BWS 14.09.16: Jeremy Hanson-Finger

Jeremy Hanson-Finger-3

Jeremy Hanson-Finger‘s first novel, Death and the Intern, a mystery/black comedy set in the Ottawa Hospital, will be published by Invisible Publishing in April 2017. Born in Victoria, Jeremy co-founded the literary magazine Dragnet while living in Toronto. He now lives in Ottawa. His website is http://hanson-finger.com.

Jeremy told us a little about his upcoming book and his influences in the interview below, ahead of his Sept. 14 visit to Brockton Writers Series.

BWS: Have you ever worked in a hospital, or do you have any medical training/education? What’s it like to write about the technical side of an anesthesiologist’s life?

Jeremy: I’ve never worked in a hospital, but the novel is very much inspired by what I’ve learned about anaesthesiology from my friend Navraj. He was a medical student intern at the time I started writing Death and the Intern and is now a medical resident in Vancouver. The novel started from the premise “Navraj stars in a neurotic Fistful of Dollars set in a hospital”, but the character (Janwar) quickly grew to have a life of his own and the plot moved away from western and toward hard-boiled detective fiction. Navraj and I both loved biology in high school but he continued with it in university on the path towards his MD, and I pursued English and communications instead. As a result, whenever we connected, our lives were so different that things that seemed mundane to him were fascinating to me. When I told him I was writing this novel, he was more than happy to help advise me on what anaesthesiology and surgery were really like and even on drug interactions and dosages.

BWS: One echo a premise about an anesthesiologist might create: T.S. Eliot’s “patient etherized upon a table” (“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”). Is it just this intereviewer? Or is there a connection you could draw between that famous image and Death and the Intern? Is there something about such a metaphor that strikes you as especially relevant to our time/our literary moment?

Jeremy:

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;

I hadn’t thought about that, but now that you mention it there are a ton of parallels between Janwar’s anxiety in Death and the Intern and Prufrock’s feelings of isolation and the burden of his undefined “overwhelming question”.

I read the “evening […] spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherized upon a table” as Prufrock’s conception of his environment—everything outside of his subjective self—pinned in place, star-distant, and immovable. That’s been part of my experience with anxiety, which I gave (cruelly) to Janwar. When I feel really anxious I feel like there are no actors other than myself. Everything else, including people I love, makes up a monolithic terrifying other, and I’m falling into an endless tunnel of stars.

The more I reread “Prufrock”, the more parallels I see. Maybe I should add it to the epigraph. Geez, Janwar’s even got a “bald spot in the middle of his hair” and his “arms and legs are thin.”

BWS: It may be that more attention than ever is being paid to the need for diverse voices in Canadian Literature: the hashtags #ThisIsCanLit and #DiverseCanLit, for example, or the recent, wildly successful Festival of Literary Diversity in Brampton. The opening chapters of Death and the Intern were striking in that the cast of characters was incredibly diverse, which some might say isn’t so common in works by white, cisgendered, male authors. What does it mean to you to write diverse characters?

Jeremy: One reason for the diversity is that in urban Canada there are a lot of professionals of varying backgrounds in hospitals, including first-generation immigrants who worked in medicine in the country they left as well as second-generation immigrants whose parents worked really hard so that their kids could have good careers in Canada. So that part of it is verisimilitude. Another reason is just that I’d rather live in a diverse world, and writing about a diverse world for four years is kind of living in it.

I guess there are at least a couple of ways to write progressively about diversity as a cisgendered white man. One is to take the James Ellroy approach and show a bunch of cisgendered white men saying awful things about and doing awful things to minorities of all kinds, because that’s still a large part of how the world works. The other is to write a world where people of many races and orientations interact and it isn’t a big deal. Like, I love how the premier of Ontario is a homosexual woman and nobody cares about her gender or her sexual orientation; they care about the gas plant fiasco. They take issue with her character and behaviour, not the labels “queer” and “woman” which is a lot more egalitarian and how people should be judged.

I did worry that when I was writing minority characters, I was taking stories that didn’t belong to me, but in the end I feel comfortable with the way I have handled it because I don’t think my characters’ races or orientations define them.

BWS: I had a hunch you couldn’t get through an interview without saying “Ellroy”. But you also wrote your master’s thesis about David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. What draws a writer with a literary formation like yours to crime fiction? What have you learned about the genre from Ellroy or other crime fiction masters, and what might writers working in any other genre learn from reading him/them?

