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Friday, January 12, 2018

New post from Debbie Okum Hill

aycation Reading List


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New post on Kites Without Strings

My 2018 #CanLit Staycation Reading List

by d78hill
Call it snow. Call it a TV igloo to crawl inside and escape. – Debbie Okun Hill*
 Reading Canadian poetry and literature is one way to escape this recent cold snap across the country. Binge watching The Crown and The Grand Hotel on Netflix is another. For those with a flair for the imagination, retreating to write can turn a snowflake into a multi-faceted poem or story.
Lost in Reality TV Snow - Okun Hill - January 9, 2018
Snow cradles emerald ash borer damaged trees.

Two months ago, I tried escaping. I slowly slipped away from social media and blogging, to concentrate on final revisions for a poetry manuscript that needed major surgery. I sought help from a professional editor and mentor who not only challenged my thinking but taught me how to play with the words and to heal the open wounds. Carving some quiet time to focus on one project proved productive. Expect to hear more about this in a future blog post.
As the holiday season unfolded, I retreated again to deal with the loss of two special people in my literary life: one was a member of a local book club I used to attend while the other was a long-time literary organizer, editor, writer, and friend. Spending time with family and friends became a priority with quiet moments spent in reflection.
Now I’m back at my desk. As a tribute to all the creative folk I wanted to thank, support and promote in 2017 (and didn’t) expect a flurry of blog posts in the next few weeks. (Yes, I will finally edit and post those photos from November and December literary events.) For those looking for something to read, I’ve pulled an eclectic selection of books from my unread (and to read again) shelves. (See below.)
Perhaps you will seek out a few of these books to add to your own reading list. Remember authors love reviews. Post your thoughts on Amazon and/or Goodreads. If you have a recommendation for 2019, leave the book title and the poet’s name in the comment section. (Comments will take a day or two before they appear.) Thanks for your patience.

In support of fellow poets and poetry readings I attended in 2017:

 You Can’t Make the Sky a Different Blue (Big Pond Rumours Press 2017) an award-winning chapbook by award-winning Paris, Ontario resident and minimalist poet Nelson Ball; Not Even Laughter (Salmon Poetry, Ireland 2015) a collection of poems by Phillip Crymble, a Fredericton resident and poetry editor for The FiddleheadThe Poison Colour(Coach House Printing 2015) a collection of poetry by award-winning Toronto writer Maureen Hynes; SEAsia (Black Moss Press 2017) is the second collection of poetry by Thorold poet Keith Inman, member of the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association and assistant for their annual Banister Poetry AnthologyBarbaric CulturalPractice (Quattro Books 2016) a poetry collection by Penn Kemp, the inaugural Poet Laureate for London, Ontario and a League of Canadian Poets Life Member; and InfiniteSequels: Poems (Friesen Press 2013) the first poetry collection by Toronto poet David Stones.
Misc Books to Read 2018 to post
A mix of Ontario writers and one from the east coast.

In support of poetry chapbooks:

Pod and Berry (Aeolus House 2017) a new collection of poems by another Life Member of The League of Canadian Poets and The Ontario Poetry Society Allan Briesmaster (See previous blog post here); Orthric Sonnets (Baseline Press 2017), a limited edition chapbook of poems by Andy Verboom, the organizer of London’s Couplets, a collaborative poetry reading series; and leave the door open for the moon (Jackson Creek Press 2015) a collection of poems by Peterborough artist, teacher and writer Nan Williamson.
Chapbooks Manitoba Northern Books to Read 2018 to post
An eclectic mix: poetry chapbooks by Ontario poets, books by Manitoba writers, and books written (and illustrated) by residents/visitors to the great white North.

In support of poetry books:

 Groundwork (Biblioasis 2011) is Amanda Jernigan’s debut poetry collection which was shortlisted for the League of Canadian Poets' Pat Lowther Award; and The CinnamonPeeler (McClelland & Stewart 1989) features selected poems written between 1963 and 1990 by internationally acclaimed, award-winning author Michael Ondaatje.

