WINDSOR SALT & STAN ROGAL

Stan RogalThe Vancouver-born poet and novelist Stan Rogal was the featured reader for the launch tonight of the annual Windsor Salt publication from the University of Windsor’s Creative Writing department. The work in this magazine also included the work of a group of graduate students. The event took place at Mare Nostrum Café on campus. Rogal, the  co-founder of Bald Ego Theatre and at one time co-ordinated a weekly literary reading series at The Idler Pub in Toronto, is one of the more entertaining writers on the public reading circuit. He was joined by a stellar group of other writers that included Vanessa Barraco, Jennie Broadwell, Tim Fogarty, Micaela Muldoon and Yanik Gallie.

Rogal’s poetry and fiction can be found in scores of magazines and anthologies in Canada, the US and Europe. He has some 19 books to his credit including four novels and 11 poetry collections.

 

A Woman Walks on the Detroit River

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Emily Schultz at Biblioasis

 

It was such a great pleasure to see Emily Schultz back in Windsor Wednesday night (March 22). Her roots are here. She not only studied English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Windsor, but her grandfather, Herman, was a rumrunner in Detroit during Prohibition. She can tell you stories of how at the age of 14, her grandfather started in the business to become a small-time gangster and entrepreneur. He operated out of an auto shop where he fixed up old jalopies that were guided across the ice on the Detroit River to pick up shipments of Canadian whiskey. That is why it is so appropriate for this newest novel from Schultz to begin with a man falling through the ice. A classic Prohibition story. Men Walking On Water, published by Knopf Canada ($25)

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Emily Schultz at Biblioasis

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Emily Schultz at Biblioasis

and set in 1927, opens with a Model T loaded with booze having just crashed through the icy Detroit. Alfred Moss, the driver who is carrying a bag of money, is now lost in the frozen river. It is this mystery that fuels Schultz’s book, keeps you turning the page. She is the kind of writer that knows how important it is to catch your attention, keep your gaze fixed on the words, and make you want to see this through to the end. That’s the kind of novel this is.That’s the kind of an effective writer she is. I’m better than half way through, and I seem to spend every waking moment, eager to finish this new work of fiction — it is that good!

Emily was at Biblioasis reading from Men Walking On Water to a packed house. She read from novel in a measured and effective way, and afterwords, the queue snaked up and around the bookshelves for book buyers seeking her autograph.

Now living and working in Brooklyn with a five-year-old son, this author who was named a finalist for the Trillium Book Award and selected by NPR and Kirkus for Best Books of the Year, is on a book tour to promote the novel whose subject is one that is dear to my heart, having written The Rumrunners. It is interesting what Schultz says about the influence of her family’s stories on the making of this book. She said when she was attending university here on the south shore of the Detroit River, she often gazed at the waterfront, daydreaming of its presence and its symbolic importance in her life. She said, “My father crossed the river himself, during the Vietnam War, to escape the U.S. Army. I looked at the river every day of my university years. The river could give you freedom, or money. It could also end your life. And it sits at the centre of my family’s story.

Schultz tells the story of her father coming across a pearl-handed revolver when he was 10 years old. It had belonged to his father, or Emily’s grandfather: “Its patina worn, it was already a relic by the 1950s. He took it out and held it in his hands, knowing he wasn’t supposed to have found this. Quietly he put it back and made no mention of it until he decided to collect our family’s history. By then, he knew where the gun had come from.”

Read this newest book by Emily Schultz. You will be drawn into the high-flying romantic period of the 1920s, the era of flappers and gangsters. I’m with Stephen King one hundred per cent when he remarked, “Emily Schultz is my new hero.”

Welcome home, Emily.

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Emily Schultz at Biblioasis

Radish Poetry

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe renowned award-winning poet Susan Holbrook led her merry band of poets to Biblioasis Books Thursday night (March 16) to read from their newly-minted book Radish, the result of work in the University of Windsor’s English Department creative writing course #498. This impressive chapbook, released by Biblioasis as No.5 in its South Detroit Chapbook Series, employs a novel approach with each student contributing a poem. In each case, however, the poem underwent an “erasure” procedure, whereby another student would remove words from the original in an effort to create yet another poem. The result, says Holbrook in her introduction, was a collaboration of sorts: “Some of these crystallize the original; some answer, playfully undermine, or hold hands with it…These works reveal the voices within our voices.” Fascinating. I was particularly impressed with Abigail Roelens’ piece They Worked Ninety Years Side by Side and Never Spoke A Word:

their mother had a silent womb/even the doctor said so and/he had put his head up to her/held his breath/didn’t even hear a ping of a pitchfork tine/”voter uterus eat come uno tomb”/—spring, 1925/to belgian farmers/it was a fair assumption/after that/ their mother and her still belly/ came in with extra vowels/birthed her twins in a cornfield/on county rd 8

