Monday, November 7, 2011

Bridesmaid revisted

There's only one bridesmaid dress hanging in my closet. A wedding dress*, too, though it's neither white nor floofy.

But literarily (not the same as literally) it seems I'm always a bridesmaid, never a bride -- at least where awards are concerned. Today, I didn't win the Acorn-Plantos Award for Peoples Poetry, for which Vs. was short-listed. That wasn't a surprise (It was a surprise to be short-listed, though. After all, it's A National Award), but still.

A couple of weeks ago, Leonard Cohen made a beautiful, gracious acceptance speech as he received the Prince of Asturias Award in Spain. A little bit of it really stuck with me, probably because the ceremony was the same day I found out about my short-listing: "I’ve always felt some ambiguity about an award for poetry. Poetry comes from a place that no one commands, that no one conquers. So I feel somewhat like a charlatan to accept an award for an activity which I do not command."

The small, petulant part of me thought: "Sure, L. Cohen, it's easy to be ambiguous about poetry awards when you've won a bunch." 

But, since I'm pretty sure he doesn't do or say anything flippantly, I thought about his words a little more. Specifically: "If Leonard Cohen's a charlatan, what does that make me?" 

Lucky to be a bridesmaid (and luckier still that I don't have the actual dresses). 

*which, by the way, I wore to Mr. Cohen's Winnipeg concert in 2009.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Going green

You show up in Spring Green, Wisconsin and the entire town comes out for the party. They arrange a perfect sunset followed by a beautiful evening for sitting outside. They give you dinner. And free beer. (And then they come around with a pitcher of More Free Beer.) They time a shooting star just perfectly. 

(You'll find out later that none of this has anything to do with you, that it's just fluky good timing, but it doesn't matter. You're already smitten by the friendliest, most adorable, place on Earth.)

My reading at Arcadia Books in Spring Green was just one of many highlights of a recent roadtrip through the US midwest. Arcadia is a comfy hardwood-floored, giant-windowed, high-ceilinged bookstore and it was a pleasure to read there in the company of all the people I know in Wisconsin. (Which, until 24 hours earlier, was zero.)

Earlier that day, we visited the Circus World Museum in nearby Baraboo (don't you have to go there, just for the name alone?) as research for My Giant Project. The next day we got an insider tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin, which now has me thinking about the intersection of poetry and architecture. So, even though I don't really write on the road, it was a productive and inspiring holiday. (Also Wisconsin is unrelentingly gorgeous. Go there in the fall, I recommend it.)

So here's to the good people of Spring Green and Madison. (And their wonderful, wonderful beer.)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

In praise of distractions

It seems the bigger and more important the task at hand, the more likely it is that something entirely unrelated needs my undivided attention. And I don't mean the TV or the bottom of my wine glass. I mean useful, productive, even choresy kinds of things. When I was in school, looming exams always caused an urgent need to clean my room. (Also cut my own hair -- surprisingly successful.)

So now that I have a Giant Project on the go, one in which all Manitobans have invested their faith and tax dollars (under the auspices of the Manitoba Arts Council), I've been spending a lot of time writing the wrong poems. Not bad poems, just not the poems I Should Be Writing. Instead of buckling down and delving in to 1880s dustbowl Saskatchewan or turn-of-the-last-century circus culture (all of which involves research, reading and, gulp, serious work) I've been whiling away my writing time on non sequitur type one-offs. An autumn poem wistful about summer. A piece about sheep shearing. I feel  naughty, guilty and, secretly, thrilled. It's the writing equivalent of calling in sick and going to the beach for the day. (Lovely, but it causes moments of panic in a conscientious gal like me.)

I have to remind myself that all those exams were eventually written and passed. In the meantime, there are clean rooms and days at the beach to enjoy. After all, my giant is as patient as I decide he'll be.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Aqua vitae

Here I am, reading last week at Aqua Books, aka Winnipeg's Cultural City Hall, as part of an evening of readings, talks, performances and reminiscences related to the store's writers- and artists- and songwriters- and etc.- in residence program.

I was writer-in-res at Aqua last fall, the idea of which -- though incredibly flattering -- initially made my stomach hurt. I didn't actually spend any time "in residence" but the opportunity to work with a merry band of emerging writers (so various and intriguing the group could not have been better chosen by a sitcom casting agent) was my first foray into the world of mentoring, leading, or otherwise Being In Charge of writers.

