Friday, 18 October 2013

Creative Magic Casts Words To Inspire

Take a group of highly creative people sharing their art for the first time, a keen supportive audience, and an array of literary genres and you have a recipe for Creative Magic.
On Friday, October 13th, Creative Magic weaved its spell over an anticipating audience. This event was the successful vision of organizer Cindy Shantz, a teacher and writer, who believed that all those with a creative talent should have a venue to showcase their work – and what better venue than the Nanaimo Art Gallery? The chosen venue was adorned with artwork by a couple of the participants and lent a cozy space with a proper stage-like area for the presenters. Shantz’s vision began in February during the course of her morning pages ritual and has taken flight since that time, through her efforts and support from participants, creating an energetic network of familiar and unfamiliar faces to build the project. All proceeds for the evening’s events go towards a scholarship for one of the presenters to attend the Victoria School of Writing (VSW) 5-day intensive workshop, and VSW will select the winning participant based on their talent.
The evening’s risk-takers were Fran Thiessen (Storytelling), Andrew Brown (Poetry), Eliza Gardiner (Musical Drama), Lorna McNeil (dramatic monologue), Rebecca Friesen (Novel Excerpt), HawkOwl (Myth), and Cindy Shantz (Personal Essay).
“The Creative Magic event is made possible by our first-timers and, essentially, risk-takers presenting their work in public,” said Shantz. “The presenters will aim to evoke the audience with their courageous, outrageous and, hopefully, contagious inspiration for the art of the written word.”
Creative Magic was designed to encourage aspiring writers in all genres to step out of their closeted comfort zones to test their projects on a live audience, which was an intimate gathering, yet large enough to gather a valuable response for the presenters.
“The main goal for the evening is supporting these artists and writers. We are encouraging the artist to make connections and establish support,” said Shantz. “We also hope when people see the show they may be inspired to do their own works.”
 The performances included storytelling, dramatic monologue, a novel excerpt, a drama piece with musical accompaniment, commentary on myth, and a personal essay. During the intermission, audience members were encouraged to mingle with the presenters to give feedback and support on their performances – essentially the second part of the goal to create a supportive environment.
Writing is a solitary act and, in keeping with any artist, those who subject themselves to this craft find the process as highly personal and experience certain vulnerability in sharing the results of their labour. Shantz emphasized the importance of “following your bliss and your passions.” As Shantz described in her personal essay ‘On Writing: The Work, the pain, and the Magic’ of writing – despite the sometimes agonizing pain of writing and, sigh, rewriting – there is great satisfaction in knowing “the most joyful part of writing is writing.” The rewards of writing are taken to an even greater level when the words are shared.

Mocambo Coffee Poetry Series Moves to the Black Stilt Cafe

The Black Stilt Cafe lends a relaxing and creative atmosphere with comforting sounds of the usual coffee ground buzz. The cafe will have more lyrical sounds, as a new poetry series titled Planet Earth Poetry, formerly known as the Mocambo Coffee poetry series (Mocambopo), moves in September 15th.


This has been a supportive environment where long-time poets encourage up-and-coming scribes – a safe place to try new tricks and give the written word small wings for great distances. Dave Crothall, owner of the Black Stilt Cafe, is thrilled about the opportunity to inherit a well-established poetry series.


Over the past decade, the Mocambopo series has been treated to readings by local and national well-established and aspiring writers, which began in 1995. Wendy Morton, the host of Mocambopo, will continue to host the poetry series in its new venue.


“I’ve been the host and organizer [of Mocambopo] since 1999. It looked as though the series might end, so I stepped in,” said Morton. “The Friday poetry nights have been a source of delight and given me a chance to befriend many of the best poets in Canada.”


“I had been hunting for a poetry group for some time, even prodding friends to try and put something together,” said Crothall. “So when Wendy [Morton] approached me, I was definitely interested.”


The Black Stilt is strategically located in the neighbourhood of Hillside and Shelbourne, as it is teeming with students attending the nearby University of Victoria (UVic) and Camosun College campuses.


“We have hosted the UVic Writing Group for a poetry night before, and are frequented by students during evening hours,” said Crothall. “The proximity to the university and college campuses was definitely a contributing factor in locating here. I am hoping to have a very popular poetry group that attracts people and contributes to our evening lounge ambience; allowing people to enjoy The Black Stilt’s amazing space.


The Mocambopo series ended due to an inability to reach an agreement of terms between the venue owner and poetry host. Eric Mun is the last owner to take on this creative facet of the Mocambo Coffee legacy and business.


“I really am proud of the poetry series at Mocambo Coffee,” said Mun. “I would like to try and start another poetry night here and to have another host, if possible.”


“The Black Stilt was necessary because the current owner of Mocambo was not happy with the arrangement,” said Morton. “The Black Stilt welcomed us with open arms, as the owner already wanted a poetry venue. The new space is elegant with beautiful light and a proper stage.”


The new name, Planet Earth Poetry, was given out of necessity and ensures the poetry series will be welcomed as both universal and portable. Planet Earth Poetry makes the poetry series a venue for the world.


As writers must take brave risks with their key strokes and pens, they must also greet change with an open perspective. Here is the opening of a new stanza and a new paragraph in a long series of great works-in-progress.



