Tag Archives: writing

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Standing Ovation for Diana Koch’s “Prime Time Stories”

He couldn’t remember growing old. It hit him like a freak thunderstorm on a sunny afternoon– Diana Koch*

 Local author Diana Koch’s work appears flawless. The only wrinkles in Prime Time Stories, her debut short story collection, are found on the faces and hands of her characters. Almost all of her protagonists are older, coping with various challenges in the later stages of their lives. The suspense (what they ‘do or don’t do’) propels the reader to turn the page in rapid succession.

Prime Time Stories Cover

“Prime Time Stories” (Greenstone Press, 2016) by Diana Koch is “a collection of 24 stories about men and women whose lives have been influenced by secrets, betrayals, regrets, illness, and even death”.  Cover image by the author.

Meet Mary, the woman who was now as withered as a forgotten summer apple that had rolled unnoticed under a storage bin. Sneak into Ivan Leeson’s barn as this widower/farmer touches the sinewy roughness of a rope as he contemplates suicide.

Will Mrs. M., a retirement home resident, lonely and confined to a wheelchair, be scammed by one of her visitors? What will become of Taylor Montgomery, a rich woman who steals trivial items to cope with her husband’s affairs? As Koch writes, Youth, in a slow trickle, is seeping out of her.

This focus on ageing (in its various forms) is like the yolk and egg whites that hold the nourishing bread of her book together. Consider it a loaf of 24 stories sliced and packaged with crusted secrets, yeast-bubbled humour, heart-warming sugar, flour-coated hauntings, unexpected crumbs, and cinnamon-twisted endings.

Like a baker or pastry chef, Koch slips in special ingredients to enhance the flavour of her work. Most notable is her use of the five senses such as scent: the captivating fragrance of “Promise Me” wafting around her like an exotic butterfly, the sweet smell of wood shavings and sound: the slamming of screen doors…his heavy steps on the stairs…water running in the bathroom…the ring of a telephone… the clanging of cutlery….

With a dinner-knife-sharpened imagination, she spreads her thoughts out like butter. The rhythm and flow of her words are silky-smooth and her sunny-yellow disposition slips between the sandwiched narrative and dialogue of her short stories.

Diana Koch Author Photo by Klaus Koch

Local author Diana Koch says writing fiction became a serious past-time after she retired. Photo by Klaus Koch.

There’s a caring motherly-maturity in her literary voice and yet, her intelligence fueled by her long career in the educational field adds a layer of depth to her writing. Don’t let her mild demeanor fool you. Some of her fictional material is more sinister than her settings let on.

Her characters are easily recognizable with just enough quirkiness to make them interesting. One of my favourite descriptions is from the story “Albino” where she writes, He stomped through the mire of daily living with bricks in his shoes, and a neon sign on his head that challenged people to gawk at him as if he were an invasive species.

Another strong description appears in “Assassin of Dream” where it was her unusual eyes that made people turn and stare at her. One was the brilliant blue of a summer sky, the other as brown as a chestnut.

Koch insists her stories are just average tales not worthy of notoriety. Those who are familiar with her work would disagree. Her fictional narratives are too strong to sit in a drawer.

The first time she shared her work aloud at a local writers’ workshop, I was mesmerized. The first time she submitted a story to a contest, it won first prize in the Ten Stories High Annual Short Story Competition organized by the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association.

When she officially released Prime Time Stories last November 27, 2016 at The Book Keeper in Sarnia, her family and friends applauded loudly.

Diana Koch Author Prime Time Stories Book Launch at The Book Keeper November 27, 2016 Photo by Klaus Koch

“Prime Time Stories” by Diana Koch was officially launched last November at The Book Keeper in Sarnia. Photo by Klaus Koch.

This summer, I asked Diana to share her thoughts about her writing process. Below are her responses:

Congratulations Diana on your debut collection of short stories! In a sentence or two, describe the theme or thread that binds your stories together. What inspired you to focus on characters in the ‘prime time’ of their lives?

 Prime Time Stories introduces the reader to people who are faced with an emotional crisis that must be dealt with in order for them to move on with their lives. The characters in these stories are from diverse walks of life, but all have dilemmas that cause them distress. Prime Time provides the reader an intimate view of people who have already travelled through the spring and summer of their lives and must somehow find their way toward a satisfying future. (Spoiler alert – some are successful, others not.)

People are fascinating at all stages of life, but they become more interesting as they grow older. Over the years, we have many experiences and interactions with our fellow humans, some positive, others that bring discontent or even heart-break. We make choices that determine our destiny. On some occasions, Fate plays a role. Lives become more complex when there are secrets, betrayals, regrets. (Provocative recipe ingredients for stories!) In the end, we all search for happiness, or at the very least, a degree of contentment or peace of mind.

Which of your stories in this book is your most favourite and why is it important to you?

Although all the people in Prime Time are fictitious, I have come to know them well. Ivan Leeson in the story “When the Dog Barksis a favourite. I grew up on a farm and understand the pride and attachment that farm people have to their land. As people age, they are often forced to give up a way of life that sustained them economically and emotionally. Ivan Leeson finds himself in this unfortunate situation. Although he had hoped for a different ending to his life, ultimately, he faces his future with the courage of his pioneer ancestors. Ivan Leeson reminds me of my Dad.

Your story “Rats is the Cellar” won first place in the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Author Association’s Ten Stories High Annual Short Story Competition. I recall it was the first story you ever submitted to a contest and it won the top prize. How did it feel to receive this honour? Is it important for writers to enter their work into contests or to submit their work to literary journals or consumer magazines? Why or why not?

