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.

By the River Poetry and Prose

I grew up in Riverside, and my memories are of the library, reading Mark Twain. And so I wouldn’t miss the opportunity of returning there, but this time to hear poetry. It was billed as “By the river — Poetry & Prose” and sponsored by Urban Farmhouse Press and Cranberry Tree Press, both companies based in Windsor. Readers included Rosalind Knight (That Summer at the Mettawas and Songs of Zambia), Christian Laforet (The Space Between Houses), Denis Robillard (The History of Water), and co-publishers Lenore Langs and Laurie Smith (The Truth abouth Roller Skating; smack in the middle of spotlit obvious (Urban Farmhouse Press, 2016). Laurie Smith read a brilliant poem about Jeffrey Dammer, also known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, an American serial killer and sex offender. It was a haunting and perfectly written piece, and it silenced the room. Rosalind Knight read some amazing work from her experiences on a trip to Zambia. Denis Robillard and Christian Laforet began the evening to a packed house. Robillard is quickly developing a reputation as a formidable poet in this city, and now his work is published with Cranberry Tree Press. These are my photographs of the night.

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