Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Writers Festival, Spring 2008

The writers fest was a success by any count with great attendance, and happy crowds from what I could see.

For more posts on the Ottawa Writers festival, beyond what's at this site, there's lots around.

Charles is doing ongoing pictures of authors who came to the festival. JohnW did portraits of people as well, including Gillian Deacon who did a green talk. rob did a roundup on the book club readings.
Vaughn's book at the fest was mentioned.

Here's a look at Alison Pick, Anne Simpson and Writers that Writers Recommend, another set of ears on Poetry Cabaret #4 featuring Anansi authors, MF Moritz, Elise Partridge and Kevin Connolly (and some on his Revolver in the light of hearing him live at the fest), Here's a summary of some of what Don Domanski said, a little bits about the Messagio Galore V sound poetry performance.

There's also non-poetry summaries from the fest of The Writing Life #1 discussions of Maryse Condé, Stan Dragland and Anne Simpson, Dan Gardner's Risk on critical thinking, and Gary Marcus' Kluge book on how the brain works and doesn't and Me Sexy the book by Drew Haydon Taylor at the reading with Kateri Akiwenzi-Damm and a post on Writing Life #2 with Gale Zoë Garnett, Elizabeth Hay and Ahmad Saidullah. Canada's sexiest male poets list included a lot who were at the fest.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Poetry Cabaret 4 (not three!)

[i apologize that i can't count, noticed my numbering has been off for the entire fest...egad]

the festival ended last night with House of Anansi Press writers A.F. Moritz, Elise Partridge and Kevin Connolly. Poetry Cabaret 4 was eloquently hosted by David 0’Meara whose introductions to everyone’s work are always so good, i’d like to see them as essays. (and he wears great shirts, last night's dashing red with black roses]

i had trouble concentrating last night and my brain came awake fully for the question period and partially for the poetry of Kevin Connolly. not because i wasn’t interested, just because at festival’s end my brain is always overloaded and i simply can’t do more than just drift in and out of consciousness. (dare i mention the wine?)

i’m hoping another blogger (say Pearl?) may have more to say about the actual readings; last night i was quite interested in the audience’s response.

A.F. Moritz read from his new poetry collection “The Sentinel” (House of Anansi Press, 2008). I once heard him read before from Night Street Repairs, which I have and enjoyed. The poems were very lyrical and despite my lack of concentration abilities, I enjoyed the cadences and the delicate nature of his writing. It had a kind of understated strength, if that makes any sense. The audience paid close attention and seemed wrapt in his words.

Elise Partridge read from Chameleon Hours (House of Anansi Press, 2008).

Kevin Connolly, a festival and audience favourite read from his latest poetry collection “Revolver” (House of Anansi Press, 2008), a fascinating journey through various voices and styles, the table of contents being song titles. When I first heard Connolly’s work a few years back, I wasn’t quite there...I’ve had to grow into his writing and now I really appreciate it. I enjoy the risks he takes, for example, writing a moon poem when so many moon poems are cliche and the way he uses a constraint as a challenge and a form of liberation. In answer to the question about understanding, to me there is no better answer than the Bill Knott quote at the beginning of the book, which Kevin read when he began his reading: “I wish to be misunderstood; that is,/to be understood from your perspective.”

Kevin says he is not a surrealist poet but rather he is influenced by the Americans who were influenced by the surrealists. he put it better than that, but at 8 am on a Sunday morning, with really sketchy notes, I can’t do what he said justice. However, the surrealistic influences of his writing show up in poems such as “Counterpane,” which he read last night, when Shakespeare arrives on Ellis Island “with a trussed-up suitcase and the equivalent of $3.50 in badly out of date currency.”

this year’s festival was another great demonstration of literary variety, not only for poetry but also for fiction (and likely for ideas too). as far as the poetry goes, we were exposed to a wide variety of styles, intensities, experimentations, traditions and personalities. i walked out of the festival feeling sated once more and ready to write, ready to read and ready to engage in a poetic dialog with other writers.

thanks again to the Ottawa International Writers Festival. you bring this city to life!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Poetry Cabaret 2: greetings torpor vigilantes, children of the turbulation

Poetry Cabaret 2 took place at the Ottawa International Writers Festival last night and featured Nathaniel G. Moore, R.M. Vaughn and Steve Venright and was hosted by the ever charismatic Stephen Brockwell, who I think has to be my favourite host of poetry events at the festival.

