25th Trillium Award

Get to Know Literary London, with Karen Schindler

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Poetry Month Billboard by Poetry London and sponsored by Brick Books and the London Public LIbrary

Earlier this month, Penn Kemp highlighted the Poetry London Reading Series as one of the can't-miss venues for literary happenings in the city. Lovingly (and meticulously) organized by seven volunteers, Poetry London is an event that leaves its invited readers and its enthusiastic audience feeling as if they are part of a nation-wide poetry community where anything is possible. Today Karen Schindler, one of Poetry London's volunteer directors and the publisher of London's Baseline Press, tells us why Poetry London works, what she loves about working with words and where to get the best scones in the city.

Poetry London welcomes the award-winning Susan Musgrave this Wednesday, January 23. Visit our Events page for details.

Open Book:

Tell us about Poetry London and how you became involved with it.

Karen Schindler:

I came on board with Poetry London in 2005, at the beginning of its second season. I?d attended every reading and workshop of its first year and was instantly hooked, not only by the calibre of the poetry, but by the ambience in the room and the welcoming nature of the organization. Poetry London hosts about a dozen poets per season, partnering with a handful of other Ontario venues — Toronto, Hamilton, Waterloo — to set up tours for the long-distant poets. Founded by poet Cornelia Hoogland and librarian Carolyn Doyle, we?ve grown into an organizing committee of seven — all of us volunteers who love what we do.

Each year we try to take on a special project — an anthology or event. Last April it was a ?Poetry Month? street billboard, co-sponsored by Brick Books and the London Public Library, featuring a poem by London?s late Colleen Thibaudeau.


Poetry London is one of those remarkable reading series with a reputation for leaving poets glowing — both those who have read there and those who have attended. What is the secret to running a successful reading series?


That?s always great for us to hear! We do think that we have something special going on here. Much of the credit for that goes to our audience. We have a core group of dedicated poetry supporters in London — they faithfully come out to the readings and the pre-reading workshops, and arrive at each event ready to listen to and engage with the poets and their work. There?s a strong positive energy in that room, and I think the visiting poets can feel it. We do try to make sure that they leave London feeling recharged.


You are also the publisher of London's Baseline Press. What's the most important thing that you've learned about the nuts and bolts of running a small press?


I?m not sure this qualifies as the nuts and bolts, but I have learned that I have to really love the work I?m publishing. The book construction is all in-house — hours of paper cutting, folding, printing, binding. So my connection to the work has to be pretty strong, to see that through.

I?ve also become even more aware of what an important step the chapbook is for poets, especially new writers. One of my first season authors, Danielle Devereaux, describes her chapbook as a calling card — something that she now has to help open conversations with other publishers, festivals organizers, etc. The poets I?ve published are so appreciative — it?s reinforced for me how very important small presses are.


Does the process of designing the chapbooks and working with the poems as a physical product change your understanding of a poet's work?


What an interesting question. I?ve had a range of experiences during my first two seasons. In a couple instances, I?ve worked with poets whose collections were pretty much ready to go. But with other projects, I?ve been allowed in as a close witness to the process — helping to carve out a book from an initial submission of poems, and collaborating closely with the poet to determine how the work might best be served by presentation and graphics. The relationship a publisher develops with the book can be quite similar to that of a reviewer — involving a real exploration of the writing, and often a very close bond with it. So at the end-of-season launch, the combination of seeing the poet up there holding the physical book, and hearing the words that I?ve had the opportunity to inhabit, is an amazing experience.


What do you enjoy the most about London's literary scene?


I?m definitely impressed by all the time and energy that people in the community here are willing to devote to the literary arts. I?ve watched so many organizations spring up in the last ten years — people dedicating themselves to organizing workshopping groups, literary journals, open mic nights. One of our Poetry London workshoppers, Ron Stewart, started up an off-shoot writing group several years ago that?s still going strong; UWO prof Kathryn Mockler recently launched an on-line journal, The Rusty Toque, that rivals any literary journal in Canada — just to name a couple. The people who spear-head these various projects volunteer countless hours, all out of a love of poetry and a desire to serve the literary community. It?s inspiring.


Can you name a few local establishments that book lovers visiting London should be sure to check out?


First on my list would be Attic Books on Dundas St. — books, maps, prints, eccentric collectibles. Don?t go upstairs unless you have a few hours to spare. On my last visit, I picked up a limited edition Joan Barfoot broadside from 1993 — gorgeous. And also Oxford Book Shop, which is the last independent new-book retailer in London — a true neighbourhood bookstore.

I went to two café-book-readings this past year where the ambience was wonderful. Organic Works Bakery on Wellington St. — arguably the most beautiful café in the city. And East Village Coffeehouse on Dundas — a big supporter of local musicians and poets, and a lovely intimate space.

Finally, my list of inspiring locales would also have to include Poetry London?s host venue, the charming Landon Branch Library in Wortley Village — worth visiting just to check out the 12 magnificent poetry-themed stained glass windows by local artist Ted Goodden.

Karen Schindler is the publisher of London's Baseline Press and a director of the Poetry London Reading Series.

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