial demand. I drove straight to the mouth of the Columbia and followed my river home, like a salmon coming back from the sea. I am still on that journey.

Harold Rhenisch - author in nature photo Photo by Harold Rhenisch

An editor or mentor can inspire or encourage deeper thought. According to Rhenisch, “It is the greatest gift to another person: to listen. Especially to listen deeply to what they find most important.” Photo by Diane Rhenisch

I hope, however, to publish a few of my essays on an alternative, old path through poetry. I think the world needs it. There is still much I want to say about Shakespeare, and Puck. Or, rather, that Puck wants to say by me, now that he has my voice.

This has been incredible sharing on your part! I could ask you questions all day, but time and space are limited. Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers? I feel like the conversation has only just begun.

I keep an apple tree called a Benvoulin, and she keeps me. I found her growing wild in a ditch in 1981. She tastes of Riesling wine when ripe and like fresh pineapple when almost over-ripe. Her flesh is white as snow. Our joined ancestry goes back 30,000 years, when bears chose her ancestors in Khazakstan. Robin gave me a poetic tradition as old as that. I think I have been brought to this conversation in order to pass it on. When I published my book Fusion in 2000, it was mocked for its pre-modern thinking. I am older now. I see now what Robin was looking for. Joy is certainly one word for it. Generosity is another.

Thanks Harold. You’ve been most generous with your time. My hope is that this conversation will inspire others to step outside their comfort zones, to walk down a path less travelled, and to listen in silence for the voices that can steer all of us toward some greater truth.

Harold Rhenisch has published 30 books of poetry, fiction, poetic nonfiction, translation, essays and environmental writing since 1982. He reviews history for The Ormsby Review and is an active book editor and mentor. He lives in Syilx territory in British Columbia.

Follow his blogs for more insight on his thought-provoking work:

Harold Rhenisch   Online Home of the Canadian Poet, Writer and Editor.

Okanagan Okanogan Reclaiming the Art of Living on the Earth

A Farm in Iceland    Writing With Gunnar Gunnarsson

and also

Steam Punk City – Wituals

The Green Earth Dictionary

*Epigraph is from the poem “Drawing Hands – for Robin Skelton” by Harold Rhenisch published in the book return to open water: poems new & selected (Ronsdale Press, 2007) by Harold Rhenisch, page 65. Copyright 2007 Harold Rhenisch. Used with permission.

Follow this blog for additional Canadian poet profiles and/or literary events.

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Sarnia’s Big Pond Rumours Organizes Regional Tour of Prize-Winning Poet

“This morning, my stomach is a helicopter,/on top and in the rear, thrum, rumble, flutter/look how I run; will I need a mop?” – Tom Gannon Hamilton*

A southwestern Ontario poetry tour** featuring headliners Toronto poet and musician Tom Gannon Hamilton and Sarnia author and micro-press owner Sharon Berg will demonstrate how poetry can tell a story, be entertaining, serious and/or humorous based on such subjects as the war in El Salvador, dysfunctional relationships, art, suicide, cannibalism, nature, and more.

Tom Gannon Hamilton

Prize-winning poet Tom Gannon Hamilton will headline Big Pond Rumours Southwestern Ontario Tour with events in London, Sarnia, Petrolia, and Windsor  between August 19 to 28, 2018.

Organized by Sarnia’s Big Pond Rumours (BPR), the five readings will take place in four urban settings (London, Petrolia, Sarnia, and Windsor) between August 19 and 28, 2018. The tour also features a variety of other authors (Toronto poet Heather Roberts Cadsby, London author and visual artist Sile Englert, Lambton poet/blogger Debbie Okun Hill, Lambton author/blogger/columnist Phyllis Humby, and Windsor poet and co-owner of Cranberry Tree Press Laurie Smith) who will read on specified dates and in different locations.

“My goal for these free community events is to introduce people who have little familiarity with poetry to an appreciation of what this form of writing can accomplish,” said Berg who is also the tour organizer. “Poetry was once revered by kings and practised by people of the highest intellect. But in Canada, poetry has been celebrated as an art form for the people, which led to the appointment of poet laureates in tens of cities across the country. Every poem tells a story, and on this tour, with these authors, you are sure to receive a variety of stories.”

Sharoon Berg

Featured reader and tour organizer Sharon Berg says “my goal for these free community events is to introduce people who have little familiarity with poetry to an appreciation of what this art form can accomplish.”

