Category Archives: Writers & Performers

BWS 08.11.17 report: How to Write a Novel in 10 Years: Total Rewrites, Massive Scrap Piles, and Persistence Through the Long Haul, with Heidi Reimer

Heidi_Reimer_event.jpg

Heidi Reimer is close to finishing the novel she’s been working on for the past decade. Last week at our eighth anniversary event, she shared with us a few of the challenges inherent in writing the same novel for 10 years:

The world moves more quickly than your writing process.

You’re forced to rewrite scenes because, in the time since you started this book, answering machines have become obsolete and giant multi-million dollar construction projects have rearranged the landscape in which your story is set. Three hundred kilometre highways blasted through rock are built more quickly than you can write.

Other people might think you’re delusional about the merits of the book you persist in writing.

Closely related: you will fear that other people think you’re delusional about the merits of the book you persist in writing.

At literary events you have to account for yourself with “Yup, still working on the same novel. I’m almost done! For the eighth time.” Fellow writers with whom you once walked side by side will pull ahead to achieve completion, a literary agent, a book deal, a second book deal. When they say, at these literary events, “Wow, you must really believe in this book,” your mind will hear, “Wow, you must really be deluded about this book.”

Over a decade-long process of striving for and failing to achieve a goal, your own insecurities and the struggle not to compare yourself to others will on occasion ambush and derail you.

Being still in the process of writing a book at the 10-year mark—no matter how much you’ve learned through it, no matter how the book has deepened and grown, no matter how grateful you are that you didn’t publish the 2-year or 5-year or even 9-year version—can feel more like failure than success. If you consider writing to be your primary purpose and identity and if it is the only thing you have ever really wanted to do with your life, and you have also written other books that you didn’t finish or publish, you will feel, sometimes, like you have nothing to show for your very hard work, your dreams, and your existence on the earth.

A few reasons it could take ten years to write a novel:

You are not writing the book in a vacuum.

You must earn money, a necessity that sucks up the prime hours, energy, and brainpower of each day. You might have a life, which could involve marriage, divorce, houses, children, births, deaths, and a myriad of crises in between.

Anyone who truly wants to write will make the time. But also, anyone who has tried to maintain a consistent, productive writing practice while (for example) working 40 hours a week at a day job while freelancing on the side while parenting two young children while having a partner who works outside the country for months-long stretches knows that “It’s hard to make the time” is not merely an excuse. It’s pretty damn real.

It takes time to learn how to write a novel, and it takes time to learn how to write the particular novel you are writing.

This can mean full drafts that are almost nothing like the one(s) before. It can mean hundreds of fully fleshed-out pages going to the scrap pile. Characters and plot lines developed extensively, over years, with arcs that span the entire book, in scene after scene meticulously envisioned and set down and revised and finessed: scrap pile.

You can have a stupendous inspiration in Year 2 and just know that the right thing to do is leap back in time to your characters’ childhoods and then you can write and develop that for years and it can become the deepest and truest and most beautiful part of your book but it can not belong, not at all, in this particular book that you are writing, and you can chop it all out one night at 4:00am in Year 7 because you have finally admitted to yourself that it stalls the momentum of the book and that you kind of have no idea how to create forward-moving plot. Then you have to go back to the beginning to figure out what is your story, if that’s not your story.

That can happen.

Writing a novel can be a cyclical rather than a linear process.

Each pass reveals another layer. You’re peeling an onion. You’re plumbing the depths. You’re sculpting a slab of marble—only first you have to make the marble, then you get to sculpt it.

It can take half a dozen drafts to arrive at the heart of a scene, a plot, a character, a relationship between characters. It can take years to see that actually she doesn’t just go to the door and listen, she opens the door, she walks through the door, she makes the terrible decision, she’s plunged into the results of the terrible decision.

How to write a novel in ten years:

Believe in it.

Love your characters enough to stick with them, care about their dilemmas enough to keep following them, and hold onto that inner flame of knowledge that this story is worth telling. If you don’t believe in it, abandon it and find a new novel that you do believe in. (And don’t be ashamed of this choice; it can be the correct choice.) Or, find something to do that is less excruciating.

