Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Signs of Fall

As summer ends, Ottawa’s literary scene gears up with even more than the usual number of activities planned. Inevitably, there are scheduling clashes, with two or more poetry events going on at the same time. The last day of summer, September 20, is one such occasion, when you have to choose between a joint reading by the contenders for Ottawa’s major annual poetry prize, the Lampman-Scott Award, and the launch of an early front-runner for next year’s Lampman-Scott prize, Nadine McInnis’s Two Hemispheres, from Brick Books.
If you find yourself on foot in the shadow of the Peace Tower that Thursday evening, your choice is easy, because you are a short walk from the luxuriously appointed Nicholas Hoare Bookstore, 419 Sussex Drive, where Nadine McInnis’s Two Hemispheres is being launched. The store is carpeted and lined with books, so a microphone will be needed for the listeners, who will no doubt outnumber the chairs, however comfortable many of them may be. Look for a short reading, then, and a sociable wait for the author to sign your copy – a must if you have fallen under the spell of McInnis’s poetry. Like the poems in Two Hemispheres, McInnis’s reading style is intense, emotional, at once elemental and personally vulnerable. Her new collection weaves together meditations about the lives of inmates of a women’s mental hospital photographed in the 19th century with accounts of the poet’s father’s secretive descent into mental illness. The poetry is rhythmic, sometimes incantatory, exposing raw emotion without veering into sentimentality, and the book is under twenty dollars. The hors d’oeuvres, this close to the Byward Market, are probably pretty good too.
Across town at the Lampman-Scott reading, the seating is adequate, luxurious in fact, at the reception centre of Beechwood Cemetery, off Beechwood Drive, a little beyond the Governor-General’s residence. OCTranspo buses serve the location, and there is convenient parking, but the group reading won’t attract anyone happening to walk past. It’s a pity if the reading doesn’t draw a large audience, too, because it brings together as many as possible of Ottawa’s poets who have brought out a book in the past year. Listeners may sample, in comfort, the whole range of styles and levels of achievement among the city’s poets, young, old and in-between. At the September 20th reading, for example, the readers might range from that ubiquitous chronicler of the mundane, rob mclennan (who knows?) to that meticulous archivist of the nightmarish, Ronnie Brown; from miniaturist Grant Savage to activist Oni the Haitian Sensation. If the Lampman-Scott competition were like a poetry slam, the poets I’d expect the final rounds would see the veteran, GG-nominated archaeologist of the zeitgeist Monty Reid (Disappointment Island, Chaudiere Books, Ottawa) sparring with a couple of “rookies”: the well-seasoned “first book” by Sylvia Adams, Sleeping on the Moon (Hagios Press, Regina), an explorer’s journal brought back from 19th-century Africa; and the snapping-fresh Hung Out to Dry in Cape Breton (Signal Editions/VĂ©hicule) by first-time author, long-time editor Anita Lahey. With exciting new books of poetry like these coming out by the handful, who cares who takes the prize? The audience is already the winner.

1 comment:

Colin Morton said...

A postscript: I opted for the launch of Nadine McInnis's new book, Two Hemispheres, and on reading it, must pass on this comment. This is a brave book whose language is not only pared to the bone but also cuts deeply. Her poetic portraits of women photographed in a 19th century insane asylum make us see the women not as examples of madness but as full human beings struggling to overcome illness. These are characters as strong and iconic as the handmaids in the Penelopiad (now showing at NAC). Each one of them is Nadine McInnis and, the poet reminds us, could be ourselves.