A conversation with Mimi O’Bonsawin, artist/teacher/proud owner of the Dock, Draft’s newest venue.
When I walked into the Dock, my first impression was of a cafe tucked between a kayak shop and tourist “trading post” somewhere in Huntsville. Looking back outside, a crane loomed over, ready to throw up Toronto’s latest condo tower over a neighbourhood steeped in family-friendly quaintness.
Mimi O’Bonsawin was standing by the counter, chatting with a barista. She’s a slight lady, steeped under dreadlocks, with owlishly round glasses that looked like she inherited them from a librarian. As an indie singer-songwriter as well as the proprietress of Draft’s newest venue. I asked her about her music passions and her newest venture.
Answers have been condensed and changed for clarity.
I listened to your most recent album, and it has a distinct style, unique from other indie singer-songwriters. What is your music’s biggest influence?
I listen to a lot of different artists. But in my music, I am the same person when I write music and in everyday life. Some people have a different persona when they perform, but I keep it real. I like that, I keep it real.
Who is your most-admired artist?
I have a couple of influences. Bob Marley is one and the other is Buffy Sainte-Marie. She’s a first-nations woman from Saskatchewan, who’s been around since the 60s. She’s written amazing songs for Elvis, Janice Joplin to Joe Cocker. They all covered her songs, the list goes on. She’s still touring around the world at 74 and she’s amazing. She’s definitely my idol and I would love to have a career like hers.
What’s your favourite poem or piece of music?
“Oppression” by Ben Harper, is a good song, based on what’s happening in the world. It’s written like a poem and the way he sings it is like a spoken-word. It’s pretty cool.
So why did you choose to become a musician?
I’ve always been a musician. Even before I could talk I would sing and dance and put on concerts for my family. My parents always knew that I was going to become a musician since I was 1 or 2. I started taking music seriously when I was in highschool, and I just kinda went from there.
You chose to become a musician but you are also a workshop instructor. What can you tell me about your workshop “Rhythm & Rhyme”?
I do some songwriting workshops across Ontario, southern Ontario and northern Ontario, for kids grades 4 – 12. And I do songwriting and empowerment through storytelling and song creation. It’s pretty fun.
Then you moved onto being the proprietress of The Dock…..
Yeah, my dad and I and my cousin had the opportunity to open up this coffee shop. My cousin is also a singer as well as a dancer and actor. And so when we were building this place, it was very important to have it a space for artists. We want it to have music and dance and poetry nights. We have local artists put their work on the wall and now we have a reading night. So it’s kind of a different space from a regular coffee shop because it’s very artist-driven you know? Our coffee is local from where we’re from, which is Northern Ontario, so it’s very important to keep it local in Toronto.
The Dock has a rustic atmosphere. Who designed the space?
We designed and renovated it ourselves. We’re from northern Ontario, so we brought the North Ontario vibe. I’m from Sudbury, so we brought a little piece of home to Toronto. All the wood (she taps on the table between us, it’s covered in coffee mug burns) is from just outside of Sudbury. Except for our [kitchen] equipment, everything is repurposed and reused and recycled.
Nice, so what is your favourite drink at the Dock?
Well because it’s summertime we have our specialty, the Coconut Dream. It’s a coconut flavoured ice latte. It’s really popular. But we make all the drinks the traditional way. Our cappuccinos, our lattes are made in the proper way of making coffee. We take a lot of pride in our coffee.
And why open a cafe in Leslieville?
I used to live in Leslieville. And trying to perform in Toronto is a struggle. There’s a lot of places in the west-end for singer-songwriters to play but in the east-end, there’s nowhere to play. It all came together perfectly when we found this place. It was the perfect fit for coffee and music.
And do you hope the Dock will add colour to the neighbourhood’s persona?
Well, I think it’s going to enhance and give the community a different place to express itself. We want to encourage the arts and music, and I think that there is a need for that in Leslieville. To give people a voice.
Besides the Draft, do you hope to host more literary events?
We thought of doing a monthly poetry night, for different avenues. If anyone else comes to us we can be reached at our site or our Facebook page, We’re very flexible and open to different performances or gatherings or events. We’re going to be doing some fundraisers in here for an Indian dance crew, and different CD releases. I hope to do some art gallery nights. We are open to anything.
What is the future for you and the Dock?
For my music, I’m touring India in February, and going to Mexico in January. For the Dock, we’re here for the long-haul, and expand music more than the days we already have music, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. We hope to get busier, host different events, and build from where we are. We’ve only been here for two months so we have a lot of room to grow and establish ourselves in this neighbourhood. We want to make a name for ourselves and have the community come in here and take part in it.
Awesome, thank you so much, Mimi
My pleasure 😉
The Best Cultural Exchange That Can Happen: Part Three of an Interview with Bänoo Zan of Shab-e She’r
Bänoo Zan is the founder, artistic director, and host of Shab-e She’r, which has been described as “the most diverse poetry series and open–stage in Toronto.” Now four and a half years old, having begun in November 2012, the reading series holds events on the last Tuesday of every month, which currently take place in the Church of St. Stephen-in-the-Fields near College and Spadina. Zan graciously agreed to an interview with Draft Reading Series collective member Jade Wallace to talk about experiencing poetry in a language you don’t speak, the relationship between academia and the literary community she’s building, and government grants. Below is part three of a three-part interview.
JW: Your reading series openly welcomes works in any language. I assume that often this means that you or some members of the audience are listening to poetry being read in a language you or they do not know. Are there emotional, intellectual, or physical differences between how you experience poetry written in a language you don’t know and poetry written in a language you do know?
BZ: Multiculturalism is respect for the way diverse cultures express themselves: in poetry the way is the language and even the accent. Though Toronto is one of the most diverse cities on the planet, I am not sure Torontonians realize the extent of linguistic alienation of newcomers.
Listening to poetry in another language highlights its musical and linguistic aspects. If the language you are listening to is of the same family as the one(s) you are familiar with, you listen more intently to pick up the odd word or expression you may know. You also listen with your pre-verbal ear. You listen with your heart. This increases your empathy and respect for people who do not have your command over the dominant language and yet are driven by the urge to share their feelings. It is the best cultural exchange that can happen.
JW: How do you think your background as a professor of literature and literary critic has shaped your approach to curating a poetry reading series? Do you carry over skills or interests from academia into your series?
BZ: Years of teaching at university level have given me self-confidence and social and leadership skills. My background has also helped me form and articulate my vision and not be swayed by those who have tried to highjack the event. It has given me the management skills I need to interact with team members, volunteers, audiences and featured poets. It has also allowed me to go beyond the academic approach. I have been encouraged to introduce pedantry, but I haven’t given in. I see my role at Shab-e She’r as the organizer and facilitator of an ongoing cultural exchange. I want to make sure it doesn’t become irrelevant, and I want to encourage participants to feel responsible for its success. Through exposing poets to practices outside their immediate circles, we hope to foster a movement in poetry that has the best of every practice and can be claimed by us all.
