amongst books

amongst books

Friday, October 07, 2005

It's too quiet in here/I want to hear the sound/of hearts breaking

Sherwin Tjia's final pseudo haiku in The World Is A Heartbreaker.

Last night was the final night of the Ottawa International Writers Festival-fall edition and what a night it was. The Coachhouse Spotlight was an out-of-the box, inspiring reading. Host Anita Lahey asked intelligent questions. I am so tired of all those questions about whether a writer uses a computer or a pen. Ick. The four readers were all very different, but at least three of them were experimentalists, part of the "marginalia" as Margaret Christakos said. It was such a relief to hear stuff that wasn't just narrative. These people have fun with what they do; they pay attention to sound and the breath. They are performers.

Sherman Tjia was funny and endearing. He said that he learned a long time ago to take the day as offered, that includes first class drinks on the train to Ottawa, snippets of conversations from his friends, which he translates into what he refers to as "pseudo haiku" and breaking free, peeing in the shower. I hope he gets his wish and gets lucky in the train going home to Montreal.

Too much stuff to write about for the Writers Fest. Highlights for me
Michael Crummey's wonderful description of sex from his book The Wreckage. While first receiving oral sex, the female character wonders if it's a Catholic thing.
Q-audience member: How do you know when a story ends?
A-Michael: I write to a deadline, then I'm done.

Michelle Faber's personal realization that writing doesn't make him happy. He said that the men in his family don't live long, and he has a feeling that he might not either. He plans to write maybe one more novel, but then do something he enjoys. He and his wife were lured to Scotland by the eerie landscape of a farmhouse that exists now only in one of his novels. I bought his book, The Crimson Petal and The White. I just want to read, read, read now all winter long.

Leon Rooke on the question of accessibilty: "I don't think it's presumptuous to demand an investment from readers; they should be as bright as I am. Shouldn't we respect the reader?"

Don McKay-the pseudo-extrovert. I have read just a bit of his poetry before. Deactivated West 100 went straight to my gut:
"when you happen in my hand as nothing/supercooled to glass, as the grey/watersmooth rock that slew Goliath or the stone/no one could cast; when you come/inscribed by glaciers, lichened, mossed,/packed with former lives inside you/like a dense mass grave" [small excerpt from Philospher's Stone]

When he, Lorna Crozier, and Leon Rooke answered some question about whether they wrote sonnets or triolets by spouting old poems, cliches and other miscellany, it was an irreverant and entertaining free-for-all.

Q from host Murray Wilson: Why do you write poetry?
A from Lorna: I miss the state of poetic susceptibility when I'm not writing it.

"Astonishment: to turn towards stone: Don McKay

Susan Musgrave in conversation with Ken Rockburn and later in a poetry cabaret. It was wonderful to see and hear her finally. I'm a big fan of her poetry. I'm looking forward to reading her book: You're in Canada Now...Motherfucker: a series of essays, articles and opinion pieces she wrote over the years. The stories of her husband and his prison time, bank robberies, addiction said a lot about her, and unconditonal love. She also talked of being committed to a mental hospital when she was young and how the other residents were poets...this is where she learned about poetry, she says.

Srikanth Reddy was a surprise for me at another poetry cabaret. His work was so spiritual somehow, yet still very modern. "They were never parted because they never met." His fiancee, Suzanne Buffam also read. It was enlightening to hear how the two of them helped each other with each other's work, yet they still had completely different styles. Srikanth read his long poem: Fundamentals of Esperanto from Facts For Visitors. On the surface it's just a poem about Esperanto, but there is such beauty, so much more, the journey of life:
[...]Of course there's a journey/& inside that journey, an implicit voyage/through the underworld/there's a bridge//made of boats; a carp stuffed with flowers; a comic dispute among sweetmeat vendors; a digression on shadows; men clapping//in fields to scare away crows...'

The Tree's 25th anniversary was touching. So sad to see James and Jennifer go. They are the heart of that reading series. Michelle Desbarats read and as always her imagination and open, loving heart shine through in her poems. You just want to take her home and cuddle her. I relate so much to her poetry, the zaniness, the vibrance of colours, the storytelling.

Peter van Torn was as bombastic as he always is..this time complete with heckler, who asked him to "be civilized." He responded that civilized people don't fuck, so they disappear. Who'd want that?..or something like that. He interrupted his poems with rants that made the audience smile, laugh and sometimes rubberneck as if he were an accident on the side of the road. Through all this interference and side show activity, though, the poems broke through all the bullshit. They are strong, provocative and more honest than any other poems I've ever heard.

The Bywords reading went well (if I do say so myself). The lighting, Lee Hayes' music, the reading of Newlove and others poems all served to create a very spiritual atmosphere. I worry if it was perhaps a bit slow in places, but I just go with the flow at these things. The Newlove award honourable mentions and winner showed us just why they won. Their poems were superb. The tone of the room changed from peaceful to intense by the time caleb and Melissa read their words.

By the time Converstions with Story Keepers came around at 6:00 pm on Thursday, I was too tired to really appreciate much, but I did enjoy Armand Ruffo's mesmerizing poetry, Ruby Slipper-Jack's family stories most particularly. With Greg Scofield I would have liked more of the types of poems from Without Reservation, which is an anthology of erotic writing by aboriginals all over the world. He's one of the most sensuous male writers today.

And that brings us back to Coach House, the reading where I woke up.

The writers festival is a gift. I'm so glad to get the opportunity to take part as both an audience member and a host.

Breathe. inspire. write.


John MacDonald said...

The festival was like a fancy ten-course dinner with the audience as guests and with the (cliché) crazy uncle who shows up late only to offend some and delight others.

That crazy uncle was Peter van Toorn. He was there to shake things up a bit. He's special.

Amanda, I like your concise summary of the festival. Very accurate and I liked the bits you decided to note. You can go back to this post in a year or so and still get the flavour of what happened. I can't wait for the big celebration of the 10th anniversary edition of the OIWF.

Congratualtions with your successful Byword's reading, too. Lee and Charlotte Hayes were stunning on stage. Also, the more I hear of Rhonda Douglas, the more I am impressed with her work. Tarryn read Norma's poems very effectively. It was nice to meet her and only wish that Norma was there herself.

Keep well, and we'll see you all soon enough, eh?


Keziah Hill said...

Hiya Amanda! Love to know what you thought of Crimson Petals and the White. I thought it an erotic Charles Dickens. Sounds like a good festival.