Turns out, I was one of 27 such folks-in-residence at Aqua since they started the program in 2008ish. It was a long night.

And, unfortunately, it looks like it'll be the last reading I do from that stage, with the plaster Stone Angel replica looking on. Unless Bookstore Owner Kelly Hughes can figure out an alternate plan (and if anyone can, it's Kelly), the store will be closing sometime this fall. It's sad news for writers in Winnipeg.

When I was thinking, last week, about what I would read and what I would say, I realized how many milestones and highlights of my recent writing life have been Aqua-related. It's where I read my boxing poems to an audience for the first time. Where Ariel and I launched our Night Owls and Newborns tour in 2008. Where I met Jeanette Lynes, who I would later work with in Banff. Where I got to read as part of the Speaking Crow, Soapbox and Lansdowne series. Where I read from Seed Catalogue as part of Mondo Kroetsch. And that's not even touching on all the fantastic readings I've attended there over the years, or the soup I've eaten at EAT!.

It's a wonderful place and we've been lucky to have it. Fingers crossed that Aqua will find a way to stay afloat.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tall order

July 2010, I measure up against Edouard Beaupre (life-size photo).

Hmmm... Eerie similarity...

This time last year, hot on the heels of a vacation packed with Saskatchewan oddities, I was newly infatuated with the story of Edouard Beaupre, aka the Giant of Willow Bunch. I found his story  relentlessly tragic and, therefore, ideal poetic material.

The year that has followed has been filled with at-times-productive Googling (I highly recommend a visit to, even if you have only a passing interest in things height-related. And highly do not recommend a visit to too close to bed time); wading through the two volume, 1,000-plus-page history of the town of Willow Bunch; May Day attempts at poems in Edouard's voice and, throughout it all, a series of grant applications requesting support for this, my current/next project: a series of poems about Edouard Beaupre.

A couple of weeks ago, just before leaving for this year's summer holiday, success! A grant from the Manitoba Arts Council will help me as I work through the first draft of a manuscript. And now my job begins in earnest. It's equally exciting and daunting: the opportunity to tell a great story; the responsibility to get it right.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mackerel, holy.

I've never felt so nervous -- or so inexplicably nervous -- typing an e-mail as I did last summer when asking Robert Kroetsch if he would blurb my collection, Vs. What, I asked myself as I pressed send, is the worst case scenario? It was a toss-up:

1) A reply of "no."
2) No reply.
3) A reply of "who are you and why are you bothering me?"

But, as is almost always the case, my fear was unwarranted. His response was as swift as it was enthusiastic. I mailed off the manuscript and within a few weeks had a beautiful quote for the back cover of the book. It still makes me beam every time I read it.

I met Robert the year before, at the Banff Centre where I was part of the Writing with Style program. He was there as a Visiting Fellow, writing and reading and listening to students read. I was star-struck by his presence, but too shy to approach him.

One afternoon he gave a beautiful reading of his recent work. As he read, one of his hands trembled. I know it was likely age-related, but it looked like he was writing, always, with an invisible pen.

Later that week, I read too -- one of the first times I'd read the boxing poems to an audience. I felt strong and powerful and I could tell that the little audience was engaged. After the reading, Robert came up to me and, unfortunately, I've forgotten everything he said after "Holy mackerel."

I've rolled those two words, in his voice, around in my brain so many times, they've been tumbled smooth. I'll relish them forever. And more, now that he's gone.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I was thrilled, then immediately terrified, when Kerry Clare asked me to contribute a reading list to Canadian Bookshelf. And, later, when I asked for an extension -- something I've never, ever done, even in school -- she upped the anxiety ante by saying she'd await my list with "gleeful expectation." Gulp.

The rules were pretty simple: 5-10 Canadian-authored, currently in-print, books on any theme I chose. Easy, right? Well, as it turns out:

A) I'm not as well-read as I like to think I am,
B) I mostly read pretty conservative, mainstream stuff, and almost exclusively fiction (wha?),
C) I don't have a great memory for books I've read, even ones I've loved,
D) I'm not very good at choosing.

So, the assignment proved to be a challenge, though a fun challenge. After many trial run lists on a variety of themes, I settled on the easiest one of all (not far-off from my sister's suggestion: "Canadian-authored, currently in-print books I like"), one where anything could fit. (OK, not quite everything. The list is sadly lacking in Leonard Cohen. I also wanted to work in This Can't Be Happening at MacDonald Hall*, but just couldn't swing it.) Regardless, here it is.

