New Publications:

The Thing With Feathers by Jessica Outram

Poetry

by Antony Di Nardo

Is poetry story? A tale told twice? Once in the saying and once in how the reader responds? Perhaps. There is evidence of that when you read Jessica Outram’s first book of poetry, nodding your head and agreeing with her that “this is a story about feeling alive.” “Feeling” is the operative word here, and the reader finds that these poems are meant to be felt, absorbed and read with the heart in mind. The language evokes a self-analysis. The poetry emotes. Its imagery relies on binaries of light and dark, highs and lows, memory and reflection. Struggles and successes. Emptiness and fulfillment. Whenever description dominates a poem, it is used to reveal the heart of the speaker and has that special language of heartfelt words echoed in the mind of the reader. Emotions – of loss and anguish, doubt and despair, resilience and redemption – puddle at the bottom of the page.

The voice we hear in these poems talks mostly in the third person and, as the speaker tells the “story about feeling alive,” she faces her inner self, rooted in family and childhood, struggling with acceptance. She wrestles the personal demons she’s trapped and contained in poems that evoke the “jar” as a trope for the self as a vessel. In these poems, the speaker is addressing herself in the first person. As a poetic device it secures an intimate bond between speaker and reader, the reader almost eavesdropping, while Outram carries that “jar” from section to section in this book. Listen to how she begins one of these poems:

I opened the jar and it whispered to me,

a piece of the story is missing.

The jar is containment, whether empty or full, and is always in the process of becoming more or less the sum of itself. The jar is a piece of the story. Later in the book, she writes, “jars are / made to be used” but only after we learn, in a previous poem, that “jar writes at a desk.” I find fascinating how easily the poet manipulates this image of the jar into such different manifestations of the self as both subject and object, as both a vehicle for action and a vessel of past experience.

Some poetry is written to be appreciated for excellence of conceit and craft of language; some poems are to be considered as unique works of art, the stuff of Keats’ “negative capability.” Sometimes Outram’s work comes close to achieving such high praise: when her imagery and diction are fresh and lively, the language then flies off the page. Her poem, “The Thing with Feathers,” that gives the book its title, is a classic example of just that and well worth the price of admission. In this poem, “a wilted flower [is] delivered in the wind” and “there is beauty in death” as the poem’s persona, “waiting for sunflower doors to open, … dreamed of blue fish on willow trees.” What first appears to be a dead flower undergoes a metamorphosis into that “thing with feathers” and, having “prayed for a thousand angels to carry her,” the struggle with body-image is overcome, and the dead bird is re-animated, “holding onto beauty in its way just like her.” The imagery is dynamic. Outram understands that poetry is all about putting the right words in the right order.

“The Moon Shines a Path” begins with the brilliant line, “sadness tucks around furniture.” It’s early dawn and the last of moonlight reveals a cardinal at the window with whom the poem’s persona “… feels connected / talking to birds      instead of herself.” Outram does with words what flight can do for birds – and for readers alike: they takes us far, then closer, moving us in and through the light that a poem leaves upon the page.

In both these poems, and in many others, there is an enduring, mythic quality, a sense of wonder which relies on and emerges from Outram’s ancestral roots and from her close affinity with Nature. It is as if the seeds of childhood and that of her origins (“seeds” are another recurring image in this book) have sprouted and the resulting poetry defines a place for itself in the mind of the reader.

This is Outram at her best, sensitive to how words paint experience and how line breaks and diction can be used to create thoughtful pauses and lyrical moments, describing the symmetry that registers as poetry. In these particular poems she avoids the sentimental and comfortable clichés that sometimes clutter other ones, poems that dwell too long (and longingly, I suppose) on the state of the heart, as if it’s all that matters when emotions are privileged and the aesthetics of poetry be damned.

Fortunately, that is not the case when she writes about Nature. In “Five Ways of Looking at Summer,” she re-invigorates Wallace Stevens’ poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” echoing it almost word for word as she appropriates and personalizes the original poem’s playful language and powers of observation. “Wild Geese at Lake Ontario”, inspired by another American poet, Mary Oliver, is a sensitive execution of poetic flight that the speaker has been “folding into this space.” Outram once again explores an image that keeps re-surfacing in her work. That of space, both external and internal, a theme that’s repeated in her “Jar” poems, as well as in the first-person performances of the poems she calls “Act One”, “Act Two” and “Act Three.” These are some of the most successful and striking poems in this collection. They unravel and stage, beautifully I might add, an introspective state of emptiness as a space that’s waiting to be filled. She writes:

 

I’m empty, a container,

                                                                        a vessel to collect

                                                                        whatever you desire

 

I desire more lines like these, and eagerly anticipate Acts Four and Five.

