festival notes, day one (to blog, or not to blog?)
& so it begins, the spring edition of the ottawa international writers festival, yesterday at 2pm. There was no way I could have made it for two, so unfortunately missed the first two events, but made it in time to hear writer & Bookninja creator George Murray talk about blogging, hosted by our own Amanda Earl. It was interesting to hear Murray talk about the creation of the site, & what his original ideas for the site were. I have to admit I haven’t really spent a whole lot of time wandering Bookninja, but his talk made me want to start engaging with it, starting (roughly) as an ongoing conversation about & engagement with literature with a group of friends at his local bar (when he lived in Toronto), The Victory Cafe (I know that, over the years, its been a hangout for various writers such as Paul Vermeersch, Beth Follett, Stuart Ross, John Degan & Chris Chambers, among others). George talked about some of the troubles & pitfalls of blogging, & what he's learned from it (it would make an interesting piece, I think, on Bookninja itself...). Amanda Earl did a lovely job hosting & holding the Q&A portion, including questions provided by others over email (Pearl Pirie won the contest Amanda was running for such). I am such a huge fan of what these guys – Sean, Neil, Kira, Thea, Leslie – have done with the writers festival over the years; one of the best reasons to live in the city, I do think.
Wonderfully entertaining to be able to launch my new book with George Bowering, after years of wanting; rob between Georges, Murray & Bowering. Host Stephen Brockwell had to be prodded to remember to use last names when referring to those; Murray (who refuses, for some reason, to lower case my name on his Bookninja), suggested I change my name to “george mclennan,” just to be less confusing (shades of the “Bruce” sketch from Monty Python…). I have to admit I liked George Murray’s reading far better than I expected; his talk was informed, interesting & a bit rambly, which I even quite liked; I haven’t seen George now in a few years, & was hoping to get some conversation in at the hostility suite later on, but it didn’t quite work out. At the reading itself, my monster headache didn’t really help things; I felt as though I was only working on 50% at the Q&A portion after the reading; thankfully, since I announced my headache (& reasons for it) during my reading, a pill of some sort was later provided.
Brockwell asked us questions about how we consider place, saying that place is the central concern in my writing (I'm not sure if I agree with that); certainly "place" features heavily in my work, & it's something I've been aware of for some time, writing Glengarry (another book I'm trying to get out next year, glengarry: open field) and now writing Ottawa; so much of this has to do with placement itself (for me, anyways), which doesn't limit itself to simple geography, but in naming, & other concerns. Identity being self-identity, after all. For the past few years I've been thinking about "place" & "subject" & working through them with projects such as these so I can work my way out through the other side, to see where else I can eventually go. I have to admit, simply hearing someone say that anything is my central concern (etcetera) makes me suddenly want to completely shift directions (later in the hospitality suite, Nicholas Lea suggested my writing was less about "place" than Fred Wah's consideration of the "biotext"; & then he & jwcurry got into a big late-night discussion about Wah, which was pretty interesting). Where else is there to go? I'm sure that notions of "place" (as suggested in the Q&A) might not only be "Canadian" but outdated; are these things that derek beaulieu & Christian Bok & Lisa Robertson worry about, for example? Why am I still holding onto my "where is here" concern?
Bowering complained later that the typeface on my blog is too small & he can’t read it; someone wondered well after the Murray blog bit, does one have to have a blog now to be a working writer? It almost seems so for musicians, working a myspace or whatnot; is it essential now to be on-line? Bowering said he can't be bothered; made jokes at the reading about the typewriter on the writers festival poster; does anyone know what this is?
Of course all the usual suspects & more were there at the reading, including Monty Reid, Amanda & Charles Earl, Chris Jennings, Steve Zytveld, Katherine Hunt, Pearl Pirie, Josh Massey, Rhonda Douglas, Janet Jancar (who provided the advil), Kate Bryden, Bonnie Laing, LeeAnne Mattie, Jennifer Mulligan, Max Middle, Nicholas Lea, Rob Winger, Terry Ann Carter, Ian Roy, Anita Lahey, Sandra Ridley & Emily Falvey (& a whole bunch of others), & jwcurry, who showed up right after the reading was over, with guitar in hand (he & Brockwell played in the hospitality suite).
Hopefully see all of you on Wednesday, when we launch Ottawa poet (soon moving to Fredericton) Nicholas Lea’s first poetry collection, Everything is movies; apparently those boys at The Puritan launch their second issue during the festival, which is also on-line, where you can even find a piece of my fiction…
related notes: Amanda Earl’s entry, John MacDonald’s entry, George Murray’s entry; Pearl Pirie's entry; Charles Earl's entry; the Ottawa Citizen article on me;