Sunday, 1 December 2019

Pandora's Collective Annual Poetry Contest

The Pandora's Collective Annual Poetry Contest is officially open! It's one of the most affordable contests going and your entry fee supports the charitable outreach work of the organization :)
Deadline: January 15, 2020
Winners announced March 1, 2020
​Entry Fees:
$5/poem (or 5 poems for $20)
Prizes:
1st: $100 & publication, 2nd: $50 & publication, 3rd: $25 & publication.
​Publication is for one year, on the Pandora's Collective website.

This year's judges are Cynthia Sharp and Trevor Carolan:
Cynthia Sharp is the City of Richmond’s 2019 Writer in Residence. She is a full member of The League of Canadian Poets and The Writers’ Union of Canada and on the executive of the Federation of British Columbia Writers. She’s featured at Word Vancouver, The Simon Fraser University Reading Series, Spoken Ink, Words on Fire in Port Alberni, Poesic Fest in Denver, the Writers Read Series in Toronto and other literary events through North America. Her work has been published and broadcast internationally and is used in classrooms in Canada, the U.S. and Scotland. Poems from her book Rainforest in Russet can be found in journals such as CV2, Lantern Magazine and untethered, among others.
​Trevor Carolan’s work includes many books of non-fiction, poetry, translation, and anthologies, as well as journalism and interviews. He served as literary coordinator for the XV Olympic Winter Games in Calgary, and has been Coordinator of writing and publishing programs at the Banff Centre. He has also worked as media advocate on behalf of Aboriginal land claims and Pacific Coast watershed issues. A former elected Councillor in North Vancouver, he holds a PhD. for studies in Literature, Ecology and ideas of the Sacred in International Relations. His documentary film Cascadia: The Life and Breath of the World features appearances by many distinguished eco-writers. He teaches English and Creative Writing at University of the Fraser Valley, and is Co-editor of Pacific Rim Review of Books. His eco-lit collection Cascadia: The Life and Breath of the World received a Best American Essays Citation in 2013. 
You can find out more on the Pandora Outreach Society's website: Enter Here


Thursday, 7 November 2019

The Softness of Autumn

I step into the day
among trees 
who quietly hold our wonder 
the questions I once sought answers to
now rest as poems
elegant in the mystery
of existence
like a soft light over the Italian countryside
an appeal to dance 
in the rhythms of nature 
restored to self 
reasonable expectations      an invitation home

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Sleeping with Books

Inhaling the exhilarating
bouquet of new print
by the golden glow
of the reading lamp,
I taste little pieces of prose,
then fall all the way in,
comforted in the texture of pages, 
soft as sun-warmed 
Belinda’s Dream roses,
inviting the inscription of
free verse rhythms 
in the sleeve.

Highlighters and ink stars
bleed wild flowers
across aqua-coloured
Egyptian cotton sheets.
Water lilies blossom
in the sapphire satin blanket,  
spirals of petals and sepals 
arising like northern lights 
over Greenland.

Sipping jasmine tea,
in bed with my books,
my soul unto itself,
I speak aloud
my deepest revelations
of passion and awe,
how much I love
the home they are to me.

Dedicated to Robert McKee's Story, a screenwriter's dream

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Following Your Passion

before interruption
the sound of trees

the way it feels to enter morning
on a sacred writing day
skin cleansed in soothing raw honey
tiny increments of movement
dandelion seed sailing in sea air
spiderwebs resilient in cold dawn 

you are always allowed
wind in July leaves
yourself   stories   freedom 
strong from the mountaintop


Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Breathing With Trees, The Novelist’s Peace

I stretch into morning,
my own dreams and voice,
free of extraneous clutter,
pausing with pine and cool air, 
engage in the yoga and walks and exercise,
we are allowed every day,
remove the barriers,
that never belonged 
between the universe and our gifts,
write with trees,
a miracle worth pursuing
for all the beauty
our fragile selves can find, 
stand in the radiance of evening
where quiet meets health
and energy rests 
in spring sunsets wrapping the earth,
traversing time, 
as all is renewed,
the moon by my side
starlight on the wind,
whether or not I ever finish.




