Tag Archives: Canadian poetry

“I love that the title resonated with him. I could see it in his face. It helps remind me of poetry’s potential to reach humans-at-large, not just writers and their friends.” | Q&A with Poet Kilby Smith-McGregor

Kilby Smith-McGregor has had a busy time since her book Kids In Triage came out last May. But being busy for her may not be a bad thing for somebody as insightful and talented as her. In the Q&A listed below, she talks about the book, other projects and her upcoming schedule. No doubt we will be hearing a lot more about her soon.

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1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of Kids In Triage? Was there something specific that occurred that made you want to write the book?

Late last winter I was visiting my uncle’s family farm near Fordwich, Ontario; he knew I had a book coming out and asked me what it was called. I said Kids In Triage and he took a moment’s pause and replied, “I guess that’s…a whole generation…more than one.” He’s a brilliant guy, a geologist, but not a ‘lit-culture’ guy. I love that the title resonated with him. I could see it in his face. It helps remind me of poetry’s potential to reach humans-at-large, not just writers and their friends. The most amazing part of publishing a book so far has been hearing from readers, real people, who bring their own context and perspective to the work.

 

The word triage is a medical and military term for classifying and prioritizing injuries in a mass casualty situation. In this collection of poems, I wanted to explore how we identify and deal with emergencies, both public and private. The contemporary world is a mess; the 24-hour news feed is on fire; so, where do we put our energy, where will our care and intervention make a difference? The book is also very much meditation on the body, on gender, violence, and the dynamics of families. These are abiding personal and philosophical obsessions for me, so it doesn’t completely surprise me that the material I eventually shaped into my first book circles around these questions.

2) Your website lists you as both a writer and a graphic artist. Is there one occupation you prefer over the other or are they both compatible in enjoyment for you?

Writing can be a near-transcendent vocation, but it is an absolutely terrible profession. I can think of maybe two or three writers in this country who make a living from literary writing alone. Many teach or work as editors and copywriters, and that can siphon off a lot of your literary juice, depending on your temperament. What I love about being a commercial graphic artist is that it’s creative, but in a completely different way. Even when I act as my own art director, my graphic design projects are in service of someone else’s vision or message, and I like collaborating with clients on that, using my skills and experience to help them represent themselves aesthetically.

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

The major touchstone writers of my literary coming-of-age—for different reasons—are likely JM Coetzee, David Foster Wallace, Marilynne Robinson, and Canadian novelist Michael Helm. Until recently, even my work in poetry has been primarily influenced by prose writers. These are amazing writers, but also not culturally or linguistically representative of the full scope of brilliant stuff that’s available out there. I’ve been diving into the work of contemporary Canadian writers who are relatively new to me this summer: Cherie Dimaline’s story collection, A Gentle Habit (Kegedonce, 2015), and Vivek Shraya’s novel She of the Mountains (Arsenal Pulp, 2014); in addition to Madhur Anand’s Index for Predicting Catastrophes (M&S, 2015), and Soraya Peerbaye’s Tell: poems for a girlhood (Pedlar, 2015), on the poetry front. Then there are recent works by American poets Ocean Vuong, and Jericho Brown, as well as the stunning lyric memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place (Graywolf, 2011), by Binyawanga Wainaina. Wainaina’s book follows his coming-of-age in Kenya, and I had the chance to read it while travelling in Kenya in August—a real treat. I have a lot to learn and discover as a reader and I’m always eager for recommendations.

4) Is there much of a book/reading tour being planned for Kids In Triage? If yes, are there any specific events that you are looking forward?

I’m thrilled to be reading with poet Roxanna Bennet at knife | fork | book, a new Toronto series, on November 3rd [event link: https://knifeforkbook.com/2016/09/11/poets-meet-november-3rd/]. k|f|b is hosted by ever-dynamic reader and curator Jeff Kirby, who has launched a poetry-and-small-press-only bookshop at Rick’s Cafe in Kensington market. You can check out his amazing blog, pictures of the shop, and info about in-store readings on his blog [link: https://knifeforkbook.com/]. I’ll also be in Hamilton, Ontario, at the Lit Live Reading Series [link: http://litlive.blogspot.ca] on December 4th, with friend and fellow Wolsak & Wynn poet, James Lindsay, as well as some other interesting writers across genres.

In the new year I’ll be visiting the Queen’s University undergraduate creative writing program, run by poet Carolyn Smart, and then Carolyn and I will travel from Kingston to Montreal to read together at the Resonance Reading Series [series link: http://www.resonancereadingseries.com] on February 7th. I’m thrilled to be touring with Carolyn; she’s a remarkable poet for her unflinching treatment of violence—as exemplified the brilliant, dark monologues of Hooked, and her new collection Careen, which undercuts the Hollywood treatment of Bonnie & Clyde. The trip is also significant to me because she’s the founder of the Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers, which I received in 2010, and has continued to be a kind supporter of my work from afar. I’m looking forward to the chance to spend some time together talking about poetry, prose, and Bronwen.

