This weekend felt like the start of the spring literary season in Ottawa with so many poetry readings taking place, you’d think it was National Poetry Month....and it is. Except that Ottawa is pretty much always a buzz of literary activity, isn’t it?
I attended three out of the five readings, all of which were exceptionally well-attended and from what others said who attended the readings I missed: Capital Slam and the Nick Lea, Anne LeDressay and Alice Major at Mother Tongue Books, the turn-outs were very high.
Saturday night saw me at the University Of Ottawa Faculty of Arts Building for the A B Series, which moves around so much, Max and I were calling at A Moveable Feast after Hemingway and Easter. This was the eighth in Max Middle’s new series and considering that the readings began only last fall, that’s pretty impressive. Saturday’s event was curated by Bywords’ John Newlove Award winner and recent PhD graduate Sean Moreland. The room was so full, that many chairs had to be brought in. Lindsay Foran and Jamie Bradley, both University of Ottawa students and Bywords-published poets opened the reading with poems that dealt with both the everyday and the surreal. I particularly enjoyed hearing Jamie read “Vermeer Window,” a poem published in the Bywords Quarterly Journal (Vol 4, No 2) with its accent on colour and geometry, its appeal to the senses and unusual juxtapositions, such as “sun-drenched accents, sweet dates and the shifting limestone-scour/surface of rent metal.”
I hope it’s ok for me to mention how happy I am to see those writers we have published in Bywords continuing to grow in their work and to get some well-deserved attention for it.
The final reader on Saturday night was H. Masud Taj, a Carleton professor of architecture and a well-known architect. What was interesting to me primarily aobut Taj’s poetry was that he memorized it and the associative method he used to remember what comes next. His performing style was quite mesmerizing. He moved all of the furniture at the front to create a makeshift stage area and then paced back and forth. His performance made me think about the role of personality and style in communicating one’s work to the audience. How much of a performance is style and how much of it is content? Taj mesmerized the audience with his performance.
The next A B reading takes place on Thursday, May 8 at the Mercury Lounge and features Monty Reid, Sandra Ridley, Roland Prevost, Chris Turnbull, Nicholas Lea, rob mclennan & John Lavery and Gregory Betts.
On Sunday, I had the pleasure of hearing my good friend, pooka press publisher, Ottawa ex-pat, now Vancouver resident Warren Dean Fulton read at the Dusty Owl. Warren’s own style on stage is relaxed and fun. He read mostly from early work, except for a series of mostly one line poems. Like the writing of the Beat poets that Warren admires, his poems dealt quite a bit with philosophies, with the notions of good and evil and with religion. Of particular fun was a poem about swimming and religion called The Creed from his chapbook “Saints and Sinners” (the Kamloops Poetry Factory, 1999: “I believe in the purifying properties of chlorine...”.
He also read from “Bang,” a very cool looking chapbook with an explosive cut out cover and from Scrap Paper Poems, which were poems he’d written over the years on napkins and various scraps, evoking to me Jack Kerouac’s Book of Sketches. In the chapbook, one of the quotes is from Keroauc: “1. scribbled secret notebooks and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy.” #1 from Belief and Technique for Modern Prose; List of Essentials. The humour in Warren’s work is lots of fun, and perhaps a device to mask the depth of the ideas and the understated emotions in his poem. I noticed this particularly with poems where the speaker of the poem encounters himself as a stranger.
Interesting also his poem “at the end of the century” an early ecopoem from 1999 showing his care and passion for he environment. “right now, an urgency – atrocities / is & is & is, our obituaries.”
Warren won the Dusty Owl Object of Desire Contest (or DOOD, as I’m calling it) with an off-the-cuff poem about the afternoon’s cheap object, a plastic rain poncho. I think that was my favourite...the idea that putting on a raincoat could protect us from changes.
And then downing that last beer in a hurry and scurrying off to Plan 99’s End of Winter Series at the Manx Pub, another goodly turnout, goodly beer and goodly club sandwiches. The afternoon’s readers were Roy Miki and Ashok Mathur, coming to Ottawa from BC for a conference on multiculturalism.
Ashok read first. Of particular interest to me were his Hopsital poems, the title a typo that he decided to leave as is. He mentioned that he had read poems about hope at the conference, so at the reading he decided to read poems of death, yet these were still hopeful. His novel The Short Happy Life of Harry Kumar was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize.
Roy Miki has read at Plan 99 three or four times before. I enjoyed his humour and ease with the audience. His poems talked about civilisation’s nature to consume. I really liked his poem about Lulu Lemon, the store that sells yoga clothes and wanted to get people to wear them as day-to-day ware.
At the tail end of three full readings within just over 24 hours, staying up at the Oak until 3am the night before and various hijinx, I can’t quite remember if it was Roy or Ashok who read poems about society’s attempts to end death, saying that those with enough money will have eternal life, while those who don’t...
Dusty Owl’s next reading takes place at the Ottawa International Writers Festival on April 13 and the features are Vivian Demuth and Eliot Katz.
Plan 99’s End of Winter Series continues with upcoming readings by Adam Getty, Jaspreet Sing and John Stiles on April 26, May 3 and May 24 (I hope winter is long over by May 24!).
Please remember to check the Bywords.ca calendar for more events.