To say I was surprised to learn that “Rats in the Cellar” had been selected as top prize is an understatement. If you recall, I submitted the story at your suggestion. I had no ambition at that point to have any of my writing published. It was thrilling to see my work in print in the anthology Ten Stories High. The experience encouraged me to keep writing and helped me overcome the shyness of sharing my work with others. I believe that my writing has improved and matured because I gained confidence to have my work critiqued and considered for publication.

Many of your stories have a twist at the end. Where do you find the ideas for your stories?

People intrigue me. I like to watch them and have conversations.

Sometimes, a few words strike me as significant. That was the case when a friend, who volunteers at a retirement home told me about a resident who “sits and waits for visitors who never show up.” It inspired the story “Waiting for Rhonda”.

A few years ago while in Toronto, I observed an attractive, exquisitely dressed and groomed woman in a coffee shop. She was sitting alone, clutching her handbag and staring into space. Her sombre expression suggested that all was not well in her life. She became the protagonist in “Taylor Montgomery Plays Chicken”.

Newspaper articles can also be an inspiration for stories. I once read about a man who had spent considerable time and money building his own coffin. Why would someone do that? My musing resulted in “Magnum Opus”. 

Other times, I imagine what it would be like to lead a totally different life from my own. How would I feel? What would I do? How resilient would I be? “The Sewing Circle” is such a story.

The twist at the end of my stories? Isn’t life like that? We think we have a plan, a certain path we wish to follow, a goal in sight – then something unexpected happens and everything changes.

Diana Koch Author Walking the Beach Photo by Klaus Koch

Walking down the beach is one of Diana Koch’s go-to places to get her creative juices flowing. Photo by Klaus Koch.

You had a long and successful career in the educational field. When did you decide that you wanted to write on a more regular basis?

I have always enjoyed putting thoughts on paper. I took pleasure in letter writing when that was in vogue. From the time I was a child, I fabricated stories – not always with the blessing of my Mom! Writing fiction became a serious past-time after I retired. I find the process of creative thinking satisfying and relaxing.

Describe your writing process.

Almost always, the process begins with a main character. It’s important that the character has a name. From that point, physical attributes and personality develop. It often takes weeks, months, sometimes years before I truly know that character. Only then can I build a story. It happens in my head before I can write it.

I am a methodical writer. I need time to let a story develop and grow. However, once it is written, I seldom change either the character or the plot. I do many revisions to mechanics such as sentence structure and vocabulary, but the story remains the same because it is character driven.

What are you currently working on?

I’m still writing short stories. I like the variety and the neatness of completing a project in just a few pages and then moving on to something new. My writing style tends to be succinct and lends itself to the short story format.

I have one completed novel. It is a coming of age story that takes place in Germany during WWII. For years, the characters and story rattled around in my head until I finally succumbed to the irritating mental prod to write it.

Currently, I am also working on a second novel about a modern-day woman who is the reincarnation of a historical figure from the 19th century – basically a story within a story. At the moment, it’s causing me some grief. One of the characters is not cooperating. I will have to give her some one on one attention.

Diana Koch Author with her favourite book Photo by Klaus Koch

“Wuthering Heights” has been on Koch’s book shelf for over half a century. She purchased it for $1.05 while she was a student at the University of Western Ontario. She says, “it’s timeless. A book for all seasons.” Photo by Klaus Koch.

What are your future plans? 

I’m happy to continue writing at my own pace, with abundant time to think things through. Aside from completing the novel, I hope to revisit a collection of short stories called Loss of Innocence that I wrote several years ago.

Your work is so strong and yet you decided to self-publish your collection versus submit your work to a trade publisher. Would you follow this path for your next book? Why or what not?

My decision to self-publish Prime Time was an easy one for a number of reasons.

After doing some research, I discovered that books of short stories are not popular with publishers. I also wanted to experience the publishing process myself. I enjoyed the creative aspects of designing the actual book – format, font, and cover.  My writer friend Bob McCarthy was a great mentor in the process.

By self-publishing, I was able to get a sense of how readers respond to my writing. It has been a positive experience beyond my expectations.

Seeking a suitable agent and publisher is a time consuming task. So much more than writing is expected of authors. I’m still not certain that I have the talent or the resilience to deal with agents and publishers.

It gives me pleasure to write. My reward comes from readers who enjoy reading my work. With that in mind, I will have to make a decision regarding my completed novel, The Button Girl.

Thanks Diana. Over the years, you’ve shared several draft chapters of your books with various local and out-of-town writers’ groups. I can’t wait to see more of your work in print. I wish you continued success with your writing. Please keep in touch.

Diana Koch was born in the Netherlands. She arrived in Canada as a young child with her parents and younger sister. Raised on a farm, she developed a love for the outdoors and spent many hours reading in the apple orchard or daydreaming in the meadow. Her collection of stories Loss of Innocence (as yet unpublished) relates the experiences of an immigrant child growing up in rural Ontario.    

After graduating from the University of Western Ontario, she taught French and German at the secondary level, and a variety of subjects in elementary schools. She obtained a Masters degree in education and enjoyed the years in her leadership role as Principal.

Since retirement, she has spent many enjoyable hours reading and writing. Some of her work has been published in chapbooks and anthologies. Prime Time is her first published book.

A review of Koch’s debut book appears on Sharon Berg’s blog and on the Lambton Shield website.

