The December Emerging in the Eastern Townships
In Issue 2 of Font, we’re travelling from Côte-des-Neiges in Montreal to Georgeville in the Eastern Townships. Our mandate includes the exploration of pockets of English-language literary activity across the province, and the Townships was a natural place to start. ‘Townships Writing Groups: A Whirlwind Tour’, explains the region’s long history of community writing groups, and how they stimulate and support new writers and community. Angela Leuck and Louise Abbott are continuing this tradition with publications from Studio Georgeville and Shoreline Press, as is Gabriel Safdie with the poetry reading series from Centre des arts de Stanstead.
The writers featured this month are connected by their involvement in a new book: Emergence: Contemporary Women Poets of the Eastern Townships of Quebec, published by Studio Georgeville in April 2021. We have featured some of their poems in print and in film, and asked them to reflect on the process of publishing, finding community and belief in their own writing, particularly for those later on in life. At the other end of the age spectrum, Loch Baillie reflects on coming out of higher education during the pandemic and building experience and skills via a publishing internship with Shoreline Press.
There is a rich connection to the landscape and natural life of the Townships that recurs through these pieces. And note the recurrence of Japanese poetry forms in this Issue: tanka from Jacqueline Korshun Hyman, haiku, haibun, and haiga from R.A Garber, and even origami with Heather Davis. Angela Leuck is a mentor to many of these new writers, and a long-standing practitioner of haiku: an example of how influence filters down and out.
We hope that you enjoy.
AGE 72, JANUARY 24
Today, at home, I
1. Turn up thermostats here and there
Get washed get dressed brush teeth and hair
2. Make coffee make toast fry eggs
Wash pills down with coffee dregs
3. Watch blue jays at feeder and in bush
Note none have touched my homemade suet
4. Take a little bathroom break
See litter box needs to be changed
5. Think I will do it another time
Think I want to write a poem
6. Put dirty clothes in washing machine
Answer phone call from my son
7. Open my computer see two days’ emails
See Trump’s lawyers may prevail
8. Delete messages about silver palace and real steals
ten-bathrooms-to-pee-in-before-you-die and travel deals
9. Study dear friend’s dietary regimen
for colonoscopy in days to come
10. Peel, boil and mash potatoes for said diet
Stir-fry onions cabbage apple for son’s lunch and mine
11. Simmer onions lentils squash in crock pot
For hot supper during hydro critical-peak-event
12. Eat more slowly than dear friend and son
Think it feels good to sit awhile alone
13. Watch lone hairy woodpecker warily peck
at my own homemade ball of suet
14. Feel relieved the birds will eat
my humble handiwork a scabrous spherulite
15. Put away leftovers and wash dishes
Clean the sink and tidy the kitchen
16. Gather the hens’ scraps stir the stew
Empty the garbage sweep the floor
17. Change cat’s dish serve some friskies
It’s four o’clock—power down promptly
18. Pay homage to dear friend’s website
Fetch firewood in snow and low light
19. At last sit down at my lovelorn desk
and list all my long day’s little tasks.
A woman’s work is a poem.
By R.A. Garber
For a long time, I lived on the edge of community, peering in but unable to enter. I consumed books alone and in hiding. I could not conceive of writing them.
My high-school education was pretty spotty, mostly home-schooled. After that, I tried to atone for my deficiencies. I squirrelled away a few diplomas, having delved into communications, studio art, photography, and art therapy; carefully skirting literature, especially poetry.
Dominating my mind was the ironclad rule that poetry by women was inconsequential. Women don’t get published before they die, if then. They aren’t paid; they aren’t honoured. Usually, they don’t even write. If they do, it’s for their own secret gratification. Never mind this might be true for many men who are poets. They are still poets; in their shadows sit a few women poets; suspect, probably sham.
Man is defined as a human being and a woman as a female—whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male –Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex
I was a baby when de Beauvoir made that observation, and her work was as prescient of my life as it was a considered inquiry into the lives of women around the world.
Of necessity, I focused my energy on earning a living, using my skills in the service of various endeavours, but rarely expressing my own vision.
So how did it come about that, approaching the evening of my life, I turned a tentative hand to writing poetry?