Experience the process as its own reward.

You and the page and the story unfolding under your pen: this is the best part. If you don’t feel energized or moved or challenged or fulfilled by the process, if you don’t at least sometimes feel that you’re doing what you came to the earth to do, you probably gave up long before the 10-year point.

Receive enough genuine encouragement to bolster you when your inner belief-flame dims.

Share it with trusted early readers, other writers, and eventually some agents and editors and publishing insiders who will probably, if it isn’t ready yet, reject your novel but might give you invaluable insight into what is working and what isn’t and why. They don’t hand out positive comments just for fun, so if you get some you will feel that you are not delusional, there is value here, and it is worth it to keep going.

Write and publish smaller pieces.

The satisfaction of completion and the affirmation that comes from someone else’s stamp of approval will make you feel like you’re an author, not just a wannabe, and will help sustain you through the long haul of your novel. Winning contests and receiving grants works too.

Bonus Tip:

Buy The 90-day Novel. Keep it on your shelf like a gleaming reward and a promise of another way…for when you’re finally free to start writing your next book.

As we head into our ninth year, we look forward to presenting you with more thought-provoking and engaging writers with interesting stories and diverse voices. Watch this space for features on our upcoming guests appearing at our next event on Januray 10, 2018, 6:30pm, at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St., Toronto!

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Writers & Performers

BWS 08.11.17: Heidi Reimer

Heidi Reimer

Heidi Reimer‘s short stories and essays have appeared in ChatelaineThe New QuarterlyLittle Fiction, Literary Mama, The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood, and Outcrops: Northeastern Ontario Short Stories. She is (still) working on a novel. Find out more at www.heidireimer.ca.

Over the past month we’ve been listing our favourite books in celebration of our upcoming eighth anniversary taking place this Wednesday. For those of us who took part, it was a challenging process to pick only eight titles among the many we’ve read. The selections, thoughtfully put forth, represent unique voices telling diverse stories. But how did these books come to be? Behind each one is an untold journey of creative process. This Wednesday, guest speaker Heidi Reimer addresses this topic in her talk, “How to Write a Novel in 10 Years: Total Rewrites, Massive Scrap Piles, and Persistence Through the Long Haul.”  

Heidi also stopped by our blog to share her top eight reads:

Middlemarch: George Eliot

State of Wonder: Ann Patchett

The Poisonwood Bible: Barbara Kingsolver

Americanah: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Clara Callan: Richard B. Wright

Unless: Carol Shields

American Wife: Curtis Sittenfeld

Wild: Cheryl Strayed

We hope you’ll join us this Wednesday to celebrate eight years of our literary series. With prizes, treats, and lively discussions, it’s an event not to be missed!

Heidi Reimer visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, November 8, 2017 in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Dorothy Ellen Palmer, Spencer Butt, Jia Qing Wilson-Yang, and Puneet Dutt. 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized, Writers & Performers

BWS 08.11.17: Dorothy Ellen Palmer

Palmer-Dorothy-768x768

Dorothy Ellen Palmer is a disabled senior writer, Mom, binge knitter, retired teacher and improv coach. Her first semi-autobiographical novel, When Fenelon Falls, (Coach House, 2010), about a disabled teen freeing a bear from a cage in the summer of 1969, was long-listed for the ReLit Award. Her work has appeared in NeWest Review, Little Fiction/Big Truth, and Don’t Talk to me About Love.

Dorothy’s memoir, This Redhead and her Walker Walk into a Bar, will be published by Wolsak and Wynn in 2019. Ahead of her November 8th appearance at our anniversary, Dorothy shares with us an excerpt from her memoir!

RUN, GERALD, RUN

From the knees up, Gerald was the cutest boy I’d ever seen.

California Surfer Boy cute. Blue eyes. Unruly blonde hair a still-respectful tad too long. And a slow, crooked smile. He had a Muskoka cottage, was President of the Debate Team, and had been to Paris, France. In 1971, when I was sixteen and he was eighteen, he lived up the hill from me on Delma Drive, in our Toronto suburb of Alderwood, where all the mothers loved him.