Additional information about Prime Time can be found on The Book Keeper website.

*from the short story “When the Dog Barks” published in the book Prime Time Stories (Greenstone Press, 2016) page 50. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright © Diana Koch, 2016 
PLEASE NOTE: Several other quotes from Prime Time have been reprinted with the author’s permission. They appear in italics within the body of the blog post.

Watch this blog for additional Canadian Author and Poet Profiles.                        

Three Ontario Publishers Offer Advice Spiked with Harsh Reality

“Publishers want champions…books that they love.” –Dan Wells, Biblioasis

Forget the magic wand and lucky charms! There’s no secret shortcut for a wannabe author or poet seeking a book deal from a traditional publisher. If you want your manuscript published in Canada, you’ll need to work hard and have patience, lots of patience. That’s the consensus from three Ontario publishers during a “Getting Published in Canada” panel discussion held last week (July 20, 2017) at Biblioasis, an award-winning independent publishing house and bookstore in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

Summer Reading Bookshelf July 28, 2017

We all have our favourite books! Check your home library to see who had published the earlier work of your favourite writers. If you write in a similar style, that independent publisher is worth investigating.

Panel members Dan Wells (Biblioasis publisher), Aimee Dunn (publisher, Windsor’s Palimpsest Press), and Paul Vermeersch of Buckrider Books (an imprint of Hamilton publisher Wolsak and Wynn) held the ‘standing room only’ crowd captive. Each shared his or her view about the publishing industry and answered questions from individuals in the audience.

Moderator Jael Richardson, a published author and the Artistic Director for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD), ensured the evening moved along at a steady pace.

For those who missed this hour and a half ‘free to the public’ presentation, below are some of the highlights:

CONCENTRATE ON CREATING A STRONG MANUSCRIPT

“Don’t think about publishing until the writing is ready,” emphasized Vermeersch. “Be a writer first. Picture yourself with all your love & passion for words plus focus on what you feel is important…never submit a book that is still rough around the edges.”

Biblioasis - Patricia Young - July 28, 2017

Award-winning poet Patricia Young had fiction and poetry published by Biblioasis.

One of the ways to polish a book and to ensure the manuscript is ready for submission is to find people who will give honest feedback that is both useful and constructive. A writer can also take classes, join a writing circle or find a mentor. This should be done before the work is submitted.

RESEARCH ALL THE PUBLISHERS

Dunn stated that once the writing is complete, the real work begins. For example, before submitting any work, writers should do their homework. Research is important. “Check the websites of the publishers to determine what they publish, what their submission guidelines are, and when their deadlines are.”

For example, Palimpsest Press and Wolsak and Wynn only accept queries between January 1 and March 31. Dunn is surprised by how many authors ignore that rule. It’s an automatic rejection.

“Know who you are submitting to,” added Wells. “All the presses are different…so get to know the press.” Even editors amongst the same press have different opinions and interests.

“Read some of the publisher’s books,” said Dunn. If you feel your book is the right fit, then prepare your submission. For Palimpsest Press, she said it’s important to query first. “If we don’t like your work, we will e-mail right away, sometimes within a day or two. If we ask to see a manuscript, our response could take months.”

Palimpsest Press July 28 2017

According to its website, Palimpsest Press “publishes poetry, fiction, and select nonfiction titles that deal with poetics, the writing life, aesthetics, cultural criticism, and literary biography”.

Most presses will respond in six months (sometimes longer) but it’s best to check the publisher’s guidelines. If you don’t hear from the press in a reasonable amount of time, check to make sure the query or manuscript was received.

“Sometimes submissions get lost,” said a member from the audience. “It happened to me and shortly after the manuscript was found, I received an acceptance.”

As for multiple-submissions, Vermeersch said “most publishers don’t mind…but make sure you withdraw your manuscript if it is accepted by someone else.”

BE PATIENT AND LEARN HOW TO DEAL WITH REJECTION

“If you get a rejection don’t take it personal,” advised Dunn. “It may be the wrong press or the wrong editor.”

According to Wells, Biblioasis wants books that they love. They often receive 400, 500, 600 submissions a year. However, the editors at Biblioasis also read literary magazines and keep their eyes on the literary scene to solicit work not only from established authors but those who are deemed up-and-comers. The majority of their 25 to 35 titles per year total are selected this way. Your chance for acceptance by a trade publisher improves if you have a strong publishing record with numerous credits in prestigious journals. Winning a major literary award is an added bonus.

The harsh reality is that the number of manuscripts accepted is a small fraction of all the submissions received.

Vermeersch revealed that Wolsak and Wynn may receive 300 to 400 submissions a year. “I can only accept a few.” He usually selects 8 books (2 poetry manuscripts and 2 fiction manuscripts per season) for his imprint and another 8 to 10 books are selected by the main press for an annual total of approximately 18 books.

Wolsak and Wynn July 28, 2017

At one time Wolsak and Wynn Publishers Ltd. was based in Don Mills, Ontario. Today its website states “they are a quirky literary press based in the heart of Hamilton, Ontario”.

Dunn has been the publisher of Palimpstet Press for only three years. Each year, the press has worked hard to increase the number of works published. In 2017, they will publish 7 books and in 2018, 8 books have been scheduled for release.

“If your manuscript is rejected,” said Vermeersch, “put it in a drawer and start something else or send the work elsewhere.”

Successful writers keep moving one step at a time.

