|photo pilfered from the internet ; not actually from the event|
This is the text of the penultimate of four “Arc Walks” [see links to the whole series--Centretown, Glebe, Hintonburg and the Byward Market--as it appears here, including post-walk texts, notifications on the final walk and links to the poem handouts] I’d been commissioned to do this year, thanks very much to Arc Poetry Magazine and the Community Foundation. The third walk, through Hintonburg, sat in the midst of the wind and the cold and the snow, so the walk ended up being theoretical, held in the upstairs of the Carleton Tavern, as Blaine Marchand pointed in various directions to illustrate different locations (“imagine you are on Wellington Street West right now…). Thanks very much to Blaine Marchand, Anita Lahey, Steve Zytveld, Clare Latremouille, Colin Morton, Craig Poile, Paul Tyler, Stephanie Bolster, Merise Brebner and others who provided some details I might not otherwise have known, and to Marchand and Claire Farley, who were good enough to read (a poem of theirs, alongside a poem by, respectively, Diana Brebner and Anita Lahey). And to the small, shivering crowd! The final walk will be on December 8th in the Byward Market; keep an eye on my link here for confirmation on where we shall be meeting to begin that one.
One might say that Hintonburg has had infestations of poets for years, living lives of quiet desperation, even amid increasing gentrification. One of Michael Dennis’ first apartments in Ottawa during the early 1980s was on Spadina Avenue, as was poet Wanda O’Connor’s last apartment, circa 2006, where she held poetry salons in her apartment’s unfinished attic. O’Connor authored a handful of self-published poetry chapbooks as well as a title through above/ground press before heading to Montreal to participate in Concorida’s Creative Writing Program. Marianne Bluger (1945-2005) lived on Clarendon Avenue, in a house since torn down and replaced, as Blaine Marchand says, “by a monstrosity.” During her medical studies in Montreal, Bluger took poetry classes with the poet Louis Dudek. She eventually moved to Ottawa where she raised two children as a single mother, and published numerous books of poetry, including Summer Grass (Brick Books, 1992), Tamarack & Clearcut (Carleton University Press, 1996), Scissor, Paper, Woman (Penumbra Press, 2000) and the posthumous Nude with Scar (Penumbra Press, 2006). More recently, poet and editor Pearl Pirie also lived relatively close, spending half a decade at 202 Hinton Avenue North until 2017, when she and her husband Brian, a performer in multiple of jwcurry’s Messagio Galore sound ensembles, relocated across the river into rural Quebec, to a house they built themselves. Jean Van Loon, who, until recently, was director of The TREE Reading Series, and is the author of Building on River (Cormorant Books, 2018), a poetry debut focused on and around Ottawa’s J.R. Booth, lives on Mayfair Avenue. Blaine Marchand, discussed during both my Centretown and Glebe walks, lives on Warren Avenue, and has, as he says, for 36 years.
FIRST STOP: 1242 Wellington Street West: Our first official stop is the site of the former Collected Works Bookstore and Coffeeshop (1997-2012). As well as being a focal point for numerous literary readings and events, Collected Works hosted a series of writing workshops conducted by local writers, including multiple sessions run by the poet Diana Brebner (1956-2001). Brebner was an incredibly supportive mentor to younger writers, including myself, when we would meet for coffee in the Glebe circa 1993-95, and talk about poetry and exchange tales of our children. She lived just north of the Civic Hospital, at 21 Sims, with her huband and two daughters from October 1992 to February 1999, before she briefly relocated to Sherbrooke Avenue, and finally to an apartment building at 420 Parkdale, right next to the old fire hall, where she lived until she succumbed to cancer in 2001.
Brebner, a proponent of the sonnet during a particularly fallow period for the form, won the CBC Poetry Contest in 1992, and published three trade poetry collections with Netherlandic Press: Radiant Life Forms (1990), The Golden Lotus (1993) and Flora & Fauna (1996). Stephanie Bolster, a poet Brebner had mentored during their shared Ottawa time, edited Brebner’s posthumous The Ishtar Gate: Last and Selected Poems (2004) for McGill-Queen’s Hugh MacLennan Poetry Series. Here’s a poem from her second collection, The Golden Lotus:
The Perfect Garden
Nothing grows in asphalt. But here I
am trying to grow something, as well
as nothing. Each year some hibiscus
appears, either side of my doorway:
blood-red soldiers, or are they angels?