Jessica Outram’s poetry is personal and intimate, characterized by lyrical flights that insist on honesty and sincerity. I can think of no better comment for this work than her very own words: “she watches stories of reciprocity / the value of slow, the courage of noticing. … eye to eye she understands stories of transformation / gifts of seeing, the knowing of living.” It is poetry that’s both affective and effective in recognizing the power of expression as a means of revealing the human spirit and how it is reflected in the outside world. There is clarity of language in these poems, and in that clarity the reader finds what it means to feel alive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Donna Langevin, a retired teacher and mother of three sons, wears a triple hat. Poet and playwright, co-author of four ESL books, she is a long-time resident of Toronto. Her latest poetry collections include The Laundress of Time, Aeolus House 2015, In the Café du Monde, Hidden Brook Press 2008 and two chapbooks with Lyricalmyrical Press. She won first prize in the TOPS Contest 2008 and also in the Cyclamens and Swords contest 2009. She was short-listed for the Descant 2010 Winston Collins prize and was awarded second prize in the GritLIT Poetry Competition 2014 and second prize in The Banister Anthology competition 2017.


Donna is also an accomplished playwright: The Man with a Butterfly Hat was produced at the Toronto Alumnae Theatre New Ideas Festival, 2012. Welcome to Nuit Blanche was produced at the Ryerson 50+ Festival, 2014. The Dinner, published by Morel magazine, won first prize for script in the one act play contest for the 2014 Eden Mills Writers’ Festival as did Bargains in the New World in 2015. If Socrates Were in My Shoes was produced at Alumnae Theatre NIF, 2018.

KUDOS for Through Painted Eyes

Donna Langevin’s stunning poetry collection is indeed “brimming”—with tenderness and insight, benediction and bereavement. Odes—to brother, lover, sons and self, as well as daredevils—span from Quebec cabins to Niagara Falls barrels, from hospital beds to chambers of the heart.
Langevin explores “miracle-making” in the lives of the “broken beautiful” in heart-stings, heart attack, heartache and the gritty “what ifs” and “tumour talk.”
Delicate and individual as snowflakes, yet in her courageous and unflinching voice, the lightness of Langevin’s poetry is like “helium” that “still pines for an impossible refuge.”

Kate Marshall Flaherty

Donna Langevin’s “BRIMMING” overflows with emotion for the vulnerable people she loves. This collection wells with longing for their survival like a prayer and celebrates their recoveries. Donna Langevin’s Catholic upbringing informs much of the collection; the poems are spiritual, often irreverent and defiant. The section “IN LIEU OF AN ODE” devoted to her brother who has struggled with heart problems is driven by joy like her whimsical poem “The Blue Sleigh” after a 1924 painting by Quebec artist Sarah Robertson. The Quebec settings in this section are vividly and beautifully described.
The collection moves from the personal into persona poems with a hilarious section about dare devils going over Niagara Falls in barrels, balls and kayaks, “TO STAY AFLOAT”. The risk taking persona of the collection’s narrator is evoked through these poems with a self-mocking tone.
The section “THE MAN WHO SLEPT BESIDE TORPEDOES” was inspired by a long time love and their journey through his cancer treatment and recovery. These poems swing from terror to tenderness and are not afraid to laugh. In “Waves”, from “THE THING IN THE MIRROR” about her “face plant” accident, she recalls “the first red breakers of pain” and getting to know her new face. In the poems devoted to her sons, Langevin continues her brimming. She swells with hope for her middle son after he has a heart attack in his forties and with longing as a mother who sought her own fulfilment over her middle son’s needs. The poem for her youngest son’s birthday sunflowers brims with gratitude and the poem for her eldest son about his memory of his grandfather folding a newspaper as carefully as origami celebrates newly discovered facets of her eldest son.
The poems about the poet’s own vulnerability in the final section, “THE STORIES THAT WRITE US”, do not flinch. The narrator defiantly regrets nothing like Edith Piaf’s “Sparrow”, yet longs for refuge in “A Year After Your Passing, Mom”. The narrator imagines her own passing as she recalls her grandmother’s story of the stork bringing new life in a knitted blanket in “An Old Yarn”.
This brave and beautiful collection does not turn away from suffering or mortality, but faces them with whimsy, playful language, original images and courageous honesty.