Jeremy: I’ve always loved detective fiction. I even turned my walk-in closet in my childhood room into a detective’s office at one point, possibly inspired by this Calvin and Hobbes cartoon:

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Whether that’s true or not, I do remember loving that cartoon. I also got the Collected Cases of Dick Tracy out from the library over and over again. I recently bought a copy. I was into other genres too besides mystery—my favourite authors for a long time were Douglas Adams (sci-fi) and Terry Pratchett (fantasy). I didn’t really start reading contemporary lit until Grade 11, when I took a writing class with Terence Young and he introduced me to literary writers like Ann Patchett. So I think I’ve just always brought a genre sensibility to my writing—and specifically crime. It’s fun to play with an existing set of rules that people recognize, because you can break them in interesting ways.

As for James Ellroy, he is amazing at plot and world-building. I believe I read somewhere that the plot notes Ellroy took before writing The Cold Six Thousand were significantly longer than the book itself. Anyone can learn from him in terms of plotting.

What he writes can be labelled “crime fiction,” and you can look at each individual book as having some sort of revelation and resolution, but his major achievement is the way that all of his work fits into the same world.

Ellroy’s books take place in a semi-fictionalized version of history that follows cruel men with cruel dreams throughout L.A. in the 1950s, across America, Cuba, Vietnam, and Haiti in the 1960s, and, in his newest book, L.A. during World War II. Ellroy’s lifelong project fits into the same encyclopedic tradition as Moby Dick and Gravity’s Rainbow—they attempt to document the essence of an era. And it seems like what Ellroy is saying about our era is that every aspect of contemporary America is built on some form of dehumanization (credit for that idea goes to Andrew Battershill).

BWS: Thanks so much for this, Jeremy!

Jeremy Hanson-Finger visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, September 14, 2016 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC) – along with Madhur Anand, Shane Joseph, Phoebe Wang and a special guest talk, “Best Practices for Grant Writing”, by Toronto Arts Council Interim Dance & Literary Officer Natasha Powell.

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BWS 14.09.16: Shane Joseph

Shane Joseph - high res - cropped

Shane Joseph is the author of four novels and two collections of short stories, and was the winner of the best fantasy novel award at the Canadian Christian Writing Awards in 2010. His short fiction has appeared in international literary journals and anthologies. His latest novel, In the Shadow of the Conquistador, was released in November 2015. For details visit www.shanejoseph.com.

Shane dropped by the blog this week with the guest post below. Enjoy!

My Writer’s Story: Different to the One I Imagined

Our times are generating many more writers than demand can bear. This is due to better education, improved health, technology, inflated egos in an age of “me first,” and our eternal quest for immortality. The ambition to be a writer usually begins in our formative years and is inspired by our favourite writers. As a teenager, I was greatly influenced by Graham Greene, John Steinbeck and Hemingway. I dreamt of sending manuscripts out into the world, where they would become best-sellers and make me a reclusive millionaire; I would hide out in some remote island and submit more manuscripts and continue to dazzle the world with my brilliance until I was invited to a cold capital in Europe to accept the Nobel Prize. And I would refuse that honour, making me an enigmatic figure like Jean-Paul Sartre, Boris Pasternak or J.D. Salinger. It was nice to dream!

The reality, even back then, was different. I had chosen to gloss over the private demons my literary heroes had faced in order to achieve their fame: dual lives, alcoholism, drug addiction, persecution, shell-shock (called PTSD today), hypertension, depression, divorce, estrangement, chronic pain, and suicide staring into the barrel of a gun—not forgetting the early struggles with rejection and penury, either. These trials gave impetus to their work and are mentioned only in discreet biographies, not on the glossy covers of their books.

My writer’s story turned out differently to my idealized dream. For instance, I didn’t imagine that after hacking away at this craft in my early twenties in a developing country where English was a second language, and after having a handful of stories published, I would pack up my authorly tools and try something easier to earn a living—Greene, Steinbeck et al, be damned! I never realized that the “other living,” at a corporate job, would come so easily and earn such a handsome income that I wouldn’t bother with the writing game again for another twenty years. I didn’t realize that it would be the curse of “guilt” that would bring me back to reopen the dusty toolbox and start to catch up to the literary world’s evolution in the intervening years.

Once “Take Two” started, however, the stories and novels came easily, and they are likely to continue into the future, health permitting. It was like a dam had burst and all that had been stored for years came gushing out. But the publishing landscape had changed, drastically. Prizes sold books now. And the prize money was cornered among the “1% of the 1%” in the literary hierarchy. There was no middle class in publishing anymore—there was a huge gulf between the self-published and the best-seller, and a huge stroke of luck seemed the only way to bridge it.

But with every closing door, others were opening. There were now many ways in which to be published, I discovered, thanks to evolving technology that had finally disrupted the dominant publishing model of eons, which was: publish a large quantity of paper books on ancient printing presses until unit costs became affordable, ship them across the land in trucks into stores that couldn’t keep track of them, receive most of them back after awhile to be shredded, then start the cycle again and hope like hell that governments or private donors supported this inefficiency in the interest of promoting the arts. My heroes had thrived in this model, but now it was dying, supplanted by DIY publishing, print-on-demand, electronic media, subscriptions services, free story sites, social media, and blogs like the one you are reading. And my heroes were dead too.

