amongst books

amongst books

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Two events at the Manx Pub this weekend

Bywords Cornerstone Fundraiser and Spring Launch
Saturday, May 28 at 5 to 6pm
with music by Jesse Cole and poetry by Emily Falvey, Christian McPherson, Rod Pederson and Dimitra Xidous
Those who give money for Cornerstone will receive a free copy of the spring issue of the Bywords Quarterly Journal and our gratitude.
For more on the event please go to my note over at Local Tourist Ottawa

John Lavery Memorial
Sunday, May 29, 4 to 6pm
an informal gathering of friends and fans of John Lavery
hosted by David O’Meara
a chance to celebrate John and share your memories.
FaceBook Event Listing
A big thank you to David O’Meara and the Manx Pub for holding these events and for their continuing support of literature through Plan 99, a prose & poetry series that has features writers from across Canada that we rarely get a chance to hear in person in a welcoming and writer/reader friendly atmosphere without distractions by big screen tvs and with the benefit of very good beer and scotch.

There are so many things going on in Ottawa this weekend: Glebe Garage Sale, Hintonburg Arts Festival, Race Weekend and probably a myriad of other activities, but I hope if you’re in Ottawa or if you want to be in Ottawa, you’ll stop by the Manx for a few hours on the weekend to support a good cause, hear some great poetry and music and celebrate John Lavery, who influenced and touched the lives of many Ottawa writers and musicians.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Pearl Pirie at Sasquatch, Sunday, May 22, 2011

On Sunday afternoon Pearl Pirie was the featured reader at the Sasquatch Literary and Arts Performance Series. This series has continued since 1980 but not consistently since the founder Juan O’Neill passed away in 2006. In the past while it has had a hiatus but thanks to host Alastair Larwill it’s been back since April and hopefully will continue. It takes place at the Royal Oak II, 161 Laurier St. East in the basement. Next up is Jim Larwill on June 12 at 2pm.

The series also has an open mic. One of the directors and regulars John Woodsworth read poetry in Russian and English and played his balalaika and sang. I felt like Juan was there, applauding from his spot by the fireplace and asking John for an encore.

Pearl read to a small but attentive audience, primarily from an unpublished manuscript she referred to as the sentences project. The idea came from a workshop exercise for her writers’ group Ruby Tuesdays. Pearl chose to do a variation of Lyn Hejinian’s long autobiographical poem My Life and ended up with a dense manuscript.

"The alternative form that Hejinian uses most frequently is what has come to be called the "new sentence," a form of prose poem composed mainly of sentences that have no clear transitions. The gap created by a text that moves from subject to subject invites the reader to participate, to bring his or her own reading to the text."

I think this fits with what Pearl is doing in this particular work and like Hejinian's open text, Pearl's text is open to the reader.

And this is what Pearl says about the method: “For 20 minutes we did a take-off, picking one year and writing as many sentences as our each. Each sentence was a non-sequitur to the last. It worked well with how I think. I pushed to see how far it would go. In the first burst, about 4600 words long. It was a larger canvas than I usually give myself and by its nature asks to be dense, but not dwell and to build in ways for cross-ties over the length to give some coherence, but not in a direct linear way.”

It is not uncommon for Pearl to use exercises to help in the creation of her work. In her recent collection “been shed bore” (Chaudiere Books) she uses several constraints to create her poems.

What I found about what she read is that it seemed to be a cumulative collection of juxtapositions that resulted in slices of life, kind of like a snakey jigsaw puzzle with much fun word play and a depth of meaning, lyricism and imagery.

You can find an example of the work over at the League of Canadian Poets National Poetry Month blog.

And to read more about the influences for the project, you can visit her blog entry here.

I'll be excited and interested to see this work published.

Stan Rogal Blows Me Away

Last Friday at the Carleton Tavern, I had the pleasure of hearing a writer I’ve heard tell of, but never heard read before, nor do I recall reading any of his poetry in the past.

