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

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Majlinda Bashllari, Patricia Keeny, Jennifer LoveGrove, Nicholas Power and Dane Swan are five 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.

What makes a good story? – Shari Lapena

Lapena, Shari Photo © Joy von Tiedemann 2016Shari Lapena was a lawyer and later an English teacher before she turned to writing. She is the author of three works of fiction: Things Go Flying, Happiness Economics and, most recently, the psychological thriller, The Couple Next Door, which was the Number One bestselling book in Canada in all of 2016. Shari has been nominated for the Goodreads Choice Award and the Sunburst Award.

Shari will act as a judge with Danila Botha and Joseph Kertes at IFOA’s Lit Jam event on February 1st. Join them and CBC’s Gill Deacon for a night of on-the-spot creativity and storytelling like never before!

Here is what she had to say about what she is looking for as a judge.


I’m really looking forward to Lit Jam. I think it’s going to be fun to see what people come up with on the fly. I think we’re going to see some very creative ideas.

In my opinion, a good story is one that makes you really want to know what’s going on—what’s already happened in the background to make your characters who they are and the situation what it is, and what’s going to happen next. It has energy and a life of its own.  And ideally, it also makes you reflect in some way on your own circumstances or on life outside of the story.

My advice to the participants is—put your internal censor aside. Your subconscious is always bubbling up with good ideas just dying to land on the page. But we tend to censor everything we write before we even write it down. I say, let it out, and worry about making it coherent later! That’s how you find the gems.

What makes a good story? – Danila Botha

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Danila Botha hails from Johannesburg. She moved to Canada when she was a teenager. She is the author of one novel and two volumes of short stories, Got No Secrets, Too Much on the Inside, and most recently For All the Men (and Some of the Women) I’ve Known. She is a winner of the Book Excellence Award for Contemporary Novel.

Danila will act as a judge with Joseph Kertes and Shari Lapena at IFOA’s Lit Jam event on February 1st. Join them and CBC’s Gill Deacon for a night of on-the-spot creativity and storytelling like never before!

Here is what she had to say about her expectations as a judge. She also shares some tips of what makes a good story!


IFOA: What are you looking forward to as a judge at IFOA’s Lit Jam?

DB: I am really looking forward to to watching and encouraging emerging writers. This event is so unique-first of all, there’s the spontaneity and inventiveness of live storytelling, there’s the resourcefulness and talent of improvisation, and there’s also the collaborative nature of writers working in teams to tell stories. I can’t wait to see the brilliant and original ideas and hear the stories they come up with. I think it’s going to be really inspiring for all of us.

IFOA: What, in your opinion, makes a good story?

DB: I think regardless of writing style, or subject matter, what the best stories have in common is desire. We read about a character who desperately wants something- and we feel deeply invested in them finding, or achieving or struggling to have the thing that they want most.

Lisa Moore described it perfectly in an interview a few years ago: “Desire is luminous and [it makes characters] alive and indelible. It doesn’t matter if… they are worthy of what they want. What matters is if we [the readers] are caught up in the sweeping spotlight of that desire.”

I love complex, three dimensional characters whose motives aren’t always clear. The more outside of my own experience or frame of reference a character’s choices or experiences are, the more I enjoy reading about them (and writing them!) I think the best stories show us new perspectives, and insights, and help us understand, or be more compassionate. I also love great dialogue and a good sense of humor. My favourite stories always contain elements of the unexpected.

IFOA:  Have you ever participated in an event like this one? Do you have any advice to share with the participants?

DB: I wish I had, I’m sure I would have loved to have participated in an event like this.

The first time I ever read to a large group was when I did the Humber School for Writers Summer Intensive Program in the mid 2000’s. I read from a short story called Paradox (which later became part of  my first collection of short stories). On the surface, the story is actually very dark, but I realized that I could play with the tone, and emphasize humor or aspects of the story that might not necessarily be obvious on the page. It was such a great feeling to hear the audience react- to hear them laugh, or gasp in shock, or just see them listening intently. Reading and performance is such a great way of engaging readers- enjoy the process, because it’s a wonderful way of getting an audience to connect with a story. Also, (and I think about this all the time, too) it’s important to believe in your ideas and to have the confidence to tell the story, or stories that you most want to tell. Those are the stories that resonate the most.


 

 

Lit Jam

Get ready for the first ever Lit Jam this February 1st at Harbourfront Centre.

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You’re probably thinking, what is Lit Jam? It is a storytelling game show-esque hybrid event where four teams of emerging writers from the province’s top creative writing programs compete for a cash prize by improvising a story on stage! In addition to a cash prize the winners will have their story published online in NOW Toronto.

Here’s how it works:

We ask the public to submit a one sentence story prompt online using #LitJam or upon arrival at the event.

One representative from each team of students from the Humber School of Creative and Performing Arts, Ryerson University, the University of Guelph and the University of Toronto will choose their order.