I enthusiastically tried all the models available, traditional and new, and discovered that all had their pros and cons. But as their readerships were distinct, this lack of homogeneity helped plaster me all over the map, assuaging my guilt for having neglected “the gift.” There was also no way I could hide out on a remote island, I realized; I had to be front and centre in the global public domain, a.k.a., the Internet (which also didn’t exist in the time of my literary heroes), selling my wares like a shoe salesman. I even started a publishing house, using the new technology, and have helped bring other writers into print, ones who might otherwise have been sitting for years in the slush piles of the Big Five (or is it Four, now—hard to keep track!). The joy of bringing others’ work into the world, watching them at the podium reading from their debut novel at their book’s launch, gives me immense satisfaction. I was doing my bit to restore the middle class in publishing. And I finally faced the darker side, too: the rejection, the shrunken revenue streams, the even further shrunken attention spans, and the need for that other source of income to fuel this one. None of this had been part of my teenage dream.

And so I have accepted that my writer’s story is different from the one I visualized in my youth. Creative visualizers, take note: it doesn’t always turn out the way you paint it in your mind. But it can be a damned sight more interesting and surprising. Why go on a trip where every stopover is carefully laid out, predictable and boring? Where would the thrill of the unexpected lie? Isn’t that what we try to create in our work—the unexpected?

Shane Joseph visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, September 14, 2016 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC) – along with Madhur Anand, Jeremy Hanson-Finger, Phoebe Wang and a special guest talk, “Best Practices for Grant Writing”, by Toronto Arts Council Interim Dance & Literary Officer Natasha Powell.

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Brockton Writers Series 14.09.16

WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 14, 2016 – 6:30pm

Fall into another fantastic literary soirée, featuring readers:

Madhur Anand
Jeremy Hanson-Finger
Shane Joseph
Phoebe Wang

and special guest speaker

Natasha Powell

AT

full of beans Coffee House & Roastery

1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto

The reading is PWYC (suggested $3-$5) and features a Q&A with the writers afterward. Books and treats are available for sale.

Accessibility Information
The venue is wheelchair accessible (no step up at door), but washroom facilities are down a flight of stairs. Street parking. Accessible by 505 Dundas streetcar (Lisgar stop). Please contact Farzana Doctor if you need to reserve a seat as the venue can get full.
Please refrain from wearing scents.

Many thanks to the Ontario Arts Council for their support.

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And to the Canada Council for the Arts for travel funding!

GUEST SPEAKER

Best Practices in Grant Writing

Natasha Powell Headshot

Natasha Powell is a Toronto-based dancer, choreographer, producer, and the Interim Dance & Literary Officer at the Toronto Arts Council.  A Toronto native, Natasha is a dedicated member of the local performing arts community and has worked for a number of arts organizations including the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, ManifesTO Festival for Community and Culture, Peggy Baker Dance Projects, and Volcano Theatre. As an independent dance artist, Natasha has successfully produced and choreographed shows in the Toronto Fringe Festival, TD Bank’s Then and Now Series, and Harbourfront Centre’s NextSteps series. Most recently she was the Manager of Producing and Administration at the Dance Umbrella of Ontario, working with a number of dance organizations where her portfolio included event producing, marketing, fundraising and communications for companies including Dusk Dances and MOonhORsE Dance Theatre.

READERS


Anand_Madhur_cr_Karen WhylieMadhur Anand
‘s debut collection of poems is A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes (McClelland & Stewart/ Random House Canada, 2015), a finalist for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry. According to Publisher’s Weekly,  “Anand’s attention to and ability to evoke explicit, exponential beauty in scientific and natural form are simply stunning.” Recent work appears The Walrus.

Jeremy Hanson-Finger-3Jeremy Hanson-Finger‘s first novel, Death and the Intern, a mystery/black comedy set in the Ottawa Hospital, will be published by Invisible Publishing in April 2017. Born in Victoria, Jeremy co-founded the literary magazine Dragnet while living in Toronto. He now lives in Ottawa. His website is http://hanson-finger.com.

Shane Joseph - high res
Shane Joseph
is the author of four novels and two collections of short stories, and was the winner of the best fantasy novel award at the Canadian Christian Writing Awards in 2010. His short fiction has appeared in international literary journals and anthologies. His latest novel, In the Shadow of the Conquistador, was released in November 2015. For details visit www.shanejoseph.com.

phoebeonrooftopPhoebe Wang
 writes and teaches in Toronto. She recently edited a supplement issue on the theme of inheritances for The Puritan, and her chapbook, Hanging Exhibits appeared with The Emergency Response Unit this spring. Her debut collection of poetry, Admission Requirements will appear with McClelland and Stewart in Spring 2017.

