Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

John Oughton

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Born in Guelph. Ontario, John Oughton has lived in the Middle East, Japan and Eastern Canada. After completing an MA in English Literature at York U., where he studied with writers including Frank Davey, Irving Layton, Miriam Waddington and Eli Mandel, he began a series of careers in Toronto that included publishing, corporate communications and free-lance journalism/photography. He also went to the Jack Kerouac Disembodied Poetics summer writing school at Naropa Institute where he learned from Anne Waldman, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Duncan and William Burroughs. Since the late 1980s, he has focused on teaching in community colleges and is now Professor of Learning and Teaching at Centennial College. He has facilitated the Long Dash writing group for years and published a series of chapbooks, monographs and art catalogues under his Sixth Floor Press imprint. A long-time member of the League of Canadian Poets, he served as Treasurer for two-and-a-half years and also edited the website. John has one daughter, Eireann, a share in a century-old house in Prince Edward County and a couple of almost-working vintage Yamaha motorcycles.

Read more about John Oughton at and at

Ten Questions with John Oughton

Open Book: Toronto:

What was your first publication and where was it published?

John Oughton:

It depends on how you define “publication”, but I did self-publish two poetry chapbooks in high school (via mimeograph); this was before the photocopier appeared. The first was somewhat embarrassingly titled The Turd’s Eye View. I hope that I have progressed beyond that scatological vision.


Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

Recent Writer In Residence Posts

Ekphrasis Strikes Again!

The Guinness Book of Records probably doesn't have a category for it, but a group of writers and artists in Toronto has likely set a record for the longest-running, largest-scale collaboration anywhere between writers and visual artists. This eighth annual National Poetry Month exhibition and reading on April 26 features visual art by studio members of the Women's Art Association of Canada and associated poems by the Long Dash group. Some poems are responses to paintings or photographs; others share a common set of images or emotions. Similarly, some of the visual art is created, or altered, in response to poems.

Nik Beat, Dead at 58

Nik Beat, a well-known figure in Toronto's music and literary scenes, died yesterday at 58. His given name was Michael Barry, but his chosen name reflected his hipster stance and determination to avoid conformity.

eyeScapes: an ekphrastic reading and exhibition

The headline may have you asking "What the heck is ekphrastic"? It's the technical term for writing (usually poetry) created in response to visual art.
Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn" may be the most famous example, but many poets have found inspiration in painting, sculpture, and photography. Symbols, layering, suggestions and nuances are common to poetry and visual media. There's, not incidentally, a long list of poets who also create visual art -- in Canada, Joe Rosenblatt, Bill Bissett, and the late PK Page come to mind.

The World's Longest-running Ekphrastic Collaboration?

The headline may have you asking "What the heck is ekphrastic"? It's the unwieldy technical term for writing (usually poetry) created in response to visual art.
Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn" may be the most famous example, but many poets have found inspiration in painting, sculpture, and photography. Symbols, layering, suggestions and nuances are common to poetry and visual media. There's, not incidentally, a considerable list of poets who also create visual art -- in Canada, Joe Rosenblatt, Bill Bissett and the late PK Page come to mind.

Rob Ford and the Danger of a Single Story

First, let me clarify a couple of things. Part of my title (the danger of a single story) is stolen from the brilliant African writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. If you haven't already seen her TED talk with the same title, you should. It's at Second, I'm no fan of Rob Ford. I think he's an embarrassment to Toronto, his antics turning what purports to be a "world class" city into an extension of Etobicoke, and his whole persona is a deception. He offers himself as a friend of the working stiff, and a penny-pincher; but he was born to privilege, drives a Cadillac Escalade (badly), and appears to be his own gravy train.

Fifth Annual Large-scale Collaboration between Poets and Artists

Year Five of a Unique Collaboration
(Toronto, Ontario) Sunday, April 29, 2012 will feature the fifth year in which an unusual collaboration between Toronto artists and poets has produced an exhibition and reading. The venue, the Women’s Art Association of Canada (WAAC), which is housed an elegant Victorian duplex on Prince Arthur St., last year reached its 125th anniversary. “Toward Balance: Conversations in Poetry and Art” features the work of 11 artists, all of whom rent studio space in the east half of the WAAC, and the seven poets who form the Long Dash writing group.