And the violets, quietly given to my
little daughter, by her dying friend
(a woman of my present age) three years
past. They appear in cinder-blocks
again, and again. Some things will not
forget how they came up from emptiness:
bluebells (called weeds and torn up), lily-
-of-the-valley (between concrete wall
And asphalt plane) green asymptotes
never quite giving up the ghost, never
blue morning-glory on the Frost fence,
and Siberian irises up against the invisible
walls, and old lilac invading the thick
black lie which says: death, which
says: nothing is perfect, or even close.
After Brebner became too ill to continue, the workshops were run by a couple of different poets, including Bolster, before I started conducting my own workshop sessions, which ran throughout the remainder of the store’s existence. After the store closed, I continued running poetry workshops upstairs at the Carleton Tavern, before shifting to our house on Alta Vista Drive. Over the years, participants in the poetry workshops included numerous writers who have since gone on to impressive publishing cvs, including Una McDonnell, Anita Lahey and S. Lesley Buxton, all of whom met in Diana Brebner’s workshops. Poets in my own sessions, which still occur occasionally, have included Pearl Pirie, Sandra Ridley, Amanda Earl, Marcus McCann, Frances Boyle, Suzannah Showler, Roland Prevost, Claire Farley, Nina Jane Drystek, Chris Johnston, natalie hanna and Catriona Wright. Former bookstore owners Craig Poile and Christopher Smith still live in the neighbourhood, on Hamilton Avenue North, and Poile, a poet, playwright and theatre producer, won both the Archibald Lampman Award and the Ottawa Book Award for his second full-length poetry collection, True Concessions (Goose Lane, 2009).
In 2002, Arc Poetry Magazine founded The Diana Brebner Prize. Awarded each year for the best poem written by a National Capital Region poet not yet been published in book form, winners over the years have included Conyer Clayton, Claire Farley, Sneha Madhavan-Reese, Anne Marie Todkill, Marilyn Irwin, Lauren Turner, Jenny Haysom, Robyn Jeffrey, Frances Boyle, Rhonda Douglas, Sylvia Adams, Michael Blouin and Mary Trafford, many of whom have gone on to produce first full-length books.
Collected Works is also where I first met my dear wife, Christine McNair, when she participated in one of my poetry workshops during the summer of 2008. After moving from Toronto earlier that spring, she first came through the store for the sake of the Canadian Author’s Association, which were hosting gatherings within the space. Since those days, she has gone on to publish two poetry collections, including her second, Charm (Book*hug, 2017), which recently won the Archibald Lampman Award, an annual prize for the best book of poetry by an Ottawa-area resident.
SECOND STOP: Wellington Street West and Huron: Paul Tyler, author of the Archibald Lampman-winning poetry debut, A Short History of Forgetting (Gaspereau Press, 2010), lived at 73 Huron from 2004 to 2012 before relocating to the Glebe. During some of the same years, from 2003 to 2008 or so, he was also on the Arc Poetry Magazine editorial board, before spending a few years as a member of their “advisory board.” Another writer on the same street during that period was poet and editor Anita Lahey, who lived on Huron Avenue before relocating briefly to Fairmount Avenue. While in Ottawa, she published two poetry collections—Out to Dry in Cape Breton (2006), nominated for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry and the Ottawa Book Award, and Spinning Side Kick (2011)—both of which were published by Véhicule Press’ Signal Editions imprint. In 2004, Lahey inherited the mantle of editor for Arc Poetry Magazine from Rita Donovan and longtime editor John Barton, a position she held until 2011, when she left Ottawa to head east, and eventually west. She currently lives in Victoria, B.C., where she continues her work as a poet, journalist and editor, having published a third book, The Mystery Shopping Cart: Essays on Poetry and Culture (Palimpsest Press, 2013). More recently, she changed positions from assistant editor to series editor for Best Canadian Poetry, an annual anthology produced the past decade-plus by Tightrope Books, scheduled to shift to Biblioasis as of 2019. During Lahey’s tenure at Arc, assisted in large part by Reviews Editor Matthew Holmes, the magazine saw numerous expansions, including one of format, as well as the Arc Poetry Annual and the Arc Poet-in-Residence program, making Arc the only Canadian literary journal to host a virtual residency. From her debut, Out to Dry in Cape Breton, composed during her Ottawa period, comes a poem on The Prince of Wales Bridge, a bridge that has also been a favourite of Ottawa poet, publisher, collector and bpNichol bibliographer jwcurry. A bit east of where we are now, The Prince of Wales Bridge is an abandoned rail bridge on the Ottawa River, just north of the boundaries of the repurposed O-Train line. Constructed in 1880 as one of the few crossings of the Ottawa River into Quebec, it connects the south channel of the Ottawa River to Lemieux Island before crossing the northern channel into Gatineau. In February of this year, according to the Ottawa Citizen, the Canadian Transportation Agency ruled that the City of Ottawa “must restore the Prince of Wales Bridge and the railway that approaches it in the next 12 months or formally discontinue the operations [.]” The City is, of course, fighting the decision, saying that the timeline is impossible.