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BWS 13.07.16: Eight Tips, with Rachna Contractor

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Rachna Contractor is Associate Editor – Reviews for Plenitude Magazine, and has written about literature, art and culture for Xtra and Kala Magazine as well. She earned her BA in Art History from the University of Toronto. After a decade of working in communications, Rachna has moved to the culinary arts sector.

Rachna gave the guest talk – and co-hosted, and co-edited this blog! – at our July 2016 event (Queer Night!), and here provides eight tips for writing a thorough book review.

Eight Tips for Writing a Thorough Book Review

1) Use accessible language and keep it succinct: 700–1,000 words isn’t a lot with all that needs to be covered. Stay away from academic or conversational language.

2) Structure your review well:

a. The first paragraph should be an introduction of the book including the author’s name and title in the first two lines;
b. Ensure the review flows well by presenting information in an organized manner, separating points by paragraph;
c. Conclude with your general impression of the book.

3) Talk about the characters: do they read well, are they well developed, are they relatable, likeable, do you believe in them and their stories?

4) Talk about the use of language, grammar, and punctuation–especially if the way they are employed stands out.

5) What is your opinion of the book? How does it make you feel? Include this throughout: by the end of the review, the reader should have a general impression of how the reviewer feels about the book.

6) Sometimes it’s hard to be critical of a work because you want to support it. We want all of our published stories to do well, but it’s okay to not like a book and critique it. It’s also okay to see how it may be valuable, if not to you then to the literary world and the community.

7) Stick to the work at hand. Don’t include what others are saying about the book.

8) Read a lot of books. I don’t read book reviews but I stay abreast of what’s happening in the literary community.

Check back after our September event for more tips from our next guest speaker. See you again soon at full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto!

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BWS 13.07.16: It’s Tonight!

WEDNESDAY, JULY 13, 2016 – 6:30pm

It’s Queer Night again at Brockton Writers Series (though we’re always a little queer!). Featuring readers:

Gwen Benaway
Kumasi Jay Gwynne
Matthew R. Loney
Yaya Yao

and special guest speaker

Rachna Contractor

AT

full of beans Coffee House & Roastery

1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto

The reading is PWYC (suggested $3-$5) and features a Q&A with the writers afterward. Books and treats are available for sale. Please note that while the venue is wheelchair accessible, washroom facilities are not.

Many thanks to the Ontario Arts Council for their support.

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And to the Canada Council for the Arts for travel funding!

GUEST SPEAKER

Rachna Contractor

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Rachna Contractor is Associate Editor – Reviews for Plenitude Magazine, and has written about literature, art and culture for Xtra and Kala Magazine as well. She earned her BA in Art History from the University of Toronto. After a decade of working in communications, Rachna has moved to the culinary arts sector. 

READERS

Gwen Benaway HeadshotGwen Benaway is of Anishinaabe and Métis descent. Her first collection of poetry, Ceremonies for the Dead, was published in 2013, and her second, Passage, is forthcoming from Kegedonce Press in Fall 2016. As an emerging Two-Spirited poet, she has been described as the spiritual love child of Thompson Highway and Truman Capote. In 2015, she was the recipient of the inaugural Speaker’s Award for a Young Author from the Speaker of the House for the Ontario Legislative. Her work has been published and anthologized internationally.

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The Lonely is Kumasi Jay Gwynne‘s first fiction manuscript, and it’s largely about men interacting with other men. New York State born, Kumasi was raised in Toronto where he currently resides. He has spent time living in Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary and Chicago.

Matthew R .Loney Author PhotoMatthew R. Loney is the author of That Savage Water (Exile Editions, 2014), a collection of backpacker-themed short fiction. He was a finalist for the 2013 and 2014 Vanderbilt/Exile Short Fiction Award and his work has appeared in a range of North American publications, including installments Three and Four of the Carter V. Cooper Short Fiction Anthology Series and the short fiction anthology, Everything Is So Political. He lives in Toronto.

Yaya-photo 2Yaya Yao is an educator, writer, and editor born and raised in Little Portugal. She is the author of a collection of poetry, Flesh, Tongue, and a resource book for teachers, The Educator’s Equity Companion Guide. Yaya lives with her family in Sapporo, Japan, where she teaches middle school.