In support of novels:

Alone in the Classroom (McClelland & Stewart 2011) a novel by Scotiabank Giller Prize-Winning author Elizabeth Hay; and Sanctuary Line (McClelland & Stewart 2010) a novel by bestselling Canadian author Jane Urquhart.
Older Work to Read 2019 to post
Older novels and poetry books.

 In support of anthologies and literary journals:

Another London: poems from a city still searching for itself (Harmonia Press 2016); LUMMOX Number Six (Lummox Press 2017) (See a previous blog post here.); Paper Reunion: An Anthology of Phoenix: A Poet’s Workshop (1976-1986) (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2016); Philadephia Poets 2017 Volume 23; and Voices 20 Anniversary: The Journal of the Lake Winnipeg Writers’ Group (BK Publishing, 2016).
Anthologies to Read 2018 to post
Canadian and American anthologies and a literary journal from Philadelphia.

 In support of local writers in the Sarnia-Lambton area:

            Released in 2017:

Red Haws to Light the Field (Guernica Editions 2017) a poetry collection by the prolific and well-known Canadian poet James Deahl (See an earlier blog post here.); Book of Bob: Stories Remembered (Quinn Riley Press 2017), a memoir by Bob McCarthy (See an earlier blog post here); and Any Light With Do, a special edition poetry book by former Lambton College English and Literature instructor Pat Sheridan.

            Released prior to 2017:

 The Fabric of My Soul: Poems (Longbridge Books 2015) the first collection of poetry by the late Venera Fazio (See an earlier blog post here); Straight Lines (Penumbra Press 2003), a poetry collection by former Thunder Bay resident and new Sarnia resident Mary Frost; No Common Thread: The Selected Short Fiction of Norma West Linder(Hidden Brook Press 2013) by one of Sarnia’s finest writers (see an earlier blog post here); The Belles of Prosper Station (Friesen Press 2014) the first work of historical fantasy by Gloria Pearson-Vasey (See an earlier blog post here); 1300 Moons (Trafford Publishing 2011) a historical fiction novel by Aamjiwwnaang First Nation writer David D Plain (See an earlier blog post here); and Live From the Underground (Mansfield Press 2015) a novel by Corinne Wasilewski.
Local Books 2018 to post
New and not so new books written by Sarnia-Lambton writers.

 Manitoba based or influenced:

Dadolescence (Turnstone Press 2011) a witty novel by Winnipeg author and journalist Bob Armstrong; Arctic Comics (Renegade Arts Canmore Ltd. 2016) a collection of graphic tales of myth written and drawn by Inuit and Northern Canadian storytellers and artists with a special shout out to Manitoba artist Nicholas Burns; If There Were Roads: Poems (Turnstone Press 2017) a Winnipeg published collection by award-winning Whitehorse resident and poet Joanna Lilley (See an earlier blog post here.); and Magpie Days (Turnstone Press 2014) the debut poetry collection by Winnipeg writer Brenda Sciberras, winner of the Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for Best First Book.

From British Columbia:

What the Soul Doesn’t Want (Freehand Books 2017), the newest collection by the award-winning Swift Current born, Vancouver Island poet Lorna Crozier; After All the Scissor Work Is Done (Leaf Press 2016), a collection of poems by Nanoose Bay poet David Fraser, the founder and editor of Ascent Aspirations MagazineThe Spirit of the Thing and the Thing Itself (Ekstasis Editions 2015), the 12th book by D.C. Reid, past president of The League of Canadian Poets; and return to open water: Poems New & Selected (Ronsdale Press 2007) featuring the best work gleamed from 10 poetry collections by mentor and editor Harold Rhenisch who recently had his poem shortlisted for the 2017 CBC Poetry Prize.
Canadian West Coast Books to Read 2018 to post
From western Canada.