New events are updated regularly on my website: kilbysm.com

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

I’m a spectacularly slow prose writer, but in the wake of publishing the poetry collection, I’ve doggedly returned to work on my short story manuscript, All Swimmers. I’m hoping to finish a full draft in the spring. The story collection shares many points of intersection with the poetry, so I hope it will be of interest to readers of Kids in Triage when it eventually comes out.

6) You seem to be an active participant on Twitter. How do you feel about the use of social media in relation to promoting your work? Will you be expanding your presence onto Facebook and other social media platforms?

I joined Twitter in the fall of 2015 and I thought I would hate it. But the access to interesting links and current conversations in the community won me over. I’m not sure it’s a very reliable way to promote your own work if you’re not engaged with it at a professional level (i.e. curating regular ‘branded’ content and using platforms like Hootsuite to manage your activity)—but I do think it’s nice to have a record of things you’re interested in, if people want to know more about you. It’s also a quick, friendly way to give a shout out of support and amplify the voices of others. I have no plans to join Facebook, though the pressure from my family is unrelenting.

7) Your bios have you listed as spending a lot of time in the Guelph-Toronto area? Is that where you currently reside? And is there a lot in the way of cultural activities in that area that keep you engaged?

I lived in Guelph for some of my childhood, and I also taught fiction at the University there as part of the Open Learning Program, but Toronto is my home these days. Toronto offers an embarrassment of riches in terms of cultural and literary events. Not-going-out can prove more difficult than going out, but I find it’s important to take time to curl up with my dog and just read or watch TV some evenings. Some of my favourite ongoing lit events happen here, though. I’m a huge fan of the HIJ House Reading Series [link: http://bookthug.ca/hij-house-reading-series/ ] graciously hosted by BookThug publishers Jay and Hazel Millar in their family home. Hazel bakes homemade pie for each installment, which is a pretty amazing feat—so come for the readings and stay for the pie! I also love the Pivot Reading Series [link: https://pivotreadings.ca], which has been run by Sachiko Murakami, and most recently Jake McArthur Mooney, and will be transitioning to a new host in the coming months; it has a great legacy and has showcased writers of all different stripes from across Canada and beyond.

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Link to Wolsak and Wynn’s website for Kids In Triage

 

Simple Concepts Creating Deep Thoughts | Review of “The Hobo’s Crowbar” Written by JonArno Lawson/Woodcuts by Alec Dempster (2016) The Porcupine’s Quill

I purchased a copy of this book at the 2016 Toronto Word On The Street Festival

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We all engage in some sort of wordplay in our everyday lives. But when words are put into an order to cause us to ponder for a moment, that is a real treat for our minds. And if those words are accompanied by gifted illustrations, then our minds are truly enlightened. And if that complete book is published in a dedicated and well-crafted manner, then it is a truly gifted read. That is exactly what JonArno Lawson and Alec Dempster have done with The Hobo’s Crowbar, published by The Porcupine’s Quill.

There’s Something Almost Real – Page 32

There’s something almost real

In everything that’s fake

Like some banana peel

That startles you awake

It gets beneath your heel

You slip out of your trance

And fall and crack your head

On stones meant for your feet

And if you crawl away enlightened

Then your journey is complete.

It is no secret that I have been waiting for this book. Lawson is an award-winning writer whose skill in taking even a few words and putting them in an order which creates a thought or an emotion in a reader’s mind. And that is exactly what he has done with this book. The phrases are simple yet the thoughts he creates are complex. Definitely a treasure to read.

Page 71

Up And Down

At first sight

I truly loved you

Later

I wasn’t so sure

I was good enough for you.

(I was good enough for you.

I wasn’t so sure

Later

I truly loved you

A first sight.)

Either Way, Again

Noah

Saved

The animals

On the ark-

Noah

Fed

The animals

Fed

Noah

On the ark-

The animals

Saved

Noah.

The woodcuts that Alec Dempster has created for this book are detailed yet with simple lines. They greatly enhance the words of the book yet still allow the reader a great way of leeway to allow their own mind to imagine a scene.

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Scanned image from Page 62 of The Hobo’s Crowbar. Woodcut by Alec Dempster.

There is a strength in the images that Dempster has here. Perhaps because they are woodcuts they seem to command a certain level of attention from a reader. They are intense and thought-provoking and accompany the words of the book well.

 

importantnews
Scanned image of Pages 46-47 of The Hobo’s Crowbar. Woodcut (Left) by Alec Dempster and Important News (Right) by JonArno Lawson.

 The Hobo’s Crowbar, written by JonArno Lawson and illustrated with woodcuts by Alec Dempster is a mind-engaging book. It is simple in its details but complex in its actions and deeds. A great read.

