Category Archives: Canadian Literature

Detailing the Angst of the Workplace | Review of “The Big Dream” by Rebecca Rosenblum (2011) Biblioasis

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The beauty of a good book is that it captures the complexities of real life that we readers endure in a simple manner. We want to see our world told through the eyes of others in order to better understand ourselves. We all endure the complex dynamics of a workplace – the interactions of co-workers, the placements of our desks, the failings of equipment, etc – yet we feel alone in our frustrations.  But, alas, we aren’t. Rebecca Rosenblum has given our workplace angst some references points in her book The Big Dream.

Page 9 – Dream Big

The cafeteria was closed for renovations and the temporary lunchroom was in the basement. In fact, the temporary lunchroom was actually a meeting room with tables, folding chairs, a microwave, four vending machines, and no windows. Many employees chose to eat at their desks, but some made use of the room.

Clint peeled the plastic off his Crackerz’n’chese.

Cheze does not look like an English word.” said Anna. She was eating unstirred fruit-at-the-bottom yoghurt.

“Still delicious.” Luddock was eating a mustard-soaked sandwich. The sheer yellow bread revealed the pink of bologna.

“Of course.” Anna reached the fruit layer and beamed into her plastic cup.

“Listen -” Clint leaned forward “Remember, last Tuesday -?”

“No!” Luddock waved his sandwich. Bread flapped away from meat. “I download all previous-week memories to the main server at midnight on Saturdays. Frees up disc space for current work.”

“Luddock, no!” Anna squawked, mouth full of pureed berries. “This is not a Tech Support situation. Do not make Tech jokes.

“Actually, only Tech is sitting at this table.”

“Lunch is our own time. We could be sitting with another department, people who don’t even work  here. We shouldn’t make this a closed conversation.”

This was one of those books that I just couldn’t put down. It felt like Rosenblum has captured a slice of my life in it. (And no doubt many of these experiences in this book must have come from real-life experience.) The book centres around the company Dream Inc. a somewhat tired and broken publishing firm. Rosenblum has exacted a series of stories around people who work in this company to show how the dynamic of this firm exists. And in doing so has reflected a true reality that many of us endure.

Page 132-133 Research

When Research got off the bus at 8:45 the next morning, there was a silver-blue airplane high above her head. It had a fish painted vertically on the tail, as if it was diving. the fish was blue, too, brighter than the plane. Brightest blue of all was the sky.

Indoors was mainly grey but the blue beamed in through the enormous window, which someone somehow had washed, inside and out.

She looked into the exact definition of teal, the blogs of MuchMusic VJs that her sons liked, the calorie content of chili, the average woman’s desired amount of oral sex versus experienced. She sent these facts to various editors at Dream Fashion, Dream Teen, Dream Woman. She stared out the window, The sky was a medium blue-green, more blue than green: teal.

She walked through the vast empty space between her desk and the window – even the other researchers’ desks had been removed now. She had always threaded through them like a rope through a grommet, and now there was too much space. She had liked her colleagues; everyone boiled extra water in case someone else wanted tea. She had no way of finding them now, out there in their real lives.

Back at her desk, Research found an enthusiastic email from Dream Woman regarding her facts about oral pleasure, requesting further research. The editor did not mention the chili information (surprisingly low fat).

Googling “techniques+cunnilingus” brought many suggestions, but they repeated from website to website, or even within one – “light feathery kisses to the inner thigh” seemed much the same as “light feathery kisses up and down the leg.” She wondered how else to reteach this, eyed the framed photo of her husband in his canoe, and sent off her report.

She boiled a single cup of water for tea. She ate her yoghurt early. She looked out the window at a helicopter rising, possibly carrying the executive team from an internet start-up with a bold innovation for something. She wanted to research using reality, not the Internet. She wanted to be good at her job and interesting to her family. She wanted to be someone who found job in more than just what her husband got up to with his tongue.

Rosenblum’s language is simple and frank which makes these stories so realistic and believable. There are terms which are well-known trademarks which gives the reader the true impression that they are witnessing something out of a real workplace. And Rosenblum’s explorations of thoughts and emotions are direct and true. Nothing here is held back or questioned. These stories truly feel like a slice of real life.

Page 144 – Loneliness

Theirs was a flirtation of short emails and patchy cellphone calls. Once, a birthday card curled into a FedEx tube. Once – and nervously – lunch alone together in the employee cafeteria. Cheese cannelloni and diet Coke for both. Except for that first surreptitious caress of a thigh, several too-lingering arm-squeezes, and once when he held her coat for her and she, reaching backwards, missed entirely and stroked her palm down the flat expanse of his belly – except for these moments, there had been no physical contact at all.

Privately, they cursed themselves for teenaged fantasies that could, doubtless lead only down alleys of frustration and masturbation. Desire only increases loneliness.

There had been moments of opportunity unrealized, when they were both perhaps stunned to realize their own limits. Both had attended a two-day trade show, sitting together at a particle-board demonstration, at a Kitchen of the Future demonstration, at an Ikea demonstration. They had sat together in the bar, and talked of the pets they had as children, animals now dead. They talked of their parents who were dead now, too, and how lonely it felt to walk the earth knowing their parents were dead. They talked about, or at least each somehow managed to mention, what their hotel room numbers were.

Rebecca Rosenblum has created a brilliant piece of literature with The Big Dream. This collection of insights into a workplace is bluntly honest and true. A great read and one that will create reflections and considerations.

*****

Link to Biblioasis’ website for The Big Dream

Link to Rebecca Rosenblum’s website

When That One Person Appears to Fail Us | Review of “The Best Kind of People” by Zoe Whittall (2016) House of Anansi

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We all rely on that one person. Be it a family member or a trained professional or even a politician. We need them to be strong people who support and care for us. Yet when that one person even gives the appearance of faltering or failing us, our whole world falls apart and we are sometimes too stunned to move. That element of the human condition is what Zoe Whittall brilliantly documents in her novel The Best Kind of People.

Page 20-21

Sadie felt a brief moment of birthday excitement, and then the house seemed to shake with a pounding on the front door, followed by an insistent baritone call: “We’re looking for George Alistair Woodbury!”

“What’s going on?” Sadie said, peering through the kitchen entrance and down the hall to the foyer. Red and blue flashed through the open windows, a light show for the symphony of cicadas. She approached the door tentatively. George sat back down at the table, staring into his glass of wine.

“Sadie, don’t. I’ll get it,” Joan said as she approached the door, peering through the peephole cautiously. She opened it slowly to find two plainclothes detectives and several uniformed officers.

“Hello, ma’am, is your husband home?”

They made it only a few feet down the front hall before spotting him through the living room, still at the kitchen table. He stood, knocking over his glass. It pooled, then slowly dripped onto the kitchen floor.

For months Joan would replay this moment, trying to decipher the look on her husband’s face. Was it guilt? Confusion? Indignation? Stoicism? Acting? But nothing, not even a revolving camera of omniscience, a floating momentary opportunity to narrate, would allow anyone to truly understand the truth about George. He became a hard statue, an obstacle, a symbol.

The father and the husband, from that moment, had been transformed.