Headliner Hamilton has a unique story to share. In addition to being the founder, curator, and host of the Urban Folk Art Salon (in partnership with the Toronto Public Libraries), he was also an aid worker during the war in El Salvador. His chapbook manuscript El Marillo, which won 1st place in an annual contest organized by Big Pond Rumours E-zine and Press, focuses on the havoc of events taking place in the 1980s during the extreme violence of the 12-year Civil War in El Salvador.

He has also just released Panoptic, a full-sized book, with Aeolus House, a micro-press owned by Canadian poet/editor Allan Briesmaster.

“This means that he has two books of stunning poetry to promote on this tour,” said Berg. “Hamilton is also an accomplished musician who makes his daily living performing music. He is likely to share a tune or two at each of the readings.”

Headliner Berg is returning to active participation in the Canadian poetry scene after a long hiatus while she worked as a teacher. She founded Big Pond Rumours International Literary E-Zine & Press in 2006.

“The existence of the BPR press in Sarnia is significant,” said Berg. “Indeed, both the international literary magazine and the press have gradually gained attention across the country for the work they are doing in promoting Canadian authors and providing an international forum for literary work.”

The press has already published chapbooks featuring Nelson Ball, Sharon Berg, Harold Feddersen, Tom Gannon Hamilton, Debbie Okun Hill, John Oughton, Brian Purdy, and Bob Wakulich. Plus, in 2016, Big Pond Rumours also released Paper Reunion: An Anthology of Phoenix A Poet’s Workshop (1976 to 1986) which includes authors like: Heather Roberts Cadsby, Richard Harrison, Stuart Ross, and Libby Scheier.

THE TOUR SCHEDULE

August 19 in London: Hamilton launches his chapbook at The Ontario Poetry Society’s Summer Sultry Poetry Gathering, 1 p.m. at Mykanos Restaurant.

August 23 in London: London author and visual artist Síle Englert reads with Hamilton and Berg, 7 p.m. at Brown and Dickson Bookstore.

August 25 in Sarnia: Toronto poet Heather Roberts Cadsby and Lambton County author/blogger/columnist Phyllis Humby will read with Hamilton 1 p.m. at the Sarnia Public Library on Christina Street.

August 26 in Windsor: Windsor poet and co-owner of Cranberry Tree Press Laurie Smith will read with Hamilton and Berg 1 p.m. at Storyteller Bookstore.

August 28 in Petrolia: Lambton Country poet/blogger Debbie Okun Hill will read with Hamilton and Berg 6 p.m. at The Cottage Petrolia on Petrolia Line.

Each event is open to the general public. Admission is free.

INTERESTED IN LEARNING MORE ABOUT BIG POND RUMOURS PRESS?

As the owner of Big Pond Rumours E-Zine and Press (BPR) and a recent retiree, Sharon Berg moved to Sarnia and a new home in August 2016. “I moved here, in part, because Sarnia has a small but vital community of authors,” she said. Her work on the magazine and as a publisher had gone on for years as a sideline while she worked, but both the E-Zine and her press were “small potatoes back then. Indeed, I refer to the press as a micro press because it publishes just four chapbooks (30 pages or less) for Canadian authors a year, the press runs being limited to 100 copies. Still, most Canadian poets and first time novelists have press runs of 500 copies with larger presses, so the existence of the BPR press in Sarnia is significant.”

Additional information about Big Pond Rumours Press can be found here and on its website.

MORE INFO ON THE SPOTLIGHT READERS AND THEIR WORK

 TOM GANNON HAMILTON:

El Marillo (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2018) by Tom Gannon Hamilton

In March 2018, Tom Gannon Hamilton won 1st place in an annual Chapbook Contest run by Big Pond Rumours E-Zine and Press. Hamilton’s poetry in El Marillo, is of a different character than most authors in Canada present to their readers. It is literary, but it also reveals the effect of being an eye witness to atrocities through lines of poetry that bring readers right into the scene as a witness. Hamilton was a relief worker with Salvaide, an organization promoting social justice, during his time in El Salvador. He worked to provide medical supplies and other aid to the low income civilians in El Marillo. While thousand of people were being disappeared, the UN reports that the war killed at least 75,000 people between 1980 and 1992.