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Terry Dang reading from his poem

It was a delightful evening, hosted at Biblioasis here, with Yanik Gallie as the emcee introducing some 16 writers. Among this talented bunch were Kaitlyn Benjamin, Terry Dang, Joe Rowley, Victoria Sinasac, and there was a neat piece by Ellie Hastings, who performed her poem side by side with Holbrook. Here are my photographs of the event.Nicole Clark.jpg

March reading

Last night, André Narbonne launched his impressive new book — his second published work — since Twelve Nights to Midnight. The reading, sponsored by Flat Singles Press, took place at Biblioasis Books on Wyandotte Street here in Windsor. The place was packed. Narbonne was joined by two notable poets, Melanie Janisse-Barlow and Eva H.D.

In photos above Narbonne is reading at the event that also featured Eva H.D. and Melannie Janisse-Barlow. Dan Wells stands at the back in the aisle listening to the reading.

Melanie Janissse-Barlow

Melanie Janissse-Barlow

Poet Tom Wayman in a review of Narbonne’s newest work wrote that the poet “provides an unflinching look a rural Ontario childhood. His deft poems recall those throw-away words uttered by a significant adult that can haunt one throughout one’s life, for example the mother cautioning a novice photographer: ‘Stop! / my mother cried. / It’s not a picture without someone in it.’ Or a child misunderstanding a pending divorce, when at a lake he hears his ‘father say he was / parting waves with the family.’ Other poems skillfully consider the grown child, nature and travels through time and geography. A sense of home grounds and sustains the poet; in contrast, he is aware that ‘no stranger / can draw anything but a self-portrait.’ And thanks to Narbonne’s amazing eye and command of his art we are shown the familiar in unexpected places in our world, like those birds the poet notices that roost in the letters of large advertising signs that ‘nest in the alphabet of commerce.’”

 

 

I’m in the midst of reading this book slowly, and will write something later. For now, here are some photographs of the events. It was so gratifying to see Narbonne’s family at the reading. (Simon and Pearl above) When I was younger, I was always accompanied by my children. I couldn’t afford a babysitter. As a result, my children tasted the best of Canadian literature through the 1970s and 1980s. The authors they met became their uncles and aunts and cousins …

“The Neighbourhoods”

I was invited as the City of Windsor’s poet laureate to be part of a press conference yesterday at The Art Gallery of Windsor, previewing three new Winter-Spring exhibitions. I was asked to read a poem from the Group of Seven (Poets) project I have been working on with six other locally-based writers. We are writing about the heritage of this city, the five towns and the push south in the city that includes South Windsor. I read the following piece about the old baseball field that once stretched over the property now occupied by the Windsor Armouries.

Windsor Ballpark: 1900

Ouellette Square in the time before building the Windsor Armouries

It wasn’t a perfect field

but the late-day light was good

the way it fell

accentuating white

flannel numbered collarless shirts

leather mitts, wool knickers and straw hats

as swarthy players gathered

arriving promptly by bicycle

others in boxy black vehicles

and adoring women and children came

bearing baskets of biscuits and fruit

and fanned out blankets over the summer grass

It wasn’t a perfect field

yet it was theirs and the day was good

—the way it fell

It wasn’t a perfect day

on a windy open turf so level and wide

running their way home

giving them victory

in a fading flat field of dark shadows

as the day wore on

But the city was dreaming

and other men were coming with blueprints

to break and build the soil

For them it was the perfect field

when the late-day light was good

and the meadow was fresh and green

yet for these ragtag players

gone was that flawless moment

of stepping onto a diamond so perfect

where they might yet run clean and hard

as the day wears on

on a field they still call home

In my remarks, I said how I thought Windsor was the perfect place for poets and artists to make images, and tell stories. This reflected the comments made Kenneth Montague, who conceived and organized this collection (Position As Desired: Exploring African Canadian Identity) that presents a rich variety of photographic works from his personal archive called “The Wedge Collection.” These pieces, especially the vintage portraits of first African immigrants to Canada, will stop you in your tracks. It is an exhibit that will keep there in wonderment. But what struck me was how this Windsor-born collector spoke about how meaningful these pieces were in terms of the stories they told.

Then Sally Lake, originally from Detroit, rose to speak about the urban demographic of the city to our north. She, too, drew upon the storytelling aspect, and suggested that the need to pay attention to “neighbourhoods.” This is clear in the photographs she has on display— their roots in family, personal narratives, and locations not so well known in the Detroit area. In each there is this haunting figure, perhaps the viewer, perhaps each of us, pausing at the curb looking in. You need to go and see this. Like the other exhibit, these pictures tell a powerful story.

