Category Archives: 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.

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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.”

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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!

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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!

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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.

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BWS 08.07.15: Vivek Shraya

VivekShraya-SOTM-Promo1

Vivek Shraya’s body of work includes ten albums, four short films, and three books that have been used as textbooks at several post-secondary institutions. His debut novel, She of the Mountains, was named one of The Globe and Mail’s Best Books of 2014. A three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist, Vivek was the 2014 recipient of the Steinert & Ferreiro Award for leadership in Toronto’s LGBTQ community, the recipient of Anokhi Media’s inaugural Most Promising LGBTQ Community Crusader Award in 2015, and a 2015 Toronto Arts Foundation Emerging Artist Award finalist.

Vivek stopped by the blog for an interview ahead of his July 8 appearance.

BWS: In She of the Mountains, we see the protagonist first embrace his sexual identity, and later, his ethnic one. The descriptions of the former, “transitioning from you’re gay into I’m gay had also allowed him to stop having to think about, question, and sometimes be ashamed of his desires,” even seems to echo the latter, “In the absence of white, he could see colour [and difference between shades of brown]. Falling in love with her brown had unexpectedly given his own skin new value, a new sheen.” Did you intend for there to be a similarity in these two moments?

Vivek: I love this question. Honestly, for the narrator to embrace both his sexual identity and ethnicity was never the original intention. But She of the Mountains grew into a story that is ultimately about a man and his relationship to his body, which of course includes his desire and his skin colour, so it makes sense that self-love in both areas had to be explored.

BWS: You’ve stated elsewhere that the main character’s experiences are based on some of your own, and that the book was written as a challenge to biphobia, which, the book shows, exists both within and outside the queer community. How do you see this persistent opinion–that no one is actually bisexual, that people should “pick a side”–affect the community and bisexual people, and why do you think it persists?

Vivek: The hard truth is gay people are just as attached to binaries and boxes as straight people. Boxes keep us safe. If you can put me in a box, you can figure out how to interact with me. Without boxes, there is chaos and danger.

Except this is a lie. Because what is actually so threatening about desiring across genders? This is the kind of question that we must ask ourselves to eradicate biphobia, but unfortunately this questioning doesn’t often accompany the snap judgements we make.

BWS: Do you have any anxieties about writing such a personal book? How do you manage the tension between fact and fiction?

Vivek: In regards to the tension between fact and fiction, my job as a writer is to tell a story. The best possible story I can tell is not one that is based solely on fact, and the best story I can possibly tell is always the priority.

Consequently, my main anxiety about being inspired by the personal is that the work won’t be taken as seriously, on the assumption that no craft is involved in writing based on true events.

BWS: In the first part of the book, you write an outstanding sex scene: it’s descriptive and erotic, but it’s also barely a page long. How do you approach writing sex scenes? And would you care to engage with Russell Smith and Lynn Coady’s (staged) debate about the inclusion of sex in fiction? Would it even have been possible to tell this story without sex scenes?

Vivek: I appreciate the compliment! I was once advised by a publisher never to write sex scenes because “no one can do it well.” I had those words in my head when I was writing this scene, largely because I found it hard to write sex without sounding cheesy. But no, this book wouldn’t have been possible without sex, for the reason you pointed out. Furthermore, being queer, I do feel a responsibility to write about sex because our sexuality continues to discomfort conservatives, and therefore be invisibilized. So often I hear queerness being connected to the choice to love whomever we want. This is true, but queerness is also inextricably linked to sex. We can’t forget this. In the words of Canada’s first openly gay senator, the late Laurier LaPierre:

“We’ve come a long way since Trudeau partially decriminalized gay sex 40 years ago. We have built community, come out in droves, connected with each other, demanded and obtained equal rights. We even won the right to marry. But we are still not totally free. We are still limited in the expression of our sexuality. If our society is to truly liberate sexuality, gay and straight, we have to talk about sex. We need to discuss the essential value of expressing the totality of our bodies, of our attractions and desires.”

