amongst books

amongst books

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Mayworks-Poetry of Work

Last night in a lounge in City Hall, thanks to Councillor Clive Doucet. What a perfect place for a reading. The acoustics were excellent and the view of Ottawa's skyline outstanding. The poets read against the backdrop of the setting sun. Readers included Clive Doucet, Susan McMaster, Colin Morton, John Bagnall, Ronnie Brown and T. Anders Carson. Highlights of the evening included the story poems of Morton, Brown's inclusion of the work of women and children: little girl models and hookers, and Carson's poignant truth telling on the state of the world. The turn out was excellent, and considering all the other National Poetry Month events going on last night, that was a surprise. The old addage "no jazz on Tuesdays, no poetry on Fridays" didn't apply last night. The chips and goldfish crackers were a salty finish too. Apparently the writers went to two or three coffee shops that day also, but that wasn't advertised. The philosophy was to bring poetry to the people, and as Brown described it, once "the people" discovered that poetry was being read, they were like deer caught in headlights. As a "person" who loves any opportunity to hear good writers, I thought not advertising the appearances was a sad, and unnecessary mistake. I would have liked to have seen "the people's" reactions. Not to mention an opportunity to hear more from these writers. Some of them, such as Carson, read rarely in Ottawa. And with the fire and passion that he puts into his reading, missing an opportunity to hear him read is just dumb.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Lampman Awards Shortlist

Last night at Mother Tongue Books. I enjoyed it, but as always as much as I adore MTB, it's a terrible place for a reading. Doors are supposed to open at 7 pm, but arriving at 7 means sitting in the back on stools. It's hot and it's hard to hear. Every year I make the mistake of taking "doors open at 7 pm" literally.
I'm very familiar with the works of three out of the four shortlisted, and I wish all four writers the best, but I find it odd and objectionable that rob mclennan is not on the list. In 2004, rob had two books published: stone, book one (Palimpseet Press) and what's left (Talon Books). I have to admit to being a fan of rob's work, so perhaps I'm biassed, but to me, the poems in these two collections are strong, skilfully written and memorable. As was Paper Hotel which came out a few years ago.I realize there are many talented writers in Ottawa, but I have to wonder why someone who writes poems as moving, as minimal as this one from stone, book one wouldn't be on the short list(and forgive my lack of proper formatting, buy the book):

the only serious border

taken down a path. the storys here, if you can tell.
its not how you leave life, but how

you live, the sunlight streaming in, despite the show
of clouds, she said yes. in the dried out plains.

a treeline has its shape of stones. of open gaps. a
space in the fence to squeeze through. for those

who want a shortcut from the road.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

A bit of French

This is a really great blog for folks wanting to keep up their knowledge of some of the issues facing the French language:

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Once more into the book bag

Rainy weekends are perfect for reading. I recently picked up several novels from the Book Bazar, one of Ottawa's best used book stores for fiction. The Vintner's Luck, by New Zealand writer Elizabeth Knox, is set in France during the time of Napoleon. It's about a vintner who meets a fallen angel and has a secret affair. The writer's imagination is incredible and her use of language is poetic.

At the same time, I've been reading bp nichol's The Martyrology (well the first one). The man's creativity, wise maxims and simple use of language are highly inspiring. It's a reminder that anything is possible in poetry.

Coach House Books has the books on line:

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Friday, April 22, 2005

Writers Fest-Thursday

Lots of stuff. The two writers who pierced through my short attention span were short story writer and novelist, Hiromi Goto and poet Erik Lindner.

Hiromi read a short story from her collection, Hopeful Monsters. It was a story about breast feeding: both humourous and horrid at the same time. Unlike some writers, she knew very well how to choose a piece to read at an event of this nature. It's a skill to keep an audience interested, and just because someone is a good writer doesn't make him a good performer or good at knowing which of his pieces he should read. Hirmoi is a good performer. I bought her book, and am looking forward to reading it.

