October 21, 2013
It was nippy out but temperatures hadn't yet gone below zero. There's something about venturing out in the cold to attend a poetry reading that always feels magical to me. I bundle up; I am often alone with my thoughts before and after to contemplate the words I am about to hear and have heard.
Upstairs at the Carleton Tavern, site of rob mclennan's Factory Reading Series, the features were three American poets on a small tour through parts of Canada and the USA: DJ Dolack. Paige Ackerson-Kiely and Kate Greenstreet. Young Tambling is the name of Kate's current book, hence the tour name. Tambling or Tam Lin is the name of a character in a Scottish ballad who, in some versions, is rescued by his true love from the Queen of the Faeries. Who takes the virginity of young maids in the woods. There was something of a fairy tale atmosphere at the reading that night. I wore red. I dropped my glove. It was picked up by a handsome prince. In a cottage by the woods…no, it was the Carleton Tavern in an Ottawa enclave.
For those of you who do not live in Ottawa or for those of you in Ottawa who haven't yet had the chance to experience a Factory Reading Series event, let me describe the environment for you: the Carleton Tavern is one of those rare old establishments that serves Labatts Blue and Molson Export in quarts. Some of the servers have coin belts on their pants to make change. Because people there still pay in cash. I see an elderly woman there every time I go. She's alone, sipping a pint, watching the hockey on the big screen tv.
The Carleton Tavern has been a neighbourhood fixture for eons, back in the days when we used to call that part of town Mechanicsville owing to its blue collar population, rather than Hintonburg or Wellington West, as the realtors say. It's a bar with a big heart. There's an annual xmas dinner for those in need, theatre productions, live music, knitting circles and at one point, a swingers' club met there for pre-hook up convo. The pizza is delicious, the smoked meat comes from Montreal and upstairs behind an unmarked door near the phone booths, on occasional Friday or Saturday nights before the downstairs gets lively with the latest cover band, rob mclennan runs the Factory Reading Series.
FRS is an informal series with no stage and no microphones. (Although that night, Kate brought her own sound system.) Featured readers stand as close to the audience as they want and preferably at a safe distance from the dart board. Audience members sit in rickety wooden chairs that are likely older than most of us. Sometimes the booze comes to you, other times you have to make your way down the narrow flight of stairs to get your own. Guinness, alas, comes in a can.
FRS has a varied roster of readers, mostly poets, sometimes local, but more often than not out-of-towners who rob has published via above/ground press. Thanks to rob's excellent promotion, they end up wanting to visit our small berg and read here. It was through FRS that I first heard and met Kate Greenstreet and her delightfully supportive husband, filmmaker, graphic designer, renaissance man, and right hand man, Max Greenstreet back in 2007. I also met Paige Ackerson-Kiely when she came to town for an FRS talk a few years ago as part of a VERSeFest fundraiser. I had never met or heard DJ Dolack before, but I certainly enjoyed meeting him and hearing him read this time around.
It's months later, so I guess I don't remember verbatim or even close what everybody read, but I remember the congenial spirit of the reading, the warmth and rapport of the readers.
DJ Dolak read from his book, "Whittling A New Face in the Dark" (Black Ocean, 2013). The work is minimal. thoughtful and yes, somewhat wry. I do like my wry. He's one of those poets who likes to tell stories surrounding his poems. And he's good at it. I remember one concerning living above --I think it was a sausage making business--and having to explain the smell of sausage to his parents.
His poems about New York were exotic to me and at the same time funny. He had the level of absurdity I associate with a Stuart Ross poem or a Gary Barwin poem. He used some reversal techniques I've also observed from Canada's Jason Heroux. "A word falls because I ask of it. [...] The world has been given its fair chance to avoid us." [NYC Postcards]. There was a warmth to the poetry and to his reading.
The work is also keenly observational. Like watching a film in slow motion. Some of the many memorable lines from his reading: "I love you/how the elderly love bakeries,//in the way they say cake." [What They Want Me To Tell You]; "What it's like to know/your monster/doesn't give a fuck. [...]Sometimes the metaphor/is too good--//So much that it becomes expensive://the ambulance//spinning its weight/in the mud//while the body bleeds out." [For: Never Young].
Paige Ackerson-Kiely has friends in Ottawa and many of them attended the reading. I'm always amazed at what a small world we live in. Paige first intrigued me with her above/ground press chapbook, "Book About A Candle Burning in A Shed" 2011, and then continued to intrigue me when she talked at the FRS lecture series about her interest in Admiral Richard E. Byrd and the subsequent book she wrote, "My Love is a Dead Arctic Explorer" (Ahsahata Press, 2012). This is also what she read from. She may have also read from her other book, "In No One's Land" (Ahsahata, 2006) or that may be wishful thinking on my part.
Paige is a mesmerizing reader, still & quiet, allowing the words to sink in. The piece that has stayed with me over the winter is the one page prose poem, "Lake Effect:" "You're at the bar again, trawling. The net of your eye catches the man in a wheelchair, sitting next to you. Forget pity, it's for the full-bellied. Forget how the northern Lake conceals not only fish, but also trash, petty currents, your foot in the mud sinking lower…" The imagery of this poem moves me still.
Before the readings, I had the fortune to talk a bit to Kate and to her husband, Max, who asked me a series of questions about four things I couldn't do without. I later discovered that Max had created "My Own Eyes" a wonderful short film for Kate's last book, the Last Four Things. It was all part of the magic of the night.
Kate gave an enchanting and compelling performance from "Young Tambling" (Ahsahta Press, 2013). She didn’t so much read from the book as flip through it and riff off of it. She has an artist's way of looking at the world: close up, from different angles. The book is part fairy tale, part poetic memoir. There's an innocence, a kind of child-like naiveté to Kate's writing, partially because the speaker's memories of childhood are there, but also because of the way Kate observes things: "Not a paper frontier. The world/reflected in the place you are,//something you need to see that you cannot see directly." ["unshot"]; "A shadow broke the light beneath the door." ["open voicings"]; "My room had a counter running the length of one wall--I loved this counter, the top was red linoleum. I used it mainly as a place to build small shrines." "I am sending you a book that might be useful./Red is the devil. Gold is God."
One of the images that stays with me from Kate's reading is the long sequence about a deer. I am in no way doing the piece justice by excerpting a small portion here…:
"I was outside and inside at the same time. We were all sitting at a table, in a way, but we were also out on the street and there was a dead deer in the street. I went over to it and sat down on the curb. The deer lifted himself then, his bloody head and all, into my lap. I didn't know what to do. He seemed to be talking to me, in a language I couldn't understand. "
On the inside cover of the book, there is a tracing of Kate's hand. When Kate signed her book for me, she made an outline of my own hand on the left-hand page across from her own. Our hands were almost a perfect match. There are people whose world you simply must be part of. I felt that way that night, about Kate and Max, especially.
"--Do you think of poetry as useful?
--Yes, it has been to me.
--Tell me some of the ways it has been useful to you personally.
--It makes me feel that being human is a good thing. Being human, and even just being the way I am..I'm not completely alone."
A lot of people wonder what the point of going to a reading is. The standard response is that it's a chance to hear the writer's work in her own words and that's true enough, but for me, what is more important is achieving a connection with kindreds, as I did that night. Also, I should say that this reading was my favourite of 2013.