Sunday, October 08, 2006

festival, day last (or, unidentifiable author remains & the true nature of guilt…)

Another year, another festival, and another long festival hangover, loaded up in my little apartment with dirty laundry and as much hotel soap as I could carry (I won't tell you what time I left the hospitality suite this morning, but I will tell you it was long after everyone else, after cleaning the room as much as I could, as the sun was just pushing up against the horizon…). As entertaining as the evening events were, there is something fun about spending the later part of every afternoon drinking beer and watching Star Trek in a hotel room, waiting for various authors to come by, whether starting up strange conversations or just watching cartoons, including Wayne Johnston, Ivan E. Coyote, Jon Paul Fiorentino, Bill Gaston and Kenneth J. Harvey, Stuart Ross or Dennis Bock [he and I were on the Via Rail Tour together, briefly...].

The Friday night readings were pretty entertaining, with Bill Gaston and Chris Robinson reading from their hockey books; it seemed strange, though, with one being predominantly about beer, and the other predominantly about former drinking. A strange pairing, but very interesting. It actually made me want to read both (and I'm not big on the sports, you know). Elizabeth Hay, when hosting Bill's reading the night before, called him a "national treasure," and I don't know if I would disagree. An extremely likeable man, and a very good writer. His new collection of short stories (that I couldn’t afford yet) includes this great story of his that I read in Granta magazine a year or two ago.

I missed the Writing Life #4 in favour of Transgress, hosted by Capital Xtra and James Moran, who used to run The TREE Reading Series, with readings by Matthew Firth, Marnie Woodrow (we have the same hair), Sky Gilbert and Ivan E. Coyote. It took real nerve to put Matthew Firth at the beginning of such an event, as his work and self have been called all sorts of unpleasant things; reading from his second collection of short stories, he read far too long for a first reader (well over twice his 15 minute allotment), but was extremely strong. As strong as the reading was, there are rumours already that parts of the crowd were turning against him; unfortunately, he did much of that to himself by reading too long. Marnie Woodrow, a strong writer reading from a third manuscript, hasn’t been part of the festival for years; it was good to hear and see her again, after meeting her during the Great Canadian Via Rail Tour sponsored by the ottawa international writers festival way back in 1998; someday I'll tell you about tackling her in a hotel bar in Saskatoon… And Vancouver writer/performer Ivan E. Coyote. If you ever get a chance to hear either Sky Gilbert or Coyote, do so; it would be one of the smartest things you could do. Magnificent readings, and the room was standing room only. A fantastic event (even if it did run over…).

In the hospitality suite, I spoke to a very well dressed man for about half an hour about divorces and children (we compared notes) and the relationships one works to have with one's children before I finally asked him, I know I've seen you on television; where would that have been? Oh, said author and journalist Linden MacIntyre, I've been sixteen years on The Fifth Estate… (so I'm a complete moron, really; and he does not look old enough to have a kid in their mid-40s...)

Saturday, the last day of the festival, was completely exhausting, with a noon event with Noah Richler's Literary Atlas of Canada, 2pm with Mark Zuehlke's book on The War of 1812. 4pm with Patricia Phenix' book on Sir John A. Macdonald, 6pm's Writing Life #5 with Jean McNeil, Simon Ings and Paul William Roberts, and finally, 8pm with Wayne Johnston's new novel, The Custodian of Paradise. What a long, long day (I left the hospitality suite, after all of that, well after 5:30 am…). The War of 1812 event was extremely interesting. As Zuehlke suggested, there were plenty of books about the beginnings of the war and reasons for such, but no books talking about the repercussions and reasons on the ending of the war we had with them Americans; we still claim the only country in the world able to fight off (more than once) an American invasion, and the War of 1812 did a lot for Canadian history and identity, including giving (eventually) Ottawa the capital, the building of the Rideau Canal, and much of the Scottish immigration that was naturally moving east along the border from Glengarry County (to the increasing discomfort of the British government) a reason to continue, as the British realized that the Scottish immigrants were some of the best suited to fight off an attack from the south (afterwards, we had a pretty entertaining conversation about the Glengarry Fencibles, among other things…). Did you know that Simon says that Ings translates either to "bog" (Simon of the Bog) or to some kind of "phallic god" (Simon of the Penis God); which do you think he prefers?

British writer Simon Ings was easily the best reader of the day, and I very much want to get into his work; the sort of fellow, after the readings, who could talk equally on the genocide in Rwanda, the series The Young Ones, or the argument between Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica; who knew? Did you know that the first place that Wayne Johnston and his wife lived together (before they got an apartment here) was the youth hostel jail by the Rideau Centre (when he was supposed to be going to Carleton and she actually was)? Did you know that Marnie Woodrow and partner Eliza Clark are going to open up a café together in Prince Edward County? Did you know that Jennifer Mulligan and my lovely daughter worked on a film shoot most of yesterday together (Jennifer's screenwriting circle is co-producing a short film with IFCO…)? Did you know that after a week of a million billion people around, I don’t want to see anyone right now?

Over the past ten years, the generosity of the festival to the community around them has been immense, and is much of the reason they get back what they do (apart from putting on a strong festival); it would be hard not to respond to such things. Think of Stuart Ross, willing to spend the rest of the week as audience, or Sarah Dearing the entire week, even though she wasn’t even reading at all.

Given my writer-in-residence status, here's another fragment written in that hospitality suite.

hotel variations

Angels are unthinkable
in hot weather
-- Monica Youn

elect a terrible struggle
against disposable soap

in order to speak

what started
should be started then

the time of umbilical
& the broken cord

an open door

is a cold gold room
on the eleventh floor

some other festival-related posts here, including John W. MacDonald {and again, and again and again], Amanda Earl {and again}, Charles Earl; "Merisa", The Dubblog, Afua Cooper, and piles of others; doesn't it make you feel as though you really missed out on something?

Keep in mind: rob reading in Montreal, October 12th; the ottawa small press book fair, October 21st; Chaudiere Books launch, October 26th; rob mclennan and George Bowering launching new books on October 30th…

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