First, I encountered a worldview that honours women’s embodiment and expression of spiritual experience. Then, I grappled with the need to voice a vision that can be only dimly expressed in words, or for that matter, images.
Finally, in writing workshops with Janice LaDuke, and then under Angela Leuck’s tutelage and galvanizing inspiration, I tried my hand at poetry; all exploratory, all with trepidation, all in my own voice because I do not know enough about poets, I think, to follow in anyone’s footsteps.
In my remote corner of the Townships, the Emergence adventure has engendered confidence, not just in writing and publishing my own work, but in women’s creative capacity. I have enormous respect for poets who, at my age, have long writing careers under their belt. Being published in Emergence in the company of 23 other women poets has given me, as well, a new appreciation of women who have kept their creative flame alive through years of servitude to necessity.
Since then, I’ve started writing a memoir. I’m writing more poetry and working on a book of haiku, haibun and haiga inspired by rhubarb. As the new editor of The Townships Sun, I am eager to help take the magazine to a new level, and I’m gratefully embracing a community of writers. My heyday has come, cane in one hand, quill in the other. I’m enjoying every moment!
Poem by R.A. Garber. Originally printed in Emergence: Contemporary Women Poets of the Eastern Townships of Quebec (Studio Georgeville, 2021). Reprinted with permission from the publisher.
The Ego Boost I Need
The dark loam pours out of the box
onto clumps of dirt packed close
by winter’s chill and weight of snow
and ash from the wood stove:
rich, life-giving soil from
vegetable parings and apple cores,
eggshells and grapefruit rinds,
coffee grounds and tea bags;
nothing is wasted.
Scrapings from dinner plates,
tips of beans and celery leaves,
corn cobs and avocado shells
all thrown in together
to rot, metamorphosing
in that polyvinyl cocoon
into the black earth
that cradles the new year’s crop.
Parsley stems and tomato cores return
to the soil that grew them;
tough stalks of basil nourish
next summer’s pesto;
and all this flows onto my spade
and I spread it and bury it
and crumble the clods of clay-packed dirt
which, after years of mingling
with spring’s spoils from winter’s waste,
is still hard and rebellious
under my shovel and rake.
A clang of metal on limestone and
shale brought up by winter heaving;
these will not decompose.
They will not become soil
in my lifetime.
By Eleanor Gang
Having been involved in the arts in one way or another for the past forty-plus years, I like to make a joke about us artists: we have extremely high opinions of ourselves, but we are secretly afraid that no one else does. In other words, to be an artist and put yourself out there, you need to think you are something special. Yet you live in constant fear that you are actually a fraud, that you’re not good enough, and everyone knows it. It’s a joke, but it’s based on a deep truth for artists, especially ones who are actually good and deserving of merit. I think they call it imposter syndrome. However, being published in Emergence has encouraged me to continue to write, to try to get my words out there for others to read, because someone thought my poems were good enough.
Many years ago, I created a character in a writing group about whom I have been sporadically writing stories. Arthur McGruder is an ordinary rural Townshipper who would not stand out in a police lineup, and as he goes through life and experiences disturbances in his day-to-day complacency, he must come to terms with it all. Whether it is anticipating his first airplane ride, burying his best friend, or falling in love and getting married, he must somehow process the new emotions that assail him. Along the way, the woman he loves enters the picture. Livia and Arthur are not exceptional people. Yet, somehow, they bring to the fore the same emotions we experience and never bother to examine closely. They make us feel more human.
I’m looking forward to working on my Arthur and Livia stories and creating a coherent and continuous arc that will allow them to be published as a book. My experience with Emergence has given me the confidence to go forward with that project, and others that have been on the back burner. We all need a little ego boost every now and again. Emergence was mine.
Poem by Eleanor Gang. Originally printed in Emergence: Contemporary Women Poets of the Eastern Townships of Quebec (Studio Georgeville, 2021). Reprinted with permission from the publisher.
