amongst books

amongst books

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Wave Meets The Wind

Last night at the Blink Gallery in Major’s Hill Park, literary enthusiasts braved the cold wind coming from Parliament Hill to meet and hear poets from Wave Books' 50-day Poetry Bus Tour. The tour is an opportunity for the poets of Wave Books to read their work across the States and Canada, and make contact with new friends, readers and fellow writers. The Ottawa stop is Day 21 of the tour. Some of the poets have been on the tour from its start in Seattle, while others are on for a few stops near where they live. Matthew Zapruder, one of the organizers and an editor at Wave Books said that many of the poets wanted to go to places they’d never been, rather than just read in their hometowns.

The local organizers in Ottawa were the Ottawa International Writers Festival and David O-Meara. The Writers Festival had its own cross Canada tour by train a number of years ago. Last night’s performers/readers were Typing Explosion, David O’Meara, Betsy Wheeler, Damian Rogers, Monica Youn, Joshua Beckman, Monica Fambrough, Travis Nichols, Matthew Zapruder, Kate Hall, and Kevin Connolly.

The unusual circumstances of the reading made for a magical night.

Unusual circumstance #1: deep blue winter sky, heavy wind

UC # 2: the Blink Gallery-inside a tiny house (known for some reason as Header House) on Parliament Hill, where artwork was stolen this past summer.

UC # 3:Typing Explosion: Rachel LaRue Kessler, Sarah Paul Ocampo and Sierra Nelson dressed in colourful vintage 1960s secretarial clothing receive cards from the audience and then proceed to type out poems, the paper passing from one typist, to the next, to the next, then stamped with the union local number 898. Read their press kit on the site, it's very interesting. Cathy MacDonald-Zytveld of the Dusty Owl Reading Series showed me hers, an erotic poem inspired by the moon.

UC # 4: Little chairs, a mic and sound system….outside! Many of the audience and readers weren’t prepared for the onset of early winter (a plot by Canadians to stay unpopular for tourists, we press the winter button whenever we know a group of people are coming to town), so shivering was the order of the day. And the readers had to squint in the darkness. Later on a low spotlight helped them read, giving them lugubrious profiles. I expected to hear someone read the Highway Man or the Raven.

It’s hard to list all the highlights of the evening. It was too dark to take notes and my memory retention grows weaker as I approach my middle years. I’m hoping other bloggers will fill in my wretched memory blanks. I can’t really do justice to the wonderful evening and all the great poetry I heard. This is merely a start. Here’s what has stayed with me this morning:

Betsy Wheeler's Non Sonnet with the line "To the waitress I said wondermeat meaning
wonderment."

Monica Youn’s poems about Ignatz, a character in an old comic strip called Krazy Kat;

the crowd’s humour and attentiveness while listening to Joshua Beckman read a long poem about what happened on the day a poet died (can’t remember the name of the poet, can’t find the poem on line, alas! Someone who remembers, please comment.) There was this bit about trees that was beautiful.

Monica Fambrough's telling us she was from Atlanta, and then feeling guilty because she's really from Mableton.

Kate Hall’s amazing dream poem Insomnia;

the friendliness and warmth of Matthew Zapruder and Travis Nichols, both of whose books I bought from a plethora of books on the table; In retrospect I should have bought something of Beckman’s too and Monica Farnborough's chapbook...I didn't see anything by Monica Youn on the table.

Kevin Connolly’s mesmerizing sestina about a yellow umbrella; Connolly is growing on me. I haven’t always enjoyed his work, but last night I must say that I did. Now I want to hear a full reading of his again.

Wave Books recounts their day-to-day experiences on line thru podcasts, videos and journal entries. I recommend taking a listen.

When I asked Matthew to sign a copy of his book, the wonderfully titled “The Pajamaist” for me, I said that I might never see him again, and he replied that he definitely wanted to come back. I hope he and the others do manage to come back, but I didn’t want to miss the potentially one chance to hear and meet these poets. (And yes, there were as usual a couple of extremely sexy men I would have loved to have warmed up chez moi-it’s hard to look sexy in a red fleece jacket).

It was lovely to see so many Ottawa folk at the reading, lending their support to this innovative enterprise. It was cold but a wave of warmth rolled through Ottawa last night. This morning I’m still basking in its afterglow.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

AIDSWALK-Ottawa Writers & Friends Raises $900

It didn't even rain. Thanks to all the walkers and fundraisers: Charles, Lisa, Chris, Stephanie, Norma, Jean, Catherine, Steve, Kate, Elizabeth, and Mario and our generous sponsors. I wore a tutu. I was disappointed that we didn't have candles or motorcycle cops, but everyone's generosity was lovely. Nice to see volunteers Marcus and Jeremy and fellow literati Damien and Angela too! We'll do it all over again next year. A toast of bubbly to Ottawa's generous souls and there are many, many, many of you!

