Book Club Notes: April

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For the month of April we are delighted to welcome author Cordelia Strube to lead our Book Club! She invites us to read Kate Caley’s How You Were Born. Here is why she chose this book.


I hadn’t read Kate Caley’s work before pulling How You Were Born from a box, one of ten or so boxes delivered to me as a juror for the Trillium Book Award.  Jury duty in the literary world expands the margins of writers’ minds because we are forced to read books that we might not otherwise have noticed, not because the books aren’t good but because we haven’t heard about them.  An independent publisher as outstanding as Pedlar Press does not have a publicity punch equal to that of corporate-powered Random House.  Jurors are given the opportunity to see beyond the packaging and promo and assess books from all publishers, large and small, that meet the award’s submission guidelines. get-to-know-them-first-how-you-were-born-short-stories-by-kate-cayley_alu_blogfeatured

Testing the pulse of each literary work, we diligently wend our way through the big name authors, best sellers and award winners as well as the emerging or lesser known ones.  Occasionally we are gobsmacked by a book so masterful that we write it down immediately in felt marker, alongside the penciled titles.  Kate Caley’s collection How You Were Born was such a marvel for me.  Two years later, her stories Boys and The Fetch continue to linger in my imagination.  Her skill as a playwright is richly evident in her use of dialogue.  Characters are revealed through behaviours and their use of settings, enabling us to learn about Caley’s worlds as her characters move through them.  Her use of specific, animate detail never slows the narrative and eases us into the complexity of the human condition.  With grace and pathos, Caley teases out unexpected insights, connections, dark secrets and moments of transcendence.

How You Were Born well deserved the Trillium Book Award.


Strube, Cordelia _by Mark Raynes RobertsCordelia Strube is an accomplished playwright and the author of nine critically acclaimed novels, including Alex & Zee, Teaching Pigs to Sing, and Lemon. Winner of the CBC literary competition and a Toronto Arts Foundation Award, she has been nominated for the Governor General’s Award, the Trillium Book Award, the WH Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award, and long-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. A two-time finalist for ACTRA’s Nellie Award celebrating excellence in Canadian broadcasting, she is also a three-time nominee for the ReLit Award. Her latest work On The Shores Of Darkness, There Is Light won the City of Toronto Book Award.

5 Questions with Sarah de Leeuw

Sarah de Leeuw, award-winning researcher and creative writer, answers IFOA’s 5 Questions about her new work Where it Hurts.  Sarah will be in Toronto on April 12th for an in-depth interview with Ariel Smith, Executive Director of imagineNATIVE.

Find more info here!


IFOA: Missing geographies and people, how do we talk about those who are lost, but not forgotten?

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Sarah de Leeuw: With great care. With compassion. With an understanding about the sociocultural and historical contexts and powers that have produced hierarchies of worth, that have produced and positioned some people and places as mattering more (or conversely less) than others and that, consequently, result in attention being paid to certain entities/subjects/people/sites while ignoring so many others.

With that said, I think it’s imperative to note that for the people who inhabit the bodies, families, communities and geographies that are actively maligned and sidelined, that are deemed to ‘not matter’ or that are overlooked and forgotten, there is SO OFTEN a tremendous sense of worth, of resilience, and of value, love, caring and connection. In so many ways, that’s the confusing thing: those of us who inhabit places of the margin (and certainly even here there exists hierarchies – as a settler woman, I occupy spaces of privilege and power not offered to others —Indigenous women— who live and work in rural remote or northern geographies) understand ourselves and our spaces as having value – yet we are devalued in normative discourses, in the gridlines of power that are circulated beyond and without us. I think we want to see ourselves, to take up space, to be heard. We are confident we are worth more than a writing-off. So I think we have to write ourselves back in, in part by talking about the missing and the forgotten, the overlooked and dismissed. I can say that is what I devote a lot of my writing to doing. I by no means have the ability (or right!) to tell all stories – butI  hope by telling mine, new possibilities for more and different stories might be availed.

IFOA: Why did you choose to write creative nonfiction to tell your stories?

Sarah de Leeuw: As I’ve mentioned in other places, I think creative (or literary) non-fiction has always occupied a kind of ‘outsider’ genre status in writing, a kind of in-betweenness, a balancing of multiple worlds with different expectations and constraints and conventions. There is an energy in that uncertain status, in the edge. The genre itself is thus especially well-suited, in my mind, to documenting people and places on the margins, those with marginal status in circuits of power . I also genuinely believe that ‘fact’ (for what that word is worth, given I don’t really believe in any ultimate, singular, or universal truth) is often as exciting as ‘fiction’ – and I do feel that something rich and resonant can arise when a writer puts literary traditions (word and sound experimentation, metaphor, rhythm, etc.) to work in the service of (re)telling or illuminating “real life” people or events.

where-it-hurts-final-cover_rgbIFOA: Do you incorporate your academic research, if at all, in your creative nonfiction work?

