amongst books

amongst books

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Queering Up the Festival

Transgress took place last night at the Ottawa International Writers Festival for the second year in a row. Back, this time as a host and a feature was Ivan E. Coyote, who co-hosted with the glamorous and entertaining Mikiki, who prefers to be referred to in the plural rather than as he or she, so that’s what I’ll do. Ivan and Mikiki hosted a fabulous, fast paced show to a packed house. Next year this event needs to go in the auditorium.

Actually I think Transgress should be a twice yearly event and it should be more than just one evening, but a whole week. I don’t think Gareth Kirby of Capital Xtra and James Moran, the organizers of the event, would go for it though. I know they already work hard enough to put this baby on. But while I’m nudging, I’d also like to see the addition of an open mic of some sort, because other events that used to do this are gone or in suspended animation: Dirty Girls organized by Nichole McGill or Talented Tongues, organized by the Capital Poetry Collective. We simply need more opportunities for those transgressors among us to express all of this stuff to those who need to hear it.

Transgress is a chance to celebrate and support acts of transgression by those who daringly live and write outside or at the margins of conventional society to challenge those conventions and very importantly inspire lust, desire and out-of-control anarchistic fervour.

Mikiki set the bar high as far as acts of transgression with their hilarious and provocative descriptions of recipes involving persimmons and truffle oil inserted into the assholes of lovers. Once they had done this, I don’t think anyone in the audience who might have been shocked was going to find the work of the writers shocking after Mikiki’s forays into the scatological. It was an ingenious method of putting everyone at ease. And anyone who felt uncomfortable with hearing about Mikiki dipping fingers into ass and then sniffing them delicately, talk about fisting, PCP and sex with big daddy didn’t belong in that group anyway.

The first reader was Joey Comeau, who with those beautiful blue eyes of his, definitely belongs on my top ten list of sexiest male Canadian writers. After this festival there are at least four of them to add. Yum.

He read from his novel, “Lock Pick Pornography” (Loose Teeth) in which his main character makes crank calls to strangers in order to talk about the complexities of gender, steals tvs from straight neighbourhoods and tells the manager of a McDonalds that coke has made him gay. He also read from a collection of new short stories, which contain letters to companies like Master Card, harassing them for the money they owed.

Next up was the mesmerizing Francisco Ibanez-Carrasco, who opened with a poem, which he read once slowly, his voice like the insistent whisper of a lover and then read again faster, the rhythm like an approaching climax. It was highly erotic.

He read from a futuristic, fanciful story about an epidemic; the story mentions the propagation of sexuality technology, terrorists, the future, an inoculation procedure targeting males of sexual age, youtube turning every channel into a glory hole, sexual repression, circle jerks, a ransacking of souls, sexual apartheid between the infected and the cured. The story may have been new; I’m not sure, but it isn’t in his short story collection “Killing Me Softly Morir Amando” (Suspect Thoughts Press).

He also read from his first novel, “Flesh Wounds and Purple Flowers: the cha-cha years” (Arsenal Pulp Press). I have to say when he read in Spanish it made my nipples hard. Some nights I really wish I was a boy, damn. (See the beautiful photo of Francisco taken by Charles here.)

His writing is intensely lyrical, playful and provocative. He read with the confidence and joy of someone who loves what he’s doing and that joy was infectious.

Ivan E. Coyote was the final reader/performer. Ivan read a bit but mostly looked the audience right in the eye when telling us a story called “Dirty Rotten Cock Knockers,” a really hilarious story about going to an Amsterdam sex shop and knocking over some giant granite phalluses. The other story Ivan performed was about sitting next to a Christian on an airplane, who assumes Ivan is a young, upstanding Christian boy. The Christian attempts to convince the boy to not live in sin with his girlfriend and says Ivan should marry her. The Christian hopes his own son will turn out just like Ivan.
Ivan’s reading ended with joyous hoots and claps of the audience.

I wanted and should have given all three readers and Mikiki a standing ovation. They were all marvelous. Ivan will read from Bow Grip (Arsenal Pulp) at the Relit Awards at the festival on Sunday evening at 8pm.

After the reading, I’m sure more transgressions were committed; perhaps we’ll hear about them next year.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lies With Occasional Truth


the new issue is out. my story "Jesus, Melinda and the Undead" is there for those of you who like blasphemous erotic content and a way off kilter sense of humour.


A Frozen River, Iguanas in Wedding Dresses, Gypsies

Day Two of the Festival on Sunday was jam packed with math tricks, great readings and interviews, wild music to thunder your heart and uproarious belly laughter.

