amongst books

amongst books

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hurray! The Writers Festival is Coming!

one of the reasons i love autumn is because of the Ottawa International Writers Festival. if anything has given Ottawa a literary season, it’s the festival. they’ve announced their fall line up... here are the events and activities i’m especially excited about:

the Masterclass Series: last spring and possibly the autumn before that, the festival held a few daytime sessions where writers talked about their craft. particularly memorable was a talk by Michael Winter and David Gilmour. the daytime talks seemed to be set up with young people in mind and classes of students attended. the teens asked interesting questions and i could tell they were really fired up about writing thanks to the speakers.

this year the festival is offering a bunch of these talks on writing and in multiple genres for the page stage and screen. Toronto poet Sonnet L’Abbé and Kingston poet and novelist Steven Heighton will explore the relationship between emotion and form in poetry; Edeet Ravel, Dave Bidini and Paul Glennon will discuss writing for adults and children, presumably they’ll talk about the differences; Edeet Ravel and Andrew Steinmetz will talk about voice and setting; Rachel Peters and Gary Thomas will tell us about how to animate books; Pasha Malla and local kids’ author Brian Doyle will talk about dialogue.

The Small Press Fair
another new innovation, this fair is being jointly organized by rob mclennan’s small press action network – ottawa (Span-o) and the Ottawa Independent Writers Association and will take place the afternoon of the first day. it’s a great opportunity for the local small press to exchange info and for the public to discover the small press world. needless to say, Bywords will be there.

Poetry Cabaret featuring Meredith Quartermain, Dannabang Kuwabong and Monty Reid
well i admit to being disappointed that there’s only one poetry cabaret, but poets are featured at various events throughout the festival. i’m excited to hear Meredith Quartermain read. i greatly admire her work. her latest book, Matter (Bookthug, 2008) is refreshing and innovative, a taxonomy of words.

ARC Poetry Celebration featuring Steven Heighton, Roo Borson, Sonnet L'Abbe and Mary Dalton. this is an interesting combo of writers, two of whom i’ve never heard read before. i always enjoy Steven Heighton’s work and presence at the festival. but why oh why did the festival have to program the Writing That Rocks event at the same time? drat. i couldn’t make it to the Blues Festival this summer when Paul Quarrington and the Pork Belly Futures played and it looks like i’ll be missing them again. for me this year, there are very few conflicts, since the literary events have been programmed separately from each other, thank heavens.

Book Launch: Jailbreaks And Re-Creations: 99 Canadian Sonnets with Zachariah Wells
i’ve heard the buzz about this new anthology, which includes sonnets by Ottawa’s own Stephen Brockwell, among others. i hope he’ll be around to read.

The 2008 Bywords John Newlove Poetry Award
i’d be remiss not to mention the event i’m actually organizing. every year i’m always excited about this one. not much i can say about it yet, but i can tell you that the musical guest will be Marie-Josée Houle, who played at a Bywords reading this year. she’s like a modern day Edith Piaf with an accordion. her songs are sultry and poignant.

i can also tell you that we’ll be launching “Lupercalia,” Sean Moreland’s first chapbook. Sean won last year’s award and as you may or may not know, the winner of the award has the opportunity to have a chapbook published by Bywords. it has been a pleasure and a learning experience to work with Sean on his manuscript. if you were at the event last year, or his reading at the Dusty Owl this year, you know that Sean is a great performer of his work.

and yes...we will announce the winner and honourable mentions for this year’s award.

festival staff have been exuberantly organizing additional events all through the summer and these continue in September, including the Freehand Books launch on September 18, which i already mentioned here.

i’m really impressed with the OIWF’s contribution to Ottawa’s vibrant and lively literary scene, their constant innovation and fine-tuning and the variety of events. Üben macht den Meister: practice makes perfect.

there are other aspects of the festival i haven’t discussed, such as the one on one conversations or the Big Ideas events. you can find out more info about the upcoming autumn festival on the OIWF site.

i will likely blog here a bit during the festival and over at the ottawa poetry newsletter blog for poetry events, provided that i can successfully juggle wine glass and pen. perhaps the festival should offer a masterclass on that ;)

let the fall literary season begin!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Come join me at the El Dorado Reading Series

this thursday, august 28.

open set begins at 8pm and sometime after that is the feature. this time it's me.
i'm planning to read 8 planets speaking in tongues and my chapbook "Eleanor" (above/ground press, 2007). i miss Eleanor so i thought this would be a good opportunity to call on her again. or at least her ghost.

for the hungry and thirsty, the evening begins with dinner at 7pm; reservations suggested.

Leonardo's Ristorante
112 Pamila (across from Pub Italia on Preston; just a few blocks north of Carling Ave.)

