O Pen Wordshops’ Works


Jennifer Still, photo by Larissa Andrusyshyn

Carol Shields Writer in Residence Jennifer Still’s hosted a weekly workshop over a five week period that was open to all writers (students, staff, faculty and the community). The O Pen Wordshops  allowed writers to tinker with words. The final workshop was a public reading at UWinnipeg’s Hamilton Galleria (in the library). Some of the writers submitted their work + these are their writings.

“More than I believe in almost anything, I believe in the transformative power of art,” expressed Still regarding the Wordshop. “If we’re working honestly and diligently and bravely in our most private voices, and if we then share them, offer them to the world, I think there might be opportunity for resonance. Some ripple that is beyond our wildest imaginings. And I’m glad for this. To have this ripple, that one that comes from the smallest fleck in a pond, that grass seed that sends the waterbug scurrying from the fish’s mouth! This is my daily aim. To the small and resonant in us all!”

writers are listed in alphabetical order

Reminiscences of a Father
by Murray Alexander

It was a warm, bright morning in early spring many years ago in faraway Dunedin, New Zealand. The mountains surrounding the town were capped tenaciously with the last white snow, but the valleys were filled with birdsong and the scents of new growth. Between the town and our home, situated on the surrounding hills, was a circle of forest with winding pathways through the trees: everything to delight my 3-year-old daughter perched on her Daddy’s shoulders, as slowly we wended our way up the mountain. “Who lives in the forest, Daddy?” she asked. “Why, the Fairy Folk, sweetheart”, I replied. “If you listen carefully, you can hear them going about their spring cleaning. They are very shy, and when they hear human folk passing their way, they stop what they are doing and listen carefully, so we must be very quiet”.

“Are they good people?” she asked, after a space of some contemplation.

“On the whole”, I replied. “There are some bad people among them, though: the Hobgoblins like to steal their food: nuts and fruits which they gather by day from the forest floor”. She held on more tightly in apprehension, almost strangling her father beneath. To relieve the pain, I added, “But, you don’t have to worry, they only come out at night, so they won’t be bothering us.”

Murray Alexander

Murray Alexander

Murray Alexander grew up in Johannesburg, where I did my undergraduate studies in Physics. Pursued graduate studies in Manchester, and moved to Queens Univ., Kingston, Ontario for a post-doc. fellowship, followed by a couple of years at Univ. of Waterloo, for a Masters in Computer Science. Since then, I have lived in St Andrews, Scotland, Guelph, Ontario, and five years in Dunedin, New Zealand, where my children spent their early formative years and my two youngest daughters were born. I have lived in Winnipeg these past 21 years. Now retired, I teach occasionally at U of Winnipeg, and am inspired by Jennifer’s influence and encouragement to return to writing pursuits.


Megan Benedictson's poem, 'On growth: an exercise in self-expression'

Megan Benedictson’s poem, ‘On growth: an exercise in self-expression’

Megan Benedictson

Megan Benedictson

Megan Benedictson is a writer, art lover, mother, student, communicator, sister, marketer, and Winnipegger. She is also a recovering reporter, developing yogi, mediocre dodgeball player and improving friend. She is a dreamer first, everything else second.



Tom B
by Sandra Campbell

Elite and Snobs
$4.00 coffee
No welfare checks allowed

No white trash
Or nicotine inhalers
No overnight drunks
With bad stomach breaths
Leaning on narrow
White counters

No coffee cards
For Madison Place dwellers
No Free Street walkers
Darken the door

Minimal décor like the
Events circling
The $4.00 coffee

thombargen coffee

thom bargen coffee

Sandra Campbell frequents Tom Bs establishment because the coffee keeps her coming back.