JW: You mentioned in a previous interview that you wouldn’t want to rely on government grants to keep the series afloat and prefer to rely on community support. Beyond the obvious fact that community support helps ensure that the series is serving a function deemed important by attendees, are there other benefits, for example political benefits, to being supported by a community rather than a government?
BZ: At Shab-e She’r we believe in community building and there won’t be one without poets bringing people together. After all, because we believe in socially and politically engaged poetry, it makes no sense to produce or showcase it in the absence of an audience.
There is a practical consideration as well: writing grants is a confusing and time-consuming responsibility. I think it is unfair and exploitative to expect that an immigrant such as myself should do even more unpaid work so that my fellow-poets are paid better. If the poets feel the need for grants, we invite them to volunteer their time and expertise. This is also in line with our goal of developing into a community whose members support others.
There are other considerations as well: I don’t know much about grants and may be wrong, but it seems to me that they have fixed structures. It seems that organizers are expected to restructure our events in order to meet the granting bodies’ expectations, instead of those organizations trying to help us realize our goals and visions.
To connect with Zan and get updates about future Shab-e She’r events, join Shab-e She’r (Poetry Night) Facebook group, like Shab-e She’r –Poetry Night page on Facebook, follow Bänoo and/or the group on Twitter: @BanooZan & @ShabeSherTO, or join Bänoo’s email list at email@example.com.
July 9, 2017 | no responses | |
In part one of Draft’s interview with Bänoo Zan, the founder, artistic director, and host of Shab-e She’r, “the most diverse poetry series and open-stage in Toronto,” we discussed the politics of poetry, the differences in the cultural presence of poetry in Iran and Canada, and the importance of choosing a name for a reading series. In part two, Zan talks creating brave spaces rather than safe spaces, what she looks for when selecting readers for the series, and how to make sure that the audience that gets to enjoy the series is as diverse as the writing featured.
You have said before that you want your readings to be a “brave space,” which is not the same as a “safe space.” What does “brave space” mean and how do you create it?
Some series call themselves a “safe” space, or are struggling to create such spaces. Due to the nature of some events, the organizers have had to grapple with harassment and other aggressive predatory behaviour.
But Shab-e She’r does not have that issue, thanks to the inclusivity and diversity of our audience. We have people of all ages, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, and lifestyles. And though we are well known across diverse poetry groups, predators who have made other events unsafe have never set foot in our space.
Because Shab-e She’r has an international feel to it and is a space where people come to be exposed to diversity through poetry, sometimes even experienced poets may feel uncomfortable on our stage, if they are not used to reading for people outside their immediate communities or circles. Shab-e She’r bridges the gap between diverse communities. We feel all poetry communities and groups, including the mainstream, need to go out of their comfort zone, if peace, reconciliation and dialogue are to happen.
There is an artistic reason behind the term “brave space.” Many artists who have made their mark on history were those who were brave enough to let their curiosity take them to encounters, styles, subject matters, and experiences their counterparts shunned. At Shab-e She’r we want to hear all sides of the story. We have had nights when Zionists and supporters of Palestine shared the stage. We had nights when people spoke for and against Fidel Castro, and on and on. And no fight or ugly scene broke out.
Courage is the virtue we need to practice, if we want to create meaningful art. If you expect validation for every word you say, you are not an artist – you are a narcissist.
If you only perform in spaces where everyone already agrees with you, you are using your art as a membership card to an exclusivist club. You are not making any change.
At Shab-e She’r we want to initiate meaningful change in society outside our limited circle. As a member of a visible minority, I believe we are strong enough. I come from a culture and a religious tradition thousands of years old. No amount of critique or opposition can make them go away. As an artist, however, my role is not limited to affirming my identity. I have the right and responsibility to critique it and I don’t feel offended if anyone else critiques it, either. As an artist, my first priority is the truth, not any group loyalty. I want to be heard by people who do not agree with me. I also want to listen to those different from me. Bravery requires taking risks. If you are not taking risks, you are not brave.
What qualities do you look for when selecting featured readers for your series?
Active professional social media presence; excellence of poetry and performance; genuine support of diversity and poetry community; ability and willingness to act as public figures; social skills and the ability to treat audiences and fellow-poets with respect and kindness; willingness to expand their network. I almost never feature people I haven’t personally met and am not connected with on social media! I want to make sure I do not feature those who may abuse the spotlight they get. And because of the way I run the show, pairing poets with those outside their circles, I need to have heard them frequently enough to be able to create a show that offers a variety of styles and approaches, and brings people together who are open to new connections. This would not be possible if I have not met the poets before and have not seen them perform.
I also believe that poets are responsible for creating and maintaining the community. We want poets to bring people together and act as a force for peace and reconciliation among communities. We believe in the artists’ social-political role. We believe in the openness of artists to other styles and communities.
And a poet’s long-term support of Shab-e She’r and their appearing on our open mic is the best evidence of their commitment. I have also found out that poets who have not attended the event before sometimes fail to engage our audience or prepare a feature set that would speak to our concerns.
At Shab-e She’r we celebrate poets who believe in equality among poets and listen with humility to emerging as well as established voices. One of our requirements is that featured poets attend the whole event, including our long open mic section. Publications or accolades do not win poets a feature spot at Shab-e She’r: their engagement with diversity and community does.
Oftentimes a poet can remain indefinitely on my list and not be featured, simply because I am waiting for them to show up at our events and join the open mic. We love poets who show up to support communities different from theirs, are open to diversity, and want to learn about other poets and support them through attending our events.
Your reading series is openly committed to diversity in literature. Of course a lot of this involves making sure that diverse writers are featured. But what about the audience? Is the audience necessarily diverse if the writers are, or do you take additional measures to try to attract a diverse audience?
Shab-e She’r is far more diverse in its audience than many other poetry series. To send the message that the space is truly inclusive, we do need to feature diverse artists. But that wouldn’t be enough to bring out the audiences we want, and we want all communities. At Shab-e She’r we ask our featured artists to reach out to their network and invite as many people as they can. We tell them that their payment depends on the turn-out. We also tell them that we are trying to facilitate a cross-cultural conversation and we ask them to reach out to their fans to make this dialogue happen. We also tell our artists that the selection of future features from their communities will depend on the turn-out of their community for support.
I also send the event invite to many diverse listings. I post on diverse Facebook pages, use Twitter and even LinkedIn to reach out to as many different groups and people as possible. Whenever I attend an event, I talk about Shab-e She’r, and ask people to spread the word to their communities. I am an immigrant who has been in Toronto since 2010, but I ask the supporters of diversity, peace, and poetry to spread the word. I really appreciate the help of those who share the event on social media and bring friends and all interviewers and writers who have provided a platform to talk about Shab-e She’r. If it was a personal project, I would never ask for help. But I believe it is a peace project that will shape the future of our city, and by extension, Canada.