The brilliance of this novel is that the main character is rarely allowed to make an appearance or speak. We have George Woodbury – teacher, husband and father – whisked away and arrested for sexual impropriety at the local school. Each member of his family must endure the community’s scorn while dealing with their own questions of his guilt or innocence. A whole wash of thoughts and emotions are dealt with as we read through the book.

Page 202-203

The next afternoon, she drove thirty-six miles to the Woodbridge health clinic that hosted the support group for women with partners in prison. She arrived half an hour early, sat in the car, and watched women park their cars and go in through the side door. It was windy, and she put her hat in the glove compartment lest it blow away but then didn’t get out of the car. More women arrived, some in minivans, others in compact cars; a few walked from the busy stop. She felt the same way she had felt when she was young and travelled to different countries: surprised that the world still looked familiar. The parks in Sweden and Morocco looked like regular parks she’d seen at home. The women who parked their cars and walked into the centre looked like anyone. It’s not as though she expected them to be wearing neon signs that said Married to a Pervert, but she had expected to see something that would give away their status, an indication however subtle, some sort of obvious physical sign of weakness. She looked at her phone, turned it to silent, and applied some Carmex to her lips. They were dry and flaking, no matter how much water she drank. The stress showed on her face. Every step felt heavy as she made her way inside.

Joan lingered outside in the basement hallway in front of a display of health pamphlets. She pretended to be interested in the details of diabetes treatment, as though she couldn’t have written the entire pamphlet herself from memory. She waited so long to actually enter that she was a few minutes late, and walked in while a woman was speaking.

“The way I see it, he’s sick. It’s a sickness. You can’t control what you’re born with, right? My one kid’s got the Down’s syndrome. He can’t help that neither. Now he’s been found out and he can get help and he wants to get help. Who am I to leave now? I believe in second chances.”

The woman who was talking resembled a pug dog; she had one of those smooshed-up faces. Joan took one of the two empty seats around the circle and couldn’t stop herself from thinking that if the woman didn’t hang on to this guy, she’d probably have a hard time finding some other man to replace him. then she felt awful for thinking that.

Whittall does an excellent job of going through the thoughts of a wide-range characters and describing their range of emotions. The prose she uses in a everyday kind of language, making the book easy to understand. But make no mistake, this isn’t a type of book that should be rushed through either. There is well-crafted detail and thought put in here and any reader should ponder the well-chosen words carefully.

Page 146

“Thanks,” Andrew said, watching Stuart take another paranoid scan. “I’m sorry for snapping. It’s happened really quickly and I’ve been buried in legal documents and I don’t really have perspective, you. My dad and I, we were starting to get close again. It’s so fuckin’ weird.

“Yeah . . .”

Andrew started back towards the door. Stuart called after him.

“I just wanted you to know that you really were my true love . . . ”

Andrew turned. Stuart was standing close to him now. He could smell hours of beer on his breath and was slightly revolted, yet at the same time he felt a familiar wave of nostalgic attraction. Stuart leaned in to kiss Andrew, holding his hands at the waist like they were kids at a school dance. The kiss was gentle, and Andrew pulled back before it got sloppy, or before he tried to draw him into a hug. the smell of Stuart’s cologne and cigarettes was enough to make Andrew feel as though he could fall over from the associated emotions.

The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall is a brilliant, modern novel dealing with important elements of the human condition. It is well-thought out and well written. In short a great read to ponder over.

*****

Link to Zoe Whittall’s website

Link to House of Anansi’s website for The Best Kind of People

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On the Path to a New Awareness | Review of “Secret Path” by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire (2016) Simon & Schuster

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Cover of Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire. Image linked from the Secret Path website

The beauty of a well-crafted book is in the detail that goes into the enlightenment that a reader receives into an element about the human condition. The right combination of words plus the perfect shades of light and dark colours of an illustration can bring light an injustice that occurred in the world. Readers can ponder carefully over those details of that book and slowly become aware of the injustice and  – in turn –  start dialogs with other individuals about that sad element. And that complex process is what Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire have done with their graphic novel Secret Path.

The Stranger (Excerpt)

I am the Stranger

You can’t see me

I am the Stranger

Do you know what I mean?

I navigate the mud

I walk above the path

Jumping to the right

And I jump to the left

On the Secret Path

The one that nobody knows

And I’m moving fast

On the path that nobody knows

And what I’m feeling

Is anyone’s guess

What is in my head

And what’s in my chest

I’m not gonna stop

I’m just catching my breath

They’re not gonna stop

Please, just let me catch my breath

I am the Stranger

You can’t see me

I am the Stranger

Do you know what I mean?

 Downie and Lemire have done something brilliant here by bringing the story of Chanie Wenjack and the residential school system to light for the reading public. Wenjack died a young man trying to get back to his First-Nations community after experiencing brutal institutional care at a residential school. He attempted a 400-mile trek along a railway line to get home, yet the journey proved to be too much for him.

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Illustration from Secret Path by Jeff Lemire. Image linked from the Secret Path website

Lemire has described Wenjack’s story with his illustrations in a bold fashion. The frames that show Wenjack’s memories of his home have a warm rose feeling to them while the cells that show his experiences at the residential school and on his attempted journey home at cold, dark with a tinge of blue. A reader clearly senses the range of emotions that Wenjack felt as they follow the story of his trek home.

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Scanned image from Secret Path. Illustration by Jeff Lemire

Gord Downie has not only proven himself here as a classic wordsmith but also a great storyteller. While many of his fans know him as the front man for the musical group The Tragically Hip, it is bringing this story of Wenjack to life for us readers that shows his consciousness and the depth of his soul. He has carefully crafted a few brilliant phrases into our memories about Wenjack, breeding empathy in our minds for the tragic wanderer and causing us to discuss him to our peers and our leaders.

 

 

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Scanned image of “Son” by Gord Downie. From Secret Path (2016) Simon & Shuster

This book does exactly what great literature does. It brings to light an important element of the human condition that may of been overlooked through other means and creates thought, discussion and discourse among readers. It is a brilliant book and one that should be pondered over.

Quote from the back cover of Secret Path:

Chanie Wenjack haunts us. His story is Canada’s story. We are not the country we think we are. History will be re-written. All of the Residential Schools will be pulled apart and studied. The next hundred years are going to be painful and unsettling as we meet Chanie Wenjack and thousands like him – as we find out about ourselves, about all of us – and when we do, we can truly call ourselves “Canada.”

Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire is a brilliant book which should be held in prominence on any bookshelf. It breeds empathy and creates thought and discuss which, no doubt, will lead to action on improving an injustice to the human condition.

*****

Link to the Secret Path website

Link to Gord Downie’s website

Link to Jeff Lemire’s blog

Defining the Desperation of Violence | Review of “Waste” by Andrew F. Sullivan (2016) Dzanic Books

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We tend to look at violence as a simple act. But we never really look at the complex roots of what causes people to turn violent. What makes one person act out with anger and malice?  What is the result of violence after the act? Those and a myriad of other issues surrounding violence are the thoughts that one ponders after reading Andrew F. Sullivan’s complex novel Waste.