Studio Georgeville: A Community Publisher
By Louise Abbott
Not long ago, I read a book about painters of the Eastern Townships. In a chapter about a well-known watercolourist, the author mentioned Studio Georgeville. This art gallery in Georgeville, on the eastern shore of Lake Memphremagog, has become a fixture on the Townships cultural scene. I remember, however, when it was a leap of faith.
In April 2008, two Georgeville residents—a sculptor and an arts aficionado—learned of an available rental apartment in a historic building in the heart of the village. They wondered if it could be transformed into a gallery; they convened a meeting with five local artists, including me, to discuss the matter.
Would it be feasible to operate an art space full time in a resort community that bustles in the summer but slows to a crawl in the winter? The odds were against it, but we chose to buck the odds. We agreed on a bilingual name, formed an artists’ cooperative, adopted a motto—Where Art Meets Community—and mounted an exhibition. That June, we opened the doors of Studio Georgeville with fanfare.
As a writer, I was eager to explore the possibilities that the gallery could offer as a literary venue. By mid-July, I’d organized a launch for a Toronto author who had a powerful new book, Sugar: A Bittersweet History (Penguin Canada, 2008) and longstanding ties to the Townships—my sister, Elizabeth Abbott. CBC Radio aired an interview with Elizabeth hours before the launch, and people came from miles around to meet her and buy Sugar.
Buoyed by this success, I went on to organize many other book launches, readings, and spoken word performances with writers from the Townships and beyond. On occasion, the Quebec Writers’ Federation sponsored Montreal authors to join us: Joel Yanofsky, for instance, led an absorbing memoir writing workshop; Colleen Curran gave a delightful reading.
As things hummed along, writers from near and far had the chance to mingle with each other at the gallery. Local and visiting authors sold their books there, too. Nobody anticipated, however, that we would one day add our own titles to the shelves.
It was a serendipitous encounter that prompted me to establish a press in Studio Georgeville’s name. In the winter of 2019, Hatley poet Angela Leuck and I struck up a conversation at an arts conference in Montreal. She asked about upcoming exhibitions at the gallery. I mentioned one titled 71 per cent in reference to the percentage of the earth’s surface covered by water.
Angela’s eyes lit up. “What about collaborating on a chapbook of haiku on the theme of water?” she asked. “I could put out a call for submissions.”
“Yes,” I said immediately. “That’s a wonderful idea.”
The project gradually evolved from a small handbound book into a 178-page anthology—Water Lines: New Writing from the Eastern Townships of Quebec—with non-fiction, fiction, poetry, and drama from 70 writers.
I wasn’t intimidated by the publishing process: I began my career as a magazine editor, and in recent years, I’ve overseen the production of five books for different publishers. I knew that we had all the resources that we needed in the Townships, from graphic designer to printer. I applied for corporate funding and solicited individual donors, while Angela held a lawn sale extraordinaire.
With a press run of 400 copies, Water Lines was released in November 2019 at a festive launch at Studio Georgeville. We made more than $2,500 in sales and turned the money over on the spot to two regional water conservation organizations.
While continuing to distribute Water Lines, Angela and I began to work in earnest on our second book, Emergence: Contemporary Women Poets of the Eastern Townships of Quebec. The pandemic put in-person fundraising activities out of bounds, so I applied for grants and once again solicited individual donors. Emergence was issued in April 2021 and sold briskly; the official launch took place at a convivial outdoor gathering in Georgeville in mid-August.
I’m currently producing Studio Georgeville’s third book, In the Vale, with co-editors Ruth Patterson and Elizabeth Paulette-Coughlin, who brought their own grant and donations to the project. Like the previous two books, In the Vale is an anthology—a collection of memoirs in prose and poetry about Vale Perkins, a hamlet on the west side of Memphremagog. It will be launched in the spring of 2022.
After that, Angela and I plan to collaborate on yet another anthology, funded, at least in part, by the proceeds from Emergence. Operating a rural publishing house on a shoestring budget requires determination and ingenuity. But from my standpoint, Studio Georgeville now has a second motto—Where Literature Meets Community—and I mean to live up to it.
A Window to the World
in the walls left
arms to hang in
by the rustling
The sill was
scattered with the wire
legs of flies but in May
by the door were new-born
shoots of sumac—I skinned
their velvet stems, leaving
only the skeleton.