There is also another factor to consider: that whoever shows up is our ally and supporter. At Shab-e She’r we support poets who support other poets, feel the need to network with others, and add their voice and presence to the conversation.
We also cherish the support of non-poets who attend our events to lend their support to the cultural exchange we are trying to facilitate. We need supporters of diversity as much as we need diverse poets and audiences.
For more information about the Shab-e She’r reading series, and to get updates about future events, join Shab-e She’r (Poetry Night) Facebook group, like the Shab-e She’r –Poetry Night page on Facebook, follow Zan and/or the group on Twitter: @BanooZan & @ShabeSherTO, or join Zan’s email list firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 11, 2017 | no responses | |
Bänoo Zan is the founder, artistic director, and host of Shab-e She’r, which has been described as “the most diverse poetry series and open–stage in Toronto.” The series, which has been running for four and a half years since November 2012, currently holds events on the last Tuesday of every month in the Church of St. Stephen-in-the-Fields near College and Spadina. Zan graciously agreed to an interview with Draft Reading Series collective member Jade Wallace to talk about Shab-e She’r, the politics of poetry, the differences in the cultural presence of poetry in Iran and Canada, and the importance of choosing a name for a reading series. Below is part one of a three-part interview.
JW: You have said previously that poetry itself is political insofar as it is aware of power struggles. But in what sense are poetry readings political? If so, are there particular political aims you work toward when organizing your reading series, apart from your clear commitment to diversity?
BZ: Poetry events are highly political in their line-ups! We reward certain types of writing, poetic personae and demographics by featuring some poets and not others. It is always a subjective decision, even if we act based on criteria we have developed. We spend countless hours, not in the hopes of financial compensation, but in the hopes of leaving our mark on the poetry movements. We have a role in what publishers publish, what editors feature in their journals, and what juries reward in the form of grants, awards and prizes. Yes, and they have an impact on what we do as well. It is a conversation about the significance of poetry we invite ourselves to. We cannot be ignored in this partisan debate about what kind of poetry matters. A lot of this politics might be transitory and may not guarantee eternal fame to poets, but it cannot be categorically ignored.
On a personal level, as someone from the Middle East, my biggest political agenda is peace. I started Shab-e She’r after witnessing the level of discrimination and marginalization experienced by poets of colour, indigenous poets, black poets, poets with different sexual orientations and genders, or those from religious ethnic minorities as well as immigrant poets. I wanted us collectively to forge stronger alliances among ourselves across dividing lines. I found out that the best way is to feature marginalized poets side by side with the mainstream ones to bring them to the attention of publishers, event organizers, editors, etc. I feel that peace cannot be sustained in a society with this level of frustration and inequality.
There is too much division among us: at moments of crisis, we need to stand together. And to do that, we need to have met one another, shared spaces, exchanged ideas, and formed friendships.
I am shocked to see that despite Toronto being one of the most diverse cities in the world, still most people’s closest friends are from the same ethnic background. No wonder many newcomers and immigrants don’t consider this land their home. We still feel lonely after so many years living in this city and having contributed so much to it. So, my other political agenda for Shab-e She’r is to fight xenophobia!
JW: One of the articles I read about you describes Iran as a place where it is difficult to find someone who has not written at least one poem. That strikes me as very different from the way poetry is treated in Canada. Are there other differences or similarities between the ways poetry is integrated in daily life in Iran as opposed to in Canada? How does the way poetry is read and shared publicly compare in the two countries?
BZ: In Iran, poetry is the main literary genre. If there are two books in a household, the first one is the Koran and the second one is a book of poetry by Hafiz, Sa’adi, Ferdowsi or Rumi. We Iranians conduct divinations with books of poetry at certain times during the year, such as Nowruz or the Persian New Year, and Yalda, the Winter Solstice celebration. We also open books of poetry any time we are seeking guidance, such as when we fall in love, etc. We form a question in our mind, and sometimes we recite a few verses from the Koran, open the Divan of Hafiz, and interpret the poems metaphorically according to the circumstance. In fact, the Divan of Hafiz is called the non-Arab Koran. And Hafiz is nicknamed “the Mouthpiece of the Divine.” People pledge to go on pilgrimage to his tomb more often than they visit a religious shrine in the same city, Shiraz.
Zinat ol-Molk Wax Museum in Shiraz is a collection of important historical figures of Fars province. The collection spans thousands of years, starting from wax statues of Sassanid kings and up to contemporary figures such as martyred pilots in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88). When I visited it, the only missing statue was that of Hafiz. I asked a custodian about this. The answer was that the museum management feared that inevitably one group or other would protest if the representation did not match their ideal of Hafiz. To escape the backlash, they had left the booth empty. So, yes, we treat our Hafiz like a god! On the grim side, however, in contemporary Iran, poets can go to jail or be killed for poetry. Ahmad Shamlou, the poet of freedom, was jailed before and after the Islamic revolution. Books of poetry are more heavily censored than translations from other languages. At some point the verse romances of Nizami Ganjavi (from the twelfth century) were censored!
All this is a testimony to the power and the timeless influence of poetry, and the fear that dictators have of it.
If you want to escape from poetry, you’d better leave Iran! But then, you are going to miss it so much that you would probably end up reading it more than you would have if you had chosen to stay!
In Toronto, I was impressed by the discovery of its thriving poetry scene, with several readings every week open to the public. This is something I cannot imagine happening in Iran any time soon. Poetry is a subversive clandestine activity. There have been crackdowns on writers’ unions, organizations and events. One of the other features I cannot imagine would be incorporated into an Iranian poetry event any time soon is the open mic. Even events held here in Toronto by Iranians or other people from the Middle East require that you submit your work before reading it on the open mic, or announce certain subjects off-limits, such as politics and religion.
JW: I learned in one of your interviews that Shab-e She’r is a Persian name that approximately translates to “poetry night” and that it is a significant choice because it is the only event you know of called Shab-e She’r that is not primarily in Persian. How much of an impact do you think the name of a reading series has on the character of a reading series and on what kind of readers and attendees it attracts?
BZ: I am not sure about the extent of the name’s impact. But I hope it keeps xenophobes away! Names evoke value systems. So, if some people think the best poetry in English can only be produced by native speakers of the language, they probably would not attend our event. The history of colonization has made English the international language and now you have people like me who have studied and taught it all their lives and have published more in it than many native speaker poets. They even run poetry events in English. And I can’t tell you what else is on their agenda.
But on a serious note, I think we need to stop apologizing and start strategizing to support one another right here right now. We need to think how we can create a strong poetry movement that inspires us all and keeps us alive.