So that’s my 35-book reading challenge for my next ‘Staycation’ escape. If I missed mentioning your book, it may appear in a new list. Additional recommendations, book reviews, and reading lists appear on my Goodreads page.
What are you doing to cope with the cold?
Can you hear the celebratory music in the background? Sleigh bells ring…and I’m drifting….drifting asleep in the snow, reliving my youth, bundled in a snowmobile suit with a brightly knit scarf wrapped around my face. The horses’ hooves clip-clop along the snow-dusted trails as their powerful muscles pulls the sleigh through a wooded area. A child’s laughter appears like cloud puffs in the frosty air. I laugh too but I can’t help noticing how the leather blinders on the bridle keep the horses un-spooked and focused forward.
Tonight, as the melted snow ices in preparation for another snowfall, I shut my eyes and I become that grey mare clip-clopping down the trail. The jingle of silver bells lulls me to sleep as visions of #CanLit books swirl like snowflakes in my head.
*From the unpublished poem “Lost in Reality TV Snow” from the manuscript Ash Leaves. Used with permission from the author © Debbie Okun Hill 2018
d78hill | January 12, 2018 at 1:10 pm | Tags: BooksCanadian PoetrynovelspoetryReadingsSarniawriting | Categories: blog postsNews-EventsPoetry Reviews | URL:
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Monday, October 16, 2017

News from Sarnia, Ontario October 2017

New post on Kites Without Strings

Sarnia’s Open Stage – An Eclectic Experience

by d78hill
I can’t wait!
Even the statue of a woman with long flowing hair tilts her head up as if in song or praise. If she could dance she would, but tonight she holds her enthusiasm inside and stands guard in the floral gardens of the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. We exchange winks.
Statue outside Lawrence House Centre for the Arts June 6, 2009
A warm welcome from the statue in the garden outside the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts.

Behind me, local poet Don Gillatly and his wife Heather follow me up the stairs to the main entrance. It’s the first evening of Open Stage since the summer break and probably my fifth or sixth visit since the event was launched in April 2016.
I’m pleased to see Don and Heather. It means they are happy to return for another season.
Once inside, we sign our names on the roster of performers and scan the Turret Room for empty chairs as we wait our turn for sharing. The excitement builds as evening light shines through the stained glass windows. The serene yellow walls showcase local art headlined by bold white words like Literary Arts, Performing Arts, and Art Matters.
missy burgess supplied by missy
Missy Burgess, hostess of Open Stage at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts, Photo Courtesy of Karen Flanagan McCarthy.

“Has everyone signed up?” Open Stage hostess Missy Burgess, holds up her notebook. Several local musicians and writers nod their heads. “We have nine performers tonight so we’ll do two sets: one of five, one of four, with a break in between…maximum two songs or two stories”.
The atmosphere remains warm and casual. As Missy says, “it’s a safe place to share”.
I wait for the magic to unfold on stage.
For over a decade, this historical building housed a regular Spoken Word event where local writers (and a musician or two) gathered monthly to share their work with like-minded individuals.
Established writers like the late Peggy Fletcher and the late Hope Morritt (the first literary reps for the Lawrence House board), created the event as a way to showcase the work of local authors. As co-hosts, they treated everyone like family and embraced both new and established talent.
Over the years, Spoken Word evolved with each new host or co-host. A few songwriters and musicians stopped by. One year an actor shared skits. Rap artists and comedians and out-of-town guests would pop in too! Then like a ghost, the monthly open mic faded away. The local literary community was aging and changing. It was difficult to find a new emcee and organizer. A fresh start was needed and one day it happened.
You could say, “the stars lined up”. Others might describe it “as a Phoenix rising from the ashes”. In April 2016, local songwriters/musicians (and Lawrence House board reps) John Pilat and Missy Burgess invited and introduced area musicians and writers to a new open mic event. Called Open Stage, it would be held on the second and third Mondays of each month. Statutory holidays were excluded.
The first season proved to be a huge success, attracting a house full of musicians and a handful of curious writers.
The second season appears just as promising.
On this particular night, Monday, September 11, 2017, the number of performers grows from 9 to 12 people, as three more musicians slip in late. Most on this month’s roster are male but there is usually a cross-section of ages and a nice mix of musicians, poets, songwriters, storytellers, and writers. Everyone is welcome.
Open Stage Sept 11, 2017 - Group image
“I come here because I enjoy it,” said Don holding tight to his notebook of poems.
Heather, who prefers to watch versus participate, elaborates, “Don enjoys listening but he also enjoys sharing his own work.”
Tonight’s performances are eclectic: a memoir about worm-picking and selling magazines, a vocal performance of Frank Sinatra songs, a poem influenced by a writers’ retreat in Ireland, another one about letting “the bright light shine”, a poem about art and one about ash trees, a tune on a music box and a story about a moonlit adventure on the lake, several musical performances of original material, and plenty of laughter.
Each musical note and literary word twirls & swirls like autumn leaves.
Open Stage Sept 11, 2017 - Rob
Singer Rob Rooke loves the sound of the Turret Room.

