Tuesday, April 18, 2006

festival notes, day one (or, what happens at festival stays at the festival)

Pretty much everyone should know by now that yesterday was the first night of an eventual weeks worth of readings at the spring edition of the ottawa international writers festival. This edition has the added bonus of a second festival appearance by Aidan Wilson (accompanied by adorable mother Kira Harris, who has also been running the festival for almost as long as it has existed), third generation of the Wilson crew (father Sean and grandfather Neil founded the festival how many years ago), born but days before the fall 2005 edition. He had his own staff pass, which will soon be altered to a "complaints department" pass (you have a problem? talk to the baby…). I expect him to be hosting events within the next couple of years…

As part of opening night, I was able to host the first of the three poetry cabarets, an amazing reading by poets Kevin Connolly (Toronto ON), Nicole Brossard (Montreal QC) and Ken Babstock (Toronto ON), with a short question and answer period following. A last minute replacement for a cancelled author, Kevin Connolly launched his third poetry collection drift (Toronto ON: Anansi, 2005) at the festival for a second time (we liked the book so much, he got to launch it twice; I can't wait for him to launch it at the festival a third time…). Babstock, born in Newfoundland but raised in the Ottawa Valley, specifically Pembroke, Ontario (where poet David O'Meara is also from), was launching his third collection, Airstream Land Yacht (Toronto ON: Anansi, 2006).

I've been hearing Babstock read for years now (I remember a reading at the Manx Pub in 1994 with him and O'Meara; we all got drunk afterward and played pool), and the more I've heard him read, or more specifically talk between the poems, the more I want him to start writing essays. I remember a reading I heard him do at Concordia University in the fall of 2001 that had a question and answer period resulting in short essays on poetic form coming out of him; I wanted someone somewhere to have recorded it, or written it all down. Why aren't people interviewing Ken Babstock about what he's doing?

Even though she was part of the poetry cabaret, Montreal author Nicole Brossard (see my review of her collection of essays here, if you haven't already) wasn't actually launching a poetry collection, but instead a number of other things, including two Coach House novels, one of which she read from briefly, the new paperback edition of Yesterday, at the Hotel Clarendon (trans. Susanne De Lotbinière-Harwood), before reading a few of her poems translated into English (I don't recall the translator of those, but she did mention them). Part of the reading featured Brossard including me in a performance of a collaborative poem, as she read her poem "Si sismal" (from á tout regard), as I read alternating stanzas (and some together) from Fred Wah's transcreation of the same piece, what he called "If Yes Seismal." It was extremely fun (and without practice, even), and made everyone in the audience jealous (I bet); the poem itself (at least the parts I could understand) especially resonated with me, considering that I feel my poetic far closer to Wah than to Babstock or Connolly (which makes me want to go through more of Brossard's own poems). Here are the first two stanzas of each (with twelve stanzas in total):

si aboyer ou noyer la voix
parmi les images et les mots
éveille un peu de crainte
abrite alors la figure choisie
ie bord renversé de vivre
labelle spacieux

if above the clysmic bark heaves
noise the voice detonates images and
words for life a little crazy we
think but all right before the actual
figures choose choice the border
labels space in you

An impressive question and answer period followed, with many of the audience asking very engaging questions to each of the three writers; there was something pretty entertaining as well about the fact that I could (with two exceptions) respond to each audience member by name as they were handed the microphone. There was something comfortable and intimate about being able to do that; what Kevin Connolly referred to later as "community."

I am also hosting the second poetry cabarets, on April 21, with poets angela rawlings (Toronto ON) (see my review of her first poetry collection here, if you haven't already), John McDonald and Gary Barwin (Hamilton ON). You should go to that. I mean, really.

And, in case you've forgotten, I am fortunate enough to be writer in residence again at this ottawa festival of ours (our tenth year, this festival), which means I not only get to clean up the hospitality suite after everyone leaves, but I get to stay there as well (and only a fifteen minute walk from my apartment). But remember, what happens at festival, stays at the festival. I can say no more.

on another note, check out Amanda Earl's version of last night's reading
also, check out info on my next session of poetry workshops at Collected Works Bookstore

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