amongst books

amongst books

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Music! Rozalind and Friends-Live at Cafe Nostalgica

I'm just relistening to this after its launch this time last year. It's gorgeous. Two poems by Kristy McKay, editor of Spire and former classmate of mine, plus she started and ran the poetry open stage at Nostalgica. Harmonizing with Rozalind Macphail's sweet and skilfull flute sounds are a great sample of Nostalgica's music open stage, which follows the poetry on Thursday nights. From Trevor Tchir, Kristy's mate, to the amazing Genevieve Legault, the funky sounds of Purple, Peter Web's fine lyrics on his song, the jazzy piano and sexy crooning of John Gilles, this CD is sublime. I consider it to be a bit of a spin off from Thursday Heroes, the first compilation recorded at Cafe Nostalgica. I went to Nostalgica's open stage regularly for about two years, before I grew old, now it's past my bedtime. This CD really demonstrates the blossoming and increased professionalism of the regulars and includes some guests from Montreal, that I would never have heard of if it hadn't been for Rozalind's CD. Rozalind Macphail herself is really becoming a talented artist, flutist, flautist or whatever it's called.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Spellbinding reading at the National Library

The Ottawa International Writers Festival held a poetry caberet featuring two writers: Ken Babstock and Simon Armitage from England. Babstock's writing just didn't hold my attention in the wonderfully crowded, yet stiflingly hot, over-perfumed room, but Armitage was incredible.

His poetry was mesmerizing, humourous, witty, and full of splendour, rhythm and life. He mentioned during the Q&A that he'd begun to understand the shamanism of poetry when he was 15 and read Ted Hughes, the idea that such magic could be contained within a bit of black ink on a small white page. It's clear that he's a magician of words and a story teller. The host, David O'Meara, talked about the beauty of common language I think, in his intro to Armitage and this beauty was very evident in Armitage's reading. He was using fairly common language, but he gave it resonance, rose it up. Made it shimmer somehow. It was resplendent. I use a word from Middle English perhaps because his writing is so evocative somehow of that era.

He was born the same year as me and in the same part of England, so much of his dialect and accent was very familiar, almost comforting. I purchased one of his earlier books, CloudCuckooLand (1997 Faber and Faber) because his Selected wasn't there. The book contains a sequence on constellations that sounds both fanciful and thoughtful. Like the Canadian poet, Robert Priest, he's a renaissance man who writes for radio, television, film and the stage, adapts classics like The Odyssey, and even has a few novels to his name.

I liked the way he talked about the use of old language in modern speech. A word like "samen" from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is something he recognizes as part of his own dialect, "to sam something up" (to gather, I think). I had a good discussion with him during the break about my own observations on my family's use of "thi/tha" which means "thee/thou." He used the word "snittering" which was an old word for snow falling down coldly. Snitter is also a word for wild place or snow from the 11th century.

Some writers make me want to write. He is definitely one of those who inspires, yet such a familiar voice. His voice and words were like coming home in a way.

Here's one of the poems he read tonight from An Anthology of Local Poetry, Peter Samson, Ed. 1985; I think the version was slightly different from the one he read:

Two Go Into Winter

The pointed wind of our first winter needles us
It draws our breath, and patterns on the windows.

Will our friendship splinter in these icy times
Or can our sun-kissed history hold us tight.

We were brilliant in the sun. Reeling in the days
Spun on the wheels of bicycles, those summer shapes

Annealed and tempered now to glimmers. Small wonder
We're re-forging old safe-keepings for our winter:

Some stars of coaldust in the concrete bunker
Some token things for the electric meter.

