Tag Archives: The Porcupine’s Quill

A Noble Gift I was Touched to Receive | Mention of “The Gamekeeper: Selected Poems 1976-2011” by Michael Harris (2017) The Porcupine’s Quill

I received a copy of this book from the publisher.


We all receive numerous gifts throughout the year but the ones that have true meaning are the ones that are carefully crafted  so they become treasured items.  Recently I received a copy of The Gamekeeper: Selected Poems 1976-2011 by Michael Harris from the dedicated publishing firm of The Porcupine’s Quill. And it will become a loved item for my personal library shelf.

Work (Excerpt) – Page 157

My seven-year-old fishing

for the first time, in the murk, perfect

pike somewhere else, not here. The

mobile rings, his mum asking

everything OK? Better take some

chicken out for supper. Poems somewhere,

and rainbows. Rainbows!

I received this volume in the mail on a Friday and spent a lot of my leisure time over the following weekend with it. I love Harris’ expressive prose and lyricism in this collection. It was a warm and enveloping feeling to read a phrase that he has crafted and then come to the realization that I had been in a similar situation or had a similar feeling that he had been describing in his works. I found myself repeating phrases out loud because they were such vivid expressions that I could relate to.

The Patient – Page 15

I am here and afraid; my body

scooped out and laid in thin

rubber. the tubes like thermometers

in my body’s weather; they fill me


with bread pale as clean cotton.

I reduce it, reduce everything

to liquids in what’s left of my stomach,

in what’s left of my mind.


In the softest, quietest ways I am broken

into parts; one a day, once a day, they

come and play with me, with red sacs

and white sacs and murmurings and measurements.


They clean me like a fingernail

where the quick starts to sting

and they will not stop.

The Porcupine’s Quill in Erin, Ontario, Canada always publishes such detailed works with dedication and clarity that it is a pleasure for any book fan to pick up one of their works and slip away from the world in an intellectual fashion. Their stock is always of highest grade and any illustrations they use are detailed and well-thought out.

The Watchmender, Paros – Page 83

Something’s broken,

and they don’t know what.

These are the watches

their grandfathers brought –

the springs so thin now

they’d snap at his touch:

and they expect them fixed.


Under the small shop lamp,

his two differing eyes work hard

against each other: the clear one

fastened to his optic lens –

the wayward other, wandering with disuse,

dimly taking in the villagers

whose shadow pass his window,

or stand before him, waiting.


He bends like a priest

by the deathbed candle,

to attend to the useless glow

of jewels sunk deep

in almost-dead works,

like rosaries of stars

that won’t wear out.

The Gamekeeper: Selected Poems 1976-2011 by Michael Harris was a truly remarkable and touching gift I received from The Porcupine’s Quill. Harris’ words and well-crafted and expressive and the book is printed on wonderful stock. It is an item I will cherish and keep.


Link to The Porcupine`s Quill website for The Gamekeeper: Selected Poems 1976-2011

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


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


I wasn’t so sure

I was good enough for you.

(I was good enough for you.

I wasn’t so sure


I truly loved you

A first sight.)

Either Way, Again



The animals

On the ark-



The animals



On the ark-

The animals



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.

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.


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”

“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


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.


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.


The Words of Margaret Avison | Review of “The Essential Margaret Avison” selected by Robyn Sarah (2010) The Porcupine’s Quill

I always believed that the human condition needed to be better examined but it wasn’t until recently that I discover how well a medium poetry is for doing just that. I have started reading older published works of poetry and feeling overwhelmed by the process. There is a lot that is being recommended for me to read. However one book has brought older works recently to my attention and that is The Essential Margaret Avison .

The World Still Needs (Excerpt) page 9

Frivolity is out of season.

Yet, in this poetry, let it be admitted

The world still needs piano-turners

And has fewer, and more of these

Grey fellows prone to liquor

On an unlikely Tuesday, gritty with wind,

When somewhere, behind windows,

A housewife stays for him until

Hour of the uneasy bridge-club cocktails

And the office rush at the groceteria

And the vesper-bell and the lit-up buses passing

And the supper trays along the hospital from


Suffering from

Sore throat and dusty curtains

Avison’s words here have a clear a descriptive quality. They are easy to understand and the imagery becomes apparent to the mind’s eye while reading.

