festival notes, day three (or, the cowboys are constantly coming down from the attic)
Over the years, many of the events that have left the longest effect on me have been Neil Wilson's Big Ideas. A series of open conversations through various non-fiction titles, the topics have ranged from reworking history to politics to social justice (and all of the above, sometimes). I consider it a rare privilege to be able to engage in conversations such as these, with how little I still know of that great whole world; I remember extremely memorable Big Idea evenings in the spring festival with authors such as Paul William Roberts (he who could be my dad, but for the fact that he didn't arrive in Ottawa until I already existed; who is here again, but launching a novel in a few days) and Tim Ward. Unfortunately, due to a conflict with another event, I missed the Canadian/American relationship conversation on the first day of this year's festival, but was able to catch Stephen O'Shea's Big Idea: Sea of Faith, Islam and Christianity in the Middle Ages the next evening, where he spoke at great length at the origins and histories of the Christian/Muslim conflicts over the centuries, and just how much the Muslim world has been dismissed by western literature/history texts.
I missed Toronto writer/publisher (and small press guru) Stuart Ross' reading last night for the sake of the launch of Danielle Schaub's Reading Writers Reading [see my review of such here]; I figured, since I'm actually in the book, the least I could do would be to participate in the launch, even if just for a little while. According to Schaub, there were at least fifteen contributors there (I knew most of them but not all), including John Metcalf, Sarah Dearing, Colin Morton, Elizabeth Hay, Seymour Mayne and John Newlove's widow, Susan. A magnificent book, she presented a power-point presentation on how the book came to be, citing literature students of hers reading Canadian writing and wanting to know more of the authors than the (often overly posed) photographs included on the back covers.
Still, at least I was able to catch the Q+A that Stephen Brockwell did with Stuart; many have said for years now, that if Stuart Ross was American, he'd be famous by now. The author of numerous publications over the years, ECW Press even did a beautiful hardcover selected poems of his a few years ago, his Hey, Crumbling Balcony! Poems New & Selected (2003). People seem to forget, I think, that he and former Ottawa lad Nick Power founded the Toronto Small Press Book Fair (he often comes to the ottawa fair, too; will you show up in a few weeks to see if he comes to the next one on October 21st?), or that Stuart sold 7,000 of his self-published titles on the streets of Toronto in the 1980s. Apparently his column, formerly in Word: Canada's Magazine for Readers + Writers, now appears in Vancouver's SubTerrain magazine. It was good to see the amount of local writers out for Ross' event, including John Lavery (Ross called him the best prose reader in Canada... if not further...), Michael Dennis, Sandra Ridley, Tina Trineer, Lee-Anne Mattie, Amanda Earl, Rhonda Douglas and plenty of others, and predominantly an audience that Ross has been building up in the city for years, since starting to read at the very start of the writers festival ten years ago; during the question period, he told everyone in the audience that they had to read the work of second generation New York School poet Ron Padgett. Stuart, as he often does, even produced a little leaflet poem for the event (wouldn't it be interesting, perhaps, to see a bibliography of all the Proper Tales publications over the years and years and years?).
A thrush darted through their line
of vision, and they changed
the channel, just like that,
to where hundreds of people
stood at the edge of a desert canyon,
peering down at a smouldering disco.
On another channel, something calamitous
took place in my living room
and I looked all around me
but couldn't see any cameras
nor any calamity. I pulled back
my lips and ran a fingernail
between two teeth, and there
it was, that thing that had been
bugging me: it was a horseshoe.
I too once was nailed to the foot
of a horse, we call these hooves,
and a thrush flit by my window
and I counted the days till tomorrow.
At one point, I was actually writing a novel that included a character carrying around a copy of Ross' novel (written during one of the 3-day novel contests), Father, The Cowboys Are Ready To Come Down From The Attic. I think it's worth finishing just for the reference…
Later on in the evening, there were readings by Ottawa fiction writers Paul Glennon (overly nervous, although did a fine job) and Mark Frutkin (avoided my question; why are most of his novels "historical"?) and Vancouver poet Daphne Marlatt, organized by the TREE Reading Series, and hosted by poet Rhonda Douglas; I found the line-up interesting, considering that Rhonda and I actually met in 1992-3 during a poetry workshop at the University of Ottawa conducted by Frutkin (it was during one of Seymour Mayne's sabbatical years). Douglas has been running TREE since January of this year, and doing an interesting job of getting the word out. There is nothing finer than a reading by Marlatt, who has published two novels, but still considers herself predominantly a poet. Reading from a prose-work in progress, published in part as a recent chapbook by Nomados, it would have been impossible for the post-reading conversation to not talk about considerations of narrative (she had a very interesting piece on such in an issue of The Capilano Review from two years back...). It could have been a whole conversation by itself (and I really wish it had been, actually). [see Amanda Earl's note on last night here]
Tonight is the John Newlove award. [see Amanda Earl's note on such here]
And the covers came back from the designer for the four Chaudiere Books titles yesterday; they look friggin' magnificent; Tanya has outdone herself again (I bet you can't wait, can you?). And yes, since I am writer-in-residence for this festival thingie, here's something that fell out of (or into) my notebook yesterday:
to press two fingers; to know
how you brought the moon
I watched you in
& I watched you out
the mark was the model
steam whistle sand, a song
dipped in glass