But the name “Shab-e She’r” also invites Iranians and other immigrants and minorities to get involved in mainstream art and culture. We will not have a voice if we remain disengaged from the cultural scene. Cultures thrive in encounters with other cultures. Sometimes it seems to me that minority artists crave all the recognition, but do not show any interest in what others have to offer. Cultural exchange is exactly that: if you don’t care about others, why do you expect them to care about you?
You can find Bänoo Zan at the next Shab-e She’r reading, which will be held on Tuesday, May 30, 2017, in the Church of St. Stephen-in-the-Fields at 365 College Street, Toronto. Doors open at 6:15 p.m., open mic sign-up starts at 6:30 p.m., and readings begin at 7 p.m.: https://www.facebook.com/events/1406575296047845/ To get updates about future events, join Shab-e She’r (Poetry Night) Facebook group, like Shab-e She’r –Poetry Night page on Facebook, follow Zan and/or the group on Twitter: @BanooZan & @ShabeSherTO, or join Zan’s email list email@example.com.
May 28, 2017 | one response | |
Writing is hard. It takes a while to wean ourselves off that Hollywood-coated lie of pumping out the next New York times bestseller within an afternoon at an indie coffee shop. Instead, it is a slow process of grinding away, regrets, networking with publishers, reading, regret, deciding if the Oxford comma is appropriate, and regrets about what you could have done to become a better writer.
Fortunately, one habit that writers have is generous writing advice for budding authors. For this month’s “Writer’s Unblocking ” our past and upcoming Draft readers were happy to rustle up a list of writing habits they wish they adopted sooner.
“I have been writing poetry since my early teens and have no pattern for working. Many writers I know work at a specific time, some need the anonymity of a café table, others work only in their underwear in the middle of the night, others work at dawn and take no food or drink before they have written. So many different ways of accessing the imagination. I have gradually learned that I have no set place or time, as I write chiefly in my mind. At random I make a few notes by hand on scraps of paper, Gradually the scraps get made into files, put into folders, some abandoned others taken up as I begin to assemble the structure of a work. A computer is the very last stage for me of composition. This is true for me whether it is poetry or prose. It has taken me years to acknowledge that the only way I can work is in this very random way. I often wish I were more regular in my methods but after so long I must simply accept that writing goes on for me all the time and eventually finds its way to the surface somehow.”
Karen Mulhallen has published more than twenty books and numerous articles on the arts. Her latest book of poems is Seasons in An Unknown Key ( Tightrope Books, 2017) and her most recent essay is “ My Life in Clothes & Books, a Memoir” ( numerocinqmagazine.com, December 2016).
So many of them! I narrowed it to five (prioritized from most important to least):
- I wish I had realized that serious writing can also be funny. I shouldn’t have worked so hard to beat the humour out of my stories since that seems to be my natural voice.
- I wish I had realized that inspiration is overrated. Sitting down to write while uninspired usually results in better work.
- I wish I had fought back harder against imposter syndrome. Just because you spend your days writing about banking and insurance, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a “real” writer.
- I wish I had made a habit of thoroughly revising and proofreading stories before I submitted them, rather than doing it afterward in a fit of “l’esprit d’escalier.”
- I wish that I had slept more and drunk less. I might have written a bestseller by now.
Growing up in the Niagara region during the cold war, Terri Favro was told, “if they drop the bomb, we’ll be the first to go.” Her experiences inspired her new novel Sputnik’s Children, published by ECW. Terri is also a CBC Literary Prize finalist and co-creator with Ron Edding of the Bella comic book series. Her work has appeared in the Humber Literary Review, Geist, Prism. Room and the anthology Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction. A new novel, Once Upon The Time In West Toronto, is upcoming from Inanna. Terri lives in Toronto and blogs at terrifavro.ca
I downloaded FREEDOM app which turns off my internet for a given amount of time. I should have the discipline NOT to be distracted while working, but I am a person of weak character and having the internet turned off mechanically helps. I tend to turn it off for three hours at a time.
Then I feel excited seeing that there is only, say, 45 minutes to go before I can check my email. So I knuckle down to work and lo and behold, FREEDOM snaps off, I’ve worked in a focused way, and now I can fritter away my time without guilt.
Ann Ireland is a novelist and Academic Coordinator of Ryerson University’s Chang School of Continuing Education, Writing Workshops program. Her work has won the Bantam/Seal First Novel Award, University Of British Columbia’s ‘Outstanding Young Alumnus Award’ , and has been nominated for the Governor General’s Award; The Rogers/Writers Trust Fiction Award; the Trillium Award; the WH Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award and Barnes and Noble’s ‘Discover These Great New Writers’ award. In addition to fiction-writing, Ann writes feature articles for Canadian Art magazine, is a Contributing Editor to Numero Cinq magazine, and is past president of PEN Canada.
Quitting when I felt like not continuing. It is told to anyone who has started writing that writing is about crafting language and it takes a lot of time to learn and master the craft. It is told that the romantic genius who is driven to insanity with goddesses of muse is just a myth, and no one writes a novel in one round. Even though I fully agree that pure inspiration is nothing more than a myth and writing is definitely at least %90 craft – there is something that happens sometimes and whatever that thing is (which can be called inspiration or muse or something else), it is what makes the work a living creature with its own destiny in reader’s minds.
Some texts are stillborn. It is important to accept it and leave it. Some texts die in the making, and some texts just happen to become something in one afternoon like a miracle child.
There have been years in my life in which I never wrote down even a single word in any creative sense. It wasn’t writer’s block – it was loss of meaning that stopped me. After writing intensely for many years and dealing with a variety of literary cultures I can say one thing about my own writing: I can’t write (creatively) when what I am doing stops making sense to me. I am writing primarily to communicate things to an imaginary audience, or probably to an ideal reader. As a meaning-driven writer, when I lose that living spirit in the text (the meaning, which sparks the inspiration through the desire to communicate); I stop. I stop because there is nothing more I can tell to the ideal reader who has committed their time and mental energy to me.
So this is the habit I wish I had all along: to stop each and every time when I realize I don’t have anything to say to the world.
Deniz Basar is a doctoral student at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies. She has a Master’s Degree in Modern Turkish History from Bogazici University with her graduation thesis named “Performative Publicness: Alternative Theater in Turkey After 2000s”, and she had her Bachelor’s Degree in Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in Urban Planning. Her award-winning play “The Itch”, in which she worked with the potentials of allegory to make a counter-narrative of the current political situation in Turkey, was published in Turkish in 2015. In February 2016, her play “In The Destructible Flow Of A Monolithic, Vast Moment” was chosen for the Derbent project, an independent initiative of Iranian-Turkish Theatre groups.
If my writing habits reveal anything about me, they reveal that I am a modern Luddite.