Page 11-12

Connor Condon always hated his name. He hated the concussive force of those two C’s crashing out of his mother’s mouth every time she was pissed, back when they’d lived in his grandmother’s apartment. The sound chased him from room to room, rattling the dusty shelves and weaving its way through porcelain bears to find him hiding under the pullout couch he shard with his mother.

“We need you to wake up, and don’t you dare puke again.”

It wasn’t until sixth grade that Connor’s name truly became a curse in the outside world. The new bus driver, Marlene, believed she had to take attendance. Her tongue seemed far too big for her mouth when she drawled out his name through pierced lips.

“Tommy, just slap his face to wake him up. One good slap.”

All Connor heard were titters of laughter from the backseats. The bus driver’s massive tongue had mangled his name somehow. Kids stopped sitting beside him. Connor Condom. The name followed him for years, hunted him down hallways and trapped him in bathroom stalls, kids breathing down his neck, asking if his father was a Durex or a Trojan.

“Probably would have been easier if he was wearing clothes.”

A Thursday. It was a Thursday in tenth grade when they pulled the plastic bag over his head on the bus. The driver was too busy navigating a left-hand turn to see Connor’s face slowly turning purple as the bag pulled tighter and tighter. Connor remembered now that there was a green Chevy stalled in the turning lane. Before he passed out and smashed his face against the window, he noticed there was a receipt for Kmart in the bottom of the bag.

“Did you bring extra batteries, Al?”

For the next week, they had Connor in the hospital, measuring his breathing and brain activity every hour. They drained fluid from his brain on the second night. Connor did not remember that week. Two weeks later, he emerged with a new learning disability, a severe lack of hand-eye coordination, and a constant migraine. He walked home from the hospital.

Sullivan has done a brilliant job in taking a look at a ‘macro-sociological’ issue and brought it down to a level that many of us can relate to. Set in the city of Larkhill in 1989, we follow a group of the town’s citizens attempt to survive an economic downturn. Yet as one act of violence  – a car accident involving a pet lion, a murdered individual found in the woods months after his demise – seems to bring on a call for revenge or fear by a one or two people of the town. And the ‘infection’ of violence seems to grow.

Page 33-34

Everyone called the rambling motel Da Nasty. It leered out over the other smaller buildings on the block, five stories of clapboard and stucco. Moses had moved Elvira from motel to motel over the first few years of their exile, dodging the police and Children’s Aid while riding his bicycle to school. Elvira started collecting her bowling balls again, taking them into the shower with her. There were always complaints from housekeeping staff and neighbors concerning missing missing credit cards and stolen purses. Aliases like Allison Cooper, Joanna Page, Paula McCartney, and Gina Simmons littered the guest books of the tired, neon-coated hovels along the wide strip of the utility road.

Moses hated elevators. The spaces were too small, the walls always mirrored. Reflection after reflection of his pimply skull refracted to infinity till each pore glared at him. He always took the stairs up to the second floor and walked along the thick orange carpeting running his hands along the wall, looking for an open door, a wallet sitting on a dresser, a purse left in the bathroom. Occasionally he walked in on couples locked in complex positions he’d  only seen in the pay-per-view movies. He would only order those after his mother passed out in the other double bed, moaning about her poor doggies and the betrayal of Big Tina.

“Mom, you around? I didn’t end up bringing back any food yet?”

The room still smelled liked moth balls and Pepto Bismol. The dark purple carpet was covered in cigarette burns. The blinds to the balcony were closed. Most of the balconies in Da Nasty were locked. There were too many lonely men romancing the concrete five stories down. Pigeons and a lone red-tailed howk now ruled the balconies, slowly coating the rails in white each summer, only to have it washed away by the rain and snow every winter.

“Hey, Mom, you here?”

Sullivan weaves a great mise-en-scene with this book by going from descriptions to thoughts/conversations of one of the characters. In taking one’s time in reading the book, we get a feel of a general situation and understand why the characters are pushed into doing what they do. We are forced to ponder each situation and reflect on it later on. The language is simple and frank at times but that adds to the colourful story.

Page 107

B. Rex had a new tattoo emblazoned on his neck. It was dripping

“You didn’t do that one yourself, did you B?” Moses said.

The car bounced over the potholes on the utility road. The neon lights of the highway strip faded behind them as the Buick nursed its way through the slush. No one came down here.

“Yeah. This morning. Had the money, finally, not like it was a big job, but I’ve been getting stiffed by the folks lately. Think they’re still mad about me trimming the hair.”

B. Rex had the worst ingrown hairs of the three, mainly due to his refusal of the disposable razor at Logan’s house a few months earlier. He brought his grandfather’s straight razor from World War II instead, a family heirloom his grandfather kept in the study with his tax receipts and old Playboy magazines. B. Rex cut himself eight times before finally accepting the shaving cream and disposable Bick. He wore a hat for a while afterward until the scabs fell off.

“They still won’t let you work, huh?” Moses said.

“Nope. Mom says as soon as I start earning my own money, that’s the last they’ll see of me, and I mean, they’re right,” B. Rex said. “Oppressive as shit. I can’t even take like a shit without my dad asking about the size and color.

Andrew F. Sullivan has created a great book about people dealing with desperation and violence in Waste. It is a read that should be carefully read and consider but definitely one that has all the markings of the start of some great thoughts and discussions.

*****

Link to Andrew F. Sullivan’s website

Link to Dzanc Books website for Waste

Link to my Q&A with Andrew F. Sullivan -“I wanted to write a Canadian book that dealt with violence, small scale, but very real violence we often ignore or don’t read about. It’s a currency we trade with each other.”

 

“I grew up in an old church and the windows in my room were green bubble glass. The light would change so dramatically throughout the day. I loved that. I guess that is why I work with light.” | Q&A with Illustrator Elly MacKay

I purchased a copy of Maya at the 2016 Toronto Word on the Street festival

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We tend to think of illustration as something involving lines drawn on a piece of paper. But in the case of Elly MacKay’s work, there is something a lot more. She works with light, paper and photography, which creates images that draws anyone in. MacKay recently illustrated the book Maya (which just has become one of a favourite item of people who visit my library) and answered a few questions for me – ‘illustrating’ how she creates her works.

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1) How long did it to create the images in “Maya?” How did you get involved with the book?

 

This book took a little longer than usual. I give myself 4 months for each book I work on. This one was a new way of working. I had to consider how to show 3 different worlds. There is the real world (rooftop with Mama), the story world (stories Mama tells), and the dream world where the two come together. Within the dream world, there are many animals… tigers, elephants, peacocks and monkeys. This was the trickiest of the worlds to create. It starts out scary but through reframing her thoughts, the world becomes peaceful and playful.
I met Karen Boserma at the American Library Association. Along with publishing books for kids, Owlkids publishes Chirp, Chickadee and Owl magazine. I was telling her that my brother was on the cover of Owl back in the 80s. We had a nice chat and when a book came up that needed shadows, Karen and her team thought of my work.

2) How did you get started in illustration?

