amongst books

amongst books

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Here Comes the Ottawa International Writers Festival

here are the events i’m looking forward to; get thee to the beautifully designed festival site designed by Brian Pirie for all the deets, peeps.


Mike Blouin’s launch of Wore Down Trust. in preparation i am reading Alden Nowlan’s Selected. i’m already very familiar with Johnny Cash and vodka.


Elizabeth Hay, Alone in the Classroom; i loved Late Nights on Air and this book sounds intriguing. the Citizen had a good review of it in the Sunday Books section. and it concerns happenings in the Ottawa Valley. i like to read about Ottawa.


The Art of the Short Story with Clark Blaise and John Metcalf. (may have to miss, but hoping). i always enjoy what the festival calls masterclasses. they’re basically one on one talks between host and writer who attempts to impart a few words of advice about writing. i’m not writing short stories these days, but i find all of these instructional and you never know when i might decide to take up the short fiction pencil again. i’m embarrassed to say i’ve never heard of Clark Blaise, another reason to attend.

PRAIRIE SCENE with David Carpenter, Connie Gault, Alissa York. apparently a discussion of place in prairie writing. i would have loved to have seen Robert Kroetsch and Dennis Cooley at this event. read a review of York’s book in the Citizen last weekend and sounded interesting. Fauna i don’t think it is a prairie book though, set in Toronto’s Don Valley. i spent a lot of my childhood hanging around the Riverdale Zoo. i lived off Keele for a few months in my early 20s and wandered the river, the bridges of Toronto and i often write about vagabonds. this is why i’m interested. the others i don’t know about, haven’t heard about. let them sing.


Coach House Books with Sean Dixon, Suzette Mayr, Helen Guri and Gabe Forman
two poets reading : Guri and Foreman. i don’t know either and i’ve heard a wee bit about Foreman’s book, so we’ll see. and this event takes place at Collected Works, which is so lovely now with all its open space. and for you folks with budget constraints (and don’t we all have them), this event’s free as is the Anansi event happening later.

Michael Winter and Steven Hayward read at the Manx at 5pm, but there’s no way i can get there in time. i will not be late for events and disrupt readings. that’s a rule. plus the next event is back over at Collected Works on Wellington, a wee bit west. i take the bus, i walk, so looks like a stint at a Wellington St. pub between Coach House and Anansi. i’m sad to miss Michael Winter though. i always enjoy his readings at the festival.

House of Anansi Poetry Bash with Sharon Thesen, Matt Rader and Ken Babstock. have never heard Thesen or Rader but have heard great things about both, and Babstock is a festival fav.


Messagio Galore Take VIII with jwcurry, Christine McNair, Alastair Larwill and Grant Wilkins; had to miss Take VII because i was just out of surgery so am very keen on this one.

Poetry Cabaret with Pearl Pirie, Gillian Sze and Lorna Crozier
after rob’s review, am interested in Sze’s new work. plus i liked Fish Bones. always good to hear my dear friend Pearl read. and another dear friend Sandra Ridley is hosting. i haven’t really engaged with Crozier’s work for many years now, but i credit her with being one of the poets whose works turned me on to contemporary poetry in my mid-30 and made me realize i actually wrote poetry. i’ll be interested to hear her read her latest work. and the Q&A with these four women will be interesting, i’m sure.

i am sad to miss Mike Carey and Andrew Pyper at Plan 99 at the Manx at 5pm. see above. Carey was at the festival last year, i believe. i enjoyed hearing him talk about his graphic comics.

Madeleine Thien, Hisham Matar and Johanna Skibsrud
haven’t read any of these authors in full, but am enjoying Skibsrud’s Late Nights with Wild Cowboys from Gaspereau.

Michael V. Smith, Teju Cole and Timothy Taylor
Smith’s book Cambridge is a favourite of mine. i haven’t heard a thing about his new novel Progress and why is that? his Book Thug book body of text with David Ellingson is great fun and whimsical.

THE VOICE OF POETRY with Robert Pinksy and Stephen Brockwell
another masterclass at the Ottawa Public Library. my copy of Pinksy’s the Sounds of Poetry is dog-eared and for some unknown reason, stained. will i be too embarrassed to bring it in for an inscription? i hope not. i haven’t read any of his poetry, and am not easily impressed by a cartoon rendering on the Simpsons, but i am looking forward to hearing him read and hearing his answers to questions by the brilliant and talented Mr. Stephen Brockwell. on a side note if you haven’t yet read Brockwell’s the Real Made Up, you should get it and read it now.

Joyner’s Dream with Sylvia Tyson
i’m a folkie, i admit it. this book is fiction. um, maybe. and also music by Ms. Tyson. yes, please. i want to grow my hair long again, find someone to sing Four Strong Winds with. i mean wow. Sylvia Tyson.