“It’s a nice venue,” said Rob Rooke, one of the regular vocal performers. “It has one of the best sounds….really nice with the turrets….Also I’ve seen people get nervous on stage but Missy calms them down and makes the artists feel comfortable.”
At the end of the evening, Missy thanks Daria (the sound engineer for her help), the performers and those in the audience who stopped by to watch and listen. Everyone helps with putting away the chairs. It’s like a family gathering…a fun night out.
A few days ago, I had a chance to chat with Missy about this relatively new event. Below are her responses:
First of all, thank you for welcoming writers to your open mic. I cannot speak on behalf of the literary community but I am pleased that there is a place in Sarnia for poets and storytellers to share their work in front of an audience. I hope this article will encourage a few more writers to stop by. In your view, why are open mic events so valuable for a community?
Every community needs an Open Stage. Three years ago, I returned to Sarnia from Ottawa where I was used to attending open stage events on a regular basis. It’s an event where musicians and writers from all levels can hone their skills, be heard, and grow confidence in performing in front of an audience. There are open stages in the majority of cities across Ontario and Canada.
Many of the great performing and recording artists started their careers at an open stage. It’s a great training ground whether you decide to pursue a professional career or just do it for fun. When I first started performing, I didn’t even know my guitar was out of tune. It takes time and some people won’t be on the big stage and that’s okay. For some, performing is therapeutic. Everyone comes for their own reasons. Having an audience is crucial. To be able to perform in such a beautiful building and room with all the turrets is a bonus.
When I first started attending Open Stage, most of the performers were musicians. Now, there is an eclectic mix of performers. What dynamics are you seeing when individuals of different creative disciplines gather in one room?
I can only speculate from my point of view but from the reaction I am seeing, no one appears to be objecting to the mix of performers. I see the same response towards a singer as I do towards a writer. For me, I really like the mix. It’s always a grab bag from event to event: a surprise. Some weeks are stronger than others. Sometimes you hear new talent and say “wow”! Some evenings, it all flows together and the energy is there.
Open Stage Sept 11, 2017 - Don
Poet Don Gillatly has been sharing his poetry at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts for a decade or more.

Think of it as a Greenwich Village (an artist’s haven). People can suck or be great but I run the event as a safe place. Everything goes: keeping in mind this is open to families and people of all ages. Everyone respects each other and if there is a problem or if anyone shows disrespect, I usually remind people about the rules. If people don’t like it, they don’t return.
It would be a loss without the writers. We learn from each other.
This is your second season as MC for the event and I understand this year you’re on your own, as John has decided to pursue other interests. What made you decide to take on this role? And what made you decide to stay for the second season?
First of all, I’m not alone. Daria has replaced John as a co-organizer. She is my sound engineer. Her help is invaluable.
I first took on the role because I’m a singer from Ottawa who went to open stages to keep up my skills. When I came to Sarnia in October 2015, a friend of mine was performing at the Lawrence House and shortly afterwards I was hired to perform as well. The idea for an open stage developed from there and I was happy when it launched in April 2016.
I can’t see not running the event. I have lots of skills and experience from Ottawa and I enjoy hearing and watching the unknown, the new people who no one knows, the people who perform on smaller stages. For that reason, I want people to know that Open Stage is a safe place to share their work or the work of others.
Not everyone who attends Open Stage is a performer. Is an audience composed of non-performers important? Why or why not?
Yes, having an audience who only want to listen is a BONUS! At a bar, people often come to the open mics to drink. At the Lawrence House, people often attend Open Stage to listen. We are starting to draw a regular audience of these listeners and that makes everyone feel good. We are fortunate to have that support from the community.
Open Stage Sept 11, 2017 - Sign - Literary Arts
Open Stage is held on the second and third Monday of each month. It's an open mic for both the literary and performing arts community including musicians and songwriters.