Rogal read from his selected Dance, Monster, fresh from Insomniac Press, and some new work, including one very saucy number from an anthology about food.

I wonder how I could have missed this poet. rob mclennan has published Rogal a few times via above/ground press:

#87 In Search of the Emerald City, February 1997 chapbook
#236 Elephant Man, April 2000 broadside

but that was before I got into contemporary poetry and the Ottawa scene, so poof, missed it, missed him. and rob did a 12 or 20 questions interview with him in 2007, which i likely read too but i didn’t search out his poetry at that point either.

i’m not the only one apparently. in his foreword to Dance, Monster, Paul Vermeersch says “For several decades now, Rogal has been writing poetry that has quietly become one of the most entertaining and engaging bodies of work in recent Canadian letters while at the same time developing a reputation, rightly or wrongly (I suspect wrongly), for being what one waggish reviewer called ‘an intellectual redneck.’ I believe this outsider status has contributed to a remarkable poet being largely (but not entirely) overlooked by the Canadian poetry establishment.”

At Friday’s reading, I enjoyed Rogal’s energetic delivery, his irreverence, imagination, word play, syntactic play, humour, sense of fun, straight up mention of body parts and sex, the grotesque and the monstrous, which i found refreshing. There’s an exhilarating pace to his poetry.

Here’s a poem he read on Friday night:

after Lorine Niedecker

Nothing new in this, except,
blah blah consolation / no one /
invented the atom. Feeling freakish
among overcomes doing almost anything
good for starey-o-eyed walkmen
sinking static & hiss in the verdant sog
animal wind flushing carp rotting the
nostrilled doorsteps one thing food for
another but, Raleigh sd: “No use going
to the country it will bring us no peace.”
Armed & armoured as we are night air
pumps us pure
mad with oxygen fight drunk to punch
the lights out of unfabulous frog rattlings
homespun communes even eaten alive by no-see-ums.
“The country,” he sd, him standing off
the path nicked of all civilized trappings
sd: “will not,” his naked rack abuzz
with bees sd: “bring us” afraid to move
a muscle, bat an eye, sd: “peace.”

Blah, blah blah…

In Dance, Monster: Fifty Selected Poems, there are poems from eight collections from 1992-2005. Rogal has been a prolific and constantly published writer with fifteen books, including three novels, three story collections and nine poetry collections. And yet, i knew nothing.

Sometimes he’ll hit you with a kapaow opening:

“When someone shouts his love to you / Sew up his lips.” (Labyrinth)

imaginative juxtapositions:

Among the shattered scattered tiger eggs & horsefeathers (Down the Road)

startling imagery:

“As that day, the unholy Grail/looped a scarf around several necks and yanked.” (Riddled)

and much of the book talking about nature, not seeing it as hallowed:

“Nature/Against its will tangles root for root producing/beauty” (Legend)

“Within my grave, ever./Twin shades frozen in unutterable stillness./No solace in a nightingale.” (& the Void Stares Back)

and especially irreverence:

“How make an educated guest among such empty yak?” (Personations 17)

“just one more unlucky bastard left swinging from the scaffold” (Sound the Silent Aitch)

“Herod jacks off between the ecstatic hands of Beata Beatrix while/Salome demands the head of Orpheus and gets it” (More Pricks than Kicks)

“I believe that every hundredth monkey should be made/accountable for its actions./Should supply empirical evidence for motives & long-range plans./ Should be interrogated its brain picked clean of software. / Should be stripped of articles that can be used as weapons.” (Dance, Monster, to My Soft Song)

There’s something plain yet beautiful about Rogal’s writing, a mixture of the lyrical with the irreverent, a lust for life while at the same time not being fooled by its smarminess. I admire that. I don’t want purely cynical poems, nor do I want sentiment. Rogal’s a kind of Frankestein’s monster of a writer, building up body parts and emotions and bits of nature., much like the cover of one of his books, Fabulous Freaks (Coach House Books, 2005), some of which appears in Dance, Monster.

