Tag Archives: yaqoob ghaznavi

Writing Has No Age Restrictions: An Introduction to Poet yaqoob ghaznavi

“I am still circling/the same space of porcelain”
-yaqoob ghaznavi from his award-winning poem “Alzheimer”

A close writing friend recently wrote a column about retirement. It was a timely piece, considering that many of our friends were either retired or thinking about it. It made me wonder: “can writers retire?” What about those who have extra free time to consume? “Can you start a writing career in your silver-haired years?”

ghaznavi presented his new book during a spotlight performance last November at The Ontario Poetry Society’s members’ reading in Oakville.

ghaznavi presented his new book during a spotlight performance last November at The Ontario Poetry Society’s members’ reading in Oakville.

I immediately thought of poet yaqoob ghaznavi. I had just finished reading his first book under the almond tree (A Beret Days Book, 2014) and was surprised to learn that he had first discovered writing poetry in his sixties. Since that time he’s had work published in All Rights Reserved, Carousel, carte blanche, Descant, and the Toronto Quarterly in Canada as well as in publications based in the U.K., Ireland, the U.S. and Austria.

Back in 2008, The Ontario Poetry Society named ghaznavi, as the recipient of The Ted Plantos Memorial Award. At the time, John B. Lee, Poet Laureate of Brantford said “The poems by yaqoob ghaznavi have clarity of image, simplicity of language, maturity of content and they come ‘real’ to the page as it is with lived experience well expressed.”  See more details here.

ghaznavi certainly has a flare for words. During my blind judging for the 2010 Emerging from the Shadows Poetry Contest, I read and re-read 180 poems by new writers. The poem “Alzheimer” kept rising to my top five pile. At the time, I didn’t know it was ghaznavi’s work but I recall how the writing style pulled me into the confusing world of those suffering with Alzheimer’s. The poem placed third in the contest.

Four years later I am pleased to see it included in his first collection of poems. Below is my book review that will appear in the next issue of Verse Afire, a membership newsletter for The Ontario Poetry Society:

under the almond tree                  Reviewed by Debbie Okun Hill
by yaqoob ghaznavi
Premier Poet Tree Series #16 A Beret Days Book 2014, 58 pages
I.S.B.N. 978-1-926495-02-6

under the almond tree (A Beret Days Book, 2014)

under the almond tree (A Beret Days Book, 2014)

Canadian poet yaqoob ghaznavi writes “it is love/that makes me transparent/even over the phone” and it is love and loneliness, in all its various dimensions that form the base for under the almond tree, his first full-collection of poems. The book’s strength stems from his use of simple narrative language: minimal like a delicate dance or brushstroke of watercolour and yet, skillfully crafted to describe complex and deep emotions. For example, “I want to cut the monkey’s paw”, “lonesome waves/come to rest/after the long journey/through the melting sea” and “dreams illuminate my inside”. Reading his poetic work is like strolling through a dream montage “with centuries of wanderings”. Meet actresses “naked/as peeled cinnamon”, a character craving blueberry cheesecake, a geisha “making and breaking/her lovers”, a grandmother facing a tsunami, an immigrant yearning for his lost love/home and much more. Not only does this award-winning poet transport the reader across various heart-felt scenes in Berlin, Barcelona, Paris, Niagara Falls, Manhattan, New Orleans, and the Artic, but he also experiments with free verse, dialogue, glosa, and villanelle forms.  Recurrent images of the moon, birds, water/rain, and circles help to reinforce such messages as “I am still circling/the same space of porcelain” and “with the dust of lilac/I glue together/my broken mirror”. Bravo! An impressive debut collection from a poet who has already attracted the attention of several judges and editors of prestigious literary magazines.




In Oakville: The Winter Warm-up Poetry Gathering


“We work diligently to help build and support the artistic community in the area.”   –statement from the Moonshine Café website, Oakville, Ontario, Canada

A poet friend from London once told me, “if you want to sell poetry books go to Oakville. The audience is very generous.”

Yes, studying the demographics of a community is crucial for marketing a book but sales can also depend on so many other factors. For example, the book’s content including topic and quality of writing is important. My friend writes beautiful poetry. I’m not surprised that his books sell well, no matter where he travels. The time of day or year can influence a buyer. For example, the holiday season often generates more gift sales yet sales figures can decrease if there are too many other books being sold at the same time.

The Moonshine Café in Oakville, Ontario was the location for the recent Winter Warm-up Poetry Gathering hosted by The Ontario Poetry Society

The Moonshine Café in Oakville, Ontario was the location for the recent Winter Warm-up Poetry Gathering hosted by The Ontario Poetry Society

I would agree that the people in Oakville are indeed generous and encouraging. John and Jean of the Moonshine Café on Kerr Avenue are examples of two people who openly support the artistic community. They have a reputation for welcoming both experienced and emerging artists and performers on their stage, In fact, if you walk to the back of their establishment, you’ll find several walls filled with photo collages: smiling images and creative expressions of past performances. A sign on the café front boasts that they’ve had “Live Entertainment Nightly Since 2006”.

Last month, The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS) travelled to Oakville for their annual Winter Warm-up Poetry Gathering. It wasn’t the best day for travelling. The November sky had cast a grey-white-snow-confetti-slush onto the highways and sidewalks but in the café, a small group of enthusiastic poets clustered around the stage and applauded loud in appreciation.


November 16, 2014 in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.

November 16, 2014 in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.

Some members came to sell their books but most just wanted to read their work or to meet other poets. According to Bunny Iskov, TOPS founding member/treasurer, this grassroots poetry friendly organization has been meeting annually in Oakville for over a decade.

This year, Oakville Branch manager Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews debuted as emcee.

Yaquoob Ghaznavi at TOPS Oakville Event Nov 16, 2014

TOPS member yaqoob ghaznavi launched his book under the almond tree (Beret Days Press, 2014). The TOPS membership anthology Scarlet Thistles edited and compiled by Fran Figge with cover photo by Lynn Tait was also introduced. Watch for future blogs on these two books.

The afternoon included readings by both Oakville and out-of-town members: I. B. Iskov, George Arnold, Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews, John Corvese, Debbie Okun Hill, Ken Budnark, Susan Munro, Kent Bowman, Fran Figge, John Hastings, Ellen Stout and John Di Leonardo. Two guests Anne Cookson and Nancy Bertolotti shared work during the open mic portion of the afternoon. Music was shared by George Arnold and Kent Bowman.

Below are pictorial highlights of the November 16th event:

Oakville Readers 1 of 2 November 16, 2014

Oakville Readers 2 of 2 November 16, 2014The next members’ reading and open mic hosted by The Ontario Poetry Society will be held Sunday, February 15, 2015 starting at 12 noon at The Smiling Buddha, 961 College Street (near Dovercourt Road) Toronto, Ontario. Sign up for readers is at the door. More information can be found here.