amongst books

amongst books

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ottawa Sneezers - achoo for the arts

Ottawasneezers.com is a new site with a funny name to help promote the arts in Ottawa. Sterling Lynch, the creator of the site says: “A ‘sneeze’ is your personal and passionate recommendation about Ottawa and the arts. Share your sneeze with us and we’ll spread the good word to as many other Ottawa arts sneezers as possible. Every sneeze we receive will be posted to the site. The very best sneezes will be included in The Ottawa Arts Newsletter.”

This is a new opportunity to promote and raise awareness about the dynamic arts and cultural community that is Ottawa. So send info about upcoming events you’re excited about, send him positive reviews of events, info on local books and everything to do with the literary community. The key is to write short, punchy little pieces that grab people’s attention, not some long-winded treatise.

You can e-mail Sterling at sterling at ottawasneezers dot com

The more opportunities we have to promote literary readings, book signings, out-of-town author appearances, etc, the more authors will want to come to Ottawa and the more we’ll have good turn outs at our events. So don’t waste this opportunity.

Friday, October 29, 2010

writing, rejection and that damn Gremlin


lots of work sent out and rejected of late. i write to write but i share to share. i want to share work that connects with at least one other human being. lately i’ve been playing around with prose poems with more than my usual narrative thread. perhaps i am not pushing them far enough. perhaps they could be more compelling, more surprising. i’ll definitely work on that.

i remind myself that finding a publication match is not unlike finding a love match. it’s a shot in the dark. sometimes there’s just no chemistry. do you change yourself to fit with expectations of what a potential love might want or do you try to find someone who loves you for who you are?

i’d rather find the right fit and make reasonable changes based on a good editor’s advice.

to a certain extent being obscure is very freeing. you can write whatever the hell you want and never hear a negative word about it; however, i want work i write to be out in the world and i want people to critically engage with it.

not everything. some of my poems and fiction out there are such raging howlers and probably more will be in the future. but i have to set aside my ego. so i tried something and it failed. that’s life. to fail is not as bad as to not try, no? others might find something in my failure to inspire their own writing and make something better. that’s the duende for you.

i also enjoy reading my stuff in public, something i’ve barely done this year. it’s another form of connection with people and it helps me to improve. i like reading current and older work too. i learn a lot from it. i also like hearing others read.

at times i’m weirded out by what others see as prize-worthy or laudable writing. i’m not one to put a creative person on a pedestal and i dislike general statements that involve the word should. i prefer to approach the work, my own and others, humbly and with respect. i prefer it when the work determines the voice, style, tone, form etc rather than any preconceived plan or opinion of mine.

sometimes after i’ve said something daft like “I don’t like end rhyme” I’ll suddenly have a voice that wants to be articulated as a Petrarchan sonnet. do you remember that episode of Twilight Zone where a passenger on a plane looks out the window and sees a Gremlin breaking off bits of the wing? that’s what writing is like for me. anytime i have an idea or some preconceived notion, that Gremlin comes along and takes a chunk out of my work. it’s a good thing, even if it’s unsettling.

i don’t want to please everyone with my writing, but i want someone to feel something, to be captivated, to be stirred, to have it provoke a thought or an emotion or inspiration for their own poetry, songs, stories, art, photography, etc.

once in a while someone has been inspired by a line, an image, a poem or a story of mine to use it as an inspiration for their own work and that’s the best response, in my opinion. so if my work isn’t out there; if i’m not reading in public, it can’t be used in that way. and that bugs me.

so these days i’m keeping a low profile. not necessarily by choice, but it doesn’t stop me from writing or sending stuff out. even if i may wince a wee bit when a rejection arrives in my in box. that damn Gremlin is smirking too much lately.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Playlist for the Writers Festival

if you can think of other songs about writing, books, specific writers and the like, chip in please.

this list was gleaned from memory and the interweb.

playlist for the Ottawa International Writers Festival

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Rant: Peformers' Drone

Attention all writers who are performing your work for an audience: please avoid the performance drone. The drone is characterized by work that is unfit for the stage and read in a monotone voice without engaging with your audience in any way, never making eye contact, not taking breaths except when you’re dying from lack of oxygen and reading long passages about nature a la Thomas Hardy.

Here are some tips to make my experience (and others) as audience members more interesting:

1. Just read in a conversational style, like you were talking to your best friend or your grandma, not like you’re lecturing to students. Even if there’s a podium, don’t make a speech. Vary your pitch and volume.

2. Reread your work ahead of time and choose work that will capture the audience’s attention; this means variation in rhythm, good punchy sentences, lots of concrete action and dialogue rather than abstract narrative.

3. Prepare beforehand: read your work aloud; change words you stumble over, edit out the boring bits. If you find the work isn’t compelling when you are reading it aloud to yourself, guess what? Neither will the audience.

4. Don’t get melodramatic on stage; you are not an actor; don’t scream, honk, cry etc unless you’re a sound poet.

5. Don’t read one long monolithic block of text. Divide your reading material up into chunks of about three minutes. Read little bits from different sections of your novel or short story, excerpt from a long poem, a few short poems. The rule of three works for some reason. 3 pieces, 3 paragraphs, 3 poems. Audiences like threes.

