Tag Archives: Wolsak and Wynn

The Detailed Views from this Forest |Review of “The Celery Forest” by Catherine Graham (2017) Buckrider Books/Wolsak and Wynn Publishing


Constantly I hear that we need to make time to ponder our reality and at least consider the state of the world we are in. But to find the time to sit and reflect is at a premium. Then something occurs in our lives that forces ourselves into a state of shock to dwell on ‘the meaning of life.’ Catherine Graham has been a writer I have enjoyed for years. And I knew for months on had that she had a work coming out with the imagery-rich title  The Celery Forest. So I gleefully purchased my copy of her book when I saw it and raced over to meet her to get her to sign it for me. But when I walked away from that signing session and read the phrase on the back of book “this is the topsy-turvy world she found herself in after learning she had breast cancer,” I knew this was a volume that I needed to find time to carefully read with deep consideration. So I waited impatiently to enter Graham’s Celery Forest until I had the time to reflect on the sights and sounds I would witness there. And the journey in there was truly an enlightening one.

Interrogation in the Celery Forest (Page 1)

We shoulder it onto the slab.

It squirms. Water. Electric-white


Raindrops fast into absence.

No bridge as believable as all this.


Pliers were used. And absence.

A heart – skewered through skeins


of red nets and milk from some aimless

animal on the drowning cloth.


Now, intruder, bird`s-eye, pip,

you must answer.

Cancer seems to vaulting us into states of shock all the time. It afflicts friends and loved ones and we really never seem to be prepared to deal with it.  And while there may be a technical definition to the disease, truly understanding what people go through when it hits them only really can be understood through the works of literature. Graham has given insight to her experience with cancer by creating this ‘forest’ and allowing us to witness the sights and sounds there. There is a hodgepodge of images and emotions which require careful reading (I admit to mouthing certain phrases to truly understanding their meanings) but by documenting her thoughts here, Graham has given us something to at least ‘get a grip’ when cancer throws us into a reflective state.

Owl in the Celery Forest (Page 24)

Owl, you never asked to be wise

or a companion to the witch.


Fly in for the scurry – vole, field mouse,

creatures with eyes scuttling through grass,


Then pluck the tumour out of my breast

with you sharp, curved talons –


let the only thing that spreads be your wings.

There is a collection of opposites in Graham’s forest. There is angst but there is joy. There is some darkness but there is some light. There is urgency but there are moments to enjoy nature. There is some ugliness but there is also much beauty. We adults may have matured beyond the understanding that our stories don’t close with a ‘happy-ever-after’ ending but Graham does show some enchantment of life with it’s  continued existence.

Fireflies (Page 49)

Little green fires that do not burn,

yet blink and float

outside the cottage window

stringing night

into Christmas trees.

When you returned

as a firefly, I heard

what happened –

your winking battery

broken because you merely

grew in size.

Jealous of Dad`s sighting,

not knowing you would appear

decades later as pure

waves the moment I broke

free from anaesthesia’s grip.

After reading Catherine Graham’s The Celery Forest, I realized my act of getting her to sign my copy of her book was not a flippant act, but one of my craving for a enlightened understanding of the human condition. Graham’s bold and detailed exploration of ‘the forest’ certainly enlightened me. And this book will hold a special place in my library.


Link to Catherine Graham’s website

Link to Wolsak & Wynn’s website for The Celery Forest



(T)he novel is about a young woman who learns to draw on inner strength she didn’t know she had to overcome dramatic challenges on her journey to adulthood. | Q&A with author Catherine Graham on her first novel “Quarry.”

Quarry Cover from Natalie jpeg


Catherine Graham’s poetry has won numerous awards and garnished huge praises from all sorts. Now Graham has turned her skilled craft towards a novel, something many people have been eagerly talking about in many of my circles. Graham was kind enough to answer a few questions about her first novel “Quarry.”

1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of “Quarry.”

It’s a fictional account of what an introverted young woman discovers about herself on a journey that starts with an idyllic upbringing with her parents in a house beside a water-filled limestone quarry and moves through tragic loss, love and the family secrets that emerge.

2) This is your first published novel. Was there much of a ‘jump’ for you from writing poetry to writing a novel?

Yes and no. The imagery that powers my poetry is still present in the novel, but writing prose has so many more opportunities for detail and well, completeness. Some readers of early novel drafts were also fans of my poetry and I wasn’t sure how they’d like the book. Thankfully the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. I think I was able to find the right balance between the lyricism of poetry and the narrative form demanded by long prose.

3) Was there something specific that inspired you to write this novel?

Ultimately, the novel is about a young woman who learns to draw on inner strength she didn’t know she had to overcome dramatic challenges on her journey to adulthood. Those who know me will see parallels with my own life, but Caitlin Maharg’s story is not mine, nor is mine hers. So I guess you could say the inspiration for the novel has been with me forever.