Thanks to rob for another excellent opportunity to hear fine writers. The other readers were Ben Ladouceur and Bruce Taylor who both gave fine readings themselves.

I’ll leave you with one last poem from Stan Rogal. And Ottawans, if he comes back again, and I very much hope he does, don’t miss him.

Love: 1

Often easier spinning straw to gold.
Limiting the body’s adventure to a dark room in a brick tower.
Where dreams are a wrestle with dragons.
Every awakening bolts a sticky must of blood & sap.
Hair grows out of proportion in this place.
A riddle to be climbed by the clumsy hands of youth.
You remember the feeling.
Hard rocks as a matter of course.
Love led around by the nose & no amount of distance forever.
Intaglio of two tiny hearts.
One blind lost in a forest of thorns
the other wandering barefoot in the sand
living hand to mouth the slow unwinding of stars.
Hopeful outgrowing no ancient magic can contain
Or undo.
Her golden tresses brushing darkness from his eyes.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Rant: Death is Certain

Death is certain. It will happen to me, to you, to everyone you love and everyone you hate, to your dentist, your neighbour, the people you ride the bus with and the woman you buy your coffee from every morning. Death, i repeat, is certain.

So if you aren’t making those you love in your life a priority, if you have yet another excuse as to why you don’t spend time with loves, lovers, friends and interesting, provocative people, then you’re a fool.

After my own close call in November, 2009, i’ve been mostly just grateful to still be alive and confused, often even suffering from a form of grief over how close i came. how come i’m here and others aren’t. how come you are?

Please don’t waste your time in petty squabbles, working late hours on foolish jobs, obsessing over needless details, even doing laundry, if you can be with those you love. Because tomorrow we’ll be gone.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

interview with John Lavery, an excerpt

last summer & fall i had a wonderful on-going e-mail conversation with John Lavery about his fiction and his music. the whole interview can be found in issue 7 of

i thought you might enjoy reading this excerpt:

AE: I’m going to switch gears again and talk about another one of your creative activities, your music. At the time of this interview, you’ve been working on a CD to be released with local recording studio Bova Sound. When did you start to play music and write songs? When and why did you decide to share your music?

In your fiction, your characters express philosophies about love, death, politics etc. In your songs, there is an I or an omniscient voice that says things like “”At times, life is, you know, like tennis. Love means nothing.” Or in Ruffian and Geek: “the truth is people come and touch, but have to leave,/and leave a hole inside your head where very stupidly you grieve,”.

I’ve heard you say when you’ve performed that your songs are lies, but audiences have a tendency to take the I as the authorial I, particularly in songs. Do you find this disconcerting or comforting? Is it sometimes more comfortable to reveal a truth or a personal sentiment in fiction than it is in music or the opposite?

JL: The first song I wrote was entitled, “Won’t You Come Along With Me.” You can stop laughing now. I was 13 or 14. Walter Gordon, of “Walter and I,” still remembers it and some of the lyrics, unfortunately. The second was, “It’s Raining Round Me Now.” “It’s raining round me now/the snow is fading into sad tones of grey/the sun has disappeared/to some other land where time and jugglers play/their merry songs and to the green god bow.” As I say, I was 14.

Despite being paralytically shy when I was young, I never had much difficulty digging out my guitar and singing songs when people asked me to, which they did fairly often. Singing is a good way for me to make people disappear.

I believe I said songs were fictions, not lies. It is of the very essence of fiction, perhaps cowardly essence, that it is neither true or false. Of course lies, at times anyway, are less false true than the truth itself.

I remember reading a piece once by Auden in which he talked about being insincerely sincere. Or sincerely insincere. It is never an easy thing, to be sincere. We are linguistic animals, and language is a communicative tool like no other. It is this very fact that makes it difficult for us to accept the inexpressiveness of language, or that there seems always to be a gap between what we say, and what we mean to say. We feel we must not be expressing ourselves correctly, we try again. We try and try.
Of course it is frequently not even a good idea to be sincere. It is almost always dangerous, sometimes very. It can be humiliating, inappropriate, uninteresting, misunderstood.