ABANDONED RAILWAY BRIDGE
OVER THE OTTAWA
Everything is designed to remind us of our smallness. We walk
to prove it doesn’t matter, trespass on the CPR line, tromp
into its black-trellised hovering on narrow planks god-knows
how old. Metal arms criss-cross, criss-cross; their taunting,
their gaps. The river tarries beneath puckered skin. There is no alone,
not here. November hurls itself at us, elbows and knees drawn. Pigeons
fuss and coo; clouds stare back; somewhere is a man who fitted rocks
into pillars, laid rails, hammered steel and died. There were men in canoes
who didn’t stand a chance. They whisper back and forth. The dead
want peace, but only sometimes. Kids have been here wielding
cans of paint, accusations: How could you want more than this? Their uneven
letters lie whitely, backed gainst flagging sun. A scrubby shore
calls to one you left behind. Midway, the rope, lashed to a jutting
beam. Twenty feet of braided yellow fixed to the sky, fretting
over water. Evidence of swimmers, or worse. Someone climbed
and clung to tie that far-off end. The sky sweeps the river
roughly, without pity. The question is whether to exist in two
places or one. Keep keeping all you’ve amassed or fling it off
this old bridge. Teeter on rotting boards, tethered by hope.
Or tautly arc into glory and back, glory and back, each triumph
less graspable than the last, until, wind-whipped, with calloused
palms, you yo-yo about, doodling on little sheets of air. In wonder
resides no footing; kicking won’t get you home. You’re bound
to blackening yellow, nighttime’s impressive arrivals, the immoveable
bridge with its slime-plastered legs. Ward off, longly and without
sound, that sweaty, red-palmed slippage as you undulate
with memories of height, the wooden, underfoot sureness that was.
THIRD STOP: 1233 Wellington Street West: Poet and fiction writer Elisabeth Harvor lived for years in an apartment building across from the Rosemount Library, before relocating to one of the condos above the Great Canadian Theatre Company. A poet, short story writer and novelist, she was the first and seemingly last writer in residence through Carleton University’s English Department in 1993, a position the Department shared with the Ottawa Public Library. She won the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award for best book of poetry by a Canadian writer for her 1992 collection, A Fortress of Chairs (Vehicule Press), was nominated for a Governor General’s Award for her short story collection Let Me Be the One (1996), and her first novel, Excessive Joy Injures the Heart (Penguin, 2010), was chosen one of the ten best books of the year by The Toronto Star. That same year, she also won the Alden Nowlan Award. In 2003, she won the Marian Engel Award, and in 2004 The Malahat Review’s Novella Prize. In 2015, she placed second in Prairie Fire’s fiction prize. Her most recent poetry title is her third, An Open Door in the Landscape (2010).