*****

Link to The Porcupine’s Quill webpage for The Hobo’s Crowbar

Link to JonArno Lawson’s blog – The Bottom of the Box

Link to my Q&A with JonArno Lawson-“The Hobo’s Crowbar was written in the way some of my other collections of poems have been written – mostly emerging out of sound ideas or just ideas that I jot down in my notebook as I think of them”

Link to Alec Dempster’s website

Link to my Q&A with Alec Dempster – “The book form is well suited to the black and white images I create whether it be linoleum prints, woodblock prints or paper cuts”

“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.

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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

Making Us Consider Our Actions | Discussion of Penn Kemp’s “Barbaric Cultural Practice”Quattro Books – To Be Launched Autumn 2016

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Image of Penn Kemp linked from her WordPress site

I had been in a bit of a funk with my blog last week. The summer months have been busy on other fronts for me, and my personal reading and reflection time has been somewhat limited. I had been trying to look forward to the autumn new releases in hopes of something invigorating for my mind would come forward. Then a message from Penn Kemp came via Facebook, asking if I would look and review her new book coming out in the fall. I agreed and I found myself enveloped in her Barbaric Cultural Practice. 

Penn Kemp is an icon in the cultural landscape. Her biography page on her blog states she has over 25 books of poetry and drama published, plus six plays and numerous works recorded on different electronic means. But this new work is brilliant in its form.

No doubt, many of us Canadians were shocked last year when the government used the term Barbaric Cultural Practices on several fronts to justify their actions. We were outraged by the term, elected the government out of office and, no doubt, didn’t give the term much thought since. But Kemp has done something enlightening for readers by using the term for this collection of poetry. She has crafted her personal thoughts and views in this work and given all of us something to consider about our own actions. As she told me in the email she sent me with the advance copy:   . . . the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice pay tribute to our dear Mother World’s enchantments as well as her upheavals. They confront the stresses of urban life as juxtaposed to nature’s round, and deal, for example, with the effect of computers on our psyche and with the imprint of electronic media upon perception, consciousness and dream life. They are a response to the need for action against climate change and a humorous protest against overwhelming technology.

The beauty of me reading poetry at this stage of my life is the admiration of thought and consideration of the human condition that writers of the form have. After spending numerous years attempting a career in the media field, turning to reading and considering literature has been an enlightening experience for me. Literature should cause a reader to consider their world and their actions in the world around them. Penn Kemp has done that for me with her collection  Barbaric Cultural Practice. No doubt I will be reading it again and quoting it here when it is published.

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Link to Penn Kemp’s WordPress site (which includes new works)

Link to Quattro Books website

Link to Oxford Book Shop in London, Ontario, Canada. On Tuesday, October 11, 2016 at 7 pm. Penn Kemp will be do a local launch of Barbaric Cultural Practice there.

 

 

“The book form is well suited to the black and white images I create whether it be linoleum prints, woodblock prints or paper cuts” | Q&A with Illustrator Alec Dempster

Hobo

For those of us in today’s era who still admire book, we truly love the detail, the time and the craft of the printed page. And that admiration counts for both writers and illustrators. Alec Dempster has created a series of woodcuts to illustrate JonArno Lawson’s newest collection of poetry – called The Hobo’s Crowbar – and agreed to answer a few questions for me. The Hobo’s Crowbar will be released by The Porcupine’s Quill in October, 2016.

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1) How long did it take you to do the woodcuts for The Hobo’s Crowbar? JonArno Lawson stated in a Q&A for me he was amazed by your work for the book. Was it an easy task to create images for his poems?

I spent several months creating the images.  Because I was working on another illustration project at the same time, working on music for Palo Dado my new band (Link to their Facebook page here), as well as my work for Lula Music and Arts Centre (Link here) it is hard to say exactly how long it took . I spend about two of three days on each image. Some time is also spent preparing the woodblocks. In this case a friend of mine who is a luthier had some spare offcuts of veneer from another project and he helped me glue them to particle board. It wasn’t the ideal material but I managed to make it work for me and the result is a series of images that are unlike any other I have made. The fact that I was free to choose which poems to illustrate from a large selection made it easier. I found the poems that evoked an image in me and that I could connect to personally in some way. I wouldn’t say that is was easy but I had a lot of freedom to create which made a big difference.

2) According to your website, this will be your sixth book that you have been involved with. (Including another book with JonArno Lawson.) Is publishing and illustrating something you enjoy doing?

Each book project I have worked on has been thoroughly enjoyable and very different. The book form is well suited to the black and white images I create whether it be linoleum prints, woodblock prints or paper cuts. As opposed to showing the work in a gallery for a month or so, the images in the book continue to circulate for much longer. 

3) Will you be exhibiting the works from The Hobo’s Crowbar in any way? Will copies from the cuts be available for purchasing?