In a work of fiction, the text is the text, both what is said and, we have no choice but to assume, what was meant to be said. The author is undeniably present in every word, and yet he, or she, can not actually be found anywhere in his or her own fiction. These are the only conditions under which sincerity is possible. Or safe. No money in sincerity, of course. And it takes work. Still, it's an enormous privilege, and absolutely exhilarating, to spit it out at last.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Disappeared en route to Betelgeuse – May 8th 2011 10:22 AM - John Lavery


which way to the airfield?
tell me can I get there from here?
I'm travelling last class
to Betelgeuse, Deneb, Altair
and points beyond

learn to live without, learn to live within
the motto of the cosmic traveller
sleep tight between the spirit and the skin
make your home the horizon

I'm disappearing
tell me can I get there from here?

I'm ditching my high time,
my single space, and my andro's fear
and I'm moving on

nothing to recall, nothing to declare
the visa of the cosmic traveller
thanks for choosing Labyrinthine Air
we kiss your abyss any new where

we're six-shooting starlings
we're blonde, blue-eyed crows
junkyard swans caked with mud

we can't talk
if you hold me down

white, prairie petrels
we're larks lost at sea
brownbirds of paradise

the word is
when birds die
they fall to the ground

Did you sleep well?
The kitchen's closed,
I don't cook for bed lugs.

It's cold. You'll have to
make some yourself.

John Lavery


John passed away this morning. His wife Claire sent me the above lyrics so share with all of you. I wish John well on his journey. Charles and I will miss him.

Friday, May 06, 2011

for those who love colour

Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox by Victoria Findlay
the first book i ever read specifically about colour. it’s full of wondrous tales about colour in art, fashion, design, health, music, pretty much everything you could imagine. there’s a wee bit of science for the layperson too, explaining how colour works. here is the story of colour from the cave to the canvas, from the indigo workers to the Spanish ox-blood coloured fatty beef stew. this is a collection of fascinating stories.

A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage and the Quest for the Color of Desire by Amy Butler Greenfield
the history of cochineal, the brightest, strongest red in the world

The Primary Colors: Three Essays by Alexander Theroux
blue, red and yellow in history, art, textiles, literature. love the way this book wanders and takes imaginative leaps from one instance of blue to the next. from eye colour: Hitler’s eyes were blue to a blue vegetable dye made from human urine.

Kandinsky's Concering the Spiritual In Art has a big section on the psychology and theory of colour from 1911.

Pigments Through the Ages
a brief description of the history of specific pigments and their symbolism, often with references to art.

Crayons: Crayola colours

the colour clock represents time as a hexidecimal colour value.

part of my interest in colour comes from my synaesthesia. i have grapheme synaesthesia which means i associate letters, numbers, people's names, days of the week, months and a few other things with colour. for example pain for me can be a green ache, a yellow throb, a white sharp jab and sometimes other colours like brown, purple and red come into play.

Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses has a great section on synaesthesia; in his memoir Speak, Memory, Nabokov talks about how musical notes evoke textures for him.

Another good book is Blue Cats and Chartreuse Kittens: How Synesthetes Color Their Worlds by Patricia Lynn Duffy.