Friday, 3 May 2019

Everyday Light, A Review of A Blooming


“Life, I repeat, is energy of love, divine or human,” William Wordsworth confessed. Jude Neale embodies that axiom in all that she does. Her latest release, A Blooming, from Ekstasis Editions, 2019, is a mesmerizing collocation of light, music and higher love that offers the reader permission to be passionate. The cover is resplendent with colour, much like the soul of her work through this striking collection. It compliments her exquisite poetry, unafraid of bright, direct colour and precise diction. In sharing her communion of experience, Neale explores the paradox of gentle strength, inviting readers to journey with her through all the ways to unveil light, to breathe the strength of who we are. The audience is carried through spirals of “Ruddy / benevolent / majesty.” The rhythmic play of alliteration and assonance unveils paradox after paradox of everyday light until we surrender to the magnificent, even in grief. It’s difficult to talk about light in concrete terms and yet Neale does this eloquently. She invites the reader into the nirvana of her words to drink in her peace like soothing honey to a scratchy throat, an ocean of reassurance and kindness.

When an opera singer composes a manuscript, the richness of music is transported into breaths of imagery, a delicate inviting rhythm, carved with precision and room to exhale. Each line is a universe in itself, grounded and strong. Diction like “requiem” and “melodious” permeates the pages. Composed between midnight and five AM, the writing reveals maturity and depth in this earth walk and beyond. Through the motif of tree and branch imagery, poems stretch in a multitude of directions, to those before, present and to come. Poems for Neale’s children and grandchildren invite the reader into compassionate ways of seeing, to nurture the profound nature of children:

“when it is so easy
to forget about
their luminous light.”

“You, my child's child
stretched the borders
of my wonder.”

The cadence of verse suggests that the work is designed to be read aloud, with extra line breaks for proper pauses between images. Neale’s opera training directs her use of space:

“and I know I shall never
let go of this love,

that blooms
like a September sunflower.”

Each melodic line is visually accessible, washing over the reader like a painting. Neale’s economy of words is intentional, so that poems connect directly with the reader without awkwardness or unnecessary intellectualization. The result is pure heart to heart connection.

"You are on loan
to my grateful heart,”

she says in “Both of Us Must Cross.”

As the title “A Blooming” suggests, a flower motif is woven powerfully through the poems, as Neale makes symbols her own, elevated with added depth and personal meaning:

“you once scattered my letters,
porcelain orchids,
onto the grey circle of stones.”

She creates clear, concrete metaphors, single atoms in a vast universe, in her original combinations of specific adjectives and nouns to give an already delicate symbol like “orchids” a new shape. Every image has a unique texture, the building blocks of a Jude Neale universe. The subtle significance of symbolism is woven with her portraits of the Canadian west coast such as the moon shrouded in cloud, sea phosphorescence and mystical dragonflies. In “The Wild Rose Suite,” Neale recalls enchanting dragonflies with “iridescent blue and green wings” landing in her grandmother’s raven hair, taking readers on a meditative journey through colour and light, then ends the poem with the contrast of “…heavy white winter / when colour is the only thing / we want to believe.” The poet’s use of juxtaposition creates an engaging tension resolved in higher love, as her magic breaks open the eternal in the everyday. The whole book is a flower, exquisitely crafted. One could sit with it all spring and summer, long into autumn and be dazzled by its violet blooms through winter, digesting each line over and over. “I’m part of a glazed design / buried in the obsidian sea.” The whole rhythmic volume connects with the deep light in all.

Neale surprises readers with closing thoughts such as, “when love / was the last thing / to go.” Finishing couplets speak to the battles of lifetimes: "still needing to win / my unbridled love.” Her honesty and example of self-acceptance are a gift to anyone who’s struggled with feeling allowed to exist and to self-actualize. No matter how dark the content of a poem, her last two to three lines elevate the material and the reader with enriched understanding and compassion as she opens a new dimension of comprehension, bringing it all together, forgiven, heard, seen and remembered.