BE AWARE OF SCAMS AND VANITY PRESSES

Some authors are impatient and opt to self-publish or work with a vanity press. Caution is advised.

“Many vanity presses charge for printing and marketing,” said Vermeersch. “Traditional publishers don’t…..why pay for someone to publish your manuscript when a traditional publisher will actually pay you an advance with the possibility of additional royalties?”

Dunn said there is one small exception. “The only time a traditional publisher asks for money is when the author wants to buy extra books to sell.”

THE WAIT FOR A TRADITIONAL PUBLISHER IS WORTH IT

Many authors aren’t aware of the benefits of working with a traditional publisher.

Wells explained that “our investment in a book is $20,000 to $30,000 per title.”

“If you want an advance and a professional experience (for free),” said Vermeersch, “then the traditional publisher is the way to go.”

The cons of self-publishing are numerous.

According to Dunn, unless you pay for it, you won’t have a collective who can market and put the book into international, national and big-chain bookstores and libraries. Also, self-published books cannot qualify for awards, the author cannot apply for writing, travel and reading grants, and in many cases it becomes difficult to obtain professional status as a writer.

Moderator Richardson added that “literary festivals won’t allow self-published authors to read because the quality of self-published books is inconsistent and there are already enough traditionally published authors who are willing to share their work.”

READ AND UNDERSTAND THE CONTRACT

Once your work is finally accepted for publication, “make sure you read the contract,” said Vermeersch. “There should be no surprises….Working with a press is both a business and a creative relationship.”

Understand what an advance is. These payments are given to an author in anticipation of projected sales. The author gets to keep the payments but won’t receive any more royalties until he/she works through his/her advance. According to Vermeersch, poets will usually receive a $500 advance while a novelist will receive about $2,000. This can vary with the number of copies printed or the reputation of the author.

Dunn said “the normal print run for a literary trade publication is 500 copies.”

Biblioasis Books July 28, 2017

Biblioasis publishes “short fiction, novels, poetry, literary criticism, memoir, belle lettres, local and regional history, and general non-fiction.”

Wells added that Biblioasis “contracts are pretty fair or more fair than the Writers’ Union of Canada…Everything can be negotiated.” For those who want help, he suggests contacting the Writers’ Union.  As for agents, he said “in the 14 years that we’ve published books, we’ve only published one book with an agent…I wouldn’t worry about an agent in Canada.”

BE PREPARED FOR MORE WORK & ADDITIONAL PERIODS OF WAITING

It usually takes approximately two years from the time the contract is signed to the time the book is released.

“It’s at least a two-year process,” said Dunn. “The (release) deadline is often tentative and sometimes an author can get bumped.”

According to Vermeersch, the author is usually given one year to fix general edits, then another six months to work on more specific line edits. The last six months focuses on copy editing, design, and marketing.

“While the editor is working,” said Dunn, “the publisher is working on marketing. Lots of authors don’t realize that when your book is released, the publisher is already working on books that will be launched two years down the road.”

Wells explained it takes nine months to promote a book properly in other countries like the United States. It’s important to get advance copies and the word out early, long before the book is released. “In Canada, the buzz in conversation needs to happen at least six months before the book is launched.” Once released, the shelf life of a new book is also about six months. After that, the next season of books will be released. Therefore, those first few months of sales are important.

A FEW COMMENTS ON DIVERSITY

More Canadian publishers are seeking ways to diversify their title offerings. All three publishers stressed their need for more submissions.

“My male slush pile is high,” said Vermeersch. “We all want to tell all kinds of stories but we don’t always get the diverse submissions.”

“We get lots of female and white submissions,” said Dunn. “So we have to ask for more diversity. Geographically, we are good.”

ONE FINAL NOTE ABOUT MARKETING

“If you are not a salesperson,” said Dunn, “then you need to learn to take chances.”

As Vermeersch stated earlier, “Working with a press is both a business and a creative relationship”.

Publishers and writers must help each other. Gone are the days when publishers handle all the promotion on their own.

Paul Vermeersch books July 28, 2017

Paul Vermeersch is multi-talented. In addition to his editing work at Wolsak and Wynn, he is an established poet with work published by McLelland & Stewart.

“The Getting Published In Canada” event in Windsor was presented by the Ontario Book Publishers Organization and the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD). It was generously sponsored by the Ontario Media Development Corporation.

A similar event was held in Sudbury in June with Heather Campbell of Sudbury publisher Latitude 46; Christie Harkin of Clockwise Press; and Jennifer Knoch of ECW Press.

The next panel discussion will be held on Thursday, August 24, 2017 with publishers Renee K. Abram of Kegedonce Press; Naseem Hrab of Kids Can Press; and Hazel Millar of BookThug at the Six Nations Public Library, 1679 Chiefswood Road, Ohsweken, Ontario. Admission is free. Refreshments provided.

A partial listing of future Ontario literary events appears here.

Follow this blog for future posts about literary happenings and author profiles. Coming soon, a Q & A with Sarnia musician/songwriter Gregger Botting and his debut CD release as well as a look at a new collection of short stories by Sarnia writer Diana Koch.

Filling Your Heart with Love Poems

“All You Need Is Love,” wrote John Lennon. The lyrics to this 1967 Beatles single holds me captive and warms my mood like a lit fireplace on a snowy evening.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if love could soften some of the hatred in this world? Call me an optimist! I’d sooner be hypnotized by cupid’s arrow than lambasted by hurtful words. Are you feeling drained by all the negative news? I know I am.

