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Norman Cornett’s Interview on The Zelda Young Show: on Naim Kattan’s Farida

faridaIn a recent radio interview on The Zelda Young Show, Professor Norman Cornett speaks about Naim Kattan’s Farida. He elaborates on the life and writing of Naim Kattan, on the thematic concerns of the novel, and on literature’s ability to makes readers aware of issues and realities which pertain to culture and identity.

The English translation of Farida by Naim Kattan trans. Prof. Norman Cornett and Antonio D’Alfonso was published by Guernica Editions in 2015.

Cornett explains that he met Naim Kattan in his dialogic sessions, and that he was pulled to translate Farida into English in order to bring a vision of a different reality of Iraqi history to an English readership.

“The best way to meet Naim Kattan is through his writing… [in class] we would go through his writings and at the end of a novel he would walk in.. we could have a collective conversation about his experience [both] as a writer and as an Iraqi Jew.”

He elaborates on why he chose to translate Kattan’s Farida into English: “I watch the news every night and as I saw Iraq from Desert Storm until now…keeping in mind Isis, keeping in mind the Americans in Iraq, keeping in mind Saddam Hussain, I said, ‘look…Iraq is daily news… could we get another vision of Iraq that would help us understand a country that goes back millennia and one of the key populations in that civilization– the Jewish-Iraqi community?”

Furthermore, Cornett speaks about Farida’s central figure, a Jewish songstress who is significant in setting up this alternate vision of Iraq in the novel.

“[Farida] is a singer. In some respects, she’s modelled on Arabic singer Umm Kulthum… she is also modelled on Ester from the bible. [Farida] is a stunning beauty and the man that means the most to her in life has been falsely accused… she must use all of her artistry to save not only the man she loves but the family and the community that mean the most to her.”

Cornett points out that the vision of Iraq portrayed in Farida relates to Kattan’s own experience as an Iraqi-Jew.

“Through the vehicle of creative writing, [Naim Kattan] is bringing front and centre the issues [in Iraq], and for me as a historian by training what struck me is that he’s giving us a mirror of his world as he knew it… he realizes that the handwriting is on the wall for Iraq… this is his way of coming to terms with his heritage as an Iraqi-Jew… he’s writing Farida as the First Gulf War takes place.”

He goes on to stress the significance of Naim Kattan’s novel in education, and its ability to bring awareness to students.

“The way to make them aware is to make Naim Kattan’s books available in English. The whole point of education is to give students peripheral vision so that they can see the big picture. That means they have to have engaging text, narratives that strike their passions. [Naim Kattan] does it…he doesn’t hold back .”

Cornett stresses that, despite the fact that Kattan’s book is a work of fiction, it is capable of making readers aware of historical reality. He further explains how this relates to the reality of creative writing, which is a task that takes much productivity, much more discipline, than pure inspiration.

“Naim Kattan is weaving a beautiful story that integrates as much facts as it does fiction to come out in a new synthesis that engages the reader… we often think of creative writing as.. [stemming] from some divine intervention. Creativity goes hand in hand with discipline. There are few writers more disciplined than Naim Kattan. Creativity and discipline—now that’s a lesson for my students.”

Listen to the full interview here:

Naim Kattan’s Farida is available for purchase on the Guernica Editions website:

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Thor Polson and Elana & Menachem Wolff Presenting at The Bathurst Clark Research Library

Polson Wolff eventOn Sunday, July 12th, 2015, Thor Polson and Elana & Menachem Wolff will be presenting their two-in-one flipside book Poems and Songs of Love by Georg Mordechai Langer; A Hunger Artist and Other Stories by Franz Kafka. The presentation will take place at The Bathurst Clark Research Library (900 Clark Avenue West, Vaughan) at 11 AM.

Franz Kafka’s writings are characterized by an extreme sensitivity manifested in absurdity and gallows humour. The two collections of short pieces, A Country Doctor (1919) and A Hunger Artist (1924), newly translated by Thor Polson, represent later works in the corpus. Poems and Songs of Love is a translation of the collection Piyyutim ve-Shirei Yedidot by Hebrew poet, Georg Mordechai Langer. Originally published in Prague in 1929, it contains an elegy to Langer’s friend Franz Kafka, and other openly homo- romantic poems. This collaborative translation by Elana and Menachem Wolff brings the fascinating work of Langer—poems as well as an essay on Kafka—to the English-reading public for the first time, and sheds light on a hitherto unexamined relationship.

