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Under One Roof: Creating an Anthology on Ageing -- from A to Z

   by Ian Cognitō                                                                                              

Coming off a recent poetry collaboration, Pat Smekal and I found ourselves craving another project. We decided to open things up and to tackle our first anthology together. In Much Adieu about Nothing, we had explored the topic of Death and Dying, and, as we discovered, this topic was not quite finished with us. So, for the anthology, we chose Death’s close companion, Ageing, as our theme. We then set about composing and sending out a call for submissions.

We started getting submissions almost immediately, at first from within BC only. But then submissions started trickling in from across Canada, and even stateside. There was no entry fee, and no limit on submissions, and we had promised a free copy to every author whose work made it into the collection. This, I think, provided extra motivation to participate. Perhaps, too, the topic itself and an evocative title—Old Bones and Battered Bookends—added to the interest.

During the two-month submission period, we received over three hundred entries from 90+ authors from BC and beyond, though BC had, by far, the greatest representation.

Pat and I needed to come up with a process for evaluating and scoring the poetry submissions we were receiving almost daily. As entries approached the 20-mark, I would compile them into one document and send it off to Pat. We agreed to score each poem out of 3, with 3 being the top score. We came up with a formula to guide us in making our evaluations, the “AWE Principle”—Accessible; Well-written; Evocative.

Once Pat and I had had some time individually to go over a given batch of poems, we would compare results and combine our respective scores for each poem. On a few occasions, one of us might advocate for a poem we believed the other may have missed or underrated. But this happened rarely; we were surprisingly in sync most of the time.

With poems coming in right up to our deadline, Pat and I went over 14 batches of poetry all together. Then it was time to complete a long list, which consisted of any poem which had a double score, meaning a score from each of us, whether a 3, a 2, or a 1. The lowest combined score possible for inclusion on the long list, therefore, became a 2. Now, we had 105 poems to whittle down to our short list. The 6s and the 5s were almost guaranteed to make this list, but Pat and I committed to going over each of these poems again, even the 2s to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. For this task, we got together in person for a marathon session. We read all the poems aloud to help lift them off the page, and we reread some silently, too, just to be sure. We had decided in advance that the long list would be halved to achieve a working short list. That meant no more than about 50 poems.

During our shortlisting process, poem scores were maintained, downgraded, or upgraded according to our criteria. At the end of this process, we had an initial shortlist of 46 poems, including their original or adjusted scores. From this list, we harvested poems to ‘people’ our first manuscript. To achieve this, we looked first to the top-scored poems. For poems not in our top tier, we considered other criteria such as coverage of topic, humour vs. sober reflection, author’s locations, female-to-male balance…

The manuscript went through several iterations as we applied different organizing principles. Ultimately, we decided to ‘arc’ through the topic with poems organized by sub-theme. One crucial element of the process was choosing our first poem, and we thank Michael Penny for his humourous offering, My Skeleton, which got the ball rolling.

Then there was the cover, my first perfect-bound cover, with all those fussy measurements for the spine and bleed zones. Lindsey Cocking of Island Blue Printing in Victoria BC deserves special mention here for his support, mentorship, and ever-gentle manner.

And so… at the end of this whole process, there was an anthology, a book to hold in hand, which brings the work of poets from across Canada “under one roof” to explore a topic of relevance to all of us. Pat and I are very pleased with the results and feel so enriched by the process and content—the carefully crafted words, the deeply personal reflections, the humour and the pathos… all gathered in service of a theme whose profundity and impact ring that much truer for us now.

Stayed tuned for information about Repartee Press's next 

open-call anthology, "Laugh Lines".

Highlighting  Repartee Press author,  Anne Marie Carson 

Anne Marie Carson has been chronicling her world ever since she first picked up a writing tool to etch her words on paper. Throughout the years, she has captured and commemorated people and events she has encountered along the way. She has given testimony, through her poetry and prose, to weddings, births, deaths, celebrations, personalities, struggles and joys, professional experiences, travels, natural phenomena, and migrations (both human and otherwise). In 2021, Anne Marie released Interchange with poet, Ian Cognitō --a book in which the two authors share their 3-year-long poetry/prose exchange.

Getting the last word    

(excerpted from Interchange on Repartee Press)                                                                                                

Eulogies put too fine a point on death, considering its already exaggerated sense of self-importance. Like a vainglorious performer who assumes his small closing act will re-imagine the whole play.  And don’t get me started on epitaphs—those grim reapers of abbreviated sentiment, consigning souls to the eternity of a smartly turned phrase.  

At some point in my forties, I decided to write my own eulogy. The lives of too many endearingly flawed friends had been canonized in deference to their passing.  I imagined, for myself, a brief, inspired, “warts-and-all” summation that would spare my loved ones the uneasy feeling that they had somehow failed to measure up to my saintliness.  Who better to drop the mic on my life than me? 