Sarah de Leeuw: In so far as I enjoy undertaking research, including interviews or archival research or doing searches of literature or data bases, to inform my creative non-ficiotn then, yes, I suppose I do integrate some of the ‘tools’ of the more ‘academic trade’ into my creative writing. Also, I’d say very broadly that ALL my writing work (creative or academic) is preoccupied with some kind of aim toward social justice (and I don’t have any firm summary of what the end goal of that might be!) that tries to unsettle taken-for-granted disparities and inequalities. With that said, my academic and research scholarship really has a much different look and feel than my creative work – and I think it’s also destined for different audiences and markets! What is interesting, however, is that I think in the last 5-7 years, academics and scholars are increasingly taking an interest in the methods and methodologies of creative practitioners. I can only hope that interest doesn’t become predatory!

IFOA: Is there some kind of catharsis in Where It Hurts?

Sarah de Leeuw: What an interesting and engaging question. The honest answer is: I don’t know. I don’t think so. I shy away from complicated issues being tidily wrapped up. I think the action of “closure” allows for the (mis)conception that we can ‘move on’ – I think (especially non-Indigenous) Canadians, especially in this time of Truth and Reconciliation, in this time of Idle No More or Standing Rock (in the USA) want a comforting sense that there’s a happy ending, that we’re headed toward some kind of conclusion, that soon there will be some relief or release – or, put in the manner of your question, that we’ll have a catharsis. I’m not sure we deserve that right now. Or even that it would productive, enlivening. I think there is too much to be done. I don’t want to despair and I hope my writing never results in a closing down (I know sometimes people say my essays are downers – but hope there can also be found in them the humour and resilience that I also try hard to document and celebrate) . I hope my writing, by being open–ended (and perhaps not very cathartic) behaves more like a calling, an invitation, for more attention to be paid to the missing, the forgotten, the overlooked.

IFOA: What are you working on now?

Sarah de Leeuw: On the creative writing side, I recently completed a new book of poetry (Outside, America) that I’m shopping around. Perhaps more interestingly, however (well, at least to my mind!), I’m working away, still in infancy stages, on a long poem about growing up on Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands). Haida Gwaii is a (somewhat problematically, I think) romanticized place especially by non-Haida people (of course if you’re Haida, it makes sense to love your traditional homeland and territory!). The islands have a long and fascinating geological, ecological and anthropological history. I am excited to juxtapose those histories against my own somewhat inconsequential (except not to me!) childhood and adolescence. I’m also working on a variety of academic papers and texts on colonialism, humanities in medicine and geography, and the determinants of Indigenous peoples’ health.

5 Questions with Majlinda Bashllari, Amanda Earl, Patricia Keeny, Jennifer LoveGrove, Nicholas Power and Dane Swan

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Majlinda Bashllari, Amanda Earl, Patricia Keeny, Jennifer LoveGrove, Nicholas Power and Dane Swan are six of the 20 participating poets competing in the Poetry NOW: Battle of the Bards. IFOA asked them about writing poetry and where they find their inspiration.

Want to hear them read live on March 29th? Event info, here!


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IFOA: What do you look for when reading poetry?

Majlinda Bashllari: New territories, striking images, brave figures of speech. Poetry is the highest form of human knowledge and the first exploratory tool of new realities. Through imagination and intuition, it enters in the darkest and most unknown macro and micro zones of the universe and opens up the ways for other forms of knowledge such as the philosophy, the exact sciences and technology to thrive and succeed.

Amanda Earl: I try not to look for anything. My mind’s open. Most recently I’ve been reading Lisa Robertson’s “3 Summers” and “Cinema of the Present.” I enjoy the intensity and sensuality of her imagery, the humour and play in her writing, the way she poses questions rather than answers them. In general I like poetry that is whimsical, imperfect, awkward and humble, connects with me in some way, and leads to more exploration.

Patricia Keeney: To go where I haven’t been.

Jennifer LoveGrove: I value the unexpected,  whether that’s in the language, the imagery, or conceptual concerns, I look for inventive ways these elements have been engaged and structured in a poem. I like to be surprised,  unsettled, destabilized by poetry.