Readings feat. John Oughton, Sheila Stewart, Mary Lou Soutar-Hynes and Elana Wolff


Friday, April 27, 2012 - 6:30pm


Toronto Public Library - Parkdale
1303 Queen St. West
Toronto, ON
M6K 1L6


This reading series, entitled “Toward Balance: Conversations in Poetry and Art,” explores the conversations beyond usual ekphrastic poem-about-art to include collaborative writing with artists, art inspired by poetry and poetry collaged into art. John Oughton, Sheila Stewart, Mary Lou Soutar-Hynes and Elana Wolff will celebrate this long-lasting project with poems about collaboration, co-creatio, and creative relationships of all kinds.


Toronto Public Library - Parkdale
1303 Queen St. West
Toronto, ON M6K 1L6 43° 38' 28.8744" N, 79° 25' 57.4068" W

Celebrate Art and Poetry with the Long Dash Group


Sunday, April 29, 2012 - 2:00pm


Women’s Art Association of Canada
23 Prince Arthur Ave.
Toronto, ON
M5R 1B2


Join the talented poets that make up The Long Dash group to celebrate both visual art and poetry. Hear from Guernica poets Elana Wolff, Clara Blackwood, Merle Nudelman and John Oughton alongside Mary Lou Soutar-Hynes, Yaqoob Ghaznavi and Sheila Stewart. Artists Barb Andersen, Judith Davidson-Palmer, Barbara Feith, Beryl Goering, Carolyn Jongeward, Marjorie Moeser, Mary-Lou Payzant, Gail Read, Hortensia Reyes, Wenda Watt and Wendy Weaver will also take part.

This event is part of an ongoing five-year collaboration between The Long Dash and the studio artists of the Women’s Art Association of Canada.

Admission is free.


Women’s Art Association of Canada
23 Prince Arthur Ave.
Toronto, ON M5R 1B2 43° 40' 10.4304" N, 79° 23' 47.2812" W

Poetry, Memes and John Pike

Most people with a Facebook account or one eye on the Internet have by now seen the infamous and viral-in-nothing-flat video of campus police "officer" Lt. John Pike pepper-spraying non-violent, silent protestors sitting on the ground at the University of California at Davis. Pike, a swaggering couch potato of a rent-a-cop with an unfortunately pubic red beard, is all decked out in tactical riot gear, and so "threatened" by the protestors that his visor is up.

Harper is Our Muse: the Mini-Mag!

Finally launched (after much procrastination on the editor's part; that would be me)! "Harper is Our Muse."
A mini-web-mag in a blog that shows just how inspiring a leader Stephen Harper is to Canadian poets (including Penn Kemp, Poet Laureate of London). With any luck, we'll get denounced in Hansard.

Go to: and check it out. Warning: may offend Tories and others with no sense of irony. If you're not looking forward to more years of Harperism, share this; come and comment; toast our poets.

Blatchford vs. Layton

Ever since National Post columnist Christie Blatchford published her dismissal of Jack Layton's final letter to the public, calling it "vainglorious", reactions have, to say the least, varied. Some praise her for being objective or state that she has a valid neo-con point of view, and they're sick of all the liberal/social democrat hype about Layton.

Ford, Atwood, Toronto

Now that the dust has begun to settle on the great Doug Ford-inspired "Margaret Atwood? I don't even know who she is" comment, it's time to consider the entrails of this media bird.
I imagine you know who is pictured in the image on this blog, but then, being an Open Book reader, you're no average citizen--- you already have a declared interest in writing.

Call for Proposals: Harper is My Muse

Harper will be our PM for four years, and there's little we can do about that. However, we don't have to suffer in silence. Recent brain research suggested that "liberal" brains have a larger area for processing complexity, and "conservative" ones have a larger fear center. So let's challenge him with complexity by doing what artists and writers do best: fantasy, irony, allusion, parody. I challenge you to "Make Harper your Muse" by creating a poem, story, artwork, video mash-up, spoken word piece, etc. centering on our beloved PM. Even if, as he said, ordinary people don't care about art, we'll make him care.

Photo Show

Today is the opening of my first solo photography exhibit in Toronto, Interrogating the World. It's not officially part of the Contact series, although the timing is right.
Why is a writer showing photography? Actually, I've considered myself a writer/photographer for a while. I have had that title as a free-lancer and (briefly) full time employee of a small newspaper. I've a small claim to having at times been a professional in both fields, as I have done a few shoots on assignment, been paid for some pictures in magazines and newspapers, and won a few contests.