Knight Moves to Buffalo Jump
by KC Cramer

Broken pawns and a poisoned queen
thought they had me on the run
in a long-long-drawn-out ending to the game
and I remember the spring they tried to leave me with no choice
but to fight them all to their deaths or mine
or ours but then I guess you know yes you know
you know

how I finally realized
it would have made no difference
just pieces to be put away after all
when I looked again the field was empty
and there was the sun in a cloud of wings funnelling south
for the fall then it was fall yes it was fall
it was fall
I left my horse there by the river
my boots my spurs still in their stirrups
I left my sword in its wounds
and my footprints in my dust
and I left my home for the always anywhere
never was a better time to go
both eyes momentarily free yes free
free to find out which came first
the madness or the jump
the moment I dreamed I’d fall to earth
I was able to see the hidden hand
I gave up a chance at the crown of thorns
and I won’t be sacrificed today no I won’t be sacrificed today
I won’t be sacrificed today

shadowing cloud tattoos reeling across the plain
muscles that shake the land rippling on beneath

I am become as a crust of clay stretched wet dried tight
my skin on which buffalo drummers pound
hooves beating hooves beating hooves beating air to the canyon’s bottom door.

KC Cramer

KC Cramer

Harmonica player KC Cramer learned cowboy songs from his dad in the 40s, and blues from listening to Wolfman Jack’s blues and R&B radio show out of Del Rio, Texas in the 60s. Since then he’s played blues, jazz, folk, rock, funk, country, and classical music. They’re all good.

In the last few years he’s been writing like no one was watching. Then he started encouraging one of his sons to do some illustrations for a fantasy novel, before realizing he’d have to write it himself. Now it’s all going to come out.

Do you know who you are?  Will you ever know?
by Rebecca Danos

Do you know who you really are?  I wrote my “About” page for my blog last week.  This is the place where an author concisely depicts who she is.  This exercise grew into a question for me.  Who am I?  If I died today, what details would be included in my obituary?  What would my epitaph be?  Would the reality of these musings on my life be consistent with what I would desire my end notes to read?  I recently wrote my bucket list, a laundry list of goals to complete before I die, including publications and novels to write, music exams to take, and a level of health and fitness I wish to achieve.

On Friday after Jennifer Still’s Carol Shields distinguished lecture, that all changed.

At the conclusion of the lecture, which served as the climax for Jennifer’s residency as the University of Winnipeg Carol Shields writer in residence, I realized that, at the end of the day, achievements don’t really matter.  What matters is finding a voice and using it to sing, discovering, living a life of poetry, sharing friendship, humanity, and love with others, and awakening to who we really are.  What matters at the end of the day is a beginning, as Jennifer emphasized in her lecture.

The creative writing workshop, led by poet Jennifer Still, began with a word.  We all brought a word with us to explore.  I brought the word “inflaton” which is the scalar field (or mechanism) theorized to be responsible for the early rapid expansion of the universe.  I found within the word “inflaton” the word “flat”, which describes the current model for the shape of our universe.  Jennifer noted that my word reflects on beginnings, on the beginning of the universe no less.  So started the workshop for me: with a beginning.

The workshop, or “wordshop” as it was called, centered on words.  I find words to expose my vulnerabilities, disrobing the electric cords of my naked thoughts in unedited fragments of consciousness.  I feel naked and exposed in my writing which is counterpunctal to a primal need for self-expression, like a baby’s cries.  Words are indeed fierce yet delicate and undress our defenses, leaving us shivering and naked.

During the second workshop we used words to encounter art.  We used our internal sensors to explore artistic external works, including a Willow Rector exhibit.  The Willow Rector exhibit contains a collection of purses embroidered with quotes from literature.  On the outside, some of them look like generic women’s accessories, but within them lay concealed messages.  One of the purses was entitled The Stone Diaries, named for the novel written by Carol Shields.  This purse was constructed in part by barbed wire surrounding an embroidered bird, perhaps reflecting a cage imprisoning the image of the forsaken mermaid on the reverse side of the purse.  I later investigated the story of The Stone Diaries, and it reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.  Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway served as a subject for another purse.  Mrs. Dalloway is an externally perceived prosaic middle-aged woman throwing an every-day party, but internally she yearns to be connected with something special and unique.  I think the exhibit centered on the deceptive extraordinary depth and fascinating narrative woven in a person’s innards, in contrast to outer appearances – the ordinary and the boring “old purses” that my friend saw. Even Mrs. Dalloway belies an extraordinary inner world and life.  The purses centered on identity, the repression of women, and the secret words which might thrive dormant within.  More words.

In the third workshop we erased and chopped words, playing with collages from the words of others.  We were architects with words: words as structural elements.  I chose the Lucky speech from Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Words reeking of existentialism levitated above the page for me that I connected in new ways.  The essence of the speech lies in its words such as the passage into nothingness with unfinished labors.

Will we live an unfinished life if we don’t complete that bucket list of achievements?  My answer is no.  Mozart never completed his Requiem, yet in its unfinished state lies a monument of beauty.  We, like our words, might be transient as Beckett and Jennifer outline in their words, but perhaps that is, in itself, a monument to beauty which possesses meaning in itself, like Antoine Saint-Exupéry’s flower from Le Petit Prince.

In the final wordshop we edited a piece of work and discussed endings.  We also played a poetry game in which one person wrote a word and passed it, concealed, to her neighbor.  Then the neighbor wrote a question and passed it along to her right.  The word I was passed was “hope”.  The question passed to me was “How do we deal?”  Poetry, it seems, is everywhere.  From these workshops and meetings with Jennifer I discovered new words and new beginnings.  I found new words that lie hibernating in crevices within myself.  I still don’t know what my desired epitaph would be.  I still don’t really know who I am.  And I think I can live with the acceptance that I will never know.  What I do know is that I do possess words in me and a voice which I long to use to sing.  In the word “ending” is a resounding “I”.  See it?

Rebecca Danos

Rebecca Danos

Rebecca Danos holds a PhD in theoretical physics from McGill University and is a Research Scholar at the University of Winnipeg.  She is now “coming out” as a writer and writes a blog A Harmonic Analysis which can be found at http://rebeccadanos.wordpress.com.




by Joanne Epp

Someone lost on a distant planet,
disheartened by the colour of its dust.
Or passing through a windowless city.

Falling trees. The girl found in the river.
It’s more than you want to believe.

Lonely as a single note on a xylophone
or the last violin in the world.
A bow hovering over the strings.

Never the right distance. Too close,
or a wide country apart.
There’s only so much you can fix.

What did you expect?
History’s creased at the edges.
The creek’s been paved over.

What happened to the dream
you could do anything?

Joanne Epp

Joanne Epp

(A response to “Lament for Humanity” by Örjan Sandred at the New Music Festival, 2015, and to works by Mark Neufeld in the “Re-enactments” exhibit at the University of Winnipeg gallery.)

Joanne Epp’s first book of poems, Eigenheim, will be launched on April 14 by Turnstone Press. Her chapbook, Crossings, came out in 2012. She is assistant organist at St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, where she also served as writer-in-residence in early 2012.


Parts of Parts, Shelled
by Paul Friesen

Part 1

Ear asure
Take this cut from me,
I as well as thought.
I might as well have been performing
open art surgery
(without an esthetic)
My mom used to cut coupons
to help us get by
on a barber’s cut.
(Lower your ears if you’ve heard this one…)
Was life then, as much of a struggle as this??
To have to choose
whom to leave out??
Which of these words would not
take it personally?
If you cut them, will they not plead??
I wanted to return to my duties, but realized
I had this chance to raise my conch to a new level.
From shelving to praying
to the order of the shellf/ish.
This, too, could be a scene cut
from some homage washing up
on honey rider’s shore.

Paul Friesen

Paul Friesen

Paul Friesen has, for nearly 20 years, been writing for participation in poetry slams and at various open mikes, the latter of which most regularly include the weekly event, CaRaVaN, & the monthly Speaking Crow. He has “appeared” on CBC’s Poetry Face-off several times, & both hosted AND performed in the University of Winnipeg’s General Scholarship Fundraiser “Class Acts” over the last five years.

He currently works at the University of Winnipeg Library, where constant & tactile contact with books, only serves to enable a “virtually” automyographical — whilst event-driven — cacoethes scribendi; but really, he’s only in it for the polysyllabilities.

postCard from istanbul
by naniece ibrahim

istanbul’s heart burns bright,
fueled by ancient embers of greek,
roman, persian + arabian souls.

the bosporus dawns a new mist as morning arrives
thousands of minarets, like lighthouses
scatter along the horizon beaconing the soul to pray

paved with cobblestones
the streets imprinted with the haunts
of ancient armies + stories of their prophets
a sense of faith hangs heavy
+ lingers
like a fog that is not seen
but felt
+ sweeps over land & sea

narrow streets weave stories
of 1001 nights
wandering through the mosques, church and synagogue
tile upon blue tile reflects the
love & commitment of faith

arabic prayers  echo in the archways as
head + soul bow in supplication
on rich crimson carpets woven with
the image of the tulip,
a flower from one bulb
representing one god

the balcony door  welcomes the
evening breeze + glimpse of sea
roof top terraces soaked
in jasmine
where fresh dates, figs, yogurt & freshly baked bread are shared

fragrant sounds of oued & ney
fill the senses, drunk on apple tea
& sweet arghila smoke rises to the stars
carrying the days memories
the crescent moon rests bright in the eastern sky
as it begins its journey across the horizon

until the bosporus welcomes a new dawn

naniece ibrahim

naniece ibrahim

Naniece Ibrahim works in communications at UWinnipeg.






Year of the Snowshoe Hare
by Marika Prokosh

slim crescent of days
between Christmas

and the last of the
waning year

sky dark and low
in Hades’ gut
taking stock

of the months   checking
expiry dates
walking down
to the river to look out
over more trees   skyline
the snow
rushing toward
the curve in the earth’s
belly   leaving to-dos
sight runs out

The jackrabbit
heart springs

Marika Prokosh

Marika Prokosh

Marika Prokosh is a Winnipeg writer and library factotum. Her writing has appeared in Prairie Fire,Existererip/torn, and online at The Toast, where she writes the poetic divination advice column “The Spinster’s Almanac.” She reads and cooks in an old blue house by the river.

by Angeline Schellenberg

is a safe and highly effective form
of border control, a virtually painless pro-

hibition of my lifelong plan to become
the Waltons, one snip
seals off vessels carrying sperm from
your rotting gene pool to mine in late-night
fluid movements, cutting the risk of conceiving more
frightened rabbits than I have hands,
to ensure a severed
marriage is pulled in no more than two
directions, the area is frozen with a prick
of remorse, and then tied or sealed to prevent
culpability for knowingly creating
another autistic mouth to
concede, most men return to their normal life-
style following this minimally
invasive form of permanent
hearth patrol.
* “Vasectomy” first appeared in CV2 Winter 2015.

Angeline Schellenberg

Angeline Schellenberg

Angeline Schellenberg’s first collection of poems about autism is forthcoming with Brick Books in fall 2016, and her first chapbook Roads of Stone launches with The Alfred Gustav Press in May 2015. Third prize winner in the 2014 Banff Centre Bliss Carmen Poetry Award contest, Angeline looks forward to being an artist in residence at Deep Bay this July. She works as a copy editor in Winnipeg, where she lives with her husband, their two teenagers, and a dog.


–On the Occasion of Neechi Commons Opening 2013
–Shayla Elizabeth

Louis Riel was a leader of the revolution       our revolution
late 1800’s       a prophecy:   My People will sleep for a hundred years
the artists will wake and lead them
The Mayans said the world ended     2012/12/12
but it is about                choice:
Mother Earth-destructive materialistic consumerism OR     be more compassionate
So now we have the Idle No More movement       for Mother Earth

                                           The Treaties, affect everyone
Me, burning out   working 4 awake 11 hr nights on, then 4 nights off
sleeping, or getting ready for work, when the Portage and Main or
Legislature Round Dances happen
But did do a Full Moon Ceremony Honouring Idle No More
at Oodena, the Forks
January:  the coldest Full Moon of the year
A rape hate crime
A Thunder Bay native woman
dragged into the woods
by white men
beaten to within an inch of her life
raped repeatedly
left for Death–
but still     she can raise her voice

Shayla Elizabeth

Shayla Elizabeth

Shayla Elizabeth is an Iniwe (Cree) writer, poet, storyteller, Spoken Word artist, who has been a member of the Indigenous Writers Collective, MB, since 1999. Her work has been published in Contemporary Verse 2, the First Perspective, and featured on  CBC radio and NCI FM, among others. She has been published in Manitowapow: Writings from the Land of Water, edited by Dr. Warren Cariou and Dr. Niigan Sinclair. She also has participated at Speaking Crow.

