Monday, April 24, 2006

festival notes, day last (or, so begins the long festival hangover)

A fantastic end to another spectacular festival; I wish I had the energy and notes to write about everything that happened (and perhaps, shouldn’t have happened) over the week, but there are only so many hours in the day. As it is, I spent nearly an hour cleaning up (as Max Middle looked on), and left the hospitality suite just after 4am to jump into a cab (I still have to return to the outside of the hotel to collect my rainy bicycle), to collapse home under the weight of a week's worth of bags and books, exhaustion and papery bits.

Yesterday at noon, Paul William Roberts talked for two hours about the ideas and background in his book Journey of the Magi: In Search of the Birth of Jesus (Raincoast Books), the new and expanded edition of which came out last year. A close reading of the Bible (and other books surrounding) in the original Greek (and various translations since), the book came out of reading a copy of Marco Polo's Travels, and worked out from that point into just about everything else, including the early days of Christianity, fire-worshipping Zoroastrian priests, how no one considers Jesus a historical figure, but they do his brother James, and the complicated politics of the area over the past two thousand years. Roberts (we were dressed frighteningly alike through the day; I felt like the 2nd girl at the prom with the same dress…) is easily the most interesting human I have ever met; the sheer amount and breadth of detail of information he carries around in his head is almost terrifying. So much of his talk centred around the fact that so much Bible information we carry around with us culturally has very little to do with the actual text, and are merely add-ons by later writers and considerations, or are amalgams of various stories shoved into a single for convenience. My favourite example of the lack of reading was the fact that one of the apostles told the story of the arrival of Jesus mentioning Mary's first-born as virgin birth beside the fact that Jesus had the bloodline of King David through his father, Joseph (wait a minute; aren’t those conflicting ideas?). Another was that the original text of the King Solomon "the wise" story gives the baby not to the mother you would think (how did that story get shifted around?); it's almost as though the powers that be would really prefer that Christians don’t read the Bible at all, especially not in the original form (Greek, actually, not Latin). Spectacular.

The second last event included three fiction writers with first novels, lovingly hosted by our own Elizabeth Hay (one of the sweetest human beings alive), with young authors Alayna Munce (When I Was Young & In My Prime), Alison Pick (The Sweet Edge) and Leah McLaren (The Continuity Girl). McLaren's novel, what someone else called "chick-lit," wasn't really my thing, but her reading was entertaining enough (she fumbled a bit at the beginning). For me, it was the other two that really caught my attention; Pick's novel had that edge, and perhaps it was the fact that the two were poets who moved into fiction, making more of the language than the plot-driven fact of the McLaren book (though what do I know; the McLaren will probably outsell the other two put together, right?). Still, it was Munce's novel that I really loved and couldn’t get enough of, written in fragments, where the language itself is the thing that moves you through. Heart-wrenching and break, broken as we watch the narrator witness her grandparents decline. I simply couldn’t tell her enough times how much I enjoyed her reading.

The night before last, Irish poet Paul Muldoon gave a lecture on the Beckett novel Watt called "Watt Now" (previously called "Watt Ho," when he read it a few weeks earlier in Dublin), going ninety minutes of information and wordplay through the most wonderful assault of every form of the senses (Watts in a name?). The "Muldooniest" of anyone I have ever met (a new word I invented for his benefit; he now personifies the very word for me, although he argued that I was perhaps coming up as a close second), Paul was utterly charming. The last event of the festival included Muldoon giving a poetry reading with Toronto author George Elliott Clarke and poet A.J. Levin, lovingly hosted by our very own Stephen Brockwell. Until the festival, I had been aware of Muldoon in name only, and Stephen was nice enough to give me a copy of Muldoon's Moy Sand and Gravel (New York NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002). He read a mix of published and unpublished pieces, including one he wrote on the native Ottawans, and their battle with Pontiac. The third of three readers, the event opened with A.J. Levin, who came to us from his new home in Winnipeg (he and partner K.I. Press are formerly of Toronto); he also read from a selection of new poems, which I found made a considerable leap forward from the pieces in his first collection, Monks' Fruit (Roberts Creek BC: Nightwood Editions, 2004).

Of course, who can talk of any part of last night without mentioning George Elliott Clarke, who arrived last minute (thanks to shifting plane schedules) with his usual warm, wonderful and enthusiastic energy to read parts of his new poetry collection Black (Polestar Press). (I had a copy of the collection when I got there, but unfortunately, someone managed to lift it from the stack of books I had at the back of the room; now I have to go out and purchase the damn thing so I can review it…). A former Ottawa boy, it is always a joy to have him in town, and he remains one of my favourite readers of all time; he even had his seven year old daughter with him, who recently was named the official poet of her grade two class (unutterably charming; something George proudly announced from the podium). His new book, from what I can recall, is something I would recommend highly. George has been a busy boy lately, what with his poetry collection Illuminated Verses (Toronto ON: Kellom Books, 2005) out a few months ago, and the novel George and Rue (HarperCollins, 2005) out last year. Check out the first issue of ottawater to see some of the poems that made it into his Black (a follow up to Blue). (check out Amanda Earl's version of same here)

And then there was the most stunningly beautiful blonde woman... (that I won't say anything else about here).

If anyone can even stomach the idea of more readings, Brick Book authors Jan Conn (Jaguar Rain: the Margaret Mee Poems) and Diana Hartog (Ink Monkey) read at the TREE Reading Series on Tuesday from their new poetry collections (8pm, Royal Oak II, open set + featured reader, free); another event, on Wednesday night, various BookThug authors arrive from Toronto to converge on Richard Fitzpatrick Books (including Gregory Betts, Daniel f. Bradley, Rob Read, Gustave Morin and Jay MillAr himself as they "read and/or launch"...) at 8pm, in his new space at 1098 Somerset Street West, just where it is about to turn into Wellington (map here). Otherwise, check out regular Ottawa-area literary events, calls for submissions, new publications etcetera at Bywords.

Otherwise, tonight I will sleep the sleep of the almost (very close to the "just"); and not put a drop of the drink anywhere near. Tomorrow, perhaps then, back to work.

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