I should also mention that David O'Meara did an excellent job as host of the evening and moderator of the Q&A. Hat's off to the Writers Fest organizers for another fine show. I've never been to such a well-attended poetry reading in Ottawa.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Ottawa Literary Awards Ceremony

last night at the National Library. Was somehow quite inspiring. Many of the winners offered writing advice. Gertrude Baer, who won for a National Capital Writing award for her story, The Puzzle Piece, mentioned that she'd written the prize-winning story 40 years ago in German and when she heard of the contest (might have been the over 55 short fiction contest), she dug it up, translated it into English and revised it. Never throw anything out was her advice. Frances Itani won the City book award, which wasn't a surprise, given how successful her latest book has been. It was kind of weird that the award combined fiction and poetry. The main one I wanted to know about was the Lampman Poetry Award. Stephen Brockwell got that (which is terrific!), but since he was out of town on business, Ronnie Brown accepted on his behalf, reading his speech. Aside from the usual thanking, he mentioned that he hoped the award was a reminder that the most innovative and creative poetry comes from Ottawa. All in all, an inspiring evening. Lots of familiar faces around too. Reception afterwards for the minglers. Not my thing. I walked back home and savoured the dark, cool night.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

On writing

from Monique Proulx's The Heart Is An Involuntary Muscle

"Writers write. They build walls of words to shut out the clamor. Each word sends up shovelfuls of earth until the windows of ordinary life are covered over. And on they write, they burrow deep into words, they tunnel into their words until each one gives up its inviolable secret depth, sometimes pain, other times trance, it depends on their temperament, or their astrological sign. In those lonely, dark depths they lay out their imagination and begin polishing their creation.That's how those 300-page books of theirs come to be.That's how writers forget that there are people out there waiting at the other end of the tunnel. People willing to read their books, but who still hunger and thirst, who are afraid of dying without having known love. To those people, hungry for normal life, writers have nothing new to give, not a drop of water, not a brotherly embrace, nothing but words, the beautiful and frigid words of their subterranean domain."

Rejection Letters

Gayle Brandeis, in her wonderful book, Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration For Women Who Write, quotes a great rejection letter from Two Girls Review in Portland, Oregon:
editorial choices are fucking
arbitrary. you know it. we know it.
that's why you should not take this
no as anything but some jerk-off's
idea about what fit and what didn't
fit this go round. our decisions are
no reflection on the merit of your
work--they are as full of shit as our
own colossal egos. these are
important: hands, ideas, mouths,
words, images.

our advice?
be relentless

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Anthony Bansfield at Tree

was fantastic...What I like about Anthony's writing is his ability to original language, avoidance of cliches and his strength with cadence and sound. His performance was full of energy and he pretty much had his stuff memorized, something I can't even imagine. His piece on literacy really struck a chord. The open mic was pretty good too, except it was long. Break happened shortly after 9. Picked up Anthony's CD: Tales From The North Coast and also Steve Sauve's CD as well. Steve has brilliant pieces of comedy. Other memorable open mikesters were rob mclennan who read from his latest work celebrating Ottawa's 150th, and Anita
Dolman who read a postcard story that was descriptive and highly memorable. The whole evening was very inspiring.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Toronto Small Press Book Fair

On Saturday was inspiring and joyously overwhelming. So much to see, read, buy. My own table included stuff from various small presses here in Ottawa and it was great the way people were so interested and wanting to buy our stuff. I picked up two items of note myself: the first issue of Stuart Ross's Syd and Shirley magazine and Fascist Panties, a free pub from 1997 that John Barlow had set out on a table at the end of the fair.

Syd and Shirley is fantastic. If you don't have a subscription, get one. Get one today. Even if all you read is the David McFadden's interview, you'll be amused and inspired. There's also some of McFadden's poetry, a great bibliography of his work, poetry by others, plus intelligent reviews. I'm already looking forward to the second issue, and I'm not even finished the first yet. The magazine's format is straight-forward 8.5 x 14 inches landscaped, stapled with a coverstock cover. Nothing fancy, just straight up good stuff.