#103 – 1633 Hillside Avenue
Victoria, BC V8T 2C4
Phone: (250) 370-2077
Fax: 1-866-417-7543




Late Bloomers Are Never Too Late To Write

A person whose life is well-lived is someone who both recognized and fulfilled their personal goals and didn’t allow age, time or circumstance to hinder their opportunities for happiness.


Naomi Wakan, a poet, author, journalist, editor, publisher and artist, is a living example of this philosophy. She shares her honest and often humorous teachings in her new book, Late Bloomer: on writing later in life, which is directed toward an age 50+ audience who have always sensed a creative streak but haven’t yet tapped into their powerful, dormant energy. After many years of being immersed in the creative lives of both her ex and current spouse, she also began to reawaken to her own creative needs from childhood. She embraced fully the importance of play.


Naomi resides on Gabriola Island with her sculptor husband, Elias Wakan, in a studio/home setting called Drumbeg House Studio, where she draws on inspiration from her surroundings. Elias makes wood sculpture and Naomi writes, paints, and does fabric art. For 12 years the couple ran a small publishing house called Pacific-Rim Publishers, which focused on educational resource materials for teaching English, inspired from their time spent in Japan. 


Naomi yearned to be writing full time and Eli wanted to see what his ‘paper sculpture’ would look like in wood, so they breathed in deeply and jumped from downtown Vancouver to Island living. She counts herself fortunate to be able to cultivate such a creative and open life, but it took her awhile to realize her needs and bring them to fruition.


“My first husband was an artist; my present husband is a sculptor, Elias Wakan, so I have been living with others' creative lives for a long while.  The creative process has always been a mystery to me, but I did come to realize how much hard work has to be put in to make the inspirational moment a reality in three dimensions,” said Wakan.


After years of supporting the creativity of others, and then honoring her own artistic pursuits, she felt it was a natural step to encourage the same creativity through workshops. The classes she gives for ‘Late Bloomers’ are crammed with ideas to ‘jump-start’ creativity.


“When I started exploring forms for my creativity it seemed natural to go on supporting and encouraging others. As for myself, I had written verse as a child, but then had turned to university, motherhood, etc. and what creativity I had came out in those channels.  I started writing somewhat intensely in my fifties, but didn't devote myself to it full-time until my mid-sixties,” said Wakan.


Every artist has their own creative process, and Naomi is no stranger to the fear, doubt and exhilaration felt in taking the first steps towards completing a literary project of any size. Whether it is a poem or a book, there is a need for it and a craft to be learned.


When asked about creating the spark for people who want to explore their creativity later in life, Wakan replied, “My advice to 'Late Bloomers' is to realize that time is passing and that if you are ever going to write, there is a certain urgency that you do. Also discard all non-supportive friends and family members - that doesn't mean stay with folks who praise you, but folks who help you with their criticism.”


Naomi is a prolific writer and has published books in fiction, non-fiction and poetry. She embraces many interests, including cooking, gardening, books of quotes (7): Artworks, Gardenworks, Designworks, Bookworks, Foodworks, Loveworks and Musicworks, art, music, love, travel, design, and health – evident in her works Healing Bag and Memory Bag.


“I love reading in public and sharing my writing.  My publisher said I would 'Wow' any audience that didn't have body piercing and I try to stick to that,” said Wakan.  “I go to other writers’ book launches knowing how much we all need a supportive public and also just how much energy goes into the production of a book; that energy should be acknowledged, even if one doesn't particularly appreciate the form the writing has taken.”


Naomi Wakan read from her latest collection Late Bloomer: on writing later in life on Sunday, October 15th at the Oak Bay Library, and is taking registrations for her Late Bloomers workshops held on Gabriola Island. Information about her workshops can be found at


Her book launch was held in a small breakout room, yet packed with a keen audience. This was telling of the need for a book to encourage people to discover their creativity later in life. Her reading was sprinkled with humorous anecdotes about the process of writing and getting published. Writers must be armed with a sense of humor and thick skin to survive rejection letters and persevere with the act of more writing and submitting their work.


Wakan’s new book introduces the reader into the world of a writer and the interviews in the second half frankly show the process that 13 folk went through before they started writing.  These open and wise interviews provide a supportive atmosphere so that the reader can say “Well, if they can do it, I can.”


Late Bloomer was well-received, as she struck a chord with an appropriate audience. I am not a member of her targeted audience, being in my thirties and at the beginning of my writing career, but I was equally appreciative of her efforts to spark an older generation with the magic of writing – a joyful challenge at any age.




New Chapbook Press Launch for Global Community of Writers

Hear ye, hear ye! There is a new publishing house in town called Rubicon Press (, which is accepting manuscripts from writers worldwide. Jenna Butler (founding Editor), who resides in Edmonton, Alberta and Victoria-based writer Yvonne Blomer (assistant Editor) are the masterminds behind the new press. The two met while pursuing their Master of Creative Writing degrees at the University of East Anglia in the U.K. in 2004/05. The points of distribution for the press, so far, are East Anglia, Edmonton (where Butler is currently teaching full-time) and Victoria.