6. Don’t read anything that requires a long introduction. Rule of thumb, especially addressed to poets: if the intro is longer than the poem, choose something different. If a poem requires that much explanation, it’s not going to grab your audience.

7. I know you’re scared to death up there, but try to enjoy yourself. Smile. We love you. You know we do. We’re just waiting for the chance to become your groupies. Savour the moment of this performance; you’ll never have it again.


If anyone has any other tips on performance, please share them. Writers need help with this big time. And we audience members will thank you.

Monday, October 18, 2010

small press fair bounty – an incomplete list

these are not movies, screenplays for films that will never be made, ed Adam Thomlinson. those of you who are as old and gap toothed as i am may remember the little big books--stories like Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth in appetizing fat wee books perfect for small hands...the book reminded me of such. there are stories and comix by mostly Ottawa locals with a few guests. So far I have enjoyed the satirical mockery of Thomlinson’s introduction in which he confesses his love for Lethal Weapon films and his Note on the Type, in which we learn that one page of courier formatted script is supposed to be about one minute of screen time, but in this book the math doesn’t quite work out because “we are writers and we are just playing with things…” This shall become my mantra. I am about to delve into Megan Butcher’s “The Lesbian and Larry Boone’s Daughter. I try to pick up Thomlinson’s indie publications at every small press fair because that’s the only place i’ve ever seen them. i also highly recommend his book “We Were Writers for Disastrous Love Affairs.” The man takes the tense out of pretense. and the pretentiousness out of it too.

Barely Their is a gorgeous little full colour chapbook which was sold by Pearl Pirie and features work by those who participated in a recent reading at the Blink Gallery in September. it’s a great opportunity to read work by local writers whose work i haven’t seen much in print, such as L.M. Rochefort as well as a few more publically prolific poets. (alliteration intended)…there are some fine couplets by Sean Moreland, in a piece called “park & locks, blue in green recall” with a few lines that gave me poem shiver, such as “we/sleep rivet-stiff, restless as young rivers”. i’d like to start a poem with that myself…

Sweet and Sour Nothings, William Hawkins (Apt. 9 Press) is a book that somehow slipped through the cracks of Hawkins’ publishing career, being published only as part of an anthology and not receiving any notice. One thing I didn’t buy alas was the Wm. Hawkins Folio which was a folder filled with really neat colour posters that I wouldn’t mind having, but am not so serious a collector that I can justify the cost, well-deserved though it was. It was lovely to see Mr. Hawkins walking about the fair. I am sure he must have been well pleased at seeing his work so lovingly and beautifully published by Apt. 9. I open the first page of Sweet and Sour Nothings and am already happy as I read: “I see an adjectival world/And I consider all/ nouns improper.” Oh this is going to be fun…

eating thistles, Peter Gibbon (Apt. 9 Press). there is something sweetly humble about this work at times both lovelorn and lyric. the opening lines of “Broke” grabbed me: “the plum trees/in our backyard have tumours.” or “As Is”: “there is a drunk inside/getting used to me again”. Peter leaves Ottawa soon to return to his Souwesto roots. he shall be missed.

the Grunge Papers (aka Grant Wilkins): beautiful hand made paper and a great discussion about how much fun it is to do things by hand instead of just pressing print. i mentioned double entry accounting in a ledger, the use of my fountain pen to create visual poems, Grant talked about the processes involved in creating paper. i have five sheets to fondle and ultimately put words or something…again no place else to get these than the fair, as far as i know.

Strange Things: Scenes from a Balcony is a graphic comic by local Colin White who says “These comix were written and drawn in the spring and summer of 2010, in Ottawa, Canada, usually between the hours of 1 and 3 a.m.” this appeals to me for some reason...i also have a balcony and have written a song called “I am in love with my balcony.” sometimes a small element of commonality is all i need to be convinced i should buy something at the fair.

more of my fall subscription from Book Thug including Stanzas by Stephen Cain; Recipes from the Red Planet by Meredith Quartermain; Cop Kisser by Steven Zultanski, The Occasional Troubadour by Victor Coleman; Fieldnotes, a forensic by Kate Eichhorn. I haven’t done so much as fondled the covers on these yet, but they will serve me well when i am recuperating from an impending surgery sometime in the next year…

this time around i didn’t buy anything from Chaudiere, Rm 302 Books and quite a few other vendors, but there’s always next spring. i have my eye on a few things, she says, feeling like Molière’s miser…or perhaps Gollum from LOR...