Nicholas Power: I look for play in the form and tension in the line. I like to read poetry that somehow goes beyond the limits of the one writing it. I also enjoy the poet’s particular leaps, their sense of rhythm, and their understanding of poetic tradition without conformity. I look for poetry that isn’t simply about something, poetry that is something.

Dane Swan: Soul. When reading poetry I look for soul. If a poem has life, or is dirty, grimy and honest it will usually pique my interest. I’m not particularly interested in antiseptic writing that even an immature child can imitate. Poetry needs to have an energy that pulls the reader along. If the poem is dense, or is technically a lot to take in, as well as soulful, even better. Poetry is best when you’re driven to read it more than once.

IFOA: What do you love most about writing poetry?

Majlinda Bashllari: The hope that you can bring to life some good lines. When poetry is good, it turns into something bigger than the culture it springs from. Writing poetry is a challenge. Each time you sit and start a new poem, you realize that previous experiences mean very little or nothing at all. The fear of being repetitive, shallow, outdated is part of the process. You might become a master of the structure and lexicon, but could easily fail to give the right message. Timing is also another challenge even though we are taught to believe that poetry is timeless.

Amanda Earl: I like that I’m not beholden to convention. There are so many styles of poetry and no one style is the right one. This leaves the genre open to the possibilities of being broken (open).

Patricia Keeney: Going where I haven’t been.

Jennifer LoveGrove: Editing. I love best that stage of making a poem come together, when it finally begins to coalesce after a series of relentless tweaks and alterations – changing a word, a line break, a comma, deleting, rearranging, expanding, paring- until intuitively I know I’ve got it.

Nicholas Power: The surprises.

Dane Swan: I’m not sure love is the right word. Mind you, I’m not sure I even understand the word love. I’m simply personally driven to write. Whether people consider me a writer, or not, I’ll continue to write in some way, shape or form.

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IFOA: If you could only read one poet’s work for the rest of your life who would it be?

Majlinda Bashllari: The Polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska. One of the finest poets of all times. Her poetry embraces the wisdom of old and new times; she can see through the core of human nature. It’s a unique school for everyone who aspires to write about almost anything.

Amanda Earl: Anne Carson.  She always surprises. (But I’d like to mention Lisa Robertson again, also Mary Ruefle, Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath, Gwendolyn MacEwen, Anne Sexton.)

Patricia Keeney: Ted Hughes

Jennifer LoveGrove: Right now, it would be Kim Hyesoon. Her work contains much of what I prioritize: strange, disturbing neo-surrealist imagery and logic, feminism, the grotesque, emotional confrontation. Her poems surprise, amaze and excite me.

Nicholas Power: Jack Gilbert (The Great Fires, The Dance Most of All, Refusing Heaven)

Dane Swan: Probably Langston Hughes

IFOA: What inspires you?

Majlinda Bashllari: Human resilience. The ability to start fresh. Also Greek and Roman mythology has been a great source of inspiration for me.

Amanda Earl: A good kiss, the forbidden, new lovers, my husband’s Sunday crepes, meandering conversations with dear friends over a pot of strong tea, solitary walks downtown early mornings in the cold spring air, drinking a peaty whiskey and listening to Nine Inch Nails while soaking in the tub, Agnès Varda’s film, “Les glaneurs et la glaneuse (the Gleaners and I), Hélène Cixous’ “firstdays of the year,” Djuna Barnes, “Nightwood,” the music of Tom Waits, gin, the stark bone white of Georgia O’Keefe’s desert paintings, the glass flowers at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, dark eyes in the paintings of Leonora Carrington, the green of Max Ernst’s paintings, tangled gardens, broken glass, candour and integrity, quirky lingo, tall, handsome men, wearing red, saying no, saying yes.

Patricia Keeney: Life.

Jennifer LoveGrove: Other poets’ work. And life, especially the bad parts.

Nicholas Power: What inspires me as a writer are (to use Gerard Manley Hopkins list) All things counter, original, spare strange; found phrases and objects, quantum physics, paradoxes, particularities of gesture, tone and humour, literary non-fiction and science writing, poets and writers who have stayed with the struggle to advance the art form over time.

Dane Swan: What doesn’t inspire me? I’m inspired by everyone and everything I meet. The skill is in culling my inspirations; understanding which are worthy of sharing, and when to share each inspiration.

IFOA: What is one thing you have learned about yourself from writing your most recent collection?

Majlinda Bashllari: I am hard to please. (j/k!)

