Wild Writers Literary Festival

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to attend the Wild Writers Literary Festival,  where I attended a poetry workshop, attended a few panels, and mostly soaked up a day spent with my mother and other book lovers.

First thing in the morning I was part of Amanda Jernigan’s “The Poetry of Change” workshop. We opened with the Odyssey, discussed Shakespeare, and shared poems that had impact on us. I shared Atwood’s “Their Attitudes Differ” while others shared sonnets, nursery rhymes, and other classics. It was very interesting to go around the table and have poets of all ages recite the poem that had influenced them, changed their way of thinking, or spurred them to write.

We discussed change in poetry, how change can be reflected in the text, and ways to induce change in readers. I found this interesting, but went down my own path of contemplation in regard to translation, and the meaning that can be lost or gained after a poem is translated. Many of our most valuable texts are translations, the Bible, the Greek classics, etc, and their passages construct meaning in our contemporary world. I followed this rabbit down its hole for most of the day, which I think means the workshop was a success, as it got me thinking.

Later, I attended a panel on moving from publishing in literary journals to small press. This was interesting, but because I’ve yet to publish anything really, it was more food for thought than actually something I could put into practice.

The last panel I attended was “Falling in Love with Poetry” where writers discussed their first forays and loves in poetry, the poetry that changed and influenced them. This panel was an interesting balance to my morning workshop, and I was able to see the similarities in the passion of published and aspiring poets.

Overall, it was an interesting day, and had me thinking critically about my own work, which is always a positive.


Wedding in Fire Country | Darren Bifford | My Thoughts

Published in 2012 by Nightwood Editions, Wedding in Fire Country was a surprise hit for me. I picked it up for a friend’s birthday, and before giving it to him I read a couple of pieces. I was hooked. I gave it to him with a ringing endorsement. He claims it’s his favourite book I’ve given him, after George Murray’s Whiteout.

Wedding in Fire Country opens with Prometheus. We are challenged to reconsider what we think we know – perhaps the discovery of fire was an accident, he was there for something else, and made a mistake. The poem concludes with the line like a dynamite wick / history’s cord was lit which I think is a fabulous was to set up a book. We have now a suspicion of the common knowledge, a reason to doubt what’s been told to us.

We move onto a series of poems called Letters to Milosz. Bifford pens nine poems, nine letters, to Czeslaw Milosz, asking him questions and looking to the past for some sort of wisdom. I’ve chosen my favourite line from each of the series.


What isn’t here for you Milosz? Either
we despair or we forget about it. Forget about it.

We’re either together like that, identical under
roaming stars and suns, or there’s that hole
and nothing, still that hole and nothing

Before this game of pretend turns to nightmare
let me at least remember a few things about horses.

Take my glasses I’ll go bold
and  blind. Run all the days to come. Now move on,
I mutter. More? I take the rings from my fingers
and then
I take my hands.

Let me count up the quantity of your refusals
and subtract from the sum of the things we share


Was anything
under the bodies, under the bombed city
of Warsaw, worth resurrection?

I wonder about that night, whether he’s bored
under those stars, and the moon no metaphor
but charred rock.

Consider those fields
and rivers, you say. Listen. O what about them?

People are astonished. Everything around
them is rotting in front of their eyes. Rotten wood
loose straw.

Water is exchanged for rapids.

(and rapids for all things).

This series is a set of questions and possibilities and juxtapositions we remain ever unqualified to answer or solve. There is little room for grey area in these poems, the reader comes away desiring a stark answer, a clear way out. Czeslaw Milosz spent a life in exile, and Bifford examines exile, and greed, and the hunger of a mind able to survive that.

We move on to Crow Killer, “a beautiful girl once confessed / she killed a crow“. We pair beauty with murder here, as well as guilt and revenge. The crow’s mate follows the girl the rest of her life, always on the edge of things, waiting.

My favourite of the book’s offerings is a set of three poems exploring the romance of Dewey Dell (of As I Lay Dying) and Paul the apostle. This is the highlight of Wedding in Fire Country. Again I’ll share a few lines from each in the series.

Who’ll remember your hands, Saul?
Why don’t that rent me in two?
I’ll hear your horses & go dragged over rocks.

