Tag Archives: Bill Ashwell

WHAM! BAM! Poetry Slam!

by Bill Ashwell

photo by jscreationzs from freedigitalphotos.net

Think about performance poetry, and your imagination probably trips back to the 1950s and the days of smoke-filled coffee houses, beatniks in black turtleneck sweaters and black berets. You think of bongo drums, improvisational jazz, hip, cool, groovy. That was beat poetry.
That was then.

Performance poetry today in some ways is not much different. Hardcore performers/slammers/jammers will argue that simply reading the poem is just that: a reading. Performance poetry, they will argue, should push the boundaries of what poetry should be. Performance poetry should and often is, to some extent, a theatrical interpretation of that poet’s work, designed to elicit a response, a reaction, from the audience.

My first exposure to performance poetry was an Open Mic night in 1999 at some now long-defunct coffee shop in Elora. The poet-performer, as he read his original poems, bobbed and ducked and weaved around the room like he was in an aerobics class. I suppose this begs the question; does good poetry need a floorshow for validation, or can it (should it) stand on its own merit?

The trick is to not simply recite the piece, mumble a weak “thank you, thank you very much…” in to the mic and shuffle off the stage; BE THE POEM!! Read it with the same (or more) passion that inspired you to write it in the first place! Give it life, and emotion!

Once you’ve mastered the art of performance poetry, take it a step further and compete in a poetry slam. I know, you’re picturing a bunch of writers down on the floor wrestling with paper (and in some cases, probably losing the match). Slam Poetry is nothing like that. Slams are competitions at which poets read or recite original work. Selecxted members of the audience then judge these performances, and in some cases prize money is often awarded to the winning poet.

Performance poetry in the Region of Waterloo has witnessed a surge in popularity in the last decade. While coffee house reading series come and go, Slam Poetry organizations have emerged to take the reins in the realm of Spoken Word events in this area. The KW Poetry Slam is a monthly spoken word competition open to any and all in the Waterloo Region. The group stages monthly slam competitions and competes in slam competitions at the national level. Elsewhere, Guelph Spoken Word began promoting slam competitions a decade ago, but has grown to provide monthly spoken word workshops, in addition to its own slam team.

Consider this an invitation all closet poets, all storytellers, the teachers and the students and anyone who understands the importance of engaging, dynamic, fun art: come to a slam, read at an open mic, check out a poetry slam. Chances are you just might like it.


A Cambridge native, Bill Ashwell has been a CWC member since 1995.
In 2007 Bill was awarded the City of Cambridge’s prestigious Bernice Adams Memorial Award for Communication and Literary Arts. His poetry and prose have been published in several editions of the Writers Undercover Anthologies, The Cambridge Wartime Scrapbook, and most recently, for the Cambridge Libraries’ 2011 Poem-A-Day Contest. In 2001 Bill published Moments of Clarity, a collection of his poetry.

Bill also volunteers for many community Arts organizations, including the Cambridge Arts Festival.

Mixing It Up: Artistic Interpretations

by Bill Ashwell

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I received an email back in February from Brenda Turnour, an award winning local acrylic/watercolour artist with an invitation to participate in an intriguing creative concept. She and Cambridge photographic artist Judee Richardson Schofield had come up with an idea for a collaborative project showcasing the diversity of art interpretation. They’re calling it “Mixing It Up: Artistic Interpretations”.

As I type this, there are approximately 20 local artistes of all stripes, including yours truly, teamed up across the city creating and collaborating in their respective milieux. At a point in my creative life when I thought, through my various artistic networking efforts, that I knew or was acquainted with most of the artists in this city (they/we are a rather tight-knit bunch) I found myself teamed with a complete stranger, a wonderful Preston-area artist by the name of Heidi Hirschmann. Heidi and I were tasked to create work of art combining her talents as an artist and mine as a writer. Much like the 5-Minute Writing Exercise and the Homework Assignment at CWC meetings, Heidi and I were given the topic “Babbling Brook”, and then given carte blanche to come up with something unique and original. I’m not going to spoil the surprise and share with you what we jointly created. You’ll have to wait and see.

The project will be unveiled at the Cambridge City Hall Thursday, May 31 at the Cambridge Fall Fair, and some pairings may be included at the Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts and Cambridge Arts Festival.

Gee, I can hardly wait myself. See you on May 31. You won’t be disappointed.


A Cambridge native, Bill Ashwell has been a CWC member since 1995.

In 2007 Bill was awarded the City of Cambridge’s prestigious Bernice Adams Memorial Award for Communication and Literary Arts. His poetry and prose have been published in several editions of the Writers Undercover Anthologies, The Cambridge Wartime Scrapbook, and most recently, for the Cambridge Libraries’ 2011 Poem-A-Day Contest. In 2001 Bill published Moments of Clarity, a collection of his poetry.

Bill also volunteers for many community Arts organizations, including the Cambridge Arts Festival.

