The Mom narrative

Laurie Kruk is an accomplished poet from Northern Ontario, where she’s a professor of English at Nipissing University. She has embraced the theme of motherhood in her work — it’s no surprise to see her featured, for instance, in the online lit magazine, Literary Mama.

As she describes in her Insight recording for AuthorsAloud, she is interested in the silences of women, fascinated by what’s discarded — notions many of us (to our shame) can easily apply to the mothers in our own recent past. Her latest collection, My Mother Did Not Tell Stories, features narrative poems built on Kruk’s bracingly direct and honest voice. For AuthorsAloud, Kruk reads the title poem from that collection, and I encourage you to give it, and her Insight thoughts, a careful listen, here.


What the reading reveals

It’s long been my contention — indeed, it’s part of the impetus for this site — that the performance of writing meant for the page opens a window onto the work and its author. By listening to the voice of the poet or fiction writer, or by watching him or her at a microphone, you gain insights into the author’s personality and mindset that can enrich your appreciation and understanding of the work. In the case of poet Nyla Matuk, that may be doubly true.

Although Matuk has just released her first full collection of poetry, Sumptuary Laws, she’s been working at her art for a while. In his exhaustive, analytical review of her collection, Stewart Cole (no relation to me) wrote that he suspects many of the poems have been “brewing” for a decade. “This is the antithesis,” Cole wrote, “of … the rushed-into-print debut.” He also mentioned having discovered Matuk’s work at a book launch, “and in hearing her read was immediately struck by the lushness of diction, the risky willingness to disorient rhetorically, and the overall impression of uniqueness her work conveyed.”

So, that’s one, quite learned, impression of Matuk’s work, taken initially from a public performance. And I think it’s one reflected in the reading she has given to AuthorsAloud. The Nyla Matuk you meet when you listen to her poems and her insight here is a serious artist, dedicated to her diction, as it were. And that’s an important part of her.

But I’d suggest there’s another Nyla Matuk, and it’s the one I witnessed myself at a reading last night, at the Black Swan pub on the Danforth in Toronto. It’s the Nyla Matuk of shy and wry humour. She creates a strong, confident impression at the microphone, there’s nothing timid in her demeanor. But she’s quick to dispel any sense of self-seriousness, lamenting with a smile “all the sad and serious poems,” the “existentially morose pieces” she frequently reads. For the audience at the Black Swan, she wanted to “spice it up,” she said. So she read us a poem about lust, and another about the Mad Men character Don Draper (“You’re the dark dew on the green grass of home”).

I wish more public readings happened this way, although I admit not everyone is suited to it. But as a general rule, playfulness like Matuk’s doesn’t diminish one’s impression of the artist, it enhances it. The willingness to be self-deprecating at a reading lets the audience in, which inevitably allows a clearer, more complete picture of the work. In the case of Nyla Matuk, I’d say the effect was altogether admirable.

Lavorato the Second

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Several years ago, Mark Lavorato was among the first contributors to AuthorsAloud. Back then, his literary work was focused on fiction. But Mark is nothing if not multi-dimensional. Fiction, music, photography — he explores it all, and more than that, he’s good at it all too. You just have to sit back and applaud a display of so many talents.

And now we can add another. What brings Mark back to AuthorsAloud is poetry, on the occasion of his first book-length collection. There are a number of Canadian authors out there who publish both fiction and poetry, but I’m pleased to say that Mark is the first to contribute readings in both disciplines to AuthorsAloud. “I find writing poetry a great complement to writing fiction,” he writes on his website. “I think fiction becomes better the more you remove yourself from the text, the more you let the intricacies and egos of your characters take over; whereas poetry becomes better the more you put yourself in, the more you give of yourself to the page.”

It’s a great summation, and I have to say the brief taste he gives us of the poetry in Wayworn Wooden Floors is very compelling, even intoxicating stuff. It’s over too quickly, but I promise you’ll enjoy it while it lasts.


Back to the Divine

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In her debut collection of poems, YĆ«suf and the Lotus Flower, Doyali Farah Islam offers readers what she calls “a bridge of verse” that she intends to connect the divergent paths of Western and Eastern spirituality. As she explains in a note on her creative intentions, she wrote the poems over the course of two years. While writing, she kept up a daily regimen of Islamic prayer and Kundalini yogic meditation. But she doesn’t mean for her poems to be exclusive, only for the followers of her faith, because “all journeys and streams,” she says, “lead back to the Divine ocean.”
The result is striking, both beautiful and purposeful, rather like the Lotus flower of the title. Poet Sylvia Legris, winner of the 2006 Griffin Poetry Prize, calls Islam’s poems “bold, intricate buds of faith” that weave together parable and mysticism. They’re poems that can be appreciated both for their messages of spirituality and also for their aesthetic beauty.
Islam’s reading and insight are equally entrancing. Hers is a young voice, but it carries an impressive clarity of intention, and it’s not surprising to learn, in Islam’s note to readers, that her poems were “meant to be listened to, voiced aloud.”
That makes them — as well as Islam’s insight — wonderful additions to the AuthorsAloud collection.

Voices of Nova Scotia: Rachel Lebowitz

Representing the final installment of our Voices of Nova Scotia series, Rachel Lebowitz was a revelation to me. Though I knew she was married to poet Zach Wells, I knew nothing of her work. That’s not unusual, of course — there are hundreds of fine Canadian writers with whom I’ve so far failed to become acquainted. And part of the point of AuthorsAloud is to provide a means for me, and you, to get to know talented poets and authors who we might otherwise miss. But what I loved about meeting Lebowitz (during which, by the way, I took the photo shown here), was encountering a writer who, while still young, seems so fully, deeply engaged in complex matters of subject and form. Her work melds history, biography, poetry and prose. It’s political and also quite human. This is poetry that requires research, delving into libraries and archives, and the result feels both experimental and also important and substantial. Discovering a writer like this feels a little like discovering an underground river.

Rachel gives us a lovely reading of poems from her new collection Cottonopolis, due out in March, 2013 (several of which can be found in the new Best Canadian Poetry anthology from Tightrope Books). Her insight is fascinating as well, providing a glimpse into the depth of research she undertook. Both can be found here. I hope you enjoy them.


Voices of Nova Scotia: Alice Burdick

About an hour southwest of Halifax, in beautiful, sailboat-saturated Mahone Bay, Alice Burdick juggles the demands of life as a wife and mother, a gardener, and a poet. She seems to be doing pretty well at all these, but we’re here to focus on the poetry. Alice has been publishing her work since the early 1990s, amassing three collections and numerous anthology credits. In addition to that she’s played a role in editing and promoting the work of others through her efforts with The Eternal Network and the Toronto Small Press Fair.
For all that, she could take herself quite seriously, but Alice has a refreshingly casual air about her. Sitting in her comfy home, she laughs easily and reads from her latest collection,
Holler, with the same kind of offhand charm that imbues the poems themselves. In a revealing aside, in her Insight recording, she admits to the kind of fear many authors and poets have but rarely utter aloud, wondering whether her work is “worthwhile.” Honesty like that, when it finds its way into the work, will go a long way in answering “yes.” You’ll find Alice’s reading and Insight recordings — the first installment in a series from the region — here.

In a master's sway

It ranks for me as one of the highlights, not only of the first two weeks of my current visit to PEI, but of the first six years of AuthorsAloud, to meet David Helwig. He lives in a large old house across the road from Cooper’s Red and White, a locally famous convenience store that manages to be just about everything to
everybody in tiny PEI village of Eldon, near Belfast. Helwig lives here with his partner year-round, as he’s done for at least 16 years, staying as busy as you’d expect for a member of the Order of Canada and the author of now 40 books. That number — including 14 novels and 13 collections of poetry — doesn’t even take into account the many books he has edited. It’s inspiring, and it’s humbling, meeting a writer who has accomplished so much, and yet who keeps challenging himself (Helwig is currently finishing up a new translation of linked stories by Chekhov). We should all get such a kick in the pants from time to time.

For AuthorsAloud, Helwig decided to read from
The Sway of Otherwise, his marvelous 2008 collection of poems. He opened the volume in his living room, next to a ticking wood stove, and casually produced one of this site’s great readings. After that we chatted for a couple of minutes about the collection, and about writing in general. Both the reading and the insight can be found here, and I can’t recommend them highly enough.

The reach and rhythm

I love the fact that as AuthorsAloud continues plugging along, its reach is gradually widening to include voices in more disparate parts of the country. Now
we have Mark D. Dunn, a poet and songwriter from Sault Ste Marie — officially part of “the north” as far as the CBC is concerned — reading from his new collection Fancy Clapping. Mark has described the titular poem in the collection as an exercise in playing with rhythm and as an example of how people participate in “the circus of life.” He does most of his writing outdoors, as he explains in his Insight recording. It’s “movement” that works for him. So move on over to Mark’s page and give him a listen, here.

Are you experienced?

Despite my adding a couple of new readings to the AuthorsAloud collection recently, it’s been a while since I posted in this space. My reason, or excuse, is that I was looking for a theme, something that linked our new authors together. I think I’ve found it.
The commonality shared by the three newest contributors to AuthorsAloud — Farzana Doctor, Jessica Hiemstra and Shari Lapeña — is the breadth of life
experience that they bring to their work. Not to say these are women who’ve lived a long time; they’re all quite young. But they’ve lived working lives beyond the keyboard or the pen, which isn’t something every writer can say.
Farzana Doctor, who gives us a reading from her newest novel, Six Metres of Pavement, has another existence as a psychotherapist, working with clients across a broad range of issues, from trauma to drug addiction to gender identity. She sees the stuff of authorial exploration every day, up close.

Jessica Hiemstra is a poet (reading here) who brings to her writing an eye developed by her own successful career as a visual artist, not to mention the years she has spent in lands most of us would consider exotic, including Sierra Leone and Melbourne, Australia.
And Shari Lapeña, the author of the novel Happiness Economics (reading here) has brought the experiences gained as a teacher and a lawyer to the fictional lives she creates.
Each of these writers has given us something true and real in their written work, and in the readings they’ve contributed here. I’m not going to say that it’s their life experience that makes the difference — there are no absolutes in art — but it’s at least as good as an MFA.

A cure for the ailing ear

I met Sandra Ridley about a year ago during a book tour. The hospitality suites of literary festivals hold all sorts of surprises and Sandra was one. She was charming, smart and wry, but the surprise came later when I learned she was a poet. Sandra Ridley doesn’t like to brag. In fact she’s described herself elsewhere as “introverted.” But her light is now truly shining out from under the covers. She won a Saskatchewan Book Award for her 2010 collection, Fallout, and now her newest collection is destined to bring her more attention. As she explains here in her insight recording, Post-Apothecary was inspired by a visit to a tuberculosis sanitarium, and it exemplifies Sandra’s love of word sounds and precise imagery. Many of the poems have the fragile intricacy of watch works. It’s a pleasure to hear her read and I’m delighted that Sandra has contributed her voice to AuthorsAloud.

A new face and a return visit

At a recent poetry reading in Hamilton I got a chance to reconnect with an old friend of AuthorsAloud, Catherine Graham. Catherine was one of the early contributors to our collection of readings here, and her work is wonderful. But that early recording — a selection of poems from her book, Pupa — had been made through a phone line, and I’d always been disappointed that I couldn’t offer AuthorsAloud visitors a better representation of Catherine’s work and voice. So when she arrived to read from her new work, Winterkill (the third work in a trilogy that began with Pupa), I took advantage of the chance to talk Catherine into giving us a brand new recording. And I couldn’t be more thrilled with the result. The poems of Winterkill are inspired by found moments,
exquisite discoveries that Catherine is able to expand and crystalize into something quite beautiful. She also provides a helpful Insight, which comes from her work as a creative writing teacher. Listen to Catherine’s recordings here.

It was at the same event that I was introduced to a friend of Catherine’s, the poet Ian Burgham, and I was floored by his work. His poems are rich with imagery, and yet they strike me as deeply personal and honest expressions about subjects that spring from his life and experience. Selected from his collection The Grammar of Distance, the poems are both refreshingly masculine, and yet unafraid of emotion. To my ears it’s a marvelous combination. Ian also gives us an insight into the nature of free verse that I found fascinating. I’m thrilled to be able to share Ian’s work and thoughts with the Authorsaloud audience here.

Late Delivery

I should have had this reading from Winnipeg poet Ariel Gordon up a while ago, so my apologies to her and to you. Because it really is a lovely reading — from Gordon’s 2010 collection Hump, which is largely about motherhood and pregnancy. Gordon also provides a terrific Insight recording that will resonate if you’ve ever been a new parent hoping to have time enough left in your days to do something other than parent 24/7. All in all a fine addition to AuthorsAloud, and well worth waiting for. I hope you’ll check out Ariel Gordon’s reading and Insight here.

The Poet's Essential Nature

Every new poetry reading here at AuthorsAloud is cause for celebration, and it’s an added joy to bring aboard a poet who’s riding a wave of achievement. George Sipos is currently one of five finalists for the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction, for his memoir The Geography of Arrival, which reflects upon his boyhood as an emigrant from Budapest growing up in London, Ontario. And Sipos’s poetry is no less celebrated, having garnered a nomination for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. The poems of The Glassblowers have a quiet, contemplative quality, connected to precise moments, often in the midst of nature. In the Insight recording that George has provided, he admits that, once, he envied urban poets for their influences. But no longer. “One of the nice things about getting old,” he says, “is you don’t have to apologize for anything.”
No apologies necessary, George. Listen to his lovely reading and insight here.

Into the Mystic

British Columbia’s Susan McCaslin has been an important voice on the Canadian poetry landscape for decades now, having produced fourteen volumes of poetry and influenced the work of students at Douglas College in New Westminster for more than twenty years. She works with the heady subject matter of spirituality and mysticism, but still she often manages to pin those ephemeral clouds down and connect them to the lives we lead. As poet and author John Terpstra put it, McCaslin, “sings from the still centre of being human and conscious on a glorious, defiled, everyday earth of love and pollution, dogs, moths and God.” Listen to Susan’s reading here.

A poetic flowering

The latest addition to AuthorsAloud comes from poet Fiona Tinwei Lam, who reads from two collections including her latest, Enter the Chrysanthemum. Lam’s work here is quiet and sensual, and immediately engaging. She also provides a thoughtful insight into her work. I encourage you to sequester yourself in a hushed room and give it a listen. You’ll find Lam’s poetry and insight here.

And more poetry!

I love that we’re fleshing out the poetry library here at AuthorsAloud. And we’re touching an increasingly broad range of talents. While our last couple of poetry additions have come from exciting new emerging artists, the latest comes from a well established name. Sandy Shreve has been producing fine poetry, and getting award recognition for it, for many years. She’s also been an innovator, finding new ways to bring poetry to readers, such as the Poetry in Transit project, which has been displaying poems in public transit vehicles throughout British Columbia since the mid-1990s. For AuthorsAloud she presents work from her collection Suddenly, So Much, not only reading her poems but providing insights into the creation of each along the way. Go listen.

Poetry for the New Year

Try not to be too depressed about the McNally Robinson bankruptcy. Yes, it’s a blow to lose a couple of great book stores that did their best to promote Canadian authors and give them a place to read in public. But suburban Toronto and even Polo Park in Winnipeg (I lived there, I know) never felt like the right fit for what McNally Robinson does so well. Here’s hoping they’ll regroup with their two remaining stores and live to fight the good (bloody) fight for authors for many more days.

To pick up your spirits, take a few minutes to listen to the work of poet Melanie Janisse, just added to AuthorsAloud. Written over a five year period, the poems of Janisse’s collection Orioles in the Oranges have been lauded for their honesty, their compassion and their power. Stores die. The word lives.


All too real

I sat down with poet Darrell Epp a little while ago to record his reading and insight for AuthorsAloud. Darrell’s young, but he’s been working on his art for some time, and getting published widely, and recently Signature Editions collected his work in a volume called Imaginary Maps. As a setting for the reading, Darrell chose the coffee area in the local Fortino’s grocery store. It wasn’t the quietest venue, but it was handy to him, and seemed to suit his utterly guileless and unaffected manner. When you listen to the recordings here, you’ll see what I mean. After the readings, we chatted for a while and Darrell told me something of his recent experiences in South Africa. They’re not for me to share here, but they clearly have stayed with him. I do hope one day we get to hear some of them, filtered through his poems.

Let me take this opportunity as well to alert you to a new reading from Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, here. Kathryn was one of the early believers in AuthorsAloud, and we’re thrilled to be able to feature a reading from her latest novel, Perfecting.
— TC
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