FOURTH STOP: 1084 Wellington Street West: From 2011 to 2012, The Dusty Owl Reading Series was held at the Elmdale Tavern, surrounded by a plethora of rock memorabilia and posters from decades of musical performances. Originally built in 1909 as a general store, the tavern was purchased and repurposed as the Elmdale Oyster House and Tavern in the fall of 2012, becoming part of a handful of Whalesbone Oyster Houses in Ottawa.
|Cathy hosting ; photo by Pearl Pirie|
Dusty Owl was founded by Steve Zytveld, who had emerged from the Carleton Literary Society at Carleton University, a group that brought Michael Ondaatje to read on campus in March, 1995. Zytveld and his wife Cathy Macdonald-Zytveld ran Dusty Owl as a reading series hosting featured readers and an extensive open set, providing a home to poets, fiction writers, spoken word performers and musicians, and even hosted a series of benefits for the food bank, as well as at least one performance (where everyone who showed up was given a role) of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. To get a sense of the tone of the series, I might mention that there was much giggling, for example, whenever the stage direction “Enter Bottom” was read aloud. Dusty Owl also produced a series of chapbooks in the mid-2000s, curated by Dusty Owl associate Kate Hunt, including titles by myself, Roland Prevost, DeAnne Smith (who has since made a name for herself as a stand-up comedian, writer and performer) and novelist L. Brent Robillard. I long described Dusty Owl as “not the best reading series in town, but certainly the most fun.” Dusty Owl could boast an incredibly welcoming, lively and casual atmosphere, especially as Zytveld would often host sporting vintage aviator pilot goggles, referring to these as his “poetry goggles.”
Originally held at the former Café Wim (537 Sussex Drive, the current home of Social) from 1996 to 1999, The Dusty Owl Reading Series reemerged in Centretown from 2004 to 2010. When Zytveld was forced to step back to begin a Masters of Divinity Degree at St. Paul University in 2011, Macdonald-Zytveld took over the series, and for a brief period, readings were co-hosted by myself and held upstairs at the Carleton Tavern before relocating here, where Zytveld managed to appear on occasion to host. Once the Elmdale was purchased to be repurposed, Dusty Owl lost another home, and went on haitus.
FIFTH STOP: 188 Armstrong Avenue: Clare Latremouille lived here from 2001 to 2015, during the time when Ottawa publisher Chaudiere Books published her first novel, The Desmond Road Book of the Dead (2006), as part of their debut quartet of literary titles. Referring to herself as a “displaced British Columbian,” she returned to Ottawa in the late 1990s after a decade out west, including some time in Vancouver, as well as her hometown of Kamloops. She has published poetry in numerous anthologies, including Written in the Skin (Insomniac Press, 1998) and Shadowy Technicians: New Ottawa Poets (Broken Jaw Press, 2000), and even published a small chapbook with above/ground press: I will write a poem for you. Now: (1995). I first met Latremouille in as a teenager, attending Glengarry District High School in Alexandria, Ontario, as a small handful of us poked at writing poems and short stories, even going so far as to start producing a small literary journal through our English teacher. Some of our classmates published within the pages of our Zine included Ottawa musician Chris Page, known since as frontman to bands such as Camp Radio, Expanda Fuzz and The Stand GT, as well as four solo albums, and playwright, theatre director and Concordia professor Louis Patrick Leroux, who not only founded Ottawa’s Théâtre la Catapulte in the 1990s, but had twenty-three of his plays produced by the time he was twenty-three years old. It was actually through Leroux that Stephanie Bolster first came to Ottawa in 1995, after first meeting each other at the Banff Writing Studio in 1994. They now live in Montreal with their two daughters.
A decade or so after our high school years, Latremouille was a founding member of The Peter F. Yacht Club, an informal writer’s group I first organized in the late 1990s as a conversation between those of us who were writing and submitting and reading. During those first few years, it was far more of a social gathering, not evolving into an occasional journal until 2003, with early members including b stephen harding, Latremouille, Stephen Brockwell, Anita Dolman, James Moran, jwcurry, Jennifer Mulligan and Laurie Fuhr. Since then, issues have been intermittent, but continue, with an issue produced annually as a handout as part of VERSeFest. Since 2015, Latremouille and her family have lived on a large wooded property in North Glengarry.