Resolution Inspiration

by Bill Ashwell

It is a new year, a time to cast off the old and welcome the new. Looking back on 2011, I can clearly see that I am becoming more and more excited about writing again – or at least writing more. All the tools are in place. I have a fully functional computer, a handful of flash drives, my Roget’s Thesaurus, my Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a working coffee maker and an ample supply of ground coffee. What more could I do? Try, maybe, inspiration. That always works.

Having developed the habit of always carrying a pen and most times carrying a notebook/notepad of some kind, I’m constantly scribbling notes to myself. However, more often than not, these notes usually take the form of to-do lists: gas up the car, dentist appointments, volunteer meetings, etc. Occasionally, a sentence will pop into my head that just screams to be written down. Unfortunately, as the line often screams, the rest of the piece that begs to be written often remains mute and unwritten.

So now with a New Year at hand, I have decided to make a list of my New Year’s Writing Resolutions. These will go into effect at precisely 12:01 AM, Jan. 1, 2012…and will likely expire at 12:15 AM, Jan. 1, 2012. Nevertheless, here they are:

  1. I promise to seldom split my infinitives.
  2. I promise to use my spell cheker more oftin.
  3. A promise is made by me that the passive voice will never be used by me.
  4. Whether my back is to the wall, I will put my shoulder to the wheel and my nose to the grindstone, and never use clichés.
  5. I promise to completely eliminate different kinds of redundant phrases during the course of my writing.
  6. I promise today (actually, make that tomorrow…maybe) that I will not procrastinate in 2012.
  7. I promise to use, commas, only when, and where, necessary.
  8. I promise to be less reliant, less dependent, under the thumb of, my thesaurus.
  9. I promise to write more rhyme/But will not do it all the time.
  10. …there is no #10. I’ll be busy enough breaking these nine as 2012 progresses.

Happy New Year, everyone!!!

Image: Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


A Cambridge native, Bill Ashwell has been a CWC member since 1995.

In 2007 Bill was awarded the City of Cambridge’s prestigious Bernice Adams Memorial Award for Communication and Literary Arts. His poetry and prose have been published in several editions of the Writers Undercover Anthologies, The Cambridge Wartime Scrapbook, and most recently, for the Cambridge Libraries’ 2011 Poem-A-Day Contest. In 2001 Bill published Moments of Clarity, a collection of his poetry.

Bill also volunteers for many community Arts organizations, including the Cambridge Arts Festival.

Blog Entry – Friday, Sept. 9, 2011

by Bill Ashwell

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, and in the week that unspoiled before me, I lost my voice. Not my voice voice, although the events of the day did leave me somewhat dumbstruck. No, I lost my writing voice, the voice that took me the better part of September 2001 to regain.

I cannot say that I have ever been a particularly disciplined writer. Teachers, college instructors, newspaper editors and, yes, even certain writers’ blog editors can attest to that. I have always been a fervent believer in “The Last Possible Minute Theory.” Putting that theory to the test has usually provoked a last-minute, caffeine-soaked burst of, if not eloquence, then certainly verbosity, such as right now.

But in the days that followed September 11, a form of writers’ block settled in. I can’t recall how many times I sat at my desk, pen poised, ready to record on paper my thoughts and feelings. The page, however, remained blank. Fear, anger, shock, and outrage. These emotions churned within my brain and fought to coalesce into some sort of coherent, written elegy to the state of world politics or the human condition.

My brain wanted it. The writer in me wanted it and, most importantly, my psyche wanted it. Somehow, though, the words would not form. This chasm between the brain and the pen widened.

As the days stretched into weeks, the chasm narrowed and my writing voice returned. It was a whisper at first, but as I finally put pen (again) to paper, the words in my head found their way to the page, my fear and outrage ebbed and creativity and inspiration flowed.

Ten years later, I have once again found myself at a loss for words. No momentous world event has shaken me; no personal catastrophe has befallen me. I’ve simply become a lazy and preoccupied writer. I can feel that spectre of a missed deadline peering over my shoulder, poking me, prodding, whispering in my ear, “Are you bloody well done yet?”

I have a feeling that none of this makes any sense. I can see you all there, scratching your heads and wondering what has leaked into my drinking water. I can’t say I even know that myself. I do know that I seem to have regained a bit of my writing voice once more and, if I’m not mistaken, I think I even have a touch of writer’s cramp.

So, here’s hoping that this is the start for me of better things literarily.

Image: bulldogza / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


A Cambridge native, Bill Ashwell has been a CWC member since 1995.

In 2007 Bill was awarded the City of Cambridge’s prestigious Bernice Adams Memorial Award for Communication and Literary Arts. His poetry and prose have been published in several editions of the Writers Undercover Anthologies, The Cambridge Wartime Scrapbook, and most recently, for the Cambridge Libraries’ 2011 Poem-A-Day Contest. In 2001 Bill published Moments of Clarity, a collection of his poetry.

