Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Hollay Ghadery : Art, and the Proximity of Cows: Being a Rural Poet Laureate






Back in late August, I found out I was going to be Canada's newest Poet Laureate. This is how my appointment was worded to me: Canada's newest Poet Laureate. Which sounds an awful lot like I could be the newest Poet Laureate of Canada—but that's not what I am. I was, and perhaps still am (unless there's been a new appointment) the newest Poet Laureate in the country, standing as the Poet Laureate of Scugog Township— a township in south-central Ontario, largely made up of rural communities. The population sits at around 22,000 people. When I announced my new position online, so many people were happy for me. I was showered with congratulations for days. Among these congratulatory messages, however, there were a handful of people whose good wishes carried a whiff of...condescension. A hint of "isn't that cute!" A pinch of, "Aw, a poet laureate of cows!" —which are words someone actually messaged to me. 

And I mean, I think being a poet laureate of cows would be amazing, but I took the comments in the patronizing spirit with which they were given and did what I always do when someone says something stupid: felt sorry for them. 

The Township of Scugog has a teeming and vibrant arts community, and the Scugog Arts Council and Township, who nurtured the Poet Laureate position into existence, are invariably supportive of the arts and artists. The existence of my position, in a time of cuts to arts funding, is proof of that. When someone —intentionally or not—belittles me or what I stand for, they show the sadly limited scope of their world. Small towns and rural communities are home to more than pastoral beauty and sunshine sketches; they are also home to some of the best artists in the world. They are home to close-knit communities and art lovers. We may be more spread out along dirt concession roads and beneath a bigger, bluer sky, but the arts are here, and robust as ever. 

I spent my first event as Poet Laureate at the Black Out Poetry tent at Culture Days in the lakeside town of Port Perry. Culture Days is a national celebration of culture  in cities and towns across the country. Each year, these festivities attract millions of people. Small, unassuming Port Perry is one of the top Culture Days locations in Canada. 


Because of the passion of the community. During the six hours I spent in the park, I met many incredible people of all ages who may have not understood what black out poetry was at first, but who threw themselves into it with their whole hearts once it was explained to them. One man sat at my table for over an hour, working on his poem. One child, who couldn't yet read, carefully blacked out the words of a tourism brochure. When she was done, I sat down beside her and read the poem aloud. "Your first book of poetry," I said, handing the brochure back to her. "Congratulations, poet!"


She beamed, then bolted, running across the park to her father, waving the brochure over her head and calling out, "Daddy! I'm a poet!"

Of course, this interaction could have happened in a city. But in a city, people wouldn't marvel at the quaintness of my position. It would be accepted as part of the artistic infrastructure of an urban space. But art should be part of the infrastructure of every space, urban or rural. And the population of the space or the proximity of the art or artist to livestock shouldn't matter. Art and artists matter everywhere. I am so glad I get to spend the next four years celebrating this fact.










Hollay Ghadery is a multi-genre writer living in rural Ontario on Anishinaabe land. She has her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph. Her fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have been published in various literary journals and magazines, including The Malahat Review, Room, CAROUSEL, THIS, The Antigonish Review, Grain, and The Fiddlehead. Fuse, her memoir of mixed-race identity and mental health, was released by Guernica Editions’ MiroLand imprint in Spring 2021 and is a finalist for the 2023 Canadian Bookclub Awards. Her debut collection of poetry, Rebellion Box, came out Radiant Press in spring 2023 and her collection of short fiction, Widow Fantasies, is scheduled for release with Gordon Hill Press in fall 2024. www.hollayghadery.com.


Stephen Cain : On Mayday





Like many of us, I had trouble writing anything new during the pandemic and lockdown. I was able to read a lot (and sleep a lot) but didn’t feel like I wanted to textually record what I (and we all) was experiencing.

At the same time, I was greatly disturbed by the fascist occupation of Ottawa by the trucker convoy in the Winter of 2022 and followed the news there daily. There was also a lot of helplessness, and activism appeared futile. My partner did her best to disrupt the convoy’s attempt to occupy Toronto, whereas I would walk our neighbourhood removing and destroying fascist posters and propaganda.