Most of my work gets done as though personal computers are invented but the internet is only an afterthought. Hiking through wooded areas is important. As well, I physically go to libraries, I scribble on paper using a pen, I make notes in the margins of paper books; and even if I research online, I print the essays, staple them, and scatter them over my bedroom and living room. Trapped in a time warp from living in Farmville circa 1995, my writing habits started so soon that archaeologists use them to date pottery sherds.
Nonetheless, I am a late adopter even of print media. Since beginning my life as a legal scholar, my family graciously buys me a paper subscription to the Globe and Mail, which arrives every Saturday morning. Lately, I’ve actually cut articles out of the paper and made notes on them. These include imagined replies to the journalists, references to academic sources, inferred character traits, yadda etc. The articles swish around my living room and eventually settle in a cardboard box. Routinely, the cardboard box is shaken out and the articles get sorted.
I almost never write about the actual news events, but I do write about law, and that means following the news. Every legal essay needs to be revised because of updates before the second draft is even complete. As for poems, it’s the stories that repeat that remind me of important themes. Each week, articles that develop a story add more strata to my poetry’s relevance. Over time, layers of clipped context measure a poem’s value against the layers of poetry editors’ rejection letters.
Terry Trowbridge is a PhD student in Socio-Leqal Studies at York University, Toronto. His Poems have appeared in a few academic places including The Canadian Journal of Family and Youth, Canadian Woman Studies, Relational Child and Youth Care Practice, American Mathematical Monthly, The Journal of Humanistic Mathematics, The Mathematical Intelligencer, Law and Humanities, and in slightly less academic places like Briarpatch, Untethered, (paranthetical), subTerrain, Carousel, The Great Lakes Review, Whether Magazine, and some chapbooks from Grey Borders Books.
Be sure to meet Terri & Ann at the upcoming Draft Series 12.5 next Sunday, April 23 at the Flying Pony Cafe, at 3pm.
Too much of a good thing can be problematic and as the de-facto centre of the literary community in Canada, Toronto is inundated with literary events, readings, book launches every month. Any Toronto literary event will always have a massive potential audience if you can attract them from the cold weather and away from the indie book launch and two reading series happening in the same evening, often in the same neighbourhood.
For any reading series to survive and even thrive beyond a couple years is a gutsy organizer and a uniqueness to stand out from the crowd.
The Brockton Writers Series has been lucky to have both. Commonly known as the only reading series to have an educational bent in the form of a writerly topic guest talk, the Brockton has achieved 7 years of reading under its belt and is still going strong. We sat down with Farzana Doctor, founder, and the host of BWS to find out how she accomplished this.
Why did you start the Brockton Writers Series and what keeps you going?
I started BWS because I was both new to my neighbourhood, and to being an author and I needed more community. I talked to Melanie Janisse (who is a poet, at that time owned Zoots Cafe) and she offered her space and her help. It was going to be a one-time event, but then, we just kept going!
How did you build up up the Brockton Writers Series to what it is now?
It was a slow process. At first, we had tiny audiences. But word got out, and later we successfully applied for OAC funding and brought in more volunteers. I think a series can only grow when it’s able to pay its writers the going rate. A sustained, creative volunteer base also allows a series to grow.
How have the Brockton volunteers shaped the Brockton Writers Series?
I think each volunteer brings audience members and new writers to the series. They also bring fresh ideas about structure, policies, advertising. So for example, past volunteer Sharanpal Ruprai wrote our first grant. Sheila Toller began taking photographs for us. Dan Perry reinvigorated our blog. Sarah Henstra improved the way we incorporate guest speakers. Nancy Kay Clark has just started a newsletter. These are just a few of many examples.
Was there ever a time when you wanted to end the Brockton Writers Series? Why didn’t you?
Yes, there was a time a couple of years ago, when we didn’t have enough volunteers and I felt overwhelmed. But then we shifted from a monthly series to every other month, and found more volunteers.
Where did you get the idea for a guest talk with the readings and how did you implement it?
I think it was Nora Gold who suggested that it would be helpful to have a writers’ networking time before the readings to help writers feel less isolated. May Lui became its first facilitator, and sometimes we had invited guests and sometimes informal chat during this time. Our attendance was best when we had a speaker, so we’ve stuck with that.
What is the one factor that you believe allows a reading series to prosper?
Funding! And volunteers. Both equally important.
What was your most memorable moment at the Brockton Writers Series?
There have been so many. I think what I like best is when the four featured writers are diverse (in terms of genre, style, age, sexual orientation, ability, gender, race etc) and they manage to connect with each other and collectively with the audience during the Q&A. It feels like magic.
Why do you believe reading series are necessary for the literary community?
We need spaces to highlight writers’ work. We especially need spaces that are intentionally inclusive (ie, no more all white/straight/male line-ups!). These kinds of spaces raise artists’ profiles and pay them for their time.
What is the future of the Brockton Writers Series?
We’ll see! But we are going strong with our fabulous volunteers. We’re booked a year in advance. Pray we keep our funding!
Curated by Josh P.
A writer’s life is not an easy one. It’s hours alone, pounding away on the keyboard and a near-existential fear your work will go by unloved. More than once you find yourself staring off, while Facebook notifications of what your friends are up to tug at your eyes, and asking yourself why am I doing this?
Yet by some miracle, we have people crazy enough to be writers and this month we asked the draft writers and collective for the upcoming Draft 12.3, what is it that shaped them into the writer that they are today.
The many opportunities I had that generations of women in the family before me didn’t receive—all led to this life of chasing words: Time as a reader. A local library. A feminist father. A new country. Archie Comics. YA novels. An English teacher in middle school. A guidance counsellor who encouraged me in grade eight. Translated works. Plays. Poems. Films. Pop culture. Graphic novels. Star Trek. Lit Mags. A love of language. Malapropisms. My friends. Difficult gatekeepers. Gifted instructors. Angels with editorial ability. Generous writers. And most importantly—Pixie dust.
Eufemia Fantetti is a graduate of The Writer’s Studio at SFU and the University of Guelph’s MFA in Creative Writing. Her first book, A Recipe for Disaster & Other Unlikely Tales of Love, was runner-up for the 2013 Danuta Gleed Literary Award and a winner of the 2014 F.G. Bressani Prize. It is available from Mother Tongue Publishing. She teaches English at Humber College and Creative Writing through the University of Guelph.
I think initially, as a young person, I was influenced by what was available to read in the library. I grew up in a small town, so the library was small, but there were several shelves devoted to myths, fairy tales, folktales, and legends.
These were wonderful.The world, as expressed in these tales, seemed extraordinary. There were so many different and fantastic ways to explain why things operated as they did, and the language employed was so vivid. The characters that inhabited these tales were simultaneously bold and complex. The narratives were sometimes straightforward, but often times surprisingly complicated and indirect.
Now, I keep books of myths and legends on the shelves alongside my desk, and I return to them frequently when I write.