As a child, i didn't know that i was doing anything unusual when i mixed up colour and names, for example i would sometimes call someone green if their name was Steve. i got 4 and 5 confused because they were blue and green and that seemed similar to me. at some point, i was trotted out at parties and asked to tell people what colour their names were, like a child psychic or carny act. my sister wrote down the correspondences and would test me on them every once in a while and they stayed constant. i've done tests and my synaesthaesia seems to be still very high. if you'd like to do a test, you can take one here.

after being treated a bit like a circus act, i figured i was the only person with this thing, i didn't know it was a condition and i didn't know it could be quite extreme for some people. some people have severe physical reactions to colour or smell or other senses. at 18 in university, i was exposed to Baudelaire's Correspondances and Rimbaud's Voyelles, two poems where senses are blended. Voyelles was particularly exciting for me and confusing. Rimbaud's matches were not my own.

how does this show up in my writing? when i first started to workshop my poems with others, i was told that my colour associations were arbitrary and made no sense. they probably still don't, but it's not something i have heard in the last 5 years or so.

i'm also quite gaga for visual poetry and visual art where colour is prominently featured, such as abstract expressionism, Mark Rothko's pieces.

i found it difficult when i was in hospital due to the lack of colour or the lack of strong colours. everything was white, pale blue, pale yellow. these pale colours were also in my delusions.

if you know of other sites or books on colour or synaesthesia, please let me know. and if you are a colour lover like me, you're a kindred spirit. i'd love to hear more about your colour proclivities.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Wore Down Trust &other fest highlights

what is it about the writers festival? i start out expecting a good time, some fine readings and a bit of socializing and somewhere along the line, something catches fire with me and i’m under a kind of a spell. any attempts i make to resist purchasing books due to limited finances go out the window.

this year the fire started early with Mike Blouin’s launch of Wore Down Trust, (Pedlar Press), fittingly at the Barley Mow, a local pub in Old Ottawa South near the main festival site of the Mayfair Theatre. there were drinks, there were many drinks and a good crowd. [full disclosure-the author gifted me with a Wore Down Trust t-shirt and i am wearing it right now, which is clearly influencing my fondness for the work]

i admit that i was provoked early on, days before the reading (and i love being provoked) with the promos for the book and an isolated quote from Alden Nowlan on the writers fest site:

oh, admit this, man there’s no point in poetry
if you withhold the truth
once you’ve come by it—

that quote alone makes no sense to me. it comes across as didactic. hackles raised. and then poet Susan Musgrave chose Alden Nowlan’s Selected Poems for her Canada Reads Poetry selection, explaining that Canadians don’t need to be afraid of Nowlan. this irked me even more. i admit i hadn’t read any of Nowlan’s poetry, but i didn’t like the idea of some kind of pandering sycophant with delusions of knowing The Truth. i was bothered enough to take a look at his Selected.

what i read there was not The Truth, but rather brilliant and poignant observations, a wee bit old-fashioned in places, nameless women lying about on the grass, but on the whole beautiful and humble and certainly not didactic. a few poems about the operating room were particularly apt for me and i appreciated the universality of his poetry.

in Wore Down Trust the quote appears along with a few other quotes but it is not in isolation and i think it fits fine, particularly within the context of the three characters Nowlan, Cash and the author himself. in some ways, Blouin’s book reminded me of Rob Winger’s Muybridge’s Horse (Nightwood Editions), another book that plays with public and private personas of historical figures, not as well known as Cash but probably more well known than Nowlan or the author.

Blouin advises us that the voices are imagined and that “most things border the truth.” and this is one of the compelling aspects of Wore Down Trust for me, that exploration of the borders of truth and imagination. the universal truths of trying to live and survive faced with the obstacles inherent in living. the tumult faced by Cash et al in trying to live faced with addictions and sorrows.

as a music junkie and particularly as a lover of the blues, i enjoyed the structure of Wore Down Trust, the three chords AAB repeated throughout, the author as the third bar in traditional blues acts as a kind of anchor, pulls us back to a commonality between the three. “When you can find it, truth sings.” Songs are a form of truth. and yet “We lie to ourselves about who we are.”

there is duende in Blouin’s work here, he evokes the troubles of Cash and Nowlan, their demons not as an outsider, but as someone who can relate to them at least in the persona of the author in this book. “I seem to pick up feelings from everyone else around me.” The book acts as a kind of sampling of heightened emotion and passion without being smarmy.