Amanda Earl: I learned that I love to do research, especially concerning the 20s and 30s. For “Kiki,” which is inspired and informed by artists and unbridled creative and licentious acts that took place in Montparnasse between the Wars, I read a lot of books and saw silent films, listened to music and watched a few documentaries about the era. I am still fascinated with that time period and continue to learn as much as I can about the personalities of that time and the work they produced.

Patricia Keeney: That the imaginative adventure never stops.

Jennifer LoveGrove: That the more I record and note my dreams, the more and better I remember them.

Nicholas Power: I feel that my work as a writer, especially in the form of poetry, where I freely associate through a wide range of source materials, has helped my receptivity in general. I also feel that this solitary work has helped me learn to sit with uncertainty, with imperfection and incompleteness.I’m also seeing how much I like to edit, in a positive way but also to rewrite, mess with, deviate from given texts.

Dane Swan: I’m not sure that I learned anything from A Mingus Lullaby. There’s a fair amount of research behind the collection, but I was more confirming what I already knew about Mingus. Technically, I merely put to practice concepts that I learned in the editing stages of Bending the Continuum with Elana Wolfe. I certainly didn’t come out of the experience writing this book as if it was spiritual — it’s a book. It’s a really good book. But, it’s just a book. Part of being a writer is becoming a good observer of others. The best way to hone that skill, is to initially observe yourself. A writer shouldn’t be suddenly surprised about themselves during the writing process. That’s a romanticized idea of how writing works. I’m constantly learning.

Q&A with Ivan Coyote

coyote-ivan_cr-sarah-race-photographyIFOA: When did you know that it was time to write Tomboy Survival Guide?

Ivan Coyote: I thought about this book for years before I started writing it, got a concept back in 2009 or so, started, then stalled. Worked on a couple of other projects, then came back to it, stalled again, switched up the vision again and then got back to work on it. But it was a book that was banging around in my head for longer than most. I had the title first. That never happens with me.

IFOA: You have been visiting schools for 15 years now and working with students and teachers to tackle the difficult subjects of family, class, gender identity, and social justice. Why is it important to you that kids have these conversations?

Ivan Coyote: Because they were conversations I really needed when I was growing up but was never afforded the opportunity to have. Even when I first came out into the feminist/lesbian/queer scene in the late eighties (I know!!) the class discussion wasn’t happening, at least not in the way I saw or that resonated with me. Kids are smarter these days than I remember us being at that age. Diversity isn’t a buzzword in the hallways these days, it’s a reality. So we have to make a space for the youth to have these conversations and ask their questions, and speak their own minds to them.

IFOA: Which is your favourite medium of storytelling – film, music, the written word or the spoken word? Why?

Ivan Coyote: I love and am inspired by them all, and incorporate each of them into my own craft.coyote_tomboysurvivalguide

IFOA: What is next for you?

Ivan Coyote: I’m working on a few things. Many irons, different sizes of fires. Touring the live show of Tomboy Survival Guide, we’re doing Dublin Fringe this fall, and a couple gigs at NAC for an audience that will contain many international presenters, so that’s exciting. Writing a new show, working on a collection of shorty short shorts, and carving out a chunk of time late summer to get seriously in the saddle on the new novel. deciding what I want the next couple of years to look like on the home front, too, and making off road life more of a priority than it has been.


Ivan Coyote will discuss Tomboy Survival Guide with Rachel Giese on April 5. Do not miss this inspirational one-on-one discussion.

Event information and tickets here!

5 Questions with Julie Cameron Gray, David Goldstein, John Nyman and Lisa Richter

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Julie Cameron Gray, David Goldstein, John Nyman and Lisa Richter are four of the 20 participating poets competing in the Poetry NOW:  Battle of the Bards. IFOA asked them about writing poetry and where they find their inspiration.

Want to hear them read live on March 29th? Event info, here!


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IFOA: What do you look for when reading poetry?

Julie Cameron Gray:  I look for poems that have a seed of familiarity, where I recognize an emotion or a moment as so completely true that I feel like it has happened to me, even if I know it hasn’t.

David Goldstein: An immodest love of language.

John Nyman: The first thing I look for is the poet’s willingness to do something unexpected, even unsanctioned. After that I look for a kind of unusual wisdom, poems that gradually depart from the worlds they are born to while also bringing me closer to my own experiences.

Lisa Richter: Emotional punch, honesty, truth, beauty, self-discovery, surprise, and vulnerability. I love poems that are simultaneously accessible but multi-layered, that upon close reading or re-reading, invite multiple interpretations, vibrate on different frequencies.

