Tag Archives: writing

‘Tis the Season for Books – A Potpourri of Literary News

“the snow is solitary/but not silent/there is the piercing /of the white-stained green” – David Stones*

Writing and reading may be solitary pursuits but like the snow mentioned in David Stones’ poetic lines above, Canada’s vast literary community is not silent. It is a flurry of words, sometimes a blizzard of voices supported by a potpourri of literary activities and events.

Below is a small scoop of national, regional, or local voices, plus books, projects, and events vying for your attention. May you open your heart this season and welcome the gift of creativity. Several of the local events are free. Many of these books are available for reading from the library.

FOR THE READERS:

NEW ON MY SHELF (in alphabetical order, according to author):

Conditions of Desire (Hidden Brook Press, 2018) by John Di Leonardo. This imprint of the John B. Lee Signature Series is a 74-page debut collection of ekphrastic poems as well as six drawings by Brooklin artist/poet John Di Leonardo. Di Leonardo was recently accepted as a full-member of The League of Canadian Poets and will be the editor/compiler/illustrator for Dancing on Stones, the 2019 membership anthology for The Ontario Poetry Society. More information about this submission call is available here. Watch for a Q and A feature in early 2019.

New Books on my Shelf Autumn 2018

New books on my shelf.

Out of Line: Daring to be an Artist Outside the Big City (Wolsak and Wynn, 2018) by Tanis MacDonald. What can I say? This book of essays collected no dust on my shelf. It spoke to me immediately and I highly recommend it to my rural (and urban) writing friends. As a former Manitoba resident, I recognized some of the issues MacDonald expressed. As a current writer in rural Ontario, I also found her words inspiring. “Remember that creating art is a Long Game; it will take your whole life to grow into the artist that you are.” (p. 61)

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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