BWS: Thanks so much, Vivek–see you on July 8!

Vivek Shraya 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 Amber Dawn, Trish Salah and Syrus Marcus Ware, and special guest speaker Michael Erickson of Glad Day Bookshop.

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BWS 06.05.15: Mark Silverberg

Mark Silverberg-headshot

 Mark Silverberg is a poet, educator, and critic who has taught in Ethiopia, Malaysia, The Gambia, and across Canada. He is the author of Believing the Line: The Jack Siegel Poems (Breton Books; Eric Hoffer Book Award, 2013) and The New York School Poets and the Neo-Avant Garde (Ashgate, 2010), and editor of New York School Collaborations: The Color of Vowels (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2013). Mark is also an Associate Professor of English at Cape Breton University, where he specializes in poetry, visual arts, and poetic collaborations.

Ahead of his March 6 appearance at Brockton Writers Series, he drops by the blog today with some samples from Believing the Line, in which he wrote poetic responses to Siegel’s drawings and painting.

Click here to find out more about Believing the Line

(Click the images to see them in larger format!)

Mark Silverberg-Sample 1

Mark Silverberg-Sample2

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Mark Silverberg visits the Brockton Writers Series Wednesday, May 6, 2015—full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC)—along with Zainab Amadahy, Ghadeer Malek and Jane Woods. The event begins with a special guest talk, “Getting Started in Book Reviewing,” by Emily M. Keeler of the National Post.

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BWS 10.09.14: It’s Tonight!

BWS Sept 10

From left: Ray Robertson, Nora Gold, Cathy Petch & Shaista Latif.

 

TONIGHT

TONIGHT

TONIGHT AT 7PM,

AT FULL OF BEANS COFFEE HOUSE & ROASTERY,

1348 DUNDAS ST. W., TORONTO,

Join us for readings/performances by:

Nora Gold

Shaista Latif

Cathy Petch

& Ray Robertson!

PLUS

come early (6:30) for our networking portion,

which features a talk by special guest,

Matt Huether

writer and producer for Degrassi: The Next Generation:

“Anyone Can Be a Screenwriter: Here’s How”!

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BWS 10.09.14: Nora Gold

Nora Gold - photo (in Jpeg) (482 x 546) (2)

 

Nora Gold is the Writer-in-Residence at the Centre for Women’s Studies, OISE/University of Toronto; the editor of the online literary journal, Jewish Fiction.net; the organizer of the Wonderful Women Writers Series, and an activist. Her recently-published Fields of Exile received enthusiastic praise and excellent reviews in Canada, the U.S.A., the U.K., and Israel, and her first book, Marrow and Other Stories, won a Canadian Jewish Book Award as well as praise from Alice Munro.

Here’s an excerpt of recent interview Nora did with Tracy Kyncl of The Puritan, (reprinted with permission). Opinions expressed are the interview participants’ own.

Interviewer’s Note: Nora Gold’s debut novel Fields of Exile, published by Dundurn in April, 2014, looks at the preponderance of anti-Semitism, in the form of anti-Israelism, in academia. Dr. Gold’s novel artfully examines the necessary costs and risks of activism.

Tracy Kyncl: Your novel Fields of Exile outwardly critiques anti-Israelism in academia, and there are many professional similarities between you and your protagonist (working in Israel with developmentally challenged youth and returning to Canada to complete a master’s degree). Could you elaborate on the motivations behind writing this book?