I had never heard any of these men read before and I have to say it was refreshing and thrilling.

Moore began with the intro from his poetry collection “Let’s Pretend We Never Met” (Pedlar Press, 2007), which describes his attempts to get the work of dead poet Catullus published and the various responses from publishers, such as “The reason we’ve never published post-humous writing is that we’ve never had any submissions.” He read several poems from the collection, which marries his translations of Catullus’ poems with popular culture and some autobiographical material. It was interesting to see the 21st century so well blended with Ancient Rome. I enjoyed Moore’s stage presence, his rapport with the audience, his surrealistic sensibilities and his humour. The language of his poems is tight, playful and imaginative.

RM Vaughan read from his poetry memoir “Troubled” (Coach House Books, 2008) about falling in love with his psychiatrist as many patients do, of being sexually exploited by him and of the ensuing legal proceedings. What impressed me about RM Vaughan's treatment of such a personal and traumatic subject is that the truth never seemed to get in the way of the strength of the art, at least from what he read. Many times when someone tries to write about his personal life, the result can be quite banal or melodramatic. This was not the case in Vaughan’s work. Later in response to one of Stephen Brockwell’s questions about the self in poetry, Vaughan explained that for his writing he needed to have a character and that even though this book is clearly autobiographical, he still needed a character.

Steve Venright had me from the first words he uttered: “Greetings all torpor vigilantes, children of the turbulation, fleurs du mal, lucid dreamers, hunters of the snark, surrealists, recordists, fovea centraleans, ritual circus freaks... (and this amazing list poem went on for ages and i loved every second). It’s on the back of Spiral Agitator (Coach House Books, 2000). One of the things Venright is known for is his language play. The man loves spoonerisms. I love spoonerisms and all kinds of word games (my own fetish is palindromes). He read the witty spoonerist tale (toonerist sale) Manta Ray Jack and the Crew of the Spooner from “Floors of Enduring Beauty” (Mansfield Press, 2007) and it had the audience buzzing and popping puzzing and bopping throughout the entire reading. It’s the first time this festival that I’ve seen the audience so animated and engaged. The story also had a non spoonerist version for those who can’t handle spoonerisms. The captain of the ship spoke in transposition only, in other words, he spoke in the spoonerism. This was such a brilliant feat of word play and skill, the attention to language, the linguistic gymnastics, the depth of understanding that goes into something like this took my breath away. You’re going to have to buy this book for yourself. It’s too good to miss.

I bought all three of Steve’s books, including Straunge Wunder, The Metalirious Pleasures of Neuralchemy - New Poems by Steve Venright (Tortoiseshell and Black, 1996). At the signing Steve was kind and gave me a bookmark with a gorgeous variegraph from his site, where you can find more psychedelic abstract art and a site rich with wonders that will delight you and surprise you.

This is what I love about the festival, the discovery of someone I have never heard of or not heard enough of and how that discovery inspires and opens up possibilities for me as both reader and writer, audience and performer, watcher and creator.

During the Q&A session, Stephen brought back his lightning round where he quotes little bits of poetic wisdom and asks for a 15-30 second comment from each person. This time around, unlike on Tuesday, the guests rose to the challenge and we all had fun. I didn’t take notes because my synapses were still reverberating from the amazing reading.

[and wasn’t it lovely to have rob back again...he read an exquisite essay on Sheila Watson’s Double Hook and Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept]

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Poets without Borders

In conjunction with MAYWORKS, the labour arts festival, National Poetry Month presents five world-travelling and genre-bending Ottawa area poets in a free reading to be held at Cube Gallery, around the corner from the Parkdale Market at 7 Hamilton Ave. North, beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 30.

Ottawa’s poets cross borders regularly, in their work as in their lives. Between Quebec and Ontario, between Canada and the U.S. and beyond, between poetry and music, between the privileged and those who struggle to survive. Share in the lyricism, the questioning and the excitement that the human voice can inspire at the annual MayWorks poetry evening.

