Literary Writes Judge Jude Neale in Conversation with Cynthia Sharp

Cynthia: There are so many thoughts on what is or is not poetry. What is poetry in your view?

Jude: Poetry to me is the distillation of feelings, thoughts and ideas into the fewest words possible. A good poem does not lie. It is an imagist painting written equally from the heart and the brain.

Cynthia: You’ve published seven books of poetry, with your eighth forthcoming, and have already started work on your ninth. You’re an incredibly accomplished poet and performer, travelling around the province and world for readings. How did you become a poet? When did you first know the value of poetry in your life?

Jude: Thank you Cynthia for your kind words.

How did I become a poet, well it’s always been part of me, of my life. One of my earliest memories involves my grandfather, Herbert William Bilton. Grandpa and grandma lived in a village of 150. He was the Justice of the Peace, Postmaster and raconteur. I remember sitting with my twin on his lap and he would recite Robert Service to us. He memorized all of Service and did all the voices. I loved the meter and the dynamic language. I don’t know when poetry wasn’t important to me, as I was marinated in it. 

Cynthia: You’ve mentioned that in some of your books like Splendid in its Silence, you’ve given each poem twenty or more hours of editing. Could you elaborate on the role of editing in securing your best work? 

Jude: I was mentored by the great Canadian writer, Elisabeth Harvor. She took no prisoners when it came to editing. She would ferret out the cliches, the sentimental and the maudlin. Get rid of duplicate words, unoriginal language and uncreative metaphor. I still have her on my shoulder when I write today!

Cynthia: What can Literary Writes contestants do to take their work from a first draft to a solid, polished poem?

Jude: Write your first draft. Leave it for a day or two. Go back, listen for your voice. Concentrate on line breaks, the breath of a poem. Read it out loud looking for cadence and sound. Edit again. Don’t be afraid to chop! Repeat the process a couple more times. 

Cynthia: What is the mark of a great poem?

Jude: A great poem will take your breath away. It will allow you to connect with another reality. 

Cynthia: I love that you come from a collaborative arts background and in particular opera. What is the relationship between music and poetry in your experience?

Jude: I love this question, Cynthia. I first was an opera singer three careers ago. This attention to rhythm and silence has transferred over to writing. For me, breath is everything. My entire use of line breaks depends on this, which I believe makes my poems different. It gives the poem room to expand. 

Cynthia: In your  essay “Sum of all parts” for The League of Canadian Poets Feminist Caucus in their publication Women and Multimedia, you say that “Authenticity in collaboration is absolutely critical.” That really struck a chord with me, since you live authentically in all the ways that you work, both independently and with other poets and artists in performances large and small. How can poets bring authenticity to their voice and work?

Jude: I really do believe we should be writing from our own reality. Nothing is so insignificant it can’t be turned into a poem. Love, pain, loss, joy and death are not small and we all recognize this as the human condition. It is something we as poets need to affirm, that no life is so small it can’t be written about. That is what I shall be looking for in this competition. 

Cynthia: Who are your favourite poets and influences? 

Jude: My favourite poets are Gary Geddes, Leonard Cohen, Lorna Crozier, Rachel Rose, Sylvia Plath and Mark Doty, to name a few.

I was a child of the sixties and because of this I was able to hear some pretty amazing lyrics. I know I was influenced a great deal by Cohen, Dylan and Mitchell.

Cynthia: What poems either classic or contemporary have most resonated with you and what was it about them that captured you?

Jude: “A Display of Mackerel,” by Mark Doty, is my all time favourite poem. In such few words Doty describes death, singularity and common goals using the example of frozen fish. A perfect poem! 

Cynthia: You’ve been a tremendous mentor in the writing community, lifting others up and helping them establish trust and confidence in their unique voices, whether one on one informally, through Pandora’s collective Poetic Pairings, school classroom visits or community workshops. We’re incredibly grateful to have you as this year’s contest judge. What advice do you have for our members composing for Literary Writes?

Jude: Share your poem after you’ve edited it to death, and ask your listener or reader which words or phrases they loved the most. It is really important to have a sounding board, another eye and ear.