Thankfully, this has remained a work in progress.  The drafts have drifted across the decades like tumble-weed.  At times they have lifted weightlessly over years, tipped by wit and promise. At other times they have snagged on sleepless nights and humbling regrets.

In a hormonal mid-life moment, I purged my over-grown folders of last words.  I have since drafted what (so far) stands as a thoughtful replacement. Yet lately, I’ve been wishing I’d kept all those spindly, life-swept versions.  I imagine them being read in random order at my celebration of life—a ragtag assemblage jostling death away from the spotlight for my final curtain call.

This blah, blah, blog highlights Repartee Press authors,  Anne Marie Carson and Ian Cognitō, who discuss how they 'accidentally' came to write a book together.

Anne Marie Carson of Blue Mountains, Ontario and Ian Cognitō of Vancouver Island discuss their recent distance collaboration, Interchange. They have yet to meet in person but hope to soon.


So how did Ian and I connect?

About a year after I retired, I was given a book of poetry by a former co-worker. It was a new book co-authored by her brother Ian, who I had never met. It had been a while since I had read a recently published book of poetry, and I emailed my friend a note to let her brother know how much I enjoyed it.  When she passed my comments on to Ian, he emailed back to ask if he could use them in the promotion of his book. I was flattered and of course I agreed and thought “Well, that was nice.”

But then, a few weeks later, a poem appeared in my email. I know now that it was Ian’s way of thanking me, but the poem playfully connected with an experience in my life – so I responded with a little description of it.  When Ian replied with another poem, it triggered an unexpected and rather unique 3-year e-mail correspondence between us – with Ian sending me a poem from his archives or one he’d newly written, and me responding with a little prose piece on the thoughts or experiences it brought to mind for me.

So, in a rather random and fun way, Ian and I got to know each other through our exchange of poetry and prose and became virtual friends.



As a poet, I felt I had struck gold.  Here was a reader who took the time to share the im-pressions and memories my poems evoked for her.

As Anne Marie said, writers don’t often hear back from their readers. For poets, I would say, that occurs even less often.  For me the joy in our Interchange was seeing Anne Marie’s responses.  How she personalized the content of my poems and took them to places I didn’t know a reader would go. This provided a window, for me, into a reader’s experience.

Although our exchange of emails began pre-pandemic, it didn’t begin to take shape in my mind as a book until social isolation had started to take up a bigger part of our lives.  I have to say, though, that we were well over 2 years into our correspondence before I mentioned the possibility of a book to Anne Marie.

As a result of all this, our book is very much about connection.  Anne Marie and I experienced firsthand how the simple act of reaching out to a stranger to share our thoughts and experiences can lead to understanding, laughter, and friendship.  And, in our case… a book, which neither of us realized we were in the process of creating at the time—a book to share with other appreciators of poetry, prose, and connection.  

Fiona Tinwei Lam is the author of Odes & Laments, and two other poetry collections as well as a children's book. She has collaborated on award-winning poetry videos that have screened at festivals internationally. She also edited the anthology, The Bright Well: Contemporary Canadian Poems on Facing Cancer. Shortlisted for the City of Vancouver Book Award and thrice selected for BC’s Poetry in Transit, her work appears in over 40 anthologies. She teaches at SFU's Continuing Studies.  Fiona has just been selected as Vancouver's ne

To find our more about Fiona, go to:

or click on the photo above.

Fiona has just been selected as Vancouver's next poet laureate. Congratulations, Fiona!

On thankfulness

(adapted from a piece written for The Tyee online news magazine)


By Fiona Tinwei Lam



It’s the end of harvest season again. The farmers’ markets are overflowing with apples and squashes. Canadian Thanksgiving has passed, and the American version is around the corner. When I was growing up, our feast wasn’t much more than a frozen turkey overcooked to perfection, stuffing fresh from a box, and a pillar of cranberry jelly straight from a can. It had only a tenuous link to the autumn harvest, let alone to a deeper sense of thanksgiving.


I wish I’d been taught as a youngster that First Nations throughout North America had ceremonies and feasts to celebrate harvests long before contact with Europe, and that turkey, beans, corn, potatoes and pumpkin all originated in the Americas.  I’d grown up conflating our Canadian Thanksgiving with what I’d seen on television about the American holiday, that depicted early pilgrims from the Mayflower celebrating their first harvest in 1621 in Plymouth after having been saved from starvation by local First Nations.