Friday, October 15, 2010

47 songs for my 47th birthday

here’s music to celebrate my birthday; some of it is hokey, much of it is older than me, (ok some of it is older than me…). turn out the lights, close your eyes, have a wee dram of the good stuff and let’s dance…

here's the link to the youtube playlist

Warren Zevon – Back in the High Life Again
Aerosmith – I don’t want to miss a thing
David Bowie – Sound and Vision
Bob Dylan – Forever Young
Neko Case – Don’t Forget Me
the Heartless Bastards – Could be so happy
Tom Waits – Sea of Love
Joni Mitchell – Court and Spark
the Beatles – In my life
Lou Reed – Perfect Day
Lucinda Williams – Side of the road
Laura Marling – Crawled out of the sea
John Lee Hooker – Spellbound
Andy Stochansky – House of Gold
Elvis Costello – She
Eric Clapton – Wonderful Tonight
Iggy Pop – Lust for Life
the Pogues – A Pair of Brown Eyes
Van Morrison – Brown Eyed Girl
UB40 – Red, Red Wine
the Kinks – Don’t Forget to Dance
Nina Simone – Wild is the wind
Edith Piaf – Non, je ne regrette rien
Roger Daltrey – Without Your Love
Hawksley Workman – Piano Blink
Maria McKee – If love is a red dress…
Ron Sexsmith – God Loves Everyone
the Troggs – Wild Thing
the Hollies – the Air that I breathe
Tom Petty – Free Falling
the Clash – Rock the Casbah
the Talking Heads – Wild, Wild Life
Tim Buckley – Sing a song for you
Suzanne Vega – Tom’s Diner
Ridley Bent – Suicide Winder
the Dixie Chicks – Not Ready to Make Nice
Brandi Carlisle – the Story
Dusty Springfield – the Look of Love
Etta James – At Last
Shonen Knife – Top of the World
Billy Idol – Rebel Yell
Annie Lennox – Keep Young and Beautiful
Bruce Springsteen – All or nothing at all
Cat Power – Free
the Velvet Underground – Sweet Jane
Cheap Trick – I want you to want me

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word

i spent the afternoon at the first event of the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word. It was the Last Chance Slam, giving a group of 12 performers the chance to compete for 5 positions, I believe) on a team.

i went primarily in memory of friend and spoken word performer, Steve Sauvé, whose birthday is today and who died a year ago January. i also went because i thought i needed to open my mind. this is the first time in a number of years that this festival has been held in Ottawa and i thought it would be a chance for me to reacquaint myself with a genre that i had found not to my taste ten years ago and never explored since.

i disqualified myself as judge based on the idea that if they didn’t want judges who had slept with any of the competitors, they probably wouldn’t want judges who wanted to sleep with a few of the competitors either.

i was impressed by a number of the performers: the word play of Kevin Matthews, in particular, the imagery of Festrell (Faye Estrella, the love of Steve’s life), the humour of some of the performers and their intense emotion. All of the competitors brought heart to their performance and had the courage of their convictions. some of the performers had as fine a sense of pacing, pitch and tone as many sound poets i’ve heard.

yes, some things i really didn’t enjoy. i have to say that i find the idea of judging creative work doesn’t appeal to me, not like this, not where random people are picked from the audience and the scores are so arbitrary. but why not? right now i’m waiting and interested to know the results of the Mann Booker prize. i watched the Olympics this year and rooted for specific athletes. i’m not sure why, but i did find myself squirming in my seat about the judging and the pressure from the audience. no judge gave lower than an 8 and when they gave out any eights they were booed.

some of the performers used the opportunity for a cathartic therapy session and i wanted to nod and stroke my beard. and i don’t have a lot of patience for young girls complaining about being hit on by old men. not their faults, but that was the only part of the show where i felt my cliché senses tingling. but then those senses get a fine work out with my own poetry and most open mics in town.

i was squeamish about the evangelical feeling, peer pressuryness of it, when the host had everyone raise their fists for each performer and shout “Raise It” to show their support. i like the idea of showing support, but that felt kind of creepy cultish to me. that’s me. i don’t respond well to group pressure. i don’t wear a specific colour to support a cause, even when i believe in that cause. i won’t rabbit out a status update on fb for awareness of breast cancer, etc…

when Faye performed a piece she dedicated to Steve, about removing one’s armour, I had to dig around in my purse for a Kleenex for a while. the most beautiful part of the experience for me was seeing a group of young people respond to the performers, (and it was mostly young people. (i was likely the oldest there…well, me, the CBC cameraman and someone’s mom…). the audience found the performances compelling and they sustained their attention.

i watched the audience being moved by the performers and their pieces. moved by the compassion, the humour and the word play. the kids snapped their fingers when a particular turn of phrase or image struck their fancy. and i’ve rarely seen performances with such heart. these days i am looking for more heart, more display of feeling rather than less.

the Festival is on today until October 16. go with an open mind and check it out.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

CKCU Funding Drive & Indie Radio

hi all,

i urge you to donate money to support CKCU, the home of Literary Landscapes, Friday Special Blend, the Third World Players and other excellent indie radio shows. I'm so glad these shows that highlight and promote Ottawa's rich literary culture exist.

you can fill out the pledge form here

CHUO also has great arts and cultural programs such as Mitchell Caplan's Click Here and John Akpata's Monday Night Scribes. although i don't believe they are doing their funding drive now. you can still donate.

both of these indie stations play great music too.

and also there are great shows covering the literary scene in other towns:

Jeffrey Mackie on Montreal's CKUT's Tuesday Morning After

and probably a bunch i'm forgetting about. listen to the shows and if you know of other great radio programs that promote the lit scene, let me know.