("Heavyweight titles" is much less clunky than "mostly novels about the prairies and/or war and/or kids." Wouldn't you agree?)

* I googled the title, to get an image for the top of this post, only to discover that the Gordon Korman classic is now called This Can't Be Happening and was re-released in 2003 "with a new look and updated text (updated to match today's economy and slang)."  

Monday, June 6, 2011

Writing on the Wall

It's not every day I get an e-mail from someone saying: "Hey, I want to put your poems, ginormously sized, on the exterior of a building in an area with tons of summertime foot traffic, and highly visible from the cafe patio right across the street. Is that all right?" My reply: "um, YES!"

It's even sweeter that the building in question is the one that houses Pan Am Boxing, where I'm incredibly proud to be a member. To have my poems on those particular walls is a huge honour.

I knew the panels were coming, but I was still surprised to see them when I headed into class last week. For one, they're much larger and more eye-catching than I'd envisioned. There are also more of them: seven panels (when, for some reason, I thought there would be four) covering the ground floor and second floor windows.

I can't think of more prominent, or appropriate place for, promotion for my book and I'm thrilled with how great they look (especially pretty with the flower baskets on a beautiful June day) and I'm hoping it will encourage more people to consider poetry-scaping.

Check them out next time you're in the Exchange District: Arthur at McDermot, across from Cake-ology. (And while you're there, why not check out the club? I can't recommend it more highly.)

Now, here's hoping they don't tagged.

Merry merry month of May

May has come and gone, and with it: May Day.

As usual it was a busy and productive month of writing (minus a 6-day business/pleasure jaunt to Vancouver) and of loving/hating May Day. But, for the first time I didn't beat myself up when I didn't write a new poem every friggin' day. (Which I have managed to do before, but under self-imposed conditions that I can only describe as inhumane.) I met my own goal of 20 new pieces, all about Edouard Beaupre. (You remember him, the tall guy.) And I didn't even cheat by posting stuff I'd already written, which I'd kind of planned to do.

Where I failed was keeping up with, and commenting on, other poets' work. Gone are those early May Days of hitting post at 11:59 pm, then cruising everyone's work into the wee hours where we'd agonize over line breaks together. Or, at least that's the romanticized version I choose to remember.

I still don't know where exactly the Beaupre poems are going -- but they're tending toward prose (?!?), cowboyism and what I hope will be a dark, wry, intriguing character. After spending a month with Edouard, I feel like I'm getting a sense of his voice. (And a sense of how much research is likely warranted, which I find vaguely frightening.)

But, I'm off to a kind of start, and for that I'm thankful. I'm thankful too, to the May Day crew, for another year of thoughtful writing, reading and solidarity.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

May as well.

Snow's gone (again). Sun's back. It's May Day in these parts. Let the grueling writing schedule begin!

This is my sixth year taking part in the blog-based poetry project spearheaded by Ariel Gordon. Three days in and I'm already tired, struggling to find subjects to write about, and wriggling under self-applied pressure. All that said, it's always a great, productive time. Everyone working away diligently on their own projects and connecting online to share fresh work, perspectives, feedback. We've a healthy group of 16 poets this year and I'm already inspired by what I've seen.

Although I have, a few times, completed 31 poems during May Days past, due to some mid-month travel, that won't happen this year. But, I'm using May Day 2011 to dive into my newest project: this guy.

Edouard Beaupre, giant of Willow Bunch, Saskatchewan. More on him to come. Much more, hopefully.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


I know, in theory, that my little books are out in the world, being read, or waiting shyly on shelves somewhere. I know because once in awhile I get a royalty payment or whathaveyou. The cheques are small (though nonetheless welcome!) so I know that sales are drib-drabby at best.  

And I know my books are in libraries because I get a little cheque every year from the Public Lending Right Commission. Payments are based on an annual survey of a handful of libraries across the country; the amount of your payment is based on how many of those libraries have your book in their catalogue. But still, even though I've been cashing those cheques for a couple of years, I didn't ever stop and think: hey, my books are actually IN libraries. Being checked out (hopefully), or thumbed through, or -- gasp -- stolen. And by people I don't know in places I've never been.