SIXTH STOP: 220 Armstrong Avenue: Dennis Tourbin (1946-1998) was a lively and engaged poet, painter, performance artist, writer and art and poetry-magazine publisher. As I mentioned during my first walk, Dennis Tourbin was one of a handful of writers to emerge in Ottawa from Peterborough in the early 1980s, alongside Michael Dennis and the late Riley Tench. Further Peterborough writers from the same period, including Maggie Helwig and Yann Martel, headed west, to Toronto and Saskatchewan, respectively. One of the founders of St. Catharines, Ontario’s Niagara Artists’ Center, Dennis Tourbin left Peterborough for Ottawa in 1983, where he eventually became Director of Gallery 101 (during a period that included Rob Manery and Louis Cabri’s The Transparency Machine poetry and performance series), and published a collection of fiction, The Port Dalhousie Stories (1987) through Coach House Press, as well as multiple poetry titles with small and micro presses, including two poetry chapbooks (including one posthumously) with above/ground press. Predominantly known as a painter, he was larger-than-life, uniquely colourful and engaged with the world around him, connecting a series of literary and artistic communities throughout Ottawa and beyond.
Tourbin spent decades focused on and fascinated with the 1970 October Crisis, producing numerous watercolours, artist books, word paintings, performance art, and videos incorporating headlines and imagery from a sequence of events still seen as politically charged. As The Canadian Encyclopedia writes: “The October Crisis began 5 October 1970 with the kidnapping of James Cross, the British trade commissioner in Montréal, by members of the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ). It rapidly devolved into the most serious terrorist act carried out on Canadian soil after another official, Minister of Immigration and Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte, was kidnapped and killed. The crisis shook the career of recently elected Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa, who solicited federal help along with Montréal Mayor Jean Drapeau. This help would lead to the only invocation of the War Measures Act during peacetime in Canadian history.” National Gallery director Shirley Thomson famously cancelled a long-awaited solo exhibition of black-ink drawings on the October Crisis by Tourbin in 1995, due to the pending referendum in Quebec, a decision that was loudly and publicly condemned by the arts community in Ottawa and beyond. Scheduled to be paired with an exhibition of his large-scale paintings on the same subject at the Ottawa Art Gallery, an exhibition which went ahead as planned, the outcry at the cancellation helped turn Tourbin, as Paul Gessell wrote, “into a national star.” Seven years later, Thomson was quoted as saying: “I think I will never know if I made the right decision or not.”
Fascinated by how image could be shaped and presented, one could say that bulk of his work engaged with how media, whether television or newspapers, helps to create, and not simply replicate, reality. Here is a poem from his posthumous THE STREAM and other poems (above/ground press, 2014), a chapbook produced to coincide with a retrospective of his work at the Carleton University Art Gallery.
I don’t want movies.
I don’t want life.
I want real wind
the wonder of
the next sentence.
not a criminal sentence,
a natural, natural
I want life
I want life to tell me…
I want to swim
in pools of aqua
dreams of Olympic glory.
One step closer to,
one step closer to
of a time
changed by plazas
and shopping malls.
I want to swim in dreams,
in night life,
night time, darkness…
I want to swim.
I want to live.
I want television
to be the only thing
in my life.
SEVENTH STOP: Parkdale Park: In June 2015, a collaboration of a handful of Ottawa-area writers organizations, including The Ottawa Independent Writers, l’Association desauteures et auteurs de l’Ontario français, the Capital Crime Writers, the Ottawa Science Fiction Society and the Ottawa Storytellers collaborated to organize the first annual Prose in the Park as a single all-day outdoor book fair featuring readings and panels. The festival has been held every year since, with the exception of 2018, but promises to return for June 2019. Not only held as an event for both French and English publishers, writers and panels, Prose in the Park provides a marked difference from events such as the Ottawa International Writers Festival or the ottawa small press book fair for its focus on genre publishers and writers, as well as self-published authors.
EIGHTH STOP: The Carleton Tavern has been home to literary activity going back years, including my own Factory Reading Series for the past eighteen years or so (a reading series I founded in Centretown back in January, 1993), as well as the semi-annual readings as part of the ottawa small press book fair. Other events have been held here as well, including the aforementioned stretch of readings hosted by the Dusty Owl Reading Series, and individual readings hosted by Brick Books, all of which occurred on the second floor, as well as years’ worth of local theatre on the main floor. For years, my poetry workshops at Collected Works would regularly retire here, post-workshop, for libations and conversation, which I suggest that we do as well.