Playwright and mathematician John Mighton gave a brilliant talk on JUMP: Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigy. His book The End of Ignorance provides evidence that any child can become proficient in mathematics. I’ve heard this man speak before and I have to say, as a math disaster in elementary and high school, I found his words to be very inspiring. He shows how building confidence in a child and providing her with guidance, such as showing her the patterns of math, can result in math proficiency. The best part for me was when he showed the pattern in the nine times table. It felt like a poem in its elegant simplicity. If I can be excited about math, anyone can. He made some valid points about the problems with the current curriculum, the hierarchal system of the bell curve lowering teachers’ expectations about how students should do. He didn’t do this in an insulting or critical way; he merely presented the evidence and showed how we can constructively fix the situation. His methods are being used all over the world, and are particularly popular in Vancouver BC and in places in England.The man is a visionary.

In Writing Life 1, hosted by Sean Wilson, Helen Humphreys, Shawna Baldwin Singh, and Richard B. Wright read from their compelling books, followed by a fascinating Q&A session.

I am a big fan of Helen Humphreys, whose novel The Lost Garden is one of my favourites. Her latest book, The Frozen Thames is a collection of 40 little stories about each time the river Thames froze solid. The stories go from 1142 to 1895. The facts are true buts she’s made up the thoughts and feelings. She read three stories: one set in 1309, one in 1608 and one in 1809. The writing, particularly the descriptions of winter, are poetic and beautiful.

Shawna Singh Baldwin, at the festival for the first time, read from her short story collection “We Are Not In Pakistan.” What I really enjoyed about her reading was the humour and her mastery of dialogue. She read from the title story in the collection and pointed out that the word “Pakistan” means the land of the pure. She said that none of us are in the land of the pure anymore. I’ve never read any of her work before, but I plan on doing so.

Richard B. Wright read from his latest novel, October, which is narrated by James Hilyer, a widower and retired professor of Victorian literature. He’s in his 70s and living alone in Toronto. A daughter telephones him to let him know she has a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer, which her mother also died from. He goes to London to visit her. While there he runs into a man he hasn’t seen in sixty years. The meeting releases a flood of memories and unsettles him. In the passage he read, James meets Gabriel outside the Dorchester Hotel.

I found myself feeling very compelled by Wright’s descriptions of London and the way in which he reveals the main character through his relationship to the city and to the characters he interacts with. I’m not surprised that Wright is a Governor General Award and a Giller Prize winner. He’s incredibly skilled. One of my favourite things about the festival is that I discover writers I haven’t yet been exposed to. I’m looking forward to reading Richard B. Wright’s novels.

The next event was the Metcalf – Rooke Award. Pearl has an excellent entry about this over on her blog, so I’m going to not say too much myself.

Kathleen Winter read about an iguana in a wedding dress from BoYs (Biblioasis) and received the Leon-Rooke Award; if you believe John Metcalf, the award was initiated by a book store franchise operation called "Page and Turner" that bounced the first award cheque and disappeared. Metcalf read an excerpt from a new short story that lambastes Alberta and Albertans so strongly, I’m sure their ears are burning...it’s all good satire, um...of course. Leon Rooke read about gypsies with the impromptu musical accompaniment of Glenn Nuotio on keyboards and Patrick DeDauw on cello.

I will comment on the beauty and originality of Glenn Nuotio’s music. He and Patrick sounded ghostly, ethereal. “Drape Me” was an amazing song with poetic lyrics; I’ll share just a brief taste of them for you here:

what if I pulled this sheet down from your head
and told you to take your time,
just listen to my breath?

and the song “City Lights” inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s silent films:

You're softer than gold
but just cold enough

You can hear more of Glenn Nuotio’s music here.

I hope to hear him again soon. It was a gorgeous way to end the night at the second day of the Festival. Check out the Ottawa Poetry Newsletter blog for coverage of poetry events.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Ottawa International Writers Festival Oct 13 – 21

I’m excited about the upcoming festival. For me and many others, the festival is the highlight of an exciting literary season in Ottawa. I come out of the festival, having been introduced to a pile of new writers’ works and often the writers themselves. These writers and thinkers come from all over Canada and the world; sometimes it is a rare opportunity to see and hear them. Ottawa’s own literary community is well represented at the festival each year with events from local reading series, including Bywords and Tree in the fall and the Dusty Owl in the spring. Chaudiere Books is also at the festival in the fall and spring.