Each team of students from the University of Guelph Creative Writing MFAHumber School of Creative and Performing Arts, Ryerson University and the University of Toronto will have five minutes on stage to create and perform the story before your eyes.

Our team of judges, Danila Botha, Joseph Kertes and Shari Lapena will choose the winning team with the help of the audience.

The winning team will receive a cash prize and their story will be published in NOW Magazine online.

Already have ideas of opening sentences for our contestants? Send your story prompts to us by email to media@ifoa.org with subject line Lit Jam, post them to the Facebook event or tweet @ifoa using #LitJam.

We hope you will join us for this interactive night of storytelling!

 

 

Calling all poets!

1 stage. 20 poets. 1 winner.

The popular poetry competition returns in 2016 to feature 20 of Canada’s upcoming and established poets! One poet will receive an automatic invitation to read at the 37th edition of the International Festival of Authors AND an ad for their book in NOW!

Poetry NOW is presented in partnership with NOW Magazine.11 Poetry NOW logo

Poetry NOW FAQ

IFOA is inviting submissions for Poetry NOW: 8th annual Battle of the Bards. However, with a special event comes some special rules. Even if you’ve submitted/presented work here before, please read on to find out what’s what:

AUTHORS

So what’s this all about, anyway?

In 2009, IFOA posted its first-ever open call for submissions. Poets 35 and younger were invited to be part of a celebration of our 35 years in the reading series business. The standard of entries was astonishing, and the resulting event was one of the highlights of our year. The event returned in 2010, but was opened up to published poets of all ages. 2010 also saw a new partnership with our friends at NOW Magazine, and that collaboration continues this year.

I’m pretty good, y’know. Will there be any sort of prize?

Oh yes. One reader will win an automatic invitation to appear at the 37th edition of the International Festival of Authors (October 20–30, 2016) AND an ad for their most recent book of poetry in NOW Magazine! Not bad, eh?!

Who is eligible for Poetry NOW?

You must be published by a trade publisher in a collection that is all your own work (so anthologies, literary journals and magazines aren’t eligible, sorry). Your book must have been published within the last five years, and it must be currently in print.

This one seems kind of obvious, but you must also be in Toronto on March 30 and available between 5pm and 10pm. (Sorry, we are unable to cover car/train/boat/plane or accommodation expenses.)

I was part of last year’s event, can I still enter for the 2016 event?

Absolutely. We’d love to have you back. Besides, maybe you have a new book out since last year’s event…?

What sets Poetry NOW apart from your regular weekly literary events?

We’ll be featuring 20 readers in one event, instead of our usual two or three. And we won’t be making a judgment call about who gets an invite. If you fit the criteria and your name gets pulled out of the hat, you’re in!

Do I need to pre-register? Or can I just sign up on the night?

Although we’re throwing open the call for submissions, we will be confirming the line-up several weeks in advance and liaising with publishers to promote the event according to our usual procedures. Submissions must be made by your publisher by Monday, February 29 at noon.

(See our submission guidelines for publishers below.)

What’s the closing date for submissions?

Monday, February 29 at noon.

How many authors will get to read at the event? And for how long?

20 authors will read for up to 3 minutes each.

How will you choose the readers?

Submissions that fit the above criteria will go into a draw. You have as much chance of being selected as the next person.

Who picks the winner?

Judges to be announced shortly.

When will I find out if I’m in?

Publishers will be notified and details confirmed by March 4. We’ll announce the line-up March 7.

What if I have more than one publisher? Can they both submit my work?

By all means, but we will only put your name in the draw once. (Also, see below re: books being for sale on the night of the event.)

Will my books be for sale at the event?

Yes, but we will require each presenting poet or their publishing representative to bring the books on a consignment basis. Your publisher can arrange these details with us once we have the line-up confirmed.

I have lots of friends/family/groupies. How can they all come and support me?

Tickets are $10 (free to our supporters, students with valid ID and youth 25 & under) and can be purchased online soon. Stay tuned!

Don’t forget that we offer a 50% discount to all our events to members of the League of Canadian Poets (and also the Writers’ Union of Canada, the Playwrights Guild of Canada and TPL’s New Collection).

Will there be a bar?

You betcha!

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES FOR PUBLISHERS

Please submit eligible titles by email to programming@ifoa.org by Monday, February 29 at noon.

You must include the following information:

  • Name of Author
  • Brief bio
  • Eligible title(s) and their year(s) of publications

Please write “Poetry NOW” in the subject line.

And please let us know if we already have the book under consideration for our regular weekly event series.

Once the 20 authors have been picked, we will contact the relevant publishers to confirm details.

At that point, you will be required to send:

  • 3 copies of the book the author will be presenting
  • An author bio and brief synopsis of the book
  • An author photo and book cover image (both as high res. jpegs)