Writer/ Editor Hat

Here is a photo of Leonard Budgell at eighteen. He has just been officially hired by The Hudson`s Bay Company at Cartwright, Labrador. Son of a Hudson`s Bay Post Manager, unofficially he had been behind the counter in Northwest River and Rigolet since he was about ten.

len at 18Len was extremely shy and several of his letters tell of experiences when he was behind that counter that would have him blushing furiously. Usually a young nurse would be involved, asking the boy for something like a pair of longjohns. At other times he drove nurses and doctors by dogsled around to the tiny Labrador communities. A storm would arise, and shelter found in a tiny trapper`s tilt. The nurse of course, not properly dressed for Labrador storms, would be wet and cold, and Len would be caught. Once her clothes were off and drying, what to do…

Len would go on to be a Servant of The Bay (his favourite term) for many years in Northern areas. Where many men might remember, and tell or write of these experiences, Len just happened to be an incredible writer. His stories have us laughing or crying, connecting, learning or laughing. Want to read some wonderful things about the sea, or animals of the North, or the natural abilities of native peoples, or whales or seals, or owl eggs, go to Arctic Twilight: Leonard Budgell and the Changing North (2010, Blue Butterfly Books-Dundurn Press).

In The Globe, Michael Crummy called Len  the greatest writer on the North that he knows of. Mr. Crummy credits Len`s writing about boats and engines in his own novel, Sweetland.

I miss him very much. Leonard died in the year 2000, but his words will be here for a very long time. For more about Len and Arctic Twilight, you can to the Archives, and the June posts.


Tree Press Publisher hat

There is a Tree/shteyt a boim: Poems by Itzik  Manger translated from the Yiddish by Murray Citron (Tree Press, 2011)  See, already this sounds interesting, and very different!cover a tree murray


(Contact me on facebook for copies and I`ll put you in touch with Murray)

When Rod Pederson, Rona Shaffran and I were co-directors of The Tree Reading Series, we decided to form Tree Press. We had big plans for the Press, mainly to hold an annual Chapbook Contest, but we wanted to start off with a special publication. Our choice was to publish Murray Citron`s translations. We had been hearing the poems at the open mic.

Itzik Manger was born in Rumania about 1900. In 1938 he moved to Paris, and in 1940 he escaped just ahead of the Germans. This is only part of his story.

Murray Citron has a BA from the University of Toronto, Osgoode Hall, but he always begins by saying he is a grandfather. This is only part of his story.

This was a tricky book to do. Murray would find a Yiddish version of a poem, like this one, which of course, I could not read…yiddish poem

At this moment, I have no idea which poem this is, and in matching the Yiddish and English translation, there were a few glitches. My parrot for one, was not happy with the time I was spending with Murray, and made quite a scene. Eventually we got it all straightened out, the right Yiddish with the right English versions.

Here is one of the translations, most likely not a match for the poem above; the poems are based on biblical stories, but are full of surprises and humour:

 Abraham and Sarah

 “Abraham, when will we have a child?

We are both long past our prime.

In other families a woman my age

Is due for the eighteenth time.”


Abraham our Father smiles and is still

And puffs a ring from his pipe.

“Have faith, my wife.  If the Supreme One wishes,

Then even a broom can be ripe.”


“Abraham, listen, every night

My body cuts like a knife.

Hagar is only your serving maid,

But I am the one who’s your wife.


Sometimes in the window I see a star,

And I think it is the soul

Of our child who flutters in the wind

Where clouds and waters roll.”


Abraham our Father puffs his pipe.

The smoke is warm and good.

“Have faith, my wife.  If the All-highest wills,

Even a broom can shoot.”


“When I see sometimes how Hagar’s child

Plays in the sun and the sand

And I give a pat on his little head,

Such a sadness grabs my hand,


And when I hold him on my lap

And he smiles so clever and good,

My eyes grow wet and dim with tears,

And sorrow dulls my blood.


Sweetheart, when will we have a child?

We are both long past our prime.

Among other people a woman my age

Has been due for the eighteenth time.”


Father Abraham puffs his pipe,

The smoke is warm and good.

“Have faith, my darling.  If the All-highest wills,

Even a broom can shoot.”

It was such a privilege to work with Murray on this. I`m so glad we three co-directors were so clever in choosing these translations as our inaugural Tree Chapbook.





Your Hands

Your Hands Discover Me/ Tes mains me découvrent, Claudia Coutu Radmore translated by Mike Montreuil (2010, Les Éditions du tanka francophone, Montreal)  scan0001Tanka written about a love affair between two poets, one who lived in Canada and one in Massachusetts. I was fortunate that Mike Montreuil was available to translate this manuscript; it was a pleasure to get together to thrash out the final version, and he is excellent at this kind of translation, soul of poet to soul of poet.  While I am not bilingual, I have read a fair amount in my father’s tongue, and could understand the nuance of a translation. (My Mother was English so that was what we spoke at home.)

