Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Karen Shenfeld

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Toronto poet Karen Shenfeld was born in a 1950s subdivision named for a minor English lord. While obtaining her undergraduate degree in English Literature at York University, she fell under the spell of the prophet, Irving Layton. She began to pursue her reckless calling in earnest on the road. Among her many journeys, she has crossed the Sahara Desert and travelled the length of the Congo River. Shenfeld has published two books with Guernica Editions: The Law of Return (1999), which won the Canadian Jewish Book Award for poetry in 2001, and The Fertile Crescent (2005). Her work has also appeared in well-known journals published in Canada, the United States, South Africa and Bangladesh. Shenfeld has brought her poetic sensibility to the writing of magazine stories and filmmaking. Her personal documentary, Il Giardino, The Gardens of Little Italy, was screened at the 2007 Planet in Focus Environmental Film & Video Festival. She is currently at work on a new film and completing the manuscript for her third book, Billie Holiday Sings My Yiddishe Momme.

Visit Karen's website at
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Ten Questions with Karen Shenfeld

Open Book: Toronto:

What was your first publication and where was it published?

Karen Shenfeld:

My first published piece appeared in 1966, in a North York Teachers’ Newsletter. It was an enthusiastic account of Lilla Stirling’s visit to my Grade 5 class the previous year. Stirling is the author (I want to write “authoress”) of The Pipe Organ in the Parlour, a children’s book that I had read and adored.


Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

The Fertile Crescent

By Karen Shenfeld

Ancient and medieval Jewish travelers are brought to poetic life amidst images garnered from the poet's personal journeys crossing the Sahara Desert and voyaging down the Congo River.

For more information about The Fertile Crescent, please visit the Guernica Editions website.

Recent Writer In Residence Posts

Riffs and Rants: Joseph Maviglia Chats About His New Book: Critics Who Know Jack (Urban Myths, Media and Rock and Roll).

Years before we met one another, I had spied poet and singer/songwriter Joseph Maviglia hanging out at the original Bar Italia on College Street in Toronto’s Little Italy. He would stroll in and sit alone, sipping an espresso, quietly absorbed in a book he was reading or jotting down notes. Even in stillness, he had an overtly theatrical air. So, I wasn’t surprised to discover that he was indeed a poet and performer. Maviglia has previously released two CDs of roots/rock music and has had four books of poetry published, including A God Hangs Upside Down (Guernica Editions), Movietown (Streetcar Editions), Winter Jazz (Quarry Press), and Mitla (Eternal Network).

Canoeing Song

I go canoeing with Pauline Johnson.
I take the bow; she, the stern.

Port/starboard; stroke on stroke—
we paddle in unison; our liquid song:

wings dipped in silvered glass.
Behind us: cottages diminish,

below the shore’s receding line;
trees rendered en grisaille.

A Moral Voice in an Amoral World

There’s a wonderful millinery on the north side of College Street, just west of Bathurst. (Readers of my blogs this month may have come to the conclusion that I never leave the vicinity of College Street. They are correct.) Inside the charmingly decorated Lilliput Hats, you will find a fanciful array of pillboxes, cloches, Bergeres and berets. Feathered, flowered, beaded, braided. All of the hats are designed and fabricated on the premises by an all-women team led by the shop’s talented proprietor, Karyn Gingras.

The location of Lilliput Hats seems apt. The atelier inhabits a storefront that was occupied for many a decade by an old-fashioned men's tailor shop, one of the neighbourhood's longest-standing premises founded by the Eastern European Jewish immigrants who once thrived here.

The Lyrical Line Drawings of Malcolm Sutherland


We Are What We Read/ We Read What We Are

With just a few days to go before Christmas, I dropped into Balfour Books, College Street's wonderful used bookseller, for an hour or two. I wanted to see a small sampling of what books folks were picking up, either for their own holiday reading pleasure, or as gifts. Here's the inside scoop:

Jill, a woman in her early twenties purchased two art books for her mom, whom she said was an artist: Gustav Klimt by Alfred Weidinger, Prestel (2007) and Gino Severini: The Dance 1909-1916, by Daniela Fonti and John Gage, Skira Editore, 2001.

Constitutional lawyer and Little Italy celebrity, Rocco Galati, came by just for a minute with his brother, and, in no time flat, nabbed The Complete Works of Chaucer, Oxford University Press, 1973. He quipped that he wanted to improve his English and thought it best to go back to the beginning.

If I Ran From You

If I Ran From You

If I ran from you
to Ouagadougou,
I’d hear your voice in
talking drums.