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BWS 13.07.16: Matthew R. Loney

Matthew R .Loney Author Photo

Matthew R. Loney is the author of That Savage Water (Exile Editions, 2014), a collection of backpacker-themed short fiction. He was a finalist for the 2013 and 2014 Vanderbilt/Exile Short Fiction Award and his work has appeared in a range of North American publications, including installments Three and Four of the Carter V. Cooper Short Fiction Anthology series and the short fiction anthology, Everything Is So Political. He lives in IMG_2585Toronto. 

Matt stopped by the blog ahead of his July 13 appearance and provided the guest post below, guest edited by Rachna Contractor, Reviews Editor at
Plenitude Magazine, who is co-presenting BWS Queer Night 2016!

Collaged Reflections on the Month of June 2016

– A glorious June: I go outside to sunbathe on the blanket I lifted from Turkish Airlines the summer I spent a month in Istanbul.

– “Pride Flag Flies On Parliament Hill For The First Time”

– Photo caption, Wall Street Journal: “A Palestinian boy riding a bike during sunset at Al Khalde mosque, Gaza Strip, on the eve of Ramadan, which starts June 6, 2016.”

– I had mistaken the old man for a vagrant, had judged his apparent shabbiness: “Did you guys hear about Florida?” he calls to us as he wobbles by on his bicycle. “Horrible, that stuff.” “A tragedy,” we exchange. “You boys have a safe day.” Sunday morning, we are headed to the beach.

– That same summer, I stopped over in Tel Aviv. Their Pride had just finished; the Israeli military push into the Gaza Strip had restarted. When one afternoon, as it had each prior, the air-raid sirens lifted and fell across the city, I gathered this same airline blanket from the sand and ran to take shelter. Rockets incoming.

– The pound sterling nosedives to 31-year lows.

– “They took shelter in a bathroom stall with other club-goers, which the shooter later entered.”

– I consider whether Empire crumbles or just falls dormant.

– Rereading his email, I respond to a friend working for the United Nations in South Sudan. I investigate the strange feeling his stories give me, the tragedies of faraway places, of shared terror. Over there, there are child soldiers. There are mining and oil-field playgrounds of international interest. There are mass graves and reports of forced cannibalism. His email boils down to a phrase: “I don’t understand the hatred.”

– My phone vibrates: “Turkey blames Daesh for Istanbul airport blast that killed 41”

– Is my smartphone just a megaphone for Empire?

– “Apparently using his smartphone, Omar Mateen searched on Facebook for ‘Pulse Orlando’ and ‘shooting’ during his three-hour early morning attack…”

– My partner finally blocks his Evangelical sister on Facebook. He won’t repent; he cannot. We are not an abomination.

– How do you suntan in a warzone?

– “He pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.”

– Is my smartphone just a megaphone for Caliphate?

– I met my partner on Facebook.

– Fear and hatred. The confluence is elementary: I fear therefore I hate.

– We were helpless in our hotel room; the Iron Dome celebrated its interception in the blue sky outside. The thunderous explosions rattled the glass in their panes.

– What is it that wants to kill me? Who wants me dead? Where does my vote weigh in the tipping point between surrender and resistance?

– “The Union Jack and Rainbow Flag at half-mast as Redditch remembers victims of Orlando slaughter”

– The Roman Empire fell. The Ottoman Empire fell.

– “The Union Jack hoisted on one of the 28 flagpoles outside the European Commission building might as well have been flying at half-staff….”

– “A prominent Italian historian has claimed that the Roman Empire collapsed because a ‘contagion of homosexuality and effeminacy’ made it easy pickings for barbarian hordes.”

– The sight of two men kissing angered him. Barbarian.

– “I was kissing my boyfriend goodbye when I heard the first shots…”

– In Europe, the police sirens sound different.

– “A Man With ‘Arsenal’ Arrested Near L.A. Pride Festival”

– In South Sudan, there are no sirens.

– The precipitate of hate is courage: #twomenkissing

– “There are no significant festivals in South Sudan during the month of June” the tourist board would say if it existed.

– A crescent moon lifts behind the rainbow-colored CN Tower.

– “Turkish police fire tear gas in Istanbul to disperse Gay Pride activists”

– Nearly each morning this month, one might say religiously, the straight couple in the condo across from ours fucks, unabashed, in full view.

Matthew R. Loney visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, July 13, 2016 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC) – along with Gwen Benaway, Kumasi Jay Gwynne, Yaya Yao and a special guest talk by Rachna Contractor!

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BWS 13.07.16: Yaya Yao

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Yaya Yao is an educator, writer, and editor born and raised in Little Portugal who launched her first poetry collection Flesh, Tongue last week. She is also the author of a resource book for teachers, The Educator’s Equity Companion Guide. Yaya lives with her family in Sapporo, Japan, where she teaches middle school.

