Tag Archives: writing

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.

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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.

Follow this blog for additional Canadian author and poet profiles.

*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.

 

 

My 2018 #CanLit Staycation Reading List

Call it snow. Call it a TV igloo to crawl inside and escape. – Debbie Okun Hill*

 Reading Canadian poetry and literature is one way to escape this recent cold snap across the country. Binge watching The Crown and Grand Hotel on Netflix is another. For those with a flair for the imagination, retreating to write can turn a snowflake into a multi-faceted poem or story.

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

Snow cradles emerald ash borer damaged trees.

Two months ago, I tried escaping. I slowly slipped away from social media and blogging, to concentrate on final revisions for a poetry manuscript that needed major surgery. I sought help from a professional editor and mentor who not only challenged my thinking but taught me how to play with the words and to heal the open wounds. Carving some quiet time to focus on one project proved productive. Expect to hear more about this in a future blog post.

As the holiday season unfolded, I retreated again to deal with the loss of two special people in my literary life: one was a member of a local book club I used to attend while the other was a long-time literary organizer, editor, writer, and friend. Spending time with family and friends became a priority with quiet moments spent in reflection.

Now I’m back at my desk. As a tribute to all the creative folk I wanted to thank, support and promote in 2017 (and didn’t) expect a flurry of blog posts in the next few weeks. (Yes, I will finally edit and post those photos from November and December literary events.) For those looking for something to read, I’ve pulled an eclectic selection of books from my unread (and to read again) shelves. (See below.)

Perhaps you will seek out a few of these books to add to your own reading list. Remember authors love reviews. Post your thoughts on Amazon and/or Goodreads. If you have a recommendation for 2019, leave the book title and the poet’s name in the comment section. (Comments will take a day or two before they appear.) Thanks for your patience.

In support of fellow poets and poetry readings I attended in 2017:

 You Can’t Make the Sky a Different Blue (Big Pond Rumours Press 2017) an award-winning chapbook by award-winning Paris, Ontario resident and minimalist poet Nelson Ball; Not Even Laughter (Salmon Poetry, Ireland 2015) a collection of poems by Phillip Crymble, a Fredericton resident and poetry editor for The Fiddlehead; The Poison Colour (Coach House Printing 2015) a collection of poetry by award-winning Toronto writer Maureen Hynes; SEAsia (Black Moss Press 2017) is the second collection of poetry by Thorold poet Keith Inman, member of the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association and assistant for their annual Banister Poetry Anthology; Barbaric Cultural Practice (Quattro Books 2016) a poetry collection by Penn Kemp, the inaugural Poet Laureate for London, Ontario and a League of Canadian Poets Life Member; and Infinite Sequels: Poems (Friesen Press 2013) the first poetry collection by Toronto poet David Stones.

Misc Books to Read 2018 to post

A mix of Ontario writers and one from the east coast.

In support of poetry chapbooks:

Pod and Berry (Aeolus House 2017) a new collection of poems by another Life Member of The League of Canadian Poets and The Ontario Poetry Society Allan Briesmaster (See previous blog post here); Orthric Sonnets (Baseline Press 2017), a limited edition chapbook of poems by Andy Verboom, the organizer of London’s Couplets, a collaborative poetry reading series; and leave the door open for the moon (Jackson Creek Press 2015) a collection of poems by Peterborough artist, teacher and writer Nan Williamson.

Chapbooks Manitoba Northern Books to Read 2018 to post

An eclectic mix: poetry chapbooks by Ontario poets, books by Manitoba writers, and books written (and illustrated) by residents/visitors to the great white North.

In support of poetry books:

 Groundwork (Biblioasis 2011) is Amanda Jernigan’s debut poetry collection which was shortlisted for the League of Canadian Poets’ Pat Lowther Award; and The Cinnamon Peeler (McClelland & Stewart 1989) features selected poems written between 1963 and 1990 by internationally acclaimed, award-winning author Michael Ondaatje.

In support of novels:

Alone in the Classroom (McClelland & Stewart 2011) a novel by Scotiabank Giller Prize-Winning author Elizabeth Hay; and Sanctuary Line (McClelland & Stewart 2010) a novel by bestselling Canadian author Jane Urquhart.

Older Work to Read 2019 to post

Older novels and poetry books.

 In support of anthologies and literary journals:

Another London: poems from a city still searching for itself (Harmonia Press 2016); LUMMOX Number Six (Lummox Press 2017) (See a previous blog post here.); Paper Reunion: An Anthology of Phoenix: A Poet’s Workshop (1976-1986) (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2016); Philadephia Poets 2017 Volume 23; and Voices 20 Anniversary: The Journal of the Lake Winnipeg Writers’ Group (BK Publishing, 2016).

Anthologies to Read 2018 to post

Canadian and American anthologies and a literary journal from Philadelphia.

