Monday, April 24, 2006

Writers Fest-Final Poetry Cabaret: Three Men Walk Into A Library

and blow the audience away. AJ Levin, George Elliot Clarke and Paul Muldoon, not to mention Stephen Brockwell, the host, had the audience in their spell.

Brockwell set the celebratory tone of the evening with his eloquent and enthusiastic introductions. One of the things I enjoy about the festival is that those who host are usually well-known local writers and we get the chance to see them in a role other than authors reading their own work.

AJ Levin was the first to read. The former Torontonian, now a Winnipegger, has just had his first book, Monk’s Fruit, published by Nightwood Editions. It was fortunate, and likely not accidental, that he came first. It wouldn’t be easy to follow the powerhouse of George Elliot Clarke or the charm of Paul Muldoon.

He began by reading some of his recent and unpublished poetry, explaining that after the book had been out for about twelve days, he was already sick of it. His poems were full of humour, something that seems to have been very common to the male poets reading at the festival this time around. In addition there were many classical allusions and unusual juxtapositions: in a poem called the World’s Largest Cabbage Patch Collection about bullies for example, he read of “fairy tale white snow” being packed down a child’s underpants.

Between poems, Levin shared small biographical notes, but didn’t go on too long in his introductions. If a poet’s intro to a poem takes longer than the poem itself to read, I’m bored. This happens more often than you would think. I enjoyed Levin’s humour, found his poetry to be very masculine in that there were lots of allusions to males and masculine imagery and past times throughout: Vikings, Shakespeare, Orwell, shrimp trawlers. There was very little mention of women in the poems he chose to read: one poem feminised a potato, another spoke humourously about female curlers.

Levin is obviously a very well-read poet and his work was strong, but somehow I didn’t feel involved in it. I haven’t read enough of it to know whether this would change. The danger of poetry readings is this temptation to evaluate based on encountering someone’s work only once, especially when faced with so much poetry at once, as one is at a writers’ festival as this one. The reviews of his work are excellent. Ken Babstock says that “Monk’s Fruit revels in language, syntax, and allusion."

Next on the stage was the man many people in the audience, including me, had been waiting for: George Elliot Clarke. People actually screamed when he came on stage. I think he is the closest thing to a Canadian poetry superstar we have. In the audience that night was his young daughter, Orillia, about whom he boasted had just been chosen to be the poet of her grade 2 class.

Clarke read bits from his play Quebecité about interracial couples, announcing that it will be produced for the Ottawa Fringe Festival by Jessica Ruano. Clarke’s reading including word play extraordinaire and rapid puns, delivered in an energetic manner that enlivened the normally quiet Ottawa poetry audience. A few years’ ago, Clarke came to the Tree Reading Series and did the same thing.

He also read from his latest poetry collection, “Black,” explaining that he loved this word because of its strength, referring tongue in cheek to “he had black designs,” and “black mail not black male.” One of the strengths of a Clarke performance is his sense of fun. You feel like an accomplice to his wit, and his playful criticism of politicians. You are on his side. That’s not an easy feat for a performer to achieve, but Clarke does so with ease and experience. It was a lesson for poets wishing to conquer a stage.

I loved his sound play: “slinked off whistling to drink drink drink” and the poignancy of his imagery: “snow cleansed everything but memory;” the muscular language “the surge of sun, lemony, cantankerous, warm.” It is always interesting to hear a poet read work about one’s own city. In his poems “La Vérité à Ottawa I and II,” he offers a portrait of our city. Clarke lived here for a number of years when he worked as an aid to an MP. Perhaps that’s why his political poems are so sharp and so strong. He read poems about former prime ministers Jean Chretien and Pierre Trudeau. I am hoping he writes one about Paul Martin some day, but what is there to say, really?

Next on stage was Irish poet Paul Muldoon, who did a reading on Beckett the day before and from what I understand, thrilled the audience. After the energetic Clarke, Muldoon’s pace took a bit of getting used to. His voice was soft and he had a bit of a lilt. When he read he turned to face different parts of the audience. It didn’t take long before we were all spellbound by his stories, his wit and his poetry, which was observational and full of insightful detail and pathos.