4) “Two Wolves Press” seems like a unique publishing house. How did you get involved with them?

Alexandra Leggat is a fellow instructor at University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. She started Two Wolves Press with a fiercely independent desire to publish a few carefully curated books each year that would bring fresh voices to the Canadian literary scene. Having Two Wolves pick up Quarry for publication was a match made in heaven. I loved Two Wolves’ approach to publishing and thankfully, Alexandra loved Quarry. (Link to Two Wolves Press Blogspot site)

5) Are you planning any public readings/discussions of “Quarry?” If yes, any specific dates that you are excited to be partaking in?

The novel launches June 1 at The Tranzac Club in Toronto.  IFOA and Two Wolves Press have partnered up for the event as part of the Toronto Lit Up book launch series (Link to the event’s website here). After a short reading, Mary Lou Finlay, radio and television journalist, will interview me on stage. There will also be music from the soundtrack of the novel and other special features. Then on June 4, I’ll be doing a Q & A at the Calgary Memorial Library as part of Spur Festival Calgary. (Link to event’s website here)

I’m thrilled to be partaking in both events and all are welcome to attend. I’m also looking forward to reading in the UK this August as part of The Shaken and the Stirred group—readings in London, Manchester, Edinburgh Festival Fringe (Link here), Seamus Heaney HomePlace, Belfast’s Linen Hall Library and Bangor’s Open House Festival.

6) You mentioned in a past Q&A a few years ago that you just signed on to Twitter. And you have an active role on Facebook. How do you like using social media in relation to your writing?

It’s interesting you should ask. Social media was a bit of a foreign landscape to me at first, but it’s actually more fun than I thought it would be. To that end, I’ll be making some exciting changes to my social media presence in the near future, so stay tuned to the website (www.catherinegraham.com), Twitter (@catgrahmpoet) and Instagram (catgrahampoet) to see what’s cooking.

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

Right now, I’m focused on making sure people enjoy the novel launch and know where they can get a copy of the book (Ben McNally’s Bookstore in Toronto (Link here) and Shopify (Link here).

But regardless of how busy I am, scribbled ideas always seem to be appearing in my notebook, so in a way, you could say I’m already at work on the next novel. Or poetry collection. Or something. Speaking of poetry, my seventh collection, The Celery Forest, will appear this fall with Wolsak & Wynn. (Link to their website)

Author Bio:
Catherine Graham is the author of five acclaimed poetry collections. Her most recent collection, Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects, was a finalist for the Raymond Souster Award and CAA Poetry Award. Winner of the IFOA’s Poetry NOW competition, she teaches creative writing at the University of Toronto where she won an Excellence in Teaching Award. Her work is anthologized in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vol IV & V, The White Page/An Bhileog Bhan: Twentieth Century Irish Women Poets and has appeared in The Malahat Review, Gutter Magazine (Scotland), Poetry Daily (USA), The Glasgow Review of Books, Poetry Ireland Review, The Ulster Tatler, The Fiddlehead, LRC, Southword Journal (Ireland), CBC Books and elsewhere. International reading venues include Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016 and 2017, University of Westminster, Bowery Poetry Club NYC, International Anthony Burgess Foundation (Manchester), 4th International Congress of Language and Literature Linares (Mexico), Seamus Heaney HomePlace (Northern Ireland) and the Thessaloniki International Book Fair (Greece). She publishes two books in 2017, her sixth poetry collection, The Celery Forest, and her debut novel, Quarry. Visit her at www.catherinegraham.com.

Link to Catherine Graham’s website

Link to Two Wolves Press Blogspot site

“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.



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.


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


Is There a Guy in All of Us? | Review of “Guy” by Jowita Bydlowska (2016) Wolsak & Wynn

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


How we interact with people – how we talked to them, how we think about them, whom we consider friends, etc.  – is always an important element for us to consider. Do we ever reflect on our actions and our thoughts anymore in this fast-paced age? Or do we just go from one personal gratification to another without giving a second thought of the people around us. Jowita Bydlowska has written a novel giving us a perspective of a narcissistic male whose only concern is his next sexual encounter. And she has documented that guy well in her book Guy. (And appropriately named him Guy.)

Page 9

The beach is full. It is almost always full this time of day. There are cars parked on the sand, some with their hatchbacks open, sudden buffets of beige and while food – the food of the people who come this beach. The food of people who grow large and soft: children with apathetic eyes, women with chafed thighs, men with rolls of flesh over their hips.

There are Fours and Fives everywhere. Their eyes flick over my face, flick away. Flick back again. I love them for it, but the nerve. It’s the media, the music videos. Every wannabe Britney Spears thinks she is Britney Spears. But if you were to stick the actual Britney Spears on this beach with no handlers? After a few hours she’d be violently pink from the sun, and her thighs would be as chafed as every other girl’s here. Unhandled, she’d be burping up yellow Cheetos. She’d deteriorate from a Seven to a Four just like that.

