seven months

It’s been seven months since I came back from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, and those months have been busy.  I’ve been writing, and am pleased and proud to be one of seven (out of two hundred submissions) on the shortlist in the 2017 Malahat Long Poem Contest with my series of lyric poems about Fogo Island, Newfoundland.  I didn’t win, but have been sending those poems out as a chapbook submission, and maybe, just maybe, have had a hint of a chance with one publisher.

I love designing the covers of my books, collaborating with the authors so that they are completely happy with their books. Here are the books catkin press has published in the past seven months: First, Firefly in the Room by Grant D. Savage.

Cover photograph: Grant D. Savage

This unusual collection of erotic haiku by Grant Savage, an excellent haiku poet. His luscious photography was perfect for this theme in his use of colour and composition. And the haiku are astute and sassy.

The two next publications were compilations of haibun with tanka. The first was Hans Jongmann’s Swooning, a manuscript that was so good and so unusual in its narrative of love and being young, has a central mystery, that I just had to publish it. His wife Farida wrote a prose section which set things up beautifully. The reader is captivated, held to the last page.

The next venture was a chapbook of poems, My Head Full of Pakistan, about Blaine Marchand’s deep love of the country where he worked with CIDA.  Blaine was with me in every step of publication, from editing (and there was very little) to layout, to cover background and images, including choosing textured papers for the cover and for the interior pages, which reflected the textiles of that country. This is the cover in an early stage of design.

Blaine’s photograph is featured on this cover. There are several more inside the chapbook that serve to enhance and illustrate Blaine’s lyric poems. These are poems that give you a slice of Pakistan written by someone who loves that country and who is known for the depth and insights in his writing.

Then another haiku/ tanka/ haibun writer sent me a memoir called She Don’t Mean a Thing If She ain’t Got That Swing that intrigued and amazed me. Guy Simser of Ottawa focused on the love of his life, wife Jan, and on their travels, on the music and activities they shared for so many years. His writing was so rich in expression, description, detail and humour. What could I do except say I’d publish it.

Again the author was particular about the papers used for text and cover, and his choice of sensuous paper for the text meant that the many fascinating photographs printed perfectly in colour. This is a beautiful object as well as a well thought-out book.

In February we launched three books at Pressed, for Grant, Guy and Blaine, and what a dynamic set of presentations that was!

In the new year, Hans said he had a couple (a couple…!) more manuscripts. He has a reputation in the Japanese-form world for his sterling poems, so first we published Below the Frostline, which is completely haiku.  The second, Shift Change,  was another variation on memoir that focused on travel, bicycling, and work experiences in various places. His writing has honesty and colour. Each poem is just right. We argued over editing as we always have, but he is a wise writer and makes the right choices.

When Haiku Canada held its conference in Whitehorse last year, it happened to be Mystery Month in the Yukon. With that theme in mind, Haiku Canada members submitted ‘crime’ ku, a selection of which was printed on file cards in a clear large font and displayed with kindred books in a case in the library/museum foyer. The library asked whether there would be a book, and so Kathy Munro, haikuist, and Jessica Simon, crime writer, edited a thoughtful, humorous, delightful collection of Killer Ku.  I loved working with them; I appreciated their enthusiasm and their fine insistence of particulars. They came up with the perfect headings for the sections, such as Breaking and Entering, Cannibalism, and Cell Blocks. Their inspired early layout and concise editing add so much to this very different collection which can be enjoyed, not only by haiku enthusiasts, but by anyone who picks it up.

Anna Vakar is a long-time haiku poet who has spent her years in the haiku life learning what haiku is, what it could be.  Vicki McCullough met Anna Vakar and realized that this poet needed to be better known and needed to have a book of her work. Vicki has done an amazing job writing introductions to both Anna’s life and her haiku path. Anna Vakar is a strong poet who has the habit of writing comments on the pages of any anthologies or haiku collections she acquires. The book includes a list of the kind of comments Anna writes beside and around the poems. A couple of photographs show pages of this perceptive self-teaching marginalia. Vicki is an editor who insists on academic excellence. She and Ms Vakar have produced the finest kind of haiku book, one that shows a haiku poet’s path while teaching about this form.

During these months I was co-editor, with Marco Fraticelli of Haiku Canada’s 40th members’ anthology, which is being published by Ekstasis Press in British Columbia. It is dedicated to one of the founders of the society, Eric Amann, who passed away last fall. The anthology is unusual as it isn’t just a haiku collection, but rather a gathering of haiku experiences, memories, stories of one’s first haiku publication, or how one came to haiku. Each member had one page which could be comprised of just haiku or part prose, even haibun.