While he had prepared poems to read, he also took his cues from what the other two had read. For example, he chose to read a poem about turkey buzzards because Levin had a poem about the vulture and the dredyl. The poem was also about his sister who had died after the poem was written. Muldoon used a lot of near rhyme and internal rhyme in his work. Some poems were historical: he read one about the Ottawa tribe, for instance, while others were amusing—a poem disparaging the cheeps and bleeps of modern technology, which turned out to be a grasshopper. He read a strangely poignant poem about his dog, Angus, who bayed at the sound of a train, filled with mustard gas or Saran. He also referenced a lot of male heroes, including Jim Hawkins of Treasure Island, Diogenes and Blondin, a Niagara Falls daredevil. He read an amazing poem called The Loaf, which is published in Moy Sand and Gravel. The poem was full of detail and word play. He reminded me somewhat of Yorkshire poet Simon Armitage who came to the festival last year. He had a similar story telling style and, like Armitage, his poetry was more formal, more inclined to rhyme and traditional word play than contemporary North American poetry I’ve read.

The question and answer period that followed was one of the most animated and participatory Q&A sessions I’ve experienced at the festival. Brockwell began with questions from the audience. rob mclennan, finally getting a break from his host duties, opened the questions, remarking that Clarke was one of the few who writes overtly political poetry and asking him to comment. Clarke feels that everyone has the right and the responsibility to comment on political goings on. Brockwell asked the others how they worked politics into their poetry. Muldoon said that it is inevitable for anyone who is vertical and trying to make sense of their world to include politics. Some of his latest work while he’s been living in the States has been overtly political, which surprises him. He gave a delightful etymology of two words mentioned by Clarke: “Tory” which he said meant “highway man, robber and hunted person,” and “shenanigan” the Irish word for a cunning fox.

Levin approached the question differently, stating that language is politics, a system of code created to keep others out of the loop, quoting a linguist/philospher whose name I didn’t catch. Levin feels it is the job of the poet not to exclude people, but to include them in new ways.

An audience member asked the writers to discuss the notion that poetry was meant to be learned by heart and the lack of memorisation of poetry today. Muldoon said that one has to allow poetry to extend culturally. Many people have memorised lyrics, such as the songs of Leonard Cohen. Muldoon admitted to having a bad memory for even his own poems and hoped that this didn’t have anything to do with their quality. He continued more seriously that in the past poems were beaten in to students and that it would be better if poetry were more a part of our daily lives. When he expressed the idea that newspaper should contain a poem a day, the audience cheered. Muldoon made the exquisite point that poetry should be part of our ordinary existence, not some strange thing.

Clarke continued along the same vein, pointing out that people do memorise non traditional media such as hip hop lyrics, love poems and religious scripture. He said that in order to be a half decent wooer, you have to be able to lay down a love poem. He then recited the twenty-third psalm in demonstration.

Oni, the Haitian Sensation, changed the subject completely when she asked all three writers “if you were a fruit, what kind would you be, and describe the flavour.”

Levin referenced his book’s title, Monk’s Fruit, which has no flavour.
Clarke replied that this was obviously an erotic question and said watermelon.
Muldoon quoted a poem by Tony Harrison, “A Cumquat for Keats,” saying that his fruit would be bittersweet and have a different impact from one occasion to another.

Revisiting the earlier question about poetry and politics, syntactic memorability, and Carleton University’s Penn Writer in Residence, Amatoristero Ede commented that he felt contemporary poetry was close to the syntax of prose. His current editorial on Sentinel Poetry gives further details on his opinion as I can’t do it justice here.

Muldoon chose to address the memorability portion of the question, saying rhyming verse is easier to remember and advertisers have figured that out. Clarke spoke of the blessings of having many resources for poetry. As a teen, he carried a boom box and listened to the music of Springsteen, Dylan and Joni Mitchell, even admitting to being a victim of disco. All of these influenced his poetry, including the imagery of the blues, “I want to grind your coffee.” He argued that some poetry is closer to prose, discussing the Language Poets, Pound’s “The Cantos.” He recommended that nothing be dismissed as being useful for poetry.