I’m so looking forward to receiving this year’s poems. I will treat each one gently! 

Cynthia: Thank you so much for your time!  

Jude: You’re welcome, it’s been a pleasure.

BC Writers can submit to Literary Writes at this link. The rules are posted here too: https://fbcw.submittable.com/submit/153666/fbcw-literary-writes-2020

Cynthia Sharp with Literary Writes Judge Jude Neale

Bill Arnott’s Poetry Beat – Dementia, Depression, and Other Feel-Good Stories

I have a friend (acquaintance, really) – Gunnar Thor Gunnarsson. Best name ever, I thought. Until I met Lorenz von Fersen. Now that’s a name. The kind of name I’d choose for myself, assuming Max Power’s already been taken. Turns out Lorenz’s excellent moniker fits. He’s an excellent man doing excellent work. And has done for years. If you’ve lived in Vancouver you’ve benefitted from the tireless efforts of Lorenz: writers’ festivals, children’s festivals, music festivals, international and civic celebrations with installations of art and history that blanket our metropolis – lifetimes of stories breathing personality into populous clumps of construction. Even following his retirement Fersen continues to give back, contributing to worthy causes and deserving individuals.

I first met Lorenz at Alma Lee’s home. We were picking the brain of the woman behind the Writers’ Union of Canada and the Vancouver Writers Fest. Pictures around the living-dining room reminded me of those snapshots presidents display – dignitaries adorned in chains of office and what not, maybe one with Keanu Reeves to let tour groups know POTUS is just like us. But rather than politicos, the photos around Alma’s place were literary titans – authors who treasure people like her and Lorenz and all they do for the benefit of others. Lorenz arrived at Alma’s as we were finishing lunch – a stack of cold, mediocre pizza (my contribution). Fersen glanced at the crusty wedges on the table with a look of mild disgust he managed to contain with utmost tact, managing a courteous nod to those of us who had, more or less, rather enjoyed the horrific food.

Now I was sitting in morning sunshine with Lorenz at a West End coffee house. His expression was one of happiness – good coffee, good croissant, good company (I believe) – his eyes alight with youthful exuberance. He handed me a copy of Norbert Ruebsaat’s book of poetry, Words that forgot they exist: Dementia Dialogues, poetry written by Ruebsaat as he slowly, inexorably, slides into dementia. Like most sufferers he knows he’s losing cognitive faculties, his failing mental aptitude unrecoverable.

Every writer, every poet, can relate to searching for words, memories, at times as desperate as a drowning victim flailing toward a flotation device. But imagine that life preserver, your Wilson-like companion, simply floating away, forever. I remember my dad, late in his life, stating with resigned clarity and a sigh, “I’m losing it.” And knowing it was a one way road with no discernable detour.

Taking the reins on this worthy endeavor, not only has Lorenz helped to compile a solid suite of his friend Norbert’s poetry, but shed light on a frighteningly familiar condition. Yes there’s research, progress and hope, same as cancer and every other pandemic. But that doesn’t help sufferers now – those afflicted and every person who loves them.

In reading these poems, lines pierce with poignant honesty. From Dementia Moment, “If I do this I’ll forget what I just did.” From Elder Poem #85, “How does one simply die?” And from To my Daughter, “Thank you.”

I’m reminded of poet Rob Taylor’s book Oh, Not So Great: Poems from the Depression Project, the ambitious, successful project shedding light on mental health issues published by SFU Health Sciences Department – more good people doing good work through poetry. It’s satisfying to know Fersen is bringing Norbert’s book to a wider audience, a fresh facet of research, insight, awareness, and collaboration. Norbert Ruebsaat’s Words that forgot they exist: Dementia Dialogues is available through Amazon.

Vancouver author, poet, songwriter Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of Dromomania and Gone Viking. Sales generate donations to numerous charities. His poetry, articles and reviews are published in Canada, the US, UK, Europe and Asia. Bill’s column Poetry Beat is published by the League of Canadian Poets and the Federation of BC Writers.