Melanie Little was the moderator of this Writing Life segment and she asked the question writers hate: how can you tell when you're writing a novel and a short story? Hiromi answered honestly, saying that for her when the piece stops at around the 50 page mark, it's a short story. Makes it all seem pretty obvious.

Melanie also wanted to discuss Hiromi's use of monsters in her work. Hiromi talked about how much more terrifying Japanese monsters were to her, growing up. She's read tales from around the world both as a child and as an adult. She harkened back to Wuthering Heights or Frankenstein when she said, "the monster is us. we're the monster." I look forward to reading her work.

In the poetry cabaret, the most noteworthy writer for me was Erik Lindner of the Netherlands. He read his poems in his native language and David O'Meara, the host, read each poem afterward in English. I loved hearing Erik's language and his beautiful voice, which reminded me of water gurgling beneath the ice. His poems were strong, simple and at times very sensuous. O'Meara is also a fine poet and this was obvious in his reading of Lindner's work. His inflections matched Lindner's inflections and he did the poems justice.

Alas Erik's work was not published in English yet but here's a link to some of his poems, and their translations:

I went home and wrote poems after this reading. It was truly inspiring.

Also one note about the amazing a/v technicians: simply ...they are amazing, friendly and helpful, ever so polite when a woman from the audience asks for the podium to be moved so she can see, handing a mike to the audience for the Q&A. This festival is as always a professional and inspiring event.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Writers Fest-Wednesday

Last night Ken Rockburn interviewed Barry Callaghan. The i-view was very interesting. I have to admit I've never read anything by this man. In school we had to do "More Joy In Heaven" by his father, and I hated that, but that's not the same thing, is it? Anyway, this man told fascinating stories about broads, basketball and the blues, and his various interviews of people such as Golda Meir and other icons from the 50s and 60s.

The whole evening had a nostalgic feel to it, which was added to with the William Hawkins launch. Three folkies sang his music, Bruce Cockburn read a glowing tribute and then William Hawkins read his poems. I could easily imagine sitting in Le Hibou, seeing all those guys in berets up on stage, saying their words. His poetry is very creative, intellectual and humourous. My favourite line of the evening was something he quoted: "Publishing a book of poetry is like throwing a rose petal into the Grand Canyon. And then listening for the echo."

I'm always so enlightened and amazed at the Writers Festival. There always seems to be some formerly well known somebody that pops back up again. Not having been involved in Ottawa's writing community until five years' ago, it's all lost on me, but all of a sudden there are all these fans, familiar with William Hawkins' work and lining up to buy his books. It certainly made the evening magical.

Tonight there's a full roster of poets, and I'm looking forward to that. I've been saving my book buying pennies for this one.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Spring Edition of the Ottawa International Writers' Festival-Tues

Patrick Watson, Ludwig Laher and Felicia Mihali are three very different writers brought together to discuss their work and writing process. Laher's book is not yet fully translated into English, but he read a passage. In his talk, he mentioned that the translator was British. This was very evident with the use of words such as "washing up" (dishes), "circular" (flyer) and "skive off" (slack off). I was wondering whether publishers consider the target market when they choose a translator. I know North Americans can understand British English, but it always surprises me to read British heavy translations from European sources. You'd think publishers would want to cater to the larger North American market. Just musing.

Felicia Mahli's revelation that she has renounced her Romanian language now that she lives in Quebec because she lives and works in French was a sad point of the evening. She admitted that she doesn't feel her writing is as strong or effective in French as it is in Romanian. Her books are not yet translated into English.

Before taking part in the Writing Life segment, Patrick Watson was interviewed by Ken Rockburn about his memoir, "This Hour Has Seven Decades." There were some fascinating tidbits about Ezra Pound and Robert Service. Later he read from his fable, Wittgenstein and the Goshawk. He has a documetarian's skill for detail and this book proved amusing . His real ambition though is to write a poem.