My Dinner With Fraser

I've always wanted to be a restaurant reviewer. For Toronto Life or The Globe and Mail, perhaps. Accompanied by a chosen companion, I could dine in the city's hottest spots on the company dime. I could flex my linguistic muscles, waxing poetic about cumulus-cloud garlicked mashed potatoes; wild-as-the-west bison burgers; Gobi-desert hot and sour soup; Botticelli-esque angel's hair pasta. I would possess power. I could commend or trash. I would, of course, remain uncorruptible and incognito: alongside my reviews there'd be a discreet black-and-white shot of me, a broad-brimmed hat pulled down, obscuring my face, a la Joanne Kates.

A Whole Lotta Creativity Going On At Creative Works Studio

I took off yesterday afternoon to do a little holiday shopping. Though I almost never stray more than one square mile from my home at Clinton and College, I hopped on the streetcar and headed eastbound over the river. I wanted to buy some unique cards created by the artists who work out of Toronto's Creative Works Studio. If I would've had a little more dough to spare, I probably would have purchased a painting or two, as well.

The Standing Prayer

The Standing Prayer

Menachem prays standing in
a warm rectangle of light;

Isaac prays with his eyes closed,
the pages of his pearled book
turning in the breeze of his breath;

Nathan prays out loud,
his recitation, a river,
washing over polished stones;

Chance Meeting in the Blogosphere

"If you 'google' yourself too often," my husband wryly commented, "you will grow hair on your palms." Still, what almost famous poet/musician/artist/filmmaker/whosoever can resist the activity? Seeing how many google links pop up when you search your name lets you know exactly how almost famous you really are.

An Ode To The Fetishistic Pleasures of Collecting

There’s a scene I love in the film, High Fidelity (actually, there are many scenes that I love in that film, but this one seems the most apropos at the moment). It’s the one where Rob—vinyl-phile, record-store owner, and recently dumped boyfriend—is hanging out in his bohemian apartment, amid the stormy, rolling sea of his record collection, his albums strewn in piles all over the floor. Midday, Dick, Rob's sensitive and uber-geeky employee pops by and surveys the chaos. Rob explains that he is in the middle of reorganizing his collection. What order are you putting the records in, Dick wants to know. "Alphabetical?" "Biographical," Rob replies.

"This Black Pen Tells Me Who I Am"

On July 18th, 2005, Toronto lost an outstanding member of its poetry community. Malca Litovitz stood out from the pack for a number of reasons--most superficially, perhaps, because of her sartorial flair. Malca always turned up at readings well turned out, in tasteful, tailored attire, perfectly suited to her tall, willowy frame. I never, in fact, quite understood how she was able to take care of husband and child; work full time as a teacher of English literature and creative writing at Seneca College; hit the gym; shop judiciously; and routinely visit both hairstylist and manicurist. And, oh yes, publish four good books of poetry and a large smattering of essays and reviews.

Confession For A Frosted Winter's Day


No fairy princess, me
I never donned the costume:
circled skirt of velvet,
faux fur frosting crimson collar and cuffs.

Pictures At A Book Launch

Yesterday marked the final book launch of the year hosted by my esteemed publisher, Guernica Editions. Just six days shy of Chanukah; nineteen days shy of Christmas; and twenty days shy of Kwanzaa, a celebratory crowd jam-packed the upstairs lounge of College Street's landmark Bar Italia.

A Tree Grows in College Street

This morning, like most mornings, I’m on my date with Johnny Zampini. No, he's not my husband, nor my therapist, nor my stylist. He’s my barista.

The Art Bar at Any Other Bar would Still Be the Art Bar

We poets living in Toronto (or in Canada, perhaps) have a reliable way of dating our entrée onto the scene. We can ask ourselves: Where in the city was Toronto’s Art Bar when we first read there? And who was at its helm?

I wanna boast that I was present, back in 1991, when Allen Sutterfield launched the venerable reading series in his basement. I was around back then, but I wasn't all that cool. Neither was I present, as an invited reader or audience member, when the series packed up its tent and moved to the yet-to-be-gentrified Gladstone Hotel.

Write ‘em faster than you can read ‘em

The first blog I ever read was that written by a then eighteen-year-old son of a friend. It was, I confess, only three short years ago. At that time, Jason had embarked upon a round-the-world voyage for his Gap Year between high school and university. (Hey, when I graduated from a middle-class, suburban Toronto high-school in the early 1970s, no one had ever heard of a Gap Year, let alone taken one.)

Jason began his Gap Year by volunteering at Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata, and through his blog I got to know him better. I discovered a super bright, hip, tender, empathetic, admirable, and talented young man.

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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