Friday, June 24, 2005

Sky Gilbert at the TREE Reading Series

On Tuesday, June 14th, Hamilton resident Sky Gilbert did a featured reading at the TREE Reading Series in Ottawa. Why can’t writers learn from theatre folk how to read? One of the most entertaining readings I’ve been to in a long time, it’s always the playwrights who really know how to perform anything, even if they’re just reading from a basement chair in a pub (I remember how good Jason Sherman was after he won the Governor General’s Award a number of years ago; the theatre folk always blew the others out of the water at those readings).

Reading from his fourth novel, An English Gentleman, published by Cormorant, he also read a number of poems, including this one that we requested, from his first poetry collection:

Why Kathie Lee Gifford Is Just
Like The United States Of America

She’s mean
She’s greedy
She’s very very pretty
And of course she’s a lying hypocrite
And of course she’s on TV every morning
And just like America, Kathie Lee Gifford is a drag queen
And what’s a drag queen?
Well, someone who just can’t stop drawing attention to
how pretty they are – I mean Kathie Lee, every time she
moves her legs or bats an eye or touches her hair, she
reminds you, in that subtle way she has, of how beautiful
she is and yes okay so she is beautiful but more than that
each gesture says I’m beautiful, so beautiful. And that I’m
barely, just barely, conscious of it. And on top of that I’m
intelligent (questionable) and vicious. I can be vicious. If
I have to, I can defend myself against anything and I’ll
still be beautiful: oooh I’m just stamping my little high
heels right now and removing a stray lock of hair with
my long long dangerous fingernails. Yes I can stand up
for what I believe and be glamourous too
And I believe in America (which means myself)
Kathie Lee Gifford
And I believe in fidelity and marriage and love (and all
the other lies)
And even when you find my husband’s fat hairy wrinkly
old dick up some forty-five-year-old Exercise Queen in a
hotel I can pull my life back together and lie
Like drag queens and the United States of America
I can lie
I can exploit Latina women in sweat shops and then I can
appear with President Clinton and I can lie
And you will love me, Kathie Lee Gifford
You will
But most of all, you will watch me on TV
Because that’s the way mornings are
Inescapable, the beginning of all that treachery and
drudgery and then there’s me, being more beautiful than
you’ll ever be
Look at me
I’m Kathie Lee
I’m some kind of an achievement

from Digressions of a Naked Party Girl (1998, ECW Press)

There is something quite brilliant about a Sky Gilbert poem; a dry, furious wit that tears through whatever he sets his eye on, from Kathie Lee Gifford to more recent poems about Winnipeg in his second collection.

All over theatre for a number of years, Gilbert helped found Buddies in Bad Times in Toronto, the first gay-only theatre company, and was artistic director for its first seventeen years. More recently, he’s not only published a number of plays, but four novels, and a couple of poetry collections.

Apparently there’s some review that appears in The Danforth Review about how Sky Gilbert isn’t a real poet because there isn’t any wordplay? Oh, get over yourself already.

Recently celebrating 25 years of operation, the TREE Reading Series is supposedly one of the oldest continuing reading series in Canada (with Harbourfront in Toronto & another in Montreal supposedly being older). The organizers, James Moran and Jennifer Mulligan, are currently putting together an anniversary anthology to be launched this fall to celebrate the series’ first quarter century.

The next TREE features Edmonton poet Andy "Mustang" Weaver launching his first solo collection, Were the Bees (NeWest Press), and Montreal fiction writer Nairne Holtz. One of my favourite humans, this will be Weaver’s first Ottawa reading in some time, and a long time after his first reading here, when he was mixed up with QWERTY magazine out of the University of New Brunswick and read at the National Archives in 1997 (a span-o event, even way back then). Apparently they have videotape of some of the activities at the time. Ask Andy or even Paul Dechene about that sometime.

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