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Mark your calendars for this special Red Valentine event in Chatham, Ontario.

In just eight days (Saturday, February 11), the Thames Art Gallery presents “All Four Love”, a special Red Valentine themed event featuring Black Moss Press* poets Cornelia Hoogland, Vanessa Shields, Kara Ghobhainn Smith, and Debbie Okun Hill (that’s me) plus special musical guest celebrity sing-songwriter Crissi Cochrane. If you’ve never heard Crissi perform, here’s your chance. She has a beautiful voice.

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If the idea of poetry frightens you, attend anyway. I dare you. We all have different styles and voices to reach a wide audience. Expect your heart to be filled with poetic words from the sentimental to the sexy to the humourous.

For example:

“What’s your hurry? Don’t be such a schoolgirl.” – from the poem “Red Meets the Wolf in the Woods” by Cornelia Hoogland.

“These days I choose sleep over sex/Fiction over poetry/Movies over dancing” – from the poem “Where Is the Love?” By Vanessa Shields.

“She thought he was/boring, arrogant/even full of it/but he showed her” – from the poem “The night the music ended” by Kara Ghobhainn Smith.

“Remember when…/I first kissed you,” –from the poem “Gentle Devotion” by Debbie Okun Hill

Yes poetry CAN be entertaining! For additional information and performers’ bios, stop by the Thames Art Gallery website. Crissi also has a website.

Will there be food? Of course!

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A seven-course fully red tapas menu by William Street Café is included. Expect gazpacho shooters, beet hummus with vegi chips, red pepper bruschetta, phyllo cups with goat cheese pomegranate syrup & pistachios, cranberry glazed chicken wings, tortellini in tomato sauce, and mascarpone tart with raspberries.

Mmmmmm….is your mouth watering yet?

What are you waiting for? Forget your troubles. Bring a date, a friend, a group of friends. Wear something red. And yes, tickets are available here.

Still not convinced!

Below is a short section from my longer poem “Taped Together”.**

  1. iv) Two-sided Tape

They say there are two sides

To a coin, to a story

Sometimes two sides to love

His and her sides of a bed

Two sides to an argument

And two sides to mend.

Love, love, love! May love heal our world, today, tomorrow, and always. Hope to see you in Chatham at the Thames Art Gallery/Chatham Cultural Centre.

Can’t attend? Perhaps you’d prefer to share your own love poems. Check my Ontario 2017 event page for additional love themed readings and open mics such as the Poetry and Roses reading in London on February 9, The Ontario Poetry Society’s The Love of Poetry Gathering in Toronto on February 12, and/or the Art Bar’s Cupid Wins & Wounds All Open Mic Night in Toronto on February 14.

Happy Valentine’s Month Everyone!!!

*Additional information about Black Moss Press can be found on this website.
**The poem ‘Taped Together’ received an Honourable Mention Award from The Ontario Poetry Society’s (TOPS) The Open Heart 10 poetry competition 2015 and was first published in Open Heart 10: An Anthology of Canadian Poetry, Beret Days Press, 2016. Copyright © Debbie Okun Hill

Canadian Poet Allan Briesmaster Heightens Form in ‘River Neither’

“Or might I front, down steeper paths of thought,/some earthly light that verges on divine.” – Allan Briesmaster* 

The image of French sculptor Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker pops into my mind while reading Canadian poet Allan Briesmaster’s book River Neither.

Perhaps it is the way Briesmaster uses a more classical yet varied form of metre and rhyme that pulls me into the 19th Century or maybe it’s his concentration on nature, deep reflection, and abstract reasoning that challenges me and provokes additional study.

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Canadian poet Allan Briesmaster is inspired by music, visual art, poetry and other writing from all historical periods and world literature, natural phenomena, and people who are close to him. Photo by Peter Rowe used with permission.

In his author’s notes, he states, “It is my cautious hope that, at a time when the creation, production and reading of poetry tends to be increasingly fragmented and over-specialized, and when in some quarters traditional form is deemed archaic or obsolete, a few discerning readers will set preconceptions aside and simply enjoy the journey along River Neither – one that will lead them to discoveries of their own.”

For me, the serendipitous moment arrives when I discover that Rodin originally called his famous sculpture, The Poet. It was also speculated that Rodin’s work was inspired by Dante Alighieri and his literary masterpiece The Divine Comedy, which outlines “a soul’s journey towards God or some spiritual realm.”

Similar to Dante’s complex quest, Briesmaster’s poetry dares the reader to slow down, pause, re-read passages, and reflect. I find it necessary to not only embrace the poem’s layered meaning but to examine the structure and other poetic elements that make the work strong.

I also love how Briesmaster takes me down a path and then when I get lost, his use of language challenges me to get up and seek the philosopher’s stone. It reminds me of hiking through a dense forest and how each trip reveals additional details and insights to reward the patient traveller.

This exploratory and poetic journey is the metaphorical river that follows through the collection.

For example, his 90-page book published by Aeolus House in 2015 begins with “Absence From An Eden”, a 14 poem section that drifts from paradise to a state of yearning, transitions, and uncertain familial relationships.

In the section “Greenrise”, nature takes the stage with seasonal spring and summer accounts such as “draw an inch more of green scent down your lungs./Maybe now see the tree-branch’s rungs/on an ascent that isn’t any steeper.”

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Allan Briesmaster’s newest book ‘River Neither’ (Aeolus House, 2015) is “a concentrated exploration of poetic form: traditional, modified, and invented”.