The two friends decided to showcase a book of their classmates’ accomplishments in a chapbook because “Norwich is very supportive of its university's Creative Writing program, but there hadn't been a big push in the past to have its poets present their work to the community,” said Butler. “To date, we've had two readings in the city for the launches of two different Rubicon chapbooks.”


After earning their Master degrees and returning to their respective homes, the two managed to further collaborate on the project by sending work and ideas back and forth via email and snail mail.


“Yes, it does make things challenging sometimes in the sense that we can't just meet over
coffee to review the latest pile of manuscripts; I'm at the post office
several times a month, sending her photocopied batches of the newest work so
she can review it,” said Butler. “We are excellent (read, fanatic) e-mailers, though, so we
have no trouble keeping in touch about the manuscripts we're considering.”


Rubicon is based on the idea of creating a global community of writers by publishing the work of poets world-wide, as Blomer says, “Most presses in Canada will only publish Canadian work, but we want to publish international poetry.”


“I feel that Yvonne and I really are doing what we set out to do, in the sense that we reach out to writers from around the world, whereas most independent poetry publishers are very focused on a local market,” said Butler.


Rubicon Press is built on the labour of love from both the author and publisher, which means that the publisher understands the joy, sweat and tears that is an integral part of the writing process and the finished product. Therefore, Rubicon provides a book with the professional design and care that it deserves.


“Right from the press's inception, I envisioned a strong independent poetry
publisher founded on the hard work of its volunteer members -- people who
loved poetry, who read poetry widely, and who wanted to reach international
as well as local authors,” said Butler. “I am all about very tactile, beautifully-designed
books, and I feel that a small press has better access to this kind of work
because it is dealing with limited print runs.”


This means that there is not a mass-production for the book where the quality of individual care and craftsmanship may be jeopardized. Butler’s main vision for the press is that of  “a publishing company that works one-on-one with its authors during the editing and design process to create a book that really reflects the author's original vision
for his/her completed manuscript.”


As for deciding what to call the Press, “I've always been a little attached to the name Rubicon (crossing the Rubicon!). I love the idea of pushing borders and striving for change -- in a positive sense, of course,” said Butler.


The press is focused on accepting manuscripts for individual chapbooks, but their first edition Tempus is a compilation of poets both local and abroad. Rubicon press has already received submissions from Japan and Italy, in addition to Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.


“For the inaugural chap book we did a collection, poems chosen by Jenna. I was concerned that I didn't want to have competing interests as many of the Victoria poets are people I know well.  We have just released our first single collection by writer Todd Swift - he is a Montreal born Canadian living in London, England.  Also we have plans to publish a collection by Lorri Neilsen Glenn in the winter,” says Blomer. 


The first collection Tempus was launched in East Anglia and Edmonton in summer 2006, and will have its inauguration in Victoria on October 20, 2006 at the Black Stilt Cafe Planet Earth Poetry series.


“Tongues of Fire” Launches Chapbook, Celebrates the Spoken Word

A Victoria-based poetry series called “Tongues of Fire” is celebrating its second year of success, and steadily attracting attention. The series began with a group of three writers who met at a Sheri-D Wilson workshop at the Victoria School of Writing (VSW) in summer 2005. The troupe wanted to start a poetry series as an extension of their found love of spoken word art, performance poetry, and a means to stay connected in the writing community.
The group created “Tongues of Fire”, which occurs at the Solstice Cafe on the 2nd and 4th Thursday of every month at 7:30 p.m. The original three members, Steven J. Thompson, Julia Day Flagg and Genevieve Robichaud, grew to include three more keen ‘tongues’ – Kory Jeffrey Klassen, Graham Kelly, and Janice Thompson.  
“We were all interested in the art of spoken word as it was a fresh and raw version of poetry, and more or less, some of us had been heading in that direction with the work that we were doing. As for the show, we wanted to have an outlet for this newly discovered energy,” said Thompson.
Shortly after Julia moved to Vancouver, “the universe aligned in our favor once again.  Shayne avec i grec approached us.  We knew Shayne from the general poetry scene, as he was also running a short lived poetry series in Cook Street Village around the time when we were getting our show up and running.  Shayne joined the group in September of this year.  So we are now seven.”
“Tongues of Fire” posters can be found around town and at the Universities, highlighting each event. There is also a growing mailing list, as the troupe relies on word of mouth and/or passing out hand bills advertising the shows. Featured readers often also come with their own group of supporters, which helps to increase the profile of shows.
“Tongues of Fire” has begun launching chapbooks, showcasing the Tongues’ diverse poetic voices.
“The chapbook is something that we've wanted to do since shortly after the group was formed.  Now after almost a year and a half, the show is starting to run like a well-oiled bicycle.  So now we have more energy to do it,” said Thompson.
There is always a challenge involved in transferring spoken word performance poetry to the printed page, as the same impact may not be conveyed. The spoken word takes on a different energy.
“That's the challenge. If the content and the subject matter are relevant, and expressed in a fresh idea and fresh language, [the poem] will make an impression [on stage or in print].  I believe every poet faces that challenge,” said Thompson.
“Tongues of Fire” is created for “Lovers of poetry, lovers of lit, lovers of life, and people that want to be entertained,” said Thompson. “In our feature performers we try to bring in poets that can connect with an audience, and a diverse one at that.  We want poetry to be a place where you don't have to have a tweed jacket with patches on the elbows to fit in.”
“Tongues of Fire” happens at the Solstice Cafe, 529 Pandora Ave. 7:30 pm. The admission cost is $3.00.