I will be blogging some of the poetry events over at the Ottawa Poetry Newsletter. Actually Pearl Pirie and I will be doing some kind of Batman and Robin, dynamic duo thing with the posting of poetry events. Charles will be posting photos and so will John MacDonald, I hope! Maybe you will be blogging about the festival too. Let me know.

We’re lucky in Ottawa to have the force, energy, creativity and drive of the Wilsons and Writers Festival staff and volunteers, who put together not just an amazing writers festival twice a year, but also now yearly events in the realm of literature and ideas.

For a complete list of all events from the literary stuff to big ideas to the kids story telling festival, go to the festival site. Here’s a list of what I’m most looking forward to for the upcoming festival:

October 13 – 8pm
The Lampman-Scott Award for Poetry and the Ottawa City Book Awards
This event kicks off the festival with the first of several awards being hosted at the festival. I can’t tell you who I’m rooting for for both awards (sssshhhh).

Oct 14 – 4pm
The Big Idea: The End Of Ignorance: A New Understanding Of How We Learn
John Mighton in conversation with Shelley Page
I heard this guy read on the CBC and he’s really interesting, specifically his ideas on how to teach math better. As someone who struggled with math throughout school, I am fascinated by this guy’s approach.

Oct 14 – 8pm
The Second Annual Metcalf-Rooke Award
Readings by John Metcalf, Leon Rooke and Kathleen Winter
With music by Glenn Nuotio
It’s not that I’m not looking forward to the readings, but what I am especially looking forward to is hearing Glenn Nuotio perform live. I have missed every single opportunity for various lame reasons until now. Also I am in very interested in Kathleen Winter’s book of stories boYs (Biblioasis).

Oct 15-6pm
George Elliott Clarke reads from his new long poem "Trudeau: Long March, Shining Path"(Gaspereau Press). His readings are the most invigorating and provocative of all the readers I’ve heard at the festival. He has a grace and mischievousness that makes him a crowd pleaser.

Oct 15-8:30 pm
the Bywords John Newlove Poetry Award Reading
I’m hosting and promise to be distractingly attractive...(blush, blush), but more importantly we get to hear Roland Prevost launch his chapbook MetaFizz, which the Bywords team has been working on with him for the nine months. And of course, you will find out who George Elliott Clarke, our judge this year, selected as winner and honourable mentions.

Oct 16-8:30 pm
The Tree Reading Series Presents: Madness, Identity And Repression
Readings by Marilyn Bowering, Mary Borsky and Nadine McInnis
On-stage conversation with Rhonda Douglas
I have Mary Borsky’s short story collection, “Cobalt Blue” (Thomas Allen) and I have yet to crack open the spine. I’m interested to hear Rhonda’s questions.

Oct 17-1pm
Secrets Of The Writing Life With Michael Winter and David Gilmour
A rare weekday event...yay! I’ve read bits and pieces of Michael Winter’s “The Big Why” (House of Anansi Press, 2004 and have kind of been following his newest book, “The Architects Are Here” (Penguin Books Canada) on Facebook. David Gilmour is a witty and provocative interviewer, as well as being a first-rate novelist; and no he didn’t play guitar for Pink Floyd. His book the Film Club (Thomas Allen) sounds fascinating (he’ll read from it at 7pm)

Oct 18-6pm
Sitcom With David McGimpsey
Every time I hear this man read his poetry I collapse into paroxysms of laughter; he’s also reading as part of Plan 99 on October 27 (after the small press fair!) with fellow Coach House authors Jessica Westhead, Cara Hedley and Sarah Lang, so if you can’t see him here, go there. Go to both.

Oct 18-8:30pm
Poetry Cabaret
Readings by Stephen Brockwell, Rob Winger and John Pass
On-stage conversation with David O’Meara
I am particularly excited to hear Stephen read from his new book: The Real Made Up (ECW Press) and having devoured and enjoyed Rob Winger’s poetry collection, Muybridge’s Horse (Nightwood Editions), I am looking forward to seeing how he reads it and which parts he chooses to read. David always asks great questions also.