IFOA: What do you love most about writing poetry?

Julie Cameron Gray: I love the intricate machinery. Poems are never just words on a page- they are complex devices with each word a moving part. Editing a poem is trying to get the machine to run perfectly- tweaking and replacing, cutting and re-engineering. Sometimes you end up with something wonderful that is very different than what you set out to make.

David Goldstein: The way it opens me to the vocabulary of others.

John Nyman: It’s an exercise in urging my freest impulses to bloom.

Lisa Richter: First, what I don’t love: sitting down to write, and feeling stuck. Sometimes you just need to give your conscious mind a break and send it out for coffee. Some of my strongest, or perhaps I should say, most successful poems have started this way. I also have a slightly masochistic love of the revising process, sometimes it’s in the editing room that the magic really happens. Being a perfectionist, of course, can be a trap: the hardest thing in the world sometimes is to stop tinkering with a poem, let it breathe, and walk away.

IFOA: If you could only read one poet’s work for the rest of your life who would it be?

Julie Cameron Gray: Oh, such an impossible question! I’d have a different answer every time you ask. I think right now I’d say Gwendolyn MacEwen, but if you asked me in an hour, I would probably say Yeats. Wait, does Virginia Woolf count as a poet? Her imagery is so finely distilled I feel like she might.

David Goldstein: Dickinson Rilke Celan. That’s one poet, right?

John Nyman: This is a cruel question. But I think I’d have to answer Erin Mouré, especially if I’m allowed to include her many quasi-pseudonyms and (of course!) her translations. I think her writing, at various points, does almost everything I really love in literature: it’s bold and sharp, it’s experimental, it charges headfirst into political and philosophical arguments, and it immerses me in strange and dense thickets of language; yet it’s also expressive, exuberant, and all kinds of emotional, and speaks candidly about the basic elements of life.

Lisa Richter: Ah, the dreaded desert island question. After giving this a lot of thought, I wouldn’t necessarily choose a poet whom I’d actually call a favourite—Sharon Olds, Adrienne Rich, Leonard Cohen, Mark Doty, or Phyllis Webb, to name a few—but one that I want to understand better and learn more about, whose work has fascinated me for years: T.S. Eliot. The breadth and depth of Eliot’s work, the musicality of his language, and richness of his intertextuality make him the perfect desert island poet, one whose work has many layers, but can be appreciated on a surface, sensory level as well.


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IFOA: What inspires you?

Julie Cameron Gray: Everything. Mistakes, anxiety, the human theater of our daily lives. The heartbreaking reality of our mundane. We live in a technologically advanced age in one of the best countries in the world and yet we are often miserable, and creators of our own misery. I find that endlessly fascinating.

David Goldstein: The way the everyday stumbles into art without noticing.

John Nyman: Most thoroughly, critical theory and the larger philosophical tradition. Poetry, for me, is a close cousin of the kind of language we use to think through the world and do justice to the truth of things. I’m also a very systematic thinker, even artistically, so I’m turned on by complex conceptual mechanisms.Other inspirations include, in no particular order, video games, fine art, hip-hop, houseplants, and life’s incongruities.

Lisa Richter: Art, architecture, language, cities, music, large bodies of water, documentaries, graffiti, desert landscapes, long road trips and bus rides watching the scenery go by, the seasons (especially spring), tarot cards, Greek and Roman mythology, Women who Run with the Wolves, grassroots social movements and environmental activism, community, feminism,acts of courage, random acts of kindness, imperfections, people being their flawed, authentic selves, being in love.

IFOA: What is one thing you have learned about yourself from writing your most recent collection?

Julie Cameron Gray:
That I love exploring the same idea over multiple poems. Lady Crawford as a whole is an examination of personal identity, how we construct ourselves based on the choices we make, the things we do or do not do and how our actions (or lack thereof) define us. In the book I have a whole cast of characters other than Lady Crawford that I used to explore that theme, but the central character of Lady Crawford was the part of the collection I found the easiest to write. I think my next collection might be an entire examination of a particular story, each poem an exploration of a larger idea or poetic narrative, but we’ll see.

David Goldstein: How well I remember marigolds.

John Nyman: I think I’ve learned that even my most far-flung projects never escape the orbit of my style. No matter what I do, it’s always me doing it.

Lisa Richter: That I can finish what I started, and seeing a manuscript through to its completion. After so many years of dreaming of writing and publishing a full-length collection, I finally did it. It’s an incredible feeling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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