Nanaimo Takes Literary Readings by Storm

The literary wave is sweeping across Western Canada and Vancouver Island like a hurricane, picking up speed and moving north to Nanaimo, The Harbour City, which is growing as a hotspot for tourism and culture. Organizers David Fraser, a regional representative for the Federation of BC Writers, Cindy Shantz, Pat Smekal, Fran Thiessen, and Andrew Brown are the brainstormers for the new open mike spoken word series called WordStorm.


“The name came through a brainstorming - no pun intended - session at the Black Bear Pub where we all played on our suggestions until Pat Smekal came out with it. We liked the inherent energy and the sustained metaphor which included lightning, raw energy, and the unpredictable nature of the open mike event,” said Fraser.


David Fraser met Cindy Shantz at the Victoria School of Writing and, as Fraser recalls, Shantz was “a natural link to partner with since she also was looking to form a writing group and was interested in reading events for the area.”


“I had been mulling over the idea of having a reading event for over a year, but had procrastinated getting one started as I spent time developing a sense of the culture of the area and the culture of the Federation of BC Writers as their regional representative,” said Fraser. “After attending the Victoria School of Writing and taking workshops with Sheri-D Wilson, I became inspired to get a group together to host an on-going event that would be inclusive and performance-based in any genre.”


During this time, he found that there were very few opportunities for writers on the islands to highlight their efforts with the exception of a few local festivals and some on-going Victoria events. The goal of WordStorm is to provide a venue for new and emerging writers of prose, poetry, dramatic presentations, song, and music; to experiment and workshop new material; to develop spoken word skills; and to entertain, have fun and share ideas. The poetry series aims to recognize and celebrate all demographics, writing styles and skill levels of participating writers. The WordStorm poetry series will also be a creative catalyst to assist placing Nanaimo on the map for spoken word events comparable to Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, while promoting the talent of local island writers and providing a new form of entertainment for Nanaimo residents.


“Basically we wanted to have two main components to the event. One would be a slate of readers that would be organized in advance of each event, and scheduled two or three months ahead. Some readers would be featured readers, reading for 15 minutes (one or two) and the other would be "lightning" readers and they would read for 5 minutes,” said Fraser. “The other component would be an open mike competition involving two prizes generated from the small entrance fee, one for poetry and one for prose.”


The evening starts off with live music, followed by a featured reader and lightning readers before the open mike competitions, and finishes with one of the slated readers returning at the end to read for five minutes while the judging results are tabulated.


The WordStorm launch was held on January 25th, entertaining a sold-out crowd at the Bombay Lounge, downstairs in the Acme Food Co. 14 Commercial Street, Nanaimo, and will continue to entertain on the last Thursday of each month.  There will be a $3.00 cover for everyone except the readers and organizers. The cover will go toward prize money for the evening with some accumulating for the Super WordStorm event. 


The Bombay Lounge has a capacity of 40 people, so don't be disappointed, reserve ahead through the PayPal link below or take your chances at the door.  All reservations must be picked up before 6:30 pm or they will become void, and spaces will be given out on a first come, first served basis.  Reservations can be made via paypal on the web site:


“We are hoping to always have variety with a blend of poetry, prose, improv, song, dramatic monologue with the slated readings, and we hope to attract all writers, aspiring, emerging and established to be our slated readers and to be involved in the open mike competition,” said Fraser.








The Empress Letters by Linda Rogers – A Book Review

Linda Rogers’ novel, The Empress Letters, is a tale abstractly woven into the historical setting of Victoria, BC during the early 20th century.  The story is told through current, intimate letters written by the mother and narrator, Poppy, to her daughter who is lost in China.  The word ‘lost’ holds multiple meanings, and sets a tone or an understanding for what is occurring in the narrator’s mind.  There are many lost or buried pieces.  With the assistance of her travelling companion, Tony, Poppy is on a quest to reclaim her daughter as well as her own truths.    The unfiltered letters reveal a strange and hard truth about the unfolding events of the mother’s life.  They are also an attempt to explain a family history and rekindle a strained relationship, which has not been reconciled.
The narrator’s experiences of growing into adolescence are somewhat shielded in a proverbial snow-globe of luxury, which is inevitably shattered by the larger, grittier world as she witnesses the human reality of the Chinese slaves “Coolies”, the emergence of World War I, the facades of social hierarchy, and her own confusing desires of coming into womanhood.  Her perspective is quickly moved from the smaller scope of her privileged existence to a larger, more philosophical, political and sexually-charged coming of age.  Sexual boundaries are crossed, as well as geographical and imaginary ones, which are often skewed by the narrator’s younger, innocent recollections while trying to associate worlds.
Poppy uses art, particularly painting, to define her world through the mentorship of the historical Emily Carr’s free-thinking ideas and committed lifestyle.  The historical figures, such as Emily Carr and the Chinese slaves, ‘paint the scenery’ for both social and political events in a turbulent era.  For instance, the novel delves into the mysterious underground world of Chinatown during the turn of the century.  There is a lesson of place and identity, ritual rhythms, and being safe with your own kind.
There is also constancy in fighting for independence, which resonates through the narrator and her childhood companions.  At the same time, they are each in desperate need of support, affection and stability.  Poppy revisits her important rites of passage, as she literally journeys across the Pacific Ocean on a cruise ship, The Empress of Asia, to rescue her daughter from the strange, mystical holds of China.
Throughout the letters, there are currents of disruptive change, which are personal, historical or both.  The ground shifts underneath like the San Andreas Fault, as Poppy rides the moving earth and adapts to new surroundings in her childhood home, or learns to accept what will not change such as the cruel effects of her distant relationship with her own mother.