I took a couple of illustration classes in university. My professor would sometimes give me his overflow work. It was great experience. I did some logo work, editorial illustrations and made an activity book for Nova Scotian kids. I also had a neat job going through the Nova Scotia Archives, picking old lithos that would become covers for historical romance novels.
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Sample page from Maya

3) Are there any illustrators that you admire? If yes, who are they and why do you admire them?

One of my favourites is Stéphane Jorisch . His use of line is so beautiful. Eunsil Chun is another favourite. Her work is at once delicate but also strong.  Her use of
negative space is really what I love, along with her characters. (Link to her website) Julie Morestad for her whimsy and wistfulness. (Link) Isabelle Arsenault for her unique compositions and I’m just in awe of the range she has. (Link) Jon Klassen for his subtle sense of humour and gorgeous, sparse landscapes. (Link) Sydney Smith for his loose linework and muted colours. (Link) Qin Leng for the complexity of her images. Also for her joyfulness. (Link)
Gosh, I could just go on and one with 20 or more names but since I have pretty much named all Canadians here with the exception of Ensil Chun, I’ll leave it.

4) You seem to have a complex technique to the creation of your images – starting with the use of paper to the lighting right up to the photography of the whole illustration. Did it take you long to learn all those skills and bring them all together? Do you have an all-time favourite illustration that you created?

I grew up in an old church and the windows in my room were green bubble glass. The light
would change so dramatically throughout the day. I loved that. I guess that is why I work with light. I’ve always been fascinated with how light changes atmosphere. I guess we are products of our environment… I came to work with paper because my Mom, Joan Irvine wrote books on how to make pop-ups. I was always working away with paper with her or making sculptures in the basement with my potter Dad, Steve Irvine. He is also a photographer. It seems like a strange job I guess, making little things out of light, paper and photographing them but it is just the result of growing up in that home I think. I’ve been making things this way since I was 14 or so.
A favourite one? I suppose From Shore to Shore. You know those places that exist in your dreams that you return to again and again. This, and Between Tides were both created based on a dreamscape of sorts.
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From shore to shore by Elly MacKay. Illustration is a diptych (Two images that work side by side.) Images are linked from Etsy.com

5) How does the public react to your illustrations? Is there any memorable reaction to something you have created you care to share?

I always love showing the process I use to children. We make a little world together and turn out the lights. When I light the theatre, they all get so excited. I love that.

6) Do you get a chance to travel and speak about your work? If yes, is it something you enjoy doing?

Yes, I really love doing school visits and writers festivals. I have a bachelor of education that I don’t get to use, so getting a chance to work with kids is always something I really enjoy.

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The Builders by Elly MacKay. Image linked from her website

7) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

I am working on a book called Waltz of the Snowflakes for Running Press right now. It is a wordless picture book that celebrates the colour and life that music and dance can bring to a dreary day. It will be out in Fall 2017. (Link to Running Press’ webpage for Waltz of the Snowflakes) I am also working on one for Tundra that is built from old weather sayings. It is called Red Sky at Night.

8) You seem to have an avid presence on both Facebook and Twitter. How do you like being on those platforms in relation to you work?

I like seeing what others are working on through Twitter and Facebook. Facebook has been great for sharing and getting some feedback too.

9) Your online biography has you listed as living in Owen Sound, Ontario. How do you like living there? Are there any aspects to the Owen Sound region that particularly inspire you in your work?

It is a great place to live. We have rocky beaches, sandy beaches, hiking trails/ski trails, and waterfalls all nearby and a great community of like-minded people here. It has a concert hall that brings in bands, an art gallery, wonderful library, artist co-op and a forest school that just opened. It is also affordable to buy a home here. I feel like the spokesperson for this town… But I really do love it. And yes… This place, especially the land half an hour north of Owen Sound, where I grew up is my constant source of inspiration.

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Leaves Leave by Elly MacKay. Image linked from her website

*****

Link to Elly MacKay’s WordPress blog

Link to Elly MacKay’s website

Link to OwlKids’ webpage for “Maya”

Link to my Q&A with Maya’s author Mahak Jain -“I wanted to write about a world where animals as different as the peacock, monkey, elephant, tiger, and snake would find themselves gathered around a banyan tree. Maya’s story emerged from that dream.”

A True Reflection of a Unspoken Reality | Review of “A Gentle Habit” by Cherie Dimaline (2015) Kegedonce Press

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When literature explores the realms of people in gritty or unfortunate circumstances, there is a sense of something being documented that usually isn’t being discussed. Yes it is enlightening but for many of us, but it also reflects a circumstance or a reality that we are familiar with yet is rarely covered in ‘standard’ books. And that is what Cherie Dimaline has boldly done in her collection of short stories called A Gentle Habit.

Page 2 The Bead Fairy

By 1983, the year I was eight, Sault Ste. Marie was a greying place for steelworkers and their offspring, a fine town to raise a family, far from the dangerous multiculturalism of the city. I was a quiet kid with a mushroom  cut and front teeth two times the size of the baby teeth around them. I lived with my parents, my older brother, and my maternal grandmother in a bungalow in what was known as the Halfbreed Projects, the neighbourhood that crept outward from the hockey arena like a brick scab around a high sticking wound.

For the most part, my life was routine. I took the bus into school where I got good grades, played road hockey with my brother and our friends and was madly in love with a boy. But not just any boy, Hugh McIvoy.

There is a frankness in the language of this collection of stories that would have frightened a lot of teachers back in my high-school days but is refreshing to see here. Dimaline has capture elements of the human condition not often documented. She explores feelings and emotions in a few simple, direct words that are vivid to anybody’s imagination.

 Page 59 36 Holes

Mike was bored. His boredom was like a well-guarded itch on the bottom of a foot tucked into an intricately tied boot, rendered unreachable by lacings and latchings that would make a dominatrix weep with joy. It was a juvenile and sadistic boredom; a pinching, wriggling brat of a feeling that elbowed its way around. The other feelings he had – about his kids, his wife, his strained waistbands – they slide easily and in concert, like keys on a player piano, churning out the unremarkable tunes of “going to work” or ” picking up groceries.” But the boredom slammed its fists on the tinkling keys, spat in the mechanism, picked its nose and wiped the finding under the piano bench. In short, his boredom was fucking shit up.

While the writing may be direct here, it is certainly not a book to be considered a quick read. There are concepts and serious emotions at work here. Some of the stories leave a reader puzzled and asking why, and that is a good thing. Why is this protagonist upset or angry or disturbed? That empathy translates into our everyday thoughts about the people around us.

Page 112 The Memory of Bones

Mother seemed devastated by Grandma’s passing. So sudden and as undignified as it was, being found two days later on the toilet by a cleaning lady; so unlike Regina at all, who would never even admit to having a bowel movements. After receiving word, Mother spent two days in black gowns, draped on the furniture like an injured crow until the day of her transatlantic flight. She took three matched suitcases packed full of the most elegant clothes she owned.

And just like that, I was alone. My father was still there of course, bumbling about in the den and drinking beer in front of the TV Mother had stashed away in the rec room when she decided it was ‘unseemly. Mother’s sideshow troupe came by regularly to check in and take notes-Adelaide and Father Carol bringing dishes of food and Mrs. Grue and Marty eating them-but still, I was alone. For the first time, the only voice in my head was my own.