In the distance was a figure no
one could name; two black willows
remained after the hurricane—one
arched back in its declension: a hand
receiving its pasture.
Under a simmering
parasol, a threshold of trees; wedded
wood; a pall of leaves: witness
bearers—even our road
was like that.
By Tanya Standish McIntyre
It is easy to feel rather alone as a writer of poetry in the Eastern Townships, though I never much minded that. A workshop course I had taken more than a decade ago, while finishing my Fine Arts degree as a mature student, had led me to a local writer’s group for a short time. I had made a chapbook, given as a gift to a dozen friends, but in the years that followed, a zillion words had gotten stored away in the Clouds of i, where they remained. I had sent a few things out, but the endlessness of refining and perfecting had gotten the better of me. I guess this is the part that was not helped by isolation.
I jumped at the chance, last winter, to submit a selection of works to be considered for an anthology of women poets of the region. I sent along the maximum, heartened to know that my words would be read by discerning eyes, and curious to see what would be chosen. I knew what I considered to be my best work, but was it? With equal measures of self-doubt and exhilaration, I needed to know if I had something real. A reading via Zoom for the Stanstead Arts Centre happened around the same time, which was also a nudge to keep trudging along.
The experience was a bit like opening a window. The wind caught a few pages, and I felt less burdened, not quite as lost under my mountain of words. Among a range of themes, the editors chose my narrative poems, fragments of memories from my childhood on an ancestral farm. Seeing them together made me want to group all the poems of that time and place into a pile. Looking back, that might have been the moment when I caught the muse’s eye. Catalyzed by the enthusiastic response to my submission, a vision of a first book began to take shape, becoming clearer and more vivid with time.
As I began working with an editor on a manuscript, more and more poems came on my daily morning walks. It was one of those rare and wonderful times as a writer when it feels likes an act of co-creation; when the right words come as gifts and one’s only job is to adjust them slightly to make them fit. Naturally, it was an obsessive task and went on for many months, but the end result was a manuscript as finely tuned as a piano, so very much like a birth in all its phases of gestation. At the height of a global pandemic, upon my invitation to be part of Emergence, my first book, The House You Were Born In, had unknowingly been conceived.
Just now as I am writing this, I have learned that my manuscript has been chosen by McGill-Queens University Press for its Hugh MacLennan Poetry Series. At the time, I was uncertain as to the anthology’s title, but in retrospect it makes wonderful sense, with a perfect orchid blooming from the darkness on its cover. I wonder what each of my twenty-three fellow women poets are emerging to and from. Once I have recovered from my exaltation, I look forward to finding out.
Poem by Tanya Standish McIntyre. It will be published in The House You Were Born In (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2022). Printed here with permission from the publisher.
Publishing in a Pandemic: My Internship with Shoreline Press
By Loch Baillie
Barrelling towards university graduation during a global pandemic is a nightmare. It’s a ticking time bomb of – what am I supposed to do once I no longer have classes, or assignments, or even an idea of what I’m going to do this coming weekend? This is what March 2021 felt like: less tumultuous than March 2020, but just as confusing, frightening, and lonely. Everything felt stagnant. Spring was approaching. The days were getting lighter and the snow was beginning to melt, but I had no idea what to do with myself. I had always wanted to be an editor, but after having several networking opportunities fall through, I was far from achieving my professional aspirations. The pressure was on. Would I find that job I liked, or would I fall into a mind-numbing nine-to-five outside of my field?
Then, I got the email.
Angela Leuck, a local poet, was looking for Bishop’s students to intern at Shoreline Press over the summer. After a year of isolation, boredom, and hopelessness it felt like striking gold.
Prior to meeting Angela, my writing and editing ventures had largely been limited to a university setting. I had been the copy-editor of Bishop’s newspaper, The Campus, and the co-editor of the literary journal The Mitre. Those were valuable but solitary experiences; I was working from home long before it became the norm.
My preconception of editing being an independent job was blown out of the water during my first meeting with Shoreline. What I thought was meant to be a group interview ended up being a lively and collaborative conversation about entering the publishing industry, and our love for literature. We were then presented with several projects to choose from. I naturally gravitated towards the poetry of one author in particular.