Hamilton has turned those tragic events into moving poetry. His award-winning chapbook is a dramatic and startling piece of work filled with every human emotion: from horror to terror, from grief and misery to sweet remembrance of others who joined him on that project in El Salvador. As one reviewer wrote of his work, “a lesser man would have had a nervous breakdown rather than turning those events into poetry”. Hamilton put his chapbook together as a way of making a public record about what he witnessed and of celebrating the work Salvaide did to save thousands of lives. It is also a text with special meaning for him as his wife died due to drowning under suspicious circumstances while she was in El Salvador. The pain he deals with related to this loss, is transformed into a celebration of her efforts to gain justice for the people she had devoted her life to.

Quattro Books Presents

As for his book Panoptic recently released by Aleous House, Canadian poet Donna Langevin wrote “Maestro Hamilton composes poems with the same musicality, virtuosity and fidelity that he brings to the violin he feels wed to.” This full-length collection will be officially launched in Ottawa on September 9 and in Toronto on September 12. 

SHARON BERG:

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

Sharon Berg is founder of Big Pond Rumours Literary E-Zine & Press in Sarnia. Her first book was published in 1979 and her work includes: The Body Labyrinth, Coach House (1984), Black Moths, Big Pond Rumours (2006), The Great Hoop Dance, Big Pond Rumours Press (2016), Odyssey & Other Poems, Big Pond Rumours (2017) and two audio cassette tapes (Tape 5, Gallery 101 Productions and Black Moths, Public Energies, 1986). She also publishes academic work on the history of First Nations education.

Referring to her first poetry book with Borealis Press, John Robert Colombo said “love becomes lyric in your hands, and poem after poem I am moved from delight to delicious delight.” With the release of her second book from Coach House Press in 1984, Dennis Lee said, “She is one of the younger poets to watch,” while a book review in Malahat Review said, “These are vigorous, quick moving poems with a surprising tension and strength.” After more than 30 years, she will read from her long anticipated third poetry manuscript on this tour.

 ADDITIONAL GUEST READERS IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER:

 Heather Roberts Cadsby: In the 1980s, Cadsby co-produced Poetry Toronto and co-founded the press Wolsak and Wynn. She also organized poetry events at the Axle-Tree Coffee House in Toronto and the Phoenix: A Poet’s Workshop. In recent years, she served as the director of the ArtBar Poetry Series. Standing in the Flock of Connections (Brick Books 2018) is her fifth poetry collection. More info here.

Sile Englert is a poet, fiction writer, and visual artist from London, Ontario. Her stories have shortlisted in contests for Room Magazine and longlisted in Prism International. Her poetry placed second in Contemporary Verse 2’s 2-Day Poem Contest and featured in Room Magazine, Ascent Aspirations Anthology, The Canadian Authors Association’s Saving Bannister Anthology, Misunderstanding Magazine, and Crannog Magazine (Ireland). Read her Contemporary Verse 2 poem here.

Debbie Okun Hill is a Lambton County poet/blogger with over 30 years of writing and promotional experience. Drawing from Experience is a collection of ekphrastic poems that present her impression of various works of art. Her books are: Tarnished Trophies, Black Moss (2014), Chalk Dust Clouds, Beret Day Press (2017) and Drawing from Experience, Big Pond Rumours (2017). More info here.

Phyllis Humby lives in Lambton and is a well-known blogger at The Write Break, a columnist at First Monday Magazine, and a member of Crime Writers of Canada. However, Our Plan to Save the World, may be the first time that four of her stories are collected in one place. Our Plan to Save the World is an anthology that features five authors. More info here.

Laurie Smith, is a poet, editor, and co-owner of Cranberry Tree Press in Windsor, Ontario. She is also an award-winning poet and author of short fiction. Among her collections are Said the Cannibal, Gallstones, One Ninth of a Cat’s Life, Menagerie, and an upcoming collection of poetry inspired by the work of Charles Darwin. Read about Smith’s humorous 2018 National Poetry Month reading in Sarnia here.

* From the poem “Running of a Country” from the prize-winning chapbook El Marillo (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2018) Used with permission from the author © Tom Gannon Hamilton, 2018

**Written from the files of Big Pond Rumours Press and Sharon Berg.

Additional information about upcoming literary events in Ontario can be found in the event section of this blog.

 

 

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.

DSC_0091

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!

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Keep mining for those ‘local’ gems.

 FOLLOW THIS BLOG FOR FUTURE CANADIAN LITERARY REVIEWS, EVENTS, AND AUTHOR/POET PROFILES.

