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Write On Ottawa: New poetry books by Sonia Saikaley and rob mclennan

By Alejandro Bustos on August 21, 2013

Today we continue our look at the thriving poetry scene in the National Capital Region by focusing on two local writers.

Sonia Saikaley has been busy the last couple of years.  Her novella The Lebanese Dishwasher was a co-winner of the 2012 Ken Klonsky Novella Contest, a work that she discussed in a previous interview with Apartment613.

While she is currently working on a second novel, her most recent published work is Turkish Delight, Montreal Winter, a poetry collection that feels more like a series of short stories than a collection of poems.

“I tend to write a lot of prose poetry,” says Saikaley in an interview.  “I see myself more a prose writer who dabbles in poetry … With poetry it’s so short, you need to capture everything with less words.”

My view is that Saikaley is being too modest, as her poems are full of emotion, intriguing narratives and interesting characters.  While her poetry collection is less than 80-pages long, it expresses as much feeling as some full-length novels.  This work cannot be described as a mere literary dabble.

In her poems, we hear about the immigrant experience, the joys of motherhood, the relationship between lovers, racism, and the strong bonds of family.

This work will appeal to a broad audience, and is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in knowing more about the great poetry community in the nation’s capital.  Regular readers of poetry will also find this book enjoyable.

Photo of rob mclennan by Pearl Pirie

Photo of rob mclennan by Pearl Pirie

Another local poet who has published recently is rob mclennan (his name is spelled all lowercase).  Besides running one of the most important publishing houses in the city for poetry, he is also a blogger and writer, having published more than two dozen books and numerous volumes of poetry.

Among his newer publications is Songs for little sleep, a collection of poems with slightly abstract text, but whose rhythm is clearly distinguishable.

To get a feel for the beat of the poems consider this excerpt from the piece “Emergency Room”: Blood-work, consistent.  A chessboard, an alphabet.  The poem is, talking.  An image, the stamps had created.

When I asked mclennan to describe this collection of poems he replied that he saw them as a collage work.

“I (normally) go through 10 or 20 drafts for a piece,” he says in an interview.  “With these pieces … (I would) write one relatively quickly and at one go.  Once I had a manuscript I would tweak it a little.”

Another recently published work is his chapbook Mother Firth’s, inspired by a tavern of the same name that was built around 1809, and which was located in the area that today is known as Lebreton Flats.  This small collection of poems is part of a larger body of work by mclennan in which he explores the history of the National Capital Region.

“(I have written) poems about, or influenced by, Ottawa, and Mother Firth’s is part of that,” he says.

Completely different in tone from Songs for little sleep, the poems in Mother Firth’s may be of interest to those curious about local history.

In the coming weeks and months, we will look at other area poets that make up the incredibly talented, but often overlooked, local poetry community.