Checking In: With Nedjo Rogers

Nedjo Roger’s often politically engaged poetry and songwriting pursue glimpses of transcendence in the everyday. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Canadian LiteratureSubTerrainContemporary Verse 2, and Class Collective, among others journals and online publications, and in various chapbooks including In Air/Air Out in 2011.

PP: It’s been a minute since we last connected. What are some artistic projects you’ve worked on in the past few years?

NR: In 2014 I wrote and performed a Chaucer-inspired solo mock epic in verse, “The Trois-Rivieres Tales,” for the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival and reprised it in 2016 in Vancouver and on Salt Spring Island. So much fun to be part of the Fringe.

I co-host the monthly Salt Spring Public Library Open Mic and in 2017 I put together a project that published the chapbook Blackberries: Poems from the Salt Spring Library Open Mic.

In 2018 I was lucky enough to connect with a travelling musician JA Cockburn who arranged and recorded a bunch of my songs, which led to the 9-song album My Utopia Is DIY.

In 2019 with sponsorship from Salt Spring Arts I put together a two-day performance festival, Saltfest. I lined up a performance space and ten shows, supported the artists with their performance needs, hosted.

PP: Wow! That’s an amazing amount of productivity and lifting up other writers. What have you read lately that lit you up? Can you add a why or how for the shoutout.

NR: I’ve been intrigued by approaches to narrative. Ali Smith’s Companion Piece, how it freely weaves in myth, etymology, dream. In Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout I was fascinated by how explicitly the narrator sets out structure and even the mechanics of the story. How does this not interfere with the spell of the fiction? But it didn’t, at least not for me as a reader. I also recently read or reread most of Ivan Coyote’s back catalogue. Love their storytelling.

PP: Solid choice. Love Ivan’s books too. What’s your life’s focus these days, literary or otherwise?

NR: The highlights are of my week are two afternoons my partner and I spend with our two year old grandchild, plus a day a week I help out one of my kids on their farm. I fit in paid work and writing where I can around that.

PP: That sounds super-healthy and life-work balanced.What have you got underway or forthcoming? Anything you can speak about?

NR: I have a piece coming up in Canadian Literature’s special issue on poetics and extraction. I’m at work on and off on a history of mining in British Columbia inspired by the vignette style of narrative that Eduardo Galeano used in his Memory of Fire trilogy.

I’ve been dabbling recently at the intersection of poetry and code. A first experiment is “The Last Poem”, recently published at Technoculture.

PP: Cool. I’ll check that out. Any other work can people read?

NR: My chapbook A Country In Between with two pieces I wrote for performance is available as a PDF to download and print. The first piece is a sonnet cycle that begins from the question: how would the “fair youth” that most of Shakespeare’s sonnets are addressed to to respond to the bard?

A satirical poem “The Meaning of Class in Relatively Wealthy Industrialized States Fairly Early in the Twenty First Century” is in Class Collective, which describes itself as “A literary magazine that illuminates the class struggle(s) hidden in the shadows of our culture.”

PP: Cool. Any author site, social media urls or things you’d like to plug?

NR: There’s a bunch up on my author site at nedjo.ca and I have a couple of freely downloadable albums on Bandcamp at https://nedjoblake.bandcamp.com.

PP: Super. Thanks for taking your time to share all this! Any last notes?

NR: Just that I love what you’re doing here, checking in with the many writers you’ve published. It’s been fun reading on your blog what others have been up to. So much of the arts is this work of connecting. So thanks for this!

PP: Quite literally, my pleasure. It’s wondrous how much skilled creativity there is busting out all around.

Checking In: With Michael e. Casteels

Michael e. Casteels has been a regular at the Ottawa Small Press fair making small handmade wonders on site. I think/hope I have all his illiterature magazine issues put out over the decade. Seen eight, his rubber stamped edition of 100 copies? He has chapbooks and his The Last White House at the End of the Row of White Houses which I’ve read a few times, a mix of surreal and minimalist. (Daniel Haislet describes it). I had the good fortune to publish him twice, 6 poems in 2014 and the same year 3 Chapters Towards an Epic.

PP: What have you read lately, Michael, that lit you up? Why so?

MeC: After a brief reprieve I’ve been diving deep into Westerns again. I’m currently in the midst of the Thalia trilogy, by Larry McMurtry, a Pulitzer prize winner and one of the greatest Western writers of all time. After reading a bunch of pulp/pocket westerns, it really me me up to read some literary westerns again. 