This is a poet with the courage to share her private suffering so that others may experience the healing on the other side of trauma. She has gone to the edge and beyond. She’s been deeply to depressing places. Poems like “I’m Not Waving, I’m Drowning,” allude to struggles with bipolar illness, where Neale moves through dark places and shows us the relief on the other side, so that we can hold it inside us eternally like a sunlit forest. She bravely leads the way across despondent fears into an oasis of universal light because love is all there is. She gives readers divine self-awareness, inner strength and perseverance and we hold her tangible truths and trust.

She addresses the Parkinson’s disease that took her father’s life and now afflicts her within the context of passionate love and relation in poems like “About Light,” with my favourite lines in the book:

“Bruised and broken we aren't afraid.
We teeter onto one another’s empty stage
arms suspended like angels before the fall.”

Neale is “not afraid to hit the heart, to bypass the brain,” she said when I interviewed her and “go straight for connection.” She acknowledges the finite nature of our human lives with courageous openness to the ways of the infinite. Even death is a peaceful new beginning.

A Blooming incorporates the importance of collaboration and art influencing art, with “A Place to Call Home” inspired by Nettie Wild’s film that was projected beneath the Cambie Street bridge in Vancouver. After a shared dinner with the writer/ director, Neale wrote and dedicated a poem to her. “Paint white-silled windows / on the rooms of the homeless,” Neale writes of the artwork, in empathy with those afflicted with homelessness.

Neale’s poetic mastery is brimming with compassion and genuine love, like a sunrise through fog. Her process involves a quick initial write of images building on images, followed by a solid twenty hours of editing per poem, to “at least transform something for a moment,” she explained. The efficient writing is infused with deliberate pauses marked by white space as part of the rhythm of each poem. The most brilliant aspects of her literary landscape are the accessibility of unique, vivid imagery to capture and affirm the life experience itself, love. Each poem is edited to perfection so that deep healing is received soul to soul. Lines weave together, allowing story to flow easily through well laid out symbolism with a cadence of varied line length and important line breaks suggesting that the collection is intended to be performed aloud. The book as a whole is well balanced. Even the way Neale laid out the manuscript is intuitive and musical. She placed poems on the floor, then selected them one by one from around the room as they flowed intuitively into this collection of unobstructed light.

Neale has been a poet her whole life and taught writing for thirty-five years, encouraging her students to discover their own authentic voices. She won her first CBC contest at age eight, when she described her experience travelling the interior of British Columbia by train. She continues to translate journals into poems. Mentored by Elisabeth Harvor in Toronto, a writer who received the Governor General’s award and has been published in The New Yorker, Neale’s unique gifts came forth. She continued to work with mentors such as Vancouver Poet Laureate Rachel Rose in The Writer’s Studio and Pandora's Collective executive director Bonnie Nish, who invited Neale to her first reading over ten years ago. Neale’s titles have since been shortlisted for the Gregory O’Donoghue Award in Ireland and continue to win significant accolades in her home country of Canada and through North America.

A Blooming depicts the immediacy of a heart unafraid to embrace life, to share its wisdom in uplifting energy. The world needs this, to see what lies beyond pain, to move through it to joy in these autobiographical snapshots, to transform tragedy and allow it to bloom into the light we truly desire. It makes one yearn to leap like an angel off stage toward the unknown. Neale’s insight and understanding convince her audience to embrace existential mystery with the passion that fills every line of her work. I'll think of Jude Neale when my time comes to transition back to earth and let her lead me into the next dimension, the way A Blooming has taught me to celebrate and trust life in all its shades. As depression lifts, as Parkinson’s disease is met with dignity, as aging is embraced in the rhythmic movement of life through generations and time, the quiet wisdom of soul resonates. A Blooming encompasses the circle of life, paradoxically celebrating birth in death as we are reborn into earth, culminating with “In the End,” where Neale brings the journey together with one delicious, vivid image, “pink glories / of a wild October rose.”