Brockwell asked a question about how each poet wrote and what instrument they used. Muldoon uses a PC because he finds it hard to write with a pen and his handwriting is poor. He used a typewriter when he was a teen, has always been concerned with how a poem looks on a printed page. Levin uses a pen, sometimes a typewriter and rarely a computer, claiming to be a sporadic thinker and finding the pen handier for clusters of thought. He doesn’t like to have to turn something on and wait for it. Clarke brought out a small Chinese diary, which he is currently using for his latest work, an opera about Trudeau. He writes with a fountain pen, but eventually everything ends up on his computer, a Mac that breaks down a lot. (I hope he backs stuff up!)

Jesse Ferguson asked whether the notion that the readership for poetry was getting smaller was a myth. Muldoon quoted Byron who, after selling 500 copies of a book overnight, suddenly found himself famous one morning. Muldoon said that popularity isn’t always reflected in book sales. One sure way of making it popular, he said, would be to make it illegal.

Mark Robertson, aka Max Middle, asked about the relationship of the poem to its reading. Levin likened it to a play and said that with the exception of visual poems, a poem is not a poem until it is read aloud. Clarke agreed and added that interpretation changes the reading of a poem, which must work on the page and in the air/ear. Muldoon said that the poem itself should teach us how it wants to be read.

An audience member asked how the writers cultivated their subjects and their imagery. Levin said that the way he sees the world is like a disease. He’s been called a Cubist and cannot stop connecting unlike things. Clarke said that he has the habit of reading a lot and paying attention to what people say. He stays interested in the world and uses weird stories for inspiration, such as the guys who robbed a lingerie store using a meat clever. He feels the poet has to be more open to experience, is called to be more alive and more awake to life. Once again the audience cheered. I think we all wanted to yell out “amen” and “hallelujah.” Muldoon said that everyone has this habit, this disease, right from childhood, but we are often educated out of it. He said that poets have the habit in a much more devastating way.

Amatoristero Ede sparked discussion when he talked of entertainment as pandering to the petit bourgeoisie, to which Clarke replied the petit bourgeoisie don’t read poetry and insisted that it is dangerous to impose a political meaning on form, form is apolitical. The sheer fact of using rhyme does not make a poem without politics. Muldoon mused about the need for poetry to be solemn and wondered what was wrong with fun.

Oni asked about the writers’ opinions of spoken word. Muldoon was the only one to answer for some reason. He said that it was wonderful and admired the genuine wit of hip hop. This inspired a folklorist in the audience to speak of the popularity of poetry even in the eighteenth century when balladeers sold their poems to people on the streets. The audience member spoke of poems that are memorised: children’s rhymes and ribald limericks. Poetry is part of every day life. Clarke ended the evening with a reading of the 1925 poem by Evelyn Hamilton, The Disintegrating Husband:

I got married the other day, I
took my husband up to a high
cliff an let him look over an' he
almost fell. If it hadn't been for
me, I grabbed him by the coat an'
saved him. But I was sorry
afterwards, because when it
came time for us to retire he took
out his false teeth, an' put them
in a bureau drawer. Then he took
out a false eye an' put it in the
bureau drawer. Then he took off
a false arm an' put it in the
bureau drawer. He took off a
false wig an' put it in the bureau
drawer. Finally, he took off a
false leg an' put it in the bureau
drawer. When it came time for
me to git in bed, I didn't know
what to do. I didn't know if to git
in bed or in the bureau drawer.

After that, what more is there to say? We all disintegrated and went our separate ways. Once more the festival was inspiring, eclectic and thought provoking. The aftershock will continue with readings with lots of readings this week and beyond: Tree features poets Jan Conn & Diana Hartog, and an inaugural reading at the new location of Richard Fitzpatrick Books when the Bookthugs of Toronto come to visit. For more events, refer to the Bywords calendar (how’s that for a shameless plug?)

Words Work, April 27

MayWorks festival puts poetry to work

The spring-time labour arts festival, MayWorks, will be entertaining and informing Ottawa audiences over the next couple of weeks with music, theatre, film, art and story-telling that find their origin in the gritty realities of working for a living.