Professor Clem Martini is an award-winning playwright, novelist, and screenwriter with over thirty plays, and ten books of fiction and nonfiction to his credit, including the Calgary Book Award-winning Bitter Medicine: A Graphic Memoir of Mental Illness and his most recent anthology, Martini With A Twist. His texts on playwriting, The Blunt Playwright, The Greek Playwright, and The Ancient Comedians are employed widely at universities and colleges across the continent. He currently teaches in the School of Creative and Performing Arts at the University of Calgary.
One Friday night when I was ten, I was staying over at my grandparents’ house. While I laid on the living room floor watching TV, my grandparents were in the kitchen with a couple they played cards with. I overheard the wife saying that her son had tried to stab her with a kitchen knife. He was schizophrenic and off his medication. I had never heard of schizophrenia, but the symptomatology sounded like demonic possession to a Catholic school kid. I needed to know more, so I turned to books.
I read that schizophrenia often manifests during adolescence. I read that Jesus had driven a legion of demons from a lonely man and into a herd of pigs, whereupon the pigs drowned. I did not want to become a teenager. I did not want to become someone responsible for the deaths of pigs. I was afraid I would become both. I started waking up at night, thinking I saw eyes in the shadows. Walking alone during the day, I counted cracks in the sidewalk in sets of twelve so I wouldn’t hear words in the murmuring of trees.
One night, I dreamt instead about a clear river barely contained by its banks. I woke up and wrote down everything I could remember about the river. I did not know if it was a real river, or if it was a symbol of something I could not otherwise understand. But I kept filling that notebook with everything that, like the river, seemed greater than my trepidations.
At twenty-seven, I no longer believe in demons, and I no longer demonize mental illness. I have other fears, other cathexes. And I keep a different notebook.
Jade Wallace is a Niagara writer currently doing community legal work in Toronto. Jade’s writing has appeared in journals includingThe Nashwaak Review, Feathertale, Poetry Sz, has been included in multi-author collections including Breakfast in a Day by Death Cookie Soup Press and Pac’N Heat: A Noir Homage to Ms. Pac-Man by AGP Books. Jade also has six chapbooks with Grey BordersBooks, most recently The Cosmic Squirrel Is On Your Side and Smiling Drunk Pufferfish, written in collaboration with Terry Trowbridge. Jade eschews any sincere use of social media but can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, as well as by postcards addressed to your nearest dead letter office.
Running a reading series has always been audacious. Few can say their love of writers is worth the hard reality of packing a bar with an audience and settling up a fat bill at the end of the night.
Miraculously almost every night the bars and community spaces in Toronto are packed with every varied definition of “reading series” from weekly poetry readings to a platform for first drafts.
They’re run by people like Daniel Renton, current host of the Common Reading Series, who answered our questions on how he makes the Common thrive.
Why did you start the Common Reading Series and what keeps you going?
I didn’t actually start it, our founder, Jessica Moore, did. I inherited the series and hope it continues indefinitely with or without myself. The number of interested writers alone keeps it going, if I had much trouble finding readers–and I mean excellent readers–I might see the series as superfluous but that has never been the case. I’ve only ever had one or two repeat guests since I began hosting. Our wonderful audiences are also essential, as well as our very cool venue, the Belljar Café.
How long have you been organizing/hosting the Common Reading Series?
Since 2015. I began guest hosting in 2013 and co-hosted the 2014 year. By then I was the logical choice to take over when Jessica moved to Montreal, but she’s still an important part of our collective, especially for special events.
How do you fund the Common Reading Series?
I’m awful at this and we are a small group, so the series has no external funding yet. Occasionally, the Quebec Writers’ Federation has paid for writers travelling from the P of Q. The QWF is very generous at specific times of the year. Mostly, we pass a Pay-What-You-Can jug at the readings and divide what comes in equally among the readers. Writers also get one free beer. We’re classy like that. Fingers crossed for grant money in 2017; I’d love to be able to offer more to our readers and build a more reliable online presence.
Why do you believe reading series are necessary for the literary community?
Although I’m sure the literary community would survive without us, I don’t care to speculate on what disfigured and depraved form that community would take without us. Was there even such a thing as CanLit before Common Readings? This would make a good essay topic for the end of term.
Who was your most memorable reader?
There have been so many but it was amazing to hear Karen Solie read new work early last year. Karen somewhat of a national treasure in Canadian poetry. She’s had a good deal of success here and is rapidly gaining attention abroad. This means that she’s used to very professional gigs that probably pay well. In sum: we need her a lot more than she needs us. I can’t speak for her or anyone else, but I suspect that writers of this high a calibre enjoy reading at the Common because of the relaxed atmosphere and the closer connection to the audience. It’s a bit like when a stadium rock star does a surprise gig at a coffeehouse. It’s also a great way to try out new material and connect with new artists. Liz Howard, Damian Rogers, and Soraya Peerbaye stand out as recent highlights.
What makes the Common Reading Series unique?
Our unique agenda has been to fit somewhere between a series like Pivot and one like Emerging Writers (now reinvented as Slackline) to offer a bit of both worlds. In that spirit, we strive to match emerging writers with more established ones in order to create dialogue within the literary community that otherwise might not exist. Ideas flow both ways, new writers get first- hand access to those who know the literary scene well and successful writers get to hear fresh voices and get to know emerging trends. This mandate also involves striving to diversify the literary community on all levels, which involves but is not limited to including writers of colour, various gender orientations, writers with disabilities, and writers from various regions and cultures as much as possible. But the issue isn’t just about inclusion, it’s about paying attention to what makes quality writing work for each new reader.
What is the future of Common Reading Series?
We’ve recently extended the series to include many special events including book launches, translation nights, satellite events across Canada, and transnational readings which include guest authors from the United States. It is my hope that the series can continue to grow, to survive, and maintain its level of quality as well.
Daniel Kincade Renton has been published in Prism international, Hazlitt, CV2, The Fiddlehead, The Malahat Review, and The Fish Quill Poetry Boat 2010-2013 anthology. His poem “Sundowning” was shortlisted for the Basil Bunting award in the UK. Daniel hosts The Common Reading Series in Toronto, while completing a Ph.D on Jacques Derrida, Poetics, and Hypercritical Faith at York University. Milk Teeth, his debut chapbook, was published by Frog Hollow Press in late 2015. You can find him on Facebook and Instagram.
For any aspiring writer, there is an avalanche of articles on how to be a writer with advice like “Write every day”, “Read more”, etc. However just as there are many ways a writer can succeed e.g. reading at Draft, there are other ways writers can metaphorically shoot themselves in the foot. So for this month’s Writers Unblocking we reached out to the Draft community and asked them
What is the one thing a writer can do to self-sabotage their writing career?
Understandably they were trepidatious, being successful writers and all that, however after much convincing here is what they came up with.