Hid Life (Page 39)

Red apples hang frozen

in  a stick-dry, snow dusty

network of branches,

against lamb’s wool and pastelblue of sky,

a crooked woodenness, a wizening red.


Are these iron stems? or is

this tree in a lee out of the

clattering winds?


Heavily in my heart

the frost-bruised fruit, the sombre tree,

this unvisted room off winter’s endless corridors

weigh down



even this fruit’s flesh

will sodden down at last.


Botanist, does the seed

so long up held

still somehow inform

petal and apple-spring-perfume

for sure, from so far?


Is the weight only

a waiting?

Robyn Sarah has provided a interesting introduction to the life and work of Avison at the beginning of the book.

Forward – Page 8

Avison’s poems exhibit a range of forms and styles, yet in every mode a voice comes through that is uniquely recognizable as hers – a response to the world that seamlessly blends the cerebral, the sensory, and the emotive. She broaches the metaphysical, the social and the human, delineating these with almost hallucinatory attention to detail. A wide-ranging allusiveness reflects eclectic reading, but equal attention is given to the unmediated ‘real world’ (primarily an urban world, rendered with haunting vividness through changes of season and times of day). The simplest poems about weather today, or the view out the window, easily yield a metaphoric reading, yet can also satisfy as poems about the weather or the view out the window.


It was a pleasure to read Avison’s work here. No doubt I will be exploring more of her work in the future.

Power (page 45)

Master of his first tricycle,

pedalling furiously towards the singing

lethal traffic

he – double elation – meets

his father fresh afoot from that main thoroughfare –

to circle and

come too? No – a palaver

in reasonable terms he mutinously

waits out, stubbed between land and father’s foot,

all dammed-up and high voltage

with all ear for where he’ll go


At last dad hoists him, waist under one arm

trike dangled from the other hand

and heads home


DON’T PICK ME UP! the scarlet

struggling sobbing adventurer

wails (after the fact).


One is so powerful.

One is so small.


How can power know

not to make helplessness

what is decisive?


The Essential Margaret Avison was an enlightening introduction into the works of a brilliant poet. A must read for any poetry fan.

Link to The Porcupine’s Quill page for The Essential Margaret Avison


The Short Sides of Dealing with Change | Review of “Aquarium” by Mike Barnes (1999) The Porcupine’s Quill

Any sort of change in one’s life – be it controlled or thrust upon a person unexpectedly – can be difficult to deal with. But it is an important aspect of the human condition and any writer that tries to talk about it in their work is helping a reader consider the changes in their own lives. And that is what Mike Barnes has done in his collection of short stories called Aquarium.

Page 29 The Leading Edge

What the artist had  said changed things, there was no doubt about that. I had been looking at a bunch of backs and necks and haircuts, but now I had to imagine that I was about to meet some people. Movement came into the equation. It was almost a sound I could hear; like the shifting of a theatre audience in the dark, only quitter. Like the tissuey whisper of the angel wings in the Old Master room upstairs, when it was just you and the oil paintings, near closing time.

Barnes is gifted with his use of words. (Link to my review of his book of poetry “Calm Jazz Sea.) His descriptions filled the reader’s mind with images that are clear and concise. And the  settings he uses could fit into anyone’s life.

Page 94 – Sky Candy

I scan the limitless horizon. Stars glimmer in places through the cloud, like water droplets on a vast net. As long as I don’t focus on any reference point for long, I am free to jump, to fly, towards the thin crust separating earth from sky. I feel my body lightening, draining its mass from my feet upwards. And then . . .

That tug. It is always exciting.

These stories have a kind of ‘deja-vous’ to them – a familiar feeling that isn’t quite clear. They are profound, universal yet unique. And quite the pleasure to read.

Page 115  – In Florida

In the night, les woke to the sound of Nan crying. Opening his eyes he saw light leaking around the top and bottom of the bathroom door. It was where she usually went. She would be sitting on the toilet, a Kleenex held under her nose and others bunched in the hand resting, palm up, in her lap. He had only opened the door once, but the picture had branded him, its details seared across some tough hide in his consciousness.