I’ve also been reading through various issues of Industrial Sabotage by jwcurry. Each issue is incredibly different in terms of content and presentation. Some are rubber-stamped on used envelopes or soup can labels, some are full-colour publications, some are collage pieces housed in a card stock envelope. Each issue delightful, and, for me as a publisher, highly educational. 

PP: What’s life’s focus these days, literary or otherwise? Baby, yes?

MeC: Yep. My primary focus in life right now is my 8-month old daughter, Etta. Most of my time is spent engaging with, and learning from her. We spend lots of time reading, and exploring the outside world. She’s a brilliant human being. 

This year I’ve also set a goal of getting at least one camping trip in per month. It’s been a good challenge that has really pushed my capabilities and expanded my outdoor confidence. I’ve slept outside at -28 and +28 so far this year. I’m excited to see what other trips will come up. 


PP: Oh my. Camping at -14 is where I bottom out. What is underway or forthcoming? Anything you can tell?

MeC: I’ve just finished my largest collage project to date. It’s a prose equivalent to visual poetry, so I’m calling it a vispro project. I’ve basically taken an entire pocket western, Hondo, by Louis L’Amour and, through various collage techniques, have rewritten it and titled it ondo. It’s 44 pages long. I thought it would take me a month or so to complete, and I spent nearly 6 months working on it. I’ve finally scanned it all and will begin sending it out to potential presses soon.


PP: Congrats on making that stage! What work out there of yours can people read at the moment? 

MeC: My most recent book is minimalist metawestern titled “The Man with the Spider Scar”. I published it through Puddles of Sky Press. It was printed and bound at Coach House Printing, and it’s a really lovely little book. Other recent titles are: Flotsam, from Timglaset & Jetsam, from Simulacrum Press, All We’ve Learned, Which Isn’t Much (With Nick Papaxanthos), from above/ground press.

PP: I missed seeing Flotsam & Jetsam somehow. This is why we ask questions. Any author site, social media urls or things you’d like to plug?

MeC: To stay up to date with my printing projects you can check out www.puddlesofskypress.com 

PP: Thanks Michael. Hopefully see you come November.

Checking In: With Monty Reid

Monty Reid is “former Director at VerseFest, former Managing Editor of Arc Poetry Magazine, former guitar/mandolin at Call Me Katie, what now?” Which sounds like he’s fielding suggestions. Intelligence agency poems? Small biology poems? New Covid poems? What do you want to see, folks?

He has published a whack of books and chapbooks, almost all of which I have.

Monty Reid had Kissing Bug out with phafours in 2014. He was also in the 2011 Air Out/In Air, a chapbook anthology for the Guatamala Stove Project . (The GSP made 7,600 family cookstoves, 22 backpacks with school supplies this year and over $31,000 in microloans for Maya farmers. Wonderful when people work together.)

PP: So Monty, what have you read lately that’s lit you up?

MR: There’s always something lighting me up. I really liked Jorie Graham’s breathless Runaway. I liked her early work, but after a while everything she wrote just became so routinely portentous its power faded.  But Runaway, urgent with climate change and so many failures of meaning, is inspired work.  

PP: (Let me interject: her opening poem about rainstorm is particularly apt at time of writing.)

MR: For the past few years I’ve been making a point of reading poets from non-anglo languages (mostly in translation) in part just to get away from our overwhelming self-regard.  One of my recent favorites is Antonio Gamoneda’s Book of the Cold.  A Spanish poet, who grew up in (and resisted) the Franco era, taught himself how to read by studying a book of his father’s poetry, worked in a bank for some 25 years and went on to win most of the literary prizes in the Spanish speaking world, his Book of the Cold has only recently been translated (by Katherine Hedeen and Victor Rodriguez Nunez).  A chilly hell, full of remarkable imagery, it charts the instability of post-Franco Spain, and more broadly. A snowball earth, as opposed to an overheated one.

I’ve also been dipping into Dionne Brand’s new Nomenclature, New and Collected Poems.  I wasn’t familiar with some of her early work, so I’m grateful to have it all in a single volume.  A particular pleasure to read the epigrams from 1983. And it’s intriguing to trace some of her language from the early books to the new incantatory long poem – ‘Nomenclature’.  


PP: Wonderful to see someone stretching past English poetry and Canada’s poetry. What’s your general focus these days?

MR: I no longer work with VerseFest or with Arc but I’m writing a lot, about hospitals and medical procedures most recently, since both my wife and I have been dealing with some health issues, altho we seem to have gotten past the worst of it now.  I can’t play music for the time being, and that’s a real loss, but I can still garden, and it looks like it’s going to be a pretty good year.