Carole Martignacco—writer, retired UU minister, New Brunswick resident, and lover extraordinaire of that is orange—has been writing poetry since her teens. I missed the short window of time in which we both lived in the Townships but had the opportunity to get to know Carole over many months of Zoom calls and emails as we brought her book to life. Despite publishing an award-winning children’s book in 2003 and contributing a weekly column to The Record since 2014, Carole’s poetry never found a home in a stand-alone publication. Over the summer, it became my job to help revise and organize her compilation: my biggest editing project thus far.
The original manuscript I received in April was a collection of pieces that had been cobbled together. Often, a poem had originally been scribbled in a notebook or on a café napkin, and Carole would continue sending me pieces as she unearthed and transcribed them. Editing this project thus became more than revising a manuscript; it became piecing together a full one from scratch.
The internship allowed us to begin building independent partnerships with the writers prior to beginning Angela’s weekly masterclasses. A balance of formal training and hands-on work allowed me to develop my industry knowledge while I came to understand my own editing style. I appreciated the way in which Angela equipped us with skills, yet still left room for us to flourish and be creative while working on our assigned projects. This approach was ideal for me because it provided just the right balance of guidance and freedom. Thanks to what I learned with Angela and Carole in the program, I could imagine a trajectory after university.
Editing A Bowl of Orange Suns was a reprieve from the final assignments of my degree, the COVID blues, and moving out of my university apartment. It rekindled hope, excitement, and passion when I needed it most. But I also won’t deny that it was hard. Editing can be extremely technical. It took a lot of gumption, problem solving, and collaborative discussion to finetune the final work.
My perspective of editing shifted throughout those seven months. By the end, I was no longer a critic with a red pen, but a person with a responsibility for making the authors’ voices heard.
Looking ahead, there’s still some uncertainty of how I will continue in publishing but thanks to my experiences, I have developed a deeper confidence in my capabilities as an editor. Angela’s masterclasses gave me a crucial overview of the nitty gritty of day-to-day publishing but working with Carole put that overview into perspective. I am excited to continue exploring Quebec’s English literary community and my place within it. I am always searching for new opportunities and can’t wait to see what the future holds in this hopeful, vital, and perpetually transforming industry.
My daughter makes
the tiniest origami crane,
it fits in the small
elastics she puts on her braces.
But today I
am the origami.
She folds me.
I give up,
let myself fold.
Today I choose
Later I will
By Heather Davis
This poem is about motherhood and how my need for harmony can keep me from meeting my other needs, such as that for space and freedom. My daughter makes the smallest origami crane in the world, and this image was the muse that allowed my unconscious to speak an important truth. Now, looking back, I understand what I wrote, and why. This poem is about how I stayed with her during hard moments, but it’s also about my desire to meet my own needs. It was written when I was helping my daughter cope with epilepsy and the side effects from her many medications. Possibly, I gave up too much to mediate the peace, but I was in unfamiliar territory, and it would have been worse to err in the other direction, to abandon my daughter in her time of need. Since writing this poem, my marriage has ended and my daughter has grown older and more independent. I now have more of the space I was craving then.
Steve Luxton helped me edit this poem significantly. He neatly separated the lines into three stanzas, changed some wording, and improved a line break by putting “I” and “am” on different lines. The most impactful edit was switching the order of the last two lines, so that the poet chooses peace first and then flies away. This allows the poem to finish describing the present before moving to the poet’s wish for the future. The contrast between the folding and the flying away is more clearly defined now, and the poem ends on a more resonant note, the moment when I reclaim myself.
Having several of my poems published in Emergence was helpful. I needed to submit a large compilation of poems to Angela Leuck, which encouraged me to go through my old works with fresh eyes. Then, I saw which poems were chosen, and why. The poems Angela selected mostly spoke of motherhood. Having my poems in print and sharing them at readings has connected me with appreciative readers. This led me to think of my poems as gifts worthy of being shared, just like boxes of chocolates.
Poem by Heather Davis. Originally printed in Emergence: Contemporary Women Poets of the Eastern Townships of Quebec (Studio Georgeville, 2021). Reprinted with permission from the publisher.
On viewing the Observatory atop Mont Mégantic from my deck on a clear fall day
a twinkling code
sent over velvet hills
and blazing trees:
I can see the stars can you?
unsure which eye
flies away again
on 55 years married
I turn to you
for your patience
By Jacqueline Korschun Hyman
Emergence is the first publication of my poetry. Having participated in writing groups for about a decade, I was, until recently, more interested in prose fiction, and have written several chapters of a novel. Somewhere along the way, I tried my hand at haiku. I enjoyed the challenge of capturing a moment in a few carefully chosen words. In about 17 syllables, I would try to describe the way a butterfly feels on my hand, the way a cat communicates her superiority, the tension created by a lover’s touch, or the poignancy of fall changing into winter.
Then I discovered tanka. With a maximum of 31 syllables, and five lines instead of three, the form provides more space than haiku for conveying an image or experience, and the poet’s personal response: for a deeper examination of feelings and human relationships. I’m still working on saying less, and trusting the reader more.
Many of my tanka are inspired by place. Observing the natural world around my home in the Eastern Townships has led me to write many tanka, including one on the Observatory on Mont Mégantic. The contrasts and ironies in nature, in human relationships, and in my sense of self are also inspirations.
Writing tanka has been an unexpected change of direction for me. I was not very confident in my ability to evaluate and edit my own poetry. Editor Angela Leuck was incredibly supportive in encouraging me for publication in Emergence. Were it not for people like Angela, I think many writers would not be motivated to discover their creative potential.
The publication of my poetry gave me confidence to pursue this form more seriously. A further pleasant surprise has come as Angela has now presented me with the opportunity to publish a small book of my tanka. Are they any good? Do I have a real talent for this? I’d like to think so, but I’m really not sure. I feel presumptuous imposing my poems on an already crowded literary world, but then I think, if someone reading my collection gets a different perspective on something, or pauses and thinks a bit, or is amused, or, hell, if it helps pass time in the bathroom, it was worth the effort. I’ve found satisfaction in this form of creative expression. I haven’t forgotten about that novel, either.
Poems by Jacqueline Korshun Hyman. Originally printed in Emergence: Contemporary Women Poets of the Eastern Townships of Quebec (Studio Georgeville, 2021). Reprinted with permission from the publisher.
The Poet in the Landscape
By Louise Abbott
The Eastern Townships is my primal landscape—the place to which I’m most passionately attached. When I was a child, my family took up residence on a farm overlooking Lake Memphremagog. We inhabited it for ten years; it has inhabited me ever since. I was still in high school when my father sold the property, but I made my way back to the Townships as often as I could during my university studies and early career in Montreal. While on a research assignment, I met my future husband and settled here.
As an author and filmmaker, I’ve explored the region repeatedly and have never tired of it. It remains, in part, a working landscape: farmers raise livestock and crops, sugarmakers produce maple syrup, factory workers manufacture forest products and granite monuments.
Increasingly, however, it’s a recreational landscape as more and more vacationers flock here. Luxury residences have replaced cottages on lakeshores, riverbanks, hilltops, and mountain slopes. Tourist accommodations and attractions have also reshaped the land.
Still, the countryside isn’t entirely tame. Black bears and bobcats roam the woods along with deer, coyote, and other wildlife.
When I set out to create video poems to give online exposure to Emergence: Contemporary Women Poets of the Eastern Townships of Quebec during the coronavirus outbreak, I knew that the Townships landscape would play a prominent role. To respect pandemic protocols, I planned to film mostly outdoors and keep the required distance from my subjects, using a large microphone mounted on a boom pole instead of a tiny one clipped onto clothing.
Rather than impose my own vision, I collaborated with the poets in determining shooting locations. All have an abiding affection for the Townships. Two have particularly deep roots in the area. Thus, Kathy Fisher chose her grandmother’s former property on the west side of Lake Memphremagog for wabi-sabi; Elizabeth Paulette-Coughlin, her family’s long-time acreage farther south on the western lakeshore for Grandfather (after W.S. Merwin).
To read Baste the Raw Edges, Fasten the Yoke on camera, Tanya Bellehumeur-Allatt opted to sit in the shade of an old poplar on her beach at Lake Massawippi—her favourite spot to curl up with a notepad or book.
For Crow, Bernice Sorge wanted to be pictured in her hidden woodland paradise in Dunham. I proposed adding scenes at her church-turned-art studio nearby.
Phyllis Sise finds her muse in the ever-changing river that flows by her house in Foster. It seemed apt to combine views of this tributary with footage of Phyllis and the children at the heart of The Grandboys.
I filmed three poets at a distance from their homes in locales of special relevance to their work. Marjorie Bruhmuller, who lives in Milby, suggested that the best backdrop for Starboard would be Lake Lyster, which inspired the poem. Angela Leuck, a Hatley resident, agreed that an airfield in Stanstead East would be an ideal site for Eternity. Trisha Pope of Sutton asked to perform How to Visit a Song in a chapel in Knowlton constructed and furnished by an artist friend; I was smitten by the exquisite wooden building and its verdant surroundings.
Trisha beckoned viewers to enter a song’s house. Now I beckon you to enter the imagination of eight distinctive writers and the poetic landscape in which they thrive.
Video poems produced by Louise Abbott, except where noted. Picture and sound editing: Louise Abbott, online edit and sound mixes by Vito DeFilippo.
Townships Writing Groups: A Whirlwind Tour
By Angela Leuck
This year, Studio Georgeville published Emergence, an anthology featuring twenty-four contemporary women poets from Quebec’s Eastern Townships. The question arises, Why are there so many remarkable poets among the region’s small English-speaking minority? The answer resides in the abundance of informal but dedicated writing groups that have sprung up and flourished here.
The first of them was the Border Writers’ Group. Founded by John Mahoney of Boynton in 1983, it brought together writers living in the border communities of the Eastern Townships and the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. In 1986, Mahoney edited Voices on the Border, a collection of works by nine members, published by his own Pigwidgeon Press. Between 1985 and 1996, he published 11 books by local authors.
Just as Border Writers’ wound down, Ann Scowcroft placed an ad in the Stanstead Journal in 1996, hoping to start a writing group at Stanstead’s famous Haskell Library. The result was TILT, based on the principles of the Amherst Method advocated by Pat Schneider in her book Writing Alone and With Others. The get-togethers, primarily of women with young children, thrived. Writer and teacher Carolyn Rowell soon began to alternate as leader with Scowcroft. TILT also hosted public readings at The Cliff House in Ayer’s Cliff. When Scowcroft could no longer co-lead because of other obligations, Michelle Barker filled in until her departure to British Columbia. Since then, it has been hosted by Carolynn Rowell, with Marjorie Bruhmuller, Tanya Bellehumeur-Allatt and Brenda Hartwell taking up the reins from time to time. TILT still goes strong, and members have racked up an impressive list of publications, including Scowcroft’s The Truth of Houses, winner of the 2011 QWF Poetry Prize.
Part of the Amherst approach is to teach the method to others so they can start their own groups. Janice LaDuke, an early member of TILT, did just that. She held her first workshops at Uplands Cultural and Heritage Centre in Lennoxville. Then, after she founded Black Cat Books in 1998, her cozy bookstore became the permanent venue. After nearly 25 years, LaDuke continues to offer three ten-week sessions per year and publishes Black Cat Tales, an annual chapbook of selected poems and prose by participants.
When Heather Davis, a graduate of the MFA programme in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, arrived in the Townships in 2010, she approached the North Hatley Library with the idea of hosting a writing group. Believing that impromptu writing prevents the inner critic from putting up its defences, Davis employed prompts for in-class writing and weekly assignments. They met at the library for a number of years, before it became, in Davis’s words, “a group of friends with nomadic and sporadic meetings.” One writer, the extraordinary 93-year-old memoirist, Anne Hill, saw the publication of her first book, Colouring Outside the Lines, in 2020, while Davis’ own memoir Are We Lost Yet? will be published in 2022, both of them by Shoreline Press.