Its title, Wordless, is from a little book Amann wrote early on, which influenced many haikuists. Marco and I learned a lot from co-editing this collection, especially about how accommodating and patient an anthology publisher can be. Richard Olafson of Ekstasis Editions is a dream to work with. I’m sure we were a nightmare to him with our hundreds of edits.  We are so pleased that the cover will feature a painting by Aili Kurtis of Perth. Richard let me design the cover, at least in its first phases. This is an early draft:

Then came a great event! Managing editor Mike Montreuil of Éditions des petits nuages said the press would publish MY haiku collection! AND would be happy to let me design its cover. Well, paradise for me!  The book is dedicated to musician/philosopher Oliver Shroer, whom I knew, but would like to have known better for how he lived his life, the music he took risks with. He was one of those special people. When he was diagnosed with leukemia, he walked the Camino, and played in 25 churches along the way.  Much of his playing, on stage and in those churches, even in hospital during the later stages of the disease, can be seen in videos on the net. When I met the 6’3′ or 4′ Oliver at a festival in Owen Sound, he was wearing a bowler hat.  I had kept a file of an image Ellen Drennan had put on facebook, and she let me use it as the background. Her image is full of energy and light, perfect for an ‘Oliver’ book. The haiku are not about Oliver, except for a few; the poems range, I hope, between a very few ‘not-too-bad’ haiku to several that will be judged ridiculous, and everything in between. I had three very good editors beside Mike Montreuil: Philomene Kocher of Kingston, Marco Fraticelli and Grant Savage of Ottawa, but they can’t be blamed for what I finally included.

One of the last cover designs has been for the winning Tree Chapbook manuscript for 2017, Amanda Earl’s Electric Garden. The judge, Steven Brockwell, took the time he needed to choose a winner from so many fine submissions, but is definite about the talent of Ms Earl. Her poems are tight and energetic and honest with a superlative use of language.  She sent me an image of a lily I might want to use, and agreed to let me incorporate it into a collage. I think we’re both pleased with that collaboration. Here it is:

And that will almost do it. I produced a tiny personal chapbook of a long poem, Body of Light, and will publish one more collection before the end of June, for Grant Savage.

That’s been my publishing year.  These titles join the previous list of publications, including Singing in the Silo by Philomene Kocher, and Drifting by Marco Fraticelli, as well as others. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t turn up for a lot of poetry events. I won’t have such a heavy schedule ever again, but I’m glad every one of these is a catkin press production, and I am so proud of the editors and authors.  What a great crew!

Most of the books will be available at the Haiku Canda Weekend in Mississauga, May 19 – 21 at The University of Toronto at Mississauga, and at the Small Press Book Fair in June. This adventure of being a small press publisher is turning out to be quite the journey. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Oops! I forgot something… Pearl Pirie’s Phafours Press published a chapbook of my gendai one-liners. That means a lot.  Many thanks, Pearl for sometimes seeing the world and language the way I sometimes do… I apologize that this is only an approximation of the cover with art by Judith Copithorne. I’ve run out of copies, so I can’t photograph it. But I love it!






writing in the yukon

It comes to this: haiku poets travel to Whitehorse, Yukon, because they are poets, because they are curious about the Yukon, and/or want to meet other haiku poets, because they want to broaden their knowledge of the world of Japanese-form poetry, because they enjoy conferences, (and this will be The 2016 Haiku Canada Weekend!) because, just because they look forward to rubbing shoulders with members of Haiku Canada who are are the best people to be around, ever.  They’ve been to one of these Weekends, or more, and just have to be at another, or they are intrigued by the idea that poets will travel that far, from New York, Quebec, California, New Mexico, to spend a weekend based on poems that can be expressed in ‘one breath.’

True, we are a bit crazy, but we also know that secrets/surprises will unfold during this weekend, and we want in on them.  So here’s what happened: many people got there early or stayed longer to see the area around Whitehorse. Some got all the way to Skagway and Dawson City to drink a Sour Toe Cocktail, and to experience the Alaska Highway and Kluane National Park. Some went on Elisabeth Wiegand’s wonderful Black Bear Adventures Tours. Some rented a camper. Some were billeted by the most gracious and generous hosts. All that alone was worth the trip.

Highway sign to Bean North Coffee
Highway sign to Bean North Coffee Roasting on the takhini Hotsprings Road

But we are writers.  Writers who know the difficulty of putting such a weekend together. This time it was Kathy Munro and her team, many from her Solstice haiku group, many from the Bean North Wednesday Writers who meet way out in those bear-filled woods at Bean North Coffee Roasting Ltd., a delightful café that’s been going for about 15 years. You’d never expect to find such a place, complete with its own roaster, with organic food and Free Trade coffee and chocolate and simple lunches so good you might dream about them later.