These are from a series of tanka written in the heat of passion. No need to say much more…

ditches/lined with fireweed/ after so many miles/ flames/ that won’t go out

                  des fossés/ garnis de bouquets rouges/ après tant de kilomètres/ des flames/ qui ne                     s’éteindront jamais

I am honoured that Michael Dylan Welch, Founder of The Tanka Society of America wrote an introduction that he named ‘Alive and Urgent’. Thank you Michael!

Publisher’s Hat, Renku

Petals in the Dark, 15 renku led and edited by Marshall Hryciuk (catkin press, 2015)er only

A delicious collection of renku, renku verses and contributions from poets all over the world. Marshall Hryciuk is a Canadian renku master and we love to brag about him, claim him as our own.

Marshall has continued the Japanese tradition of ‘writing blind’ as art. In an introduction, he talks about renku in a innovative style, asking, rhetorically “Why Renku?”

And what IS renku.  Think of it this way to start: A short verse is given and you as participant are asked to contribute the next verse. This may result in each participant offering a verse, from which the master will choose the most appropriate. He/She will have suggested guidelines for the verse, and your contribution will link to the previous verse, yet shift away from it. In this way, the series is always full of surprise for participant and reader.

Example: Say the verse offered mentions water. This is the time to bring to mind anything water means to you. The link can be direct, or subtle. Water may make you think of mist, river, rain, tears, its chemical composition, bottled water, washing, sweat, flooding, colourless, flowing, or a thousand other things. It may suggest a mood, you may think of its opposite, a word like desert. You may think of a connection with a written work or a myth. You may think of a song, or a movie.

The master will suggest that the next verse also be about something, such as a blossom or a moon verse, or about media, or unrequited love. Then your water connection becomes more focused. Unrequited love, and water. Cry me a River?

Here are two renku verses:

i’m wondering
where i parked my bicycle
is that a purple bra strap? (written by Marshall Hryciuk)

cats in love
waiting for the stars to come out (link made by Karen Sohne)

The ‘instructions for Marshall’s verse were probably “three lines, romance”, or something in that vein. Karen follows with the ‘yearning’ of cats waiting for darkness so they can do what cats do in the dark. She has shifted from a day scene to an evening one, and away from daily concerns to that of evening possibilities. At the same time, the responding verse leaves open a number of possibilities: new links can be made with the animal world, with what exists in the universe, even into interior universes. Or a link can be associated with waiting, or conversely, with arrival.

Part of the fun of renku is that it is meant to be a party. Bring on the saki after the six verse, or the beer and popcorn. Anyone, with or without experience in the form, can participate.

This book is a collection of ideas and poems that showcases wit, intelligence, sensibility, pathos and humour. In connecting emotion, memory, and experience, renku dwells on the fullness of being in every moment of our lives.

One Sunday in Winter

One Sunday in winter Mike Montreuil and I went to a performance by The Griffin Trio of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Trio in B Major, Op. 8. That experience prompted this series of tanka: cover AugmentationAugmentation on a Sunday in Winter  (catkin press, 2014)

Throughout the performance one of the performers gave a running commentary of how the piece worked, which fascinated me. At home, I had come across Pablo Neruda’s poem, “Sonata With Some Pines”, and thought to include Neruda in this Sunday conversation. The last line of this first tanka is from his poem:

a change in the last note/ then down a scale/ down again then/ leap up/ we forget our tired bones

Two more poems from that day:

the key to organic flow/ going back/ to what has come before/ a gentle explosion/ a surprising intimacy

a different mood/ cello’s third set/ of mounting notes/ conversation among crows/ at the top of the pine

It’s a small book, about 4″ by 5″, with a translucent cover, and 18 poems, a chapbook that makes me smile about that afternoon whenever I happen to see it.

Back to poetry and history

Should anyone wonder why I know for sure that my seventh great grandmother came to New France on a ship called the Saint-Jean-Baptiste out of Dieppe in 1671, here’s a record of the ship and some of its passengers.ship013Margeurite De Laplace is # 10 on the list, a fille du Roi, along with 2 carpenters, 2 masons, and 100 men 50 sheep… Also listed are ten donkeys.

The record also mentions that the ship returned to France in October with 10,000 pounds of beaver skins, 400 pounds of moose skins, 12 geese and a fox as gifts to King Louis XIV.

In the first poem in a minute or two/ without remembering, twelve year old Margeurite, orphan, speaks from on board ship. She was from the La Salpêtrière, at that time an orphanage/hospital in Paris.

She and Pierre LeSiege’s eldest daughter Louise would marry François Cottu (Coutu). She and François would become my sixth great grandparents and start the Coutu family and the Coutu name in Quebec and all over the world.


More Publisher’s Hat

Singing in the Silo by Philomene Kocher (2014, catkin press)

singing in the silo coverAt the end of this post, note the website of Philomene Kocher, for that is where you can get a copy of this gem.

When a writer with a haiku heart lets you in on her process, it is a special gift to the haiku/tanka/haibun world. This is what Philomene Kocher has done. Instead of selecting ‘only her best’ work, she shows her first haiku, and lets you follow her growth in writing Japanese form.