By early Spring 2023 it started to feel that the tides were turning. Most reasonable people were realizing that the convoy was backed by American and other dark monies and was actually more about attempting to overthrow a moderate to (occasionally) progressive government than anything about vaccines or travel restrictions.

At this point enter Elon Musk with his hostile and politically-motivated takeover of Twitter. I had never been a huge user of social media (a proud abstainer from Facebook for more than 19 years) but I did enjoy using Twitter as a newsfeed and for keeping up with poetry publications. As each week passed, and changes were made to the algorithms and safety measures, and fascists returned to the platform (and were aggressively promoted) the app became more and more unusable. For a time I tried to challenge the right-wing discourse, but the trolls kept mushrooming faster that you could hit the block. So I decided to darken my account. It was time to kick Twitter.

Once that happened I felt a great lightness. I didn’t need the save the world (as if I ever could) but I still wanted to respond to events, and hopefully rally the forces of good. It was time to start writing poetry again! [insert “laughing until you cry” emoji here].

As usual I needed a constraint, and I went back to one that I had used as the opening sequence in American Standard/ Canada Dry— that of measuring by number of words (of any length) rather than by accent or syllable. So the aforementioned was 10 stanzas of 10 lines of 10 words, a form I thought I might have invented until Lisa Robertson told me that Zukofsky had used something similar in 80 Flowers.

For Mayday I decided, as there were 31 days in the month, to write one 31 word poem for each day of the month, reflecting on current events and on my life. So a daybook of sorts, but also a constrained autobiography as I approached my 53rd year.

The sequence opens with the death of Gordon Lightfoot on May 1st, and soon becomes a meditation on the use (and misuse) of nationalism. Other concerns include the aging male subject, and looking to Modernist moments of crisis as possible examples for resisting fascism (Surrealism vs. Celine for example). Some more obscure moments might be when I take on  Eugen Gomringer’s sexist poem “avenidas” or when I rewrite a song by Big Dipper (the 1980s college rock band from Boston)—but hey, my tastes are nothing but catholic.

The poem ends with my 53rd birthday on the horizon. I happened to be listening to the first Ramones album and fixated on the atypical track “53rd and 3rd”—an intersection in New York where Dee Dee Ramone did sex work, but also a song where the exploited takes revenge on male predators . It’s strange moment of hope, where Dee Dee takes out his razorblade, but it somehow cheered me, and made me want to stick around on this planet for another year: “I’ll see you there.”

A final note on the poem’s title. May Day, as two separate words, signifies both the arrival of Spring, but also International Workers’ Day (with all its Marxist implications). When you lower the case and put the two words together it becomes the international signal for distress: mayday.

So let’s reverse that order, which is my intention for the poem: a call for help, a call to arms, a call for hope.




Stephen Cain lives, teaches, writes, & walks with gratitude in Tkaronto. His newest poetry collection, Walking & Stealing, is forthcoming from Book*hug Press.

Photo credit: Sharon Harris


John Levy : Six poems



La Jolla, Thursday Morning, 9/14/23


My late mother would’ve turned 100 today.
I didn’t remember it’s her birthday this morning

when I began walking on the beach before 6:30. An overcast

day, comfortably 63 degrees Fahrenheit. A stranger
(in his late 60s) was strolling Gunther, his Golden Doodle, back

and forth across a gleaming, little sandy stretch.

I began this poem (before remembering Mom’s birthday)
thinking it would be about the heron I saw. It stood

on a rocky outcrop above a narrow space between ledges,

watching the waves below
deliver small fish

it could see from up there and I

couldn’t. And back in my room, I thought

I’d write about how if I’d

a hundred other herons the last few days

(I’ve seen thousands of pelicans and seagulls),
this first and only one

wouldn’t have stopped mefor an hour, an hour
I was lucky to have

alone with it. The roots of heron

extend back to circa 1300: the word
has changed as it passed through languages,

including French, Frankish, Old High

German, Danish, Dutch, Old Norse. It’s
speculated that the sound of the older

forms of the word imitate its cry.




Letter to Dave Read (5/14/21)


Dear Dave,

For the last two weeks a pair of doves
have tried to build a nest under the overhang
near our front door. The female changes

position, occasionally, facing inward or outward, while the male

brings long thin twigs he places

beside her before flying off for more. Each time she
shifts, she knocks twigs down. The other day we found
a broken egg near our welcome mat.