 In support of local writers in the Sarnia-Lambton area:

            Released in 2017:

Red Haws to Light the Field (Guernica Editions 2017) a poetry collection by the prolific and well-known Canadian poet James Deahl (See an earlier blog post here.); Book of Bob: Stories Remembered (Quinn Riley Press 2017), a memoir by Bob McCarthy (See an earlier blog post here); and Any Light With Do, a special edition poetry book by former Lambton College English and Literature instructor Pat Sheridan.

            Released prior to 2017:

 The Fabric of My Soul: Poems (Longbridge Books 2015) the first collection of poetry by the late Venera Fazio (See an earlier blog post here); Straight Lines (Penumbra Press 2003), a poetry collection by former Thunder Bay resident and new Sarnia resident Mary Frost; No Common Thread: The Selected Short Fiction of Norma West Linder (Hidden Brook Press 2013) by one of Sarnia’s finest writers (see an earlier blog post here); The Belles of Prosper Station (Friesen Press 2014) the first work of historical fantasy by Gloria Pearson-Vasey (See an earlier blog post here); 1300 Moons (Trafford Publishing 2011) a historical fiction novel by Aamjiwwnaang First Nation writer David D Plain (See an earlier blog post here); and Live From the Underground (Mansfield Press 2015) a novel by Corinne Wasilewski.

Local Books 2018 to post

New and not so new books written by Sarnia-Lambton writers.

 Manitoba based or influenced:

Dadolescence (Turnstone Press 2011) a witty novel by Winnipeg author and journalist Bob Armstrong; Arctic Comics (Renegade Arts Canmore Ltd. 2016) a collection of graphic tales of myth written and drawn by Inuit and Northern Canadian storytellers and artists with a special shout out to Manitoba artist Nicholas Burns; If There Were Roads: Poems (Turnstone Press 2017) a Winnipeg published collection by award-winning Whitehorse resident and poet Joanna Lilley (See an earlier blog post here.); and Magpie Days (Turnstone Press 2014) the debut poetry collection by Winnipeg writer Brenda Sciberras, winner of the Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for Best First Book.

From British Columbia:

What the Soul Doesn’t Want (Freehand Books 2017), the newest collection by the award-winning Swift Current born, Vancouver Island poet Lorna Crozier; After All the Scissor Work Is Done (Leaf Press 2016), a collection of poems by Nanoose Bay poet David Fraser, the founder and editor of Ascent Aspirations Magazine; The Spirit of the Thing and the Thing Itself (Ekstasis Editions 2015), the 12th book by D.C. Reid, past president of The League of Canadian Poets; and return to open water: Poems New & Selected (Ronsdale Press 2007) featuring the best work gleamed from 10 poetry collections by mentor and editor Harold Rhenisch who recently had his poem shortlisted for the 2017 CBC Poetry Prize.

Canadian West Coast Books to Read 2018 to post

From western Canada.

So that’s my 35-book reading challenge for my next ‘Staycation’ escape. If I missed mentioning your book, it may appear in a new list. Additional recommendations, book reviews, and reading lists appear on my Goodreads page.

What are you doing to cope with the cold?

Can you hear the celebratory music in the background? Sleigh bells ring…and I’m drifting….drifting asleep in the snow, reliving my youth, bundled in a snowmobile suit with a brightly knit scarf wrapped around my face. The horses’ hooves clip-clop along the snow-dusted trails as their powerful muscles pulls the sleigh through a wooded area. A child’s laughter appears like cloud puffs in the frosty air. I laugh too but I can’t help noticing how the leather blinders on the bridle keep the horses un-spooked and focused forward.

Tonight, as the melted snow ices in preparation for another snowfall, I shut my eyes and I become that grey mare clip-clopping down the trail. The jingle of silver bells lulls me to sleep as visions of #CanLit books swirl like snowflakes in my head.

*From the unpublished poem “Lost in Reality TV Snow” from the manuscript Ash Leaves. Used with permission from the author © Debbie Okun Hill 2018

Writing and Reading Poetry is like Test Driving a Car

Yesterday, today, tomorrow…

Autumn Leaves October 2017

Words fall like autumn leaves. In my backyard, ash saplings fight to survive. Listening to their young voices has inspired me. After a two-year dormancy, my ash tree-themed manuscript has been dusted off and is currently being updated with encouragement from a new mentor.

This autumn, I learned something valuable about writing. If you don’t like where you’re going, just get out of the car and start walking in a different direction. It’s as simple as that or is it?

For about a year (maybe longer), I’ve been sitting idle, spinning my wheels and wondering how to get out of this ‘hanging on the literary fence’ rut. I could blame it on my husband who retired almost three years ago. He and the barking-just-found-his-voice elderly dog (with a cone around his head) were quite the distraction. I missed those long hours of quiet time at my computer. However, I also went through the getting old, feeling empty-nested, and craving  a change in my scenery-humdrum blues. I knew I loved writing but…it had become a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week job! I needed a change.

