The Ottawa International Writers Festival kicked off its tenth anniversary celebration by celebrating another anniversary, Exile’s 30th, this afternoon. The turn-out was excellent for such a blustery day. Founder and editor Barry Callaghan spoke for a few minutes about the start of Exile Editions, after losing a job and receiving seed money from a professor for Exile Quarterly. Exile has published great writing from writers all over the world. Four of these read today.
I enjoyed both the fiction (James Bacque and Seán Virgo), and poetry, but here I’ll concentrate on the poetry. The first reader, former Ottawa resident Priscila Uppal, read from Exile Editions 300th book published. I don’t have the title of her publication. Can’t find it anywhere on Exile’s site or elsewhere, that’s how recent it is, I guess. Her poems were like mini stories and juxtaposed entertaining and absurd fantasy with day-to-day reality. One of her poems, Cleaning the Piano talked about how a woman found her orgasm in a song.
Poet Janice Kulyk Keefer read from a special limited edition chapbook (signed and numbered in 50 copies, of which I snagged # 37) called Jasmine from the Balcony, which is a suite of poems from her soon-to-be-released poetry collection, Midnight Stroll. The poems were mesmerizing glimpses into the life of Amsterdam writer Etty Hillesum, who kept diaries and journals on her experiences in World War II, volunteered at a concentration camp and perished in Auschwitz at the young age of 29. The book also features the drawings of Claire Weissman Wilks, the photography of Goran Petkovsky. The cover and additional artwork was done by Natalka Hussar.
There were lines of such beauty in Ms. Kulyk Keefer’s reading that I wanted to just have the whole room stop and pause on just one line. “And when/I can no longer write,/I’ll have this one thing left://to simply lie down and try/to be a prayer.” Packing for Transit.
As a special treat Barry Callaghan read also from Raise You Ten: Essays and Encounters 1964-2004 (either Volume one or volume two, I’m not quite sure which). Like Kulyk-Keefer and novelist, James Bacque, Callaghan’s writing contained a reference to World War II, the tattoo with numbers on it, encountered by a man’s lover, a mermaid, or was she? I liked the sensuousness of Callaghan’s words and his description of the scent of the ocean from the woman’s body and smoke from the man’s. Callaghan is the type of man you need to listen to while sipping a few glasses of single malt, the fire burning down your throat, his words filling your mind and sating you, right along with the whisky.
I can’t resist quoting Barry Callaghan, thanks to the kind audience member who asked him to repeat his quote on maturity which he first gave when discussing the idea of starting a publishing house.
“Maturity is the ready acceptance of the inevitability of the defeat of your dreams.”
Aren’t we glad that Mr. Callaghan resisted maturity. Exile Editions sounds like it will be around for another 30 years. And perhaps this gives hope to up and coming young presses like Chaudiere Books!