“This has been my dream since my aunt gave me an Anne of Green Gables diary,” Yaya Yao said from the stage at Beit Zatoun in Mirvish Village, admitting to reading all the Anne books then starting to write “angsty poems” about arguments with parents, crushes and other hallmarks of teenage years before she moved on to “trying to figure out what’s going on in this world”.

Yaya countered her freqflesh tonge cover yaya yaouent jokes with affecting poems from her debut collection, published by Mawenzi House, including the particularly moving “For My High School Sweetheart”, an elegy for not just a person but Yaya’s gentrifying childhood neighbourhood – Bathurst & Dundas, in Toronto – that beautifully evokes young women writing poems to each other and “learning to inhale at midnight” in Alexandra Park. Other highlights included several poems focusing on language, and on a common experience for children of immigrants: the almost mandatory “roots visit” to the country of parents’ origin. She prefaced “Moving Time” with remarks on expressing oneself differently depending on the language one is using, and followed up with poems from a series called “Cantonese Lessons”, complete with a hearty call and response section, from which this attendee walked away with a better grasp of how to swear in a new language.

If you happened to miss this memorable launch, you’re in luck: Brockton Writers Series is proud to welcome Yaya and her introspective, clever, sincere yet irreverent poems next Wednesday, July 13. Don’t miss her this time!

Yaya Yao visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, July 13, 2016 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC) – along with Gwen Benaway, Kumasi Jay Gwynne, Matthew R. Loney and a special guest talk by Rachna Contractor of Plenitude Magazine, co-presenter of this year’s BWS Queer Night!

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BWS 13.07.16: Kumasi Jay Gwynne

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The Lonely is Kumasi Jay Gwynne‘s first fiction manuscript, and it’s largely about men interacting with other men. New York State-born, Kumasi was raised in Toronto where he currently resides. He has spent time living in Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary and Chicago.

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Ahead of his July 13 visit to Brockton Writers Series, Kumasi visited the blog this week for an interview with Rachna Contractor, Reviews Editor at Plenitude Magazine, beloved co-presenters for our 2016 Queer Night!

Rachna Contractor: What are your favourite books from the past year?

Kumasi Jay Gwynne: That’s a hard one. I probably shouldn’t say this but I read more non-fiction than fiction. What comes to mind is a book I read recently by Bryan Burrough that my brother sent me called Days of Rage. It’s about leftist revolutionary violence and the FBI in the 1970’s. It covers the Black Revolutionary Army, Weathermen, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional (also known as the FALN or Armed Forces of National Liberation in English). It’s dense but extremely well organized. The author claims to be neutral as far as what he is reporting, but that actually is not the case. His opinions slip in here and there. If you can get past that you learn a lot.

RC: Who are you influenced by?

KJG: I’m a sucker for the classics. I never really rid myself of teenage angst so I still love Camus, Sartre, Jean Genet, Edmund White, Edward Said, James Baldwin, Gore Vidal, Dostoyevsky, Stendhal, William Styron, Simone de Beauvoir….I could go on and on. Now, if I was only so lucky to be able to write like any of these people. I like basic philosophical questions and I suppose that may be the main influence these types of writers have on my own writing.

RC: Tell us about the project you’re working on. When will it be available to the public?

KJG: Currently, I am working on a fiction manuscript called The Lonely. It won’t be available to the public any time soon but keep a look out!

RC: What do you feel you’re trying to say with your work? Who are you trying to speak to?

KJG: All the main characters in this manuscript are men. Being a transman, I am interested in how males interact with one another. How do men express closeness? How do men distance themselves from other men and why? What happens when your sole female role-model passes away? There’s a backdrop of substance use throughout the entire novel. I think anyone that is interested in human connection in its complexities will enjoy The Lonely.

RC: What do you like about this form of writing? How does it compare to other forms?

KJG: This is my first fiction manuscript. The idea for it came from a short story I wrote many years ago and tucked away. With trying to write a book, I have found it nice being able to delve deeper into my characters and the circumstances surrounding them. I like having the time to watch my characters grow and change (or not change). Without that short story though, there would never be a full-length manuscript. I’ve written poems, as well, that I think could be expanded into sections of a novel, or even be the basis of one.

RC: What kind of training (if any) do you have? Do you think writing can be taught or requires training?

KJG: I have had an innate love of writing since I was very young. It was one of the few things I thought that I was good at. I only took one creative writing class in all of university. Actually, that’s where the short story for my manuscript comes from. I recently took a freelance writing course, and I did go to the Humber School of Writing and was mentored by Kyo Maclear, but I have never studied fiction writing. I learned so much from her and my writing definitely changed for the better as a result of her influence. I don’t think you need years of fiction writing classes to be able to write fiction. However, if you are new to creating something you want to publish you definitely need the insight of other writers to carry you to the end.