The Blackbird’s Song by Pauline Holdstock

The Blackbird’s Song is a story about the challenges of faith.  The reader is introduced to a group of three Christian missionaries who are chosen and sent to China to ‘spread the word’ by holy instruction. 


The story is told through the eyes of one of the missionaries, Emily, who watches as her companions, one being her husband, William, struggle along with her in China’s harsh and unpredictable environment.  The group also has the obstacle of not starting off strong and united, as a woman, Martha, exhibits extremist behaviour in the group and rails against the intent of the group for adaptation and survival in the strange country. Their struggles deepen as horrible mishaps befall them, and Emily begins to lose her sense of faith.  A division begins to take place within the group, as conflicting ideals either real or perceived are brought to the surface, which in turn bring about internal conflicts and suppression of true feelings. 


The language is poetic.  For instance, “Tsechow was spread below them like a wasp’s nest broken open in the sun.”  Holdstock also uses strong, descriptive images to evoke the emotions in the characters and the impact of their new environment.  As well, the frequent use of short, fragment sentences echoes the abruptness and urgency of changing scenery, quick action, and sharp, violent thoughts. 


The undercurrents carry the tense vibe of changing ideas, while there are increasing overtones of religious strife.  Emily is steadily drifting from the group, into herself and questioning her faith and reasons for being there, while Martha is drifting away further into the dangers of the country and her own madness.  Emily becomes disillusioned with the idea of God, and feels abandoned.  There are also children included in the journey, those of Emily and her husband, who are suffering alongside the adults through the elements and trials of the failing mission. 


There is a division of purpose in the group that emerges, displayed in the notions of Christian beliefs, religious extremism, and paganism threatening their united ability to infiltrate the society and assist the Chinese people.  Still, there is a silence in the group, as the members don’t wish to communicate these changing dynamics.  The mission is falling apart, as the each of the members begin to succumb, in their own way, to the unrelenting landscape and people.  New demons arise to test the foreigners, and the group begins to collapse within itself as a result of mind-trickery, obsession, fear and suspicion.


The foreigners face an upward battle, and a constant threat of death, in a land that doesn't want them. Eventually, their stead-fast and narrow views about fortune, faith and god become inverted in the culture they were once trying to save. 

Pauline Holdstock's Beyond Measure - A Book Review

Pauline Holdstock's novel, Beyond Measure, takes place in Italy in the 1500s, and spirals around the main characters Paolo, Orazio, his daughter and assistant Sofonisba, Ceccio the land lord, Matteo Tassi, Alessandro and Caterina, the slave girl.  Each character has a desire to be appreciated, if not seen.


Paolo, an artist, treats human subjects like objects; he searches for the inanimate flesh to make it come alive once again in his art.  He cannot see beyond his own flesh and, therefore, has a compulsive need to capture the beauty of the human form in his paintings.  He is calculating, methodical and manipulative in the way he obtains these objects.  Paolo attempts to move past the emotional element of his subjects to get to the purpose of his art, as illustrated in the following passage: 


"...The skin of a hanged man is as the skin of any other.  It is its own miracle, a paragon of suppleness and strength and exquisite sensitivity and, when hairless and smooth as in youth and in the female form, a thing of beauty beyond compare."


When Caterina, the slave girl, is presented to Paolo, he becomes obsessed with the living quality of her female form and her strange markings.  Caterina is an unwitting gift or pawn, passed around between the characters for the benefit of monetary, artistic and personal status.  Paolo insists on painting her in the nude, as he says "a muse clothed is against Nature.  The muse must be naked.  She is naked truth.  The naked flame of inspiration."


The novel examines the existing classes, and relationships between master and slave.  The need each character has to interact with the other characters, in their varying positions, is modeled on hierarchy, obedience, responsibility and human value.  Paolo reserves the right to manipulate human beings to dissect and exploit them, for the sake of art.  Still, for his livelihood and art, he must answer to his landlord, Ceccio.


The circling relationships between the characters are interconnected and dependent, with different agendas revolving around their individual needs for the slave girl, Caterina.  She will win them esteem, power, love, or artistic pursuit.  Art and people are for bartering, and a means of ownership.  Nothing is sacred in terms of art or human life, as each are subject to revisions.


Art is the central theme, and the characters are tied to it either physically or intrinsically.  Holdstock's writing is thorough and painstakingly descriptive.  She leaves out no detail of the work involved.  For instance:


"Carefully he sticks pins into the anima and, in a process of trial and error, positions it securely in the mould, closing the two halves round it.  The protruding pins keep it away from the inner walls; it hangs inside, clear of the shell of the mould, trapped and at the same time free, the way, Maestro Paolo once remarked, the rough unfinished soul hangs inside the body, a disparate element, longing for fire.  So the artist's work, said Maestro Paolo, was the mirror of God's creation, Man."


