Saturday, April 21, 2007

festival notes, day five & five & sixsixsix

This morning to bed at six am, yesterday to bed at four. I'm too old for this nonsense; what am I doing to my poor body? Is it any wonder I don’t get any work done during the festival? Thursday night the launch of the second issue of Ottawa U's new magazine The Puritan [see my review of their first issue here]; apparently they're doing a print run of 500 copies & giving them away for free, as well as posting everything (including a little story of mine) online as well (even though they didn’t actually ask any of the contributors for permission to do so, but whatever). I applaud their effort, but can't stand the posturing, & then they didn’t even stay for the fiction readings later on in the evening… is young even an excuse anymore? Later on readings by Coach House fiction writer Tanya Chapman and Montreal's own Andy Brown, reading from his first novel The Mole Chronicles (Insomniac Press); as much as I liked what Andy was reading, hearing M.A.C. Farrant read afterwards pretty much blew everyone else out of the water. Apparently she had a memoir out with Greystone a few years ago I now want to read; apparently she's currently adapting it into a stage production.

Last night, Catherine Kidd performing parts of her first novel Missing the Ark [see my review of it here]; one of the Dusty Owl gang suggested that if the Capital Slam people didn’t invite Catherine to read at their events, she wouldn’t talk to them anymore. A magnificent performer, & someone that needs to be heard & seen to be properly experienced. Apparently some of her material online on her myspace page.

Is it wrong to admit I absolutely fell for former Globe & Mail columnist Heather Mallick? A wonderful sense of fun & humour & compressed rage that (she claims) were fuel to her columns for so long; I think I have to read that book of hers. Why is it I almost always get more excited about the non-fiction at these events? I wanted to adopt her, but for the fact she's older than I am & has a family, & I really have nowhere to put her in my apartment anyway. I think it's best we keep at a distance, in a way. For us. You know.

The third poetry cabaret was last night, with return visits from Toronto poet Dennis Lee, British poet Simon Armitage & a first visit to the festival from BC poet Barbara Nickel. Simon Armitage read through the festival two years ago, during a one-off reading with Ken Babstock that was standing room only, & absolutely magnificent. Armitage, I will admit, is a poet I would rather hear than read, & there is something long & graceful deep in his poems that I don’t see anywhere else (even though a number of the poems he read were poems he had read two years ago in the same room), with a sly & even outrageous underplayed sense of humour. I was disappointed to discover that the first poem he read, "I am a sperm whale," wasn’t actually in his book Tyrannosaurus Red Versus The Corduroy Kid (Anansi, 2006), but the follow-up, "You're Beautiful," is, & reason alone for owning his new book. The poem reads like a mantra or a small chant, & includes:

because you're classically trained.
I'm ugly because I associate piano wire with strangulations.

You're beautiful because you stop to read the cards in
newsagents' windows about lost cats and missing dogs.
I'm ugly because of what I did to that jellyfish with a lolly
stick and a big stone.

You're beautiful because for you, politeness is instinctive, not
a marketing campaign.
I'm ugly because desperation is impossible to hide.

Ugly like he is,
Beautiful like hers,
Beautiful like Venus,
Ugly like his,
Beautiful like she is,
Ugly like Mars.

The one book by the three I actually found the most interesting was Barbara Nickel's second, Domain (Anansi, 2007), a follow-up to her Gladys Elegies (Coteau Books, 1998). It had been a while since I'd heard her read or seen her, moving all over the country from Saskatchewan to Vancouver to Newfoundland & back to BC; who can keep track? She remembered I was actually at her Ottawa launch of the first collection so many moons ago (in the same building we were in last night), or when I convinced her to play "More than a Feeling" on her fiddle in a hotel room in Halifax in 1999; when Betsy Struthers & John Oughton were singing, but Carmine Starnino wouldn’t. Why would that even be important?

I found it interesting the construction of her collection, working a series of poems as foundation poems throughout the collection, almost as section titles, from "MASTER BEDROOM" to "GIRLS' ROOM," "LIVING ROOM," "UTILITY ROOM," "KITCHEN," "BOYS' ROOM," "STORAGE ROOM" and "MOVING." Shorter & tighter than the other pieces, they felt like foundation poems holding the book together, with the rest of the poems that followed each like the flesh surrounding the bone. Unfortunately, I found the poems that came after as flesh far less interesting then her foundation poems, & wanted to keep her somehow to that, but it probably doesn’t work that way; is this a matter of personal style, perhaps, or simply the fact that her book lasted ten years in composition? & will we have to wait another ten years for her next book? We've had to wait even longer for Michelle Desberats


The mirror's cracking silver would have saved.
It resembled thorns. Beyond that bramble
in the glass, a forest—curtains severe
and green, a deep closet—loomed untouchable.
What happened there the mirror memorized:
Mother smoothing the spread. A sheer fold
of drape swaying, lulled, as she left. A maze
inside those curtains for the girl who holds
escape a possibility, who shatters
bone years later and, strapped and locked, appeals
to a square of sky again. The doors were shut.
A finger on the mirror now, I track a pale
design that keeps me out—a girl obscured.
The only way to touch her is to hurt.

Apparently she goes off to Montreal tomorrow, to see Stephanie Bolster & Patrick Leroux & their brand(ish) new baby girl.

Later on in the hospitality suite (what happens in the suite, predominantly stays in the suite…), finding out that Catherine Kidd knows every word & every song of Jesus Christ Superstar; Catherine instead performing a poem in full brogue by Robbie Burns. Steve Zytveld singing again & again Jerusalem (with the Billy Bragg version I heard last week still trapped in my head...). Children's author Rochelle Strauss (her name reminding me of the whole Rochelle, Rochelle stuff from Seinfeld...) being a lot more fun than I expected a children's author to be; Andy Brown in a brand-new red shirt he bought in Ottawa to help launch Catherine's first novel. An argument into the last hours about poetry & reviewing & notions of being open (etcetera) to alternate forms of writing in a square-table discussion that included Nickel, David O'Meara & jwcurry (& three other folks I don’t quite know the names of) that was pretty interesting, until it collapsed into itself as the sun rose & the Saturday issue of The Globe & Mail hit the hotel room doorstep…

related posts: Amanda Earl's entry; John W. MacDonald's entry; Charles Earl's entry;

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