Even mine. And she didn’t love anybody.

When Gerald passed our front porch, when he stopped to chat up my mother, I glimpsed what my father must once have seen in her. She smiled. She laughed. Sounded smart and sassy. Gerald relaxed her in a way I never could. Watching him converse so effortlessly with the woman who seldom spoke to me felt like comfort food, like home should be.

But when Gerald smiled at me, I puked.

In September, the first time he knocked on my front door and asked for me, I flushed the toilet, climbed out the bathroom window, vaulted a hedge, and vamoosed through three back yards. I refused to acknowledge, I flatly denied, I could not risk, any kinship or solidarity between us. I had to be seen as a normal teenage girl. I needed to believe I was one.

And you can’t be normal with a gimpy albatross around your neck.

You won’t pass for normal if someone spots a gimp then stares at you. I’d prevent that scrutiny at any cost. With effort, I could mask my limp. And thanks to teen years that saw the undisputed reign of elephant-ear bell-bottoms, my shoes didn’t betray me. Like a cloak of invisibility, my pants fanned out over my feet to scrape the floor. I told myself nobody knew I crammed stunted nubs of feet into boy’s orthopedic oxfords, reinforced black leather: size two.

Bell bottoms would always be in style. I could hide my deformity forever.

If friends and neighbours remembered my operations and childhood crutches, I told myself they wrote it off like a skiing accident, as something from which I’d fully recovered. I’d never been teased in public; that was the barometer. I gave no credit to the fact my father was the Akela of Alderwood’s thriving Boy Scout troop, and thus held the badge and camping fate of my male peers in his hands. I equally dismissed what was likely an even greater deterrent: my mother had the most cutting tongue on the street and sharpened it there daily.

I told myself only this: I walked to high school with my friends. I belonged.

Dorothy Ellen Palmer visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, November 8, 2017 in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Spencer Butt, Jia Qing Wilson-Yang, Puneet Dutt and special guest Heidi Reimer who will discuss, “How to Write a Novel in 10 Years: Total Rewrites, Massive Scrap Piles, and Persistence Through the Long Haul.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Writers & Performers

BWS 08.11.17: Puneet Dutt

PDutt

Puneet Dutt holds a MA in English from Ryerson. Her chapbook PTSD south beach was a 2016 Breitling Chapbook Prize Finalist. Her poetry has appeared in a number of journals and in Imaginarium 4: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing. She is an editorial board member at Canthius and a creative writing workshop facilitator with the Toronto Writers Collective. Her poetry collection is forthcoming with Mansfield Press in October. She lives in Toronto with her husband. 

Our anniversary event is almost upon us! This past month, our authors have been celebrating our upcoming event by sharing their favourite reads. In an animated video posted to our Facebook page, Puneet took us on a tour of the books she most relishes.

From, Sounds of a Cowhide Drum by Oswald Joseph Mtshali, “a little known South African poet that deserves much much more attention,” to Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, which she would memorize if she could, here are her selections:

Angela’s Ashes: Frank McCourt

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders: Daniyal Mueenudin

Medea/ Hecabe/ Electra/ Heracles: Euripides

Memoirs: Pablo Neruda

Sounds of a Cowhide Drum: Oswald Joseph Mtshali

The Alienist: Caleb Carr

Metamorphosis: Franz Kafka

The Vegetarian: Han Kang

We would love to hear about the books that are at the top of your list! Post and share with us or better yet, discuss them with us at our celebration. There will be book giveaways, two Glad Day Bookshop gift certificate door prizes and sweet treats!