Nora: In the early stages of this book, if you’d asked me what it was about, I would have said I was writing a satire about academic life. It was only as this novel evolved that the hypocrisy and intellectual sloth I was describing became increasingly focused on the issue of anti-Israelism. Let me define straight off what I mean by anti-Israelism. Anti-Israelism is not just criticizing Israel. As I make clear in Fields of Exile, it is obviously entirely legitimate to criticize Israel’s government or policies, just as one would critique the government or policies of any other country. But anti-Israelism is something else. Anti-Israelism (otherwise known as “the new anti-Semitism”) is a form of anti-Semitism where hatred of Jews masquerades as legitimate criticism of Israel. One can see examples of this wherever criticisms of Israel are interlaced with classic anti-Semitic stereotypes and tropes, such as, “All Jews are rich and powerful, they control the banks and the media, they’re plotting world dominion, etc.”

Anyway, as I said, I didn’t set out to write a novel about anti-Israelism in academia. But in retrospect, it probably wasn’t surprising that this is what I ended up doing. For over a decade before starting this novel, I—like many Jews—had been very disturbed by the increasing anti-Israelism in both academia and the world at large. I was concerned about the most overt manifestations of anti-Israelism, like the rallies that later morphed into Israel Apartheid Week, but also about the gradual normalization of Israel-bashing in classes, in faculty meetings, and at conferences.

I responded to this phenomenon, in the years before beginning this novel, by conducting academic research on anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism and by engaging in pro-Israel activism (one part of which ultimately resulted in a new Toronto-based organization, JSpaceCanada). At a certain point, though, because I was so distressed about anti-Israelism, I also began writing a novel about it. The pain I felt because of what was happening around me was like having a fishhook in my stomach. I tried moving this way and that, but whatever I did, it was still there. So at some stage, I figured that the only way to get it out of me was to write it out.

TK: In light of recent debates surrounding the lack of minority representation in Canadian publishing, do you think that writers could do more to stay politically informed and motivated when writing?

NG: Yes, definitely. I recently had a very surprising experience. An intelligent and quite well-known Canadian writer told me that until reading Fields of Exile, he hadn’t known about either anti-oppression or anti-Israelism. I could hardly believe it. To not know about anti-Israelism is one thing, but to not even know about anti-oppression seemed extreme.

From my point of view, I feel obligated, even though I am white, heterosexual, middle class, and able-bodied—or maybe because I am white, heterosexual, middle class, and able-bodied—to educate myself about racism, homophobia, classism, ableism, and more. I see it as the responsibility of all Canadians—including writers—to do the same, and as part of this, to educate themselves about anti-Semitism in all its forms, including anti-Israelism. It really isn’t difficult. One can make serious headway on this in just one day of reading. One place to start is my novel, Fields of Exile, which lays out all the main issues. Alternatively, there are hundreds of essays and articles on this topic.

In terms of writers being well-informed politically, I can always tell, when reading a book, whether or not the writer who wrote it has political/social awareness. It’s like that saying about love in a marriage: If it’s there you can’t hide it, and if it’s not there, you can’t fake it so it looks like it is. When a writer has social/political consciousness, it’s palpable in her or his work. And when it’s absent, this is just as palpable. I hope that in the next few years we will all see much more of the first kind of writing from our Canadian writers.

TK: Do you believe that writers have an obligation to engage with political discourse?

NG: Yes I do, if you mean “political discourse” in the broadest sense. I think that writers have an obligation to engage with the issues of their time and place, and to be aware of—and struggle against—the injustices and oppressions in their society. This obligation applies, of course, to all Canadians, but I think there is a particular onus on Canadian writers. We are privileged. Unlike writers in many other parts of the world, we are free to write whatever we want, safe from the risk of imprisonment or worse. As such, we have the potential, as public intellectuals, to help shape both Canadian society and the world around us. We must use, and not waste, this power.

TK: I often get the nagging feeling that our culture suffers from unwillingness or a lack of desire to engage. Do you think writers and readers have stopped believing in the power of literature to inspire real social change?

NG: I think many have. One of the responses to my novel, from the well-known American Jewish writer, Thane Rosenbaum, was very flattering but also surprising to me. He wrote that Fields of Exile restored his faith in the possibilities of the novel. I think this implies that he and many others have lost faith in the possibilities of the novel. They no longer believe that literature can accomplish anything in the real world. In fact, many writers actually believe that literature shouldn’t try to accomplish anything in the real world. They take the Oscar Wilde quotation, “All art is quite useless,” as a kind of credo. I don’t agree with that, of course.

TK: It seems like the definition of “engagement” has somehow been consumed by the idea of engaging somebody’s interest.

NG: Yes. You’re told to get a good opening for your story because that is what “engages” readers. Engagement as seduction, rather than participation or involvement. I think social engagement is very important. This isn’t surprising, since I’m both a writer and a social worker. I have one foot in each world. I enjoy many different kinds of writing, but I definitely respond deeply to fiction that has, at its core, some kind of social vision.

This interview is available in full in the latest issue of The Puritan, click here to read more!

Nora Gold visits the Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, September 10, 2014 — full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (7pm, PWYC) — along with Ghadeer Malek, Cathy Petch and Ray Robertson. Come early, too (6:30) for Degrassi: The Next Generation writer and producer Matt Huether’s special talk, “Anyone Can Be a Screenwriter: Here’s How”!

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BWS 10.09.14: Cathy Petch

Cathy Petch-musical saw

Today on the blog, a guest post by Cathy Petch  playwright, spoken word artist, haiku deathmaster and musical saw player for The Silver Hearts. Cathy has several handsome chapbooks and most recently published her poetry book Late Night Knife Fights with LyricalMyrical Press. Her work has also appeared in Descant, The Toronto Quarterly and Joypuke. Cathy is part of The Dildettes, a queer spoken word/comedy troupe along with Regie Cabico and David Bateman, and was a member of the 2011 and 2012 Toronto Poetry Slam Teams. She is happiest onstage.

So I play a musical saw during some of my poetry pieces.

A what?

A musical saw: literally a handsaw played with a bow. The sound has been called “ghost-like,” “eerie” and “like that other weird instrument,” a.k.a. the theremin.

Both the theremin and the musical saw are often mistaken for novelty instruments, and though I’m currently wracking my brain to say what a “novelty instrument” is, in reality I have appreciation for anything that can make a sound or a beat, no matter if it’s for your toddler or the London Philharmonic.

The saw is a heart-breaker of an instrument. Sometimes when I’m playing a solo — (I play in a band, The Silver Hearts) — my soul seems to dance down the tines. It becomes my tears, my love and all the sweet things I’ve ever heard whispered in my ear. Like any instrument, it is an extension of emotion. It is poetry, and it is brain waves and history revisited.

The origins of the musical saw predate World War I. It started in farmers’ kitchens and was said to have started its slow climb to recognition as a classical instrument before the war effort hit. You cannot cut wood with your musical saw, for this ruins the tone. And in a time when every inch of metal was being enlisted for the Great War, for a household to have two saws — one to play, and one to use as, well, a saw — playing the instrument was considered treason. The saw only found its way back through Vaudeville and thank goodness it did.

My first saw was bought at Home Depot. A 26-inch Stanley Sawtooth, it joined my band and travelled all over Canada reminding the world of its beauty. Currently I have a 33-inch Stravaridis from Long and McQuade, as I was determined to play “Un Bel Trombador” from Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” and lacked the extra octave. At the 10th annual Musical Saw Festival in New York City last year I saw 40 different saw players from all over the world playing 40 different saws in 40 different ways.

Like poetry, most musical saw learning happens in solitude. You must have an ear and a total love for your instrument. When you play it, you use your feet, your legs, your arms, your ears; it is a dance, it is magnificent.

I cannot wait to play some saw poems for you all. See you in September! xo

Cathy Petch visits the Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, September 10, 2014 — full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (7pm, PWYC) — along with Nora Gold and Ray Robertson. Come early, too (6:30) for a special talk by Degrassi: The Next Generation writer and producer Matt Huether on getting started in screenwriting!

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