A Four walks by, looks up from her phone. Small lips, big nose. Small breasts, a belly.

Bydlowska has captured a element of the human condition here. I kept flashing back to the plot of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho and while Bydlowska’s Guy is not as ultra violent as Patrick Bateman, he is indeed as vile at times. There is a conceit about him that we all somehow can relate to – we know somebody like that – and in doing so a reader takes time out to pause to consider their realities.

Page 82-83

For my part, I’ve given Dolores a printout with numbers and email addresses that are missing on crucial letter or have the number one instead of a seven and so on.

I know that it’s almost impossible to hide in the world anymore, and that young women like Dolores make online stalking their pastime, but it’s relatively hard to find me out there. Besides, even plain girls who meet princes get distracted – by math, by a boy with a guitar, by becoming passionate about saving pets, etcetera.

I make a nice memory, but my silence makes it quickly obvious that they were right about their instincts that it was too good to be true. And the the fake numbers and so on prove it. There was no mistake.

It would be well enough alone if Guy was just a conceited jerk in his personal affairs but Bydlowdska has given another element of his life for us to consider our realities in. Guy is a talent agent and his attitudes towards women spread to his success in the popular music scene. Are our tastes in popular culture caused by the likes of Guy. Perhaps. And it is frightening to think so.

Page 113

My idea for making the tumour $isi’s thing turns out to be brilliant. Post-tumour, there are TV appearances: morning shows, afternoon shows, even a few evening show appearances. There are a couple of magazine articles. We get interview requests – too many, so we have to start turning them down. $isi has been asked to give advice on everything from how to be at parties to healthy eating to fashion in the bedroom. For the latest release, we rejig the lyrics so that the song has the word grey in it. The ribbon colour for brain tumour is grey. With a nod toward Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black,” the writer comes up with a title: “Black to Grey.”

Although $isi is on the way to recovery, it’s important to continue with our Thing, to keep giving it a positive spin. Everyone works hard to keep the tumour issue in the public eye.

I have many ideas.

Jowita Bydlowska has truly documented an element of the human condition with her novel Guy. She has given readers pause in their own actions and thoughts about their attitudes towards other people. It is a darkly funny read at times but one that is reflective as well.


Link to Wolsak And Wynn’s webpage for Guy

Link to Jowita Bydlowska’s website

Link to my Q&A with Jowita Bydlowska -“A non-fiction writer reports (creatively or otherwise) from reality, and a fiction writer observes, filters, and interprets the same reality and reports from imagination.”


Project Bookmark Canada #16 -Rachael Preston’s The Fishers of Paradise

It was a flourish of activity as Hamilton City Councillor Aidan Johnson and author Rachael Preston unveil Project Bookmark Canada #16 to adoring fans along the Desjardins Trail.

It was a exciting day for me on June 9, 2016 as I took the time to attend to two of my favourite activities: traveling and tending to my library. I had the pleasure of making my way to Hamilton, Ontario to witness the unveiling of Project Bookmark Canada’s plaque in honor of Rachael Preston’s book The Fishers of Paradise. (Link to my review)

Not only did I get a chance to meet Preston and get my copy of The Fishers of Paradise signed. I had the opportunity to learn a bit about the Project Bookmark Canada program (Link to their website where they are “literally” trailblazing Canlit sites across Canada) And I had the pleasure of meeting some of Hamilton’s cultural figures who told me about some of their city’s authors. I then made my way down to J.H Gordon Books (Link to their site) to purchase some of those books. No doubt I will be blogging about some of those books soon!



Rachael Preston honored the crowd of her fans and well-wishers by reading a selection from The Fishers of Paradise.

It was a great day, a productive one and certainly an enlightening one as well.


Scanned image from my copy of The Fishers of Paradise. Signed: To Steve, Thanks for the fabulous review and for trekking out to the unveiling all the way from (London, Ont.) Best Wishes, Rachael Preston

Link to Rachael Preston’s website

Link to Wolsak & Wynn’s webpage for The Fishers of Paradise

“I would say having lived in a lot of places affects what I write about, and the kinds of stories I’m drawn to: displaced people, the marginalized, those who don’t quite fit it” | Q&A with author Rachael Preston


1) First off, could you give an outline of The Fishers of Paradise?