Puneet Dutt visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, November 8, 2017 in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Spencer Butt, Jia Qing Wilson-Yang, Dorothy Ellen Palmer, and special guest Heidi Reimer who will discuss, “How to Write a Novel in 10 Years: Total Rewrites, Massive Scrap Piles, and Persistence Through the Long Haul.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Writers & Performers

BWS 08.11.17: Spencer Butt

Spencer_Butt

Spencer Butt is a writer and poetry yeller based out of Toronto. He has been a featured performer at such events as Wavelength Music Series, AGO First Thursday, Art Bar Poetry Series, Laugh Sabbath, Sophisticated Boom Boom!, ROM Friday Night Live, The Vancouver Poetry Slam, and Long Winter TO. His newest book, Slouching the Dream, is available through Now or Never Publishing and can be found wherever books are sold.

To mark the eighth anniversary of Brockton Writers Series, Spencer went through the painstaking task of choosing his eight favourite books. In his video, which can be found on our Brockton Writers Series Facebook page, Spencer says the criteria he used for his selections was based on how each book made him feel after he read it for the first time– “it just made me go wow! I didn’t know a book could do that!”

If you’re curious about what kind of books could elicit this reaction from him, here are Spencer’s top picks:

Will Storr vs. The Supernatural: One Man’s Search for the Truth About GhostsWill Storr

Subduing Demons in America: Selected Poems, 1962-2007John Giorno

House of LeavesMark Z. Danielewski

Barrel Fever: David Sedaris

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius: Dave Eggers

A Wrinkle in Time: Madeleine L’Engle

Black Hole: Charles Burns

I Want A New Gun: David Lerner

We hope the growing list of great books being selected by our followers and readers will inspire you to add more titles to your reading list this season. Visit our Facebook page to see what other books have made the grade. Also, it’s not too late to create your own list.  Remember to tag eight of your friends and share your post to our page!

Spencer Butt visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, November 8, 2017 in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Dorothy Ellen Palmer, Jia Qing Wilson-Yang, Puneet Dutt, and special guest Heidi Reimer who will discuss, “How to Write a Novel in 10 Years: Total Rewrites, Massive Scrap Piles, and Persistence Through the Long Haul.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Writers & Performers

Brockton Writers Series 08.11.17

Wednesday, November 8, 2017 – 6:30pm

Brockton Writers Series presents readings by

Dorothy Ellen Palmer
Spencer Butt
Jia Qing Wilson-Yang
Puneet Dutt

with special guest speaker

Heidi Reimer

Glad Day Bookshop

499 Church Street, Toronto

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

ACCESSIBILITY INFO
The venue, including its bathroom, is fully accessible. Please refrain from wearing scents.

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

How to Write a Novel in 10 Years: Total Rewrites, Massive Scrap Piles, and Persistence Through the Long Haul

Heidi Reimer

Heidi Reimer‘s short stories and essays have appeared in ChatelaineThe New Quarterly, Little Fiction, Literary Mama, The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood, and Outcrops: Northeastern Ontario Short Stories. She is (still) working on a novel. Visit www.heidireimer.ca to learn more.

 

READERS

 

Palmer-Dorothy-768x768Dorothy Ellen Palmer is a disabled senior writer, Mom, binge knitter, retired teacher and improv coach. Her first semi-autobiographical novel, When Fenelon Falls, (Coach House, 2010), about a disabled teen freeing a bear from a cage in the summer of 1969, was long-listed for the ReLit Award. Her work has appeared in NeWest Review, Little Fiction/Big Truth, and Don’t Talk to me About Love. Her memoir, This Redhead and her Walker Walk into a Bar, will be published by Wolsak and Wynn in 2019.

 

Jia_Qing_Wilson_Yang

Jia Qing Wilson-Yang is a transsexual writer living in Tkaronto on dish with one spoon territory. Her work can be found, now or in the near future, in Room Magazine, Poetry is Dead, Ricepaper Magazine, and Carte Blanche. Her first novel, Small Beauty, won the 2016 Lambda Literary award for Transgender Fiction.

 

Spencer_ButtSpencer Butt is a writer and poetry yeller based out of Toronto. He has been a featured performer at such events as Wavelength Music Series, AGO First Thursday, Art Bar Poetry Series, Laugh Sabbath, Sophisticated Boom Boom!, ROM Friday Night Live, The Vancouver Poetry Slam, and Long Winter TO. His newest book, Slouching the Dream, is available through Now or Never Publishing and can be found wherever books are sold.