The Poets

Born in Chile, Luciano Diaz became a writer after emigrating to Canada in his youth. In the 1990s, he edited two Symbiosis anthologies of poetry and fiction from Ottawa’s diverse cultural communities. He is organizer of the El Dorado reading series in Ottawa. His second book of poetry, Nomados/Nomads, is forthcoming from Split Quotation press.

Rhonda Douglas lives in Ottawa. Her work has been published in literary journals across Canada and overseas. In 2006, she won both the Malahat Review’s Far Horizons Award for Poetry and Arc Magazine’s Diana Brebner Prize. Rhonda is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers and is completing the Optional-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at UBC. Her first book, The Cassandra Poems, is forthcoming from Signature Editions.

Anita Lahey's collection of poetry, Out to Dry in Cape Breton, published by Signal Editions in 2006, was nominated for the Ottawa Book Award and the Trillium Book Award for Poetry. She writes for Maisonneuve, Ottawa Magazine and other publications, and is the editor of Arc Poetry Magazine.

Born in Saskatchewan and a long-time resident of Alberta, Monty Reid has lived in the Ottawa area since 1999. His first publications appeared in 1979. Since then he has published 14 books, most recently Disappontment Island (Chaudiere), Lost in the Owl Woods (BookThug) and The Luskville Reductions (Brick). His poetry has won numerous accolades, including the Lampman-Scott Award, and has been nominated for the Governor-General’s Award on three occasions. He lives in Ottawa and works at the Canadian Museum of Nature.

Armand Garnet Ruffo’s collection of poetry At Geronimo’s Grave won the Archibald Lampman Award in 2002. His work includes editing a collection of essays, (Ad)Dressing Our Words, and a feature film production of his CBC award winning play, “A Windigo Tale.” Ruffo’s poetry has appeared in numerous literary anthologies, including An Anthology of Native Literature in Canada and Making A Difference: Canadian Multicultural Literatures in English. A selection of his latest work, Norval Morrisseau: Man Changing Into Thunderbird, appeared in the National Gallery’s catalogue for the “Shaman Artist” exhibition in 2006. He teaches at Carleton University.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tuesday at the Ottawa International Writers Festival

was jam packed with three events in a row of interest to folks of a poetry bent.
all three events were well attended and the Poetry Cabaret in particular sparked a lively discussion.

@ 6pm Don Domanski spoke of the role of the poet and the sacred within the art of poetry. the sacred is the reason why he writes. sacred for Domanski does not have to equal religious or spiritual but rather a fundamental experience with time and space and how each thing holds a mystery simply because it exists.

@ 7pm Alan Briesmaster of the newly formed Quattro, Beth Follett of Pedlar Press and Stan Dragland of Brick Books spoke about their motivations behind literary publishing and what constitutes a success.

In particular I found Beth Follett’s talk very moving. She sees herself as in service to the literary community offering them something which is essential, books. Pedlar Press is interested in works that articulate worry, when there is a mind at work trying to excavate some of the possible answers to the questions. Pedlar Press has been in business for twelve years. Beth said “I am Pedlar Press; I live on chicken feed.”

She doesn’t subscribe to conventional corporate models for business. Her biggest reward is to be the maker of beautiful and essential books.

@ 8pm, Stephen Brockwell hosted Poetry Cabaret 2 with Don Domanski, Anne Simpson and Alison Pick

It was interested hearing Domanski’s work in light of what he said earlier in the talk on the role of the poet. His reading from his latest Governor General Award-winning collection, “All Our Wonder Unavenged” (Brick Books, 2007) got me musing about whether there is a difference between wonder and reverence. In particular I was thinking about local poet Michelle Desbarat’s poetry (latest poems in Decalogue: 10 Ottawa Poets (Chaudiere Books, 2006).

I feel that she is able to articulate the experience of wonder in her work. She describes experiences and you get the impression that the speaker of the poems is inside the experience. What I got from all three poets at Poetry Cabaret 2 was their feelings of reverence for nature. Their work did not make me feel like they were necessarily reporting from within the experience but rather as observers outside of the experience.