The Cube Gallery at 7 Hamilton Ave. North will host the MayWorks reception on Sunday, April 30, from 2 to 5 p.m., and will be the site of "Moil," a showing of several artists' responses to the working world, until May 7. Other highlights of the week include concerts at the Library and Archives and at City Hall, the MayWorks Cabaret on Saturday May 6 at NAC's Fourth Stage, and Arlo Guthrie on Wednesday May 10 at Centrepointe Theatre. Club SAW, the Workers' Heritage Centre in Vanier, and the Ottawa School of Speech and Drama in Westboro also provide venues for films, talks and theatre pieces that give insight into the struggles and inspirations of workers seeking justice in Canada and throughout the world.

The week's literary tone will be set on Thursday, April 27, when five Ottawa writers present poetry on themes of work and social justice in the J.K. Wylie Boardroom at the headquarters of PSAC, the Public Service Alliance of Canada. That's downtown at 233 Gilmour, starting at 7 p.m. The featured readers are all well-known poets with recent books for sale; they are also union organizers, human rights workers, peace activists, volunteers in the community, and workers familiar with the pressures of globalization. The poetic fireworks of John Baglow, Cyril Dabydeen, Christopher Levenson, NadineMcInnis, and Nicola Vulpe will no doubt bring new insights to the subject on the eve of Canada's Day of Mourning for workers killed and injured on the job. The reading is supported by the League of Canadian Poets and National Poetry Month.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Poetry Cabaret 2: Butterflies, Basho's Frogs and Axel Rose

The second of the Writers Festival's poetry cabarets featured three poets who couldn't be more different from one another. If I were to recommend to a poetry-curious soul (most of the people I know) to attend an evening of poetry, this is the one I would have recommended.

Gary Barwin from Hamilton, Ontario, writes poetry that is perhaps the most accessible to the general public. His work is full of humour while, at the same time, he uses tight and intelligent language. His performance style is friendly and entertaining. He opened with Canada Weeds, a riff on last week's CBC radio show Canada Reads in which he incorporated and punified book titles. At first I thought he just had one of those Elmer Fudd speech impediments, but as the poem progressed, it became clear that he was actually punning. The pun that produced the most groaning was "such a long gurney."

I enjoyed Barwin's performance style and his work. It was a bit like watching The Hitchhiker's Guide To the Galaxy and The Man With Two Brains at the same time. The most memorable of his reading for me were from Frogments from the Frag Pool, which he wrote with Albertan poet Derek Beaulieu. In this book, Basho's frog haiku inspire clever alternative versions and extrapolations and include word play, tongue twisters and the like. What is it about haiku that brings out the mischief in poets? This reminds me somewhat of Sherwin Tija's The World Is A Heartbreaker, which I also enjoyed very much. My favourite line from Frogments was from a Beaulieu haiku: "a jewish man/i've no foresight either."

Barwin's poem Uvula's Shadows about receiving mail and having to sign for it was a tour de force of absurdity that just kept piling up and piling up to ridiculous proportions. At the same time there were so many lines that resonated beautifully as images, such as the "vast black dental work of the sky." Barwin combines humour and philosophy exceptionally well. I've heard him read only once before at Toronto's Victory Café after the Toronto Small Press Book Fair. He's also a children's writer and I can see that. His style reminded me somewhat of Torontonian Robert Priest whose kids' poetry book The Secret Invasion of Bananas, is one of my favs.

Barwin was a relaxed performer. Chalk that up to one of the final poems he read for his set:

"Why do we worry/every word on earth/is in the perfect place."

Next up was native writer, artist, musician, playwright and renaissance man, John McDonald. His style was intimate and free as he switched between the mic at the podium and the wireless mic, moving with his poetry and at times crouching down over the his book, The Glass Lodge. He credits writing the book with helping him deal with the anger after a life as alcoholic, drug addict, gang member and street prostitute. He's definitely one of the most colourful characters I've experienced at the Festival.

While McDonald's autobiographical poems were reminiscent of confessional poetry, I enjoyed his humour, candour, intelligence and his lyrical hope in the face of the brutality of his past.

Next on the stage was Angela Rawlings who read from her first poetry book, Wide Slumber For Lepidopterists . It's inaccurate to say that Rawlings read--really she performed. The poems blend the sleep state with the lifecycle of a butterfly or moth. It was hard not to notice Rawling's moth like manner as she gesticulated in a beautiful green dress. I found her performance and the poetry spellbinding, so much so, that I didn't really take many notes. The most remarkable thing about Rawling's poetry to me was that it was filled with so much air, so much breath, the cadence of her words and the way she was able to reproduce through her language, the electricity of insect sounds. Rawlings has an intimate relationship with sound. I felt as if we were seeing language from a very close up point of view, right down to the level of the phoneme. I don't want to give Rawling's imagery short shrift by focusing too much on her ability with sound. She's an effective imagist. The pictures she painted stayed with me long after the reading ended. For more about Rawlings and her poetry, please consult rob mclennan's blog, the April 17 entry.

The question and answer segment of the reading was brief, but interesting.

Mclennan asked Rawlings whether her juxtaposition of the chaos of the sleep state with the order of a moth's natural state was deliberate. Surprisingly, while she has studied chaos theory and discusses it in poetry workshops, she didn't do this deliberately.

When speaking with Barwin, mclennan revealed that the poet had attended Sir Robert Borden High School, and wondered whether the school had influenced his writing. Barwin responded that he's definitely been influenced by the mindscape of mid-western Ottawa, down to the selection of vowels. It was obvious through their easy repartee that mclennan and Barwin have known one another for some time.

In a question to McDonald, mclennan referenced Dany Laferrière, the Haitian writer who had come to the festival previously. Laferriere said that he'd written his novel to save his life. mclennan wanted to know if it was the same for McDonald. McDonald explained that he has always carried around a pen and paper and used his writing for catharsis. He said he has thirteen to fourteen boxes full of stuff written on toilet paper, napkins and even a Metallica CD case.

On the subject of collaboration, all authors felt that writing was a collaborative process. Rawlings explained that for her book, the printer at Coach House Books added a blue tint to the text. She is currently collaborating with a jazz singer and a dancer to render her book as a multi-visual performance.

Mclennan noted that all three poets had a large performance factor in their work. McDonald explained that this was the only way he could avoid being bored shitless. He referenced the aboriginal elders of his childhood who performed and used hand gestures. He said that they taught him to take responsibility for the words he spoke and that he held the words with reverence. His style also comes from fronting many a rock band. Upon request he demonstrated his "Axel Rose swivel" much to the delight of the audience.

Barwin mentioned that some things work as performance pieces while others don't and he's conscious of that when he's deciding what to read before an audience. He said that rhythm, musicality and melody are always implicit in a piece, even if silent.

A member of the audience asked Rawlings about the erotic content of her work, something that wasn't mentioned in the introduction or in any other references to her work that he'd seen. She replied that lepidoptery and sleep both have sensual components, sensual as in taking into account the senses. On an autobiographical note, she's been thinking of the erotic from both the standpoints of pleasure and violence for the last five years or so.

The audience member found her work reminiscent of Christopher Dewdney's language of the natural world. In fact she'd studied with Dewdney in the past and referenced his work, the Natural History of Southern Ontario, as being influential.

Question period ended quietly and there was a brief autograph signing in the lobby. The final poetry cabaret takes place Sunday night with George Elliot Clarke, AJ Levin and Paul Muldoon.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

new session of poetry workshops with rob mclennan

If anyone is interested, I'm putting together a new series of poetry workshops for spring/summer (as soon as the writers festival is over) on mostly Mondays, a Tuesday & then another Monday: May 8, 15, 29; June 12, 19, 26, July 4 & 10. The workshops will take place at Collected Works Bookstore, Wellington & Holland, Ottawa, 7-9pm (around both bookstore & my wacky schedules). or 613 239 0337 for more information on collected works;

an eight week poetry workshop, the course will start with a focus on workshopping the writing of the participants, as well as reading various works by contemporary writers, both Canadian & American. the end-goal of the course will be a collective chapbook publication. participants should be prepared to have a handful of work completed before the beginning of the first class, to be workshopped.