 

PDutt

Puneet Dutt holds a MA in English from Ryerson. Her chapbook PTSD south beach was a 2016 Breitling Chapbook Prize Finalist. Her poetry has appeared in a number of journals and in Imaginarium 4: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing. She is an editorial board member at Canthius and a creative writing workshop facilitator with the Toronto Writers Collective. Her poetry collection is forthcoming with Mansfield Press in October. She lives in Toronto with her husband.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized, Writers & Performers

BWS 08.11.17: Jia Qing Wilson-Yang

Jia_Qing_Wilson_Yang

Jia Qing Wilson-Yang is a transsexual writer living in Tkaronto on dish with one spoon territory. Her work can be found, now or in the near future in, Room Magazine, Poetry is Dead, Ricepaper Magazine, and Carte Blanche. Her first novel, Small Beauty, won the 2016 Lambda Literary award for Transgender Fiction.

This year marks the eighth anniversary of Brockton Writers Series! To celebrate this occasion, some of our authors are sharing with us their eight favourite books. We invite you to do the same by creating a short video or a writing a post on Facebook. Tag eight of your friends and Brockton Writers Series! This is also a great way to update your seasonal reading list!

Jia Qing shared her list of favourite books with us. In no particular order, they are:

Kiss of the fur queen: Thomson Highway

A Safe Girl to Love: Casey Plett

Lilith’s Brood: Octavia E. Butler

Before Night Falls: Reinaldo Arenas

When Fox is a Thousand: Larissa Lai

Winter Love: Han Suyin

Autobiography of Red: Anne Carson

I Saw Ramallah: Mourid Barghouti

Jia Qing Wilson-Yang visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, November 8, 2017 in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Spencer Butt, Dorothy Ellen Palmer, Puneet Dutt, and special guest Heidi Reimer who will discuss, “How to Write a Novel in 10 Years: Total Rewrites, Massive Scrap Piles, and Persistence Through the Long Haul.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized, Writers & Performers

BWS 13.09.17 report: What a Blog Needs, with Kerry Clare

kerryclare

A blogger since 2000, Kerry Clare‘s debut novel, Mitzi Bytes, was published in March. In her blog, she writes about books and reading at PickleMeThis.com. At our September event, Kerry shared with us her journey from blog to book and gave some great pointers on what a blog needs to become successful.

If you’re thinking of starting a blog or have already begun the journey, here are Kerry’s thoughts on what a blog needs:

Give your blog space to grow and room to wander

If you’re starting a blog and you don’t know what you’re doing, that’s perfect! The best way to figure out your blog is to write your way towards the answers. Don’t get hung up on perfection—a blog is by nature raw and unpolished. Just keep writing one post after another, and don’t stop.

Write like nobody is reading

This is the easiest rule ever, because so often nobody is reading. It means that you are free to do away with self-consciousness and indulge your own fascinations and preoccupations. This freedom gives you the opportunity to create the kind of authenticity that will engage readers. Remember that metrics, comments and social media responses are fickle things and that you should gauge your success by what you can control—the quality of your ideas, your writing, your storytelling and how they improve over time.

Make sure that your blog delivers a profit

This is not the same as monetizing your blog; although, if you can figure out how to do so without compromising your work, then congratulations! But for the rest of us, it’s important to determine other ways for our work to pay off—Does your blog teach you things? Will it help your writing to improve? Does it challenge you and encourage you to get out into the world? All these questions are useful to help you find a way to make your blog serve you better.

If it’s not working, change it

Blogging should never be a chore. If you’re finding your enthusiasm lagging, if you anticipate writing blog posts with dread, then you need to switch up your routine. Don’t be afraid to change your focus. A blog needs space to grow and room to wander. If you’re finding the journey unsatisfying, then don’t be afraid to quit; blogging is not for everyone, and a blog doesn’t have to be forever.