Ghazal Concert with Lorna Crozier, Rob Winger, Sandra Ridley, Robert Pinksy
when i read excerpts from John Thompson’s Stilt Jack, i was hooked on this form. and then a dear friend sent me his ghazals and i was even more hooked. i’ve read others too and most recently Rob Winger’s the Chimney Stone, which pleased me with its humour, the way he incorporated contemporary stuff, music, icons. so of course now i’m writing my own. wouldn’t miss this one.

i find the writers festival to be a form of school for me. it’s a chance to be immersed in good writing and ask and hear questions about good writing. as a writer, i realize what i should be attending are the political events, the big idea events, but i am lured by fiction and poetry, which are these ideas filtered through the observations and emotions of literature. in literature i find influences of other writers: Hemingway, Baudelaire, Stein, etc. literature is what turns me on.

if you’re a writer and you’re in Ottawa or a voracious reader, don’t miss this festival. passes are available thru the festival site and other places. and on a (more) personal note, this is my first whole body festival experience since before the great health crisis of 2009. when i went last year, i wasn’t in full form yet, still waiting for my surgery and having to deal with issues related to my health, but this year, i’m in fine fettle. i intend to immerse myself. come join me.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Response: the Vaderization of Harper

The Vaderization of Harper, a recent column by my friend Kate Heartfield of the Ottawa Citizen has been on my mind of late. She suggests in her article that the opposition is resorting to hyperbole and that Harper is not a dangerous, power-mad tyrant. She says--and forgive me for the paraphrase; please read the article yourself—that to call Harper a dictator is to do a disservice to those who live under authoritarian regimes. Her evidence is that she has written critical pieces about Harper and is not in jail.

To take this literally, yes, Kate is right, Harper isn’t a dictator…yet, but consider the direction he and his government is taking. Consider that instead of debating issues where his government is in danger of having allowed for serious atrocities, such as the Afghan detainees issue, he either prorogues Parliament or calls an election.

Consider that for his tough on crime legislation he is planning to pass it within 100 days, including proposed legislation that fell off the order paper when the election was called.

Under his government, the census long form has been taken away. This means that substantiation for community services can come only from word of mouth rather than actual fact. It’s easy then to make a claim for the need for more prisons, which Harper wants.

Kate says that calling Harper a dictator is fearmongering, yet doesn't mention Harper's fearmongering in which he says that if we don't elect his government, we will suffer economic collapse, street crime, etc, etc.

The Harper government muzzles government scientists, and other civil servants. Civil servants must get approval from the government prior to giving interviews or sharing information of any kind. They must use the phrase “the Harper Government” when referring to the government. While other parties have used such terms, the Chretien Government, etc, from what i can find out, they have never dictated that their civil servants and government workers use such. (correct me if i’m wrong).

In this bubble campaign, Conservatives are following a tightly controlled script, in some cases even avoiding public all candidates meetings.

This government has undermined the independence of key agencies such as the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission by firing dissenters and replacing them with proponents of Conservative policy.

The Conservatives want to take away party subsidies to eliminate minority parties such as the Green Party and the NDP who don’t have the support of big industry , such as the Conservatives do. Think oil.

Not letting the public in to its rallies. Checking FaceBook profiles to vet those who don’t support Conservative tenets…

If these aren’t the signs of an impending dictatorship, I don’t know what is. Of course it isn't the same degree of dictatorship that would take place in undemocratic countries, but this is how it starts. He isn’t riding around in an open jeep with a gun strapped to his body, but step by step, Harper is undermining democracy in this country. And I think we need to take that seriously.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

the unsung poetry books of 2010

with no offence intended to the shortlisted for the Lampert, the Lowther, the Griffin, here’s my not at all comprehensive list of 2010 books that should (have) receive(d) more notice and their authors who deserve cash, limos, laurels, groupies and a chance to act like Charlie Sheen on national television…

since i have written a bit about all of these books except a few (which i’ll get to), i’ll just provide the list.

been shed bore by Pearl Pirie (Chaudiere Books)
The Little Seamstress by Phil Hall (Pedlar Press)
Rhapsodomancy by kevin mcpherson eckhoff (Coach House)
Fallout by Sandra Ridley (did receive a Saskatchewan Book Award for publisher Hagios)
The Porcupinity of the Stars by Gary Barwin (Coach House)
The Chimney Stone by Rob Winger (Nightwood Editions)
Wild Horses by rob mclennan (the University of Alberta Press)
R’s Boat by Lisa Robertson (University of California Press-i know, not a Canadian publisher, but i’m including because Robertson is Canadian, dagnabit)
Nox by Anne Carson (New Directions-another non Canadian publisher, but see above, dagnabit.

all of these books surprised me, made me excited about the possibilities of language, image, sound, and whimsy. these books were powerful works of poetry where such emotions as grief, humour, and wonder were prevalent throughout. sometimes i wonder what kind of a world it is when books like these receive such little notice from the literati. and then i don’t. sigh. do yourself a favour. if you haven’t purchased these small jewels, buy them today. and perhaps write a wee review or blog entry about them.

in the meantime, here are virtual prizes for these unsung poetic heroes:
a loving cup, three dozen red roses and a magnum of champagne

without your delicious works, mes chers, i would have to say, why write, why read poetry at all…why bother…you put the O in poetry.

please suggest other poetry books published in 2010 that deserve notice and purchase…

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Yet Another Maple Leaf Rag

Iggy’s eyes go ziggy zaggy.
Forgive me, but i think it’s whacky

to elect a man incapable of looking us in the eye,
a sure sign a crimson promise is nothing but a lie.

Harper with his piercing blue diction
must be a lover of fantasy and science fiction.

He cooks up imaginary crooks who need incarceration,
while ignoring the downtrodden of the nation.

For Jack Layton I have nothing but compassion
but his pipe dreams will lead to uncertainty and inaction.

Et Gilles Duceppe, qui veut du Québec sa souveraineté,
n’est pas du tout digne de notre amitié.

That leave us with Elizabeth May
who would surely save the day (and the planet),

but she’s not allowed to speak.
The so called powers that be have some cheek.

Politics is nothing but a game played by rich old boys.
We Canadians are merely the rag dolls, their neglected toys.

I know we won’t come out of this election smelling like a rose,
but still, I urge you to vote and if you have to, hold your nose.