rob mclennan is a prolific writer, editor, critic & visual artist living in Ottawa. the author of eleven poetry collections, most recently name , an errant (Stride). the author of over 4 dozen poetry chapbooks, he has published poetry, fiction & critical work in journals, newspapers & anthologies in eight countries, & read in three. in 1999, he won the Canadian Authors Association / Air Canada Prize for the most promising writer (in any genre) in Canada under the age of 30. the editor of the cauldron books series through Broken Jaw Press, he is the editor of numerous anthologies, including side/lines: a new canadian poetics (Insomniac Press), You & Your Bright Ideas: New Montreal Writing (with Andy Brown, Vehicule Press) & Groundswell: the best of above/ground press, 1993-2003 (Broken Jaw Press). the editor/publisher of above/ground press & STANZAS magazine since 1993, he has produced roughly 500 items under the above/ground press logo. with Stephen Brockwell, he edits, an on-line journal of contemporary poetics, & by himself, the online poetry annual ottawater, & a blog of reviews & other writing at

Writers Fest First Night and the beer is better

It’s the tenth anniversary of the Ottawa International Writers Festival. Steamwhistle is no longer the only beer. Now there’s St. Ambroise, not my favourite raspberry wheat, but still, an improvement over Steamwhistle piss water.

Sean Wilson opened Poetry Cabaret 1 by mentioning that poetry was beginning to overtake fiction at the festival and that they had to actually throw out some novelists to make room for all the poets. Vive la poésie, vive la poésie libre!

Poetry Cabaret 1 was well attended for Easter Monday and for poetry. Not as wild and crazy as last year’s Armitage reading, but still decent for a Monday night in Ottawa, not traditionally a poetry night here. I’m not sure what people actually do on Monday nights when they aren’t going to readings.

rob mclennan, this year’s writer-in-residence, emceed the evening which featured Torontonian Kevin Connolly, Montréalaise Nicole Brossard and former Ottawa Valley boy Ken Babstock. Connolly and Babstock were just here last year and Brossard was here for the first festival ten years ago.

The highlight of the reading portion for me was Brossard and mclennan co-reading a transcreation of one of Brossard’s poems. The transcreation was written by Vancouver poet and one of Tish’s founding editors, Fred Wah. rob follows in the footsteps of others who’ve read transcreations of Brossard’s poetry, bill bissett at the Vancouver International Writers Festival in 1997, for example.

Connolly read from all three of his poetry collections and also read some new work. He’s experimenting with various form poems and read a rhyming poem.

Brossard read from an excerpt of the translation of her novel “Yesterday, At the Hotel Clarendon” about two women who meet in a bar in Quebec City to talk. She also read some poetry in French and English. I particularly enjoyed hearing Brossard read in French, her own language. The cadence felt more natural and the words more intimate in French to me.

Babstock read from his new collection Airstream Land Yacht and also a rhyming poem about Tarantella, which I think he actually read the last time he was here too. Of the three, it was Babstock’s poetry that held my attention (not an easy feat). I enjoyed his blend of philosophical musings on human consciousness with tactile and visual imagery. One poem about flying a kite was particularly resonant. There’s humour and friendship in his work, and as he says “other people.”

The Q&A sessions of the festival are always a treat. For some reason the poetry Q&As always seem better to me than the fiction Q&As. There are fewer questions like “why did you become a writer?” In this session mclennan asked sensible and not cliché questions. This is where individual differences between the writers came out. In response to a query about whether or not they wrote facts, Connolly said that he thought much Canadian poetry was non-fiction, containing the truth about ideas and personal experience, whereas when he uses “I” it is likely to be a fabrication. For him the poem is a story inspired by word play, which leads to plot. This makes his poetry either loved or loathed by many. I can’t say I loathe his poetry, but it never really resonates for me and perhaps this is the reason. There’s skill and humour in his work, but for me there’s an absence of feeling, of intimacy. The humour acts as a kind of deflection of what’s real, what’s personal.

Like Connolly, Brossard also mentioned that much of English poetry in Canada is narrative whereas French poetry is philosophical and metaphorical, using similes and metaphor. Her own poems focus on what she refers to as “extreme presence.” She finds it more difficult to have time to reflect and be in the moment and worries that she won’t be able to write as much about her personal experiences anymore. This made me want to give her a holiday just to read and think.

mclennan asked about Plunder Verse. An apt topic since Connolly had read a poem where he took Mark Twain’s aphorisms and rearranged them. Did Connolly see doing something like this as plagiarism, as fraudulent? This was a poet’s question. mclennan has been working with his own variations of other people’s poems lately. Connolly said that when it works it isn’t fraudulent. To reproduce the Dada cut up technique, he used writings of Nietzsche in a poem. While the words were rearranged, Nietzsche’s voice was still strong. mclennan quoted John Newlove who said that the arrangement is all.