It’s the story of Egypt Fisher and her family, who live in the boathouse community, a
collection of squatters’ shacks that line the shores of Cootes Paradise, a marshy
wetland at the head of Lake Ontario and the city limits of Hamilton, and what happens
when politicians try to drive them out to make way for a new bridge. And then a
handsome drifter settles in the community, as handsome drifters do, and Egypt and her
mother both fall under his spell. As if this wasn’t trouble enough, Egypt’s gambling con-
man father, Ray, suddenly returns after a mysterious six-year absence. Ray sorts by
self, the kind of man whom trouble follows. Unhinged by jealousy and a harrowing brush
with the local mafia at a cockfight, he reveals a family secret that sets Egypt’s world off-
kilter and poisons her relationship with her mother. When Egypt tries to turn the
situation to her own advantage, her lies set in motion a series of events with devastating

2) How long did it take you to write The Fishers of Paradise? Is it a work of pure imagination for you or did you include any real-life events into the story?

A long time. Eight years from start to finish. Not that I was writing every day during this
time. Far from it. Several times months would go by when I felt unable to move forward.
Partly because I felt hamstrung by real-life events. With the exception of politician
Thomas McQuesten and his family, all the characters are fictional. But the boathouse
community did exist and the city did eventually drive them out. Without giving anything
away, one of the big turning points in the plot is based on a real event. But I struggled
with deciding who in my story was ultimately responsible. I used a lot of real settings—
industries, stores and cafes that existed at the time my novel is set—1930-1. Laura
works at Hand & Company Fireworks, another character at Greening Wire. The normal
and model schools feature prominently.


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

My favourite writers change all the time. A novel I read in the last year or so that is still
with me is Vincent Lam’s The Headmaster’s Wager. I read a lot of Canadian authors,
and I love big sweeping historical novels: Three Day Road, The Last Crossing, What the
Body Remembers. And novels about relationships: Bitter Lake, All Times Have Been
Modern, Annabelle, The Girls. I’m currently reading Helen Humphreys. I love her work.
Such powerful books.

4) Your biography has this book listed as your third novel. Has your writing changed since you started publishing? If yes, how so?

My writing process has certainly changed. I trust story more, trust the process. And I
can juggle more storylines now. Writing when you haven’t been published is very
different to writing once you have. I think every writer experiences this—the
expectations are different. What you expect from yourself and what others expect—or
what you believe they expect from you. That can mess with your head. My head,

5) Are there any plans for a book tour for The Fishers of Paradise? If yes, are there any events you are excited to partake in? Are public readings/discussions of your books something you enjoy?

I just returned from Hamilton where I took part in gritLIT, Hamilton Writers Festival, a
festival I actually chaired for two years, many moons ago. I also had a library event in
Burlington. I love reading from and discussing my books. I tend to freeze in front of the
camera, but I spent over twenty years teaching, so once my hands stop shaking, I warm
to the audience and take my cues from the energy they bring. gritLIT was exciting too,
because I haven’t read at any public events in ten years—if you don’t count Talent
Nights and Choir Concerts (on Saturna Island where I took the opportunity to read from
manuscript pages).
I’m scheduled to return to Hamilton in June for what is the biggest moment in my career
The Fishers of Paradise has been chosen by Miranda Hill’s Project Bookmark
Canada to be Bookmark #16. The plaque will be unveiled June 10th along the
Desjardins Waterfront Trail. Other events are to be rolled out during this time, including
a Hamilton Public Library event, the official launch for Fishers and a new imprint launch
—James Street North Books—by Wolsak & Wynn. Fishers is actually the first book
published under this imprint.

6) You seem to be an active participant on Facebook and The Fishers of Paradise is part of a giveaway promotion on Goodreads. How do you feel about using the internet as a means of promoting your works? Will you be expanding your social-media presence to other sites (i.e. Twitter) soon?

“I like that kids have fewer filters, and they really don’t care about your reputation” | Q&A with poet/writer JonArno Lawson