Kate Rogers

A-brim with wise tenderness, Donna Langevin’s prayers and hauntings proceed (In Lieu of an Ode) from a heart bridged by leg veins, over-the-falls (To Stay Afloat), embracing risk and immersing us in a nuclear sub romance. Often witty, always emotionally available, Duende is there too, constant as an intravenous feed, as Langevin deftly approaches themes of corporeal fragility and forbearance, in poems that write us — flesh out their plots in our bloodstreams and bones.
Tom Hamilton

Brimming
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Valentino Assenza has been a published poet and spoken word artist for over two decades. He has published four chapbooks of poetry: Wandering Absence, Il Ritorno (Labour Of Love Productions), Quiet Confessions of a Loudmouth and Make Our Peace With Rattlesnakes (Lyricalmyrical Press). He has had numerous pieces of poetry published in anthologies such as Labour Of Love and Descant Magazine. He has read and performed his poetry throughout Canada and the U.S.A.

Valentino was a member of the Toronto Poetry Slam team in 2009 and 2010 and has performed his poetry at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word and The National Poetry Slam. Valentino sat on the committees for the Art Bar Poetry Series and Toronto Poetry Project.

He currently lives in Toronto, and is the co-host and co-producer of Howl, a spoken word, literary radio show, Tuesday nights at 10pm on CIUT 89.5 FM.

KUDOS for Through Painted Eyes

No bluff, no puffery: Valentino Assenza brings it! His poetry is born alive, chanting authentic, operatic hymns–howlin prayers–with some bittersweet tangs and tones in the warp and woof, These verses guard and nurse an alien tongue–to better lash and whip the eardrums of those Canucks who like their Can Lit canned. Cos Assenza don’t consent to one-way assimilation! Discontented, he’s gotta do Al Purdy proud; he’s gotta make over Gord Downie; his Canadiana gotta come out Latinate–Italianate–as if Puccini is kicked back with an espresso on College Street (Toronto) or as if Dante be critiquing Fellini in a Bracebridge rec room. Through Painted Eyes gives us English “romanced” to seem a “romance language”– but piquant, and dulcet, peppery, with Negronis on tap and Hendrix on the hi-fi.

George Elliott Clarke
Toronto Poet Laureate (2012-15)
Parliamentary Poet Laureate (2016-17)

Through Painted Eyes is a beautiful collection. Through tender poetic snapshots and lush lyrical vignettes, Valentino Assenza takes us on a journey of memory that spans both generations and continents – where the old world of Sicilian shopkeepers merges with the modern, urban hustle of Toronto’s east end. Through Painted Eyes will help you remember how the wisdom of the past can heal us and move us forward. It will tickle your sense of nostalgia, ignite a desire to be drenched in tradition and culture, but most importantly, it will open your heart.

Andrea Thompson

Valentino Assenza writes like an angel performing open heart surgery with no anesthetic. It is raw and poignant and should come with a warning label for those who are afraid of the truth, frightened by love, and leave tears in their memories.

Norman Cristofoli





Through Painted Eyes
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All This Blood is the second full-length collection from Susie Berg. Her first book, How to Get Over Yourself (2013) was also published by Piquant Press.

Her work has appeared in such journals as carte blanche, ArsMedica, and Understorey, and in the anthologies Desperately Seeking Susans, The Mom Egg Review, and Body and Soul.

Her chapbooks include Awaiting Butterflies from words(on)pages press, and You Will Still Have Birds: A Conversation in Poetry with Elana Wolff, from Lyrical Myrical Press.

Susie Berg is also the former co-curator of Toronto’s Plasticine Poetry reading series.


 
 
All This Blood was launched at Hot-Sauced Words Poetry Performances in Toronto on February 21st, 2017.
 
 
The launch featured TRIBUTE READINGS by fellow poets:
Elana Wolff,
Lisa Richter,
Valentino Assenza,
Lisa Young,
Nicki Ward
and Kate Marshall Flaherty.