There will be a talkback session. Refreshments included.


bathurst clark resource library

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Panoram Italia features article on Mary Melfi: “In comedy, as in life, you cannot take yourself too seriously”

mary melfiPanoram Italia recently featured a piece about prolific writer and playwright Mary Melfi, whose newest novel, Via Roma, will be published this fall by Guernica Editions.

The piece comments on Melfi’s writing: the subjects she frequently employs in her work, the characters she creates, and her genre of choice – comedy—and its numerous intriguing complexities.

Liz Allemang stresses that, while Melfi often returns to particular themes and characters, she “has a broad range” as a writer.

“Throughout her decades as a writer, she has explored issues of identity, relationships and “internalized psychological conflicts” in her works of prose, theatre and fiction.”

When it comes to characters in particular, Allemang explains that “there’s a particular type” which Melfi often explores in her work.

“I enjoy focusing on characters who haven’t figured out what life is all about, but they’re quite OK with it. They accept the fact that life can be ugly and beautiful at one and the same time,” says Melfi. “This generates a bittersweet quality to their view of life.” One that Melfi believes she shares.”

Similarly, Melfi returns to specific subjects in her work. One in particular: marriage.

“Melfi has dedicated many of her literary explorations to the subjects of marriage and, more broadly, relationships…. ‘Writing about marriage is fun,’ she says, because ‘you get to play all the parts, and decide on the outcome. In a comedy no one gets hurt. Not all that much anyway. Everyone wins. That’s what’s so nice about the form. Even grownups, on occasion, need to hear the words, ‘and they lived happily ever after’.”

However, Melfi’s work is far from light, simple and straightforward.

“Melfi’s work delves into juicy complication, self-reflection and situations in which readers can, she hopes, see themselves in the characters, make comparisons with them or, perhaps, forget themselves amid the voyeurism of the moment.”

Allemang, likewise, stresses the complexity of Melfi as author, who, in her work, sets up a strong dichotomy between humour and depth:

“While Melfi’s writing exhibits a mastery of understanding, sympathizing with and challenging her characters, her proclivity for exploring subjects that are close to home has also allowed her to develop an ability to speak to complex, human subjects and relationships. Her writing is humourous and truthful.”


Melfi’s play, My Italian Wife, will be staged in a production by The Sons of Italy, which will be running from November 26-29, 2015 at the Casa D’Italia in Montreal.



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Healing through Poetry: Lynda Monahan speaks with Radio Book Club’s Ann Foster about Verge

VergeIn a recent interview with Ann Foster on CFCR’s Radio Book Club, Lynda Monahan speaks about her newest poetry collection, Verge. She elaborates on the central theme of the collection, on her writing process, and on teaching creative writing classes both as a writer in residence at a hospital and at a corrective facility for women.

Monahan begins by explaining the title of her collection: Verge.

“The title comes from the fact that there is a fox in the book that shows up in a series of verge poems. And the fox acts like a guide for the narrator, a guide or a companion, through a journey which takes the narrator beyond her pain, until there’s a sense of coming to terms with the past and a moving on to the future… at the end, the fox and the narrator and the woman and the poet all reach a place of peace.”

She speaks about how she initially came up with the idea of making the fox a central figure in the collection:

“A while ago, I was quite interested in writing a Japanese form of poetry called tanka, which got me interested in Japanese mythology, and in Japanese folklore there is a fox called a kitsune, a shapeshifter…that is what got me interested in the fox helping to tell the story.”

She explains that “every time the fox shows up in the book there’s a lesson that’s learned.”

Furthermore, Monahan comments on the unique nature of poetry, which depends on great precision: “every word has to count for something, every word has to have weight.”

“Raymond Carver said that you could tell everything there is to know about a woman by looking at her earrings… I think he really nailed it there. You can tell everything with the tiniest little details.”

She goes on to explain her writing process:

“Usually my home life is so busy. I do a lot of teaching creative writing and I’m involved with a lot of different creative writing programs and projects so when I want to write usually, I have a cabin up north, I’ll go up there and I’ll squirrel myself away. Or the poetry group I belong to, we often go to a writing retreat… we’ll go for a few weekends a year…It seems like I always have to get away to get any writing done.”

