Saturday, May 09, 2009

(Mostly Poetry) Highlights of the Ottawa International Festival

Here’s what stood out for me as the most unique, bold and memorable:

Garry Thomas Morse, Death in Vancouver (Talonbooks, 2009), a selection of short prose bits with crazy compelling characters, tight, precise and breathtaking language and imagery and opera! The man can sing. call what he brought to the festival stories, call them poems. i don’t really care. they’re just damn good. i’ve started his book and am enthralled by its originality. His writing reminds me of local writer John Lavery’s work; they both are adept at linguistic acrobatics and are skilled in painting memorable and unusual characters.

Martha Baille, The Incident Report (Pedlar Press, 2009)-Baille presents a series of stories from the point of view of a librarian about the eccentric dramatic personae who frequent a library, including Rigoletto. the prose is tight and precise with lovely arcs and rhythms that sounded like poetry to me.

Jeremy Dodds, Crabwise to the Hounds (Coach House Books, 2009)-Dodds is someone who can play adeptly with language. In his first poetry collection he contorts everyday expressions much in the way Robert Priest does with his aphorisms in Time Release Poems (Ekstasis Editions, 1997.)

Matthew Tierney, the Hayflick Limit (Coach House Books, 2009)-inventive and to see the relationship between science and the everyday in Tierney’s poems. the poetry masterclass that Dodds and Tierney participated in was interesting in that there were physicists in the audience and people who wanted definitions of terms like anti-matter. the whole thing was as wonderfully absurd as poetry events should be.

rob mclennan, Gifts (Talonbooks, 2009)-i’ve read these poems as drafts and also there’s one in there for me so i’m clearly biased, but i always enjoy hearing rob read. his poems have a delicious cadence and wonderful images.

Adeena Karasick-Amuse Bouche (Talonbooks, 2009)-a friend told me i would enjoy her language play and punnery and i did, so much so that i wanted to claim one of the poems as my own. i wish i’d written it. the subtitle of this book is “Tasty Treats for the Mouth” and i concur heartily. i enjoyed every bite. the book is a joy with colourful bits clipped from those air flight safety cards. i love all the linguistic twists and turns in this book and in Karasick’s reading.

Marcus McCann, Soft Where (Chaudiere Books, 2009)-once again, i am very biased here. not only is Marcus a dear friend but we are also in a poetry group together; however, i am not the only one who is gaga over the wit and language shenanigans McCann uses in his work.

The main thing all of the above writers had in common in their work is that they seem to be willing to take risks, to push a line beyond predictability. They aren’t sentimental; they don’t wax poetic over the heart or a white horse or a big mangy dog or say condescending things about the working class. Their rhythms are their own and not evocative of Edgar Allen Poe.

I found their presence and their work inspiring and appreciated the opportunity to hear them and to meet them. This is what I love about the Ottawa International Writers Festival…it exposes audiences to new and bold writing.

No comments: