Wednesday, November 27, 2013

On Writing #16 : Sonia Saikaley

On Writing: Writing Before Dawn to Answer a Curious Calling
Sonia Saikaley

I wake up early. Really early. Before the sun has even risen, I’m awake, working away at my writing. Even when I’d rather hit the snooze button, well, over the years that alarm clock has become an internal thing, I get out of bed and start the day with a fresh perspective. Eager and grateful, I rise because I have another day to do what I love the most: write. I don’t have an alarm clock anymore but a routine. Rise early and write in the utter silence before dawn, before darkness gives way to light. This has become a necessity for me. We all lead busy lives. When others are still asleep in my household, I reach for the power button on my computer and begin the day with words. Some words may have come to me in dreams, but mostly they arrive in the velvety silence of the morning. I feel that being in front of my computer and writing before dawn is the most beautiful place in the world for me. The words on the screen have transported me in the past to a frigid day in Montreal, where two lonely souls shared their personal stories and fell in love. Now in the present, the words take me to the old Jewish quarter in Beirut, where the powerful scent of jasmine bushes floats down a cobblestone street destroyed by bombs and shelling, a sniper on the rooftop, and an eccentric poet, who reminds me of a flapper, a 1920’s woman in Paris, wears a grey sherwal, baggy trousers, and stares out her living room window in full view of the sniper. But I am in the safety and warmth of my room, leaning forward, yearning to hear their whispers. The quiet of the morning allows me to hear them and, gaining the trust of these characters, I write these murmured words on my computer screen. Maybe they speak in hushed tones because they know it’s too early in the morning to speak in abrasive words. Or maybe they haven’t yet had their coffee or green tea! As dawn slowly colours the sky, I create these people and places in my fictional worlds. I wonder if the sky would be the same in Beirut or Montreal on this particular Ottawa morning as I craft these scenes.
Writing before dawn is so beautiful and breathtaking that I am eager for the start of every day. Of course, it helps that I have always been a morning person. From those elementary school days of dashing down the street to meet my friends in the school yard before our first class to the necessity of rising early to prepare for an eight a.m. university exam, I have always been drawn to the quietness right before dawn. I have always had a nine-to-five job so rising early and writing is something that I must do in order to answer this curious call to write. Writing is a curious calling. Writers find various ways to answer this vocation. Some rise early like I do, some write during their lunch hours, and others write on buses and in coffee shops. They use laptops, notebooks, napkins, and so forth. Regardless of the method or time of day, the words still get out there.
A few years back during a period of convalescence, I was frustrated and feeling down with the thought of not being able to write for a couple of months. But I managed somehow to find a way to write in my journal while lying flat on my back in my bed. Like Frida Kahlo and her painting. Because writing is so much a part of my being, there are very few things that can keep me from it. Writing has always been a refuge of sorts for me. To visit with the characters in my stories or poems is like visiting with close friends. I lean in or sit back and listen deeply. Real life can sometimes be complicated and messy and there are plenty of things that can come in the way of writing. Family commitments, health issues, the everyday tasks like laundry or taking out the garbage, but when I read the stories of writers who have found great success in their literary careers, while still tending to other obligations or day jobs, there appears to be a common thread: these authors just carved out the time in their busy lives. Somehow found that precious period to write even if they were exhausted or worn-out from being awake all night with an ill child or an ailing parent or grieving the loss of someone or something in their lives. They just somehow did it. Either in those early morning hours, or late-night evenings when the world allowed them slivers of silence and solitude, given to them like thoughtful and generous gifts, these writers just did what writers do: write. I’ve been asked on several occasions where do I find the energy to rise so early to write and I say, smiling playfully, “I’m just answering my calling and this call happens to come at four in the morning”.

Sonia Saikaley’s first book, The Lebanese Dishwasher (Quattro Books), was co-winner of the 2012 Ken Klonsky Novella Contest. Her collection of poetry, Turkish Delight, Montreal Winter, was published by TSAR Publications in 2012. She is currently working on a novel called Jasmine Season on Hamra Street. A graduate of the Humber School for Writers, she lives in her hometown of Ottawa. In the past, she has worked as an English teacher in Japan.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


ENDRE FARKAS and CAROLYN MARIE SOUAID are taking poetry to the next level! The two major Montreal poets have come together to create BLOOD IS BLOOD. Both a film and a book, BLOOD IS BLOOD draws on the authors' diametrically opposed backgrounds, whose cultural and personal lives intersect, clash and confront the truths and fictions that have become the destructive reality of Jews and Arabs trying to co-exist in the Middle East.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Ottawa Art Gallery
Arts Court
2 Daly Ave.
Ottawa, Ont.

A hat will be passed.

More info:

The trailer for Blood is Blood:

Monday, November 18, 2013

Recent Reads: Marcus McCann and Christine McNair and rob mclennan

The Laurentian Book of Movement by Christine McNair and rob mclennan

Both titles published by above/ground press, 2013.

It was an ill-fated combination of “firsts”: riding a Greyhound bus that was library quiet while reading Marcus McCann's stylistic tribute to David McGimpsey. Maybe I was being naïve – I’ll admit, literature isn’t my medium of choice when it comes to humour – but it bears repeating what so many people already know: McGimpsey is very funny. And for McCann's humour to stand up as strong in a pop-culture arena that isn't exactly his home-field, well – I was more surprised by my muffled chuckles than any fellow passengers were.

Comedy is an umbrella word harboring countless sharp divisions. For the same reasons the art-form garners cautious recommendations and brazen critiques, comedy as a term maintains its positive associations because of our subjective preferences. So it comes as no surprise that Labradoodle, An Essay on David McGimpsey eschews broad observation by targeting its key demographic: the creative class. If you noted the “on” in the title, you’ll know that McCann's punchlines are either bouncing off McGimpsey or self-inflicted, riffing constantly on the humble life of the poet. Here’s the sort-of title poem:

Three years ago, I was not quite ready to use the word
labradoodle in a poem

It’s like that time I found, in the memo folder
of my Blackberry, the one word memo
Cocktapus. I thought about it for a long time,
how it got there, what I was trying to say

to my future self. Dear self. Cocktapus.
Much later, I added two more words:
Cocktipmus Prime. You can be physically
ready for sex but not emotionally ready,

I learned in grade eight. It was confirmed
the day I crossed out April on the office
calendar and wrote Cocktober. I just hadn’t
figured out what part of misery

“labradoodle” stood in for. Now I think I know.
Every day is a David McGimpsey poem,
and it’s half golden lab, and half whatever
“doodle” stands for. It is not good news.”

His comic timing not only registers on paper, it proves inseparable from his line breaks and I’ve sometimes needed reminding that McCann remains a poet first because of that fluidity. Beneath all of his wry, self-depreciating wit, however, is the insightful and inventive mind capable of catching fresh humour out of everyday rituals. Labradoodle contains many instantly classic, write-on-the-wall, one-liners that are best preserved in the hilarious logic of McCann's full verse and not necessarily in McGimpsey's shadow. All killer, no filler.

As someone with a background in music journalism, I find it difficult to approach The Laurentian Book of Movement without thinking of the many “super-group” bands whose results feel somehow less than the sum of their parts. That may seem like a ridiculous stretch but, across all mediums, the attempt to tug varying creative mindsets toward one communal goal often results in compromise. Thankfully the partnership of Christine McNair and rob mclennan amounts to a much deeper commitment than two songwriters opting to share a jam-space and that bond opens a gateway traversing nature and memory.

The lead poem delivers a history and relationship weighed in wet leaves; the mention of Augustin-Norbert Morin in 1842 forms a backdrop for the place itself, in a neat reversal. Caught up in the sensory overload of Lower Canada, late summer, McNair and mclennan traipse fresh language out of familiar, if rarely acknowledged, sensations:

“The skyline, black against the night blue. The first few pages of the
weather wrote a thunderstorm. The eaves were full of leaves. Rain
water overflowered the porch. We chomped out portions of late
summer, reckless portions of Aurora Borealis.

A thread pulls powder across various landmarks. We walk into the
Metro. This is not a pilgrimage.”

It’s a striking rumination of place made sharper by its unclear boundaries, its transient timeline. Nature, on its own clock. And as it becomes clear, the woods in The Laurentian Book of Movement bestow a burden just as indistinguishable. In “A red remark,” the landscape calms but yearns for exaggeration at the same time. A conscious distance also marks “salt seasons”, where the lowered stakes of luxury introduce twitchy desires. Inside there’s a peace that feels almost comatose; outside, an impetus to learn how one endures alongside nature.

As a guide, the most tangible history proves to be a personal one: “flash backward” illustrates in poignant, childhood snapshots how we grapple with our environment. Seemingly in agreement with the adage that we’re closest to nature as children, the near-prose numbers a series of trial-and-error memories, nostalgic only as a byproduct of being a reverent witness to nature – the lake and greenery cradling youthful confusion.

Due to its personal admissions, “flash backward” also calls long-overdue attention to the duality of authorship at work. Up until this entry The Laurentian Book of Movement has progressed bearing the styles of two writers entwined to a greater awe. Only in reminiscing about “cranberry stains along my dress” or being “conscious of my thighs. 10.” does the witness lean toward a particular sex and, even then, I suspect both parties are active in the composition.


French, based on the Roman actus. We systemize distance.
Generations, at length. A blunt object of decades. Sixty years ago, my
father, these hills. His own parents, too. My grandfather, his hands.
His generous smile. She is shaking out nothing.

My father, these hills. Ten years old. And a cousin, long lost.

Land division, we parcel. A district of ski hills, of trees. Shoved up by
the stands. We picture a river-front. We picture, a passable day.
Not simply some acres of snow.”

This above section taken from “Arpent,” presents a second example of McNair and mclennan’s hybridized style. It also, despite an early disclaimer, feels very much like a pilgrimage, even if their overlap of familial footprints is coincidental. The Laurentian Book of Movement was always going to be interesting; the merger of two such distinct voices assured it. But the autumnal journey taken across these pages has succeeded in nullifying my impish desire to dissect who wrote what and instead savour its bittersweet scope. A revisit of Prelude: selections from a collaboration is in order as McNair and mclennan have accomplished here what few super-groups are capable of: a project not necessarily beyond the sum of their individual powers (how would one quantify that, anyway?) but something unexpected, gripping and worthy of each author’s best work.

[Here's a supplemental reading (courtesy of Open Book Ontario) on the origins of this collaboration as well as some history on Sainte-Adele, Quebec, written by rob mclennan in 2011.]

Thursday, November 14, 2013

On Writing #15 : Roland Prevost

Ink / Here
Roland Prevost

As for ink over here, it begins in the words of French-Canadian songs memorized as a child, sung at late-night réveillions, or in the summer at the family cottage by the campfire.  Lyrics.  Lots of them.   In metre and rhyme often backed by a guitar and some kind of percussion, like a tambourine or spoons, the stomp of feet, or hands clapping time.  Playing with breath, voice, intonation . . . and emotion.  Everyone present took their turn.  I learned how songs could give powerful expression to feelings.  By my early teens I started to write songs.  Something I've done for a lifetime.

Another lifelong writing practice has been keeping a journal.  It now stands at fifty-thousand pages, give or take. If songs give expression to emotions, then the logbook (as I tend to call it) acts as a potent mind-amp.  In the logbook, the reach of complexity, strength of focus, and accuracy of recall all get boosted by the powers of ink.

Interestingly, many elements of Song and Journal can marry:  breath and focus,  emotion and complexity,  sounds and ideas,  feelings and language, rhythm and thought.

Looking at this marriage, it's not surprising that I soon wanted to write poetry.