Speaking of nothing fancy, I always love picking up unnoticed gems at the fair. Well known small magazine maker John Barlow arrived close to the end of the day with all kinds of goodies and set them up on a table already vacated by a vendor, then left. I sneaked over to see what kind of treasures there were and discovered Fascist Panties 5. It's a thick volume in unassuming beige attached with screws and bolts thingies (I'm not hardware inclined so these may not be the technical terms). Some gems in there. Crazy stuff too: Barlow, mclennan, Blades among others.

lunar eclipse by John Barlow

There is enjoyment of the moon in women
I'm not the only cartoon character in the house
Self-destruction is a kind of love poem too

Can't wait for the Ottawa Small Press Fair in June

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Tree's 25th Anniversary

Last night in the sweltering basement of the Royal Oak 2. The open mic set was really great, a bit long, but some excellent readings. It was fun to hear the reminiscences of others who'd been involved with Tree also. Some of the highlights of the open mic: Lise Rochefort's sexy poem about men's clothing being like women's genitalia; Russell Smith's villanelle from Tree's 10-year anniversary anthology, Open Set. James giving all us open mic participants a book from a big bag of books. The featured reader was K.I. Press. I already have her book, Spine, simply because I liked all the literary allusions and the quality of the book put out by Gaspereau Press. She's a great reader in person. She read from her first and second books and a work in progress inspired by a 1903 book of bios about Canadian women. She found odd bits of adventure mixed in with stories of tea and fine dining. The whole evening was inspiring, and well-attended. There were at least 40 people down there. Next Tree will be Anthony Bansfield, a spoken word poet who I'm looking forward to hearing once more.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Michael Dennis

Last night at the Invisible Cinema (formerly Gallery 101, I'm told). Great turn out, KLB Cream Ale and movies to browse while you wait. All Those Miles To Go, his latest book is hand bound (Lyrical Myrical) in 50 copies. I got copy # 21 and they were selling fast. Very few familiar faces. One of the things that surprises me at readings is the way the crowds change. You'd expect to see the same people over and over again, but it doesn't work that way. There are those who attend specific reading series, but not others. I've heard Dennis read only once before at a Tree reading at least a year ago, and his poetry stayed with me, and his humble, understated attitude. I've read his work again in the library, but now finally had the chance to buy his new book and his last new and selected poems, This Day Full of Promise. Like Anders Carson, he's a truth teller, writing about brutal memories, observing human nature. There is also a simple beauty in his writing. I sat on the hardwood floor and leaned my head against a shelf of DVDs in order to see and then I closed my eyes. "if there is beauty this is part of it" Michael Dennis, All Those Miles To Go

Friday, May 06, 2005

Alberta Scene: Alberta Authors 1

In the Nat'l Library last night: Marci Denesiuk and Shani Mootoo. I went to this because I loved Mootoo's first book, Cereus Blooms At Night, but that came out over eleven years ago, so I was looking forward to her new book: He Drown She In The Sea. Denesiuk read first and had quite a group of friends and family there, including a woman in a wheel chair with a friendly dog, there to help her out. Whenever the audience clapped, the dog let out some great yelping cheers. We all need one of those dogs at our readings. Denesiuk combined her reading with a plasticene animated short film. It was creative and hilarious. Mootoo had this interesting accent that was a combination of Irish (where she was born), Trinidadian and Canadian. Part of her book is set in Canada and the rest in an invented island in the Caribbean. What was cool was the way she varied her accent for the Canadian and Caribbean parts. During question period, we learned Mootoo has a background in visual arts. That's not surprising. Her writing is very visual and lush. Interviewers, including the host last night, Randall Ware, are dwelling on the fact that it's been eleven years since her first book. She admitted she didn't want to rush into her second and was afraid that it wouldn't be as successful as the award-winning first novel. I wish this was a Prairie scene focus and not just an Alberta focus. Then writers like Sharon Butala and Rob Budde could come. Heck, why not a plain old North American Prairie Scene and include Annie Proulx from the US. It was a great reading and it's always a pleasure to sit in Room A and watch the sun set as the reading gets underway.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Ode to Nicholas Hoare Books on Sussex Street

It's such a wonderful bookstore. I hate to use this word, but I like the "eclectic" choice offered. This is the place where I'll pick up a book of philosophical essays or someone's travel memoirs. It's dangerous for me to go in there. I also noticed that more local and Canadian poetry is beginning to appear on the shelves, making the place even more dangerous.