The prints are being shown till the end of August in Mandrágora Galería y Taller in Metepec, Mexico. (Link to their Facebook page) They are for sale and I am looking for somewhere to show the work in Toronto. Other venues are most welcome. 

4) Are there artists that you admire for their technique? If yes, who are they and why?

The artists that I admire are good technicians but for me technique is a given. I am more interested in what an artist has to communicate. A few of the fellow printmakers I admire are Sergio Sánchez Santamaria,  Daniel González, Mazatl, Joel Rendón and Demian Flores. Except for Mazatl, I know them all and that makes a difference to my appreciation of the work because I understand something about where they are from and where they create. There are many more artists I admire. 

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

I am working on a new series of illustrations for a book by Hubert Malina for Pluralia Ediciones in Mexico. (Link to their website (in Spanish)) Hubert writes in Mè’ phàà a language spoken in the mountains of the state of Guerrero and in Nicaragua. The book is part of a series of Mexican indigenous poets writing in different languages. It is an honour to be part of the series. 

6) You seem to have an active online presence on the social-media platforms life Facebook and Twitter? How do you you like using these applications in relation to your work?

Facebook is useful for promoting events although it hasn’t been very useful in terms of selling my work. I haven’t understood the usefulness of Twitter so you could say I have given up on it. Instagram seems to be used a lot by visual artists and I am giving it a try.  (Link to Alec Dempster’s Instagram page)

7) You have been travelling quite a bit for your work but where is your studio located right now? Is it in a city or region that inspires you for your work?

My provisional studio is located in Toronto. I wouldn’t say that Toronto inspires my artwork but living here has given me a form of stability that allows me to focus on my artwork when I have time to allot to sitting down to create. When I lived in Mexico I was able to dedicate longer periods to work on art projects exclusively. Here I am constantly juggling time and occupations. Toronto is an inspiring place musically and my musical projects have fed on the diversity of excellent musicians that live here.

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“(The book) involves a process of coming into knowledge of the places I come from and the places the book travels to . . .” | Q&A with poet Laurie D. Graham

SetEd

History tends to be a biased cut-and-dry listing of facts. So it takes new interpretations to vault new perspectives upon us and open our minds to events that may direct still involve us today. Poet Laurie D. Graham has done that with Settler Education. Her reflections on the Frog Lake “massacre” and the Northwest Resistance has given some pause to reflect what our history texts stated. Graham recently answered a few questions on her latest work.

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First, off, can you give a bit of an outline of Settler Education.

Settler Education travels west to the site of what’s called the Frog Lake “massacre” and, more generally, the Northwest Resistance. It stays in those places, in what’s now east-central Alberta and central Saskatchewan, immersing itself in what happened there 130 years ago and what remains of those events now. It then moves into the cities—to Edmonton, to Regina, to Toronto—keeping itself trained on the Resistance in these present-day places. Settler Education tries to say something about the violence and injustice that brought about the Resistance and the deaths at Frog Lake, and to see better the ways it continues today.

Did you do much research for the book, was it a product of ‘pure imagination, or a combination of the two?’ How long did it take you to write it?

I did a large amount of research for Settler Education. As the title implies, it involves a process of coming into knowledge of the places I come from and the places the book travels to, so I read an awful lot, I dug into archives, I went to look at sites, I got to know places, I listened to stories.

My first ideas about the book came before I finished writing my first book, Rove, the first poems were written around 2009, things started clicking into place around 2012, and (McClelland and Stewart) accepted it at the start of 2015.

You already have a list of dates where you will be reading Settler Education. Are there any events/venues that you are excited to be reading your work? Will you be adding new dates as well?

I’ve got two readings scheduled in London and one in Edmonton, and I just recently did a couple of readings in Toronto, one of which was M&S’s poetry launch, a very well-attended event. It was a great night. And I’m looking forward to all my readings: Edmonton because it’s my home and I get to read with Myrna Kostash, and my London launch at the Oxford Book Shop because I’ve wrangled Tom Cull and Jean McKay to read with me, and I admire their work quite a lot.

In a Q&A you answered for me about a year ago, I asked you if your jobs as an educator and an editor helped you with your writing. You wrote:

Being on all sides of the task of bringing a piece of writing to fruition has taught me a lot, but it’s hard to tell if teaching and editing influence my writing in any overt way. I know it has improved my eye. I’m more rigorous, more ruthless, more self-aware.

On the other hand, editing and teaching can keep me from writing, which ends up doing the opposite of helping… I teach out of necessity and I help put together Brick out of love, but I have to make sure these things keep to their “compartments” or else there’ll be no writing, and it’s writing that gave me these two gigs in the first place.

Now, one year later and another book published, do you still feel that way?

Yeah, definitely. I’m still trying to make enough time for all three of these gigs and to keep them all to their corners, and I’m still learning a lot from the teaching and the editing. Lately the pattern of my years goes that I work like mad through the fall and a bit less through the winter so I can have the summers more to myself and to writing. It’s been a good pattern, overall. Not perfect, of course, but utterly workable.