Poetry's more intricate, I feel, than either logbook or song.  I can't see its borders.   Which makes it particularly attractive.


Why write poetry? 

First, out of a desire to encapsulate some of the mysteries at here/now's edge.  Self-expression isn't exactly the correct term, though I've no objection to the word 'expression' by itself.  I find it very meaningful to try to give a body to that strange substance.  An incarnation.  That's at the core of why I even try. 

Also, I've recently begun to feel something I'd not felt before.  Writing had always seemed a solitary pursuit;  I experienced no desire for publication.  Then I noticed how many others were trying to put their work 'on River', making efforts to pass it on.  I realized that what I refer to as my 'self' was in large part a patchwork of what I've found in thousands of publicly shared artworks.  Culture suddenly felt like a third, unrecognized parent.  So now, I sometimes add a publication attempt to my creative ritual as many others did for me.  I'm trying to keep faith with them.  In a solidarity tinged with thanks.

Beyond that, trying to write poetry presents such a complex and layered challenge.   It's not always easy, but when it succeeds it feels great to 'have written'.  Like very few other things in life, it provides me with a renewable 'tall enough mountain' to climb.  A proper gerbil-wheel for my cage, if you like.

Then there are my associations with members of the local arts community.   These exchanges result in a rich sharing of substantive 'notes on being'.  Artworks act as a starting point, providing something in common to build on.  I find this social aspect of poetry worthwhile.

There are other more transient motivations over time, but these four seem to have taken hold and keep me returning to the blank page.


How do I write poetry?

            I've always had this Picture-Mind, or Pixmind as I call it, as far back as I can remember.  It provides me with an ability to call up free-flowing pictures, like snippets of movies, if I just get out of the way.  I often say it's like there's a constant stream of images out there on the horizon.  That I can choose to watch or not. 

            This Pixmind's centrally involved in writing poetry, for me. 

Let's go through the actual steps, and you'll see what I mean.

            I wake up at six or seven in the morning.  Grab a quick breakfast, sip a coffee.  I want to get downstairs to my poetry binder, pen and paper, as soon as possible.  Preferably within ten or twenty minutes after waking up, so that some of the sleepiness remains with me when I face the empty page.  A bit of dream-dust left in my hair, so to speak.

When I get there, instead of trying to stake out a linguistic terrain, I just wait.   And a picture comes.  With no fingers pressing.  Most of the poems I write, if you look, have an image at their core.
My approach involves writing a text-response to the spontaneous graphic output (as with ekphrasis: texts in response to graphic artworks).  It's almost like writing subtitles to a foreign film clip.  These 'subtitles' end up providing the first seed-draft for a poem. 

At this point, the poem's still very incomplete.  I've no idea where it might eventually go or what it might mean.   But it hooks me well enough to stay with it.  I've often said that I like to write into, instead of out of, inspiration.  So long as I have this kind of visual seed to start from, I feel able to do that.

It's only later that the time comes for applying edit-transforms and somewhat more practical skills.   That work gets done on the computer.  Remove clichés, add some senses, adopt a voice & tone, orchestrate a confluence, play with rhetorical forms of meaning.   A few hundred fairly loose rules, more like tendencies towards certain do's and don'ts.  My goal with editing is to sculpt the words towards the original feel of the unscripted Pixmind.

I write poetry this way simply because other approaches don't seem to get me there.  Like anyone else, I prefer what works.

Along the way, poetry's become my favourite sort of ink by far.  

Probably because it has such a mind of its own.

Roland Prevost's poetry appears in Arc Poetry Magazine, Descant Magazine, The Toronto Quarterly, Dusie, The Ottawa Arts Review, Stone Chisel, The Bywords Quarterly Journal, The Peter F. Yacht Club and Ottawater, among many more. He has four chapbooks: Metafizz (2007, Bywords), Dragon Verses (2009, Dusty Owl), Our/Are Carried Invisibles (2009, above/ground), and Parapagus (2012, above/ground). He's also been published in three poetry collections by AngelHousePress: Whack of Clouds (2008), Pent Up (2009), and Experiment-O (Issue 1, 2008 online). He won the 2006 John Newlove Poetry Award. He was, for a few years, the managing editor of seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics, as well as, both online. He studied English and Psychology at York University and the University of Manitoba. He lives and writes in Ottawa, Canada.