Monahan also explains that to her, poetry is a form of nonfiction writing as well. Through her writing, she learns to cope with feelings and events:

“I can figure it out, or I can see what I need to do or I can comprehend it a little better by writing it down.”

These therapeutic aspects of writing, which Monahan discovers in her own work, play a large role in her writing workshops, which she has led both at Victoria Hospital as a writer-in-residence, and at correctional facilities for women.

“My hope when I work with people…[is that] I can help [them] to tell their stories. It doesn’t need to be high literary work…it’s just a chance to say ‘this is me, these are my thoughts and feelings’.”

She stresses the healing aspects of both writing and sharing written work.

“When you share the work too…people feel less alone. If we hear how somebody else has gone through that time…we feel that sense of community… Maybe someone who reads my poems about my sister, for example, may not have a sister who suffered a stroke in young age, but everyone has losses in life.”

Monahan describes a specific project which she carried out with the women at the correctional facilities, which depended on writing out secrets: those they couldn’t reveal, those they might be willing to reveal a little bit, and those they wouldn’t mind sharing.

“[The women] worked with a textile artist and it was a large all hanging that the women made; and the secrets that couldn’t be shared were rolled really tightly and sown into the fabric…those they’d be willing to share a little, there’d be little pieces of it, and then the writing they were willing to share would be sown right on the fabric.”

Moreover, she stresses the many ways in which her students inspired her own writing:

“I learned so much from them, from their style of writing and the way they learned to critique. I made friends with a lot of them over the years.”


Lynda Monahan’s Verge was published by Guernica Editions in Spring 2015.




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Brenda Clews Reviews Forecast: “The collection is like a tarot reading. The poems never truly reveal themselves”


forecastPoet and artist Brenda Clews recently reviewed Clara Blackwood’s Forecast (Guernica Editions 2014) on her blog, Rubies in Crystal. In the review, she comments on the central thematic concerns which Blackwood voices throughout the collection, and on Blackwood’s mythic poetic style.

Clews explains that the collection “focuses on delitescent experience. [It] is like a tarot reading. The poems never fully reveal themselves.”

Furthermore, she elaborates on the dichotomy which Blackwood sets up in the collection between the known and the unknown.

“The poems in Forecast are from the perspective of the medium rather than the prophet, a Delphic oracle rather than a mystic eulogizing on divine experience. Being adept means perceiving that the order of things is dependent on what underlies the known, that the construction of reality is stranger than the normally perceived one. The way things are is arbitrary and could change at any moment.”

She stresses that “the poems seep with intuitions of a deeper reality underlying the normative one.”

Clews goes on to explain the connection of Blackwood’s collection with Greek mythology:

“The journey and persona of the poems in Forecast reminded me of Demeter searching for herself in the underworld. And, in fact, Blackwood says in an interview with George Fetherling in Poetry Primer #7: ‘I liken my enmeshment with poetry to the Persephone archetype. She was a naive maiden like myself until Hades (the dark muse) chose her against her will and took her to the underworld. The underworld here being the unconscious where poetic inspiration is drawn’.”

She concludes by calling Forecast “an illuminated feast where mythic worlds reign and their intersections with the concrete world of not just objects but social organization can be intuited through strange co-incidences and through being open to the forces, and to understanding their power.”



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CKUT Interviews trans. Norman Cornett: on History, Education, and Naim Kattan’s Farida

faridaIn a recent interview recent interview with CKUT’s Rana Alrabi, Norman Cornett speaks about Naim Kattan’s Farida. He elaborates on Kattan’s life and how it influences his writing; on the importance of Farida in showcasing a much needed alternate vision of Iraq; and on the significance which the book holds in education, as it presents a portrayal of Iraq that is often omitted in the media today.

Cornett elaborates on the way in which Kattan is able to offer a portrayal of an often forgotten reality of Iraq: a country which is not solely defined by its political and social troubles, but one which has a long multicultural and multiethnic history.

“There is an evidentiary value to this novel. It’s [Naim Kattan’s] testimony of what he lived and how he, as a young Jew, negotiated relationships with the Shia, with the Sunni, with the Armenians, the Kurds, and with, of course, the colonial powers… what he enables us to see very clearly is a substantial and vibrant jewish community. He bears witness to the jewish presence which is millennia old…he’s reclaiming that.”

Cornett goes on to explain why he felt compelled to translate Farida into English.

“The reason I felt, as a public intellectual, I had to translate it was because I was watching the news every night, watching images of Baghdad as we still see it. This is what we know of Baghdad post Americans coming into Iraq, post Saddam Hussein. I said, ‘Is there an alternate vision for Baghdad, for Iraq? Can we see it otherwise?’ That’s why Naim Kattan’s Farida impelled me to translate it… [Naim Kattan] presents us a different Baghdad, a different Iraq… it’s imperative, I believe, for us to have a sense of it.”

Furthermore, he stresses the importance that this alternate vision holds when it comes to education in particular, as his teaching has led him to realize that many students have no idea that a vibrant Jewish community existed in Iraq.

“As a religious studies scholar I quickly sensed that students had no idea…could this exist—an Iraqi Jew? A Baghdadi Jew?… My students, including my Jewish students, did not know about this history, this heritage of…Iraqi Judaism.”

He explains that Naim Kattan’s novel teaches readers of the complex reality of the country by allowing us to see “la longue duree,” an approach to the study of history coined by Fernand Braudel.

“We have to see the big picture. Not think in terms of a year or a decade. Even a century isn’t enough. We need to think it terms of millennia, and here we have a millennia presence of Jews in Baghdad, in Iraq.”

As part of his educative approach, Cornett holds dialogic sessions, which are set up as a “catalyst for collective conversation in creative thinking and expression.” He comments on how he encourages his students to discover history in these classes by setting up opportunities for them to interact, one on one, with the authors of studied works. In this way, he is able to “make history come alive” in his classes.

Naim Kattan was a guest, on numerous occasions, in Cornett’s classes, and the experience was rewarding for both him and his students.

“They could dialogue with him one on one. It was an experience I couldn’t forget, and neither could they.”

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Apartment613 reviews Caroline Vu’s That Summer in Provincetown

that summer in provincetownIn a recent review of Caroline Vu’s That Summer in Provincetown for Apartment613, Ania Szneps elaborates on the book’s central themes, and on the ways in which Vu highlights them structurally throughout her novel.

Szneps explains that, in the novel, “Vu relives some of her family’s greatest hardships in Vietnam at the height of the war, their collective attempts at building new foundations and identities in North America, and reflects on each individual’s perceived success or shortcomings.”

Furthermore, she points out how Vu fits these themes into the structure of the novel:

“While Vu…allots each chapter to a family member, she also seamlessly interweaves their respective place in the household and highlights how an unnamed hierarchy based on a complex system of values shapes each person and determines their outcome in life.”

Szneps ends by stressing Caroline Vu’s “ease at writing” and pointing to her ability to provide a complete portrait of her subject: family, and the role that it plays in shaping identity.

“[The novel] treats the reader to a reflection on family and how each individual’s act can have unbelievable consequences on others. That Summer in Provincetown is (at times) a not-so-gentle reminder of the importance of family to our identity — whether we are willing to accept it or not.”

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Upcoming Guernica Author, Rolli, Finalist for High Plains Book Award

i am currently working on a novelWe’re excited to announce that one of our upcoming authors, Rolli, has been shortlisted for the 2015 High Plains Book Award in the Short Story category for his collection I Am Currently Working on a Novel.

The High Plains Book Awards recognizes regional authors and/or literary works which examine and reflect life on the High Plains including the states of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.

Rolli is one of three finalists in the short story category, along with Dave Margoshes and Jamie Lisa Forbes.


The more than 70 stories in I Am Currently Working on a Novel are as diverse as a telephone conversation or your average ocean. There are stories set in Hollywood, London, and the bottom of the sea. There are stories about ghosts, robots, love, Pointillism, death, and immortality. Though seldom longer than a few pages, there is more mystery and sadness and sheer mania in these slimmed-down fictions than a whole shelf-full of standard novels

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Trans. of Farida Norman Cornett Interviews with Radio Shalom: On Feminism, Identity, and the Middle East

faridaIn a recent interview with Stanley Asher of Radio Shalom, principal translator of Naim Kattan’s Farida Norman Cornett speaks about Naim Kattan’s life and literary career, his influence on Canadian literature, and his novel, Farida, which showcases the vibrant, multicultural communities that existed in Baghdad before the Second World War.

The english translation of Naim Kattan’s Farida, trans. Norman Cornett and Antonio D’Alfonso, was published by Guernica Editions in Spring 2015.

Naim Kattan was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1928, and left for Paris in 1952 to study at the Sorbonne. He came to Montreal in 1954.

Cornett explains Kattan’s unique position as a Canadian writer writing about the Middle East, as he is able to bring with him to the West the perspective from within the jewish Iraqi community.

“What Naim Kattan permits us to do is [to see it] from within..from the heart of Iraq, from Baghdad, [as] somebody who is born in 1928, and who has as a child, as an adolescent, as a young adult.. because he did not leave Baghdad until after World War II…He’s bringing to bear his perspective from the inside: what were the political dynamics and how did they impact the jewish community?”

“Not only does he brings his jewishness, his iraqiness…but he’s a Sorbonne educated thinker. This is a remarkable mix…It’s a treasure trove of lived experience that he brings to the table in Farida.”

Furthermore, Cornett stresses Kattan’s role as a major Canadian literary figure: “[his work] constitutes one of the most important literary corpuses in Canadian literature.”

“It goes without say that Naim Kattan is a principal figure in Canadian Literature, who has published to date 52 books.. he was the head of the Canada Council… [but] he [made] his mark on the literary scene, not only through [what] he set up at Canada Council.. he [is] writing all the time. This is a remarkably disciplined person.”

Moreover, Cornett brings up the topic of identity, as it relates to both Naim Kattan’s life and to Farida.

In Naim Kattan’s literature “we often see him grappling with the issue of identity… of his own identity. And how he deal[s] with his roots or rootlessness.”

Stanley Asher quotes Norma Joseph:

“Naim Kattan said he was born three times. First in Baghdad, then in Paris and the third birth in Montreal.”

In Farida, this struggle of identities is presented through literary fault lines, which resemble “one of the first fault lines in Canadian literature— that between anglophones and francophones.”

Norman Cornett explains that one of the reasons why he proposed to translate Farida is to “bridge that gap between anglophones and francophones.”

Cornett asks: “How can it be that [for] such a major literary figure in Canada..this is only the 5th book translated into English… [in Farida], we see Naim Kattan negotiating between these identities, between these fault lines”

The novel’s protagonist, Farida, negotiates in a similar way:

“[In the novel], we see the Sunni, we see the Shia, we see the Armenians..the christians, the jews and the British…most importantly, we see the protagonist negotiating between all these fault lines”

Farida surpasses cultural, religious and ethnic boundaries, and as she does so, she proves to be a “vibrant and dynamic” woman.

“Naim Kattan has articulated a very strong female figure in this novel. Farida is no wallflower. Farida gives new meaning to the word ‘feminism’. This is a woman who takes her destiny in hand, and takes the destiny of those she loves..of her community in hand.”

Listen to the full interview here:

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June 27th: “A Divine Afternoon”, an Afternoon of Poetry & Music

On Saturday, June 27th, “A Divine Afternoon” , a Toronto poetry and music event, will be taking place at the Urban Gallery (400 Queen Street East) at 3 PM.

This month’s series will feature the poetry of David Bateman, Cathy Petch, and Vanessa McGowan, as well as the music of Amoeba Starfish.


David Bateman is a performance poet whose work has been published by Frontenac House Press (Calgary). His first collection of short stories and creative non fiction, entitled A Mad Bent Diva, will be published by Hidden Brook Press in the fall of 2015. He is the editor of Compulsive Acts, published by Guernica Editions in Fall 2014.

Cathy Petch is a playwright, spoken word artist and a musical saw player with The Silver Hearts. Petch’s poetry collection Late Night Knife Fights was published with Lyrical Myrical Press. Petch is the coach for the Toronto Poetry Slam Team, is the founder of “Hot Damn It’s A Queer Slam” and is a member of “The Dildettes”. Find her at

Vanessa McGowan is a Toronto based Spoken Word Artist and Singer/Songwriter. She is one of the founders of “WordSpell”, Canada’s only on-going female spoken word series. Her first collection of poetry Divine Cockeyed Genius was published in 2012. Her latest album “Alive”, a three poem EP was released in 2014.

Trasharella is an actor/writer/visual artist. She has had work published in Resistance Poetry 2, Labour of Love, Xtra! & The Body Politic. She has featured at Plasticine Poetry, A Space, The Beautiful and the Damned, Cabaret Noir, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto Pride and Lab Cab Festival. She won the Best Actor award at the London One Act Festival for “The Judy Monologues”.

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