 

 

 

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.

FOLLOW THIS BLOG FOR FUTURE CANADIAN LITERARY REVIEWS, EVENTS, AND AUTHOR/POET PROFILES.

Gardening Words – A Literary Spring Cleaning

“North wind yanks her long skirt./A hand-knit scarf covers/her tulip-shaped face.”  -Debbie Okun Hill*

Call it a brain freeze or an ice-cream headache: that sensation of eating or drinking an ice cold substance during a hot summer’s day! (Insert laughter here!) Last week, the temperatures soared above 30 degrees Celsius: much too hot for planting seeds!

Lost in Reality TV Snow - Okun Hill - January 9, 2018

This week, the wind off the lake numbs my fingers. Words pile up like snow, like unread books on a shelf, like autumn leaves clogging the eaves trough, like spring cleaning that never gets completed!

Quick, grab me a broom and a rake to smooth out this unruly tangle of rejection slips and word roots gnarled and snarled on my desk and in my yard.

I’m waiting for my garden-gloved fingers to unthaw.

In the meantime, browse through the good news gathered in my in-basket:

CHECK IT OUT!

Am I dreaming? Is that really an ash sapling (one of several) growing in my back yard? Shhhh,  please don’t tell the emerald ash borer!!! Yes I’m still looking for a publisher for my ash tree themed manuscript!

Ash perhaps - May 22, 2018 FB size

Thank you Andrews Gripp of Harmonia Press in London, Ontario for posting three of my poems “Tasseography”, “Rehabilitation” and “Bottled Water” in the third issue of his on-line zine Synaeresis.

Synaeresis Issue Three

Published on-line June 1, 2018 by Harmonia Press

Here’s the line-up of featured poets. More information about Harmonia Press here.

SAMSUNG

Also thank you to the Lake Winnipeg Writers’ Group for including my poems “No Sign of Spring”, “Nocturnal Creatures” and “Turning a Corner” in their latest anthology Voices, Volume 18, Number 1 launched earlier this spring at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The book arrived a few days ago and I can’t wait to read it. They are organizing a contest for fiction and poetry with an extended June 14 deadline. More information can be found here.

Voices 18-1 LWWG anthology published by BK Publishing - launched May 6, 2018 in Winnipeg, Manitoba Low Res Cover

Published by BK Publishing – launched May 6, 2018 in Winnipeg, Manitoba

Coming soon, a sample of my previously published poems translated into Greek! How cool is that? More details to come!

MARK YOU CALENDARS!

I love watching regional authors bloom.

The Search for Self - by Jindo Shokai

TONIGHT (June 7) at 7 p.m. at the Book Keeper in Sarnia, Ontario, Jindo Shokai (also known at Richard Maxwell) will be launching his debut book, a memoir called The Search for Self: Confessions of a Dying Man (Three Monks Division of L & R Productions, 2018). Local writers will remember Richard from the Spoken Word events held at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts. Expect an inspiring presentation as Shokai shares his spiritual journey towards Zen Buddhism. Follow this blog for a book review and photos from tonight’s launch.

On June 21, London’s Poet Laureate Tom Cull will lead a workshop on ekphrastic poetry (writing poems inspired by art), 6 to 8:30 p.m. TAP Centre for Creativity, 203 Dundas Street. There is a charge for this event. Advanced registration required. Scroll down to see more info about Cull’s debut book.

On June 22 at 11 a.m. at Maawn Doosh Gumig Community and Youth Centre, 1972 Virgil Avenue, Sarnia, Ontario, indigenous writer David D Plain will launch his latest historical non-fiction book A Brief History of the Saugeen Peninsula.  The event is hosted by Aamjiwnaang Heritage & Culture E Maawizidijig. A previous blog post about Plain appears here.

Aboriginal Day Events June 22, 2017

Micro-press Big Pond Rumours under the ownership of Sharon Berg and based in Sarnia continues to offer publishing opportunities for writers. See the poster below as well as the press’s updated website for current and future activities. Two new prize-winning chapbooks were launched earlier this spring and several readings are being planned for the summer.

Big Pond Rumours Upcoming Projects

And three cheers to local indie bookseller The Book Keeper who continues to invite special guest readers to Sarnia. On June 19, staff have organized an Intimate Evening with Karen Connelly, author of The Change Room. This ticketed event includes a copy of the book, dinner, a glass of wine, and a fantastic night.  Space is limited. More information is available from The Book Keeper.