 One of the most talked-about questions I always ask on my blog is asking a published writer’s views on social media. Are you still keen on using Facebook and Twitter?

I use them a fair bit, and they are really good for following issues you’re interested in and keeping abreast of or letting people know about readings or events or good things to look at or read. But I remain more of a listener than a contributor on those platforms (as in life, mostly), and there’s a point when I have to turn these things off and get to work already.

 Have there been any new writers or any new books that you have read in the past year that have earned your praise?

I just read Tim Lilburn’s new book, The Names, and it is wonderful. He has a new voice in these poems, or at least it feels new to me. Liz Howard’s Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent and Soraya Peerbaye’s Tell have both been nominated to the Griffin Prize this year, and I think both books are highly deserving of this recognition. I recently read a book called Stolen Life, written by Yvonne Johnson, a descendant of the Plains Cree chief mistahimaskwa / Big Bear (along with Rudy Wiebe). This book was new to me, and it’s wonderful and wrenching. I’m reading Jenna Butler’s A Profession of Hope right now, and, as someone who enjoys putzing around in the garden, I am having a great time with that one.

 Are you working on or planning any new works right now? If yes, are there details you can share?

I’ve got some new poems in the hopper, but I don’t know much about them yet. They’re multiple in their intentions and even in their voices. I don’t know how things will turn out, but right now they are about clearcutting, about suburban sprawl, about animals, about sitting beside water, about sitting beside a fire. Pretty vague, I know, but that’s how it begins for me: turn off the editor in my head and just proceed towards that unnameable thing.

*****

Link to Laurie D. Graham’s website

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s page for Settler Education

Link to my review of Settler Education

 

Using Poetry to go beyond the History Books | Review of “Settler Education” by Laurie D. Graham (2016) McClelland & Stewart

It was a rush that was typical of our modern life the day I went to pick up this book. I walked through a maze of hallways at a college campus filled with bodies trying find their own ways around me. I walked into a office, talked to a receptionist who picked up a phone and announced me. And with a rush of quick smiles and handshakes I was back out with this slim volume in my hand trying to make my way through another confused mass of bodies. I found a cafeteria and grab a lukewarm cup of coffee and sat down. There is still a confused chunk of humanity around me as I open to the first page.

And within reading the first well-crafted words, I was absorbed into Laurie D. Graham’s Settler Education.

Number One Canadian (Excerpt) Page 1

Stutter-stepping. The last fumes out

of Ontario. Beds and sliding doors and dining cars tunnelling

through the forest, its genealogy

of clear-cut, its firework trees new and hot.

We show them our ghost stations. We show them

tea at the window as birch die tangled

in power lines, birch hauling lines

down to the level of marsh, and marsh rising

to meet electricity.

Page 2

This is the line.

A propane tank every fifty clicks,

wall-eyed shoots and utility corridors,

gift-buying hours in the recreation car and hints

of lake and woodsmoke if you’re looking for them.

No Oh My Nation, No God Save Our Queen,

no colonial  imperative except in our being here, in what it means

to shower on a moving train, track rolling under the drainhole,

the luxurious pillows, my last minute discount.

This is what they starved a people for.

Page 3

Through tree scenes, tableaux in the dome car,

the soldiers, the settlers, the track laid, the way made.

Making goods of them. Servants, subjects, comrades, always

more, and the trees smoulder, the trace smoke in the camera’s vision

that comes of passing too fleetly. We pause at vistas and wildlife,

coniferous worming at the periphery.

A train car neat with men and their rifles.

Outside, thread of campsmoke obscured by clouds, by trees.

Notes Page 107

“NUMBER ONE CANADIAN” is the name of the train that runs from Toronto to Vancouver. When the train returns east, they call it the Number Two.

Graham has woven a complex tapestry here where many historians and other academics have failed for us. The book tells the story of the Plains Cree uprising at Frog Lake and the settlement of the Prairies. Graham’s poetry here weaves through time, places, impressions, journal entries, letters and so forth to brilliantly give the mind’s eye of any reader a clear impression of the places and the events.

Among the Buffalo Page 17

we were told that in a day or two we would reach the buffalo country

might expect to see considerable herds

day after day no signs

we became skeptical

Saint, hell. Riel’s a criminal.

He brought law out here, one good thing to

                                       come out of

                         his treason

I found several of the party quietly reading

to one of them I asked  have you seen the buffalo

he started as if he received a shock from a battery

You’re gonna get the redneck view from this

                                  end of the table

each bend of the river brought us in view of new herds

on both sides        not in dense masses

as when migrating    but scattered bands from ten to one hundred

sometimes close to the bank

they went at a lumbering gallop as the steamer approached

Next you’ll say I got no right to be here,

            been farming this same plot for a full century.

the appearance of the steward with a rifle on his arm

and all was excitement

Graham has gone beyond using just words here. She using layout and typeface to set different moods here that vault the reader from one emotion to another. This is a complex read yet one that is worth savoring.