There were a few questions from the audience. I was curious about whether Brossard had occasion to change the translation of her work and also whether she felt that the translation was still her own work or whether there was some kind of distance. She talked about the differences between the two languages, how French doesn’t use possessive adjectives to refer to body parts (“les mains”) while English does (his hands), the way in which the gender in French allows her room to play, to use strategies and can also cause challenges (le romancier, the novelist, is masculine).

Brossard says she has been very fortunate in that her translators are people who are familiar with and who enjoy her work. She has done some of her own translation on occasion or at times has tried to write directly in English when she knows only the translation will be published. Over the years, writing in English has become easier as she is more exposed to the English language than she used to be.

An audience member (Kate) commented that there isn’t much torment in contemporary Canadian poetry and asked the writers whether they thought suffering was passé.

Brossard mentioned that in French, poets are still writing from the wounds. There are writers of childhood and writers of adolescence, while when she attends readings of English poetry, the writers tell lots of jokes.

Babstock said there has been a kind of backpedaling since the confessional poetry of the mid-twentieth century, of writers like Plath, Lowell and Berryman. Now poets are looking for some decorum and wish to avoid the trap of human suffering as a subject.

Connolly said that suicide ceased to be a good career move. Readers find it useful to know how poets get through.

The evening finished with socializing and book buying. This year the Nicholas Hoare bookshop is in the sunken lobby as are the author signings. This is an intelligent move of the organizers to actually get people to leave the venue and allow for the next session to begin on time. In this case, poetry closed the evening, as it will on Friday and Sunday night.

This year’s festival pays homage to Samuel Beckett on the 100th anniversary of his birth and also, perhaps since it follows so closely on the haunches of the Easter Bunny, has a largely spiritual content with writers on religion and ethics, such as Tom Harpur. There’s even a session on Friday about wine tasting, one of the most spiritual activities around. As usual the organizers have a little bit of something for everyone. It is pleasing to see that poetry is still an important part of the festival.

See you at the next poetry cabaret on Friday evening to hear Angela Rawlings, Gary Barwin and John McDonald (not our John W. Macdonald!) Perhaps you’ll buy me a St. Ambroise?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Submit to ImPress

Attention Ottawa poets (or, poets):

ImPress, a small, mostly broadside press (at this point) is seeking new poems for brand spanking new broadsides. The run will be small, about 50 or so, but will be prepared with care, and hand numbered. ImPress will retain a little more than half the run and distribute the remainder as contributor copies. As of now, no payment will be offered. Maybe in the future. Expect copies to be distributed to authors by end of summer 2006.

If you'd like to receive some of your poems printed on lovely paper by ImPress, and displayed at future book fairs and such, please submit to: Alternatively, you can mail your submission (mail is nice): 3783 Boulevard Lasalle, Montreal, H4G 1Z7.

Submissions should generally be no more than one page and should be sent as a WORD or PDF file, unless the poem is straight up (eg. left-margin hugging), in which case you can simply send it in the body of an email.

Eventually, there will be a book or something.

To National Poetry Month!

Wanda O'Connor

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Poetry Experience: Poetry Month in Ottawa

In celebration of Poetry month, the Sunnyside branch of the Ottawa Public Library (OPL) will present Thursday evening poetry readings in April and May at 7 p.m. Each Thursday evening the branch will feature two local poets in an hour-long program:

Apr. 6 - Anita Lahey and Nicola Vulpe
Apr. 13 - Marieke Kerkhove and John Baglow
Apr. 20 - Susan Atkinson and Monty Reid
May 4 - Sandra Nicholls and Robert Ross
May 11 - Sharon Hawkins and Stephen Brockwell
May 25 - Barbara Myers and David O' Meara

The Sunnyside branch is located at 1049 Bank Street.
Contact: Yvonne van Lith, Sunnyside branch, Ottawa Public Library. (613) 730-1082