A [Cash]

The way this is now
I feel almost nothing
that’s a good question I tell the interviewer
don’t even remember what he asked

my tongue is heavy in my mouth
I feel like I’ve been left out to rust
I feel almost nothing

where I am is rattling around inside this body
too tired to care

and the fire continued with other readings at the festival: the House of Anansi poetry bash was excellent. i had a moment during Matt Rader’s reading of A Doctor Pedalled Her Bicycle Over the River Arno where the strength of Rader’s poem and the emotion with which he read it moved me very deeply. i am not one for the idea of perfection in poetry but i recognize the skill of all three readers Sharon Thesen from Oyama Pink Shale, Rader from his book and Ken Babstock from Methodist Hatchet. Babstock’s ability with sound is so brilliant, so much fun. I am a sound junkie.

i don’t know if this has ever happened to you when you’ve attended a reading or read a piece of writing: during Matt Rader’s reading for some reason i felt as if i’d heard something so very good and strong that i found all of my own attempts to write poems passing through my mind and realizing that i wasn’t there, that i hadn’t achieved what i was trying to achieve and perhaps never would. an unsettling and somewhat worrisome thought.

a friend says House of Anansi is Canada’s best literary publisher. i don’t know about that, but they have consistently published some of the most accomplished poetry i've read and these three poets are definitely at the top of their game. and yet they are humble. each of them were nervous readers, especially Matt Rader. i liked that. they weren’t arrogant like some people can be. they didn’t have that horrid I am a Poet attitude (nor did any other poets i heard at the fest, by the way); to share work with people can make the writer feel very vulnerable. some like Rader include autobiography which can be very private to share. Rader is also a skilled soundsmith, which came across beautifully in his reading and in the book. Here’s an example of sound bliss:

Gravity and Grace

The air unravels at Cape Canaveral
and in Oregon a rain-rattle in the gutter
like chariots on cobblestone – Cape
Kennedy, you insist, Canaveral being
a canebrake, a snake able to paralyze
the lungs with its spit of neurotoxin,
a vast tract overtaken by sugarcane.

throughout the book is the subject of sickness and death, a grandfather taken away by ambulance, the discovery of a three-year old child’s body, the sickness and death of a brother. such power and emotion in these poems. what struck me was aspects of ordinary life being mentioned in the context of the experience of dying. and lines that vary from long to short pointed bits of sound, the beauty of these long lines like a requiem for the dead.


i.m. S.L.


Because the bathtub was as full of you
As evenings when you washed yourself
And your long blonde hair and brushed
It out before bed, we cleaned carefully,
My young wife and me, on our knees,
As if sponge bathing your absent body.


Before offering a prayer or taking a life
One must be good and of pure condition:
Feet, thighs and inner thighs, the genitals,
Pubic hair, buttocks, belly and breasts,
Right arm, left arm, fingers, fingernails,
Neck, the nostrils, ears, teeth, tongue, hair.


Tonight, when I draw my daughters’ bath,
Brush their hair, their tiny teeth, perform
The evening ritual to prepare for sleep,
The running water runs all the way back
To your brimming body and damp hair
As I held your head to wipe underneath.


Undress: take the chain from the neck,
The gold from the earls, uncuff the fingers
And arrange the rings like an alphabet
On the bedside table, remove the cotton
That covers the skin, let down the hair:
Brushings will begin with a cedar bough.


Out of the thousands of times I have lain
Naked with my wife, her brown hair falling
Across my face, her thighs open to a page
From the Heroides, I confess to one time
In our early lives when I imagined her
Body was your body moving above me.