PP: Excellent to hear you’re writing, and got past the worst of the health hurdels. Do you have things forthcoming?

MR: Three different mss hunting for publishers at the moment, but none accepted yet.  Poems forthcoming in a few magazines (online and in print), and probably a new chapbook from above/ground in the fall.  

PP: Wise publishers should snap them up. What can people read now/soon?

MR: Some poems recent/soon at  @FillingStation, @TrainJournal, @talking_time, @IcefloeP, etc.  My books are slowly disappearing from publisher websites (and a few are long gone) but many can still be found online and I still have copies of most of them, should anyone be looking.  I’m still pretty happy with this one,

Garden by Monty Reid.

PP: Thanks for your time. Monty and for sharing what’s on your plate these days. Looking forward to what comes next from you.

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Checking In: With Rona Shaffran

Rona Shaffran was a key organizer at Tree reading Series back when it was in Arts Court, Ottawa. She was in Chromatic Beliefs, and A Wall’s Sharp White, two outcomes of the Tree Masterclasses, and Barely Their in 2010, also a phafours press chapbook, and of course, her poetry collection.

PP: I remember that we tried to connect for an interview when your first poetry collection came out. Can you tell us now about it? 

Ignite by Rona Shaffran


Ignite,
 published in 2013 by Signature Editions, examines the life of one couple, but, at the same time, evokes universal experiences that we can all share. It’s a book length series of poems that tell a story in four voices – the woman’s, the man’s, an omniscient observer, and ‘we’ or ‘us’. Ignite was consistently well-reviewed. Here are excerpts from two of the reviews. The others are on my website http://www.ronashaffran.ca

“For Rona Shaffran, the ground beneath her feet is important. The linked poems in this collection present some of the most honest and true poetry I have read recently. Ignite opens with a sequence of poems bathed in mid-winter light. The heat in a relationship between a man and woman has gone cold, emotionally and sexually. Its dying embers are described clearly… While reading these lines, just for a moment, I thought I heard echoes of Sexton talking to Roethke.

But the voice here is Shaffran’s own, speaking the naked truth… This is daring, high-wire poetry that requires perfect balance between the female and male personas. This balance and credibility in a dialogue between two voices is difficult to achieve convincingly, yet in Shaffran’s hands, it appears to be easy— it isn’t.

The third and final section of Ignite is the shortest and one of the strongest in this noteworthy collection of poems. The epigraphs in Ignite quote the mid-20th century poets Anne Sexton, Theodore Roethke, and Wallace Stevens. Sexton’s work was deeply personal and sometimes troubled. Roethke’s distinctive poetry, such as “In a Dark Time,” was also troubled. And Stevens’ was brilliant and often cool. The best of these influences and a number of others are apparent in the sometimes cool and hot bursts in Ignite.”

Review in Vallum Magazine, 10:2, Reflections, by James Edward Reid, who publishes in The Sarmatian Review, Vallum, the Pacific Rim Review of Books, Prairie Fire, Highgrader Magazine, Cirque: A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim, and The Guardian.

“In her debut collection, Ignite, Rona Shaffran explores the subject of marital alienation with spare, muscular lines and startlingly original imagery. Heartache and despair are nothing new to poetry; indeed, poets Sharon Olds and Carol Ann Duffy have both recently written major works charting the end of a great love. What Shaffran writes, though, is something new and unexpected, something I have not seen in any collection. Without giving away the mysterious transformation in Ignite, let me simply say that this is a profoundly hopeful book for all who have stood on the abyss of a love affair and looked down. I would have liked to see a poetic investigation of such passionate transformations that extended beyond the personal, the mysterious and the miraculous (as finely wrought as these poems are). I wanted the author’s insight; is this something that all great loves must pass through, either surviving it or being shattered by it? But perhaps the author’s refusal is her own answer; Shaffran insists on an unflinching examination of a particular life, and it is up to her readers to draw their own conclusions about the universal. Shaffran’s is a passionate and powerful new voice in Canadian poetry.”

Review by Rachel Rose, author of three collections of poetry, as well as essays and short stories, has been published in literary magazines and anthologies in Canada and the United States. She has won the Bronwen Wallace Award for fiction, the Quebec Writers Federation A.M. Klein Award for Poetry, the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry, and the Pat Lowther Memorial Award for poetry. She is poetry and lyric prose mentor in The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University.