Kumasi Jay Gwynne visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, July 13, 2016 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC) – along with Gwen Benaway, Matthew R. Loney, Yaya Yao and a special guest talk by Rachna Contractor!

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BWS 13.07.16: Gwen Benaway

Gwen Benaway Headshot

Gwen Benaway is of Anishinaabe and Métis descent. Her first collection of poetry, Ceremonies for the Dead, was published in 2013, and her second, Passage, is forthcoming from Kegedonce Press in Fall 2016. As an emerging Two-Spirited poet, she has been described as the spiritual love child of Thompson Highway and Truman Capote. In 2015, she was the recipient of the inaugural Speaker’s Award for a Young Author from the Speaker of the House for the Ontario Legislative. Her work has been published and anthologized internationally, and she stopped by the BWS Blog ahead of her July 13 appearance–our annual Queer Night, co-presented with Plenitude Magazine–with some tips for beginning poets.

Ways to Strengthen Poetry: Embodying the Moment

I do not have a MFA. I did not major in English Literature in university. I do not consider myself well read in terms of poetry and I lack a command of the technical theory which underpins it. My approach is instinctive, driven by what I love and the poetry I connect with. I often pick out poetry books based on their covers and quick scans of their line breaks. I try to school myself in the proper poets, reading the “greats” and my contemporary Canadian peers, but I often default to poetry books written by women with birds on the cover. You might be surprised by the number of Canadian poetry books written by women with birds on the cover. I think it is its own sub-genre.

Caveats aside, I thought it useful to provide some advice to new poets in this post. I haven’t written on this topic before, and despite my lack of professional qualification, I think I can offer some basic advice. Some of it comes from other poets/writers; much of it comes from my writing practice, the muscles that develop from the everyday work of writing poetry. Take everything with a grain of salt. Poetry is a very technical craft but it is also a medium carried by voice. If your voice is powerful, the technique can always be improved, but the emotional resonance of your poetry will carry through.

1: Write from Memory
When I was 15, I attended a week-long program for young writers in London, Ontario. My instructor was George Elliott Clarke and he gave us a writing exercise that I have used ever since. I’m sure there are innumerable versions of the exercise but whenever I think of it, I hear the instructions in his voice and recall him bobbing back and forth in his chair when he taught us. It is a simple exercise to build poetic practice around. You start with the phrase “I remember” and follow the thread of your writing along. Try to write for 20 minutes. Prose writers try to “free write” and not edit until the end. As a poet, I think it is helpful if you edit as you go, cutting and pressing the words together until they assemble an interesting shape. Stay within the body of the one poem for the 20 minutes and try to inhabit one memory. The magic of this exercise is how it forces you to embody a single moment, which is where poetry begins.

2. Be Specific
Poetry wallows in the vague and general, but finds strength in detail and specific imagery. If you are writing about the rain, figure out what kind it was (light, heavy, city rain, summer rain— the options are endless!) and describe what element of it is significant. Think in terms of your senses. There aren’t only five senses open to a poet: for example, you could add temperature or pressure to smell, sound, sight, touch and taste. Work through your body towards the specific details of a moment.

If it is a poem drawn from life, name the details that frame it. I want to read poetry which is about real places, people, and experiences. I often hear new poets trying to make a poem’s meaning as mysterious as possible. This does not have the intended effect of making the poem sound more artistic or profound. A vague or muddled poem tells me the poet hasn’t done the work to make their work accessible. Specific writing will help you avoid this fatal mistake. Yes, John Ashbery is a profound exception, but I’m not as talented as John Ashbery and odds are, neither are you.

3. Be Brave
One of the important questions to ask when writing a poem is “what am I communicating”? If you are writing about how a new lover touches you and using an elaborate metaphor to describe it, consider speaking plainly. Good poetry can be profound while being simple. Describe how they touch you. Speak in specifics. What about their body or touch interests you? Find the details and expand them. Inhabit the moment. Communicate clearly.
For most new poets, communicating clearly requires a level of honesty which is terrifying at first. One of the reasons I think people are drawn to writing poetry is because it seems to cloak the truth in imagery and second-hand meanings. Poetry that is not clear is bad poetry. It can be challenging and filled with rich meanings, but your audience should walk away from a poem with some sense of what it is about. Writing about your lost love? The death of a parent? Your menstrual cycle? Say it, no matter how uncomfortable you feel. Be brave and follow the poetry home.

4. Edit
Left to my devices without the intrusion of work, publishing, or time, I would edit my poetry for eternity. Editing poetry is my favourite part of writing it. The first pass at any poem is rarely the final piece. I revise every poem at least 4 times but there are poems I have rewritten more than 10 times. You should develop a similar perspective on editing poetry. Read poetry out loud to yourself. If you have trouble saying a stanza, edit it. If you get bored, edit it. If any part of the poem feels rough in your voice, edit it.