Oct 19-8:30pm
Capital Xtra's Transgress
Featuring Francisco Ibanez-Carrasco, Joey Comeau and Ivan E. Coyote
Hosted by Mikiki and Ivan E. Coyote
I love Ivan E. Coyote. I’ve read all her books and have her audio CD "You're A Nation" also. She's one of the best story tellers I've ever heard and I like her tell it like it is style. It's cool that she's writer in residence at Carleton this year. I enjoyed Joey Comeau’s Lock Pick Pornography (Loose Teeth Press, 2005) and am looking forward to hearing him read from his new book: It’s "Too Late To Say I’m Sorry" (Loose Teeth Press). Marcus tells me I will love Francisco Ibanez-Carrasco, whose first book, “Flesh Wounds and Purple Flowers: the cha cha years” (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2001” was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. I have to say his book of stories “Killing Me Softly: Morir Amando” (Suspect Thoughts Press, 2005) sounds like it’s right up my alley...something about genre blending, rough trade and mixing prim with grim. Yay! He’s exactly my age too :) The last author I meant born in the same year as me was Simon Armitage. This is a wonderful event. Now if only they had Patrick Califia come read, my world would be complete.

Oct 20-8pm
The Writing Life #3
Reading by Helen Oyeyemi, Gil Adamson and Frances Itani
On-stage conversation with Sarah Dearing
I am excited about hearing Gil Adamson read from her novel “The Outlander” (Anansi); I loved her poetry book “Ashland” (ECW Press, 2006) and thought that when she came to read (Poetry 101/Factory Reading Series, Gallery 101...not sure when that was) that she would do well with fiction. She has an amazing imagination.

Oct 21-2pm
The Life And Poetry Of John Newlove
Documentary Film and Book Launch with Robert McTavish
Hosted by rob mclennan
I am very excited to finally be seeing this documentary, which was already shown last year on some tv network called Bravo, which I think means, not basic cable. Also wonderful is that Chaudiere Books has published a new selected of Newlove’s poetry: “A Long Continual Argument: The Selected Poems of John Newlove.” I will be interested to see which poems were chosen and I will be comparing it with “Apologies for Absence” (Porcupine’s Quill, 1993) for fun. Yes, I am a nerd.

Oct 21: 6pm
Real Fiction:
Where Characters Live When You're Not Reading
Jasper Fforde in conversation with Sean Wilson
I haven’t read Fforde’s books, but Kate, festival staffer and Dusty Owler, says he’s amazing....I want to see for myself. I know his website is really cool.

2007 Relit Awards: Ideas Not Money
Readings by Bill Gaston, Daniel Scott Tysdal and Ivan E. Coyote
Hosted by Kenneth J. Harvey
Apparently this awards ceremony is usually held on the shore in Newfoundland amidst bonfires and no doubt a fair amount of Screech. Maybe the scene will be recreated...or at least the Screech part. The festival begins with and ends with awards.

It’s too bad we don’t have an award to give to the Ottawa International Writers Festival; it truly deserves one plus millions of dollars and rose petals thrown at the feet of the organizers.

The festival awaits! Buy your tickets, get your passes, hussle your buns and get thee to the festival.

Disclaimer: the writer of this blog makes no claim of accuracy, intelligence or thoroughness and is probably missing a whack of good stuff that she will discover in the course of the festival or you will tell her about over drinks, which you will buy.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

book meme

from Pearl

Total number of books owned ...um..i read, am not good with math.

Last book bought – Nicole Brossard’s Notebook of Roses and Civilization, translated by Robert Majzels and Erin Moure (Coach House Books, 2007-bought this morning)

Last book read – i’m halfway thru reading the above for the first time. before that, Lisa Jarnot’s The Iliad: Book XXII: The Death of Hector (Bookthug, 2007; actually a resurrection –original limited edition published by Atticus / Finch, 2006)

Five books which mean a lot to you

1. Robertson Davies – Fifth Business – taught me i wanted to write fiction; the man could spin a story.

2. Nathalie Stephens – Je Nathanael – showed me that genre labelling is about as important as gender labelling, which is to say not at all.

3. The Story of O – Pauline Reage – made me realize a lot about myself and my nature.

4. Elizabeth Smart – By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept – another genre bender. is it poetry, is it prose? who gives a rat’s ass. and it’s cool that Ms. Smart was an Ottawa resident, lived a romantic and scandalous life.(Rosemary Sullivan’s bio of her: By Heart, is good)

5. Gwendolyn MacEwen – Volume One, The Early Years – awoke me to the power and beauty of contemporary poetry (and I loved Rosemary Sullivan’s bio of her, Shadow Maker, too).

( i know this isn’t really part of the meme, but Pearl had it, so i’ll add it as a separate question):

Am I attached or loyal or keen on a particular book that moved me or shaped me or was a guidebook or that I became an evangelist for that I would want everyone to read? What about more recently?