There may be gritty and harsh elements to Cherie Dimaline’s A Gentle Habit but it reflects some certain truths in our society in it. A brilliant read and a bold piece of literature.

*****

Link to Cherie Dimaline’s blogspot site

Link to Kegedonce Press’ website for A Gentle Habit

“The readers who have contacted me love Harriet almost possessively, and take a few days to forgive me for what I put her through.” | Q&A with writer Cordelia Strube

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Culture is suppose to deal with the ‘human condition’ – to take note of an element in our society and bring it forth for us to consider and discuss. But that rarely seems to happen anymore. We are bombarded with more and more items that seem to be ‘marketed’ to us and our pocket books. So when we come across an item where a person carefully crafts an item to show something about the ‘human condition’ many of us still do take time to ponder that item. And we try to share our thoughts about that item with others.

Cordelia Strube states she is a private person. In being that private person she quietly observes the world around her and then crafts her observations into works for us to consider. Her novel “On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light” certainly became a topic of conversation for my many circles these past few months.  So it not only a thrill but a bit of chance to gain some enlightenment when Strube agreed to answer a few select questions for me.

*****

1) You seem to have put quite a bit of thought into “On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light”. Was there anything specific that inspired you to write it? How long did it take to write?

I was sitting in a Tim Horton’s, people-watching through the window, and noticed a small boy with an over-sized head. He was gripping his mother’s hand as they walked, both of them ignoring the stares of passersby.  In the mother’s expression I recognized a look all too familiar to mothers a.k.a. if you hurt my child, I will kill you.  There was a grace and nobility about these two seemingly frail people, pushing courageously through their daily grind despite disability.  Once home I googled causes for skull enlargement in children and, shazam, Irwin was born.  Then I started what if-ing, which I do constantly while writing novels.  What if the sick child has a well sibling?  What love and tenderness is left for the well sibling who will always, in the eyes of the mother devoted to the sick child, get better?  How do the well and sick children feel about one another?  I wanted to reveal this complex sibling connection from both points of view, which resulted in two protagonists in a two part novel.

2) A lot of fellow readers in my circle seem to feel a certain empathy for the protagonist, Harriet, or they are very confused by her. How have you found readers’ reaction to her and her family? Are there any reactions to the book that you care to share?

The readers who have contacted me love Harriet almost possessively, and take a few days to forgive me for what I put her through.  I did not set out to write a lovable 11 year-old.  She is prickly, fierce, stubborn, determined and, in her own estimation, unlovable. This devotion from readers surprises and cheers me.  Maybe it’s because Harriet is a rebel and there’s a bit of rebel in us all.

3) Your website lists both books you have written and stage/radio plays you have produced. How do you contrast the two forms of writing (if at all). Is there one form you prefer over the other?

I love all narrative forms.  Radio plays are the toughest because you reveal everything through sound effects and dialogue.  I avoid the the voice-over device to reveal exposition, and never plug dialogue with expository writing, preferring sparse speech.  I put each line through a sieve repeatedly.  Few people talk in huge chunks, and if they do, they’re usually boring.  So it’s just me, the actors and the sound effects crew building worlds and people in listeners’ minds.
Stage plays have actors, sets, lighting and sound effects.  Many choices that are limited only by budgets.   Often the most intriguing stage plays make much from very little.
With film, a primarily visual medium, you have the added bonus of close-ups to reveal subtext.  My screenplays have considerably fewer spoken words than my radio or stage plays.
Novels know no limits.  You can build worlds, civilizations, multiple galaxies.  You can jump in and out of thoughts, introduce characters in one scene then ditch them in the next, straddle continents and time zones in a sentence. Novel writing means absolute artistic freedom.  And you have the added bonus of the reader’s unbridled imagination.  They will envision and feel things you didn’t know you were writing.  Many times readers have mentioned elements in my novels I didn’t realize were there.  Readers come to the narrative with their own histories which add colour and dimension.

4) You have a complex list of literary events in which you are partaking over the next few months. Many writers that I talk to seem to have a level of fatigue that comes over them when they do public events. Are public readings and discussions of your work something you enjoy doing? 

It depends on the crowd.  If they get it, I’m buzzed.  If they don’t, I feel crummy and regret showing up.  With On The Shores Of Darkness, There Is Light, my 10th novel, I decided to only do events that pay some form of honorarium.  I’ve never understood why authors are expected to offer their time and services for free.  This request narrows invites down and slows the pace.  Q and A is more interesting for me than readings because I get to ask questions of readers.  I never stop learning from them.  But yes, you need stamina, both mental and physical, when you’re promoting a book.  Everybody’s a critic and you better be able to suck it up.

5) This is a question I am really eager to ask you. Many writers I talk to about their presence on the internet seem to make a comment about it being something they ‘need’ to do. The only presence I can tell you have as a writer is through your website. (And your comment on your siteIn a world overrun by technology and advertising designed to make us hunger for material gain, the value of human connections cannot be measured” is very reflective of many people’s thoughts around me.) What are your thoughts in relation to the use of the internet with regard to promoting your writing? Do you get many people commenting about your books through your website? Are you avoiding social-media platforms (like Facebook and Twitter) on purpose?

 
I’m a private person.  I don’t like having my picture taken.  It takes me a long time to compose a sentence.  I don’t enjoy staring into screens of any size; don’t have a cell or a TV.  These are not social media-friendly qualities.  I have two laptops, one connected to the internet, the other remains a disconnected island for my fiction.  Briefly, when traveling, I tried a tablet and found myself checking my email accounts frequently because it was so easy.  The checking became compulsive and interfered with my thoughts, and fiction–for me–is all about allowing thoughts to wander.  
 
I’m more comfortable socializing one on one in real life, in real time, with all kinds of people in all kinds of real circumstances.  But even the word real has become unreal, hasn’t it?  Which is why I called the reality show about people who think they’re on reality shows in my novel Milosz “Reality Check”. 
 
 I want people vulnerable around me, not playing a shiny, scratch-proof role they’ve devised for themselves online. Twitter etc works wonderfully for writers who think it’s wonderful.  I’m available to readers via my website and when they take the time to contact me, I always respond, have even made real friends that way.
*****

“I wanted to write a Canadian book that dealt with violence, small scale, but very real violence we often ignore or don’t read about. It’s a currency we trade with each other.” | Q&A with author Andrew F. Sullivan

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I was totally thrilled a few weeks ago when I discovered Andrew F. Sullivan collection of short stories All We Want Is Everything. (Link to my review) The book seemed to cover a certain reality that I am aware of yet is very rarely discussed. But then the book seemed to do something for me what any good cultural artifact is suppose to do but rarely does these days: become a topic of conversation. Online, offline, in emails and over coffees, the book kept creeping into my conversations and people seemed eager to hear about it. So I was thrilled this week when Sullivan agreed to answer a few questions. No doubt his thoughts will pique an further interest in his works for us readers.

*****

1) Your latest novel is entitled WASTE. Could you give an outline of it?