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Winnipeg, Ottawa, Edmonton Connection

last night at the Factory Reading Series. The two features, Anne Le Dressay and K.I. Press, have coincidentally both lived in all three of these cities. As they read, it became apparent to me that there was an even deeper connection between the poetry of the two women: both read poems about modest and understated women, all heroines in their way.

LeDressay read from the now out-of-print Woman Dreams (above/ground press, 1998), Sleep is a Country (Harbinger Poetry Series, Carleton University Press, 1997), and new poems about decrying the even state one achieves when on Prozac, the stereotypical attitude some have toward country girls (Ledressay grew up in rural Manitoba), obnoxious politicians in an Ottawa café, and the ambition to be good enough rather than a super model. Le Dressay’s quiet demeanour complemented the tone of her writing. These are poems to listen to with care. Fellow blogger and friend, Pearl Pirie mentioned Sleep Is A Country back in her own blog in July, 2003 and said “Like so much good poetry it carries well over time and bears re-reading.”

For some reason I thought I had the book already, otherwise I would have also purchased it. I look forward to Le Dressay’s poems in Chaudière Books’ upcoming poetry anthology. Perhaps it is only the morning after, that I’m realizing how much her poems affected me…the quiet tone and wit remains with me this morning. Her words were simple and very plain, and yet somehow they conjured up such a lingering mood of peace for me today. Her writing is an excellent example of what makes poetry memorable.

Here’s a poem of hers from Contemporary Verse 2, Volume 27, Issue 4, to give you an idea of her style:

old winter

The snow is tired. It has thawed
and frozen, thawed and frozen, and its edges
have become ice crystal, blank space, and dirt.

When it was fresh, it caught and held
every speck of dust, froze every wandering
bit of trash. Now it releases
one by one a winter’s
worth.

The snow is broken, worn, faded grey,
pocked with dirt where the sun
has probed.

Even the new soft white
fresh from last night
cannot cover the scars, cannot disguise
how old this winter is.


At break time, the fun was to wander around the Arts Court where we could enjoy the possibility of walking on ball bearings or have them rain down upon us, or pick up a phone to speak to random strangers.

We were in a different gallery this time, since the Ottawa International Animation Festival seems to be doing stuff in our usual venue. The pieces this time around were from a collection called Degrees of Fantasy, selected from the Firestone Collection of Canadian Art. I have to admit I love being surrounded by art for a reading. In this case, the whimsy of the pieces felt opposite to LeDressay’s very realistic work, yet fit entirely well with K.I. Press’s reading of her two-day old poetry collection, “Types of Canadian Women, And of Women Who Are or Have Been Connected with Canada, Volume II” (Gasperau Press, 2006)

It was lovely that this was Press’s first reading of the book in public. I’ve heard Press read before at the Tree Reading Series, and was very much looking forward to hearing her read once more. She didn’t disappoint both in her reading style and the poems she read.

Types is based on an illustrated book about Canadian women from 1903 Press discovered while working as a picture researcher for non-fiction books. While the biographies of these women were sometimes quite mundane, Press felt that much of the story had been left untold.

The book itself is beautifully made and features black and white photographs of women from that era, holding cameras, looking pretty, posed before tree stumps, holding guns, wearing hats, little granny glasses and nurse caps. What is ever so fascinating about the poems is that most of them are written in the first person from the point of view of the woman in the picture. The writing style changes from very informal to quiet formal. The titles are quite fun and humourous too, coming from what Press sees when looking at the photo: “Practices regularly four hours a day,” “Her horse killed under her,” and “Did minor surgery herself.”

Press read the introduction in which she apologized about the lengthy delay between publication of Volume 1 (1903) and Volume 2 (2006). And she read this completely with a straight face, well mostly. The poems themselves, aside from being full of whimsy, were also careful and idiomatic renderings of women in their time, modest yes, in some cases, but very much exotic creatures, for example:

AUTHOR OF “DAIRYING FOR PROFIT”
[photo of a woman posed jauntily in a field, and wearing a hat and suit jacket, hands in pockets, roughish looking wrinkled trousers]

Betty’s big black eyes, a stone’s throw,
all them big eyes frozen at me,
all the grasses, kindling-yellow,
and birds bursting with notes
of despondency, the saddest birds
and eyes in worlds and worlds, scared
as sudden lightning struck them statuesque.
I could teach them
wire-walking or vaudeville tunes,
if I wanted, now. My every move.
The wailing birds. A groan.
Betty. Up with my gun.
She’s old and ornery and there’s nothing romantic
about this. I’m full of spite. Blast her
head practically off. The whole lot
will be sour tonight.

Some of these poems can be found on line at www.ottawater.com 2.0. Press’s other collections are Pale Red Footprints (Pedlar Press, 2001), Flame (above/ground press, 2002), and Spine (Gasperau Press, 2004). Except for the chapbook from above/ground press, Press’s collections tend to focus on one particular theme and follow it through. Pale Red Footprints is loosely based on the memoires of Donat Sylvestre, Spine touches on a love of books from Alice in Wonderland to Jane Eyre.

Hats off once more to rob mclennan, who, in the midst of a very hectic schedule, preparing for the much anticipated launch of Chaudière Books, and doing a whole pile of other things, including his jam packed blog full of everything you ever needed to know about Canadian (and other poetry) but were afraid to ask, still managed to organize yet another wonderful reading. I always come home from one of these evenings with more than a few poems started on the walk home, inspired and invigorated by what I've heard.

For a photo of last night’s reading, go to Charles’ blog.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Freeing The Erotic Writer Within

This is an article I wrote for Voracitybeat.com, but since the site is now defunct, I'm reissuing it here for the occasion of the upcoming broadcast in a few weeks' time of Nigel Beale's interview with me about my erotica.

Tell Me Your Stories and I’ll Tell You Mine: Freeing The Erotic Writer Within
© Amanda Earl, 2004

“Write your self, your body must be heard.” Hélène Cixous [Gayle Bradeis, “Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write, Harper San Francisco, 2002]

I am new to sharing my erotic stories publicly. Up until recently I have been a writer of poetry, some of it sexual, but none of it particularly explicit. My published erotic poems hide my delight in sex within the seeds of lush apples and underneath the rind of ripe watermelons. Now I write fiction, and I can no longer avoid going into exquisite detail about sex and the feeling of joy and memories of pain and sadness evoked. I am amazed at what a freeing experience it is to share fantasies and fictionalized truths with friends, kindred spirits, and even complete strangers.

In March 2004, I joined an online writing group called the Erotica Readers and Writers Association. Writers share and critique one another’s stories and poems. Editors choose from the submitted work, picking well-crafted and original tales to publish on the public web site for anyone to see. I chose to join the group because I have always written stories, but have never really worked at my craft. At the age of 40, it was time I brought these stories into the light. Turning 40 has caused me to speak my mind. Apparently this is not an unusual transformation for women.

Story telling is in my blood. Even as a child I told my friends steamy tales of pirates kidnapping helpless young maidens and torturing their bountiful breasts. I have always wanted to give voice to the fantasies and memories jumbling around inside my brain and heart in effective and poignant prose, but I’ve been too shy and too concerned about what others may think of my kinky self. Now I can no longer hold back. There is a greater need at work: the need to share my stories, to reach out to other kindred spirits who understand and have experienced the joys and pains that I have gone through, and who can communicate some of their own wondrous and terrible tales.

As women, we learn to be careful about discussing sex in public. You only have to attend the brilliant and hilarious play, The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler to get an idea about just how indirectly we females refer to our own bodies. How many of us still refer to our cunts as “down below” or some other euphemism?

Yet these days, many women are ending that silence, and communicating their thoughts and fantasies about sex through the writing of erotica. Go to your local female friendly sex store and take a look at the number of volumes of female erotica ranging on every subject from lesbian sex to fantasies of sensual magic for dominants and submissives. There is an explosion of excellent writing out there. Women are getting published.

Women did not always feel comfortable discussing their sexuality, nor did the general public accept such writing. In her 1925 diary, Virginia Woolf discusses the difficulties of erotic self-expression for the women of her day:

"Her imagination had rushed away. It had sought the pools, the depths, the dark places, where the largest fish slumber. And then there was a smash. There was an explosion. There was foam and confusion. The imagination had dashed itself against something hard. The girl was roused from her dream. She was indeed in a state of the most acute and difficult distress. To speak without figure she had thought of something, something about the body, about the passions which it was unfitting for her as a woman to say. Men, her reason told her, would be shocked. The consciousness of what men will say of a woman who speaks the truth about her passions had roused her from her artist's state of unconsciousness." [Virginia Woolf, The Waves, Edited with an introduction by Gillian Beer, Oxford University Press, 1992 p. xiii-xiv. Cited from ‘Professions for Women’, in The Death of the Moth (London: Hogarth Press, 1942), 152.]

Imagine how Anais Nin must have felt when she tried to publish her erotica in the 30s. No publisher would touch her lyrical and honest writing. The only way Nin could get published was to establish her own publishing house, Siana Editions, in France in 1935. On top of that, most of her intended audience would not even hear of her work until 30 years later. She was obscure until the 60s when her journals written over many years were published. She believed that “self-knowledge through journaling was the source of personal liberation.”