The first Thanksgiving celebrations by Canadian explorers and settlers actually predate ( the first one celebrated by American settlers.  After having survived an arduous journey, British explorer Martin Frobisher marked his safe arrival on Baffin Island with a religious Thanksgiving service in 1578. French settlers arriving with Samuel de Champlain after 1604 also had Thanksgiving feasts.  Later, some American Thanksgiving customs were brought over to Canada by United Empire Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution.  In 1879, Parliament declared a national Thanksgiving Day to celebrate “the blessings of an abundant harvest”, but the date of the holiday shifted (at one point being the same date as Armistice Day after World War I) until the government’s proclamation in 1957 that the holiday would be held on annually on the second Monday of October .

Whether secular or sectarian, a holiday rooted in gratitude makes sense. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by continuing news reports about Covid, the climate crisis, wars, natural disasters, widespread poverty, political corruption,  or to become wrapped up in our own daily struggles, while forgetting our potential to find wonder and delight in the smallest and most ordinary of things. It’s always worthwhile to take stock of at least a few reasons to be thankful.

Many authors have used the lens of ordinary objects to uncover and discover the underlying unique, precious, mysterious, whimsical, or symbolic attributes that these objects possess, including French prose poet, Francis Ponge, Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, and Canadian poets Marguerite Pigeon and Lorna Crozier. Their short poems and prose poems have taken me on lyrical voyages into unexpected places. They even inspired me to do try to do the same with my recent collection.

If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to join other writers, artists, photographers and filmmakers in delving into the mundane to discover the marvellous or magical.  We can still write about the huge issues and conflicts of the day, but taking a bit of time to look through an alternative, smaller lens can re-energize, inspire or refresh us, and perhaps even take us to a deeper level of understanding or insight. Most importantly, taking a few moments during these times of doom, despair and crisis to remember what we can be grateful for might remind us that delight, beauty and grace still exist.

Bill Arnott is the bestselling, award-winning author of Gone Viking: A Travel Saga and Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries (RMB | Rocky Mountain Books). For his expeditions he’s been granted a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society. When not trekking the globe with a small pack, journal, and laughably outdated camera phone, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, making friends and buying books. 

To find our more about Bill, go to: or click on the photo above.

Indie Bookstores: Connecting Communities

by Bill Arnott


This is a story of perseverance, and connection. I was exploring Vancouver Island, visiting independent (indie) bookstores as part of a Gone Viking road trip, promoting my travel memoirs Gone Viking: A Travel Saga and Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries. The timing was serendipitous as the first book, a BC bestseller, had just won The Miramichi Reader’s Very Best Book Award for nonfiction, while the sequel was about to hit retailers’ shelves. It was an opportunity to visit, face-to-face, resilient and passionate storeowners and bibliophiles. We were in the earliest days of easing COVID restrictions, case count and vaccination numbers encouraging, optimism in the air, accompanying a record-breaking heat wave.

I began my tour at Qualicum Beach, where Barb and Tom run The Mulberry Bush Book Store, their store accessed not only by street front but through a lush corridor of greenery, a pedestrian throughway that makes you feel you’ve happened upon a shared secret, someplace magical. Having returned to Canada following a number of years in New Zealand, a new career was their plan, one in-keeping with a desire to better serve customers. And what better way to connect than through the pages of books? Now, nearly thirty years on, the two are turning an eye to retirement. Part of that plan included transitioning a second store, in Parksville, to new owners Kristie and Kevin, under the name of Sea and Summit Bookshop. The shift is one of teamwork, a warm introduction of existing patrons to new owners. There’s no sense of competition, only cooperation.

Which was what I felt when I met Dirk, owner of Blue Heron Books in Comox, who now employs the store’s previous owner. Again, a sense of partnership and collaboration. Despite taking over mere weeks before the onset of COVID, his store continues to thrive, books remaining a welcome antidote to the limitations of lockdowns.

In Courtenay I visited with Evelyn, owner of Laughing Oyster Bookshop, her storefront a vibrant splash of flowers in planters. Through the pandemic’s limitations of physical distancing, innovation became the new normal, with online ordering booming, along with curbside pickup and a continuously growing virtual presence amongst newsletter subscribers and book buyers.

Despite COVID challenges, Leah, owner of Campbell River’s Coho Books, enhanced operations, merging a new and a used bookstore into one amalgamated business. With an efficient, colour-coded pricing system, readers can shop with an eye to both book content and budget. Which is similar to the model at Fireside Books in Parksville, where owner Brian maintains an extensive array of used books alongside the new, making shopping a leisurely, indulgent experience.