The language used is clinical and instructive, and yet poetic and transcendent.  Beyond Measure is, essentially, a commentary on art:  how one's work is viewed by outsiders, other artists and critics, and the lengths that artists will go to come close to divinity.  As well, the sacrifices people will make to achieve their desires.



In Paper Trail, Paré Writes Her Way into Work

In Arleen Paré’s first book, Paper Trail, published by NeWest Press, she examines the everyday ritual of people dreaming themselves into and out of working.  Nearing the end of her long career, a sentence, in the public service, Paré dissects the surreal and all-too-real aspects of life in the office.


The book is a series of fleeting or consuming observations, memories, thoughts and mental schedules that flow into each other like the days of the week.  Paré leads us through her inner files, a briefcase filled with poetry, poetic prose, memoir and fiction.  She records the misconceptions about work, both inside and outside of the office, in relation to who we are.  There are sections of her book that focus on the social graces of work life and the unwritten code of fitting in, and using appropriate, airy topics for conversations with colleagues.


There are dense pages and white spaces, like work and the life in-between work.  Paré looks at work as a commodity for life and how we calculate our happiness.  She gives us the plight of a career woman, shifting gears between different roles that include mother, wife, daughter, and civil servant.  Interestingly, she brings in another examination of how the roles of women and their existence differ in comparison with her mother’s generation.


She pairs the surreal, seemingly arbitrary working world with the concrete, practicality of life, and the surreal experiences of life with the encroaching reality of work; measuring security and what her work allows her to have in life.  She uses a Cinderella complex to draw a parallel in the idea of work, security, and perceptions being impermanent.


In the midst of all this, she has short, unexpected conversations or daydreams with her own personal Kafka, which is developed throughout the book, trying to find answers, a balance or an anchor, and preparing for this transformation of leaving work. 


The notion of working as part of our freewill, and subjecting ourselves to the weight, fear, demand and criticism of our work is a crucial part.  She writes about trying to write herself out of her office where she feels boxed in, drawing on the story of a man who spends twenty years in a jail cell and was afraid to leave it when the door was finally opened.  He wouldn’t leave.  There is an invisible chain that links the civil servant to his or her desk, and the security of a full pension dangling in front of them like a gold carrot.


From there, she launches into the lists of survival kit items for everyday, to survive the office wilderness.  Her briefcase is both a burden and a necessity.  Paré also identifies herself and her work through the personal sacrifices, self-preservation and resourcefulness of her Parénts’ working lives.  In the same vein, Paré likens work to religion and takes another look at these beliefs and values.


In Paper Trail, Paré writes another story between the musings of her work poems, writing herself into a real fiction.

Little Emperors: A Year with the Future of China

We often hear about Canada's university graduates embarking on overseas adventures to teach English in China, Taiwan and Japan, but rarely do we hear about their stories and experiences.  JoAnn Dionne's memoir is written from the in-depth journals she kept while she taught English to elementary students in the People's Republic of China.  She takes a close look at the boundaries that are acknowledged and dissolved both in the classroom and beyond the school gates.  These boundaries include the China's residents' fascination with Western culture, and the Chinese government's attempt to maintain a communist atmosphere.  The change that occurs in China's politics and collective thinking, succumbing to Western influences, is interesting in its growing contradictions.
Dionne's memoir is humorous and startling, from the daily activities and life-altering adventures she encounters in a communist country.  She profiles the varying personalities, insights and antics of her young students, as well as the adult local residents.  These encounters give her a richer understanding of how the Chinese people interact with and interpret their own environment, and how they secretly feel about their government. The book is a reflection of her observations, conversations and emotions, while in a foreign place, as she struggles with her own foreign concepts.

Dionne organized her book launch on March 1, 2008, in a new art gallery called Dales in Chinatown, Victoria, BC.  She is currently traveling across Canada, promoting her book in the independent bookstores.  Little Emperors is a glimpse into the future of China, in the way that these young minds are being introduced to Western thinking, in a time when the Pan-Pacific movement continues to grow and strengthen.  The book is also a message to Westerners about the censorship of the Chinese government, and the atrocities against basic human rights that still occur in that part of the world.