 

In the section “Onward Turnings” the journey continues through autumn and winter where reflections of ageing and death end with “Fine farewell glow, revert me to the dawn/of rapture at leaf-motion, on the fly,/tugging the heart afresh like that bird-wing/flashed from a bare branch in sun’s orange eye.”

The last section “Flight Home” is an inward reflection. In the poem “Age and Solitude”, Briesmaster makes reference to the Chinese poet Tu Fu and writes “A solitary gull is all I am,/borne off between earth and the heavens.”

In keeping with his philosophical viewpoint, he often asks questions, to challenge himself and the reader. For example, in his poem “A Sagittarian Tension”, he writes “Has he a compass-point by which to steer,/predefined mission, fore-cast destiny?” In his last poem “Not I” (a variation of a sonnet), he offers “Of its own will, I can become the vessel/bearing the fluent force that pours through me.”

Humble in his thoughts and actions, Briesmaster is a major force in the Canadian literary scene. He is the author of seven full-length books and eight chapbooks and shorter books. According to the League of Canadian Poets website: “In 1986-90 Allan led Phoenix, Toronto’s longest-running poetry workshop. He was one of the chief organizers of the weekly Art Bar Poetry Reading Series from 1991 until 2002: playing a central role as it grew into the largest series of its kind in Canada.”

Unfortunately, I missed his recent featured reading at the Art Bar series in Toronto. However, earlier in November, I asked him to share his thoughts about his new book and writing process. Below are his responses:

Your first collection of poetry was published in 1998. River Neither is your 7th full trade book. Describe this poetry collection in a few sentences and mention how it is similar to and different from your other books.

Yes, my first book of poetry, Weighted Light, came out some 18 years ago. Since then I’ve had six other full-length books and eight smaller ones published. River Neither differs from the previous books in consisting entirely of short poems, almost all in strict forms. Many are sonnets and variations on the sonnet, and the rest also use formal constraints like metre and rhyme. There were quite a few “formal” poems in the earlier books, coexisting with an equal or greater number in open forms.

In a sense, River Neither is a concentrated exploration of poetic form: traditional, modified, and invented. It is “about” form itself and what form can uniquely accomplish, while, of course, being about much else besides. The series of poems on my late parents is something new, as is the writing about the early and later stages of life’s journey in the first and last of the book’s four parts, though some of this was initiated in the book that preceded this one. The poems set outdoors that celebrate and reflect on nature, the seasons, and ecology have themes which will be familiar to readers of my other books.

In your author’s notes, you wrote, “form can actually serve to liberate and open up paths to new discoveries of all kinds.” When did you first start working with such formal principles as metre and rhyme and how difficult is it to focus on and market such traditional forms in a poetic community that appears to value more open and experimental work?

I have always enjoyed reading classic poems that had metre and rhyme. Formalist poetry was out of favour when I first began writing seriously, but I remained intrigued by it. There are quite a few formal poems in my first book. While I am well aware of literary fashions (and there has been a considerable revival of formalist poetry in some circles in the past 20 years), I don’t ever consciously fall in line with them. Although I want people to enjoy my writing style, and to understand and be moved by the content, I need to write in the ways that are given to me and that most deeply challenge and satisfy.

I do not actively “market” my books, partly because the audience for poetry is rather fragmented and diffuse, and also because I favour readings and occasional radio programs as the best way for people to discover my work. As well, I am a publisher and editor and much of my time is dedicated to helping promote the books with which I’m involved. Which is not to say that I don’t have any aspirations for my work to be more widely read, or that I don’t think it has lasting value.

In any case, I would insist that the poetry in River Neither is not merely traditional. It has an innovative dimension, and it aims to extend and refresh forms and formal principles that are by no means obsolescent but offer perennial possibilities. For instance, I have sonnets with 13 and 15 lines, and ones with four or six end-rhymes instead of the standard five or seven. It’s gratifying that, when I give readings, a wide range of listeners respond very favourably, even when their usual taste in poetry is for something different.

Many of your poems in this collection are philosophical, nature-based or relationship themed. There is often a depth, a richness of language and intrigue that forces the reader to either slow down and concentrate on the printed words or to re-read the work several times to grasp and appreciate both the structure and meaning. What do you feel is the role of poetry in today’s society?

Thank you for this very complimentary characterization of my writing. It is certainly important to me to create poems that make readers slow down and think. I’m convinced that much, if not all, of the poetry most worth reading – that is most fully rewarding and most durable – is itself a mode of thinking: one which invites and encourages reflection and cogitation on the reader’s part.

allan-briesmaster-author-photo-by-holly-briesmaster

Allan Briesmaster is a major force in the Canadian literary scene.

 

I believe that poetry’s social role can and should be much the same as it has always been, despite the encroachments on its old domain by the electronic media that tend to make it appear outmoded. That age-old role is multiple and manifold, and poetry’s protean nature is one of the most remarkable things about it. It means to be enjoyed, producing a certain, very special artistic pleasure, and at the same time it extends our emotional, intellectual and spiritual horizons. It does not necessarily do so comfortably and reassuringly, but works to deepen our understanding of who we are, whence we came, and in what directions we may be heading as individuals and as social beings. It had better not simply confirm our prejudices or preach to the converted. It should open eyes, minds and hearts to new perspectives and other avenues besides what we’re accustomed to. It should remind us of the delight and the power language holds for us if treated with artful care.

What inspires you and who are your mentors?