Bill Arnott’s Poetry Beat – Airwaves & Verse

RC Weslowski is a clown. No, seriously. I’d never met a real clown before. Sure, class clowns, but they rarely got to hit their creative stride, shows invariably cut short by a trip to the principal’s office, the stage-left yank of a shepherd’s hook wielded by some humour-quashing teacher – you know the type – hit ’em with a cream pie or squirting flower, they simply don’t appreciate the subtleties of performance art.

I admit, when I walked into the radio station for a guest spot on Weslowski’s Wax Poetic I was expecting (hoping?) he’d be adorned in a foam ball nose and enormous red shoes. I was ready with an opening salvo. (Hey, it takes a big guy to fill those shoes!) I would’ve settled for angry Joe Pesci. (What, you think I’m a clown?!) I even had a Snickers to calm him down. In other words, I’d done my homework. But no. If the radio host/slam poet extraordinaire was wearing make-up, it was subtle. No white pancake. No droopy mouth. There may’ve been a little something to help his cheekbones pop above the beard, but it was discrete and expertly applied.

When asked to do something like this I assume the actual guest cancelled, as well as the backup guest. But once more, no. This had been scheduled for a while. I knew the program. I’ve enjoyed it online, its podcasts, and when I’m near an actual radio. RC, along with frequent co-host Kevin Spenst, have created a very special show on Co-op radio 100.5 FM, showcasing a range of poets – laureates and up-and-comers alike. It continues to build and grow an established community of writers and performance poets, sharing the written word on the airwaves – adding an auditory element one only gets usually at a reading.

As a writer I enjoy sharing my work in my voice, literally, the most rudimentary of multimedia deliveries. I can add the cadence I intended. Put the emPHAsis on the right sylLAble as Mike Myers would say. But the reader in me likes absorbing other writers’ work in my own way, a tempo that enables me to savour, ingest at a comfortable pace – take the time to figure out what the hell’s being said, or alluded to.

I appreciate writers wanting, needing, to read – ensuring someone doesn’t bugger up their craft. That’s where the performance part of the medium comes into play. Which is what Weslowski brings in spades. A trained voiceover expert, facilitator and astute comedic actor, it’s no wonder this guy is a multiple world slam poetry finalist and winner of the Golden Beret. I knew about Green Berets, from Chuck Norris and Delta Force, and asked RC if he knew how to kill a guy with his thumb. Turns out he does. Not because of his Golden Beret but rather from his work as a corporate workshop facilitator. I believe. My mind may’ve wandered as I gawked at the technical studio gear. Plus I have a very short attention span.

The interview went well. RC ensured it did. Same as co-host Lucia Misch. They’re good at what they do, along with everyone else that’s helped produce this solid piece of poetic radio. I felt privileged to experience it firsthand – share some space with experts present and past – humbled, in fact. Every poet, performer or not, should be thankful for programs like Wax Poetic – talented artists going above and beyond to create shared artistic space in a convenient, accessible format. We owe this program, this crew, and this clown, our gratitude.

Vancouver author, poet, songwriter Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of Dromomania and Gone Viking. Sales generate donations to numerous charities. His poetry, articles and reviews are published in Canada, the US, UK, Europe and Asia. Bill’s column Poetry Beat is published by the League of Canadian Poets and the Federation of BC Writers.

Bill Arnott’s Poetry Beat – Massy Books

Patricia Massy’s bookstore shouldn’t exist. Massy, a hardworking bibliophile with bricks and mortar adjacent to Canada’s priciest real estate, is a retail model waiting to be a business school case study, “Why This Can’t Work.” TV narcissi could bleat at length as to why they’d never invest in such a venture. But it does exist. It does work. And it works well.

With a diverse wall of new poetry and stacks of indigenous and LGBTQ2S authors, Massy showcases all that’s good in the world of print books. I like spending money here. It doesn’t feel like a handout to the guy in the mouldy used bookstore hoping to make the back rent before his kids need to haul his crap to a green bin.