5: Believe It
If you are going to write poetry, believe in poetry. Read poetry. Take it seriously. Don’t treat it as a stepping stone to writing prose: the skills are different and will not translate well. Use poetry in your everyday life. Collect poets you love and follow their origins to the poets that inspired them. Listen to diverse poets from around the globe. Look for technique in every poem you read. Do not apologize for reading, writing, or loving poetry. Believe in poetry and commit to it.

Historically, poetry comes from prayer and oral storytelling. It is a profound and powerful human medium. The novel is a very young art form compared to the long-form poem; human beings have been codifying worldviews and culture into poetry for much longer than they have been making short story collections. This doesn’t take away from the importance of prose and its current favoured forms, but it should remind you that poetry is hardwired into human experience. It is one of the most intimate forms because it mirrors thought and speaks through the immediacy of the body.

6. Love It
My final advice about writing poetry is simple. You have to love poetry in order to write it. If you are writing to impress strangers, win acclaim, or devastate your enemies, your poetry will falter and fail. Poetry is a long walk alone up a tall mountain in a Canadian snowstorm, chasing tiny fragments of words. If you make it to the top you will have handfuls of words which may mean something to you and nothing to everyone else. Love for your craft is the only reward which makes the struggle of poetry worth it.

At my core, I’m convinced a poet is a person who has a profound love of the world. A poet is open and embraces all experience. A poet is obsessed with the colour of the sky above their hometown. A poet walks the city streets to follow the rhythm of life and ends up in unexpected destinations. A poet works tirelessly at a small and intricate task with little hope of any return or reward. Above all else, a poet loves with an intense and persistent fierceness, storing up memory and place inside their cells to transmit across bodies through language.

Gwen Benaway visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, July 13, 2016 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC) – along with Kumasi Jay Gwynne, Matthew R. Loney, Yaya Yao and a special guest talk by reviews editor Rachna Contractor of Plenitude Magazine, co-presenter of this month’s event! 

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Brockton Writers Series 13.07.16

WEDNESDAY, JULY 13, 2016 – 6:30pm

It’s Queer Night again at Brockton Writers Series (though we’re always a little queer!). Featuring readers:

Gwen Benaway
Kumasi Jay Gwynne
Matthew R. Loney
Yaya Yao

and special guest speaker

Rachna Contractor

AT

full of beans Coffee House & Roastery

1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto

The reading is PWYC (suggested $3-$5) and features a Q&A with the writers afterward. Books and treats are available for sale. Please note that while the venue is wheelchair accessible, washroom facilities are not.

Many thanks to the Ontario Arts Council for their support.

OAC_REVISED_NEWCOLOURS_1805c

And to the Canada Council for the Arts for travel funding!

GUEST SPEAKER

Rachna Contractor

Rachna Contractor is Associate Editor – Reviews for Plenitude Magazine, and has written about literature, art and culture for Xtra and Kala Magazine as well. She earned her BA in Art History from the University of Toronto. After a decade of working in communications, Rachna has moved to the culinary arts sector. 

READERS

Gwen Benaway HeadshotGwen Benaway is of Anishinaabe and Métis descent. Her first collection of poetry, Ceremonies for the Dead, was published in 2013, and her second, Passage, is forthcoming from Kegedonce Press in Fall 2016. As an emerging Two-Spirited poet, she has been described as the spiritual love child of Thompson Highway and Truman Capote. In 2015, she was the recipient of the inaugural Speaker’s Award for a Young Author from the Speaker of the House for the Ontario Legislative. Her work has been published and anthologized internationally.

IMG_0668

The Lonely is Kumasi Jay Gwynne‘s first fiction manuscript, and it’s largely about men interacting with other men. New York State born, Kumasi was raised in Toronto where he currently resides. He has spent time living in Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary and Chicago.

Matthew R .Loney Author PhotoMatthew R. Loney is the author of That Savage Water (Exile Editions, 2014), a collection of backpacker-themed short fiction. He was a finalist for the 2013 and 2014 Vanderbilt/Exile Short Fiction Award and his work has appeared in a range of North American publications, including installments Three and Four of the Carter V. Cooper Short Fiction Anthology Series and the short fiction anthology, Everything Is So Political. He lives in Toronto.

Yaya-photo 2Yaya Yao is an educator, writer, and editor born and raised in Little Portugal. She is the author of a collection of poetry, Flesh, Tongue, and a resource book for teachers, The Educator’s Equity Companion Guide. Yaya lives with her family in Sapporo, Japan, where she teaches middle school.

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