A list of all the sources of inspiration would be long. High on it would be music (classical, jazz, and contemporary in particular) and visual art, a mostly indirect but vital influence nonetheless. I don’t mean writing in response to specific artworks, although I have done some of that, but just being given hope and confidence that I could approach something equivalent in my own medium. Then I am challenged by and induced to respond to a very wide array of poetry and other writing from all historical periods and world literature, including some in translation. Natural phenomena I encounter near where I live in Thornhill and throughout Southern Ontario call to me for responses more compellingly than do domestic and urban scenes. People who are close to me or otherwise make a powerful impression also spur me to write, sometimes in response to their remarks, pointed or casual – more so than items in the news. I have constant concern about political and social justice issues, but have not yet found ways of writing about them to my satisfaction, though some of this awareness does inevitably seep into my work.

I never had what I would call a mentor. I suppose I got the equivalent of mentoring, when I was young, from reading literature for pleasure and from having closely studied the classics when I majored in English. I had some good teachers but they did not directly influence my early aspirations to write, which came straight out of what I was reading: the English Romantic poets, for instance. Later, my participation in poetry workshops was helpful in learning about “the craft,” but still there was no individual who took me under his or her wing.

Describe your writing process.

I produce poems in various ways. There is no predominant “method,” and I do not have a single place or regular time when I do my writing, though I spend at least a part of an hour on it almost every day, at home, on a park bench, in a café, even once in a while on the subway; and I devote much more time to revising than raw creating. A poem could arise through an abrupt recollection of an emotionally-charged experience; out of an on-the-spot observation (I always carry a notebook around); as a response to a text I have just read that excites or annoys me; or from an image, a phrase or even a rhythm that springs to mind spontaneously from no definite source. I might jot down a promising line or two and return to it later, or I might be able to persist and, within minutes, end up with a partial sketch or entire first draft. Only rarely is the poem finished when I reach the last line of the first version. The majority of poems need at least several drafts, with possibly a substantial rewrite or two, usually across a minimum of a few days, sometimes over a week or more. The first couple of drafts are hand-written, and revision almost always continues when I enter the text on my computer. Some poems take many weeks or even months before I feel ready to show them to anyone else.

There is no time when I do not have two or more poems under development in these ways. In the later stages, I often get useful feedback from friends and the writing groups I attend, which prompts me to do further fine-tuning and sometimes come up with still more revisions. Publication in a magazine or anthology does not necessarily mean a poem is finally finished either. And when I come to prepare a book, I call on multiple readers and/or an editor to advise me.

sample-of-books-by-allan-briesmaster

Briesmaster’s first book of poetry, ‘Weighted Light’ was launched 18 years ago. To date, he has seven full-length books  and eight smaller ones published. Above is a small sample of his work.

In addition to being a poet, you are one of two Executive Directors for Quattro Books and the publisher of the micro-press Aeolus House. You were also the main literary editor of Seraphim Editions and since 1998 you have assisted with the production of over 200 books. What advice would you give to a poet who is currently seeking publication of his/her first trade book?

No matter how far along a writer thinks the manuscript has come, it is highly desirable to seek the input of trusted friends or perhaps even hire a qualified editor, so that its chances of favourably impressing a publisher are maximized. In choosing which publishers to submit to, be sure that the kind of poetry you have is suited to their particular aesthetics, and, of course, check their submissions guidelines.

What are you currently working on?

I am in the early stages of what will become my next book of poetry. As always, I also have several book-editing and freelance-editing projects underway, amidst my ongoing responsibilities with Quattro Books.

What are your future plans?

I would like to do more traveling in future years than I’ve managed in the past. I’ll have time next year, after the two books of poetry I’m editing for Quattro are published in March.

Is there anything else you would like to add or share?

My writing may appear to some readers to be cerebral and constrained, but to me it is passionate as well. It comes out of a mixture of anxiety, rage, awe, and gratitude. Also of fundamental importance for my poetry is musicality (the sound, rhythm, and architecture of the words together with the pauses between them); a rootedness in physical being and the senses, not just the mind; having a basic element of play; that it wants to be enjoyed, not merely admired; and that it is a thoroughly social art, created in a spirit of generosity: with the hope that any extra effort and attention given back to it will be well rewarded, and that many poems will retain their freshness and their strangeness on successive readings, with no “best before” date attached.

Thanks Allan for the interview and for taking time from your busy schedule to answer my questions. I wish you continued success.

Additional information about Briesmaster appears on the “Members page” section of The Ontario Poetry Society and The League of Canadian Poets websites.

Information about his books can be found at Aeolus House, Hidden Brook Press, Seraphim Editions, and Quattro Books.

*from the sonnet “Octobering” published in the book River Neither (Aeolus House, 2015) page 56. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright © Allan Briesmaster 2015.

Watch this blog for additional Canadian Author and Poet Profiles.

Celebrating the Life of John Drage 1930 – 2015

“Remember me with humour,/The jokes I loved to tell and hear told,/The pranks that were played by me and on me.” John Drage*

He towered like a silo over a flattened toad poem. I can still hear his dry cough, the way he spun a tall tale or a comical verse with a straight face. He made so many people laugh.

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In Memory of the Late John Drage. He made so many people laugh.

Almost a year ago** (December 11, 2015), Sarnia-Lambton’s literary community gathered with his family and friends and embraced the fond memories of the late John Drage, a local storyteller /poet who often slipped jokes from his shirt sleeves and magically created laughter with his dry wit. If anyone had a “hole in his or her bucket”, he would try to fix it. He was not only handy with a hammer on the farm but also dandy with his words when he moved into the city.

