5 Poets Breaking Into Song (Tenth)

Former national poet laureate George Elliott Clarke, the Canadian Music Centre, the League of Canadian Poets, and the East and West Learning Connections will bring you another feast of poetry and music!  It is the 10th edition of Clarke’s “5 Poets Breaking Into Song” series that presents the beautiful creations of renowned Canadian poets and award-winning composers and singers.


Here are all the details of the event: 
Poets Breaking Into Song (# Tenth) featuring the music of
for songs from poems by
George Elliott Clarke
Mansour Noorbakhsh
Giovanna Riccio
Armand Garnet Ruffo
Yeshim Ternar
PLUS two songs by 
for poems by
Irving Layton
Gwendolyn MacEwen
Where?  Canadian Music Centre, 20 St. Joseph St., Toronto
When?   Friday, December 15, 2023, 7-9 p.m.
How?     LIVE & Live-streamed
Cost?    FREE–thanks to GEC, EAWLC, CMC, the League of Canadian Poets, and  RK
Why?    Because Poetry Is Song!
You may watch the event online via the link below.


Bios of the poets:

The 4th Poet Laureate of Toronto (2012-15) and the 7th Parliamentary/Canadian Poet Laureate (2016-17), George Elliott Clarke was born in Windsor, Nova Scotia, in 1960.  A professor of English at the University of Toronto, Clarke has also taught at Duke, McGill, UBC, and Harvard. His recognitions include the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Centre Fellowship (US), the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellows Prize, the Governor-General’s Award for Poetry, the National Magazine Gold Award for Poetry, the Premiul Poesis (Romania), the Eric Hoffer Book Award for Poetry (US), and International Fellow Poet of the Year, Encyclopedic Poetry School [2019] (China).  His acclaimed titles include Whylah Falls (1990, translated into Chinese), Beatrice Chancy (1999, translated into Italian), Execution Poems (2001), Blues and Bliss (selected poems, 2009), I & I (2008), Illicit Sonnets (U.K., 2013), Traverse (2015), and Canticles II (MMXX) (2020).  Since 1983, he has published some 25 volumes of poetry.


Canadian poet Israel Pincu Lazarovitch, or Irving Layton, was born in the Romanian town of Târgu Neamt in 1912, the youngest son of an accountant. His family moved to Montreal when he was a year old; when his father died, Layton, just 13, briefly left school to sell household goods door to door before enrolling in high school, where his encounter with Tennyson’s poem “The Revenge” inspired him to try writing. He earned a degree in agriculture at Macdonald College, where he joined the Young People’s Socialist League. His involvement with the League led to his being banned from entering the United States for 15 years. Layton enlisted in the Canadian Army in 1942 and was honorably discharged a year later. He served as an editor for First Statement Press, which published his debut, Here and Now (1945), as well as for Contact Press. Poet and singer Leonard Cohen was his student and became a close friend.
Layton’s lush, elemental poems explore sexual and spiritual intimacy. He published numerous collections of poetry, including The Black Huntsmen (1951), A Red Carpet for the Sun (1959), The Pole-Vaulter (1974), The Selected Poems of Irving Layton (1977), Final Reckoning: Poems 1982-1986 (1987), and A Wild Peculiar Joy: Selected Poems 1945-82. His prose includes Engagements: The Prose of Irving Layton (1972), Taking Sides: The Collected Social and Political Writings (1977), and the memoir Waiting for the Messiah (1985). Critical studies of his work include Raging Like a Fire: A Celebration of Irving Layton (1993) and Francis Mansbridge’s biography Irving Layton: God’s Recording Angel (1995). His correspondence is published in the volumes Wild Gooseberries: The Selected Letters of Irving Layton (1989), An Unlikely Affair (1980), and Irving Layton and Robert Creeley: The Complete Correspondence, 1953-1978 (1989).
His honors included two Nobel Prize nominations, Italy’s Petrarch Prize for Poetry, grants from the Canada Council, the Governor General’s Award, the Senior Arts Fellowship, and several honorary degrees. Layton taught at Sir George Williams University and York University. In the mid-1990s, he received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, which led to his death in 2006. The University of Saskatchewan Library holds a selection of his papers.



Gwendolyn MacEwen

MacEwen was born in Toronto, Ontario. Her mother, Elsie, spent much of her life as a patient in mental health institutions. Her father, Alick, suffered from alcoholism. Gwendolyn MacEwen grew up in the High Park area of the city, and attended Western Technical-Commercial School.

MacEwan’s first poem was published in The Canadian Forum when she was only 17, and she left school at 18 to pursue a writing career.By 18 she had written her first novel, Julian the Magician.

“She was small (5’4″) and slight, with a round pale face, huge blue eyes usually rimmed in kohl (Egyptian eye shadow), and long dark straight hair.”

Her first book of poetry, The Drunken Clock, was published in 1961 in Toronto,. then the centre of a literary revival in Canada, encouraged by the editor Robert Weaver and influential teacher Northrop Frye. MacEwen was thus in touch with James Reaney, Margaret Atwood, Dennis Lee, etc. She married poet Milton Acorn, 19 years her senior, in 1962, although they divorced two years later.

She published over twenty books, in a variety of genres. She also wrote numerous radio docudramas for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), including a “much-admired radio drama”, Terror and Erebus, in 1965 which featured music by Terry Rusling.

With her second husband, Greek musician Niko Tsingos, MacEwen opened a Toronto coffeehouse, The Trojan Horse, in 1972. She and Tsingos translated some of the poetry of contemporary Greek writer Yiannis Ritsos (published in her 1981 book Trojan Women).

She taught herself to read Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, and French, and translated writers from each of those languages. In 1978 her translation of Euripides’ drama The Trojan Women was first performed in Toronto.

Sculpture of MacEwen in Gwendolyn MacEwen Park

She served as writer in residence at the University of Western Ontario in 1985, and the University of Toronto in 1986 and 1987.

During the last years of her life, she was in a relationship with street writer Crad Kilodney (Lou Trifon).

MacEwen died in 1987, at the age of 46, of health problems related to alcoholism. She is buried in Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery.


Mansour Noorbakhsh writes poems and stories in both English and Farsi, his first language, and has published books, poems, and articles in both languages. His book length poem: “In Search of Shared Wishes” was published in 2017. He tries to be a voice for freedom, human rights, and environment in his writings. He presents The Contemporary Canadian Poets in a weekly Persian radio program (https://persianradio.net/poets/ or https://t.me/ottawaradio)

Mansour’s poems are published in “WordCity Lit. (https://wordcitylit.ca)”, Verse Afire, Parkland Poets, several anthologies, and other places. His poems are translated in Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Serbian, Macedonian, and Chinese. Mansour Noorbakhsh is an Electrical Engineer, and lives with his wife, his daughter and his son in Toronto, Canada.


Juliet Palmer’s music has found its way to a highway off-ramp, a swimming pool, a boxing ring and to concert halls across North America, Europe and Oceania. From Aotearoa, New Zealand, Juliet makes her home in Toronto. A pianist and composer, her performance of pieces by Yeshim Ternar and Armand Garnet Ruffo represent her first commissions form GEC.



Giovanna Riccio is a graduate of the University of Toronto where she majored in philosophy. She is the author of Vittorio (Lyricalmyrical Press, 2010) Strong Bread (Quattro Books, 2011), and Plastic’s Republic (Guernica Editions, 2019). Her poems have appeared in national and international publications and in numerous anthologies Giovanna is the 2021 winner of the Venera Fazio Poetry Prize.



BIOGRAPHY: James Rolfe (current as of July 2021)

Composer James Rolfe’s music has been commissioned and performed

by ensembles, orchestras, choirs, and opera companies in Canada and abroad,

and recognized with a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Jules Léger Prize, and Dora and

JUNO Award nominations.


Armand Garnet Ruffo is a poet, writer, and English professor at Queen’s University.  His research and writing intersect creatively with his Ojibwe culture. He recently completed co-editing a new edition of The Oxford Anthology of Indigenous Literature, and a few years ago, co-edited An Anthology of Indigenous Literary Criticism in Canada. He also published a wide-ranging book of poetry called Treaty #. Because he works in both scholarly and creative fields, he strives to bring both of these elements into the classroom, particularly as it relates to teaching creative writing.

He wrote a libretto for a musical called Sounding Thunder: the Song of Francis Pegahmagabow, which is based on the real-life experiences of an acclaimed Ojibwe WW I sniper. Previously, he published Grey Owl: the Mystery of Archie Belaney and Norval Morrisseau: Man Changing Into Thunderbird (shortlisted for a GG), both creative, non-fiction biographies.  Ruffo was nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry.  In 2020 he was the winner of the Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize.

Award-winning Canadian vocalist, composer and improviser Laura Swankey (she/her) is known for her artistry, versatility, vocal aptitude and creative spirit in settings ranging from experimental music to traditional jazz, folk and rock.

Laura has worked with artists such as Juno award-winner Mike Murley, Mark Feldman, Poet Laureate Dennis Lee, Christine Duncan, and Ralph Alessi, and has premiered works by Juliet Palmer, Germaine Liu, Lieke van der Voort, Tova Kardonne, Elio Villafranca, and Mike McCormick. Along with her solo project for voice and electronics, Laura has extensively collaborated and toured throughout Canada, Scandinavia and the United States with Parade, Elisa Thorn’s HUE, Plastic Babies, Mike McCormick’s Proxemics, Jazz Bras Dot Com, Dr. Purgatory, and Star Triptych. Since 2013, she has been featured on over 25 studio and live records including two solo albums and eight as a co-leader. In 2018, Laura joined the music faculties of the University of Toronto and Humber College.  


Yeshim Ternar is was born in Istanbul, Turkey in 1956. She has a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from McGill University. Yeshim lived in Montreal, Canada between 1980 and 2000.  She has published 2 short story collections: Orphaned by Halley’s Comet and True Romance with a Sailor; a book of historical non-fiction, The Book & the Veil and a historical novel, Rembrandt’s Model.  The excerpts that broke into song are from The Book & The Veil, Escape from an Istanbul Harem, Vehicule Press, 1994.  Since her retirement in 2018, Yeshim Ternar has been living in Las Vegas, NM, USA, and quietly working on her spiritual autobiography. 


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