Don’t blog to get somewhere, blog to be somewhere

From post to post, blogging will inevitably take you places—perhaps out into the world in pursuit of adventures to write about, and, if you’re lucky and keep at it, to professional and creative opportunities. While each of these is an excellent endeavour, the very best reason to blog is to create something artful, creative and interesting. Blogging is about immediacy, noticing what’s going on around you, and being in the moment. Always remember that a blog is a work in progress, just like life.

This year is the eighth anniversary of Brockton Writers Series! We’ll celebrate this milestone at our next event with fun surprises and a new panel of authors to inspire your senses. Guest speaker Heidi Reimer will discuss How to Write a Book in Ten Years and fellow authors Dorothy Ellen Palmer, Jia Quing Wilson-Yang, Puneet Dutt, and Spencer Butt will perform readings. In the following weeks, watch our space for special, anniversary-themed blogs and to learn more about how you can join in the fun!  

Mark your calendars for an event not to be missed on November 8, 2017, 6:30pm, at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St., Toronto!

Leave a comment

Filed under Writers & Performers

BWS 12.07.17 report: Five Things You Should Know Before You Do Anything About Your Children’s Book Idea, with S. Bear Bergman

S. Bear Bergman at the Brockton Writers Series 12.07.17

Award-winning writer, educator and storyteller S. Bear Bergman stopped by the Brockton Writers Series’ July event to share his experience as founder of Flamingo Rampant, a children’s press focused on feminist, LGBTQ-positive, racially-diverse children’s books, and to offer advice to those writers wishing to get into the children’s market and publish books for a diverse audience.

“Though the earning potential of the market has grown — many publishers are making their rent on children’s books — it’s still a very conservative industry,” he said. He quoted a University of Wisconsin survey that cited representation in U.S. children’s books as 93% white people; 72% boys and men; and 98% heterosexual two-parent families.

If you have a first draft or idea for a children’s book, Bergman offered this advice:

  1. Play test your book with kids. “They will tell you if they are bored with the story, and it’s better to know early in the processs than later.”
  2. Read your manuscript out loud to yourself. “Children like books that are lyrical, have interesting metres and rhymes, and that have interesting things happening in the language.”
  3. Have fun with language. Be playful.
  4. You don’t need to have the book illustrated before you submit it to a publisher or agent. Just send the text.
  5. When representing diversity in your story, be careful not to produce a “very special episode” book (i.e., Jimmy asks his parents why his friend Susie has two mothers, but no dad). Instead of making diversity the major plot line, make it present and normal in the characters and setting.

Bergman finished his talk by commenting on the feedback his publishing house Flamingo Rampant receives: “Lots of people thank us for our books and say it’s the first time they had seen people like themselves reflected in a children’s book.” Flamingo Rampant’s goal, Bergman said, “is to make books that love you back.” — Nancy Kay Clark

Check back in September for more tips from our next Brockton Writers Series guest speaker and until then, watch this space for features on all four writers appearing at our next event, which takes place September 13, 2017, 6:30pm, at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St., Toronto!

Leave a comment

Filed under Writers & Performers

BWS 07.08.15: Amber Dawn

Amber Dawn

Amber Dawn is the author of the poetry collection Where The Words End And My Body Begins, novel Sub Rosa and memoir How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir. Her writing traverses themes of sex work, queer identity and survivor pride. She lives on unceded Coast Salish territory (incorporated Vancouver).

Amber dropped by the BWS blog with this guest post ahead of her July 8 appearance. 

Poetry: Queer and Connectional

The first poetry collection I purchased was P.K. Page’s Hologram: A Book of Glosas. I was in my early twenties and had already written a couple of dog-eared notebooks worth of poetry, and had even discovered a few scrappy open mics around East Vancouver to read my newly penned poems to audiences, but it had never occurred to me that I could walk into a bookstore and buy a published book of poetry.

It was summer of 1998 and I had secured myself a sugar daddy—a client who picked me up from my regular street corner in a champagne-coloured Mercedes-Benz, and who paid me enough to send me to my first creative writing class at University of British Columbia. I decided to enroll in Introduction to Writing Poetry.