El Dorado is a series that has been running for some years (formerly at Rasputin's) and as far as i know it is the only Ottawa reading series to feature poetry and music in many languages. A few of my Eleanor poems have been translated into Spanish for the occasion. A good friend and literary stalwart, Juan O'Neill, who died a few years ago, used to tell me great things about the series. I'm hoping to see old friends and make some new ones.

Hope to see you there. I'm using whatever mojo I can to get rid of the froggy in my throat from this cold by then...or is it an old boll weevil looking for a home...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Apprentice’s Masterpiece by Melanie Little

is a masterpiece itself. the book is found in the teen fiction section of bookstores, but don’t let that stop you from reading it. it’s a free verse tale set in Medieval Spain during the Inquisition.

the book tells of Ramon, a young scribe, his family and a boy who is given to them as a slave. this is a compelling story based on a wretched time in history when Spain wanted only “pure Catholics” and insisted that Jewish people convert, inform on one another and eventually end up tortured. Muslims were also treated roughly by the Catholic Church.

i was reading the Apprentice’s Masterpiece while having lunch at my favourite restaurant, the Black Tomato, in the Market and dwelling on it for so long i had to have two glasses of rosé along with my lunch, a coffee and a slice of chocolate pecan pie. good writing gives me an appetite.

it was so compelling that i couldn’t put the book down. i want to read this book to my husband out loud and to anyone else who wants to sit down and hear a good story. Melanie’s skill as a story teller shines in this book. i thought i might find the verse annoying, because i’m not normally inclined to young people’s stories told in verse, even free verse, but it wasn’t at all. there is strong word play and good poetic technique in the Apprentice’s Masterpiece. most rhyme is internal and done with a light touch.

i do hope that teens actually read the book. i remember being a teen and being completely uninterested in history; however, this book makes it come alive and is so relevant to current events and the young characters are drawn very realistically, suffering through the kind of life angst that teens today still suffer from: love, fitting in, poverty, violence, and bullying.

Melanie dedicates this book to victims of intolerance and those who have taken risks by asking questions. i can’t think of a better audience for this book than young people, who need to be asking questions right now about the wars we are involved in and incidences of intolerance in their own lives. We all should be asking these questions. Melanie’s book is an excellent reminder of what can happen.

what i also loved about this book was its love of books. there’s a lot of mention of books, and the work that went into producing them by scribes, the love for and power of language through such things as a slave’s emancipation powers, the poetry of Hafiz, letters from a mother to her son.

in the acknowledgements section, Melanie mentions that she spent a great deal of time in the Ottawa Public Library doing research for the book. her love of research and attention to detail is clearly communicated in this work. remember to stop by the library today and pick up a book or two. the Apprentice’s Masterpiece is in two libraries: the Main branch and Nepean Centrepointe, checked out in the former and being held in the latter, but do request it or better yet, pick up a copy :)

for those of you who may or may not know, Melanie Little lived in Ottawa for a number of years and contributed wonderfully to the literary scene here, participating in early variations of the Max Middle Sound Project along with her husband, brilliant poet, Peter Norman, offering writing workshops and reading as a feature and open mic. Then she moved to Calgary where she was the Markin-Flanagan writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta in 2005-06.

She’s since become the editor of a new publishing company, Freehand Books, which is owned by Broadview Press. Melanie will be back in Ottawa as part of a special Ottawa International Writers Festival Event on September 18 featuring writers published by Freehand. Here's in an interview with her conducted by rob mclennan.

i am a big fan of Melanie’s writing. her book of short stories, Confidence, was so good I gave it away to a friend right away to read something i’ve only done so quickly since with William Neil Scott’s Wonderfull and Joel Thomas Hynes Right Away Monday.

I recommend you pick up The Apprentice’s Masterpiece. It’s gorgeous, well-told and timely. Trust me, you'll devour it.

Monday, August 18, 2008

top ten aug 08

Ida – Road to Ruin

Women – Black Rice

Conor Oberst – Get-Well-Cards

Construction and Deconstruction – Ring Around the Moon

Mike Yates and the Candidates - Art of Conversation

Matt Mays and El Torpedo – Tall Trees

The Paper Cranes – I’ll Love You Until My Veins Explode

Vulgaires Machines – Puits sans fond

Sheryl Crow – Drunk with the Thought of You

Tindersticks – the Flicker of a Little Girl

Snailhouse – (not) Superstitious

Thursday, August 14, 2008

happy 15th birthday above/ground press

as above/ground press emerged from its underground lair, these are the songs that were playing in 1993:

I’m Every Woman, Whitney Houston
Whoomp! (There It Is), Tag Team
Boom! Shake The Room, DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince
Rump Shaker, Wreckx-N-Effect
Livin' On The Edge, Aerosmith
come celebrate this evening at the Ottawa Art Gallery, 2 Daley Ave; doors open 7pm; reading starts at 7:30pm. Featured readers are Amanda Earl (me!) & Pearl Pirie.
if you don’t already subscribe to above/ground press, you should. for $40 a year you receive all the press publishes: chapbooks & broadsides by emerging & established writers such as derek beaulieu, Douglas Barbour, Pete Smith, Gregory Betts, Pearl Pirie, Marcus McCann, Rhonda Douglas, Sandra Ridley, Catherine Owen, Natalie Simpson, George Bowering, Eric Folsom, Christine Stewart, Phil Hall, William Hawkins, Margaret Christakos, rob mclennan, Andy Weaver, Jesse Ferguson, Nicholas Lea, Lea Graham, Max Middle, Jessica Smith, John Newlove, Stephanie Bolster, Stan Rogal, Gil McElroy, Jennifer Mulligan, Sharon Harris, Jan Allen, bpNichol, ryan fitzpatrick, Julia Williams, Shauna McCabe, Jordan Scott, Barry McKinnon, Cath Morris, Karen Clavelle, Wanda O'Connor, Kate Greenstreet, Fred Wah, Anita Dolman, Stephen Brockwell, Mari-Lou Rowley, Monty Reid, Rachel Zolf, Gwendolyn Guth, Rob Budde, and still more!

8 years ago, when i first became involved in Ottawa’s literary scene, it was those colourful broadsheets on tables at readings or handed to me by rob that sparked my interest in contemporary poetry. i was studying & reading works by people like Sylvia Plath and Rumi, but wasn’t that aware of the writings of contemporary living poets. the publications of above/ground press interested me at the time because they didn’t seem to pay attention to the rules i was learning in the poetry workshop i was taking. and yet they were powerful poems that stuck with me, such as the poems in Jan Allen’s Personal Peripherals, an excerpt of which was published by above/ground press and then published as a collection by Buschek Books in 2006.

i often discover writers for the first time thru above/ground press & then end up buying their full collections. some of my prized possessions are above/ground press chapbooks, including Chap-poems by d.g. jones (2002); Rushes by kate greenstreet (2007), Calendar Girls by Leah Graham (2006), Ordinary Glasses by David Fujino (2004) ...there are too many to list here. the point is that it’s thanks to above/ground press that i’ve been exposed to folks that aren’t standard issue poetry, reprinted in every anthology since A.M. Klein’s day.

it’s small presses like above/ground that spend money they don’t have, beg borrow or steal photocopies to produce them, use any & all possible means to get them into the hands of readers who will appreciate them. oh, naysayers complain about the fact that the publications are stapled and folded without any fancy pants methods, but these are the presses that take chance on new writers & help them get the exposure they need to be published by the larger (still called small) presses such as Coach House or Mercury. i don't give a rat's ass about whether a writer is published on gilded paper, with or without spine. that's not what makes the work good. it's all about the writing & the risk the writers are willing to take in their work.

so happy birthday to above/ground press, now a bad ass high schooler at 15.
i expect great things.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

hear me read on Fri, Aug 8 on Special Blend

on CKCU FM 93.1 at 8:30 am; listen live here.

Pearl Pirie and I will be reading to promote the upcoming above/ground press fifteen anniversary event below:

THE FACTORY READING SERIES 15th Anniversary above/ground press Reading and Chapbook Launch
Featuring Amanda Earl (Ottawa) and Pearl Pirie (Ottawa)
Thursday, 14 August 2008
at 7:00 pm (readings at 7:30)

Pearl Pirie has been published in Womb, 1cent, ottawater 4.0, Best of MiPo Cafe Cafe, by Pooka Press and at Her poetry is generally forthcoming, except when it isn't. She blogs. the oath in the boathouse (above/ground press) is her 6th chapbook, the 1st not self-published.

Amanda Earl will read from the small of july, a work in progress concerning dysfunctional domestic appliances with nervous ticks and natural elements that suffer from summer ennui. Amanda is the managing editor of and the Bywords Quarterly Journal. Her poetry has appeared most recently in Rampike, some assemby required (pooka press) and the Peter F. Yacht Club. She is the author of two chapbooks published by above/ground press, Eleanor and The Sad Phoenician's Other Woman. Amanda's trouble making bent has led her to create a new imprint, AngelHousePress, which will publish new titles this fall and spring, including Signs of the Apocalypse Magazine. Amanda blogs too much at and, and she thinks it's nifty that above/ground is now a 15-year-old high school bad-ass.

Presented by span-o (the small press action network - ottawa) and The Ottawa Art Gallery
Lovingly hosted by rob mclennan

the small press action network - ottawa (cleaning out yr literary clogs since 1996);
thanks to the Ottawa Art Gallery for providing space and much love.