“I was especially fortunate to have been able to hear many of the stories John told about his own past, about his own family, and his skills in the kitchen,” said historical fiction writer Bob McCarthy in his tribute to John at last year’s celebration of life. “As a local historian, I was able to learn about many of the early pioneers who farmed in Southeast Lambton, people John had known, folks who built so many of the small communities in places like Shetland.”

Family members, friends, and celebrant Allan McKeown also highlighted John’s love of the arts, marriage, learning, nature, and love in general. Five candles were lit while poetry, music and heart-felt stories enlightened the audience. Following the benediction, Leonard Cohen’s famous song ‘Hallelujah” filled the room.

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John had a passion for the arts, marriage, learning, nature, and love in general.

What a loss for the local literary community! He (and his wife Peggy who predeceased him by four years) left two holes in my bucket-heart.

I first met John back in 2002 when I joined a local writers’ workshop group. He penned and shared what he knew, then used his imagination to liven it up. He also loved local history and often wrote humourous and traditional form poems that rhymed.

“Like all poems, a humourous one starts with an idea or a line,” wrote John in an article called “Finding Humour in Your Poetry” published in the May to August 2015 Verse Afire. “I am a tall man with a short memory. I try to keep pen and paper handy to catch fleeting ideas. Sometimes, I start with an opening line and work forwards. Sometimes, I start with the last line and work backwards.”

His humour followed him to Spoken Word events where he would recite such old-time favourites as the children’s folk song “There’s a Hole in My Bucket” or attempt to teach the audience how to play bagpipes without the actual instrument.

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John was a regular reader/performer at Spoken Word at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.

He was a regular contributor to: Canadian Stories, a national folk magazine written by or about Canadians; and Daytripping in Southern Ontario, the “Biggest Little Paper in Canada”. For several years he was also a columnist with The Observer, a daily newspaper from Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.

He was a member of several local writing groups: Writers in Transition (WIT), Spoken Word at the Lawrence House, Lambton Writers Association, and Writers Helping Writers (WHW) plus the provincial group The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS). He also attended book launches, ArtWalk and First Friday events in Sarnia.

Despite his accomplishments, fame did not interest him. As a writer he was content with the old ways: plunking on his typo-infected typewriter and submitting work via snail mail. Most of his work is compiled in books published by Sydenham Press, a small press he owned and operated with his late wife, the award-winning poet Peggy Fletcher.

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Several books by the late John Drage were published by Sydenham Press, a small press he owned and operated with his wife, the late Peggy Fletcher.

His sudden and unexpected death from a stroke at the age of 85 shocked those who were close to him.

“He was like a father figure to me,” said Melissa Upfold, former Spoken Word Sarnia host who also lost her own father a year ago. “He and Peggy attended all my readings and art shows. They were true supporters of the artistic and literary community.”

“Such a great loss to our writing community, said Phyllis Humby, founder of the social networking group Lambton Writers Association. “John was a gentle man of great wit and compassion. Quiet and unassuming. Some of us are comforted to imagine that he is with Peggy now. And [his dog] Patches, too. Still heartbreaking to say goodbye.”

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John recites the children’s folk song “There’s a Hole in My Bucket” during a Spoken Word event.

“He always made jokes about his height and my lack of,” said Lynn Tait, spokesperson for the AfterHours Poets group. “His ‘Ode to a Flattened Toad’ is a classic, recited for us annually, and I will always remember his Dandee stories. His ability to memorize and recite his poems was amazing, and his on-going, tongue-in-cheek limerick battles with Anne Beachey [close friend and storyteller] were legendary. He was a kind and gentle man. All of us in After Hours Poets, miss him very much. He is back home now with his soul mate, Peggy.”

“John Drage was more than just a poet,” said I.B. Iskov, Founding Member of TOPS.  “He was a storyteller and a humourist. The Ontario Poetry Society was fortunate to acquire a short essay from John appropriately titled, “Finding Humour in Poetry”…. His wit, his charm and his “voice” will be missed.”

“I still can’t believe he’s gone,” said Norma West Linder, one of the members who established Writers in Transitions (WIT), a local writers workshop group. Below is a poem written by Linder, as a tribute to her long-time friend:

Shadow of a Special Smile
for John Alfred Drage
(July 9, 1930-Dec. 7, 2015)***

Stuffed in an envelope somewhere
in my cluttered computer room
John’s obituary
–John, who made everyone laugh
with his droll sense of humour
his limericks and tall tales
delivered with panache
 

John, who was like a brother to me
for half a century
taken by a massive stroke
on Pearl Harbour Day
 

I still expect to meet him
just around the corner
still expect to find him
there on his usual chair
at our Unitarian Fellowship
each Sunday
still expect to see his special smile
whenever writers get together

This week I look back and remember John Drage, a writer who gifted the literary community with such fond and humourous memories.

w68-8dsc_0196-edited

In Paradise: John Drage reunited with Peggy Fletcher, the love of his life.

*originally printed in the program for the Service of Thanksgiving and Celebration for the Life of John Alfred Drage held Friday, December 11, 2015 in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. Reprinted here with permission from the estate.

**Almost a year has passed since this blog was first drafted. It was revised and posted here for the first time as a reminder that John Drage has not been forgotten, that his spirit and love for others remain in Sarnia’s literary community.

***poem used with permission from the poet. 2016 © Norma West Linder