PP: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

RS: I was born and raised in Montreal and have lived in beautiful Ottawa since 1974.  I co-directed two Ottawa poetry reading series, Tree and RailRoad, organized Tree’s Master Poetry Workshops at the time, and helped run VERSeFest in its early days. In my working years, I was a Director at the Auditor General of Canada, investigating government’s effectiveness.

PP: How could I forget Railroad. What’s life’s focus these days, literary or otherwise?

RS: On the literary front, I’m still writing poetry,  but on very different subjects than in Ignite, including poems about loss and healing, spiritual connection and ties to the land. And, I’m writing a novel., which has given me a whole new appreciation of the intensity of poetry’s compression. At the same time, I’m fascinated by the expansion of ideas in fiction. 

Other than writing, I’m driving around the countryside with Brian in our red convertible on gorgeous little-known back roads. Like floating through space on a magic carpet. 

I love to travel, but COVID stomped on that. I hope soon we can travel feely again, with no worries. 

PP: What is in the works?

RS: Writing this novel is interesting and tough, because it deals at a deep level with a woman’s psychogical transformation.  The challenge is to show that internal journey while also moving forward the external action of the plot. 

PP: That’s important to balance.

RS: I’m also in the early stages of putting together a new poetry collection, but probably won’t get too much further on it till I finish this draft of the novel, hopefully in a few months. 

PP: I’m the reverse and the same. Trying to finish collections before I get dug back into my novel. Glad the poetry bug is still biting you. Anything upcoming or recent that I missed?

RS: I’ve had a couple of on-line readings this year. You can find one of them at https://limmudottawa.ca/limmud-ottawa-2021/shira-tzefonit/

And the other was for the National Capital Region Writing Contest, where I won Honourable Mention for a pantoum called The Question. What a brain teaser that pantoum was to write – an obsession till I got the words right!

PP: Congratulations. Look forward to seeing more.

RS: Pearl, thanks so much for this chat. I really enjoyed it. 

Checking in: With Jeremy Colangelo

PP: Hi Jeremy, it’s been a while. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me here.

 JC: It’s always lovely to hear from you, and yes I’d be very happy to do an interview. If I remember correctly, that In/Air chapbook was the first time I’d ever published a poem professionally. 

PP: That is cool. Thanks for starting a beautiful connection by pitching a poem.

You had been super-busy with presenting at a Joyce conference for a while and a book, Joyce Writing Disability, came out of that in which you had a paper. Congrats.

What have you read lately that lit you up? Why or how? 

JC: David Huebert’s story collection Chemical Valley is really good. David and I actually shared an office for a while when we were both graduate students at Western, so it’s great to see him coming out with such great work. On the non-fiction side, I recently stumbled on Ato Quayson’s Oxford St., Accra, which is a study of the history of one of the main streets in Accra, the capital city of Ghana, talking about everything from its emergence as a center of capital and global trade, to the slogans people paint on their cars.  

PP: Ooh, might have to check out the latter. What’s life’s focus these days, literary or otherwise? 

JC: I’m actually caught between two projects right now, and not for the first time. I’m writing another novel right now with the working title of Nostos. It’s a sort of metaphysical, science fiction, stream of consciousness . . . thing. Like most truly interesting books, it’s much better than it sounds.

PP: 🙂 I hear that.

JC: The other project is an academic book about literature and pain, called Agony for Others. I find having multiple things on the go at once helps keep me agile, and if nothing else it means that when I have trouble with one thing, I can cog it out while working on the other thing.  

PP: Nod, good way to run it. What have you got underway or forthcoming? 

JC: At the moment I have a story called “Consolation of the Cat Sitter” forthcoming in PRISM International and a poem called “i is another” forthcoming in Geist. I also came out with a story called “Hearth” in The New Quarterly earlier this year. Lastly, I have a story called “The Man who was God for a Minute” that I’ve been shopping around. Keep an eye out for it!  

PP: Will do. What else do you have out?  

JC: If anyone wants to read my fiction, the easiest way to do that is in my short story collection Beneath the Statue, which came out in 2020. It’s clearly the most important and significant thing to have happened that year, so you’ve probably already heard of it. It’s made up of stories I wrote over the span of about ten years and is, in my opinion, pretty darn alright.  

PP: Awesome. And on Kindle, it’s under $5. You can’t buy a coffee for that I understand. Any author site or social media urls you’d like to drop? 

JC: I don’t really use Twitter so much anymore since I find it a bit too soul-corroding for my taste, but my account there is @JRColangelo. I also keep my Goodreads page updated, so if you want to follow my work that place is as good as any.

PP: Super. Thanks for your time. Keep adding your voice to the world.