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September 30, 2013 Ottawa Jewish Bulletin Page 13

Shaffrans poems tell the story of transformative journey


By Ilana Belfer Rona Shaffrans new book of poetry, her rst published collection, follows a lustless couple through a transformative journey from disconnect to rekindled passion. The womans magic-realist voyage to an exotic locale leads to a personal and, consequently, joint awakening, which causes the couple to Ignite, the books title, as they grow older together. In her personal life, too, Shaffran a.k.a. Rona Shaffran-Tannenbaum is no stranger to the idea of a transformational journey: after 30 years with the Auditor General of Canadas ofce, she went from government bureaucrat to published creative writer, starting on her new career path at 51. I guess its a story about never really knowing where an event is going to take you, said Shaffran, 62, referring to her own story this time. While waiting for a delayed ight at the Rome airport, in 2001, she struck up a conversation with the woman sitting beside her, who recommended she visit the volcanic islands on the Tyrrhenian Sea between Sicily and the Italian mainland. From the minute she described those islands to me ... It was like a calling, Shaffran said. She and her husband, Brian Tannenbaum, went there the following year. I felt, somehow, a sense of familiarity ... almost like a coming home, she said. And, the landscape, it was so mesmerizing to me that I began to write ... furiously. Until then, shed written only intermittently, particularly in high school and university, she said, wondering aloud whether it was all beshert. The ideas in the book came to her one afternoon on the hotels terrace, staring at the the volcano, a creature asleep; on its belly, stretches out; along the centre of the island, as she describes it in the poem Chimera. But she never envisioned a book, per se. Like Shaffran, that concept evolved over 11 years as she honed her craft at the Humber School for Writers, the Banff Centre Writing Studio, and Ottawas Tree Reading Series, which she co-directed from 2009 to 2012 and where she still sits on the board. Although she wrote the poems separately and non-sequentially, the pieces seemed to fall together, she said. Ignite, which Shaffran called a story of hope, renewal and change, is comparable to a small novella. Each poem is a moment, or vignette, in an overall story, but can also be read individually. Thinking of it as a novel helped Shaffran dig deeper into the characters and their

Rona Shaffran

motives, she said. In the book, Language is used sparingly, comments Canadian poet Barry Dempster, in a quote on the back cover. It isnt until after a page has been turned that you notice each line is bleeding just a little around the edges. I just nd it very challenging to say a lot with few words, Shaffran explained. Its economical, but powerful ... its compressed, but it expands at the same time. That stripped-down, succinct style rened by her years in the civil service gives readers space to inject their own imagination and experiences into Shaffrans

work, which is exactly what shes after. I dont want it to be a passive experience, she said. The exciting part is when another person connects with what youre saying. She said she hopes her clean, minimal approach, combined with the poems arrangement in a narrative form will help her connect with a broader audience than most poetry books reach. Poetry is often difcult to understand and people kind of steer away from it, but I think in this case ... the poems are understandable, she said. Shaffran is now working

on a second book of poetry and prose, as well as starting a new reading series with Rod Pederson called Rail-

road. Visit ronashaffran.ca for more information on Shaffran or Ignite.