Out Among ‘Em
by Jennifer Strassel

Thunderous crash of water on rock
Cool spray caressing my face
Wind tearing at hair

My mind
Arms outstretched intending to fly
The wind how it blows its power and song
The great echoing cry of the majestic grey wolf
Sending chills up my spine

Laughing seagulls do not mock
Swooping through open space
If not floating on updrafts and currents of air
Would you not act in kind

I turn away with a sigh
There is a deer wondering if I belong
She stands tall wishing to bolt
As her great almond eyes meet mine

Poem 2
split logs of birch
paper peeling…curling…seeking
the crack…the snap
forage and stack
the blade of the axe
up then down
with a thundering crack

I dream of home
glimpses of time in the
gathering darkness
flames of the moon
light up the sky
take me there

split logs of birch
rough on my hands
move quickly
reality is calling
chasing me down

Jennifer Strassel

Jennifer Strassel

Jennifer Strassel lives in small town Lac du Bonnet, Manitoba, where the surrounding area inspires her writing and photography endeavors. She is completing her studies in Creative Writing at the University of Winnipeg in 2015.

The Man with One Balloon
by Veralyn Warkentin

Everyday this week he’s there: this man who walks with one balloon.  He falls into the category of what I call those men who look like sailors. Always white-haired men who wear captain’s hats – even here, in the middle of the prairies. A requisite trimmed beard, strapped around the chin, a downtown Captain Ahab. Call him Ishmael. Of course he’s in a cable knit sweater beneath a pale blue jacket, unzipped, though the morning is cool.  His stride is wide instead of long, weight shifting, shifting as if balancing on a rough sea. He walks with one incongruous balloon.

Today it’s salmon coloured, trailing above and back of him, graceful consort to this weighty gait. For seven days, a balloon has floated over him, always a different colour, the urban-sailor’s only changing accessory.  The balloon could be waiting for words, as if he were some cartoon character from the Saturday Funnies. That’s what my Dad used to call them. He’s walking by so often, soon I might only notice his absence. So I need to capture him in words while the image is still bright as that balloon while I sit in this café, where I like to write.

My Notebook—ever-ready at my side, body close, hip-chaffing. More valuable than wallet or I.D.– it’s the thing I make sure I have when I step off the bus. My coats and jackets are chosen for their pockets. They must be plunging and wide enough to kangaroo my Notebook. In the closing sale of yet another of my favourite used bookstores, in the ‘new gift aisle,’ I scooped up the last beloved moleskins in varying colours. Enough for a decade of mining my life for characters, images or crazy ideas. And I don’t have to fiddle with my I-Phone or write on whatever is handy.

My father fell into the category of what I call those men who write on placemats. And my boss. He talks golf game, new condo, or redesign of our brochure – but words are never enough.  He has to punch two fingers into the silver serviette dispenser in the food court, and attack the napkin with a ballpoint. One click and he’s off: See, this is me and this is the ninth hole…The bedroom is here, but I’m going to knock out this wall and throw in a hot tub….The Ads blow. We need a bold heading, more sex….  I’m used to these sketch-speak men.

My garrulous father needed placemats not serviettes, a greater surface area to speak and control the conversation.  If there were no placemats, he would condescend to paper napkins, if none of those, usually silence.

At my promotion, I took him to some  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ place, where I always felt comfortable. He drooped like the real rose on the table at the sight of burgundy cloth napkins blossoming from the wine glasses…..

Veralyn Warkentin

Veralyn Warkentin

Veralyn Warkentin is a sometime writer, playwright and director, Veralyn was thrilled to be a part of Jennifer’s creative workshops. She is also thrilled to tell you about the Writers Edge series of Creative Writing Workshops coming to UW on Saturday mornings this May 2015 ! All proceeds support of the Carol Shields’  Writer-In-Residence Program.




Naniece Ibrahim, Communications Officer, The University of Winnipeg

P: 204.988.7130, E: n.ibrahim@uwinnipeg.ca

Comments are closed.