Kathy Munro had written to The Commissioner of Yukon, Hon. Doug Phillips, requesting that the week be called Haiku Week in the Yukon; he signed a proclamation, and it was so. Haiku Week in the Yukon! The Cultural Services branch paid for all the ads in the papers! The City of Whitehorse got in on the act, getting out the trolley a couple of days earlier than usual so conference members could be clanged through town to the Northern Front Gallery. The MacBride Museum of Yukon History hosted a related reading, as did the Library, which also gave space for a display (more on this later…) and a reading; bookstores gave discounts and one gave super window space to a Haiku Book display; a coffee shop too, had discounts. Newspapers and radio gave space.  CBC on the radio and on CBC Yukon’s Facebook page gave information on the weekend. Everything seemed intertwined, the paper maker and the reporter attending the conference, the novelist putting copies of her novel Ice to Ashes on the ‘Free’ table. (Yes, haiku poets always have a ‘free’ table! Imagine!) Haiku Canada was everywhere.

The Wednesday group is known also as The Whitehorse Poetry Society and Local Writers, associated with Yukon Writers Collective, but members sometimes refer to themselves simply as The Bean North Writers.

Jessica Simon. reporter/novelist at Bean North
Jessica Simon. reporter/novelist
at Bean North

They gather, some with paper, others with laptops, in the little perfectly-chosen-blue room up front, with big windows that bring that Big North Feeling into the room, into the writing. Haiku writers work on Japanese-form poems, prose writers work on novels and short stories and newspaper articles. Plans get hatched. Two writers, reporter/crime novelist Jessica Simon, and Kathy Munro came up with one of those ‘extras’ that made the weekend extraordinary: Why not send out a call for ‘crime haiku’ and display the results in the Whitehorse Library. No sooner hatched, the path to realization had begun. The final display on ‘Killer Ku’ was magnificent.

crime pic 2 vancouver haiku group

So there was a team, and all the parts of the Weekend came together. I haven’t started, and won’t because this is a blog and not a book, to mention all the people and the planning that made the Weekend happen. And a report of everything that happened at the conference, as well as the agenda, will soon be up on the Haiku Canada website.

There are a few quiet volunteers and donors who might be missed though; Laurel Parry, calligrapher par excellence, who also made opening remarks for the conference, gave hours to making calligraph, name cards on the spot, putting them into name-tag holders scavenged by Kathy’s husband at a geology conference, holders that are much more chic than what we normally call name-tags.

Helen O’Connor, paper artist, who curated an exhibit called Words at The Northern Front Gallery, (handmade paper art that included poetry or other word applications) was another team member as she and Ms. Munro collaborated to have the show opening sync with the conference and three haiku poets had pieces in the show. Ms. O’Connor also gave us paper-making, calligraphy and book binding workshops. She also donated hand-made paper for the name tags…

stinging Nettle Knickers, byHelen O'Connor
stinging Nettle Knickers, by Helen O’Connor, image from the WORDS exhibition catalogue

But I wanted to zone in on the writers who meet regularly, their spirit and the way they connect at Bean North, and how central they can be to setting cultural atmoshpere in a far away northern city. When they get together in that blue room, writing is simply in the air; you can almost see it, and you can certainly feel it. I was only there for a couple of hours, but the ease of camaraderie among these wordsmiths reminded me of that famous house in Toronto where members of the Group of Seven painters had their studios, how they would work, but also roam around, comment on each other’s paintings, have coffee.

This writers’ group acts as a think tank, some of the creative people of Whitehorse, who interact in various ways, who are connected through words, through Art, through book clubs. My feeling was if you have anything to do with writing, newbie or seasoned, you’re invited and included as part of the group. Whitehorse is an ‘alive’ place to be an artist or a writer, and since live things grow, and are dependent on supports of various kinds, this is the place to be on Wednesdays. The best part is that, though it is not formally a critique group, that can happen if a writer is looking for input.  So there’s no stress involved. You don’t have to ‘come up with something’ to share. But if you have something to share, you’re in the right café.

And if you want to know how to get things done, writers often have the skills and connections to make something happen, as witnessed by the whole of Yukon in the papers and on the radio. In all my years with Haiku organizations in North America, the Whitehorse experience made more use of the media, including social media, and of the cultural and physical aspects of an area than ever before, including respect and appreciation for the use Whitehorse citizens have of First Nations Land.

That ‘Killer Ku’ exhibit at the library will likely become a book, for example; the writers are already working on that project. So I would suggest, if for any reason you are going to Whitehorse, and are a writer, that you connect with this group. You never know what will come of it, and the least that could happen is that you meet some amazing people who happen to write. And if you are lucky, you will connect with Haiku Canada at whether you write haiku or not.

I for one, recommend going to Whitehorse for many reasons, and my best dreams would be of being quiet among those sacred mountains. With all the creative and hospitable people that live there.