Then I heard about, the world's largest library catalogue, and decided to take a look-see for my books. And it kind of blew me away. Both of my books are all over North America, mostly in university libraries. (Including Ivy League ones!) Vs. can be borrowed in Santa Cruz, CA; from the Library of Congress in Washington; Princeton; Harvard; and a whole wodge of Canadian universities. (The Sleeping Life gets even more hits.) Sure, I don't know how often these copies actually circulate, but I'm pretty chuffed at the thought of all places my books get to go, all the people who might be reading it.

So, thanks, libraries, for supporting small press poetry, and offering it up to all of us for free... as long as we return our loans on time...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Running up.

No cigars for me, lately, though I've been close a couple of times. There was the second place in TNQ's Nick Blatchford Occasional Verse contest, honourable mention (IE 4th place) in PF's Bliss Carman, 4th place among the women who took part an 8-week fitness program/contest at my boxing club. Then today, I learned that I'd placed somewhere among the top FIFTY in the Summer Literary Seminar contest. (To keep that in perspective, there were 900-something entries, so the ranking is still sort of encouraging.)

So, you can find me, pretty consistently, just over from the podium, within smelling distance of victory. (Which is especially pungent in the case of the boxing thing.) Not that I mean this as a complaint. It's pretty great just to be in proximity of winners.

But it has me thinking: when did writing -- and everything -- start feeling like a contest to be one or lost? And then I realize: it was when I started entering contests. Duh. Or maybe when I started publishing -- having a lit mag take a poem or a publisher accept a manuscript is exactly the same kind of competition, but your name ends up on a table of contents or better yet, a title page, instead of a shortlist. Prizes seem more prestigious because they come with bigger cheques and because they get more media attention than, say, a new issue of a journal.

But really, it's all completely subjective, we're all beholden to the whims of editors and juries, so why even spend precious writing time thinking about it? Besides, my Mom thinks I'm pretty hot stuff. And so, I hereby celebrate my recent experiences adjacent to glory.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

wall eyeing

OK, so it's not one of the large, permanent-type author headshots. (A few of which -- including my beloved L. Cohen -- are looking a bit sun-faded, btw.) It's a paper print-out, affixed with push pins, above the cash desk. Still, I'm pretty excited to be up on the walls at McNally Robinson, no matter how temporarily.

Not sure who had to make the certainly grueling decisions about which authors to include, or where to position them, but I lucked into a pretty sweet spot. If you come in through the parking lot doors, look up and to the right. Sure, I would have like to have been next to (sigh) Michael Ondaatje, but I'm in a good neighbourhood -- just upstairs from Michael van Rooy and kitty-corner to Carol Shields.

Take a gander next time you're in. And, I'll be at McNally's live and in person on Tuesday, April 19th, opening for Anvil author Rachel Thompson. Looking forward to it!

(The photo they used, also the one on the top of this blog, was taken by J. on the verandah of my parents' cottage. I'd just woken up from a nap, which accounts for the dreamy, out-of-sorts expression and the bed-head.)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Actually, I take milk, please.

(image from Black Coffee Poet's photo essay of Toronto Newsgirls' Boxing Club.)

It was all about me this week... over at, that is.

OK, it wasn't just about me. It was somewhat about me, partly about Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club, mostly about boxing, and substantially about International Women's Day. And poetry. Still, it was fun to have my work featured there over the past week.

On Monday, BCP posted a review of Vs., along with a video on Toronto Newsgirls, a women's boxing club in Toronto. On Wednesday, an interview with me, interspersed with photos from Newsgirls. And, on Friday, a video of Newsgirls' owner Savoy "Kapow" Howe (whose nickname I covet), reading from Vs., while members of the club "acted out" some of the poems.

It was exciting/strange to see my poems out in the world, being performed without me. I tried not to quibble about intonation, pacing, or the fact that the medicine ball drill the Newsgirls do seems much more civilized than the ones to which I am accustomed.

It was pretty nifty, though, and I liked the peek inside another club. I'd heard of Newsgirls some time ago, then met one of their members at a reading I did in Toronto in December. I'd like to check it out in person the next time I visit TO; it looks like a pretty supportive and inclusive club -- just like my own Pan Am.

Monday, February 28, 2011


Jeope and I have competing gigs next Wednesday... mine's a reading at Aqua, his a presentation at the GDC's first Pecha Kucha of 2011. Mine starts early; he's on in the second half, so really there's no reason a person can't attend both. That's what I'll be doing, anyway.