Publisher:  Dundurn

Cost:  $24.99

Thorburn Ages in Memory, Body, Poetry and Jazz

If only we could step back through a mirror to have a closer look at our younger selves, while cross-examining and contemplating our present, aging bodies; to have conversations with those who are gone, and understand the inevitability of moving forward.
In Russell Thorburn’s book, Father Tell Me I Have Not Aged, the poems are like slide photos or quick glimpses of the past and other places.  The reader is taken into a different age, whether it is younger, older or in another geographical setting.  Thorburn’s poems explore fear and love, and an underlying danger exists.
There is a struggle between clinging to impermanent snapshots and mental pictures, and the paradox of the poet’s desire to release these memories.  The reels of memory continue to reveal what is alive, even in the hint of death, and bring back those who are dead, acknowledge their death and, in turn, bring back life.
The poems are an entranceway into dreams and memory; there is a longing or regret, and a slant of betrayal in the depth of honesty when resurrecting old lovers and weaving them into the poet’s present, waking consciousness, as seen in “First Love”.  The reader is left hanging in-between patches of memory, but the images are clear and alive. 
Seasons and nature are prominent.  For instance, in the poem “February” Thorburn uses the seasonal landscape to create a delicate and suggestive setting.  In the poem, “For Those of Us Who Have Lost Our Jobs” the poet employs snow, and the cold weather to lend a harsher element with the cold biting the spirit.  Nature often sets the stage for emotion to say what can’t be expressed otherwise.
The second section begins with the title poem, “Father, Tell Me I Have Not Aged”, which allows the poet to step back into the shadows of his childhood.  There is also a strong focus on his mother and a yearning to enter her secret, silent world.  The poet mirrors himself in his parents, and re-visits his own world and perceptions at various stages of growth.
In the third section, more eros appears and the poet manages to escape into a cinematic world, reflecting real life.  The referencing of characters or real actors creates a limitation in these poems.  Thorburn is asking the reader to work harder and develop a deeper interest and understanding of specific movies and plot lines.  He invites a certain generation of readers.  Still, the play by play scenes are melded with the poet’s imagination and interpretation of human themes – love, sex, fear and death.
The last section of the book turns to sophisticated literary references ie. Kafka, Sonnets to Orpheus, and Rilke in “Waiting for the Bus”.  The imagery becomes surreal, opening up and slowly leading the reader out of the book, having come through the labyrinth.  There is a stronger use of image repetition, such as ‘star-bulbed sky’, as the literary actors exit the stage.  Thorburn also experiments with different line structures, such as fragmented couplets, and there is a gradual breaking down of thought and movement.  The lines are sparse, creating more space to move, such as in the poems “Last Night on Michigan Street” and “Zeno Remembers”.  Throughout the book, the rhythms of his poems ride different movements with a steady heartbeat.  There is an unleashing and reigning in, like a jazz tempo. 
Thorburn’s poems are about ending, or facing an end; another kind of passage for growing up and growing old, and being thrust into another unknown or kind of death.

A Broken Mirror, Fallen Leaf

As Yvonne Blomer explains, the title for her first book of poetry published by Ekstasis Editions, a broken mirror, fallen leaf, depicts the idea that we cannot go back from a journey without transformation.
Crossing borders is more than boarding a plane and crossing geographical borders.  It is embracing another world – the people, language, culture – and accepting yourself as always being a fraction separate from that world.  Her book explores the barrier between cultural images that both divides and bridges the experience of being a Caucasian woman living in Japan.  She has the advantage of being an outsider to eavesdrop on situations that are both foreign and startlingly human. 
The book itself is divided into four sections, or seasons, of her journey: Four Seasons, Gaijin da (foreign person), Small Japan, and The Path Leading Home.  In Four Seasons, Blomer looks at these quiet barriers and an intimacy that occurs with the natural world, as seen in her poem “Crabs”.  The armchair reader is given a glimpse of sensual and historical Japan in “Onsen 1”, and is treated to a ‘fly on the wall’ account of tender relationship rituals holding everyday gestures of beauty and surprise.
In many of her poems, the language is sparse and full, all at once, such as in “Ofuco”.  There are near haikus, and small moments not to be forgotten that hold the universe, as in the poem “Ways of Seeing a Firefly”.  The variation of poem structures serves to capture each scene in its own organic rhythm.
Blomer also reveals a confessional side to her poetry, as in her connection with her own husband while adjusting to a new world and becoming more familiar with this landscape.  Still, the reader is aware of a sharpness in the contrast that is felt as an outsider invited, but not entirely belonging, as shown in the poem “Four Seasons in Japan”.
The second part of the book, Gaijin da, is a series of poems that are a kind of awakening.  These poems are jolting, yet subtle, and lend a braver, closer look at the surroundings and mysteries of Japan, such as in “Through the Temple with Buddha.”  Blomer delves into a more observational scope with these poems, and the sketches of the local people and activities.  She engages and comments largely on her own strangeness and peculiar presence to the Japanese, as seen in “The Bats Came in Place of the Swallows”.  Her four-part Ghazals piece together these abstract lines, trying to make sense of disjointed ideas, sights and movements.
Blomer has included a glossary in her book to help the reader navigate through this other world.  This added touch is a necessity, but also a gesture of invitation by the author to join her, and to stumble over these foreign sounds and make sense of them.
A broken mirror, fallen leaf is a journey in which a new life is adopted and, as with any new experience, we are never quite the same.  

Turning Left to the Ladies - a book review

Kate Braid's most recent book of poetry, Turning Left to the Ladies, published by Palimpset Press, is a personal account of being a woman working in the male-dominated construction trade.  The poet has weathered the daily battery of sexism and prejudice from her co-workers, and built protective walls to hold her position.  She endured the initiation of entering her profession, and her thorough knowledge of the work, tools and terminology earned her the credentials to write about being on the job, in her own right. 
The poems move through the speaker's self-doubt, vulnerability, determination and, finally, acceptance.  The poem, "How She Knows", demonstrates the speaker's dogged strength in a weaker position as she creates a wall between herself and her co-workers in the face of inevitable defeat.  In the poem, "Spy", Braid attempts to blend in, to shed the female body and name and become a fellow worker; to learn more than the trade.  The serious subject matter of the book also resonates through touches of humour and cheek, in the speaker's defiant attempts to transform from woman to construction worker, and to embrace her inner female again.  This is evident in the poem, "The Female Form" in the line:  Carpenteress--yes. I work hard at it, this look/ of the great outdoors, doing the work of men.