There comes a darkness on the Salish Sea
So modest that when we stand without
Clothes on a moonless beach we cannot
See each other’s bodies and so revealing
That when we enter we see the water
Climax with the white light of basic life.


on Sunday there were two poetry events:

Messagio Galore Take VIII with the voices of jwcurry, Alastair Larwill, Grant Wilkins, Christine McNair and special guest Sandra Ridley all working together in various toned harmonies. again perfect for a sound junkie like me. Christine McNair’s Suzy Creamcheese was fun, very fun and the way she breathed, making me need to take some deep breaths, feeling claustrophobic, very disturbing. rob mclennan gives a detailed report here.

the poetry cabaret with Lorna Crozier, Pearl Pirie, Gillian Sze hosted by Sandra Ridley. some of my favourite lines came from Crozier’s memoir. Ridley’s great questions. i’ve already discussed the idea of place in terms of those questions and the answers from the poets.

Robert Pinksy’s masterclass at noon on Monday, his repetitions of some lines from William Carlos Williams “Fine Work with Pitch and Copper” and his description of his poetry process, how he plays with his surroundings and then with the vocabulary used to describe the surroundings, turns words backwards, rearranges them to see what they evoke.

finally the ghazal concert with Sandra Ridley, Lorna Crozier, Rob Winger and Robert Pinsky and the M E L M'RABET Quartet. i especially enjoyed the group readings of classic ghazals and the selection of ghazals from their own work and from the work of others. thanks to Sandra Ridley, who read some of Adrienne Rich’s ghazals, which i now desperately want to read because they seemed to a good counterpoint to the celebrations of nature found in many classic ghazals and instead went to dark places, used long lines and seemed dark. to be frank, they seemed to match the Canadian versions of the form more, particularly John Thompson’s ghazals. and i refuse to call these poems “guzzles”, i don’t care. it sounds icky. but other than that icky word, i enjoyed this ghazal extravaganza and had to end my festival activities there; i was sated.

on sunday night, i skipped the fiction events, came home and watched the Hunter S. Thompson documentary, Gonzo and felt a little less like all the poetry i could ever try to write was going to be weak compared to what i’d heard. it’s not that i want to write like the poets i’ve heard this past week, but that i want my work to be right, not perfect but somehow right. it helped to watch Gonzo. i need to remember that for me writing is an act of rebellion, a way to try and break out of cliché and stock imagery, which i am surrounded by, brainwashed by daily. and in these dark blue political times, i am going to need to write more than ever and read more than ever. i have fallen out of love with my current work. i guess that’s a good thing, but for now i’m disquieted. i’ll need the kind of beauty that i encountered at the ghazal concert and in Sharon Thesen’s work, the edginess and darkness of Sandra Ridley’s poetry, the sound concertos of Pinsky, Pirie and Babstock, the emotion of Rader, the passion of Blouin, the duende. i am open to it all. thank you writers fest for another amazing festival. and thank you to the writers for writing and sharing your work with us readers.

i have said that the Writers Festival should be called the Readers Festival because it is so satisfying for voracious readers like me to get a chance to hear these writers. i think we compromised and decided to call it the WReaders Festival (thanks to Rusty Priske!) i look forward to the fall edition.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

the times they are a changin'

come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen...

this is what i want

universal healthcare
fair treatment for First Nations People
full legalization of sex work for workers & clients
legalization of marriage for multiple consenting adults & ensuing benefits etc
the extension of the word family beyond parents & children to include caregivers, roommates & multiple spouses
women’s reproductive rights, especially the right to choose
green tax incentives to car-free people, apartment dwellers, composters
taxes on heavy polluters
legalization of drugs
more funding for the arts
a fully funded CBC
limitless internet usage
no participation in war of any kind; Canadian military as peacekeepers only
focus on ending hunger, homelessness, poverty, domestic violence in Canada
a leading role on the world stage for environmental and above issues
the end of our participation in the G8/G20s
people above profits
people above power
people above all

i am not centrist, i am not moderate, i am so far left i will not be in any Canadian family portraits anytime soon. there is nothing to look forward to for me in a blue Canada. i am freezing in the cold blue ice of a Conservative majority. i am hoping that the small ray of light coming from Orange energy and the wee stem of green hope coming from Elizabeth May will somehow keep those of us on the left going, but as it stands, this is not my country. this is Harperland and baby, it’s cold outside.