Councillor Rino Bortolin, who grew up in Windsor, being educated at St. Angela Catholic Elementary School, Catholic Central, and studied philosophy at the University of Windsor, echoed these thoughts, too, in bringing words from the City of Windsor. He, too, spoke of the importance of art in our daily life. The City in recent years has made that commitment abundantly clear in not only its support financially, but in its outreach to see art more public, and more about of our daily life.

I’m looking forward to another exhibit that opens tonight at the gallery. It is called Local Matters, was curated by Art Gallery Director Catharine Mastin, and features sculptures by Zeke Moore, prints by Tony Mosna and Elio Del Col, and paintings by Adèle Duck and Mary Celestine. According to the gallery, it has been for a number of years collecting the work of these artists who have made their careers here. In the write-up provided by the Art Gallery of Windsor, these works “illustrate the continuing importance of traditional media such as painting, printmaking and sculpture while each brings their unique voice to the process. The double-entendre implied by the exhibition title “local matters” speaks to the importance of artistic expression in the region while also referencing the artist’s diverse topics and viewpoints.”

Catharine Mastin has demonstrated a keen eye on putting together these exhibits that together send a distinctive message.

The photographs below are those of Simon Wyn Edwards Photography of SNAPD.

Into the Eyes of his subjects

Bruce Meyer took a photograph of me that I didn’t really believe would surface all these years later, but there it is, in a book Portraits of Canadian Writers (208 pages, $22.95, published by Porcupine’s Quill). It is there along with an anecdote about how I saved his life when he fell desperately ill with influenza while he was living in Windsor and teaching at the university here. That photograph and that story, of course,  are mere footnotes alongside a host of many other writers, both famous and otherwise. In this absolutely unique collection, you will discover photographs and stories of Leonard Cohen, Irving Layton, Gwendolyn MacEwen, Al Purdy, Ray Robertson, Bronwen Wallace, Leon Rooke and Earle Birney. Meyer did most of these in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when he was a young, ambitious, aspiring writer who was working on his doctorate. But his mission to interview, and photograph, some of the most influential authors of modern Canadian writing took him across the country, knocking on doors, and sitting, questioning, and listening to these poets, novelists and short story writers. The result is this vital record that through its telling says so much about our writing today, and maybe its future.

Porcupine’s Quill describes Meyer’s approach in this book as “snapshots — both visual and textural.” Indeed they are also delightful revelations, some sad, some funny, some poignant in catching these writers at their own beginnings. Like meeting Ray Robertson —described as “shy” and reserved and confessing to Meyer that his sole objective was to become a writer. Meyer, then having just founded the creative writing program at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Education, told Robertson the only way to success was to keep writing. Obviously, this now successful novelist, did, and the rest is history. The story of interviewing the legendary Dorothy Livesay, then an aging poet, will make you smile, in that, she cornered the fresh-faced Meyer and french-kissed him, and remarked, “Oh, if we had lived in the same time.”

Meyer knows this book is by no means “a complete catalogue of the most important Canadian authors of the past 30 years.” He says it is “a small measure of the voices who have contributed to the cultural dialogue” of Canadian literature. But the world that Meyer inhabits here is one that is full of curiosity.  He writes: “I look into the eyes of these subjects…I realize that what I saw when I looked through the lens of my camera was the writers who not merely wrote works that make us stop and consider who we are, but who created — out of their imaginations — the words and visions of this world they share with us.”

At the same time, however, the world being created in this fascinating collection is very much a memoir of sorts, through the eyes of Bruce Meyer, the author of nearly 50 books of non-fiction and poetry. We learn much about him, what attracted him to these writers, but more importantly, as anyone who has done interviews realizes, we discover what follows from these interactions is that we come away with a veritable sense of something more intimate, more personal. That couldn’t happen without Bruce Meyer, without his perspective, his curiosity, and his camera. This book serves as a significant document that in a way taps us on the shoulder and reminds us that the twists and turns our literature has taken has its origins here in the lives of these individuals. In that way, Portraits of Canadian Writers is a trusty guide to our writing, and maybe explains why it has blossomed.

The photos below show Leonard Cohen, Al Purdy, and very young Marty Gervais.

 

A new poet on the Windsor scene

Samantha Badaoa was the featured reader at Windsor Poetry Slam Tuesday night, and I came in just as she was beginning her dazzling performance. Normally, she is the host of this poetry happening at Phog Lounge on University Avenue in Windsor. I was surprised — seeing as this was Christmas week — to find a standing room only crowd at this bar. And Samantha didn’t disappoint. She delivered an amazing and lively performance, and delighted her audience. Samantha is an up-and-comer and someone who is beginning to have a tremendous impact on the literary community. Besides finishing an English Literature degree at the University of Windsor, she works at Chrysler, and does freelance editing on the side. Of course, she continues to host this poetry slam at this downtown location. Here are some photographs of Samantha in performance.