Tuesday, September 20, 2005

brief note on the TREE Reading Series, Ottawa

When I started going to the TREE Reading Series around 1991, as audience and eventual open set participant, it was the only game in town, especially for the opportunity for the open set. I didn’t know anything about the readings John Metcalf was still producing at Magnum Books in Mechanicsville (sans open stage), Marty Flomen’s monthly Orion series, or that Sasquatch had even existed, let alone had stopped running, and would re-emerge. In the years I’ve been going to TREE since, including the years I sat as coordinator from June 1994 to the end of 1998, it was the only place in the city with a consistent space for the open set. An essential part of the landscape in Ottawa, TREE has potentially been the first reading venue for more writers throughout the city than any of the other venues put together. Other series might come and go, and be entertaining and even impressive, but TREE has remained a constant, existing as both a communal and community space for writers of varying experience.

When I was running the series with graffito: the poetry poster managing editor b stephen harding, we aggressively promoted TREE readings around the universities, as well as various high schools, to include as both audience and open set participants. Continuing something started by James Spyker and Catherine Jenkins, organizers when I arrived and for a while longer, the average age of TREE participants and audience dropped by a few decades during my tenure as TREE co-ordinator, and the featured readers began to be drawn from a pool larger than just from the existing participants. My own interest in booking readers for TREE was to provide a balance between fiction and poetry, national and local, and bring in readers who either hadn’t read in Ottawa in quite a long time (if ever), or who simply hadn’t had a featured reading yet. Some of the readers during this period included Lisa Robertson, Ken Norris, David O’Meara, Tricia Postle, Lynn Crosbie, Christopher Dewdney, Eliza Clark, William Hawkins, Gabriella Golliger, Dennis Tourbin, Stephanie Bolster, Judith Fitzgerald, Michelle Desbarats, Michael Dennis, Stan Rogal and Rhonda Batchelor. Imagine: even though he’d been publishing books since the 1960s from Hamilton, and later, Toronto, the first time David W. McFadden had even been invited to read was in 1996. I think that’s a bit more interesting than having the same group of local authors read annually.

This introduction appears in the new anthology celebrating twenty-five years of The TREE Reading Series, 25 Years of Tree (BuschekBooks, 2005), edited by James Moran and Jennifer Mulligan, to be launched at the ottawa international writers festival on Tuesday, October 4th at 8pm (a free event; Library and Archives of Canada, 395 Wellington Street) featuring readings by Gabriella Goliger, Mark Frutkin and Jane Jordan with music by John Lavery.

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