Though you’ll almost always write alone, don’t let yourself get lonely. Whether you’re just starting out or whether you’ve already published books, what you’re writing can’t help but be in conversation with what others have already written—and if you live in a larger city, especially, you’ll find communities of writers and readers everywhere from continuing education courses, post-secondary programs and writers’ workshops to reading series, book launches, writers-in-residence, public library events, literary magazines, book clubs, independent bookstores and more. So enter into the dialogue! Take courses, apply to conferences, give public readings, attend launches. Every one of these spaces is filled with people like you who, though very often alone with words, are no less interested in exchanging experiences, ideas, feelings—stories. And if you’re a new writer, this is particularly important. Engaging regularly with others who do what you’re doing might not unblock you, per se, but it will at least help you sustain your own writing’s momentum by reminding you that you’re writing to talk to someone; by contrast, avoiding connections with a community of writers and readers is equal to opting out of the conversation, and brings with it the terrible risk that you’ll convince yourself you don’t have anything to say.
Daniel Perry is the author of the short story collections Hamburger (Thistledown, 2016) and Nobody Looks That Young Here (Guernica, 2018). His fiction has been short-listed for the Carter V. Cooper Prize and has appeared in more than 30 publications in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. the Czech Republic. He lives in Toronto, and on Twitter @danielperrysays.
If you want a one-word answer it’s this: Facebook.
Elyse Friedman is a Toronto-based author and screenwriter. Her most recent novel, The Answer to Everything, was published by HarperCollins Canada. Her work has been short-listed for the Trillium Book Award, The Toronto Book Award, the Relit Award, and has won a Gold National Magazine Award for fiction.
Daniel Kincade Renton
A writer can do so, so many things to self-sabotage their career and I am likely proficient at all of them but perhaps the most imaginatively unhealthy or salacious. A constant temptation, however, seems to me to be to act the writer’s life rather than focus on the much less glamorous or entertaining pursuit of actually gluing one’s posterior to a chair with pen and paper or whatnot and performing the actual lonely and painful act of composition. But it is not also true, after all, that in retrospect, when the work is actually published and disseminated, that we remember that struggle the fondest?
Daniel Kincade Renton has been published in Prism international,Hazlitt, CV2, The Fiddlehead, The Malahat Review, and The Fish Quill Poetry Boat 2010-2013 anthology. His poem “Sundowning” was shortlisted for the Basil Bunting award in the UK. Daniel hosts The Common Reading Series in Toronto while completing a Ph.D on Jacques Derrida, Poetics, and Hypercritical Faith at York University. Milk Teeth, his debut chapbook, was published by Frog Hollow Press in late 2015.
The only way I know for sure to self-sabotage a writing career is not to write.
Ronna Bloom is the author of five books of poetry, most recently Cloudy With A Fire in the Basement (Pedlar Press, 2012), shortlisted for The Relit Award. She has performed with Juno Award winning musician Jayme Stone and has had her poems made into tiny films by Midi Onodera. Ronna is Poet-in-Residence at Mount Sinai Hospital and Poet-in-Community at the University of Toronto where she works with poetry and people. A new book is coming down the pipeline. She can be found on Twitter & Instagram.
The Horse That Waits
Two horses were standing in the field.
“Bridie,” said the grey horse to the roan. “Why are you so listless? All you do is eat grass and look sad.” Bridie shook her mane.
“My rider left and I don’t think she will return.”
“So what?” the grey horse said. “I have no rider. That doesn’t stop me from having a nice gallop.”
“Well it’s all right for you,” Bridie replied. “You’re a pleb. I am slow now, without the whip of my rider to inspire me to greater speed. I do not know where to go without her noble reins to guide me.”
“Bridie,” they grey horse sighed. “All this time you spend waiting for a rider is time you could spend practicing your sprints. Also, carrying a rider actually makes you slower.”
“A rider makes you slower,” Bridie said smugly. “A rider makes me exceptional.”
“That is literally not how physics works,” the grey horse said. “A rider increases your weight and decreases your aerodynamic efficiency.”
“You don’t know what it’s like to touch the spark of divinity!” Bridie said, looking a bit rapturous and a bit wistful.
“Maybe not,” the grey horse said. “But I run faster and more often than you do.”
Bridie never saw the wisdom of the grey horse’s words. Instead, her lungs shrivelled up and she became very preoccupied with rolling around on the ground and sulking. A lion took advantage of this and ate her.
Jade Wallace is a Niagara writer currently doing community legal work in Toronto. Jade’s writing has appeared in journals including The Nashwaak Review, Feathertale, Poetry Sz, has been included in multi-author collections including Breakfast in a Day by Death Cookie Soup Press and Pac’N Heat: A Noir Homage to Ms. Pac-Man by AGP Books. Jade also has six chapbooks with Grey Borders Books, most recently The Cosmic Squirrel Is On Your Side and Smiling Drunk Pufferfish, written in collaboration with Terry Trowbridge. Jade eschews any sincere use of social media but can be contacted at email@example.com, as well as by postcards addressed to your nearest dead letter office.
“Stop writing,” is the first answer that came to my mind.
After The Diviners (1974) was banned from the Lakefield High School English reading list, Margaret Laurence had never written another novel. A.M. Klein had a very successful public and writing career. In the early 1950s, he suffered a mental breakdown, withdrew into silence and a self-imposed exile for the rest of his life. We’ll never know if he had ever written again. Even worse: after he lost his mind, Gogol burnt the second part of Dead Souls.
To me, the question has become: What can a writer do to keep writing and trust his/her work?
As a native Romanian poet and playwright, Diana Manole has published nine collections of poems and plays, won fourteen literary awards, and contributed to numerous national and international anthologies and magazines. Since making Canada her new country, her poetry in English (translated into same with Adam J. Sorkin —or written originally therein) has been published in Canada, the US, the UK, and South Africa. Her poems have also been translated into and published in French, German, Polish, Spanish, and Albanian, while her translations of Canadian poetry were printed in major Romanian magazines. B&W, her bilingual Romanian-English collection of poems, also co-translated with Sorkin, came out in 2015 at Tracus Arte. In September 2016, “Deflowering. English” has been featured on the website of the Canadian Parliament’s Library as Poem of the Month in both English and French (translated by Robert Paquin). Since February 2013, Diana writes and dreams in English!
Have I spent too much time writing in journals? Sometimes I think it was a necessary step in building a voice; well, a self. Sometimes I think it was a colossal waste of time.
Maria Meindl is the author of Outside the Box: the Life and Legacy of Writer Mona Gould, the Grandmother I Thought I Knew from McGill Queens University Press, a story “The Last Judgment” from Found Press and “Rules” an essay in an anthology on death published by Creative Non Fiction. Her essays have appeared in The Literary Review of Canada, Descant andMusicworks. She has made two radio series for CBC Ideas: Parent Care, and Remembering Polio. She is a Feldenkrais practitioner who teaches movement classes in downtown Toronto. www.bodylanguagejournal.wordpress.com
Curated by Josh P.