The Aqua Books Lansdowne Prize for Poetry Series:

Charlene Diehl, with Stacy Doiron and Kerry Ryan, Wednesday, March 9/11 7pm



Charlene Diehl 
Charlene Diehl is a writer, educator, critic, teacher and the director of THIN AIR, Winnipeg’s annual literary splash. She has published essays, poetry, non-fiction, reviews, and interviews in journals across Canada, and has to her credit a scholarly book on Fred Wah as well as a collection of poetry, lamentations, and two chapbooks, mm and The Lover’s Handbook. Excerpts from Out of Grief Singing, which appeared in Prairie Fire, won a a Gold Award for Best Article - Manitoba at the Western Magazine Awards. She was the featured poet in the fall 2007 issue of CV2. When she’s not chasing literary language (or her two speed pre-teens), she edits dig! Magazine, Winnipeg's little-jazz-engine-that-could.

Stacy Doiron 
Stacy Doiron is a poet, avid cyclist, kung fu artist, and editor whose poems have been published in Contemporary Verse 2. She recently participated in the Manitoba Writers' Guild Sheldon Oberman Emerging Writers' Mentor Program and attended the Great Blue Heron Writing Workshop at St. Francis Xavier University. She currently resides in a radical co-op house in West End Winnipeg and works at a corporate-esque publishing company in Point Douglas.

Kerry Ryan 
Kerry Ryan lives and writes in Winnipeg. Her first collection of poetry, The Sleeping Life, was published by The Muses’ Company in 2008 and nominated for the Aqua Lansdowne Prize for Poetry in 2009. She has had poetry published in a number of journals, including Prairie Fire, Grain, Room, CV2 and Carousel. Her second collection, Vs., was published by Anvil Press in 2010. Kerry was Aqua Books Writer-in-Residence for September-December 2010.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Nice story in The Uniter this week about Vs.! Check it out.

It was a fun interview, with thoughtful questions. (Many along the lines of: what's harder -- boxing or writing poems? Hmmm. Gooooooood question.) The reporter recorded it on her iPhone-a-ma-gadget. Which made me feel both totally modern and hopelessly out of touch.

I like that she picked up on some of the themes that other interviewers haven't: how boxing, and writing about boxing, affected my identity and self-perception, and how the hardest part of training was getting the brain and body to work together. 

I think it's funny she ascribed some boxing prowess to me. I must come off pretty tough while drinking tea at the Second Cup! As any Pan Am member can attest: you don't have to be good at something to write a book about it. (Still, it's a nice thought.)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Honourably mentioning a new poem.

A winery in Southern Saskatchewan. Go figure. (photo by Jeope.)

I had a nice -- and hugely surprising -- break from my logey state of "What next?iness" this week when I came home to a message on the machine from the good folks at Prairie Fire, saying I'd received an honourable mention (read: just left of the podium, in 4th place) in the Bliss Carman Poetry Award contest.

The poem, "afternoon storm*", will be published alongside the winners in this summer's issue. In the meantime, I continue to covet the first prize, a spectacular silver and turquoise ring (a replica of Carman's). Still, it's exciting/heart-breaking to be within drooling distance.

* about an afternoon spent at the Cypress Hills Winery, pictured above.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Thank you, TNQ.

Oh, how I love The New Quarterly!

And not just because it was one of the first (second, actually) mags to publish one of my poems. Every issue brings a great leaping of joy to my heart, as the Lorax might say. Delicious writing, delicate editing, electric images. And each one a beautiful object to hold and experience, too.  

So, I decided to enter TNQ's Nick Blatchford Occasional Verse contest last summer, but mostly because I wanted to subscribe anyway, and had a couple of poems I thought might fit the bill, so, what the hell? I do the same thing every year with Prairie Fire's Bliss Carman contest and consider it part of my renewal process. (Also, truly, my fingers ache for the prize -- a ginormous turquoise ring.)

I was so thrilled to get an e-mail from editor Kim Jernigan in late August saying that one of my pieces had tied for second place. (I know it's runner-up position, but it felt the same as victory to me.) The poem, called "Orbit," had its genesis from one of my early May Day forays, written in celebration of a first birthday. (The other poem I submitted was inspired by my loathing of Sunday nights.)

And the good news kept piling up. Jeanette Lynes, who I met last year in Banff, and who was gracious enough to provide a blurb for Vs., was the first-place winner. And Kerry Clare's essay came in second place in the Edna Staebler Personal Essay contest, printed in the same issue. Such wonderful company!

Visit your local newsstand to see the issue, or click here to read my interview with Kim.