NEW TO MY BOOKSHELF:

Bad Animals by Tom Cull

Bad Animals (Insomniac Press, 2018) by creative writing instructor and London, Ontario’s current poet laureate Tom Cull. According to the book’s back cover, “Cull’s debut collection is equal parts zoo, funhouse, and curio cabinet.”  The book was officially launched in London, last Friday (June 1), but another reading with Laurie D Graham is planned for June 11, 2018 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Open Sesame, 220 King Street West in Kitchener. He will also be reading with Jeffery Donaldson on June 20 at 7 p.m. at Epic Books, 226 Locke Street South in Hamilton. See this blog’s event section for more details.

Thin Moon Psalm (Brick Books, 2007) by Sheri Benning and Lost Gospels (Brick Books, 2010) by Lorri Neilsen Glenn. Thank you to Poetry London for gifting me these two books as partial payment for a recent regional reading I did in London.  I’ve added the books to my summer reading list.

BOOKS ON ORDER:

Our Plan to Save The WorldOur Plan to Save the World , an anthology of short stories by Nancy Kay Clark, Lambton County writer Phyllis Humby, Michael Joll, Steve Nelson, and Frank T. Sikora. Phyllis will be sharing work from this book at a Big Pond Rumours event scheduled for late summer in Sarnia. Follow this blog for more details as well as a review.

The Spoken World: Poems (Hagios Press, 2011 – now available through Radiant Press) by Harold Rhenisch. I’ve been admiring the work of this prolific Canadian poet, short story writer, novelist, blogger, translator, and editor, from a distance. Here’s a link to his author’s website and a link to his many blogs.

The Spoken World by Harold Rhenisch

At the moment, I feel ill-equipped to engage in a meaningful conversation with this talented individual (who recently helped me with some of my work) but my goal is to post a future interview with him. (Wish me luck.) I am particularly interested in this book as it explores Rhenisch’s “relationship with his long time mentor and friend Robin Skelton”. I want to read it first.

People Places Passages: An Anthology of Canadian Writing (Longbridge Books, 2018) edited by Giulia De Gasperi, Delia De Santis and Caroline Morgan Di Giovanni. Bright’s Grove editors Delia De Santis (and the late Venera Fazio) are renowned for their work in promoting Italian-Canadian writers.

People Places PassagesAccording to the publisher’s blurb: “The volume is the most comprehensive collection yet of Italian-Canadian writing, and a milestone in the history of the Association of Italian Canadian Writers (AICW), whose thirtieth anniversary coincides with the publication of this volume.” An interview with De Santis re: her involvement in the project will be posted later this summer.

So much to ponder! Can you feel the June sun nudging the ‘word’ buds to grow?

“Time slips forward….You turn around, refreshed/pink colour returns to your cheeks”**

*From the poem “No Sign of Spring” from the anthology Voices: Volume 18, Number 1 (BK Publishing, 2018) Page 78 Used with permission from the author © Debbie Okun Hill 2018 
**From the poem “Rehabilitation” from the zine Synaeresis III (Harmonia Press, 2018) Page 58-59 Used with permission from the author © Debbie Okun Hill 2018

FOLLOW THIS BLOG FOR FUTURE CANADIAN LITERARY REVIEWS, EVENTS, AND AUTHOR/POET PROFILES.

 

 

 

 

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

More Applause for Singer-Songwriter Gregger Botting and His Debut CD

I will be the servant to your stiletto heels/And the marks that you leave on me I will keep concealed…* -Gregger Botting

Chatham-born Gregger Botting returns to Sarnia, Ontario, Canada,  Sunday, January 21, 2018 for an afternoon House Concert at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts. Grab your tickets now!

Every time Gregger performs live at a coffee shop or during an outdoor event, his voice strengthens and his confidence soars. Behind the scenes, his fans praise his humble and casual nature. The guitarist displays a genuine interest in helping people and harbours a deep parental love for his young daughter. On stage, his wide smile automatically warms up the audience; his magnetic personality keeps them listening. According to a Lawrence House release, “Gregger will be performing a mix of his original songs as well as covering some favourite and familiar rock/folk/Americana hits of the 1960s.”

Hear my applause again and again.