On a sad note, I heard the other day that the Double Hook bookstore in Montreal is closing. That is bad news. It really was a champion of Canadian lit. I've found difficult-to-find small mags and chapbooks there often in the past. Maybe if we all write in and beg them to stay in business?

I finished a wonderful novel called The Earthquake Bird last night, by a woman named Susanna Jones. It was her first novel and she won an award for it. I'm not surprised. It was brilliant, a murder mystery set in Japan. I'm not into murder mysteries much, but this one was original and exotic. The writing was tight and full of vivid and haunting imagery. Her writing reminded me a bit of Trevanian in books like The Summer of Katya and Shibumi.

"Tejii took a shower. I listened to the water pouring over his body, occasional knocks and clinks as he reached for soap or shampoo, his feet on the floor when he climbed out. I heard the towel rub back and forth across his neck, back, legs. He cleared his throat a couple of times. The plughole gurgled and the bathroom door opened. I looked up at him. Water slipped from his black hair as if it had lost the power to be wet, as if it were droplets of mercury."

Monday, May 02, 2005

Ottawa Citizen's Sunday Book Happenings

Once more non existant. This past Sunday. Supplanted by a little article on a book of dog poetry and a story about teen angst poetry. Neither one of them local; neither one particularly literary. There was an interesting article on Shani Mootoo, in town to read on Thursday for Alberta Scene, but here's the stuff that Citizen readers didn't find out about: Sunday's Dusty Owl featuring Hal Niedzviecki of Toronto & John Lavery of Gatineau. Lavery's book "You, Kwaznievsky, You Piss Me Off" is getting rave reviews. Niedzviecki is well known for being the co-founder of Broken Pencil, a magazine I can't stand, but others enjoy: it's mean and trendy. Haven't read any of his books, but he's supposedly humourous. Next Saturday, a group of Alberta Spoken Word artists will do their thing as part of the Alberta Scene. There are also writers' groups, a few open mics and a storyteller's swap going on. I hope that Citizen readers who like literature realize that they can't rely on the Citizen for information about literary events. Either the info is missing or more often than not, inaccurate. The previous week they printed events that had taken place two weeks earlier. It' s not that difficult. If you care.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Robert Priest at Rasputins

I've been a big fan of Priest's since 1993 at the Ottawa Valley Book Festival when Phil Jenkins decided to start the event as if it were the launch of spring baseball season and threw Priest's book "Scream Blue Living" right at me. I'm a lousy catch: the book dropped at my feet and the audience chanted "take it, take it." I turned red and picked up my prize. The book was full of witty, creative and provocative poetry. I also got to hear Priest for the first time. He was really the first "live" poet I'd ever heard. Since then I've bought his books, including his kid fiction and poetry and caught his readings in Ottawa a few times, but last night was the first time since '93 that I heard him perform his music. It's just as witty and thoughtful as his poetry. I bought his book "How To Swallow A Pig" even though some of it is already published in "Scream Blue Living," but this gave me a chance to chat a bit with him and get his autograph. Even better, this was his last copy, so he read from it and then gave it back to me after. I have his dog-eared corners. The night was a very special time particularly because a local choir was there and contributed by harmonizing with Priest and his co-performer, Danny Bakan. Priest and Bakan, switched to sing-along songs toward the end to encourage the choir's beautiful harmonies. We ended by singing a song about a day when there will be no war. If people hung out at Rasputins more, the chances of that might be significantly increased. That hot mulled red wine and cider doesn't hurt either.
Go to Robert Priest's site to sample his original work. He's one of the most versatile writers in Canada. And since wit like a good wine should be dry, he's worth savouring.