Friday, November 01, 2013

On Writing #14 : Aaron Tucker

On Writing
Aaron Tucker

I struggle sometimes to describe my own writing because I spend a lot of time thinking about how to try to teach others how to write. On the one hand I push a very programmatic and pragmatic approach which involves a sort of template-algorithm system of syntaxed gears and dictive cogs; writing is response to some basic ideas of genre and audience expectations. It is a lot of the same components driven by specific authorial choices that then elaborate into different communication machines that, despite their intricate differences, are all the same thing: communication machines, each one. An essay is a poem is a novel. It is here that repetition becomes the most important tool. Repetition here is the part that allows for a faster, cleaner machine, one that whirls instead of chugs. Repetition is the habitual that eventually turns typing into craft. Repetition is work and with each return loop, writing gets an incredibly tiny bit easier, a miniscule amount more transparent.

I struggle sometimes to describe my teaching because I spend a lot of time thinking about how to try to write to others. On the other hand I try to read far, far more than I write. I admire in others how a sentence or line can fulcrum with a small precision that reveals the larger impulse behind it. It is in those larger gestures that the machinations of a metaphor emerge, what bpNichol would call an exit or an entrance, what Ondaatje sees as Billy’s “beautiful machines pivoting on themselves,” machines under the tension of being simultaneously microscopic and macro-universal. It is here that repetition becomes the most important tool. Repetition here is the part that allows the reader a sturdy home to return to, a body of familiarity built from the cells of prepositions and nouns, the embryonic spilling of adverbs. Repetition is the mutation that walks out of an ocean. Repetition is joy and with each return loop, writing gets a tiny bit more mysterious, a miniscule amount more rewarding.

I struggle sometimes to describe my typing because it’s as messy and as personal as my scribbled longhand. I learned how to type on a lap-sized red machine that blinked letters and beeped when I punched the right key. Now I drift, fingers in bunches and never homerow, still struggling to look at the screen even when I’m uploading some part of my brain and/or face. It is here that repetition becomes the most important tool. Repetition here is the assemblages of avatars that weave in and out of an Internet user. Repetition is the copies of pages pulled from servers and brought back to me. Repetition is typing “the” as: left hand - middle finger “t”, index finger “h” then ring finger “e”. Repetition is virtual and with each return loop, writing gets a tiny bit more networked, a miniscule amount more intimate.

I struggle sometimes to admire the other hand, where the left is a template for the right and my fingers repeat ten times. Surely there is an audience who expects. Surely there is a genre simultaneously impulsive and clean. The components are pivoting, the fulcrums are algorithmic and the avatars are a space/sea craft aimed at the long loop of a return celestial/ocean voyage. It is here that repetition becomes the most important tool. Repetition here is the part of the walk that pauses before a sturdy metaphor. Repetition is a transparent noun. Repetitive is a potentially pragmatic adverb. Repeating gets a tiny bit more intricate, more joyous, more habitual with each essay or poem or novel.

Aaron Tucker’s poetic works and reviews have been published across Canada. His chapbook, apartments, was shortlisted for the 2010 bpNichol Chapbook award. His current project, tentatively titled punchlines, is moving ever slowly forward, with the most recent iteration released by above/ground in summer 2013. In between all this, he has a regular podcast over at

His collection of essays Interfacing with the Internet in Popular Cinema is going to be published by Palgrave-Macmillan in the summer of 2014.

In addition, he is a professor in the English department at Ryerson University where he is currently teaching essay writing and digital literacy to first year students.

He is working on learning chess in between watching his beloved Raptors lose games. You can reach him atucker[at]ryerson[dot]ca