WASTE is about bad people making bad decisions because they believe it is the fastest way to deal with a problem. It’s about the collapse of a small Ontario city during the post-industrial decline that swept a lot of blue collar communities in the province. It is a surreal, nightmare version of these cities over the course of one December weekend. The plot kicks off with a wannabe skinhead and a part-time butcher accidentally running over the local drug kingpin’s pet lion and everything that follows circles back to this event. It’s a bit madcap and vicious. It’s a book about dread, about failing to measure up, and about trying to do the right thing when everyone else has already surrendered to their demons. And I hope it’s funny too, but that’s not up to me.

2) What inspired you to write WASTE (if anything?) How long did it take to write?

 
A lot of things, but primarily all the bullshit lies guys on the afternoon shift would tell each other when I worked in a liquor warehouse. I wanted to create a world where the things they said were actually true (and a lot of them were, in one way or another). I wanted to write a Canadian book that dealt with violence, small scale, but very real violence we often ignore or don’t read about. It’s a currency we trade with each other. It behooves the people who ignore it to continue ignoring it, to claim it isn’t there. But it is and it’s real and it’s coming.
Ontario’s fairly loose zoo laws also played a factor.

3) It has been a few years now since ‘All We Want is Everything.’ It has been noted on a few fronts as being a great book, but how are you finding the public’s reaction to it?

It’s a short story collection, so no matter what, the audience will be small. However, they are great readers and I am incredibly lucky to have this book end up in so many wise readers’ hands, readers who really interrogate the work they consume and respond to the stories I try to tell. I think the short story is a great form, but it does have limited appeal. To see this book still going three years later with new readers really does bring me a lot of happiness. It’s good to find stories that can last.
There is an assumption that everything in AWWIE is true or real, but a lot of the stories are very surreal and strange, including “Mutations“, “Towers“, and “Cloud.” I try to approach the surreal with a very upfront approach, so that may be why readers are willing to go along with the uncomfortable, unreal parts of my work. And I truly appreciate that. I think sometimes the uncanny gives us an opportunity to reexamine our assumptions and approach narrative with fresh eyes.
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4) There has been a few discussions in my circles about the cover photo of “All We Want Is Everything?” Did you choose the image for the cover of the book. Do the two dogs in that image symbolize anything for you?

I did choose the photo. I was incredibly lucky to work with a small publisher that valued my input. John K. Samson (of The Weakerthans) was my editor and he really put in the effort to track down the photographer, Leigh Ledare. Leigh was extremely generous and kind to allow us to use the photo, which I had found five years earlier in an issue of VICE when it was still primarily a print magazine. I actually had a print out of it attached to the inside of my closet door at my parents’ place, which is still hanging there.
Yes, I do believe the dogs are symbolic for this book. They are circling one another, on the cusp of the fight, and that tension is something I try to work into my own fiction. I am interested in the build-up and the aftermath, the moment before the release and everything that follows. I think it captures a moment of intention. I think it captures a moment of dread, and I think dread might be my biggest obsession.
 

5) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

 
That’s always a big question and it is always changing. I will say I am a big fan of Richard Price and Richard Yates, I think they both tap into unique strains of desperate and angry America. With Price, its good to start with CLOCKERS and with Yates, I will have to say THE EASTER PARADE.
Toni Morrison’s THE BLUEST EYE was also a huge, huge influence on WASTE and I think about that book often. She has an incredible ability to plant a seed of dread in you and watch it grow. I’m also a fan of Harry Crews, if only for the audacity of his work and his drive to continue writing his own madcap tales. A FEAST OF SNAKES is a favourite from him.
Recently, I’ve been enjoying the works of Yuri Herrera, a Mexican author, whose short novels SIGNS PRECEDING THE END OF THE WORLD and THE TRANSMIGRATION OF BODIES offer up allegories for the unsettling, uncanny world of the border and the complications of violence and blood in modern Mexico. I’m also enjoying the strange, beautiful short stories of Amelia Gray’s GUTSHOT this week.

6) You will be speaking at Toronto’s Word on the Street festival on Sept. 25. Are you looking forward to it?  Are public-speaking events something you enjoy doing?

 
Yes, I look forward to almost all my readings or chances to do public events because it offers a chance to actually meet readers and engage with people who may otherwise never here of your book. Thousands upon thousands of books are published every year and so few of them are read by a wide audience, so these opportunities are very important for any writer. And what self-involved person doesn’t love to be the centre of attention for 7 brief minutes during a reading. No, a lot of writers occasionally abhor readings and I’ve been to plenty of bad ones myself, but a good reading or a good public speaker can really make a story sing. It’s up to the author to make it a performance and to choose a piece that reads well aloud, not just on the page.

7) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

 
I’ve got another novel that’s just come to a close about a man who believes he’s immortal and human trafficking in Canada, but we’ll see what happens. I’ve also got a collection of stranger, creepier short stories that I’ve been sitting on for a bit. We’ll see where they end up.

8) You seem to be active on the social-media app Twitter. How do you like using social media in relation to promoting your work? Are you on any other social media sites?

 
I don’t think social media is a great place to seriously promote your work, but it is a really great place to find other writers, publishers and artists who you enjoy and to express your enjoyment. If those people enjoy the work you post or your online presence, then maybe they’ll buy your book, but I think a lot of online social media promotion ends up causing more cringing than sales. It is useful to announce your publications and readings, but a daily push of your book might turn off more people than it brings into the fold. I use other social media like most people in my generation, but I’m not too invested in it beyond making jokes on Twitter.

9) You biography states how you grew up in Oshawa and now live in Toronto. How do you like living in Toronto right now? Are there any cultural institutions in T.O. that you truly enjoy and gain enlightenment from?

 
I like Toronto a lot, it’s a great cultural hub and it allows me to meet and support a lot of other young writers. Ontario itself has a lot of small towns where you can end up isolated. For now, this is where I want to be. I still have a lot of love for my hometown, but Toronto is where the jobs are for me currently.
If we’re talking cultural institutions, I am forever thankful that we have the TIFF Lightbox here. The programming they run year round is incredible, the audiences are usually great and some of the guests they bring in for Q+A or lecture series often lead to some incredibly unique and treasured experiences. I will never forget Guillermo Del Toro breaking down the history of the Gothic romance before we all watched Hitchcock’s Rebecca. No movies outside your regular blockbusters ever came to my hometown, so it’s pretty great to live in a city that will run a Brian De Palma retrospective and an Andrzej Żuławski retrospective at the same time.
*****

An Insightful Look at the Fringes of our Society | Review of “All We Want Is Everything” by Andrew F. Sullivan (2013) ARP Books (Arbeiter Ring)

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Literature is a great way of understanding how different people live. There are people in the fringes of society; desperate, hurting, anxious, that are marginalized for many reasons. So how did they end up they way they did? What do they do with there time? What are their inner thoughts and emotions? These and much more deeper explorations are brilliantly documented in Andrew F. Sullivan’s book All We Want Is Everything.