Situated in downtown Vancouver’s Chinatown, Massy Books fits the neighbourhood. The scent of dry spice and fish hang, melding with organic coffee and hipster beard. It’s walkable and close to transit. There’s grass and trees nearby with peaceful pockets of tent towns. Inside, shelves are clean and high. A rolling ladder hangs at an invitingly steep, oblique angle, making me want to pretend I’m a firefighter, or cast in a musical. The stacks themselves move to create event space. There’s even a secret room, or there was until now. Upstairs, gallery space features regular rotations of art, with sitting space and more books.

Vancouver’s Poets Corner meets monthly in Massy’s main space, seating fifty comfortably. The reading series kicked off a new year showcasing emerging indigenous authors – five powerhouse poets reading a combination of published and unpublished work: Jules Koostachin, Larry Nicholson, Gunargie O’Sullivan, Wil George, and Tawahum Justin Peter Bige.

I became a fan of Bige at Vancouver’s Verses Festival (formerly Vancouver International Poetry Festival) and the Talking Stick/Full Circle Festival. At Massy he chuckled, sharing new pieces that surprise him in their lack of anger. I like the angry him too. Either way, his caliber continues to surpass his earthly experience.

George read with succinct insight and the raw truth of his peers. O’Sullivan’s reading was as much informative conversation as evocative, from-the-heart writing. Nicholson’s whimsical work was a passenger seat on an engaging fair ride, and Vancouver Public Library resident storyteller Koostachin read from her book Unearthing Secrets: Gathering Truths, spiritual dreams, sharing and healing, her warm presence as powerful as her film work.

Nearby, two outlets of long time independent bookseller Book Warehouse thrive. Over the years it’s grown, it’s shrunk, yet keeps its niche amongst the chains where I have to hunt to find a book amongst the houseware. Book Warehouse’s poetry selection is obvious, easily saleable, but respectable – a good place to buy a gift for a newbie. A short distance away are three outlets of Pulpfiction, a successful independent for nearly twenty years. Sales continue to grow. One outlet’s doubling in size. It’s a reader’s bookstore with a decent poetry section.

Back at the Massy event I was making my way to the wall of poetry. Getting through the crowd took time – hugs, smiles, stories, welcoming clumps of humanity. It felt good. If some PR rep were looking for a photo op, it was here. Optimism, truth, and caring, with poems. Tangibility of people and paper I can’t get through Amazon.

First Published in Stanza by The League of Canadian Poets

Vancouver author, poet and songwriter Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of Dromomania and Gone Viking. Sales generate donations to numerous charities. His poetry, articles and reviews have been published in Canada, the US, the UK, Europe and Asia.

Youth Literary Writes Judge Renée Saklikar Gives Helpful Hints for Poets

Our Literary Writes Youth Judge Renée Saklikar generously took time from her busy schedule to share insight into her poetry journey and tips for poets entering this year’s contest.

Cynthia: Who are your favourite poets?

Renée: So many! I’m always on the look out for local, BC and Canadian poets, particularly those whose poetics touch on “the urgency of now.” For example, I just reviewed a book published by Caitlin Press, by Vancouver author Onjana Yanghwe. It’s called The Small Wayhttps://bcbooklook.com/2018/12/06/441-small-journey-big-change/

A few others: Ottawa poet rob mclennan; the late, great Peter Culley (from Nanaimo). American poets Rusty Morrison and Terrance Hayes. And I’ve a soft spot for poet laureates such as Vancouver’s former poet laureate Rachel Rose, having just completed my term as Surrey’s first ever Poet Laureate. Another big favourite: Indigenous poet Joshua Whitehead. Also Metis poet, Tristan Greyeyes, who is also a film/maker.

Cynthia: Who was your favourite poet when you were a youth?

Renée: Walter De La Mare: my father would read me his poems: “Someone came a knocking on my wee small door” (from memory…)

Cynthia: When did you start to write poetry?

Renée: I’ve been scribbling away since I was a little girl…not really knowing that my love of sound and image, then my habit of jotting down words, was part of what poets and writers do…

Cynthia: How has poetry helped you in life?