Frog Lake (Excerpt) Page 21

Ditchweed, fuchsia. The first thing grows after fire.

Chased here by weather, rain then clearing sky,

Wandering Spirit, Iron Body, Miserable Man,

Round the Sky, Little Bear, Bad Arrow.

A grave, once unmarked, months from here.

Brome grass in all the places the earth’s been turned.

Settler Education by Laurie D. Graham may be a collection of poetry but it goes where history books have failed us. Graham gives detailed descriptions of emotions, thoughts and actions which causes readers to actually feel and care about the scenes. A great piece of literature.

Link to Laurie D. Graham’s blog

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s webpage for Settler Education

“I’ve reached this really happy place where I’m at peace with my desire to just be prolific” | Q&A with writer Mark Sampson

Mark Sampson certainly was the subject of a few conversations within my circles with his novel Sad Peninsula (Link to my review) He certainly enlightened a few people about the role of comfort women in Korea during the Second World War AND caused a few of us to look at our own interactions with different members of our own society. So it was exciting to see on his posts on Facebook recently announcing that he has a new book coming forward. And it was equally exciting for me to have him answer a few questions for my blog.
******
1) So you have just released a book of poetry entitled Weathervane. Could you give a bit of an outline?
Weathervane collects the poems I’ve been writing and publishing over the last 15 years or so. The book is broken up into three main sections: the first looks at the various vicissitudes of weather and the changing seasons, and how they can be a metaphor for our relationships or emotional worlds; the second gathers poems that look at the consequences of action or inaction; and the third offers profiles of interesting people, places or things – some real, some fictional, some flattering, some critical. My poems run the gamut from formalist approaches (there is a sestina and a palinode included in the book, for example) to total free verse. A lot of it is lyrical or confessional. Some of it is funny (I hope). All of it tries to add some brief instance of illumination on an everyday moment.
2) You have written and published both fiction and poetry.  Do you enjoy writing both formats or is there one form you prefer other the other? 

Yes, I love writing in a number of forms: novels, short stories, poetry, book reviews and literary criticism. I think if I was forced to pick just one, it would have to be the novel, just because of its expansiveness, but poetry offers its own unique pleasures. I really love the concision of poetry, the way it allows you as a reader to leave gaps and breathing spaces for readers. I think a poem can be just as engrossing as a work of prose, but on its own terms.  
3) Who are you favourite writers? What are you reading right now? 

It’s so hard to pick a writer or group of writers as “favourites,” just because I try to read widely enough to expose myself to all sorts of forms, tones, voices and subject matters. But I guess I have my soft spots. Prose wise, I find myself returning over and over again to British writers Anthony Burgess, Martin Amis, Iris Murdoch, and the like. I’m really inspired by comic writing, and I try to infuse a lot of my own prose with it. As for poetry: I really love the verse of poets George Amabile, Jeffery Donaldson, Catherine Graham, and M. Travis Lane.

Right I’ve got a number of books on the go. I’ve been rereading The Iliad and The Odyssey, by Homer. I just published a review of a debut  novel, Bret Easton Ellis and Other Dogs, by Swedish writer Lina Wolff. And I finally got around to reading Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, which cleaned up at awards season when it was published back in 2011 and has been on my radar for quite a while. The nightstand stack of books is always out of control. I’ll probably still be reading 10 years after I die. 
4) Are you planning any public readings of  Weathervane? If yes, are there any dates or events that you are excited to partake in? 

I am indeed. March 23 in Windsor, Ontario; April 5 in Toronto; and April 28 in London, Ontario. There may be other events later in the year, but they haven’t been confirmed yet. 
5) It has been a little while since  Sad Peninsula has been released. How did you find the reaction to the novel? Was there a Korean version of the book released? 

I was really pleased with the reaction to Sad Peninsula after it came out in the fall of 2014. It got several reviews, including in some high-profile publications like Publishers Weekly, and I got to do a number of readings here in Ontario and in the Maritimes. Best of all, I received a lot of encouraging notes and emails from readers after it was published. It’s funny, because not all of the feedback was positive, and I didn’t necessarily have a problem with that. The book, as you may recall, was written from two alternating points of view: the first from a Korean woman who was a sex slave (“comfort woman” was the euphemism) for the Japanese military in World War Two; and the second from a young Canadian man teaching ESL in Seoul in the early 2000s. Some reviewers and readers really loved the comfort woman sections but hated the bits about the teacher. Others really thought I nailed the ESL teaching culture but were unimpressed by my rendering of the sexual slavery and its emotional aftermath. The fact that both parts got both negative and positive comments heartened me in a weird way. I felt that Sad Peninsula was, on several levels, a very difficult book, and I was glad there was such a multitude of responses to it.