Page 16-17 Good King

The ambulance that took Big Red to the hospital decided to stop at every red light along the way. He stared at the four metal prongs glowing like alien bones in his flesh. The same yellow-fingered doctor from the night before asked him how did this and was he the same one who made him eat all those vitamins last night? This was a Christmas when Children’s Aid asked Big Red a series of questions in the hospital bed while his mother stood outside the room, running her hand through the doctor’s hair, ignoring the missing molar, the yellow fingers and the high pitched laugh because she had a mortgage three months in arrears. A wide lady with too much makeup quizzed Big red about his father and about his school and about the time his grandfather left him at a Tim Horton’s in Sault Ste. Marie after a fishing trip and his mother had called the police.

A Christmas when Big Red forgot his Ghostbusters in a snow bank and his father got arrested for the third time in as many years. The following June his Dad would plead out to institutional observation for a period of no less than three months. Around the same week Dwayne “Pearl” Washington would finally receive his release from the Miami Heat after fifty-four games, never to play in the NBA again. This was a Christmas when Big Red finally got his report card from Mrs. Vanderlooten. He had been answering all the math questions with drawings of animals – a lot of ducks and pandas. She said she was concerned, very concerned with his performance. This was a Christmas when Big Red realized “concerned’ didn’t mean much at all as a nurse eased the fork out of his hand.

Sullivan here has written a slice of reality of our society here that everybody claims to know about yet nobody has truly considered. He vividly describes scenes of desperation, of lost hopes, and even the rise of apathy that is so apparent in many peoples lives today. There is a sense of sense of something deep and personal with each exploration in each of the stories yet the characters seem to be almost detached, alone and apathetic to their status in life. There is some well-thought out and crafted lines in these stories even if the words are simple and concise.

Page 22-23 Crows Eat Well

Toby and I walk toward the fields. The sun is directly above us. There are no shadows following us out here. I kick at the gopher holes and try to avoid ants swarming around my feet.

“So they let him go, eh? And he didn’t even bring a boyfriend.”

Dad’s teeth are bright yellow. He’s got a cigarette tucked in one corner of his mouth, but it doesn’t seem to obstruct his words. There’s a red ball cap on his head covered in salt rings. Toby starts plucking at ears of dead corn, dropping kernels onto the ground. On closer inspection, all the plants in here are just like the sunflowers. Something in the soil has accelerated all this growth; everything is overripe and slowly bursting.

“You know you could have called me first, son.  And Toby, I don’t wanna hear nothing about your Mom. She can deal with that mess on her own. I didn’t even say much to the papers anyway. It’ll all blow over eventually. She still sends me black cards on Valentine’s.”

“You’re like children,” I start to say. “Like the world is a sandbox or some shit to you.”

I can feel sweat running down my spine. I remember Dad in the courtroom, explaining how much the ‘dozer was worth, how it was totalled. Detailing my past substance abuse issues, as he called them, my learning problems as a child and my mother’s overprotective nature. I heard him yelling at Kali outside the courtroom, mocking the way her voice slurred in stressful moments. He asked if she charged men by the hour. I was convicted of attempted robbery and resisting arrest. The bulldozer was a dangerous weapon.

Sullivan’s language is frank and bold, but it works in describing the realities he explores in each of the stories. There is no sugar-coating personalities or ‘happy-ever-after’ endings to his stories here. Blunt, up-front situations and lives are documented here.

Page 60 God Is A Place

Caleb’s hands are red in the cold and he worries they will draw out wandering eyes. They are glowing and he can barely feel them. The baby is quiet; maybe it is freezing too. The cold is not an enemy. It is a warm embrace that articulates each breath you take. Caleb stops to lean against a tree to whisper something about St. Peter choking on a stone. All your idols are crumbling, he warns the baby and the baby cries because it knows Caleb is right and so Caleb says you weren’t born from me. And the baby cries again.

Caleb fell off the top shelf of the pasta aisle at the grocery store a year ago. Twink was working cash and she took him to the hospital and field the workman’s comp and got them both kicked out of her Mom’s place once the baby bump could not be hidden anymore. She said it was Caleb’s, but Caleb can’t remember getting hard, not after his knee blew out so he says okay, but it really isn’t okay. He remembers another boy and another bottle and not drinking. He doesn’t want the new apartment with the ducts and pipes filtering fluids and air through their bedroom, the stove rattling every time the bus stops in front of the house. He doesn’t want the feet shuffling above him or the loud screams of raccoons mating in the attic. Fighting, mating, all the same things; all flesh on flesh and the baby is just flesh, that’s it.

All We Want Is Everything by Andrew F. Sullivan is a great exploration of lives being lived on the edges of our society. The language is bold and frank yet memorable. In short, it is a great piece of literature and Sullivan is a writer who is well worth reading.

*****

Link to Andrew F. Sullivan’s website

Link to ARP Books website for ALL WE WANT IS EVERYTHING

Link to Toronto’s Word on the Street Festival page for Andrew Sullivan, where he will be participating on Sept. 25, 2016

 

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“What made me a poet? Curiosity. The thrill of adventure, of new worlds.” | Q&A with poet Penn Kemp

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Image of Penn Kemp linked from her WordPress site. Photo by Dennis Siren

Penn Kemp has been not only been a poet but a cultural icon around my home town of London, Ontario, Canada. Yes, her written words have inspired but her actions in a complex number of fronts have also been a source of enlightenment and engagement for numerous people. It was an honour a few weeks ago when she sent me an advance copy of her new work Barbaric Cultural Practice  (Link to my review) but discussing it only seem to capture a bit of this thought-provoking individual. She agreed to answer a few questions for me here, adding a bit more insight into her and her work.

*****

1) What inspired you to first write poetry? You have been involved in other forms of writing (including play writing). Does poetry hold any special traits for you that other writings don’t have?

My grandmothers were grand sources of inspiration. My Strathroy grandmother knew many poems by heart (that delicious phrase!) which she would recite to me in a kind of incantatory lilt.  The sound transported me. My little Irish grandmother told me wild tales of legends that sparked my imagination into new realms of possibility, realms beyond my house and yard.

When my brother was born, my mother no longer had all the time in the world to read to me. So I memorized the nursery rhymes I loved. But that wasn’t enough; I wanted more. I tried to make sense of the black squiggles on the page until they slowly, finally, swam into meaning. What a discovery! It was pure magic to go from reading other people’s poems and stories to writing them myself. I would set up my dolls in a line on the couch and perform to this unfailingly attentive audience. Power to the reader! Power to the writer!”

What made me a poet? Curiosity. The thrill of adventure, of new worlds. I began piecing out the words to myself. I remember the thrill of pure magic when a word would leap into focus, into meaning. The black letters would assume a third dimension; they would dance. I could almost hear them speak to me directly. I was hooked. I wrote my first poem when I was six, excited and amazed at having created through apparent magic something out of nothing with marks on a page. I glimpsed a world in which words had a life of their own, just as toys did. I knew that if I could wake at the right time at night I would catch my toys at play. So too, I felt words could be surprised and fixed onto the page. If I listened closely enough, words would well up in my head and emerge as a poem.

Writing that first poem was the first time that I recall consciously feeling that I was doing an adult thing— creating something entirely on my own, assuming independence— growing up! I felt like the Little Red Hen in the nursery story: “‘I can do it myself,’ said The Little Red Hen, and she did.”