Bill also volunteers for many community Arts organizations, including FM 98.5 CKWR’s Monday Night with the Arts radio program, and the Cambridge Arts Festival.

The Creative Process: Or How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love My Thesaurus

by Bill Ashwell


photo by Marcie Schwindt

Many of us who consider ourselves writers, scribes, or poets have at one time or another had to face down the demons of procrastination, writers’ block and a lack (or in some cases, an absence) of inspiration and motivation; when we’re just not getting the proverbial it.

There comes a time in a writer’s life, however, when it does come together, when those great cosmic forces of creativity, perception, introspection, laws of grammar, and that great warm tidal wave of inspiration all converge in time and space, and the writer…gets it.

Picture this, if you will. It is 3 a.m. and fuelled by glacial day-old coffee, Our Struggling Writer sits alone at his writing table, illuminated only by the anemic glow of the desk lamp. He slaves over a hot keyboard, awash in great, chilly puddles of flop sweat as he struggles to compose that Great Canadian (or American) Novel, that next award-winning screenplay or best-selling volume of poetry. And yet, nothing.

He stares down the blank sheet of paper in the typewriter and loses (he is, after all, a traditionalist, eschewing the seductive siren call of the computer and enticed by the redolent perfume of correcting fluid). It taunts him, mocks his creativity. Its blankness is an artistic black hole, a thumbed nose, a schoolyard gibe.

He reaches for the coffeepot, its stale contents as cold and forbidding as a rejection letter, and pours himself a stiff one. He prays to the spirits of William Shakespeare, Ernest Hemingway, and Barbara Cartland for a breakthrough. For a split infinitive, a subjunctive clause, anything.

Then it happens. It comes to him like an exclamation point in boldface type, a creative taser hit, a metaphysical fist in the face, or maybe just a simple, sudden clearing of his fog-bound mind. In any case, he begins typing and quickly, word after word, line after line, character nuance after character nuance, fills the page.

Pages, hundreds of them, each appropriately formatted and numbered, pile up on the desktop and before he knows it, his masterpiece is complete and once again all is good and right with the world. A triumph of creativity over the baying hounds of writer’s block.

It might all begin with the opening sentence; “It was a dark and stormy night.” “They call me Ishmael,” “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” or “That Sam I am! That Sam I am! I do not like that Sam I am!” This epic journey of a thousand pages, Volume One, begins with the dropped cap of the opening sentence.

It might even come together in the middle. Our Struggling Author, after taking a short break (remember, he did drink all that coffee), returns to the typewriter and hammers out; “Buffy’s fingers quivered as she fumbled with the buttons on her blouse. Her breath came in shallow, passionate gasps as Beauregard, his chiseled features aglow in the moonlight and his eyes aflame with lust, slinked (slunk?) towards her. ‘Hellooo Bayyybee,’ he rasped.

Hey, that’s not too bad.

It may even come at the end, the old …and-they-lived-happily-ever-after gambit: Having won the big game at the last minute, defeated the forces of evil, or saved the plantation’s cotton crop from a plague of boll weevils, Our Fearless Hero and his woman ride, walk, crawl, flutter, sally forth off across the endless sands of the Sahara, the moors, into the sunset, the White House, or a tropical island aboard his trusty steed, motorcycle, skateboard, private jet, Model T, whatever.

Then, and only then, when Our Struggling Author adds that final period and the words, The End, can he sit back, crack his knuckles in satisfaction and bask in that warm afterglow confident that, yes, it did all come together for him and that he, the author, this bright, shining light of the literary world, this Man of Letters, has finally gotten it.

Me? I stare at the blank computer screen. No story or poem has written itself. No epic discourse on the Human Condition has oozed out onto the screen; the creativity elves are on sabbatical.

My mind is an Old West ghost town; tumbleweeds drift on the breeze across a dusty, desolate, empty street; shuttered, weather-beaten buildings creak and moan in the gusting wind; that eerie, melancholy theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly whines from somewhere offscreen. Nary a soul, character, idea, or notion is stirring. Not even my wireless mouse.

Nope, it’s just not coming. I haven’t gotten it, but that’s of little importance right now. I’m going for a coffee, a hot coffee. Period. The End.


A Cambridge native, Bill Ashwell has been a CWC member since 1995.

In 2007 Bill was awarded the City of Cambridge’s prestigious Bernice Adams Memorial Award for Communication and Literary Arts. His poetry and prose have been published in several editions of the Writers Undercover Anthologies, The Cambridge Wartime Scrapbook, and most recently, for the Cambridge Libraries’ 2011 Poem-A-Day Contest. In 2001 Bill published Moments of Clarity, a collection of his poetry.

Bill also volunteers for many community Arts organizations, including FM 98.5 CKWR’s Monday Night with the Arts radio program, and the Cambridge Arts Festival.