The novel has not been released in South Korea. I know my publisher, Dundurn, has been pushing for a Korean version since it accepted the manuscript. But the world of foreign rights and foreign translations is incredibly complex and competitive, so I don’t know whether we’ll ever see that happen. I’m also not certain where narratives about the comfort women legacy really stand in Korea’s literary culture right now. I wonder if the reason the book hasn’t been picked up is because there have already been so many works of fiction over there exploring that history, and the country just doesn’t need yet another one (and one written by a waegookin, no less). Or maybe the opposite is true: maybe there are very few novels written in Korean about this history, and maybe the country isn’t quite ready to explore what happened to these women through fiction yet. It’s hard to say.

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

Yes, indeed. I’ll be back with Dundurn for my next novel. I submitted the completed manuscript to my editor about two weeks ago and it looks like the book – which is a comic novel about a university professor whose off-colour comments during a nationally televised debate go viral on social media; a VERY different book from Sad Peninsula, let’s just say – will be out sometime next year. I’m also back to writing some new poetry after a long stretch away from it (Weathervane has been in the can for a while now) and it feels really great. I’m also hoping to start a new novel at some point later this year. So I’d say I’m fairly busy.
7) You seem to partake a bit on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter? How do you like using those applications? Do they help you with your writing at all? 

Social media is good for staying connected with friends and colleagues in the writing community, and to help promote book launches and readings and such. And I’d definitely say the darker side of social media – the public shaming, the bun fights, the insidious attacks and trolling – certainly played a role in inspiring the new novel I just finished, mentioned above. But I think what you have to realize as a writer is that your social media audience isn’t necessarily the audience for your writing. The range of one’s social media presence is actually pretty small, even you have hundreds or even thousands of “followers.” And it’s important to remember that who you’re really trying to connect with is that individual reader standing in the bookshop or at the library, or hovering over your book’s entry on an online retailer’s website, and deciding whether to share their scarce free time with something you’ve written. Social media can only ever be an adjunct – and a very tenuous one at that – to that relationship with a reader.
8) So you have been writing for a little while now. Has your writing changed since you started out? If yes, how? 

Actually, it’s been a looooong while – 25 years as of this month. When I started out, I was halfway through Grade Ten in Charlottetown, PEI, and wanted to be Canada’s answer to Stephen King or Danielle Steel – basically a “commercial” writer. I wrote several “novels” (or, I suppose, novel-length pieces of fiction; it’s hard to call them proper novels, they were such garbage) over the next seven years, and by the late 1990s (I was in my early twenties by this point) I realized that literary fiction was where I really wanted to be. Then I went through a lengthy phase where I wanted to write big, chunky, “serious” novels that take seven years each to compose, a la John Irving or Wayne Johnston or Tom Wolfe. But in the last number of years, I’ve reached this really happy place where I’m at peace with my desire to just be prolific and write whatever the fuck I want, that I want to write a lot and in multiple genres and modes – novels and poetry, literary criticism and short stories, funny works and sad works and everything in between – and I’m just having a blast doing all that.
9) Your biographies have you listed as living in Toronto. How do you like living there? Does the city’s cultural scene give you any fuel for your writing?
Toronto’s cool. I moved here in 2007 after living abroad for a number of years and moving around in different places in Canada, and it eventually felt like home. I really do feel part of the cultural scene here. Despite what you might hear in other parts of Canada (especially back home in the Maritimes), Torontonians – or “Upper Canadians” as we call them – are actually very warm and welcoming. Toronto as a place is starting to creep its way into my fiction now, and I feel like this is the sort of city that can keep you stimulated while at the same time leave you alone, which is ideal for a writer. 
*******

The Lament of a Hurtful Past | Review of “Hear and Foretell” by Joseph A. Dandurand (2015) BookLand Press

Hear

We have all heard about the pain and the anguish of the Aboriginal peoples recently but do we really get a chance to understand them. Quick sound bites and small mentions in news items touch on their pain but then move on to another issue. Hence, it is insightful to read the thoughts of someone like Joseph A. Dandurand through his collection of poetry called Hear and Foretell.

The Kwantlens – Page 8-9

I had to open a building

this morning for a crew

they were going north

into our territories

up in a place called

Stave Lake.

 

They will be digging for

stone tools

pieces of our

lost

puzzle.

 

who are we?

 

the Kwantlens

 

a pitiful number of 90

than once numbered

in the thousands.

 

smallpox epidemic

wiped us out

80 % of us sick

died

tortured

by illness

one sneeze

and it was over.

 

here now we dig

for our stones

ancient signs

that we once

lived further north

than this island.

 

here we are centuries

of pieces

of torn up

families.

 

quietly my son

goes to the water

and skips a stone

that will be found

a thousand years

from now

in a land

not

forgotten.