2) You recently sent me an advance copy of “Barbaric Cultural Practice.” (Thank you!) How long did it take you to write it? Is there any special hopes you have for the book?

Many of the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice have been culled from performance pieces that have been honed over many years and produced on CD/DVD, but not in book form till now. I’m grateful for family and friends’ encouragement en route and ongoing during the evolution of these poems. The list is long and extends back decades.

Poetry needs to be heard as well as read, so I have concentrated in recent years on audio renditions and videopoems in collaboration with Bill Gilliam, John Magyar, Dennis Siren and (always!) Gavin Stairs. How exciting to be able to offer links to video and audio performances of some of these poems through QR codes!

Several of the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice were provoked into being by political events; hence, the title. As an aging activist, I confront by words such issues as climate change and overwhelmingly new technologies. The poems juxtapose the stress of urban life as compared to nature’s round. The poems deal, for example, with the effect of computers on our psyche and with the imprint of electronic media upon perception, consciousness and dream life. Barbaric Cultural Practice pays tribute to our dear Mother World’s enchantments as well as her upheavals. Poetry is my response to the unprecedented complexities of our time.

3) (These next questions is one I know draws fear from other writers when I ask it here but I know some of my followers are eager to know an answer from you.) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

I read Canadian poetry and fiction, especially that which our library stocks. Daily, I scan “New Items” from London Library’s website! (Link to that page) Am reading a new edition of Mavis Gallant’s  A fairly good time: with green water, green sky as well as Ann Carson’s Red Doc>. Then on to Margaret Christakos’s Her Paraphernalias: on Motherlines, Sex/Blood/Loss & Selfies.

4) I know you have a reading event planned at Oxford Books on Oct. 11 but do you have any other reading events planned? Are public readings something you enjoy?

I do enjoy public readings. It’s a privilege to share the innermost source of poetry when performing. And I love to hear poets read their work: the timbre of voice precisely matches their written word. Once I’ve heard a poet read, that voice echoes in my mind when I next read the work.

Here are some upcoming events where I’ll be reading:

September 3, 1:30 – 4:30 p.m. With musician Bill Gilliam @ 2pm. Vino Rosso Bar & Restaurant. 995 Bay St., Toronto ON  M5S 3C4, 416 926-1800.

September 27, 8 pm. The Root Cellar, 623 Dundas St. E., London. Launch, Another London, Harmonia Press, harmoniapress@hotmail.com.

October 5, 7:30 p.m. Quattro Book Launch, Toronto, Supermarket Restaurant, 268 Augusta Ave. Free. Contact: info@quattrobooks.ca. Launch of Barbaric Cultural Practice.

October 7, 2016; Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)  features Paul Dutton and Penn, sound poets. The topic is streaming influences from the ’70’s. Host: Lillian Allen.

October 11, 7 pm. London launch of Barbaric Cultural Practice (Quattro Books). Oxford Book Shop, 262 Piccadilly Street, London N6A 1S4. Contact: Hilary bookorderprocessing@oxfordbookshop.com. Tel: 519-438-8336.

Saturday, October 15, 2016, 2 pm. Reading with Daniel Kolos, Antony Christie. The Garafraxa Café, 131 Garafraxa Street S, (Highway 6), Durham ON. Contact: danielkolos123@gmail.com (Link to The Garafraxa Café’s Facebook page)

5) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

My forthcoming play, The Triumph of Teresa Harris, originated in a short piece for London’s PlayWrights Cabaret at McManus Theatre in 2013. Then it was produced as an hour-long processional play at Eldon House Museum, with one actor and two musicians (co-artistic directors of Light of East Ensemble). More information about the original production, The Dream Life of Teresa Harris is up on https://teresaharrisdreamlife.wordpress.com/. There too are some reviews from the show. I am developing the play into a full length piece with ten or more characters for production at London’s Palace Theatre in March, 2017. The original musicians are participating in the play again.

Teresa Harris was born in 1839 at Eldon House and died in 1928 in England. She tells her amazing life story from her home here.  Born the youngest of a prosperous pioneer family intent on bettering itself, Teresa married a Scottish military man who promised to carry her off to foreign parts she had dreamed of all her life, sickly though she had always been.  Teresa’s story emerges through her own voice and that of her protective mother and her two husbands.  Research reveals that Teresa and her second husband St. George Littledale were the greatest English explorers of their period, travelling further into Asia than any Westerner had.

Hers is an historical life as mediated through my imagination. My visits to beautiful Eldon House brought the era alive.  It was easy to write from Teresa’s perspective since I identified with her and admired her adventurous spirit.  It was fun to imagine her desire to escape the strictures of family convention for more exotic locales. Having been raised in London in the Fifties, I felt the town hadn’t changed all that much from the colonial outpost it had been in Victorian times. It was still very Anglo and class-conscious, patterned upon London, England like a pale shadow of the Mother Country. At twenty-one, I too couldn’t wait to escape, to travel the world!  And I did. I was also happy to return to settle comfortably back in the house I grew up in after forty years away from London.

6) You seem to be active on both Facebook and Twitter. How do you like using those platforms in relation to your writing? Does your WordPress blog site also work well for your writing?

The platforms are a necessity for a working writer to spread the word… and sometimes they are an escape from writing: fun, as well! The virtual communities are engaging: who could have imagined being able to keep in touch with so many people at once. And folks can promote various causes on my (Facebook) group, Support and Promote Canadian Arts and Cultures.

7) You have travelled around the world and still call the London, Ontario, Canada area your home. How do you like living here?

See #5. Yes, London is home. I was born in Strathroy and raised in London. I belong here.

Are there cultural institutions here that you consider unique that inspire your writing? If yes, what are they?

As the City of London’s first Poet Laureate and as writer-in-residence for Creative Aging London, I was very involved in different aspects of the community. Several occasions prompted poems. Other poems were commissioned by groups such as ReForest London.

Western U. gave me a great grounding in literature as a student there. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed teaching classes in Continuing Ed., and as Writer-in-Residence, and hosting a radio show, Gathering Voices, at CHRW. (Link to CHRW’s webpage for “Gathering Voices”)

This fall, I will be working on aspects of the play, including publicity and marketing, with students from Western in the course, Canadian Literature, Creativity, and the Local, with a Community Engaged Learning component. Working with me in this applied learning opportunity, the students will cultivate links with Eldon House and The Palace as part of the project. (Link to the course outline from Western University’s online calendar)

A grant from the London Arts Council allows me to complete the writing of the play this Fall.

It’s been a joy to see several of my Sound Operas mounted at the grand Aeolian Hall and several short plays at the McManus Theatre.

I first became involved in publishing when a local publishing house, Applegarth Follies, asked me to be their poetry editor in 1977. (Josiah Applegarth was London’s first settler). While I edited Twelfth Key, the famous Brick Magazine was published alongside. Another offshoot of Applegarth was Brick Books, still publishing glorious poetry nation-wide some forty years later and still based in London!

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Link to Penn Kemp’s WordPress site

Link to Quattro Books website