April 2017 Gregger Botting event in Petrolia

Gregger Botting’s debut CD “Never Saw a Thing Coming” was recorded at DNA Media in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada and released digitally in January 2017. All of the songs were written by Botting.

 

I normally don’t blog about musicians but Greg (stage name Gregger) has been part of Sarnia’s literary scene for several years: first as one of the few singer-songwriters to attend Spoken Word at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts and more recently as part of Open Stage, a new open mic event hosted by musician Missy Burgess.

With a common interest in words and rhythm, poets and songwriters are often inspired by each other. I admire Gregger’s dedication and commitment to his music plus the depth of emotions in his lyrics.

In his debut CD, Never Saw A Thing Coming, Botting draws on the vulnerabilities of falling in love, the loneliness of break-ups, the healing of open wounds, and the uncertainties of a future relationship.

His 11-song CD showcases a variety of musical styles and voices from the twangy-country feel of “Hippie Girl” to the slower tempo of “About to Fall” to the rock ‘n roll sound of “It’s You” to the jazzy and bluesy “Bad Day Blues”. I love the sound of “The Grand Catastrophe” with Botting’s harp-sounding guitar picked melody. His duet with London folk songstress Taylor Holden is also noteworthy, reminding me of the famous Johnny Cash and June Carter collaboration.

His lyrics lean toward the more traditional verse with catchy lines like Hearts can heal but I’m not sure from “Hippie Girl” and I’ll help to take your tears away from “It’s You”. He also writes gems like the stiletto reference mentioned at the top of this blog and I will be the ashes and you can be the fire from “As Fast As You Come (You Disappear)”.

In my opinion, his strongest lyrics stem from the song he often plays at gigs. This title track “Never Saw A Thing Coming” includes the words That joker he lives in a house of cards/one day they fell down and they fell pretty hard/The Kings and Queens they laughed at him. Later, he adds: His record was worst [sic] than the weatherman’s.

In the last track, hope prevails in “Promise of Another Day” where the duet sings Darkness now gone, sunlight now gained/The moments of love show when we are saved.

Gregger Botting performs at Coffee Lodge August 10, 2017 Photo 6

Lambton County singer-songwriter Gregger Botting performs at the Coffee Lodge, Exmouth Street location in Sarnia, August 10, 2017. His next concert will be at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts this Sunday, January 21, 2018

Several months ago, I had a chance to interview Gregger about his journey as a musician and his experiences with his first CD. Below is his response to my questions:

First of all, belated congratulations on the release of Never Saw A Thing Coming, your debut CD. In one or two lines, describe the style of music and theme behind your CD? Was there a message you wanted the audience to walk away with? If yes, what is it?

Well thank you very much. So the album by design is a mixture of folk, blues, rock, Americana… I certainly wanted it to be an interesting mix of material. It’s going to be familiar but I am a product of my musical heroes and ‘if it ain’t broken’, as they say… The mix of genres keeps you on your toes with their feel and instrumentation, so I hope that brings the ‘fresh to the familiar’ in its overall sound.

In regards to theme (and I don’t know how intentional it was while selecting the songs at the time) but what I noticed as I look back on its overall theme, are the ideas of love, loss and a nostalgia for life moments that good or bad, make an impact and are relatable to people. I hope as people listen in a contemplative kind of way, that on the whole, it has a reassuring kind of vibe.

What is your favourite song on the CD and why is it so special to you?

I know that this sounds completely cornball, but all the songs I finish are sort of special. I find that when I write, if my intuition is telling me to see a particular song through (either immediately or being constantly compelled to return to it) then something outside of me is going on. No song felt like a chore. I am pretty certain that I was really pumped-up after writing each tune. So, back to your question, I’ll toss three out to you.

The title track “Never Saw a Thing Coming” was a song that came pretty quick from start to finish….and I knew there was something about it as soon as it was finished. It’s not quite a story but nor is it this free associating wordplay. It’s autobiographical yet equally relatable. It came quickly from the song writing gods so I am grateful for it.

“All ‘Bout the Soul” is a tribute to Kris Kristofferson, a song writing legend and hero of mine. Also, my friend Roger Fisher who recorded guitar on the record says it is probably his favourite song and so that means a lot too. He told me as soon as I played it for him, he could imagine it on the radio. He does a great classic-country guitar solo on it.