Their reading inspired a lively question and answer period and got many of us exchanging emotion and ideas after, as any poetry reading should do, in my opinion. Yes, this is where ideas live...although I’m assuming over at the hospitality suite, the ideas are likely in full bloom ;)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Poetry Cabaret #1

Poetry Cabaret #1

Michael Dennis hosted Rachel Zolf, Fred Wah and Stuart Ross at the Poetry Cabaret #1 on opening night of the Spring edition of the Ottawa International Writers Festival.

Fred Wah
April 13, Fred Wah opened the reading by reading from Sentenced to Light (Talon books), which includes ekphrastic poems from a visual artist who said her painting needed words. She asked him to physically apply the poems to her canvases to complete them. The compositions are included in one chapter. He also read from his newest chapbook, Isadore Blue, about Isadore hitting the Yucatan "between Spanglish and anguish". He played with the sounds of "door" in isadore in a sort of list poem cataloguing the effects of the storm. He will be back in re:reading the postmodern conference in May.

He introduced one piece by saying "a prose poem challenges the writer to do something material with the sentence." The laughter pictured in the top picture was from Zolf's "gah!" reaction to Wah's answer of what book he would choose to be stranded with on a desert island – a copy of collected Rilke like first fired his imagination in a book shop in 1957.

Rachel Zolf
Rachel Zolf read from Human Resources and a chapbook, Shoot & Weep (Nomados, 2008) on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As Michael Dennis put it well, what she read are poems that reach into your ear and twist a gear you didn't know you had. People started clapping and snapping fingers at the pace that started out fast and went well into auctioneer speed as she dealt out layers of concepts piled against each other. The Shoot & Weep is not narrative but makes a powerful emotional impact of accumulating losses of war.

Stuart Ross

Stuart Ross started his reading by listening to the CD of his poems put to music, (An Orphan's Song: Ben Walker Sings Stuart Ross) then reading from I Cut my Finger and his newest, Dead Cars in Managua. He's always a crowd pleaser with his comic asides and his dark and absurdist twists of delivery within poems such as he claims to be the first horse to have ever been ridden by a man but he was just a tub of margarine in a fridge. isn't that enough? There's always more than you expect and multiple readings even in the simplest he stands on a boulder, talking on a cell phone. his voice falls off

Later in the night Messagio Galore with jwcurry and crew, from 8 pm til nearly midnight, was an introduction to decades of sound poetry. Copies of chapbooks of the performers are in the Nicholas Hoare on-site bookstore.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Canal Mug Poetry Series

For Poetry month the Ottawa Public Library is running the Canal Mug Poetry series at the Sunnyside branch (1049 Bank St.) in April. They run each Thursday from 7:00-8:30 pm and admission is free.

The first readers were Claudia Coutu Radmore and Ian Roy (pictured). There was space for about 15 in the audience and a few more chairs were brought out.

Claudia Coutu Radmore read from her completed manuscript a minute or two / without remembering. It tells stories in poems of the 1700s Canada. One of my favorites from what she read was about the fundraising of the Soeurs Grises. Thru masses they converted the wine and the host into lintels and beams of the hospital, and duck eggs were transfigured into roofs for the same. She also has poems of les habitants and soldiers under Montcalm and Levis who, when there was a famine year, tried to persuade the French to eat their horses. There was a passionate protest that one does not eat horses or friends. Levis did persuade the men under him to go against their instincts and eat horse meat to get strength for a battle. If he had been the top commander, would Canada today have been New France?

Ian Roy
Ian Roy read from Red Bird, his poetic travels around Canada and down across the continent to California. His asides were an enriching background to the poems, such as the preface to the California poem where he and his fellow travellers came across a town with the same name as his grandmother. They tried to find a souvenir for her from there but had to press on unsuccessfully. His poem of shifting thru states, finding places where he'd like to linger, like Burlington Vermont and other places, not so much, such as in a snowstorm in the mountains in July in Colorado.

The next Canal Mug Series will be April 10 with another pair of poets: Susan McMaster reading from her mid-life memoir about a poet's life in Ottawa, The Gargoyle’s Left Ear, and Paul Tyler, a contributing editor for ARC Poetry Magazine.

On the 17th the readers will be Andrew Steinmetz & Betty Warrington-Kearsley. On April 24th the features will be Rob Winger & Rhonda Douglas.

For all the upcoming readers see the the pdfs of the posters with the details