We’re kicking off the 12th season of the Draft series. Yah! That’s 12 years of encouraging the writing process of some truly fine authors. The series itself is always in draft mode, and we decided to try something new this year. We’re not only encouraging writers to share their drafts but their writing expertise as well. In our new blog series, we will post a writerly question for the upcoming Draft readers to answer.
What is your ideal habitat and why? E.g. location, rituals writing tools, etc.
Here are the writing spots they came up with.
I can’t provide a straight answer. I am not straight. I am all metaphor and symbol, archetype and ambiguity. I am an immigrant.
“Ideal” is a big word. It is where I don’t want to be as a poet. It is where I yearn for in my poetry.
I feel lonely. “Now” is the place I don’t want to be. This –the place I don’t want to be— is where my poetry comes from. It’s my poetry’s favourite place— not mine.
There is a thin line between “me” and “non-me.” I don’t know if I have ever crossed it, or ever will. I don’t know if I ever can. Non-me is what I am. Me is what I am. I don’t know if I can ever cross my own borders.
On nights like these, I don’t know who is listening when I talk to me. I don’t know if it’s “me” or “non-me.”
Why? You are asking me?
“You ask me how I am—How do I know?” says Rumi. And I echo him.
I know about the ritual, though: It is pain. It is blood. It is the me I cannot escape from, going through her self, her other self, her othered self. The ritual is the inescapable escape of screams. It is the confession.
The instrument is the exile. Until recently I thought of it as separation from homeland. Now it is deepening into a separation from the self I thought was inseparable. I don’t know me anymore. This person writing is a stranger to me.
Forget about the habitat, instrument, and location. Ask about me. Ask me how I am, even if the answer is, “How do I know?”
Poet, translator, teacher, editor and poetry curator, Bänoo Zan, landed in Canada in 2010. She has more than 120 poems, etc., in publications around the globe. Songs of Exile, a collection of her poems, was released by Guernica Editions in 2016. A second collection, Letters to My Father, is due to be released early in 2017. She is the founder of Shab-e She’r (Poetry Night), the most diverse poetry reading and open mic series in Toronto. It bridges the gap between poetry communities, bringing together artists from different ethnicities, nationalities, religions (or lack thereof), ages, genders, sexual orientations, disabilities, poetic styles, voices, and visions. Bänoo Zan can be found on Facebook and Twitter.
A tidy room with a window, a computer, an ergonomic workstation, and an internet connection. Although it may invite interruptions, I prefer to leave the door open. I feel freer that way, more connected to the world. I can’t put music on – can’t concentrate on my story and actively listen at the same time – but I don’t mind if music wafts in from elsewhere. At work, I sometimes write during my lunch hour. There’s a huge construction site right outside my window but somehow I manage to tune out the noise. At home the only voice that sends me slamming the door shut is Donald Trump’s – the men in my life are addicted to CNN.
Josée Sigouin was born in Montréal and now lives in Toronto with her family. She enjoys travelling and has made several trips to Asia, particularly Hong Kong and Korea. The opening chapter of her first novel, THE FIFTH SEASON, was shortlisted for the 2011 Random House of Canada Student Award for Fiction. She has shared her writer’s journey through the Women Writing Letters series published by Gailey Road Productions in 2015. In her professional life, Josée is Director of Research Information Analysis at the University of Toronto where she serves as managing editor of a key communications vehicle. She blogs about creative writing and story-telling at https://povjoseesigouin.wordpress.com/
Away is what I need as a writer. Always AWAY! Away from the daily, my nest, my beloved animals, my telephone and my email and my text messages. This means a retreat to me. And I have worked in three of them, and I have flourished in each.
The furthest from home was Hawthornden Castle, sited on the last untouched glen in Scotland. Not so remote as the Orkneys, for there is a bus to Edinburgh which runs hourly past the castle gates into the city in a jiffy. Whenever you start to go crazy, there is an Edinburgh distraction just down the road and there are wonderful walks outside the castle gates into fields of poppies and horses. Hawthornden Castle isn’t really a castle in any North American sense—it’s just a very large house with a wall and a moat,and foxes in the glen, and it belonged to a poet, Drummond of Hawthornden. I spent six weeks there with six other writers and wrote the Scottish section of my book The Grace of Private Passage in my commodious room at the top top top of a narrow staircase under the castle eaves.
I’ve been twice to the Banff Centre to visit the elk and send texts through the fully wired chipmunks. Another ideal retreat where escape means going into another building to watch ballerinas, to listen to violinists or to walk the craggy pathways wrapped in scarves in the company of other writers, playwrights, visual artists, or to go and dance in a pub called The Grizzly Bear.
My favourite retreat, however, is only a short easy boat ride from home, Toronto Island Artscape at the Lighthouse at Gibraltar Point. I have been writing at Gibraltar Point Artscape since time immemorial, and I have had short term and long term studios there where the beach is just outside the door and the grand lake sends its endless, seemingly endless changes, and skies to change moment by moment. Much of my new book was forged at Artscape Gibraltar Point where the city and the cities beyond the city and history spread out into the blue of water and sky.
Karen has published 22 books and has edited a lot of issues of Descant which closed in 2015.In a former life and in her next she might be a veterinarian as she has a cat and dog and a whole mess of fish and in other lives, she has also mentored guinea pigs. You can find Karen on her website, Facebook and on Twitter.
When my husband and I moved into our house, one of the main selling points was the shed in the backyard that the previous owner had converted into a fully insulated, wired office. It’s a tiny, perfect space, with a high ceiling and just enough sunlight streaming through the windows. We each promptly set up our desks, our backs to each other. On my shelf I placed a stack of my favourite books, arranged a small collection of Virgin Mary candles bought in the Philippines or grocery stores in the United States and propped up a few photos. This desk was beautiful, blessed. And I think I’ve written at it maybe a dozen times in the past four years? While my husband uses the shed often, I retreat to coffee shops, or, more realistically, the bed. I’ve tried to convince myself that I would be more productive writing at a desk, but the truth is that I’ve done my best and most voluminous writing in bed. My husband has threatened to replace my desk in the shed with a couch. My protests have been halfhearted. My bed is my ideal writing habitat.
Teri Vlassopoulos is the author of the short story collection, Bats or Swallows (2010), and a novel, Escape Plans (2015), both with Invisible Publishing. Her fiction has appeared in Room Magazine, Joyland, Little Fiction, and various other North American journals. She was the cookbook columnist for Bookslut, and has had non-fiction published at The Toast, The Millions and The Rumpus. She can be found at http://bibliographic.net or on Twitter.
Don’t forget to meet the writers at the upcoming Draft reading 12.1 happening on Sunday, October 23 at the Flying Pony Cafe.
Curated by Josh P.
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