Renée: Saved me! American poet Theodore Roethke, “in a dark time, the eye begins to see.” My first book, children of air india, un/authorized exhibit and interjections (Nightwood Editions, 2013), totally changed my life. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/poets-new-book-communes-with-the-ghosts-of-the-air-india-bombing/article15349779/

Cynthia: What did it mean to you to be Surrey’s Poet Laureate these past three years?

Renée: Such a rich, rewarding, complex, experience! I learned so much about language, culture, identity, geography from connecting with teens, seniors, and everyone in between. An honour to be the first Poet Laureate for a large, fast growing suburban/Edge city. Huge props to the Surrey City Libraries who hosted and supported so much of the laureate program.

Cynthia: How does poetry help society in your view?

Renée: Maybe poetry and the making of poetry helps us to not look away from what is jagged, incomplete, hurting or abandoned. But that’s just a guess. Poetry just is. That’s its particular beauty.

Cynthia: How do you know when a poem is finished?

Renée: May the poem never end! I’m always wanting to re/vise, to see anew, to surprise. Restless for another way to make the page come alive. Also, perhaps paradoxically, maybe the poem stops and rests, and attains a kind of solidity, and then, if I’m attentive enough, I find a way to step back and give space to what the work wants/needs. The work will tell you what it needs.

Cynthia: What do you look for when editing and polishing a poem?

Renée: Pretty much everything, particularly what I call “unity of voice,” where all the parts seem to fit into something greater than the whole, but each poem and every poet’s poetics (theory of language/anti-theory) is so unique, that one of the things I look for is how the words and the language do more than describe or narrate: how does the language, how do the line breaks and the sounds and rhythms, and devices of the words, evoke and embody the secret dark heart at the centre of any poem?

Cynthia: What has most surprised you about poetry?

Renée: Pretty much everything! The way that almost anything can be made into a poem.

Cynthia: Do you have any suggestions or tips for youth entering the Literary Writes contest?

Renée: Sure thing: Golden Rule: try and leave time for revision; we all benefit from having a chance to take a second or third, or fifth look, once the poem has poured out of us… Let the words find their own space for a while. Then come back to what you’ve tapped out on your phone or scribbled in your bullet journal or scribbled on those scraps of paper crumpled up in your pocket: Time is your friend.

Canadian citizens and residents can submit to Literary Writes at this link, $15 per entry for adults, $10 for adult FBCW members, and only $5 for any youth by February 1, 2019: https://fbcw.submittable.com/submit/128064/who-is-the-other-adult-and-youth-poetry-contest?fbclid=IwAR2vZJBW-SAdfhCM2V7gs-NkEQvEFFmywuTH1ylutXa4NJPe-VYY8b3e5LA

 

 

Sensory Writing Workshop

Happy Summer Everyone!

Craig Spence has done a wonderful job providing cutting edge, current information for writers through the Federation of BC Writers Blog. He’s left some big shoes to fill as we wish him well on his next endeavours. 

I’m looking forward to facilitating the blog in my years on the board and would love contributions from members and anyone in the book world with helpful tips to share. We aim to share information in navigating the book industry from setting up a daily writing practice to negotiating publishing contracts and update on the 15th of the month. If you have a non-fiction blog story 750 words or under on a pertinent theme related to writing, editing or publishing, please email me at blog@bcwriters.ca Blog contributions are on a volunteer basis.

For today, I thought I’d let you know a little more about me. I’m a BC poet who runs sensory writing workshops. This is an adjustable template of one of the introductory level workshops we bring through the province for beginning writers, ESL schools and at readings, that you’re welcome to use in your communities. All the best, Cynthia Sharp

Nature Poetry Writing Workshop

Materials (adaptable to what is locally available)

birch bark, beeswax candle, blooms, candlelight, flower, oak leaves, Himalayan salt rock, seaweed with lime, sugar pinecone,  prickles, rainbow, ridges, rock, stone, tea tree oil, quartz

Introductions

The instructor welcomes participants. We go around the circle with each person introducing himself or herself. 