Ms. Kocher grew up on a farm in Ontario, and many of her haiku reflect this, and speak of family joys and sadness:

boots phil 1In a haibun (prose followed by haiku) this is the haiku she uses, an early memory:

U turn/ the snake slides/ over its own tail

After a death, she writes:

over the years/ the wound on the elm/ has closed and healed/ like the one in my heart

There is a tender world between the covers of Singing in the Silo, between her photo on the front cover of a lake dear to her and her sisters, and the image of the farm family’s boots on the back.



More Publisher’s hat

Drifting, Marco Fraticelli  (2013, catkin press)COVER drifting frontWhen I began catkin press, I wanted fiercely to start with publishing poetry by Marco Fraticelli. Any poetry by Fraticelli, and I was sure he was hiding a manuscript or two, or ideas for a manuscript or two, so I asked him. Turned out there was an idea he had been thinking about and working on for a long time. Not the haiku or lyric poetry he was known for, something else: haibun based on some old papers he had found in an abandoned house in the Eastern Townships over 30 years ago.

I was intrigued by the yellowing paper, especially the journal fragments, and the handwriting of one Celesta Taylor, in love with an older man, caring for his children, and the details of a rural woman’s life in the early 1900s.

What Marco did was to edit and use her words as the basis of the prose part of the haibun, adding his own haiku. He has been a haiku poet for many years and is another Canadian haiku master. In a foreword, he explains more about his process, and tells more of her life, garnered from research done by his sister Rina who had made a NFB film based on the same materials.

We came up with the perfect size for Drifting-a little smaller, the right size to tuck into a pocket or purse. Convenient.

Marco Fraticcelli is a lyric and haiku poet, and publisher, from Montreal. For copies, message me on facebook.

Under My Publisher’s Hat

A book that I am extremely proud of having published: Grant Savage’s Their White With Them: Short Poems (2006, Bondi Studios, Carleton Place)

cover front


Grant is one of the Hidden Treasures of Ottawa. His reputation is well known in the haiku/tanka world as he is a master of both forms. Those not familiar with the power of either form should spend time with Grant’s collection.

Some would think these forms are not as important as ‘real’ poetry, which Grant also writes. But to take time with just one of them is to come away the richer.

early morning pond/reflected in its stillness/everything

It’s awkward given the limits of this form of blog, to format the poem into its three lines. But we can still feel not just stillness, but an extraordinary stillness. We find ourselves there by the pond. we’ve gotten up very early, even before the birds begin their sounds perhaps. The surface shines, and clouds might be floating on the water.  The next lines bring in not only the mirror of water, but suggest personal reflection, bringing not only the writer of the poem into the poem, but also everyone else who has ever sat by a pond noting the reflections, and reflecting. we look at the pond and in a sense the pond ‘looks’ at us.  That stillness, a sense that other things are, momentarily, still too.  it’s almost physical, it’s the way we expect magical moments to be. And what is there with you and me and the poet…but everything in existence, the bad and the good, the dark and the light. the more we reflect, the more everything becomes one.

I haven’t even begun to talk about whether it is important that this is a morning pond, to think about the difference in stillness between a morning or an evening, or between a midnight or a noontime stillness, because then we’re really into what this haiku might mean. And what ‘everything’ implies, besides the physical world. what about every emotion, every thought. Now we see that this tiny poem is very large; it has to be to contain everything. To have a copy of Grant’s book, to have hundreds of haiku and tanka withing reach, would be to have in one’s possession a lifetime of reading.  I’ll leave with a tanka to mull over, to grow even as you read it again, and again.

a chorus of birds/ you no longer here/ to sing to them/ or ask me to put names/                             to their answers

The content is enhanced by several of Grant’s nature photographs in colour. You can message Grant on facebook if you would like a copy of Their White With Them

a minute or two/ without remembering

This post is in memory of my father, Gerald Coutu, who right up until he died, remembered bitterly almost daily that the English won New France in 1759.

front cover without flapPoems in a minute or two/ without remembering (2010 Two Cultures Press, North Bay, On) are spoken in the voices of my actual Coutu (Cottu) ancestors, encompassing 120 years of New France history roughly from 1680 – 1800.

What was it like for my 7th great grandmother arriving crossing the ocean to marry some unknown coureur de bois. Twelve years old, and within two weeks as a Fille du Roi, she would commit herself to marriage for life.

This is a family living through Iroquois attack, the deaths of children, going off to war, famine, plague and siege… to end up living under an English king.

Below is my sixth great grandfather’s signature (from a marriage certificate), published in gold on royal blue under the dust cover above. I wanted it to be there, like the foundation he was, as his arrival in Quebec was the beginning of the Coutu family in Canada. The squiggle after it possibly refers to his noble heritage in Picardy which goes back to Charlemagne. You may bow before me next time we meet, in recognition of my (the Coutu family) royal roots.

signature francois cottu