REVIEWS of ALL This Blood:

These centos, imitations, and found poems scavenge truths by lift-ing telling phrases overheard in cafes and bars, glimpsed on Face-book, or recalled from childhood and adult encounters. They are at turns heart-wrenching, painful, and humorous. From the poet Ellen Bass, Susie Berg has learned the art of the heart-twist and how to reveal underlying anxieties, the deeper currents in the blood that flow beneath our dailiness. Even as she resists easy conclusions — “I won’t untwist the bottle of memory / name all these shades of longing” — Berg delivers an unsettling yet cohe-sive collection. With calm assurance and vivid detail, these poems take on the moments when blood emerges into the light, blurring “the distance between true and / what we believe.”
 
Kateri Lanthier

Susie Berg’s All This Blood burns brilliantly with arresting senso-rial language and images steeped in life’s great unfolding and memorable moments. Berg’s well-crafted potent lines are salient, and reaffirm these diurnal instances ushering in the cogent under-standing recollection brings. All This Blood folds us into Berg’s cyclic experiences, and we instantly see and feel the dynamic wonder of common humanity on display. Her reminiscence is our retrospection, or as Berg says herself, “history is the reason / I lead you to the edge.”
 
Michael Fraser





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Bänoo Zan is a poet, translator, teacher, editor and poetry curator, with more than 120 published poems and poetry-related pieces as well as two books. Song of Phoenix: Life and Works of Sylvia Plath, was reprinted in Iran in 2008. Songs of Exile, her first poetry collection, was released in 2016 in Canada by Guernica Editions.

Letters to My Father is her second poetry book.

She is the founder of Shab-e She’r (Poetry Night), Toronto’s most diverse poetry reading and open mic series. It is a brave space that bridges the gap between communities of poets from different ethnicities, nationalities, religions (or lack thereof), ages, genders, sexual orientations, disabilities, poetic styles, voices and visions.
 
Facebook & LinkedIn: Bänoo Zan
Twitter: @BanooZan

 





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2015 10 19 Amazing Secret Dreams FRONT
Piquant Press was approached in early 2015 by Brandon Pitts and Nik Beat’s sister, Teresa Longley, about the possibility of publishing Nik’s poetry collection: AMAZING SECRET DREAMS.
 
Brandon had been working on the collection with Nik at the time of Nik’s untimely death in the fall of 2014.
 
Nik had been an enthusiastic supporter of Piquant Press and had interviewed us, and our published poets, on his Howl Radio show, eight times.
 
Our answer was an enthusiastic YES!
 
 
 
It has been a labour of love and dedication working with Brandon as the editor to prepare Nik’s book for publication.
 
A special thanks to Sue Reynolds for designing the book cover.
 
And thanks to Jennifer Hosein for allowing us to photograph one of Nik’s iconic paintings for the front cover.





Nik Beat: Amazing Secret Dreams
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IF THE WORLD WERE TO STOP SPINNING by DAVID CLINK w240





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Susie Petersiel Berg is a writer and editor. She is the author of the chapbook Paper Cuts (2007), and of The Starbucks Poetry Project (sber40.wix.com/ susieberg), an ongoing series of poems inspired by lines overheard at Starbucks. She has been published in journals such as carte blanche, Ars Medica, and Paragon, and in the anthologies Desperately Seeking Susans, Body and Soul, and Seek It: Writers and Artists Do Sleep
 
She is a graduate of the summer programs at The Humber College School of Writers (2004) and The St. FX Great Blue Heron Writers’ Workshop (2006, 2007). She lives in Toronto with her husband and two children, who all support her need to disappear into words every day.





How to Get Over Yourself
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The CartographersSkin cvr
Lara Bozabalian’s poetry and prose have been published in newspapers, journals and two literary anthologies. She has featured at reading series and universities around Ontario, including the Art Bar, Harbourfront’s Canadian Voices Slam, the Luminato ‘New Waves’ Festival, Queen’s University Slam, the Eden Mills Writers Festival and the Words Aloud Festival.
 
As a member of the Toronto Poetry Slam Team, Lara represented Toronto at the 2009 American National Poetry Slam and Canadian Festival of Spoken Word. She also competed at the Individual World Poetry Slam and at the Women of the World Poetry Slam.
 
As Head of English at a public high school, Lara founded and runs a spoken word festival for high school students across York Region, and is a founding member of Toronto Poetry Project, a collective dedicated to fostering social change and creative writing opportunities.





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For more information about this award winning poet, please visit: www.larabozabalian.com
 

The Patternmaker’s Crumpled Plan is no longer available online.
Barb Hunt can be contacted through her website:
 
www.writersplayground.ca