Poetry in Parkdale


Thursday, April 21, 2011 - 7:00pm


Parkdale Library
1303 Queen St West
Toronto, ON
M6K 1L6


As part of national Poetry Month, enjoy readings at Parkdale Library by Clara Blackwood, Merle Nudelman, John Oughton, Mary Lou Soutar-Hynes, Sheila Stewart and Elana Wolff.

This is a free event.

For more information, please call (416) 393-7686.


Parkdale Library
1303 Queen St West
Toronto, ON M6K 1L6 43° 39' 30.6" N, 79° 26' 0.24" W

Art Bar Poetry


Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - 8:00pm


693 Bloor Street West
Toronto, ON
M6G 1L5


Toronto's longest running poetry-only series welcomes you to an evening of readings with three talented guests:

John Oughton: Born in Guelph, John has also lived in Iraq, Egypt and Japan. He has English Literature degrees from York and is now completing a PhD in Education there. His current job is Professor of Teaching and Learning at Centennial College. At York, and later the jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, he studied with with Irving Layton, Eli Mandel , Frank Davey, Miriam Waddington, Robert Duncan, Anne Waldman, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs. He has been active as a literary journalist, with about 400 reviews, interviews, articles and blogs published.


693 Bloor Street West
Toronto, ON M6G 1L5 43° 0' 0" N, 79° 0' 0" W

Forecast: a small flurry of readings

After somewhat of a hiatus, I once again will be haunting the stages at Toronto poetry reading series with my unforgettable poetry and intolerable jokes. Please join me at one or more of:

Sunday, Feb. 20
Plasticine Poetry Series
The Central,
603 Markham Street
Toronto ON
6-9 p.m.

Tuesday, March 29
Art Bar Poetry Series
Clinton's, 693 Bloor St. w,
Toronto ON
8 p.m.

Sunday, April 17
Fourth Annual Exhibition and Reading with the Studio Artists
Women' Art Association of Canada
(with the Long Dash group: Clara Blackwood, Merle Nudelman, Mary Lou Soutar-Hynes, Sheila Stewart, Elana Wolff)
29 Prince Arthur Ave., Toronto
2 p.m.

Thursday, April 21
National Poetry Month:
The Long Dash group (as above)
The Parkdale Library
1303 Queen St. West
Toronto, ON

Rubbin' Up Against Dub

When I tell you my friend and Centennial College colleague Chet Sing is launching his fifth dub CD, Recessionary Revolutionaries, Thursday night at the Smiling Buddha, 961 College St., at 8 pm, your probable response is "what's dub?"


About 10 percent of people are born with the left hand as their dominant one. We now know that this is controlled by a specific gene (which also appears to link to a tendency of schizophrenia), but for a long time left-handed people were viewed with suspicion. Some schools attempted to force the unfortunate few lefties to write and draw with their right hand. I remember this being done to my creative oldest sister, Libby. On the positive side, left-handedness is linked in folklore with creativity and intelligence(although this may be a result of figuring out how to cope in a right-handed world). Celebrated male members of the club include Michelangelo, Raphael, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Paul McCartney, Johnny Rotten, H. G. Wells, Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, and Albert Einstein.

The Joy of Burning Books

Many undeservedly famous people deserve ridicule – bimbos of both sexes, celebrated only for their substance abuse, flagrant overspending, run-ins with the law and disastrous relationship choices – or the reality TV “stars” who are ordinary in every way except for their overinflated egos.

Genesis of a book

Finally, I got to hold my new book. It's a little like cradling a new-born baby, although, from what women tell me, the work of birthing a book is considerably less painful. However, it often takes longer.
All books, once published, look more or less equal. Each occupies its distinct physical space, with an intoxicating whiff of fresh ink and paper providing a pheromonal come-on to potential readers. However, each also has its own story of conception and collaboration to tell, sometimes involving sojourns in the Desert of Rejection, or the vast time-space anomaly created when overloaded people volunteer their remaining time and energy to the often thankless task of running a literary press.

Debooking a Logo

Another telling blow in the fight to de-book the world has been struck. The Yellow Pages Group, well known for "Let your fingers do the walking" and its icon of a yellow hand patrolling a paper Yellow Pages, has booklessly updated its logo.

The Art of Poetry

When poetry and art hang out together, they rub off on each other. A few years ago, my poetry workshop -- The Long Dash, which includes Rosemary Blake, Clara Blackwood, Merle Nudelman, Mary Lou Soutar-Hynes, Sheila Stewart, and Elana Wolff -- began to collaborate with a group of nine visual artists who have studio space in the Women's Art Association of Canada (WAAC). A conversation between poet Mary Lou Soutar-Hynes and painter Marjorie Moeser raised the idea of poets and painters working closely together. The painters create their work in a historic Victorian duplex on Prince Arthur Avenue, near Bloor and Avenue Road.

Art and Budget

Several commentators (strangely enough, mostly artists and writers) noted that Flaherty's recent Canadian Federal budget contained nary a word about art.
This is somewhat intriguing, given that the Tory brain trust took two prorogued months off to come up with, like, a really state-of-the-art budget.
True, golf-playing guys who think a Lincoln is an economy car generally don't ascribe much value to artistic endeavours. This despite a number of well-documented studies like the Conference Board of Canada's 2008 inquiry into the economic value of cultural production:
“The Cultural Advantage: What do Canadian Creators and the Arts and Cultural Industries contribute to Canada?

* $46 billion to the economy
* 3.8 % of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

Unsticking Writer's Block: 13 Lucky Ways

"Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead" -- Gene Fowler, US journalist.

A lot of that bleeding comes when you encounter writer's block. You have to write something -- maybe you've set aside time from work and family duties, maybe you're being paid, or you'll get fired if you don't write something -- but you're stuck. The more you try to come up with that critical first or next sentence, you can't. Hilarity does not ensue.
It's a trauma all writers encounter at some point. Generally, I can write quickly and meet deadlines... but first I have to spend some germinating and cogitating time, working things out in my head until I'm ready to start.

Flarfs, spoetry and spambot literature

Every second on the Internet, an invisible textual war is underway. Spammers are those wonderful folks who want to jam your inboxes with come-ons for discount Viagara, inform you that you've won a non-existent lottery, or launder some hidden African millions through your bank account. They create or use spam-bots (bots are automated programs, such as a search engine uses to trawl cyberspace for new websites and add them to its directory of sites) that randomly generate text in the hopes of slipping their messages under the barrier of the spam filters on your incoming mail.

Living in a Novel

"“When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.” -- Raymond Chandler
For the past couple of years, in fits and starts, I've been living in a novel. Unfortunately, I can't blame anyone else for this fictional edifice's shortcomings, since I'm the builder.
Writing poems, which I have longer experience at, is a more contained activity. You shape something out of thin air until it feels like has enough legs. Then you sit on it, rock back and forth, whittle some improvements, and you're ready to move on. Each poem, even when it belongs in a series, is as self-contained as a nautilus shell.

My Next Book: Time Slip


Sometime this May, my fifth collection of poetry will be launched by Guernica Editions in Toronto. Called Time Slip after its longest poem (900+ lines), this is a “new and selected” compilation, whose earliest works date back 40 years. There are selections from each of my previous books, plus previously unpublished work written over the last decade. Contents include love poems, linguistic trickery, nature lyrics, elegies, political satire, work responding to visual art, texts based on dreams, and part of my poetic biography of Mata Hari (still my favourite book).

Writing and Photography

I've been a photographer almost as long as I've been a writer. Although I've put more effort into marketing my words than images, I find both pursuits satisfying and challenging. They're not entirely different, both offering a way to represent a unique view of the world to others. The Greek terms that were cobbled together to label the art (now about 180 years old) originally mean "light" plus "drawing" or "writing"; take your pick.

An Obscure Bicentennial


Get Your Dub On

Dub poetry is a particular kind of performance poetry, in which artists chant strongly rhythmic rhymes, generally about politics and social justice. Sometimes they have a backing band which plays reggae-esque music, sometimes they perform solo. With their musical sound, thought-provoking lyrics and often entertaining performances, dub poets have become entrenched in the GTA literary community,
Names like Lillian Allen, Clifton Joseph, Afua Cooper and Klyde Brooks are well-known outside the dub poetry and Jamaican-Canadian communities, for their books and CDs as well as live performances.

Words Aloud: The Movie

Living in Toronto, it’s easy to believe that little happens outside the literary capital of Canada, with its International Authors Festival, multiple reading venues, small press book fairs, and all the other word-based activity. However, there are many writers and events in smaller centres. One is the Words Aloud spoken word festival in Durham, Ontario (a Grey County town of 2500, about two hours drive northwest of Toronto). This November festival, whose website is at, has run for the last six years, featuring writers and performers who cover the gamut from traditional for-the-page poetry through hybrid performers like singer/songwriter/writer Robert Priest, Louise Halfe (Skydancer), Lorna Crozier and dub poet Clifton Joseph, the Toronto Slam Team.