About the Author: Jude Neale is a Canadian poet, classical vocalist, spoken word performer and mentor. She has been shortlisted, highly commended and a finalist for many international and national competitions. Her book A Quiet Coming of Light, A Poetic Memoir (Leaf Press) was a finalist for the 2015 Pat Lowther Memorial Award. She won publication in Britain for Splendid in its Silence (SPM publications) in 2017. In 2018, she and Bonnie Nish started an online collaboration which led them to write Cantata in Two Voices (Ekstasis Editions) in fifty challenging days. Neale recently collaborated with Thomas RL Beckman, the great viola voice of British Columbia, who composed the music The St. Roch Suite for the Prince George Symphony Orchestra. She is a full member of the League of Canadian Poets, the Federation of BC Writers and the Canadian Authors Association.

About the Reviewer: Cynthia Sharp is the Greater Vancouver Regional Rep for the Federation of BC Writers and a full member of The League of Canadian Poets. She is the author of Rainforest in Russet (Silver Bow Publishing) and the editor of Poetic Portions (Sweetgrass in the Wind), an anthology honouring Earth Day. She’s been featured at The Vancouver International Writer's Festival, Word Vancouver, Spoken Ink, Pandora's Collective, Poetry New West, The SFU Reading Series, The Vancouver Public Library, YVR Authors, Words on Fire in Port Alberni, The Writers Read Series at York University, Poesic Fest in Denver and other literary events through North America and her work has been published and broadcast internationally in journals such as CV2, Lantern Magazine, untethered, and Toasted Cheese and nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net Anthology. When not writing, she loves walking in nature.