What plans or goals do you have for this season?
One of my goals is to offer workshops in writing, in handling a mic, and in presenting yourself on stage. The Lawrence House can offer these public workshops at a reasonable price. I’m looking at a mid-November and/or January/February date. People should check the Lawrence House website and/or follow its Facebook page for announcements and/or updates.
Another goal is to continue to support the variety of performers and writers and to thank the audience and the community for their interest.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Yes, the Lawrence House is doing all that is can to support local artists. Leonard Segallfrom the board is extremely helpful and supportive and he’s a great leader. He is a huge supporter of creative things.
The Lawrence House is filled with activities including concerts held on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons. Additional information can be found on the website.
Open Stage Sept 11, 2017 - Sign - Performing Arts
Thanks for sharing your comments Missy! I look forward to the next Open Stage.
Missy Burgess is an accomplished singer/musician who recently returned to Sarnia. According to her website, “Missy has performed on stages from The National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Canada to The Angola Prison for Women in Louisiana. She has recorded 3 albums, Pour Me A Song, Lemon Pie and, her most recent, Play Me Sweet.”
The next Open Stage will be held on Monday, October 16, 2017. The event runs from 7 to 9 p.m. Arrive early to sign-up is at the door. Audience members welcome. Admission is free.
According to its website, The Lawrence House Centre for the Arts is “an all-volunteer registered charitable organization in the historic City of Sarnia owned Lawrence House”. Its goals are to promote “the visual, literary and performing arts”.
d78hill | October 16, 2017 at 12:51 am | Tags: Literary EventsMusical EventsOpen MicOpen Stage | Categories: blog postsNews-Events | URL:
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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Sunday, Jan 8, 2017

It looks like it snowed last night and I believe it is still quite cold out there. Yesterday I checked with our local bus company on how to get to a location to see an apartment.

Unfortuntely for me, they made a mistake and I took the Abetrdeen bus and the round trip took one hour!  The only sign of Bay Street was way up on Aberdeen and on such a vey cold day (cold weather warning even), I was not about to try and find my way down to Hunter.

What a waste of time and a little frustrating.

I will try and go today, but phoning them first to make sure the apartment is still available. Some friends have told me the correct bus numbers to take to where I need to go.

I certainly was glad to get home to my warm and cozy apartment.

I spent the rest of the day watching a Miss Marple video from the library and reading.

Have a good day everybody.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Rishma Dunlop 1956-2016

photo: York University / Rishma Dunlop

Rishma Dunlop, a gifted poet and professor at York University, passed away this month after a long battle with cancer. She gave a memorable reading at Poetry London back in 2006 and I was deeply impressed with her poems and her eloquence. She had been a recepient of the Emily Dickinson Prize for Poetry as well as being received as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

In additon to being an editor of several literary anthologies, Rishma Dunlop authored five books of poetry including Lover Through Departure: New and Selected Poems (Mansfield Press, 2011).

Small things

Small things keep you safe:
prayers like the Japanese tie to trees,
clasp of your child’s hand,
angels at the gates of your city,
schedules of commuter trains.

Until the blasted church,
machete massacres,
rush hour bombs on subways,
carnage that is the failure of love.
Clothed in our convictions,
we feel our brains slip,
in every bone the fossil of murder,
illness we cannot vomit up
a hurt so fierce it takes more than
all human grief to beat it down.

You see the exact perspective of
loss as a fading pencil study,
loved one’s features blur, smudged detail,
clouds of centuries pass over the image,
through cross-hatched strokes
only a wrist in forced memory remains,
a hand caressing.

In the archives of accusations,
vengeance and the unforgiven,
we are nailed together, flying the black
flag of ourselves.

The farmer continues to till his fields.
In the city we awaken, turn off alarm clocks,
drink our coffee, kiss our lovers and children,
begin again at the train stations, at bus stops,
briefcases in hand.

In deafness to political speech
the eye permits change.
You imagine words fit for a newborn.

Touch me. In the burned city,
we have become beautiful.

Love’s no secret now.

©Rishma Dunlop 2005
from Metropolis, published by Mansfield Press

Rishma Dunlop website: