Jennifer Whiteford, Megan Butcher, and Nairne Holtz read at Venus Envy last Wednesday. i always like VE as a venue for readings. they can move shelves to create whatever space they like. in this case, there was a small cozy space that had to be enlarged as more and more people arrived, some of them refugees from the Michael Ondaatje reading, apparently.
Jennifer Whiteford opened the reading with a new work about eleven-year old girls. She mentioned that she had started to write about older characters, but the young characters were what ended up taking over. I found this interesting. I have noticed lately there seems to be a lot of fiction about teenage girls and women in their early twenties, especially in the Queer community. I would like to read more fiction about dykes in their middle ages and older. What happens to aging dykes? I have no idea based on the literary fiction being published of late. That being said, I enjoyed Whiteford’s piece. She is a strong writer and is very much able to recreate the eleven year old mindset.
Megan Butcher was next to read. She read (what seemed like a combination of) prose and poems. Some of the pieces were sexually explicit, which is always refreshing at readings. My favourite piece was about an anorexic girl in a hospital. Very sad and harrowing to hear about. I would like to read more about both the speaker of the poem and the girl she visited.
Nairne Holtz read from her new novel, The Skin Beneath. Her reading was the shortest part unfortunately. I would have liked to have heard another few minutes at least. The scene she read from described a lesbian seeing someone she had a thing for strip at a strip club. The brief excerpt held my attention. I wanted to know more about the characters. The novel is apparently a “fast-paced psychological thriller.” I know Holtz best as the co-editor of the wonderful “No Margins: Writing Canadian Fiction in Lesbian.” (This is an example of stories that are not just about women in their early 20s!...yay!) I’ve also learned that Holtz is the creator of the very amazing “annotated bibliography of Canadian literature with lesbian content.”
Friday night saw the launch of Decalogue 2: ten Ottawa fiction writers at my favourite venue in town, the Mercury Lounge. This is Chaudière Books' follow-up to last year’s ten Ottawa poets. Nine out of the ten authors read, with Matthew Firth being unfortunately not able to make it. The prose in this anthology offers a splendid diversity of style.
Some of my favourite bits read came from Emily Falvey’s novella, Lessons in Darkness. Her writing is the right mix of sarcastic wit and romantic comedy. The excerpt she chose described a woman riding on a bus from Rotterdam to Paris, a man offering her a piece of smelly cheese.
“He nodded and held out a piece of cheese. The smile that accompanied this sour-smelling offer was meaningful.”
Gabriella Goliger's excerpt from Behold the Ladder of Love was both humourous and compassionate. In her reading she described a teen girl’s lessons on sex and maturity by her mother.
John-James Ford’s story “Are you there?” concerns a high tech worker’s life. The scene Ford read described the man’s dealing with his wife’s alcoholism, her hidden bottles. It is always interesting to me when a writer fictionalizes local stuff such as our own high tech sector. In this story, Ford mentions Cisco and Ottawa golf courses. This piece reminded me somewhat of John Cheever’s “The Swimmer,” portraying a rich and beautiful veneer which covers inner turbulence. Ford’s story, along with Roy’s work thematically with Firth’s story reprinted from his excellent collection of short stories, “Suburban Pornography.”
On a side-note, I was rather blown away by Ford. I see I’ll have to start a Canada’s sexiest male fiction writers list (along with my sexiest male poets list).
I enjoyed hearing host rob mclennan (a writer who tops both of my sexy lists) read from his story escape notes: london. His fiction has the rhythms and intentional ambiguities of his poetry, but added to that is an even dryer wit.
I am a big fan of Ian Roy’s fiction. His collection, People Leaving, is wonderful. He read a scene from a new story, “Family.” The scene described two men, one trying to get to Halifax on very little money in a car that likely wouldn’t make it there. I liked Roy’s ability to write the internal language of two friends who’ve known each other for a long time, and the characterization of the loser-manipulator, someone who tries his best to get what he needs out of a good friend. And then Ian made jokes about the disco ball at the Mercury Lounge. I enjoy his self-deprecating banter. Not everyone is good at that. He is.
I was impressed with the collection that editor mclennan put together. i look forward to more fiction from Chaudière Books.
Sunday afternoon was Dusty Owl time. The Owls are currently holding their reading series twice a month, instead of once a month to celebrate their return to Swizzles, their roosting ground of old which had troubles after a fire started in the Thai restaurant upstairs and was closed down for what felt like an eternity.
The swanky new space-age Swizzles makes one expect a Jetson character to walk in at any moment. Red plastic chairs, square steel looking tables and bright porthole lights plus a hexagonal stage really spruce Swizzles up. Chris of Dog and Pony Sound was there to make all of us sound good as usual.
Margaret MacPherson, the feature, read from her first novel, Released. The book is the story of an abused woman’s life in the north. What impressed me so much about what I heard was MacPherson’s strong skill with dialog and characterization. I was fascinated by her main character as a child and as a twenty something girl and some of the people she encounters in her life: the native girl going to a residence school, the brother who tells her stories about her reptilian teeth as a baby, the sensitive and temperamental poet whose abusive behaviour she runs from.
Macpherson mentioned that she had read to a crowd of two at the National Library on Saturday, thanks to the Senators hockey game. The Dusty Owl audience and crew welcomed her in its usual warm fashion.
The open mic was its standard and unpredictable hodge podge creativity from spoken word anti-male rant to biting satire about the current Canadian political scenario, literary pieces and sound chants. The object of desire was won by Ottawa newcomer, Sam who is here from the University of Victoria. Kinda cool when a new person wins the OoD. And another exciting thing...Keith’s Red on tap!
Dusty Owl will feature Ronnie R. Brown on June 3. I’m very happy to see the Owls back in their rightful nest.
And don’t forget to get thee to a Tree, this Tuesday eve. The feature will be American poet Suzanne Buffam. And then there's Ravenswing's craft and zine fair on the 26th.
I don’t need to tell you to go to the bywords.ca calendar for more events, do I?