The group brainstorms answers to the question, “What is poetry?” on a whiteboard so that the instructor gets a sense of how much people already know.

Then, a volunteer reads the opening poem about paying attention to the beauty of nature.

Breathe Deeply Nature’s Inner World

Breathe deeply

moments in the stillness,                  

what the moss on the maple tells us,

or each angle of sunlight reveals,

and remember                             

to let the trees and flowers 

and colours speak

Discussion about slowing down, relaxing in peaceful places and observing details. Good writing uses details. Parts of nature have a story to tell us and it’s our job to listen and write it down.

Part 1 Nature Vocabulary –Writing from all the Senses 

In this workshop, we write from all our senses: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. To get started, examine objects from nature in the baskets and describe them.

For an ESL group, it can be helpful to provide vocabulary:

Adjectives:

coarse, cool, furry, grainy, honey-scented, jagged, large, light, medium-sized, ocean-washed, pink, prickly, pungent, rainbow-coloured, rose, round, salty, sharp, small, smooth, soft, sour, sun-warmed, tiny, warm 

Nouns:

bark, beeswax candle, blooms, candlelight, flower, fur, hedgehog, Himalayan salt rock, leaf, pinecone, prickles, rainbow, ridges, rock, seaweed, stone, tea tree oil, quartz

Part 2 

The group makes notes together to describe a beach. The phrases and vocabulary from above, along with new ideas are all welcome.

example: “ocean-washed stones” could go into the sight category for the beach

The instructor fills out the columns below on a whiteboard, while participants contribute imagery and take notes if they’d like. Then the instructor moves the group’s imagery into a poem, adjusting grammar and placing phrases in a logical and powerful order.

Beach

extra adjectives: crowded, empty, moonlit, tranquil, wet

extra nouns: moon, moonlight, reflection, sand, seawall, shore, waves

sight

sound

touch

smell

taste

Now, we will use the images to create a poem. We’ll choose our favourite images and arrange the word pictures to become a poem. If a word or idea doesn’t fit, we can leave it out, or turn it into a simile, which is a phrase using “like” or “as”.

Example:

Waves invite me to play,

like the wind on a holiday weekend,

the breeze as soft as a baby hedgehog’s fur.

Part 3  Your Personal Poem from a Favourite Place

example: Stanley Park

Write the name of the place:

How do you feel in that place?

examples: relaxed, peaceful, free

How you feel in the place is the mood, or feeling of your poem.

Imagine yourself in this place. What time of day is it? Is it morning, noon, afternoon, evening, night?

What do you see? Do you see any animals? Squirrels, chipmunks, seals, otters? Deer? Eagles?

Keep looking around your sanctuary. What colour are the flowers? When you touch the grass or sand, how does it feel? Is it warm? Cool? Refreshing? Soft?

What do you like about this place?

examples: clean air, trees, the feeling of the wind

What does the wind tell you?

examples: breathe, relax, be

Fill in details from the picture or memory you are describing:

Your Place

sight

sound

touch

smell

taste

Now, you can turn your images and details above into a poem. Choose your favourite words from above and arrange them however you would like. You may add in, take out, or change anything.

Verbs to help with your poem: abandon, appreciate, release, remember, savour, treasure

Part 4 Editing

You can make your first draft stronger by replacing average words with less common ones that enhance the mood of your piece:

The names of precious metals, flowers, fruits and desserts are enticing synonyms for colour:

apricot, peach, tangerine for orange

lavender, lilac, plum for purple

lemon, honey, or golden for yellow

lime, forest green, jade for green

rose for light pink, cherry for dark pink

silver, pearl

cream for beige

tan, coffee, chocolate for brown, milk chocolate for light brown, dark chocolate for dark brown

turquoise for sea blue

and conversely for darker themes, 

blood, mud, steel, etc. 

When you are finished your draft of your poem, you can ask the facilitator for suggestions to improve grammar, punctuation and flow and then write a final copy. If there is time in the workshop, each participant who wishes to reads his or her poem to the group.