Dandurand opens his soul to give a simple voice to complex thoughts and emotions here. His words are clear and small but are able to reveal to the mind’s eye his situation directly and we are able to empathize and understand the world he resides in.

Afterthought Memories – pages 18-19

where is the war?

where do priests go when they touch

little boys?

 

where are the nuns who

beat me and stepped on me

and controlled me?

 

this is not a poem for

carnivals and happy places

nor is this the perfect life

filled with pictures

of happier times.

 

people keep asking me for pictures

but I do not like being in a picture

and there is nothing mysterious

or sacred

as to why.

 

I am a picture.

 

this etched face

this empty heart

this portrait of a hack writer.

 

this fridge makes a noise

the uncaring listen into my home

wondering who I am.

 

don’t ask

and no pictures please

leave me alone

to write pictures

like this one.

 

a landslide

of afterthought

memories

taken

and tossed.

Dandurand does an excellent job in capturing elements of the human condition and bring them forth in this book. While he enlightens us about modern Aboriginal life, he also expresses some of his personal anguish and fears, sharing thoughts we all have at times and helping us not feel alone in our pains.

Lovers – Page 56-57

there have been good ones

sad ones

crazy ones

and then I speak

and all of them run away.

 

wouldn’t you?

 

am I so terrible?

 

I go in with passion

upon my lips

as I caress them

as I love them.

 

today I have no lovers

only memories of goodbyes

and I wonder who is loving

them all now.

 

I curl up on an empty bed

hugging myself

trying to feel a sensation that

is no longer there.

 

the window is closed

the blinds are down

the cats are sleeping

the room is empty

except for a frightened man

hiding his love

from lovers

who all walked away.

 

I open my mouth

to speak

to save myself

but the words

are all empty

yes

my

words

are empty.

Hear and Foretell by Joseph A. Dandurand brings forth an element of the human condition rarely explored. His words are simple yet his emotions are deep and complex. A great read and an author worthy of further study.

Link to the Wikipedia page on Joseph A. Dandurand

Link to Bookland Press website for a page on Joesph A. Dandurand

 

Pulling Apart the Norms | Review of “Sabotage” by Priscila Uppal (2015) Mansfield Press

sabotage

We don’t critique the world around us, we grumble about it and move on. We don’t protest things anymore, we whine about them and stumble away. We don’t argue about items presented to us, we shake our heads at those points and slink away. But Priscila Uppal has dared to blow apart many norms we have chosen to accept in her collection of poetry called Sabotage.

Accusations – Page 11

Summer nights ripe for accusations, I twirl my parasol

while you tip your straw hat to store fronts

 

I accuse your briefcase of prematurely filing for bankruptcy

You accuse my hairpins of setting fire to the tool shed.

 

I accuse your desk drawers of alcoholism.

You accuse my running shoes of adultery.

 

I accuse your grooming kit of harbouring dangerous fugitives.

You accuse my paperbacks of plagiarism.

 

I accuse your mother of sabotaging our cheese fondue.

You accuse mine of bugging our bedroom, exterminating our transcripts.

 

I accuse your love of being small.

You accuse me of dumping mine on the side of the road like a lame dog.

 

We accuse bowls of cold water at the doors of nursing homes of debunking our seniors.

We accuse elevators of treason.

 

All this before the bullied sun offs itself.

Uppal is an accomplished poet and wordsmith whom I always enjoy reading. Her phrases always awaken my mind’s eye with clear imagery and cause me to ponder her thoughts long after I have read her work. This work is no exception.

The Biggest Loser – Page 44

I am an obese woman

trapped in a slim woman’s body.

My calorie intake is high,

but could be staggering.

I just need a scale, a TV crew,

and a support network

 

I want to bite, chew, swallow

every minute of every day until

time ceases to exist.

 

I want to gorge on happiness

and unhappiness until I’m so absorbed

I cannot move an inch.

 

I want to wear fat

like memory foam

and become my own indigestible dreams.

 

I want to roll my hunger

like dough and rise like a volcano

to the occasion.

 

I am an obese woman

trapped in a slim woman’s body.

Look, my ribs are keys

of a player piano.

Look, look into my eyes,

fat as opera singers.

Uppal fires volleys of phrases into the concepts we blindly accept as the world. Sometimes readers need to re-read a phrase to understand the concept that she is bringing forth for us to grasp, but then there is a moment of awaking that occurs. Which is what a good piece of literature should do.

Teaching is Becoming a Dangerous Profession – Page 59

Pull out a book,

you might as well be pulling out

a grenade.

 

No one seems to recognize

what it is or how to use it

before it’s too late.

Priscila Uppal has dared to rip apart the norms in the world around us with her book Sabotage. She carefully crafts volleys of words into things around us that need to be dismantled and destroyed. A great work of literature.

Link to Priscila Uppal’s website

Link to Mansfield Press’ page for Sabotage