Sean Wilson, who hosted the segment, asked the writers about the idea of truth in fiction. From the audience came the idea that sometimes truth is more palpable than fiction. This is particularly the case for books such as Laher's, which depict the structure of a Nazi German labour camp, through a world that the author has created. Patrick Watson said that he wrote stories. Considering that fables are usually allegorical, this gave me pause.

The Max Middle Sound Project was fascinating as always with Max decked out in a tux, Peter Norman in shades, and Jason Sonier, the multifarious musician with his pile of instruments on his lap and at his feet. Max experiments with sound and therefore with meaning. This performance included Max's experiments and some more comprehensible work by Peter Norman. It's good to see experimentation in the Ottawa literary scene, even if these instances are rare.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

No Piss, No Vinegar-CBC Face Off Goes Traditional

Well, surprise suprise..Christian Bők didn't win. I thought his performance piece was most worthy. It was playful, creative and, irreverent. I loved the way he thumbed his nose at the format with his nonsense words, quick as lightning recitation, and whispered chants and fusion of languages ("I sing something from some folk song/Gotterdamerung!"/ I caught bits and pieces of the other competitors and heard things like "run free, wild stallions/ limited only by imagination/ the thrill of the game/lofty goal/muck and mire..." this was the winner: a good old fashioned poem, full of cliche and anachronisms: no piss, no vinegar.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Poetic Cats and Calico Poems

I'm not a cat lover per se, but I've read excellent cat poems. For example, Baudelaire's Le Chat in which he compares a cat to the spirit of his lover is creative, memorable and effective.

Is it just me or is there a preponderance of prose-like poetry? Whatever happened to crisp diction, rich and precise vocabulary, strong imagery and cadence? I found some in a recent Adrienne Rich collection, The School Among The Ruins (2004). These poems are lyrical, emotional and precise. They can be read aloud and they work well on the page. Here are just a few lines from "Bract":

I tell you I could not live long
far from your anger
lunar reefed and tidal
bloodred bract from spiked stem
tossing on the ocean

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

What's In The Book Bag, Rusty?

I'll take a rocking chair, you take the chair closest to the fire. [Feel free to play the theme from the Friendly Giant and read this post while playing goes on for a while: ]

Just finished Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall's "Down To This: Squalor and Splendour In A Big-City Shantytown" (2004) about Tent City in Toronto. This book provided insight and a compassionate, yet realistic portrayal of homeless people without being condescending or patronizing. The author, who lived in Tent City for a year, portrays a group of human beings who live outside of conventional society's norms. I'm always drawn to books about people with wounded hearts, trying to survive, and Bishop-Stall's book depicts this world well. He moved in to Tent City with his own battle scars. This writer has written a few non-fiction articles before. He was shortlisted for a Writers' Trust award this year. This is someone I'd definitely like to read more of.

I'm also currently reading the poetry of T. Anders Carson. Last November at the Toronto Small Press Bookfair, I had the pleasure of talking a bit with Anders and purchased his book "Folding The Crane" (2002) Subsequently I've gotten a hold of his other poetry: "A Different Shred Of Skin" (2000), "Stain" (A CD, 1999), "Carson" (An audiotape 1997) and "Salt Pork and Sunsets" (1997). Once something really resonates for me in someone's work, I tend to want to read their whole oeuvre. This is the case with T. Anders Carson. I relate to his poetry and admire his honesty and his skill with imagery. He deals with the big issues: war, poverty, mental illness, depression, death.

His poems are more prose-like than I can usually get into, but the strong, original imagery is what turns these pieces from prose into poetry for me. I've never heard Anders read in public, so being able to listen to him reading his poetry on his CD and audiotape is the next best thing. The only way for me to really get someone's poetry is to hear them read it aloud. Anders' voice rings out earnestly on his audio collections. And out of the vision of despair, the poet finds hope and he shows us that, in the darkness, there are, somehow, miracles.

and the drawbridge slowly closes...