I admire writers who can appeal to different audiences. JonArno Lawson is one such writer. He has written for both adults and children with a zeal that is infectious that anybody would want to continue to read more of his work. Lawson recently answered a few questions for me.
1) It has been a while since “Enjoy It While It Hurts” has been released. How was it received by the reading public? Any memorable events you care to share?
I’ve read from “Enjoy it while it hurts” 5 or 6 times now – the launch was a lot of fun, the audience was very nice. Same thing when I read from it in Hamilton a few months later, and in Picton last year too – a very nice audience.  I just read from the book last week, a few times, when I was in Nova Scotia – a poem called “My bum”, which was taken from a comment made by my youngest son (he told me he published his bum a few years ago, after I told him I’d published a book) nearly always gets a laugh. Sometimes the aphorisms go flat, but most of the time people seem to like them, or at least some of them. It’s a varied group of poems in that book, more like a bunch of different books mixed together – so I have to see what the audience is like (who’s there, and what the mood is), and then try to choose accordingly. You never know till you’re there! And even then. . .
2) You have written for both adults and children. Is there a preferred audience you enjoy writing for? If yes, why?
I try to write things that both adults and children can understand at first reading (or hearing). I like that kids have fewer filters, and they really don’t care about your reputation (it doesn’t mean anything to them, whether you have one or not, or if you do have one, what it is). In that sense, it’s fun to write for kids because you’re usually getting a more direct response – direct to the work. On the other hand, adults sometimes have more subtle and complicated associations and interpretations, so I like that too.
3) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
I have so many favourite writers! But I’ll take up the challenge and make a list. In no particular order (and I know I’m probably forgetting some essentials here) –  I like Michael Joseph, bpNichol, Idries Shah, Thomas King, Tahir Shah, Isabelle Knockwood, Amina Shah, Robert Ornstein, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, Charles Fernyhough, Saira Shah, Chris Stringer, Safia Shah, Sue Goyette, Arthur Deikman, David Pendlebury, Erin Moure, Ted Hughes, Doris Lessing,  Robert Twigger, Robert Graves, Laura Riding, Mina Loy, Adrienne Rich, Saki, Thomas McGrath, Zbigniew Herbert, Miroslav Holub, Vasko Popa, Yehuda Amichai, Mourid Barghouti, Jaan Kross, Sergei Dovlatov, Mikhail Zoshchenko, Timothy Findley, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Neal Ascherson, Kristin Cashore, Lenore Look, Jack Gantos, Edward T. Hall, Helen Waddell, Claudio Magris, Gertrude Stein, Avi, Kevin Henkes, William Carlos Williams, Ogden Nash, Christine Baldacchino, William Steig, Jeanne Steig, Carol Ann Duffy, Roberto Bolano, Nadezhda Mandelstam, Primo Levi, Fazil Iskander, Jim Copp and Ed Brown, Jackie Kay, Sheldon Harnick, Stephen Sondheim, Jacob Burckhardt, Yip Harburg, Italo Calvino, Mario Rigoni Stern, Muriel Rukeyser, X.J. Kennedy, Theodore Roethke, Stefan Andres, Tarjei Vesaas, Sebastian Haffner, David Jones, Rudyard Kipling, Jorge Luis Borges, Michael Heyman, Hakim Sanai, Pu Songling, Robert Louis Stevenson, Marilyn Singer, Marilyn Nelson, Kenneth Grahame, Shota Rustaveli, Bidpai, Ramsay Wood, Goethe, Mary Ann Hoberman, Imre Kertesz, Stendhal, Dennis Lee, Joseph T. Thomas, Jr., Philip de Vos, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Andrei Bitov, Jack London, Sebastian Hope, Tarquin Hall, X.J. Kennedy, Jason Webster, Lissa Paul, Dr. Seuss, Jason Elliott, Robert Frost, Jeff Smith, Dav Pilkey, Mo Willems, J.K. Rowling, Ingmar Bergman, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Audre Lorde, Marguerite Duras, Christabel Bielenberg, Emannuel Ringelblum, Hermann Langbein, Mervyn Wall, Xenophon, Fulke Greville, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Henri Bortoft, Jacqueline Woodson, Philip Nel, George Mackay Brown, James Aldridge, Plato, Henry Green, Denise Nessel, Maurice Sendak, Beatrix Potter, Tomi Ungerer, Ursula Nordstrum, Andrei Platonov. . .I feel badly, because I know I’m forgetting a lot. . .but these are all authors whose books I’ve returned to over and over again.
Right now I’m reading “The Secret Garden” by Mahmud Shabistari. Last week I was reading “Song of Rita Joe: autobiography of a Mi’kmaq poet”.
4) I have seen that you have participated in several public readings of your work. How did you enjoy those experiences? Have any of your works been the subject of any book clubs or reading circles? If yes, did you participate with those groups?
I’m not much of a public reader – I’d like to be better at it. I heard some great podcasts that Atul Gawande made recently – now there’s some great public reading! The experiences I’ve had haven’t been bad – I’ve only faced kind audiences so far, but I’m happier to stay home. As far as I know, my books haven’t been used in book clubs or reading circles, but some have been studied by primary school and university classes. Just last week I spoke to a class at Acadia (in Wolfville) that had studied some of my books, and it was a very nice experience. I also spoke to a primary school group that had read one of my books (near Wolfville) and they kept me busy with questions for over an hour.
5) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, can you share details? Could you also give a bit of a description of “Sidewalk Flowers?” 
I’m working on another wordless book, which I’ll be collaborating on with Sydney Smith again. I’m not exactly sure of the scenario yet, so I can’t tell you too much (I can picture a lot of it, but don’t have a firm sequence at this point). I’m hoping it will take place next to the sea, but we’ll see. . .Sidewalk Flowers is about a walk I took with my daughter through Toronto, seven years ago, as we headed home to my wife and two little sons. It’s about how she found flowers, and then gave them away very unselfconsciously.
6) You seem to have a bit of a presence on Facebook and a site on Blogger. How do you like using those platforms as writer? Is it a good means of keeping in touch with your fans?
I joined Facebook this fall, after steering clear for years. I had to join because it’s how my son’s grade one teacher communicates about what his class is doing. I actually really like now how it allows me organize reviews, and it’s put me back in touch with relatives who live far away, and old friends (and some new friends!) – I like that. My daughter helped set up a webpage for me, and she also set up a twitter account for me this week. I guess as long as I keep it to five or ten minutes a day (but do I have the discipline?) it’s a good thing. It’s an easy way of staying in touch (and getting in touch) with people, which seems all to the good.
7) Many of your online bios talk about a connection with novelist Timothy Findley. Did you have a special bond with him in getting you started in writing?
He was very good to me. I sent him a chapbook of my work almost twenty years ago, and he really liked it. He connected me to a publisher right away, and offered a blurb for the back of any future book I might publish, and included a poem from that chapbook as an epigraph to his novel Pilgrim. One of the nicest things he did was take my wife and I out for a celebratory lunch at the Four Seasons!  Months before I’d even published anything – he just wanted to celebrate the poems. Bill Whitehead, his partner, was very kind too. That was a very happy way to start out as a writer. . .I loved his novels, so it meant a lot.
8) How do you like living in Toronto? Does the city offer you enough inspiration for your writing?
I’ve gotten used to Toronto. It’s home now. I’m from Dundas, Ontario, originally. It took me a while to find my way here – the pace and size were a bit beyond me for the first decade. . but now I wouldn’t want to live, permanently, anywhere else. I’m easily seduced by other cities, though. I love Montreal, and Miami, and I was just in Halifax – such a pretty city, it had a great feel. So does the town of Wolfville, where Acadia is. In some ways, the great thing about Toronto is that it isn’t seductive. As a writer, maybe it’s better to live in a place that isn’t constantly drawing you outside to look at it. We’re lucky to be able to see great sunsets and sunrises from our house – that makes me happy. But taken as a whole, architecturally, Toronto is a phenomenally ugly city.  On the other hand, it’s filled with amazing people from every corner of the world, and more and more are arriving all the time. To me, that’s the greatest thing about it.
9) Do you have any advice for any want-to-be writers?
Write write write! Or think think think, and then write write write. Or – stop all that thinking and just write, because you may not know what you’re thinking until you write it. Be hard on your work, not yourself – there’s a difference – but don’t be too hard on your work- write first, and then edit. Don’t edit what you might write out of existence by not writing it – and go out and submit things, anywhere and everywhere – I avoided submitting for ages out of fear and over-sensitivity. Don’t worry about being criticized – it’s all useful, whether you agree with it or not. Never assume what you’re doing is useless or stupid – that’s a common trap.  Stay optimistic! Read books about how to stay optimistic. Keep going!

Discovering the Wit in Whimsy | Review of “Enjoy it While it Hurts” (2013) by JonArno Lawson – Wolsak and Wynn


A very common phrase among people who look at the poetry I have been reading lately is the comment that ‘It doesn’t rhyme.’ In turn, I have taken that phrase and used it as a discussion point with poets about their works. The concept of non-rhyming poetry has filled my reading habits for the last little while that it may have clouded my judgement. But that prejudice was shattered when I recently read Enjoy it While it Hurts by JonArno Lawson and my mind’s eye was reawaken.

Song of the Hosta (Page 15)

I’m hiding from the sun –

It tried to glimpse me from above

It burnt the grass while stalking me –

What was it thinking of?

Some wort said heartless hosta

But to me, that isn’t love.

I saw I knew I understood

What couldn’t be expressed

Its garment was a part of it

It couldn’t be undressed.

It slunk around the throat

of what it festered, unconfessed

The fat old sun, what to be done?

Rays for fingers, flare for a thumb.

While there is much whimsy in Lawson’s work here, the trick here is to read each line very carefully. The mind’s eye needs to catch the wisdom in the phrases to allow a certain amount of enlightenment to occur. The urge is there to race through reading the lines without thinking of their meaning, which is a sad detail to miss.

Quarrelsome Quips (Page 43) (Excerpt)

Those who have the nerve but lack the knack

However great their verve for an attack

Best to keep them busy at the back.

Those who have the knack but lack the nerve

Who, when they see a problem, duck and swerve

Keep them, with the knackless, in reserve

Those who pilfer filberts when they fish

Their fingers round the edges of my dish

May filch more filberts anytime they wish (I don’t like them)

Lawson has added to the whimsy by including his own drawings to illustrate the work. They are detailed sketches which add to the enlightenment of the text.