He raised himself to a sitting position and put the pillow behind him. He switched on the bedside lamp and opened his Le Carré novel. The words swam and blurred; he was too tired to read. He stared at the lighted rectangle; when he heard the water run he narrowed his gaze. It was what she wanted from him. Not a hug, not comforting words, but the knowledge that he was similarly afflicted. That whatever was keeping her up had attacked him too. He listened. He sniffling was faint and steady.

Aquarium by Mike Barnes is a powerful collection of stories. Profound and emotional, it is a read that enlightens a dark corner of the human condition. Hopefully Barnes will continue writing in the future.

Link to The Porcupine’s Quill’s page for “Aquarium”




Re-learning the Letters | Review of “A Brazilian Alphabet For The Younger Reader” by P. K. Page (2005) The Porcupine’s Quill

Encourage by the conversation I had about my last post on the works of Patricia Kathleen Page, I continued my exploration of her work. That lead me down to the children’s section where I found a small yet excellent volume of her work called A Brazilian Alphabet For The Younger Reader which could have only been published in the manner that The Porcupine’s Quill is known for.

"A is Arara - you call it macaw. It has blue and gold feathers and talks like your Pa.
“A is Arara – you call it macaw. It has blue and gold feathers and talks like your Pa.

This is an elegant work of whimsy. Page used words from her years in Brazil and collected old illustrations of engravings from books and ‘century-old’ magazines to describe each letter.

Snapshot of Pages 14-15
“Dona de Casa
means Mum of the house.
She’ll kiss you and cure you
of ringworm and louse

But in the whimsy there is a bit of an intellectual truth.  Page had created a unique interpretation of the classic alphabet book which can be appreciated by both young and old.

"Neto and Neta grandson and granddaughter. The Children of  either your son or your daughter
“Neto and Neta –
grandson and granddaughter.
The children of either
your son or your daughter


Again, Page created a piece of communication that is simple and elegant. Well worth the time to read over and over again.


By Way Of An Introduction (Page 7)

Brazilian children, take note: your great great grandparents spelled this way. They lived before the spelling reform of 1931 – before double letters were eliminated, before Y became I or J, before K became Q or C, before – but that is all we need to know for this alphabet book. The old spellings match the nineteenth-century engravings and take us back in time.

A Brazilian Alphabet For The Younger Reader by P. K. Page has a simple yet beautiful intellectualism to it. A pleasure to read and re-read over and over again.


Wikipedia Page on P. K. Page

Link to The Porcupine’s Quill Page for “A Brazilian Alphabet For The Younger Reader.”








Continue reading Re-learning the Letters | Review of “A Brazilian Alphabet For The Younger Reader” by P. K. Page (2005) The Porcupine’s Quill

Reading Out loud to Find the Texture | Review of “Coal and Roses” by P. K. Page (2009) The Porcupine’s Quill

I am discovering that – in my 42 year – I am reading out loud in order to get nuances and phrasing from certain pieces of writing. Is this a skill I never picked up on in my younger days or is my mind slipping? When I was taught reading and being quiet, did I miss out on certain details of prose that I could have better enjoyed? These are the questions I am asking myself as I read and tried to appreciate P. K. Page’s Coal and Roses: Twenty-One Glosas.

Opening Paragraph – Page 9

The glosa form opens with a

quatrain, borrowed from another

poet, that is then followed by four

ten-line stanzas terminating with

the lines of the initial passage in

consecutive order. The sixth and

ninth lines rhyme with the

borrowed tenth. Glosas were

popular in the fourteenth and

early fifteenth centuries among

poets attached to the Spanish


I originally pick up this book because it referred to the works of other poets I might be interested in. But after reading the introductory paragraph, I realized the wording was much more complex. As I read each work over and over again, I understood how important it was to refer to the original work.

Domain of the Snow Queen – Page 56

(Referring poem – And Once More Saw the Stars by Phillip Stratford)

This is the winter garden. White on white

Bunches of snow like cherry on the bough

Ground cover- icing sugar, flour or salt.

The pupils of my eyes have turned to milk.

(Opening of the Glosa)

Ice curtains on the windows, flowers and stars

etched for the Snow Queen, crystalline and cold.