Chalk Dust Clouds by Debbie Okun Hill - Books arrive September 29, 2017

Sometimes a person strolls in one direction and life throws some chalk to do a rewrite. This happened to me. My manuscript Chalk Dust Clouds (rejected and rewritten several times under different titles) won first prize in The Ontario Poetry Society’s 2017 Golden Grassroots Poetry Chapbook Award. Stop by my half-booth at London’s Souwesto Book Expo, Saturday, November 4 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Museum London.

My husband (in his wisdom) dropped a book (Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and David Evans) on my desk and said “Read this”. I don’t always listen to my husband’s advice but he caught me at a weak moment and he was right. It was an excellent book. Through one of the exercises, I learned that I spend the majority of my time working while my husband spends much of his retirement playing. Both of us needed more balance. What a great idea! All I needed was to dump some of my work onto him and then go do something fun. This wasn’t the reaction he was hoping for. (Of course, I’m teasing.)

October 25, 2017 in Windsor

Back on tour with two new chapbooks. If you’re in or near the Windsor area, stop by and say hello at this October 25, 2017 event. Special thanks to Vanessa Shields for organizing this special evening and to The League of Canadian Poets for its sponsorship.

Then I discovered a section about keeping a diary and recording what you liked and didn’t like to do and how you could brainstorm to create new ways to do more of the things that made your waking hours more enjoyable. In one chapter, the authors talked about the bench test and how the best advice was that you shouldn’t listen to anyone else’s advice but just try different things until you found something that felt right for YOU. If you couldn’t find what you were looking for then it was suggested that you just create it or at least move forward and engage in some meaningful activity while you continued to look. A few of my friends tried that, without even reading the exercises in the book.

November 11, 2017 event in Sarnia with correct spelling

Thank you to Big Pond Rumours Press for recognizing my love for art in this ekphrasic-themed chapbook Drawing from Experience to be officially launched Saturday, November 11, 2017 at the Coffee Lodge in Sarnia. Stop by to hear Ryan and Anne and bring something to read. Everyone is welcome to share.

For example, one out-of-town author moved out of the big city to take up residence in a smaller community. She’s now concentrating on the novel she’s always wanted to write. Another writer took a break from writing to socialize more. She joined a literary board and spent the summer and most of the fall in a small resort area. She loved being with people and having that time away from her normal routine. Another friend decided to teach and is still testing the waters as they say. All three writers took a test drive to see what they liked and didn’t like. As the book states and I paraphrase, “there are no mistakes, just lessons learned.”

Lummox6Cover-240x300

For the first time ever, LUMMOX Press, a California-based press will be publishing an all-Canadian anthology for 2018. Several Canadian poets have already been in previous issues. Check out the Canadian launches of LUMMOX Number Six on November 1 in Hamilton and on November 18 in Sarnia.  A Toronto launch is being planned for April 2018.

In my opinion, reading and writing poetry works on a similar premise. I’ve often said, “if you don’t like poetry, you haven’t read the right poem or met the right poet yet.” Writers, even within the same genre, can differ in style and content. The same works for writing poetry. Some forms and topics will interest you more than others. Find what works for you and run with it.

The same goes for selecting a literary magazine or a publisher to submit to. Also, try different critique groups, attend different open mics, and research different agents and editors to see who might be the right fit for you and your projects. In early 2012, my literary mentor passed away. After five years of searching, I may have found a replacement. Time will tell. You can even test drive your poems to see which version feels right to you.

For those who are interested in attending or trying out a few different literary events, check out the 2017 event schedule on my blog. I try to update it at least once a week. If I seem rather quiet, am skipping regular critique groups and/or am not blogging or writing as much poetry, it’s because I’m still cruising the landscape, pausing on a bench to reflect, and/or seeking balance in the noisy world in which I live.

Have a great week!

P.S. Mark your calendars for two more special literary events:

November 19, 2017 in Sarnia

For the first time, The Ontario Poetry Society will travel to St. Catharines for several mini-spotlight launches, a members’ reading and an open mic for non-members on November 12, 2017. Everyone is welcome.

A shout-out to Sarnia’s historical fiction writer Bob McCarthy who took a detour from his normal fare to focus on writing an amusing memoir about his life. The Book of Bob will be launched Sunday, November 19, 2017 at the Book Keeper.

Additional information about times and locations are listed on the event page of my blog. Once you’re on the page, just scroll down to the right date.

Coming soon…that blog feature and Q & A with Lambton County musician Gregger Botting  and a Q & A with London poet Penn Kemp with a belated book review of her latest poetry collection from Quattro Books.

Behind the Scenes with Writer Ryan Gibbs

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

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

Ryan Gibbs Profile Photo

Canadian writer Ryan Gibbs Photo by Lois Nantais

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

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

2010-10-29-4

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

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

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

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

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

2011-03-25-1

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

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

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

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

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

 The mystery has been solved.

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

August 24, 2017 in London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan Gibbs Musee Rodin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What writing projects are you working on now?

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

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

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

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

Ryan Gibbs - Samples of published work

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

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

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

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

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