Strangely, the details of construction work in the poems mirror the construction of poetry in its rhythm of procedure, form, logic and demand for precision.  The rhythm and cadence echo a swinging arm.  Braid taps into alliteration and personification, and explores an intimacy with building tools and the art of construction.  Who knew there was a wealth of poems in the construction industry? 

Braid has a sincere love and respect for the work, despite the need to disguise her gender.  She re-emerges in her true skin at the end of her shift, as described in the poems "Day's End" and "Post-modern Breasts in the Bath".  Slowly, steadily, she abandons her disguise and the poems move into a celebration of woman, amidst the paradox desire to disappear as woman.  The poems ease into a place of acceptance and a stronger comfort with handling the tools, the men and herself.  The hidden female voice emerges, still wary but with presence.

Kate Braid will be reading from this collection on Friday, February 5, at The Black Stilt Cafe at 7:30pm.  $3.00 admission.

Book Review of Huge Blue by Patrick Pilarski

Patrick Pilarski's small poems, or meditations, in his first collection Huge Blue leave monumental footfalls in recording the various terrains of western Canada.  In the tradition of Japanese poetry--haiku, haibun, tanka and senryu--the crisp and condensed images embody a larger experience and draw the reader into a heightened intimate moment.  Pilarski uses these forms to capture his relationship with the natural world.  The poems are placed like small stepping stones across the varying landscapes, and mark the resting points where the poet reflects on the journey's highlights with his travel companion.  In Pilarski's use of the tanka prose and haibun form, there is a sprinkling of humour or surprise in the normalcy of everyday actions or reactions to the unfolding of the speaker's surroundings.  For instance, in the poem "Last Load", the speaker comments on the adjustments to a new environment after a long journey and how his partner suddenly remembers 'the box of handmade pottery above the stove'.  There is a sense of restlessness in an otherwise state of exhaustion; something random and contrast.

The poems also reflect on the seasons, and how the weather and natural landscapes are parallel to how the poet moves through his emotions in these changing landscapes.  Nature is also personified, as witnessed in the lines:  two mountains/ cross-legged in the valley/ watching the storm/ one pulls the screen, changes/ into its best white gown.  Pilarski focuses on the seemingly small, yet miraculous happenings in the natural world.  The use of the Japanese poetic form is appropriate to record these snapshots of time and place, and to share these personal experiences on a global plane.

Pilarski will be reading from this collection at the Black Stilt Cafe's Planet Earth Poetry series on February 12th at 7:30pm.  $3.00 cover.  Huge Blue is published by leaf press.  For more information, visit


Poet Explores Colours Coming Out of the Blue in New Work

On December 1st, Betsy Warland, a Vancouver-based writer and the director of The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University, will read from her most recent work, a book of poetry titled “Only This Blue” at the  Martin Batchelor Gallery 5:30 pm to 7 pm.


“Only This Blue” is a long poem that explores coping with a life-threatening experience through the guidance of colour. Warland experiments with usage of words and poetic structure, such as line breaks and white space to create depth and meaning. The narrator of the long poem struggles with the effects of an illness, and learns a new and uneven landscape through the use of words and colour. There are four dominant colours in the poem: green, red, yellow and, finally, blue. Warland uses colour to identify a language for her experience.


The concept of the long poem was not something Warland had initially designed. The colours came as she was going through treatment. She had been writing non-fiction for four years and facing a life-threatening experience brought her back to poetry, as she said she had a need to write “closer to home”. The book was originally meant to be written in four suites of colours, and then gradually became one long, united poem. Her inspiration of colour stems from the colours of nature. Blue is the colour of the sky, and “the sky is unknowable and yet it holds great comfort and wisdom”. Colour “became a major guide for me.”


“I don’t have a negative association with any colour, as they represent the natural world for me. When going through a life-threatening experience, it is important to find a companion or relationship. As a child, a great companion to me was nature. When we are going through a crisis it can provoke fear in other people but nature is never afraid of you,” said Warland. “Now I live in an urban environment, but I value the natural world still thriving amidst the concrete.


There is a significant absence of blue throughout the poem, until the end of the book, when blue appears as a symbol of knowledge and calm; a realization and acceptance of the illness and knowing there is nothing we are able to control.


“There is a tendency when facing a big unknown to seek structure and answers. Once you go through something like that, you realize that you don’t know what will happen. This is our human condition – our awareness of uncertainty– and learning to embrace that is freeing; is a relief! For me, blue bridges everything, as it holds all colours.”


Warland has published nine books, which includes – What holds us Here (1998) and serpent (w)rite (1987) – a memoir, Bloodroot: Tracing the Untelling of Motherloss (2000), and essays, Proper Deafinitions (1990).