When I arrived for a visit with Andrée, owner of Nanaimo’s Windowseat Books, I felt as though I was walking onto an inviting, neighbourhood movie set. Two chairs sat in the shade of a leafy maple, the storeowner chatting with book buyers simply enjoying the space and company. One relaxed shopper picked up a book for his granddaughter. Another customer was checking on her special order. And an aspiring writer spent time picking my brain about the craft as he works on his personal story of recovery. The feel was one of community service as much as retail business. Andrée has had the store for three years, another example of not only persevering but thriving through challenging times.

It was here I picked up the Repartee Press publication Animusings by Ian Cognito, proudly displayed in the Local Authors section with a second display of his work by the till. As well as getting a great new title to enjoy, it felt as though we were collaborators, ensuring things like this – writing and publishing – continue to flourish. I don’t believe any other retail business, other than bookstores, quite match this degree of connectivity. When we buy or gift a book there’s a level of intimacy, inherent sharing that accompanies the pages, ink on paper, bound in artful covers. Stories bind us, leave legacies, and instill every emotion, the result of which, ultimately and invariably, is positive.

Ian Cognitō is the founder of 15 Minutes of Infamy, a word-craft cabaret based in Nanaimo BC. He is the author of three volumes of poetry: flora, fauna & h. sapiens, Much Adieu about Nothing (both with Pat Smekal), and Animusings: a bestiary of poetic reflection. In 2020, Ian co-edited the anthology Old Bones & Battered Book Ends. Upcoming projects include a volume of poetry/prose exchanges with Ontario author, Anne Marie Carson and publishing This Old House by Victoria BC poet, Daniela Lorenzi.

How to ‘Read’ in Public 

by Ian Cognitō 

Due to the pandemic, more and more authors have been sharing their written work online through a variety of forums that have emerged to help them promote their work.

However, as seasoned as some of these writers are, they may not have had as much practice as reader/presenters. Stretching their stuff before a ‘live’ audience can present new challenges. And this is where I come in; I have a narrow attention span. If you can sustain the interest of someone like me for the duration of your presentation, you’ve done very well indeed.

I have assembled below some principles to help reader/presenters attract and maintain the interest of even the more attention-challenged among us:


1. If you are reading prose, in particular (or a longish narrative or prose poem), consider building in more breaks, or pregnant pauses, to arouse a bit of reflection or innovative thinking in the listener. (Nothing engages like personal relevance).

An oral presenter, who continues unrelentingly, without breaks or catch-up pauses, can leave ‘detour takers’ without landing pads for when they touch down again. Even the very best of listeners may need a few silent patches in which to process what they have just heard. We are talking seconds here, not awkward minutes.

2. Better than presenting one long piece, with appropriate pauses, consider reading excerpts. Excerpts can be deliciously short, and breaks tend to be built-in with helpful introductions to contextualize passages. Also, an overall impression of a longer work can be cultivated by strategically selecting representative moments from within the whole.

Subtitles, question headings, and anecdotal entry points can be helpful, too; not only do they provide valuable schemata for the listener, but they also inject natural breaks.

3. Focus on passages or pieces that have a more immediate quality (i.e. less exposition or background). This might mean choosing something that is topical, a description with lots of sensory detail, a particularly lively passage, or a segment with dramatic or comedic appeal. Note: dialogue, as immediate as it is from a presentational perspective, can be confusing for a listener when speakers are not clearly delineated.

4.  During your presentation, use a calm, yet energetic, tone and vary your rhythm and speed of delivery. Be wary of becoming hypnotized by your own voice and your typical rhythm patterns, as you can be certain you will not be the only one to succumb. Again, remember to pause—dramatically, effectively. A healthy pause is a moment for a deep breath, and everyone—both the reader and her listeners—will need this from time to time.

5. Adjust your vocal tone, pacing, and emphasis to highlight important transitions and any moments you would like to register with the listener. Get to know where these moments land beforehand so you can deliver them effectively. 

6. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. This will give you more confidence and competence as a presenter. It will also help you uncover colours, contours, and nuances you may not have known were there. Of course, spontaneity is great too, but tapping into that usually requires more ‘schooling’ before a live audience.

7. You can over-rehearse, as well. You still want to appear genuine and to be responsive to your audience. Nothing, I mean nothing, is more boring than straight recitation, and the whites of your eyes will not inspire a sense of connection with your listeners.

8. Visuals, body language, eye contact—the public speaker’s grab bag—all worthy additions, though these can be over or under-cooked and come best with experience and presentational ease. In addition, online platforms with their bust-image framing do not always lend themselves to some of these tools.

In closing, I must acknowledge that I have not been speaking from a perspective of expertise. I am still very much immersed in the process of implementing, adapting, perfecting, and learning from the techniques I have advocated here. Hopefully, though, some of these tips will help you, the reader/presenter, connect with your cherished listeners thru your divine invocations.

This article appeared previously in WordWorks Magazine (BCFW: Volume 1, 2021)