“Hippie Girl” took years between the first half and second half of the song. It was one I was always going back to in the notebook. It is special in that, when I completed it, the sensation of excitement and confidence about it (even as just words on a page) was really strong. At the time, I felt like that one (on a lyrical level) was so smooth in its imagery and would be able to easily speak with other people. That’s the reason it kicks off the album…That and Producer Adam Miner, told me as much and so I’ll bow to the wise.

A musician’s journey can be a challenging one. How long did it take to collect enough material to put out a CD? What was the most difficult part about the process? Did you ever feel like giving up? Why or why not? How did you stay motivated?

I went to DNA Media in Sarnia with a bunch of home recordings of songs. Producer Adam Miner (DNA Media) and I discussed what I was looking to do and he told me to go with my instinct and pick the sure-bet songs to start…and we went from there. The songs I provided were written in roughly a five year period.

The most difficult part of the process was fighting my own self-doubt. I think it bogs more people down than anything else. While I was excited for so many of the other musicians who came in and did outstanding performances during the process, there were times when I wondered about the purpose of it all.

I had written enough material that I felt were good (to me) and complete, that ultimately I knew I had to do something with them. Surely I wasn’t meant to just play them alone in my living room. I don’t want to get all hippie-dippy on it but I chalked it up to something more than me. There’s a point to it all, no? There has to be. Maybe it was all just cathartic at the time, but maybe it was to be shared. Where’s this stuff coming from? How’d I come up with that? So one day you decide to do something concrete with it. Get it out there.

With authors, the cover of the book is the first thing that readers will notice. I was quite impressed by the cover of your CD and the images used to promote your work. How challenging was it to decide on the right cover?  Please explain the process.

The credit goes 100% to DNA Media. I dragged photographer Natali Bravo to a couple locations in and around Petrolia (where I am living) and she eyed new locations, 200 feet from my locations that ultimately made the cover and CD inserts.

Once we had the photographs, Music Producer Adam Miner and I sat down and he whipped up some magic in Photoshop. We tinkered with size and alignment of some text, but Adam is both an audio and visual artist so things came together fairly quickly. The photos told us the colour scheme and some back and forth with different ideas, and there it was.

Adam really has an eye for quality and he doesn’t fool around when he has a vision going. I am grateful for them both to help me out with this for sure.

When did you first decide you wanted to write songs and be a musician? Was it something you always dreamed about or was it a decision you made later on in your life? Please elaborate.

I always enjoyed music and as a little kid was driving around with my dad who listened to 104.3 WOMC out of Detroit. 1950’s rock ‘n roll, The Motown sound, early British Invasion, Chuck Berry, it was all great stuff. I liked 94.7 WCSX which was more into Jimi Hendrix, Cream and harder, edgier classic rock of the later 1960’s and early 70’s.

I don’t know if there ever was a moment that I consciously considered either as something I could be. I think my guitar playing was and is out of enjoyment ever since I picked it up as a teenager.

Writing songs was something I had tried from time to time as a teenager and in my 20’s but they were only pieces and were varying degrees of awful. Ultimately I knew that I really had nothing to say. I never really was into current trend music and anyone I was listening to had a pretty authentic persona. I was and still am of the belief that the great songs come from authenticity that I didn’t have.

I found myself writing while struggling with the end of my marriage in my early 30’s. I wasn’t writing songs necessarily, but I was writing my struggle and writing to sort things out in my head. After we separated, it was kind of a conscious notion that I should try writing some songs. They were dark and a lot of them only sketches of a full song. But they were a constructive way to work through things and focus my thoughts when I’d get home from the day job. So that’s where things evolved and I started to have something to say. I gained some of that life experience/authenticity that I was able to use as fuel.

What inspires you? Who are your mentors?

Surrounding myself with other inspired people is a good start I think. It is not a competitive endeavour by any means, but surrounding yourself with other creative people just seems to rub off. I often feel inspired after attending an open mic or something where people are relaxed, having fun and sharing their material.

Other times though, I’ve no clue what inspires me…until it does.

As far as mentors, there is a quote from Tom Waits that goes “For a songwriter you don’t really go to song writing school; you learn by listening to tunes.” It probably is an osmosis kind of thing.  Writers I am sure love to read and likewise musicians listen to music absorbing little things they likely don’t even notice.  The artists (that I have a pretty good collection of their material) were guys like Bob Dylan, Kris Kirstofferson, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits so if I’m not listening to their records often, I am always going back to their canon from time to time. I’m really hoping the whole osmosis idea is an actual thing. Haha.