JonArno Lawson’s Enjoy It While It Hurts wraps within it’s whimsy. It is a work that needs to be carefully read but a pleasure to read.

Link to Wolsak and Wynn’s page for Enjoy It While it Hurts

Discoveries of the Undressed | Review of “Archive of the Undressed” by Jeanette Lynes. (2012) Wolsak & Wynn


Thank you to Wolsak and Wynn for providing me with a copy of this book at the 2014 Toronto Word on the Street festival.

I am amazed how profound the observations in poetry can be these days. They seem to come across at times unhindered by politics and paradigms giving a deeply honest look at the human condition. One such collection is the Archive of the Undressed by Jeanette Lynes. Her thoughts and observations are collected here as she pondered a collection of vintage Playboy magazines, giving insight of not only the 1960s and 70s but our time today.


Yes you in your argyle sweater Hardwick-crested jacket silver and teak


precision lighter that strikes up “Dixie” each time you spark your

Guardsman pipe

You whose slacks are habit forming

Whose interiors refulgently grandiose

You scented with Black Watch shave lotion for ’round the clock


You with audio fidelity, discerning ears, woofers tweeters in walnut

You with your electric pencil sharpener your rechargeable flashlight

fountain pen with exclusive snorkel reloading feature.

You with the giant pepper mill    the nimble wits

Whose “Mairzy Doats”

You who surround yourself with walnut

who cha cha

who pronounce buttons a bore

who are too hipster for houndstooth

too busy for bongo drums

You who appreciate a good crisp lagoon

Who demand a close shave

You purveyor of midnight suppers in midtown with stainless sett steak

knife sets in walnut cases collapsible silver-plated cups

You with no patience for bothersome antediluvian holdovers

You who prefer to make like a bunny

You who have made four equilateral triangles from cigarettes

You whose party yacht is called The Mayflower

You on daylight savings time (Cartier ultra-thin evening watch)

Yes you, with time to watch

I’m talking to you –

Playboy magazines from that era still hold a certain mystic and allure to them. Lynes has look at these magazines and given some profound thoughts to what they stood for and what they realistically were.

Untitled (Page 12)

The old grey mare ain’t who she used to be –

surprised it all devolves to elegy,

to body? Don’t be, there’s always a body,

missing or not. Lovely or less.

Historic. Histrionic, Hysterical.

Lost in space or not. Girlish. Ghoulish.

Shot to death and swarmed by ants

or not. Either way, the world

wishes to view and will pay.

Disappointed, they’ll request a refund.

It’s a very exacting world

in the body department and never

over easy, always hard.

Waist knot, want knot.

Body is poultry, so many cartons of eggs.

Dairy. Milk. Mare. Mummy. Centre. Fold.

But this isn’t always hyping up the glamour from these magazines. Lynes comments and thoughts are frank and bold at times, shocking the reader out of the magical stupor they might find themselves in.

Dorothy Ekpharstic (excerpt) page 28

She fell into an ocean that day and no one noticed.

Playboy was too busy adoring her, dubbing her life

a fairy tale. Quoting her ambition –

to be surrounded by pets –

(a girl could claim this back then and remain

valid in everyone’s eyes). She her, still chaste

in pink let warmers. Topless as the girl next door.

Now she tosses the ball to a puppy that doesn’t

see she’s undressed, also how they found her

shot dead. Nude. No puppy. Only construction crews of ants

dragging red bridges across he chilled bare back.

Lynes observations are also astute. She complies them here in a profound manner that only poetry can show to any reader.

The Oldest Living Swinger in Canada (Page 38)

He parks his ancient Buick on the main drag,

Princess Street, near banks, cafes,

a stone’s toss from S & R Department Store

with its living elevator operator who resembles

a dead Bee Gee. Yes, the oldest swinger

in Canada brakes his buggy buffed with love

amidst all this glamour. Weather means zilch to him.

I first saw him on winter’s most dire day, walkers

picking their way along Bagot, muttering prayers

into their scarves. His Buick equipped with state-

of-the-art eight-track, windows wide open,

Glenn Miller or Artie Shaw full tilt. I was about to tell

a mental health professional nothing good

remained in this world when I noted

the nation’s oldest living swinger,

his passion pit parked, big band cranked,

his bald head tilted back, joggling

to the riffs. His eyes closed,

mouth open, gums aglow,

pink galleries of pure bliss.

And yet the thoughts here are still deeply personal. Lynes has carefully put her words on these pages carefully with complete consideration. The phrases are worth reading and re-reading over and over again just so the mind’s eye can clearly see what is being said.