First published in Canadian Poetry Review online magazine

Friday, 19 April 2019

Reflections on Eternity, A Review of Ashok Bhargava's Riding Alone

Title: Riding Alone
Author: Ashok Bhargava
Publisher: Global Fraternity of Poets
ISBN: 978-9383755547
Pgs: 94
Price: $18.00
Ashok Bhargava is a poet who strives to live peacefully in all his interactions, with self, with others, with the divine and with his struggle through cancer. Riding Alone chronicles that journey. Even his introduction offers an example of peace, to serve as the flawed and beautiful beings we are, “These poems express my place in the universe and my belief in myself, though I am deeply flawed…Not everyone understood my situation. That was okay. This battle I didn’t choose.” 
His opening question sets the tone and theme of the humanitarian search for enlightenment and meaning. “So how does the brain that lives in total darkness build for us a world of light?” he asks. In the midst of eternity, Bhargava calls us to live in the present, a chosen fullness, a rich tapestry that invites love through generations and gentle time travel rooted in today. “The nature of time is not loneliness but companionship,” he asserts in “Infinite Time, Boundless Love.” (p. 20) Riding Alone confirms that truth. It offers not only verse, love and being, but fractured time returned to wholeness. Through the collection, the poet explores what it means to see, grasping the inner workings of light. His kindness reassures us that we were always good enough, all the parts of ourselves through all the layers of time. In “Unsteady” he affirms, “I still have blue sky days/ I still have black sky nights…I am still as I am/ a beautiful light.” (p. 4) Riding Alone is about finding new narrative on the solitary journey through fragile pieces of heart we don’t know how to hold. In “Dolce Vita” he writes:
“Sometimes we aren’t
given a choice.
A profound sadness
in the full moon’s blue glow
Brings joy
I never thought possible.” (p. 18)
In the jolting juxtaposition of opening one’s soul toward acceptance and presence in the now even in the midst of loss, Bhargava is not afraid to be honest about the painful reality of an uncertain future as a result of his cancer diagnosis, yet in facing the deep universal fear that every being endures alone, he delivers an appreciation of the grace of now and the circle of life that transcends mortality. He takes the reader beyond acceptance to a state of worship, whatever one believes. In acknowledging the deep suffering of not knowing how long one may have, he moves the reader with him into profound gratitude. The stanzas are laid out as a clear, straightforward journey of darkest night into new reverence. This book doesn’t lie. It doesn’t pretend to have all answers or knowledge or to have been without grief. It simply stretches beyond those emotions to bend them toward fresh light, toward an acceptance of not knowing, toward fullness and wonder.
He offers day after day of rebirth, exploring the maturity of sunlit recovery in stanzas like this one from “Stones” that find meaning and abundance in what is:
“love isn’t wanting another to want me
it’s living contentedly with
who I am
what I have.” (p. 14)
His poetry is personal, public and profound all at once, as he offers kernels of individuality. This is especially evidenced in the way he lets us in to the beauty of his marriage in “Uncertain Waters:”
“The smells of
roses and daisies
Rainwater pools in the garden…
pine tree needles shimmer
become kaleidoscope
You held my hand
softly making me see
my whole lifetime floating by.
You craved to go with me
where things
light up on their own.” (p. 13)
Bhargava turns inevitable reality into deep layers of grace and teaches us to do the same, inviting us to care for our traumas in a similar gentleness, like the blessing of blue sky soaking in the glory of sweet cedar. His courageous insight reassures readers that we are allowed whole deep breaths and all the freedom it unleashes, to be all of who we are.
He explores how to hold the imagery of a lifetime and all the lives connected to him. The influence of Hindi philosophy and lyricism in the poet’s unique voice conveys the universal human experience of grappling alone with the unknown, the journey to courage through whatever will be, however we are reborn. Through his words, “Pomegranate blossoms/ waiting to fall/ into night’s darkness/ till you reappear as/ light of dawn,” (p. 49) we are invited to dream in the beautiful colours he evokes, to remember our place in stillness, to experience an incandescent shift in perspective as we unfold into solitude and allow story to flow.
This is a wise author who knows that it’s in quiet that flowers speak, evident in his veneration of beloved relatives:
“A handful of ash
your last physical
remnant
dropped into mother Ganges
becomes a flower
drifts away.” (p. 30)
Riding Alone is the story of how a soul navigates the ultimate communion with life through beliefs faced alone with courage mustered for loved ones and rebirth, whether back into one’s current body or beyond, seeing either result as a dawn to bravely be met. In “Tomorrow,” Bhargava addresses the question all mortals wrestle with, “When the fires of love vanish/ where does forever go?” and answers with a natural ease, “We open our eyes/ it’s tomorrow.” Poems like “Everything” provide an immense calm in the face of an unknown cosmos. As a reader, I trust in his vision of beyond, at peace in the profound acceptance of now, of life, as is, whether or not our consciousness continues beyond what we know. Bhargava’s profound and loving acceptance opens the present to fullness, this second light of gentle spring emerging.
The poetry of Riding Alone is an acceptance of circumstance, self and truth with grace, breaking in to the deepest parts of who we are and letting them be touched by light, hearing them, being honest with them that we don’t know how long we have, allowing them to speak their fear until it turns into the early candescence of dawn, then embracing that we don’t know what the dawn will be, only that light can still reach us, that our darkest hours return to grace, a grace within and beyond that reaches all the parts of our being. “Who will lament and temper the arrival of dawn?” he asks in “Morning Serenade.” (p. 1) The poet is open to a wide range of outlooks, encouraging readers to live well as who we are in the situations we find ourselves in. Bhargava’s words are a benediction to this mystery that is life, leading the way into meditative nirvana.
About the Author: Ashok Bhargava is a poet, community activist, public speaker and keen photographer. He is the founder and president of Writers International Network Canada (WIN Canada) which recognizes and supports writers and artists of diverse backgrounds. He finds living between cultures and languages intriguing and stimulating and composes in both Hindi and English. He is the author of Mirror of Dreams, A Kernel of Truth, Half Open Door, Skipping Stones, Lost in the Morning Calm and Riding Alone. His poetry has been published in many literary journals and anthologies and featured in Canada on CBC Radio, Chanel M TV, Word on the Street, Poetic Justice and Pandora’s Collective, as well as at festivals through the world.
About the Reviewer: Cynthia Sharp is the author of Rainforest in Russet (Silver Bow Publishing, 2018) and The Light Bearers in the Sand Dollar Graviton (Sweetgrass in the Wind, 2018) as well as the editor of Poetic Portions, a Canadian anthology honouring Earth Day (Sweetgrass in the Wind, 2015). She is a full member of the League of Canadian Poets and on the executive of the Federation of BC Writers as the Greater Vancouver Regional Rep. Her poetry can be found in numerous literary journals such as CV2, untethered, Ascent Aspirations Magazine’s Friday’s Poems, Lantern Magazine and Poetry Quarterly, among others and broadcast internationally.