Living Juicy by SARK – reminds me all the time to live in the moment, to make each moment count, to seek love and loving people.

The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities by Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt is a book i recommend almost as much as When Someone You Love Is Kinky by the same authors. If you’re considering non monogamous relationships or are in one and want some non judgemental guidelines, read the former; if you’re trying to help a loved one understand your sexual nature, opt for the latter.

anyone else want to climb on board the meme? Marcus? Megan?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Terry Ann Carter is committing Random Acts of Poetry from Oct 1-7, 2007

Random Acts of Poetry, a celebration of poetry and literacy, begins its fourth year during the week of October 1st to 7th, 2007. Random Acts of Poetry is a project of the Victoria READ Society, a non-profit literacy organization, established in 1976. Random Acts of Poetry is funded by The Canada Council for the Arts.

During the week, 37 poets across Canada, from Victoria to Newfoundland, including three of Canada’s Poets Laureate, will commit Random Acts of Poetry in their cities. On buses and subways, in donut shops and cafes, police stations, grocery stores, shelters, curling rinks, on city streets and country lanes, poets will read poems to strangers and give them their books. Poets will also read their poems in ESL and Adult Literacy classes across the country.

Ottawa’s Random Acts of Poetry poet is Terry Ann Carter, author of two books of poetry, haiku enthusiast (winning several international awards and participating in the Basho festival in Japan, 2004), community organizer and founder of two writing groups. Terry Ann will be hitting the streets and bus stops, shopping malls, hair salons, Parliament Hill and public libraries during the week of Oct 1st – 7th . A literacy/poetry workshop is scheduled for ALSO (Alternative Styles and Outlooks) at Heartwood House, 153 Chapel Street, Thursday afternoon, Oct. 4th from 1:00 – 3:00 pm. More about Terry Ann at http://national-random-acts-of-poetry.blogspot.com

“Poetry,” says Wendy Morton, “is the shortest distance between two hearts. I have read poems to people who hadn’t heard a poem in thirty years, and watched their eyes fill up with tears. Some burst into laughter or laid a hand on my shoulder, hugged me, took my hand. Poetry can connect us with each other as humans as no other art form I know. Poetry is a gift that we can create from whatever life has in store for us.”

Across Canada poets will commit random acts in: Victoria, Vancouver, Nanaimo, Kelowna, Calgary, Edmonton, Moose Jaw, Winnipeg, Stratford, Markdale, Brantford, Toronto, Collingwood, Ottawa, Windsor, Hamilton, Montreal, Fredericton, Sackville, Saint John, Charlottetown, Halifax, Antigonish, St. John’s.

Contacts:
Terry Ann Carter 613 – 820 – 7734
tacarter@rogers.com

Citizen’s Hit List Misses Poetry

Every year the Ottawa Citizen, like other newspapers, puts out a list of fall books coming out. This year they did so this Sunday and called it: "Hit List of Required Reading." And every year, we see in all of these papers, a lack of content for poetry. The Globe and the National Post also put out their lists this weekend. Two out of three papers mentioned Margaret Atwood’s new poetry collection but nothing else. Considering that a new selected of bpNichol’s poems comes out this fall from Coach House Books, George Elliott Clarke has a new long poem about Pierre Elliott Trudeau through Gasperau Press and there are countless other books of poetry being launched this fall, I find this lack of coverage to be unacceptable.

Here’s a small list of poetry to be launched or just recently launched by current or former Ottawans:

Stephen Brockwell, the real made up (ECW Press);
George Elliott Clarke: Trudeau, Long March, Shining Path (Gasperau Press);
Nadine McInnis, Two Hemispheres (Brick Books);
Colin Morton, the Cabbage of Paradise (Seraphim Editions);
John Newlove, A Long Continual Argument: The Selected Poems of John Newlove (Chaudiere Books).

Canadian poetry publishers work tirelessly to publish, promote and get poetry books sold. This task is Herculean, faced with the neglect of the Canadian media toward poetry.

A newspaper’s job is to publish what is of interest to its readers. If you are disappointed by the lack of coverage of poetry in the Ottawa Citizen, it’s up to you to let them know. Send a letter to the editor: letters@thecitizen.canwest.com.

If you live in Toronto or another city where the papers don't give a rat’s ass about poetry and have chosen not to cover the new titles coming out from your area's writers, voice your opinion. Write a letter, write something in your blog and speak out.