Steve Luxton, former editor-in-chief of Montreal’s DC Books and a retired CEGEP English professor who had taught in the Concordia creative writing program, moved from Montreal to the Townships in 2011. For several years, he led a writing group at North Hatley’s Unitarian Universalist Church (UUEstrie). He also hosted, along with UUEstrie minister, Carole Martignacco, formerly of the LOFT writing centre in Minneapolis, and Rachel Garber, current editor of The Townships Sun, a number of successful literary events, including a spring reading series featuring Montreal poets and a memorial tribute to GG award-winning North Hatley poet D.G. Jones, who passed away in 2016.
The newest kid on the block offering writing workshops arrived in 2016. It is Our Stories, A Townships Project designed to create an e-book of local memoirs to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. It was conceived by Jan Draper, whom, along with Melanie Cutting and Kyle Chhatwal, conducted a series of free memoir- writing workshops in different locales across the Townships, leading up to the e-book. Under the new name Write Here Right Now, the workshops continued the following year with the focus now on writing technique and genre. In 2020, WHWN became affiliated with Bishop’s University Lifelong Learning Academy (BULLA), further expanding its already considerable reach. It presently delivers workshops via Zoom and utilizes Eventbrite. Between January and June 2021, an astonishing 746 aspiring writers registered in WHWN’s free workshops, special events and groups.
One further group that deserves mention is the Sutton writing group. I have been unable to gather much information on its years of operation, but it included in its membership two fine poets who have since passed on, Anne Cimon and Susan Briscoe.
Clearly, in the Townships, writing groups are a vital part of the landscape.
Poetry at the Centre des arts de Stanstead
By Gabriel Safdie
In 2018, the Centre des arts de Stanstead engaged Luce Couture, formally of the Centennial Theatre, to launch our programming in our bid to establish ourselves as a performing arts centre. When CAS was in its second year of presenting live performances, we were interrupted by the pandemic. Worried that our events would be in suspension for an unspecified period of time, the idea came to me that we could start something online. Being a poet and a former teacher of the arts, it occurred to me quite naturally that a poetry series would be most welcome at that time within the literary world. In fact, we had already planned to include a literary dimension at CAS, which would include poetry, play readings, and interviews with writers.
The series had evolved organically into a bi-weekly event, and it was not long before we decided to make the two-poet/one-hour format alternate between English, French and bilingual readings. Fortunately, Diane Régimbald, who read along with Chantal Ringuet in our first event of the series, rose to the occasion and became the programmer for the French readings while I continued programming the English language poets. We struck a fine balance, and the series gained momentum within the poetry community. Our first host, Sonia Patenaude, also of the Centennial Theatre, posted the recorded events on YouTube from the start, which has enabled us to broaden our audience considerably.
At the opening of the second season, Shelley Pomerance, whom I knew and worked with at the Blue Metropolis Festival, joined us as our new host. She contributed to the refinement of the events with her biographical introductions and engaging question periods with the poets.
We are happy with the extraordinary gallery of poets that we have featured to date. As expected, the audience has tended to reflect the poets’ milieus, their communities, those with whom they associate, and for those who teach, some of their students. A core has been formed from the intellectual and artistic communities we were encouraged to see as regulars. Locations varied according to where the poets are from, and so the range is wide: the Townships, Stanstead of course, Magog and Sherbrooke, Greater Quebec, Montreal with its Anglo and French circles, Hispanic and Arabic communities and so on, and on occasion the US and Europe.
Though there have been a number of remarkable exchanges between the poets, to choose the most memorable from among them is a highly subjective matter and I’m sure everyone would have their own thoughts on this. I am very glad to say, however, that I for one have been stimulated and uplifted by every one of the readings. One distinctive event worth mentioning was the haiku night led by Angela Leuck, who also read, and the lively participation of the many haiku writers was most enjoyable. Again, going through the 21 events we’ve had to date, I feel there are just too many outstanding readings to single out any particular one.
Now that life is slowly getting back to normal, I’ve discovered that there is ongoing interest in seeing CAS continue with the series. We therefore have every intention of carrying on in our presentation of diverse poets from the surrounding communities and beyond.
Readings from the CAS Poetry Series can be found on the Youtube channel.