Monday, October 02, 2006

festival notes, day one (or, these aren't the druids you're looking for...)

Another season, another festival, but this one the tenth anniversary edition of the ottawa international writers festival. Another festival, as well, where they let me be the official festival "writer in residence," even though no-one seems to actually know what that means (I'm constantly having to explain it), and another festival of being able to hang out with Sean and Neil and Kira and Thea, and other folk, such as Toronto writer Sarah Dearing, who is here for the week; she's the author of one of my favourite novels of the past few years, Courage My Love (her second novel); when will she ever have a third?

The festival opened up with an interesting thirtieth anniversary reading of Exile Editions authors, hosted by Exile founder Barry Callaghan, with readings by himself, Ottawa-native writer and York University prof Priscila Uppal, Sean Virgo, Janice Kulyk Keefer and James Bacque. Opening the festival, Uppal made the joke that since she was the last reader on the last night when she launched her novel a few years ago at the fest, she wanted to be the first reader at the first event; why not? The poetry collection she was launching also happened to be Exile Edition's three hundredth publication; that ain't too damn bad. It's just too bad she had to run back to Toronto to teach, and not hang around with the rest of us. Interesting, too, when poet Henry Beissel said of James Bacque, we haven't seen each other in fifty years. How many folk are able to say things like that? Callaghan, at the end, asked if there were any questions relating to publishing or anything else; I bit, sure, and asked if he had advice for someone starting a small publishing house this month. He called me a fool, at first (rightly so), and then said if I'm not obsessive, and keep to an extremely high standard, then I don't have a hope in hell. Good advice, I think. Beissel laughed, and said I had nothing lacking where it came to obsession (I've actually known him since 1987 or so; I was realizing today that confidence might actually be my superpower, although it doesn't always seem to be working...). [see Amanda Earl's note on same event here, or John MacDonald's post with photos]

I missed the four o'clock events, spending an hour or so with Montreal writer/editor/publisher Jon (not John) Paul Fiorentino; he's easily one of the most interesting poets in the country (apart from me, of course; wait, did I say that out loud?). At six, I worked the bar for Richard St. John's Spike's Guide to Success; it was an hour and a half presentation by a motivational speaker. It seemed pretty obvious that he's used to talking to executives; what he had to say was interesting for the first twenty minutes or so, but by the end of it I had lost my will to live. He seems to have led (so far) a very interesting life, and he had interesting points to make during his power point presentation (I hate power point presentations...), and then he just hammered at them; relentless. But, it was obviously not a presentation geared towards the likes of me; I drank instead.

The poetry cabaret was, as per usual, very entertaining, with Toronto poet/performer Afua Cooper, Ottawa poet Ronnie R. Brown and that Jon Paul Fiorentino lad, hosted by CBC Radio personality Alan Neal (I worked the bar in there too, because I'm so very helpful...). Why, one girl asked me, is there only one poetry cabaret this festival, and in such a small room? It seems to be that the poetry parts of the festival is always much stronger in the spring; and if it's such a concern, why don't I see her at readings around town? (Ahem...)

Later in the hospitality (hospital; hostility) suite, I had the most interesting conversation with Michael Callaghan (who has spent the past eighteen months taking over the press from his father) and Jon Paul Fiorentino, who runs Snare Books (an imprint of Matrix magazine in Montreal); there is so much we have yet to learn, for this Chaudiere Books of ours. What else happened in said suite? I don't think I'm allowed to tell you...

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