Her blood subzero. See, how white her face,

how white her fingernails, her lips, her eyes,

Imagine then her heart, a block of ice

unmalting, permafrost. She whitens night

and everything she looks at -red or black

is bleached of colour by her frigid glance.

Even the rainbow is a pale delight.

This winter garden – white on white.

While this was a complex book for me to read, the challenge was worthwhile. The problem was reading out loud for me to do. I normally read in coffee shops, in public transit, or in libraries, but doing so without disturbing others.

My Chosen Landscape – Page 60

(Referring poem Finally Left in the Landscape by Gwendolyn MacEwen)

I am a continent, a violated geography.

Yet still I journey to this naked country,

to seek a form which dances in the sand.

This is my chosen landscape.


(Opening lines from referring Glosa)

Sand dunes, interminable deserts, burning winds

the night temperatures bitter, a land of grit;

and floating above me stars as violent

as fire balloons, tactile and brilliant.

The all-enveloping sky, a cloak of soot.

This is my story, my brief biography.

The sum total of my experience. I travel –

a compass useless in my useless hand –

through a sandscape, a singular topography.

I am a continent, a violated geography.

Not only has Coal and Roses opened up my mind to the way I read and communicate but it has opened me up to a whole new collection of poets. This is exactly what a good piece of literature is suppose to do.

No Exit – page 68

(Referring poem In a Dark Time by Theodore Roethke)

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.

My soul like some heat-maddened summer fly,

Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?

A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.


(Opening lines from referring Glosa )

The Dark Night of the Soul, the darkest night.

There is no darker. ‘Pitched past pitch’, he said –

Hopkins, that is. And Saint John of the Cross

knew equal suffering – a loss of faith

that nothing equals, so they say, but I

who lost my life – why can I not compare

my loss with theirs? Life is no little thing –

your own life or the life of a beloved.

The sun goes out, the moon. There is no fire.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.

Coal and Roses by P. K. Page has opened my mind up to different nuances in phrasing and words. No doubt I will be reading this book over and over again. Just hopefully someplace where I can read it out loud.

Wikipedia page on P. K. Page

The Porcupine’s Quill’s page for Coal and Roses



Ponderings who was a real Man and who were the beasts | Review of “Words for Elephant Man” by Kenneth Sherman. (2012) The Porcupine’s Quill

The life of Joseph Merrick – the so called Elephant Man – has been documented in many means and forms. But what Kenneth Sherman has done in his book Words for Elephant Man is given a voice to that tragic soul from long ago.

A Psalm of the Elephant Man – Page 11

What protrudes from my upper jaw

what makes of my mouth a shattered clam

a tortured vent.

My speech is indistinct,

my vowels rise

like wild birds,

my consonants grind

and splutter

like an engine’s damaged


my peculiar limp

beats time.

This is the son of Thy suffering servant.

This is the articulation of the New Age.

This is God’s hobbling little poem.

I drone on in His image.

Sherman has a brilliant voice. The words not only have to be read, but carefully considered. They are filled with delicate emotions and thoughts.

One Mother (excerpt) – Page 36

Mother died when I was eleven

and my world fell through.

Six months later

father married a thin-lipped widow with three

normal brats

their favourite pastime

aping me.

So often at dinnertime

I would find myself hungry,


in the doorway of a closed and darkened shop,

my rough cheeks stained with tears.

If a reader carefully reflects on the emotions that Sherman conveys, does the reader carefully ponder what foolishness our actions are in this modern age?

Freaks – Page 20

Across the road

in Whitechapel

they exhibit the women

Jack the Ripper did in.

In wax, of course. A drained

white, the stab wounds

running like scarlet buttons

and laces from each neck

down to the pubic hair.

The Alligator Boy

in the stall beside me

jokes, calls it

Jacque’s Place. A showman

bags pennies, unwinds

the terrors

the crowd:

black silk hats

white scarves

women’s parasols.


At night

they are murdered.

In the light of day

they are sold.

Words for Elephant Man is a thought-provoking read. It reflects not only back to the life of Joseph Merrick but gives pause to who and what we idolize upon today.

Snapshot of Page 25 of "Words for Elephant Man" Illustration by George Raab
Snapshot of Page 25 of “Words for Elephant Man” Illustration by George Raab


Link to The Porcupine’s Quill page for “Words for Elephant Man”