For a day we rejoiced when neither was up there
Finally, they’ve figured out how futile
the spot is

But they returned. Leslie put a clay pot up
near them, weighed down with dirt and rocks,
hoping they’d choose that. After two days they did,

which we knew from all the dirt they’d kicked out.
A worm from Leslie’s garden, she guessed, may have
been their goal. Other news?

We’ve seen our first rattlesnake and gila monster
of the year, no scorpion yet. The word trivia

is longer than haiku, and should be. Trivium

is from Latin, a place where three ways
meet. I just passed a minute, unable
to believe my eyes, because the word in the OED

after Trivet is Trivial, not Trivia. I feel as baffled

as those two doves may have felt. There are many
definitions for trivial in the OED, most of them
now obscure. One is that in Natural History

the word applies to names of animals and plants
(to distinguish common or “vulgar” names
from scientific ones). Should I insert a haiku here?

Or throw in the kitchen sink? I wonder what, in other languages,

is the equivalent for a kitchen sink in such an expression,

I can’t imagine the Japanese saying, “Throw in the haiku.”

                                                                   (5/14/21, 9/25/23)



1962, UFO Sighting in Arizona


Summer evening, Andy, my younger brother, and I
in the Phoenix backyard. I don’t know where
Mom and Dad were. I was 11, he was 7. We both

saw a luminous oval hovering low in the sky,

pearly silver and glowing. I’d never felt so alone
with Andy. I hurried inside to call the police. A man
answered. I thought he might say many people had been calling.

“What do you want me to do? Chase it with an umbrella?”
He banged down the phone.




In Fifth Grade, at My Wooden Desk


The teacher talked, up there in front of the
blackboard. I imagined both my hands
were about to be chopped off at the wrists, then placed

on a long table on a white tablecloth
with 99 other pairs of hands. None of the wrists
would be bleeding. The high-ranking officer

behind the table would order me to identify my
pair of hands. If I could, on the first try,
I could have them back.

As the teacher
talked, I studied my hands, preparing
to find them.




Jasper Johns' Marmoset



Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg cried
at the burial, at Larry Rivers' house, when the small monkey

was placed underground. Frank O'Hara
thought it was funny, according to Steven Rivers (as told

in Brad Gooch's book), which Steven thought showed Frank
"had a very sick sense of humor sometimes."

They were all young (except for the tree, and the late
monkey, perhaps, whose age Gooch doesn't mention) and

the tree is probably still there, though
perhaps "owned" by someone else

who may have no idea of the monkey
genuinely mourned by almost all.




Out of the


Out of the fankle of shadows the very red head of
a cardinal shows up

first, as it walks a few inches over to the white bowl

filled with water and placed under the mesquites
to drink. I had looked up “fankle” moments before

I looked out the window. It’s
in a poem by Alison Flett, a poet I learned about

after she died and Ken Bolton told me he’d be

attending a gathering for her. The poem is “Arrival.”
As a verb, fankle means to tangle or entangle. As a noun,

a tangled condition. Before seeing the cardinal,

I’d been thinking about the word “shroud” because it’s
in a poem by another friend, Joseph Aversano, and been recalling

the impression Madame Defarge made on me in high school, in

A Tale of Two Cities, when she says she’s making a shroud.
I’d been wondering how I might use “shroud” in a poem and

then, in “Arrival,” read these lines:


the canopy of leaves like the dropped

                                         of a no-longer-needed



Flett was born in Scotland and moved to Adelaide. “Arrival”
is full

of words I have to look up, like “thrang” and “sinders”

(both perhaps commonly used in Scotland?). The cardinal
gone now, nothing

is drinking from the white bowl.





John Levy lives in Tucson. His most recent book of poetry is 54 poems: selected & new (Shearsman Books, 2023). He has also published a journal about living in a Greek village for two years (1983-85) entitled We Don’t Kill Snakes Where We Come From (Querencia Books, 1994) and a book of short stories and prose pieces, A Mind’s Cargo Shifting: Fictions (First Intensity Press, 2011).

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