But when you slept sometimes a fever would shake
inside you like you held a great unrest of the sea
and your body seems a poor dam & broke
I watched you birth pools around me, flood
sudden forests, pines; glut the valley & small rivers

O what have I been to be here? What final
fate buttresses me from behind
shoves me like a bodycheck off roof
tops, over these high jagged rocks here?

I enjoy the voice in these poems, it’s very distinct, and pulls you into the narratives of these unfortunate lovers. I also liked the use of Paul’s previous name, Saul, as I think it added an intimacy to the relationship we witness.

Later, Nietzsche’s writings are dissected  as well as his worship – “a boy playing / king of his own castle while the business / of the official world carries on around him.”

Summerland, as well as other pieces, tell of girls and horses and the complexity of loving both and neither at the same time.

Wedding in Fire Country is a book built on re-imaginings. From Prometheus to Paul the Apostle we explore the terrifying and mundane. In the quiet poems of My Family and Freedom of the Will we discover the simple joys and losses shared between two people. We contain multitudes, and Bifford rearranges us to be stranger or simpler than our assumptions.

Open Poetry Circle | debrief

Last weekend I went to the KW Poetry Slam organized event in which a group of poets came together and shared their own work as well as work they admired. I initially thought it would be awkward and weird, just like I feel slam can sometimes be, but with an attendance of only ten poets, the setting was welcoming and intimate and much more conducive to sharing.

I went in not planning on sharing anything, I hadn’t even brought a notebook or pen – but as the circle opened up I felt more confident and pulled up some of the work I had stored on my phone.

Both the praise and the constructive criticism I received really helped me find a way to shape the pieces I had shard. As well, hearing other people read their work and be open to multiple interpretations and suggestions was really rewarding.

I think with a larger crowd the event would not have been as successful as that would have removed some of the intimacy from the readings.

when this world comes to an end | kate cayley | my thoughts

When This World Comes to an End

Kate Cayley

Brick Books 2013

Poems of Note:

  • Walking – p12

  • Love Poem from the Dictionary – p38

  • Nick Drake and Emily Dickinson Meet in the Afterlife – p14

  • Simone Weil – p11

  • Reading Gwendolyn MacEwan’s T.E. Lawrence poems (p7)

The section titled Curio: 12 Photographs is very nearly skippable in my opinion. The two poems that explore the cover’s subject, Toronto’s diving horses, are the only pair that redeem this section.

There you are, flattened
to the breath-stealing
photograph; you are absorbed, a presence
in white. But are you the horse

or a woman in the crowd below,
white dress streaked
with grey, suddenly, painfully weeping
for the flight before you? (p26)

While I consider the poems exploring Toronto’s diving horses to the be the strongest of the folio, they are still a bit heavy-handed for my taste. The rest of the section explores turn of the century photographs that offer us snapshots into the lives of the subjects.

With Walking (p12) we are all beneath the same shroud of grief, imagining the weight of our lovers after a great fire. Like some other poems in the book, this opens with an epigraph that provides context (whether this context is needed or not varies from poem to poem) and sets the scene in Nagasaki. “Perhaps he thought: / is this her true weight? was she ever / heavier than this? the poet wonders as we watch (but also participate) in the collecting of the ashes of the subject’s wife, all that is left of her. I feel this is one of the book’s strongest poems, speaking to our collective empathy as lovers and witnesses to tragedy. Walking both makes an island out of the reader and ruthlessly connects us.

Another of my favourites from the book is Love Poem from the Dictionary which is a longer poem with a building rhythm and emotion that, once you finish the poem, pulls the air from your lungs in a satisfying way. It is difficult to discuss this poem without posting it in its entirety, so I won’t do more than say it is one of the book’s highlights. The structure of the poem is that a word is given and the poet explores the definition, in her own way:


the state of being
away from a place
or person
the time or duration of being away

the condition of uncertainty the pause
before a kiss. (p38)

Overall I recommend this book, it had a definite readability that makes it enjoyable for bus or car rides. There is more than one poem you will need to read several times over before you are satisfied, that thoughtful hum at the end of reading it will become addictive.

I look forward to seeing more of what this poet has to offer in the future.