Poet Kate Braid was UBC’s summer poetry instructor. My first realization about my inaugural university experience was that I was treated exactly the same as the other students. Whereas, my customary cuts and bruises and “fuck the world” attitude received exasperation or pity at the doctor or social worker’s office, in the creative writing classroom, as long as I was participating, I was a valued peer.

The next thing I remember thinking was that if I was to be treated like other students, then I’d better level up my dedication and determination. I needed to take poetry seriously, to deepen my understanding of the craft. Kate Braid told her students that if we wanted to know poetry we must read poetry books cover-to-cover, hopefully many books. This is what poets do, they read. So I set off to the People’s Co-op Bookstore on Commercial Drive in my quest to seriously know poetry.

It could have been the pleasing kaleidoscope image on the cover that drew me to Hologram. I read the foreword, in which P.K. Page likens her process of writing the glosa form to birds that learn to sing by blending the notes and cadences of other birds into their own call. “We have a song – of a kind. But it’s not until we have heard many other songs that we are able to put together our own specific song.” This alone was compelling enough for me to buy the book.

First used in 13th century Spain, the glosa typically opens with a source quatrain from an existing poem by another writer, followed by four stanzas of ten lines each; the last line of each stanza is taken sequentially from the opening quatrain, and lines six and nine rhyme with the borrowed tenth. P.K. Page’s enactment of this form is gobsmackingly fine as she works quatrains by canonical poets like Rainer Maria Rilke, Sappho, Elizabeth Bishop, Dylan Thomas, and Pablo Neruda. I had never read any of these poets before. My experience with poetry was slam and spoken word, not textbook. (Well, I actually had heard of Sappho, that she was a lesbian, which is what I was calling myself at the time.) In this way, P.K. Page introduced me not only to her own writing, but she gave me an “in” to experience the writing of other poets from a canon that previously eluded me.

I’ve re-read P.K. Pages glosas so many times that the poems have become even more immersive than song. I’ll call the feeling I get when reading Hologram consanguineous: connected by blood. Nearly 20 years later, I’ve become acclimatized to English-language canonical poetry, and Hologram now allows me to feel the very pulse of Rilke’s concentrated incantations or Sappho’s longing vestigial verse.

Inspired, I wrote my own collection of glosa poems, Where the words end and my body begins (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2015). When I began the book, I looked well outside the canon that P.K. Page drew from. “Glossing” quotes from Rilke, Thomas and other mostly white men of systemic esteem does not fit with my values or lived experiences. I looked to queer women, women of colour, and/or survivor justice-minded poets for my source quatrains; poets like Lucille Clifton, Lydia Kwa, Trish Salah, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Ritz Chow, Leah Horlick, Chandra Mayor and Jillian Christmas.

Through glossing these (and eleven other) poets, I aimed to do three things:

First, to venerate and observe the remarkable and unique lyrical verse of each: some are widely published, while others have yet to release a first book. Here I must mention the barriers to publishing for queers, women, and most especially women of colour. Again and again, I see Can Lit publish and recognize white authors (like myself). I am a learner in anti-racism work, and what I’m learning is that poetry can and should play a role in disrupting white privileged/Eurocentric narratives and in honouring diverse voices.

Second, I simply wanted to share the work of the poets I admire the most. Several of the poets I glossed are friends, mentors and chosen family. What can I say; I love the talented folks I know! It brings me joy to quote them and to respond to them in verse. And I can always use more joy.

Last, I chose source poets that would allow me to continue my own exploration of survivorship, sex work, and creative queer healing. I desire companionship when writing through pain and recovery. I need solidarity because writing lived experiences can be isolating. I’m always looking for kin. I will always be seeking that bloodline of language and craft and healing and resistance. I am deeply indebted to all the poets who reminded me just how connectional poetry can be.

Amber Dawn visits the Brockton Writers Series on our annual Queer Night, Wednesday, July 8, 2015—full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC)—along with Trish Salah, Vivek Shraya, and Syrus Marcus Ware, and special guest speaker Michael Erickson of Glad Day Bookshop.

1 Comment

Filed under Writers & Performers