Gregger Botting performs at Coffee Lodge August 10, 2017 Photo 2

“Writing songs was something I had tried from time to time as a teenager”, said Gregger.

Tell me a little about your writing process. Do you have a specific routine or do you just write when the muse nudges you? Is there a certain place where you like to write?  Which comes first the music or the lyrics? Please elaborate.

The lyrics always come first. I find that I am able (and I use the word ‘able’ loosely) to come up with some sort of melody around some established words and reshape some lines as necessary. I can’t recall a time when I was strumming my guitar and a melody translated into a worthwhile phrase or a flash of inspiration. I know many other songwriters do it that way though. It’s all a mystery to me; the how and why of it all.

Early on, I only wrote when the mood struck me. Now, I attempt to write (or at least carry a notebook with me) as often as I can. Usually I find it more difficult to write some words and follow them down the rabbit hole. I need a broad idea/topic to generate the first couple lines….and maybe things will catch fire. But maybe one day the song I force myself to start may be my best song.

I was listening to CBC radio one morning and the program topic was serendipity and happy-accidents. A writer was promoting their book on the subject and one of the points made was that for those moments to happen, you have to be active and keep working to put yourself in that position. The example the writer gave was Fleming discovering penicillin. It doesn’t happen without him being a messy guy, the laboratory being in shambles and covered in petri-dishes. So the same logic can apply to song writing or anything. Stay engaged, don’t throw any of the scraps away, and something may come of it someday.

I can still recall the first few times you started performing at the Spoken Word events at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts. There you were at the back of the room listening to all the poets, storytellers and non-fiction writers sharing their work. Many evenings you were the only musician in the room and yet you kept coming back. Now I understand you are a regular at the Lawrence House’s Open Stage event which is filled with musicians and musical performances and now the poets are in the minority. How have these local experiences helped you as a writer and performer?

Well, thanks for not only having me, but encouraging me, back at the Spoken Word events those years ago. I don’t see a big difference in poetry and song lyrics. Leonard Cohen has many fine examples where his words sit just as beautiful on the page as they do as a song. Kris Kristofferson studied English Literature at Oxford and is a Rhodes Scholar. His heroes are Johnny Cash and William Blake so that’s a pretty cool mix I’d say.

Along with attending these events for inspiration and being around other creative people, it is a great opportunity to play new material and try new things. The Open Stage is such a supportive and encouraging space. When you start out at anything, you should give yourself the best opportunity to succeed so an environment like the Open Stage, where everyone is encouraging and attentive, goes a long way to gaining that experience and logging some hours in front of an audience. In addition, the sound in the room itself is really great. At the end of the night you’ve gained some experience for yourself, heard some great material, and met some new people so it’s a pretty good deal all around!

What’s next for Gregger Botting?

Haha. What a question Debbie. I really don’t think it is up to me at all. I’ll keep plugging along I suppose. I enjoy writing and tinkering on a guitar so I’ll do them both whenever I can. I have kind of a “things happen for a reason” outlook with my music. Should some new opportunity come along and my intuition then gives me a nudge towards it, it’ll be what it’ll be.

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

I will be playing the Lawrence House this Sunday, January 21, 2018. It is an afternoon show that starts at 3 p.m. and will last for two hours.

A CD can be picked up at Cheeky Monkey in their “Local Artists” section as well as at The Book Keeper.

Or, visit my website www.greggerbotting.com to listen to samples or see music download options

Thank you Gregger for sharing your writing process and journey as a songwriter and musician. I like how the whole package came together for you. Can’t wait to hear more of your work!

Gregger Botting’s debut album Never Saw A Thing Coming was digitally released in January 2017 and officially launched in Petrolia and Chatham in April 2017.  He has performed in numerous public events including Sarnia’s Cadence Reading Series, the Lawrence House’s First Friday events, Sarnia’s Artwalk, and at Petrolia’s Art in the Park celebration. He is a frequent featured performer at the Coffee Lodge in Sarnia and at Sam’s Percolator in Chatham.

Gregger’s Sunday’s performance at the Lawrence House is part of its House Concerts series supported by the County of Lambton Creative County Fund and Leonard Segall and Marilyn Mason.

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*Quote is from the song “As Fast as You Come (You Disappear)” from the CD Never Saw A Thing Coming © Gregger Botting 2017 Used with permission from the singer-songwriter.