Monday, May 02, 2011

place & out of place at the fest & elsewhere

one of the overriding themes at the Ottawa International Writers Festival this spring is the subject of place in writing.

at the Prairie Scene literary event the other night David Carpenter
Connie Gault, Alissa York and Dianne Warren discussed place in their writing with Laurie Brown. For three out of four writers, it seemed that that old adage “write what you know”was firmly in place in their writing. Only Connie Gault seemed to suggest that one could write what one imagines. The consensus seemed to be that being part of something, some place and writing about that place strengthened the writing.

At the poetry reading on Sunday with Pearl Pirie, Gillian Sze and Lorna Crozier, hosted by Sandra Ridley, the question of place came up once more, the idea that having a sense of place gave a writer a sense of comfort, but also questioning that comfort, wanting to move towards the edge of things and away from the centre. Sze spoke of feeling in between, being from Manitoba, being the child of immigrants, and now living in Montreal. One poet, Pearl Pirie explained that her work tends to stay away from a specific place. Even her poems about Lanark County tend to be an amalgam of different places and her imagination.

I have to say I related most to what she said on place. Another poet who read this week was Mike Blouin who launched his genre bender, Wore Down Trust. While place was evoked in the characters of the author, Johnny Cash and Alden Nowlen, the sense of placelessness is strong. all three men are drifters, searching for something, possibly the truth, whatever that means.

just before the festival, rob mclennan launched his most recent book, Glengarry, a poetry collection about his roots. nothing utopian about the recollection here either, but still home, a sense of this is where i come from and this is where i’m going.

Monty Reid is doing a series of chapbooks about the garden, not a specific place, although Reid is growing a garden at his new home now, but still a sense of being rooted in the landscape is likely there. or maybe not. i have read but one of these chapbooks so far, from Laurel Reed Books and where the hell is it? lost somewhere on my shelves.

Pearl Pirie’s recent chapbook is Between Stations published by obvious ephiphanies press in Japan and these poems are about trains, or perhaps even “trainness,” evoking that feeling of about to arrive but not quite there yet, not reaching the tangible. poems that were published in Fukushima, yes, that place, of the nuclear plants and tsunami and quake destruction. Japan where survivors must feel devasted, without their homes, families dead.

what will be written about the recent Alabama tornadoes, 300 people killed, many people without homes.

my own writing is not about home, never has been about home. As a child i kept my suitcase packed and i saved money from my allowance starting from the age of 8, money for university and to leave what was supposed to be home.

this week long festival celebration of place and home has made me think of my own writing in terms of that subject. my first published chapbook Eleanor (above/ground press) takes Eleanor from 12th Century Acquitaine and England to current day possibly Ottawa, although never mentioned. in Welcome to Earth (Book Thug) an alien discovers light, water, blood, mud. no specific place mentioned. in Ursula, a limited edition chapbook i published via AngelHousePress, Ursula is a drifter who wanders through urban streets while spouting prophetic visions and believing herself to be Saint Ursula. Kiki, my unpublished long poem is rooted in Montparnasse in the 20s and 30s, set in its cafes and nightclubs and in Kiki’s hometown of Source de la Doix in Burgundy, but Kiki, herself comes across as a drifter, leaving for some small apartment in the wee small hours, not able to sleep, restless.

there is no Shangri-la for me. it is all like this, earthquakes, shadows, the moving dark, the knife edge, the life edge. i once tried to write a narrative love poem about Ottawa and it was abysmal. an abyss. i can enjoy these works that rhapsodize over home, but i can’t understand them, not really. i have had to find home in people not in places. home is the people i love and my own body, my mind. i have to be able to find comfort even when the ground is shaking, even when the wind is blowing the trees rootless. and in literature and art and music, i am not looking for home. i am looking to be shaken.