The inclusion of spoken-word artist Shane Koyczan’s “We Are More” in the opening ceremony for the Vancouver Olympics has created a lively controversy. Those who don’t generally turn out for poetry readings love it; It is, as many have commented, a slightly more literary version of the famed Molson “I am A Canadian” commercial/rant. We can probably agree on one thing here: controversy is never bad for an art as underappreciated as poetry.
In his 90-second paean to what he considers the greatest aspects of Canada, the hefty, neckbearded slam artist gets very sincere on us, selling Canada as a place that works, where hope is kept alive (perhaps he didn't visit East Vancouver on the way to the Olympics?).

Forget the E-book; now it's the Vook?

Could it be that the e-book is already so, like, yesterday? The New York Times notes that vampirologist Ann Rice has sold the multimedia rights to her previously-published story "The Master of Rampling Gate" to Vook, "a multimedia company that has joined with publishers and authors to make enhanced editions of electronic books." Simon & Schuster, not wanting to miss its chance to surf this new wave, has announced four new vooks, two each of fiction and non-.
So what is a "vook," exactly? It's essentially an e-book for your personal computer or I-phone with two enhancements:
1. selected portions of the text are amplified (maybe we need a new verb here, "videofied"?) with short videos

SKETCH: A STORY (The Writing Life)

I find dreams an important source for creative writing. Sometimes it's a single image or line I recall; other times I awake with almost an entire poem in my mental buffer. I usually try to describe the dream as objectively as possible, not judging whether it is weird or upsetting (or even revealing of my true psychopathology!).

Decoding Hallelujah

Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah” was at first a little-known cut on his 1988 album Various Positions. Since then, it has spread like a musical virus, now having been covered by over 200 artists, and gained the coveted Christmas Number One spot in the UK through the X-Factor's Alexandra Burke version. It's become for singers what Everest is for climbers -- everybody wants to attempt it. kd lang scaled this peak again at the Vancouver Olympics opening ceremonies.

Deadly Verses

In earlier times, poetry held an important place in many cultures. For the literate 200 years ago, poems were a way to gain not only pleasure but exercise for the imagination. Maybe you couldn't watch Avatar in 3D, but you could visit Coleridge's Xanadu or Blake's fiery spirits. Centuries before the Romantics, Northern European bards and balladeers were important in their cultures, historians of great deeds and heroes, their lays and songs affording a little immortality to compensate for short human life spans.

Do You Believe?

OK, I've had enough sports hype now. The imperfect storm of media frenzy over the Saints-Colts Superbowl, in which overpaid large American guys in body armour crash into each other during a war game over an inflated pigskin, and the Olympics, in which underpaid athletes from around the world vie for medals that will win them Tiger's leftover brand affiliations, has reached the point of inanity with an extra "s."
Maybe I just don't Believe. In honesty, I think the Olympic torch thing was an inspired idea, giving many small communities something to celebrate in a dreary winter, but the games themselves...

It's a Micro-press Thing.

McClelland & Stewart, tremble in your boots.

I run what is probably one of the smallest publishing houses in Canada. It's called Sixth Floor Press, after the place where my poetry group, The Long Dash, first met. You won't find any Sixth Floor Press titles at chain stores or that big electronic book retailer. In a big year, I issue two new titles. Yet in its tiny way, my press has contributed to Canadian culture; even better, every title has sold out and I've found a way to do this that is neither stressful nor expensive (many literary presses in Canada persist largely because their owners subsidize them with money as well as free labour).

The Philosopher: Canadian Edition

Every so often, it's tempting to conclude that the TV reality show boom is bust. Once the Survivor: Sanitary Sewer Worker; TTC: the Amazing Slow Race, and Hell's Ticket: Iron Parking Cop shows folded, what could be left to titillate addicts of this scripted-but-pretending-not-to-be genre?

E-book or P-book?

I've been unfaithful. After decades of a stable relationship, I'm spending the week-end with a much younger competitor, sleek and alluring. Yes, I've borrowed a Kindle, while paper books languish beside my bed, their dusty silence broken by the occasional muffled sob.

The Kindle is about the size of a typical poetry collection, and a little heavier. Yet it can hold a thousand or more titles at once, downloading them wirelessly in about a minute apiece. Is this the Book of Books, the 1,001 Nights compressed into one electric evening? Will it sound the electronic death knell for the long-running offspring of Mr. Gutenberg -- the bound collection of printed paper?

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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