Begin The Slow Peel of Elbow Gloves (Introduction, excerpt) pages 1-2

The triggering muse for this collection is a stack of vintage Playboy magazines I’ve been immersed in for the past four years. Dating mostly from the 1960s and ’70s, these magazines have been my constant travelling companions across our extreme-trek-of-a-country, more than once contributing to overweight baggage charges. It seems the ’60s and ’70s are now considered “vintage.” These magazines’ glossy heft and sumptuous contents became for me an archive with a curious staying power. If they fed a fetish, it has been as much for their funky fonts, retro colours, and unfettered period capitalism, as for each issue’s highly staged photo shoot of “the girl next door.” I read them for the articles, of course! But also the pleasure of contrast, juxtaposition – a John Kenneth Galbraith piece beside an ad for Interwoven University Socks in glacier blue, dune grass, wild oats, or buckwood brown. A rousing editorial next to ads for underwear of Harley-Davidsons.

Veiled beneath its script of hedonism and racy “entertainment for gentlemen,” Playboy has always essentially been a conduct book for men. Its readers could access the regular Advisor column (a kind of reverse-mirror-image Ann Landers) along with the consumer orgy of ads for cars, cologne, whiskey, cigars, clothing, stereos with silky response and party-proof walnut finish, offers of memberships in vinyl record clubs. What to buy. Where to travel. What to cook for romantic dinners. Recipes (booze-laced, surely sponsored by liquor companies). Vintage Playboy was a primer on how to pursue the good life. To read it as a woman is to occupy the position of a voyeur – to join a club of voyeurs, as it were, with is transgressive tingle. Gloria Steinem said, famously, documenting her undercover stint at the Manhattan Playboy Club, “All women are bunnies.” It makes you think. But we are also lookers. We like to watch as much as the next guy. As the snuggle-toothed vendor at the Kingston, Ontario, fleas market told me when I purchased yet another infusion of vintage Playboys, “It’s all women that buys them.” It makes you think.

Archive of the Undressed by Jeanette Lynes is a great collection of poetry and a brilliant piece of literature. Her thoughts and observations are unique, giving great thought to the human condition.


Link to Jeanette Lynes WordPress site

Link to Wolsak and Wynn’s page for Archive of the Undressed

Glimpses of Beauty Among the Strife | Review of “A Difficult Beauty” by David Groulx (2011) Wolsak And Wynn


Life is a series of contrasts: light and. ark, air  and water, dirty and clean, beauty and ugliness. And just how far apart are those contrasts in some people’s lives makes for a surprising observation sometimes. That is what David Groulx has done in his book A Difficult Beauty.

Half (page 56)

I run around the shack

stating to my mother

half of me is Indian and half of me

is French

it’s straight down the middle

half of me is white

half of me is brown

I tell her Spock is a half-breed too

half Vulcan

half human

I tell her Jesus is a half-breed too

half God

half human

he’s mixed up inside

like me

Groulx has an brilliant writing style. He is able to set a scene in a reader’s mind with clear words. Most of the scenes are uncomfortable, which is meant to show us the reality that he and most of his people are in.

Elliot Lake (Excerpt page 31)

Does anyone remember this place?

Does anyone remember what this place was

like before it withered away and died like my old man?


Does anyone remember the beer and the blood

dripping off the wooden bar,

the dirty cops and passers through


Does anyone remember this place

before the Tories moved in

planted flower gardens and picked up dog shit

and kept the money on Bay Street

they bought the miners’ houses for

sweet fuck all

and we all fucked off with our families

we’d raised on Steve Roman’s luck and fed

every parasite mayor

and Lester Pearson with our flesh


Does anyone remember this place

we built with our hands

and paid for with our lives

before the sun was up

we dug our graves and

climbed out after it went down

like vampires but we were men?

Groulx documents a sadness in people’s lives that needs to be documented. It is a personal sadness that isn’t documented in other forms of media but Groulx shows us that the realm exists for him and the people around him.

My Neighbour (Page 22)

The cops were here


took George’s five kids away

I saw George in the window

waving goodbye to his children


his 400-pound frame

looked like rain


it’s quiet and dark

there now

and sometimes

I can hear George weeping

It takes a bit of reading and re-reading to see the contrasts Groulx sometimes talks about, and that is the beauty of his words. Yes the scene is sad, but it exists, and this is how he is going to explain it to his reader.

Passing By Your Place (Page 20)

Indians live there

with boarded up windows

and mattresses on the floor


its always dark and quiet

and the cops visit every once in a while


the landlord drops by on welfare day

brings in some industrial lacquer

he stole from the mill he works at


gives it to the Indians


he makes more money this way


on the day they

will carry your body

out of there Jimdadoikwe


and I will be quiet and dark

while the smell

of lacquer

sinks into the walls.

While life is filled with contrasts for many of us, Groulx has brilliantly described all the points between those contrasts well. He has described a reality for many of us that needs to be described and which other forms of communication have failed to tell us about.

Wolsak and Wynn’s page for “A Difficult Beauty”