My main goal here is to encourage you to tell your own stories. It is not essential that you share them with others, but it is key that you share them with yourself. Journals are one way of unloading all that hidden baggage, but stories are also magical tools to help you express yourself.

You can relate your own personal history, and fictionalize it to change details. It’s like being able to manipulate your past. Remember playing barbies as a kid? It’s just like that, except now you know just what to do with your Ken doll.

Imagine you see a very hot construction worker, all sweaty in the sun. He takes off his shirt and pours water from his bottle of Evian onto well-developed pectoral muscles. You can go home and write all about it. In your version, you aren’t wearing old sweatpants with your greasy hair tied up in a hideous bun. Nooo you are poured into a sexy mini skirt, which follows the outline of your smooth curves. You bend over and he gives you a wolf whistle because your legs are shapely in stockings and high stilettos. Never mind that if you actually wore such high heels for real, you’d keel over and fall in a pothole.

Then you can share these fantasies with loving partners who will get turned on and take you to bed. Think of the possibilities.

In one week alone on ERWA, my fellow writers bravely shared beautiful stories involving the poignant rekindling of an old high school reunion flame, the erotic nature of yoga and its potential for sexual healing, and a gloriously sensual fantasy fairy tale co-written by a married couple. Imagine the fun they must have had writing that story together. Better yet, write a story about it!

The poet Muriel Rukeyser asked the question: "What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open."

It is therapeutic and empowering to be able to share stories. There's an explosive joy in being able to tell your truth about sex. Writing and sharing stories means accepting yourself and your sexuality, not denying or living in a closet because some will think you are a slut. You aren’t a slut to have sexual feelings. [Or even if you are, so what?]

It is true that some people won’t like your writing, and may even criticize you for writing it. Lately when people ask me what I do, one of the things I mention is that I write erotica. Some want to read my stories, while others just change the subject. One casual friend asked for the link to some of my stories published online, and he has barely spoken to me since. People are still embarrassed about sex, but I am not, and other erotica writers are not. We celebrate it. And people do care about what you have to say. There’s even a decent market for women’s erotica today, so they say. So go on and share your stories. You might be surprised at what comes out.
As my mentor, SARK says in her book, Succulent Wild Woman, “I believe we must live untamed, juicy and abundantly as women. If we share our stories, we will have many telepathic companions for the journey.”

Tell me your story and I’ll tell you mine. Even a flower needs to turn toward the sun and to unfurl in the rain in order to grow. And if anyone doesn’t like it, tell them to kiss your petunia.
“Let your writing ooze with sensuality rich as custard fruit. Give your fruitflesh the chance to express itself, reclaim yourself, honour and celebrate itself over and over again, both in your body and on the page. You are your own source of creative renewal. May your path be a juicy one.” [Fruitflesh, p. 198]

Friday, September 08, 2006

Nasty Reviews or the dog days of summer or tilting at windmills

For want of anything local to put up, have you seen this? and the response? So Carmine Starnino doesn't like experimental poetry and experimentalists don't care for the stuff he likes. So what? I enjoy a good dog fight as much as the next guy, but I wonder if slagging one another's choices really serves the literary community well. Does it make people purchase a book of poems who otherwise might not or do they just walk away shaking their heads in be/a/musement at the emo kids and their little hijinks?

I have a copy of Shift and Switch and I like some of it. I have a copy of the New Canon and I like some of that. The difference to me between experimental and more traditional forms of poetry is that the former accepts the notion of trial and error and failure, while the latter is focussed on perfection. I'm intimidated by the latter and comforted by the former. I liked the notion that S&S wasn't a judgement but was rather a snapshot of a moment in time to document history.
There are poems in S&S that have inspired me to try experiments of my own.

It takes bravery to put words out on paper, but if the Don Quixotes of the literary community insist on publicly mocking and insulting types of poetry they don't like, and worse yet, getting paid for these reviews, are we better off? I don't see the benefit to anyone, neither the poets nor the community at large. The general public certainly doesn't give a tinker's dam-- it just confirms their prejudices about poets and poetry: it's obscure, and the participants are a bunch of emotional snivelers who wear black turtle necks.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Attention Writers And Friends

On the evening of September 23, 2006, a group of us will light candles and walk together to show those with AIDS/HIV compassion and love, and to raise money and awareness. We will be raising money for Bruce House, which offers care and housing to people with AIDS/HIV.

It would be lovely if you could accompany us. If you aren't going to be in Ottawa, you can also sponsor the team or join a team in your area.

To join or sponsor our team (Ottawa Writers & Friends), please go here:

For more information about AIDSWALK is available here: