Monday, October 20, 2014

Poets & Place

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It should go without saying, but: I'm VERY much looking forward to working with John Terpstra & Giuliana Casimirri, who is the Urban Forest Coordinator at the Hamilton Naturalists' Club & an environmental sociologist...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Vintage reading

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On my last night in Victoria, I read at Russell Books with Julie Paul, Jane Eaton Hamilton, and Arleen Pare.

I went first. After a pre-reading meal at nearby Be Love with the other poets but minus the fictioneer.

(Yes, it was a vegetarian restaurant. Yes, I resisted the imperative even as I dabbed my seedy cracker in cashew cheese and a dark figgy spread.)

My thanks to Russell's and event coordinator Venessa Herman, to the other readers and the robust audience. And also to Yvonne, who passed me a Fisherman's Friend midway through Julie's reading, right when I needed it. (Tickly throat! Blargh!)

I'm home now and have washed my trip clothes. And unpacked my bag-of-books, and even used a bay leaf from the bouquet I picked from a tree. (PICKED FROM A TREE.)

But it was great fun to spend some time with BC poets, to dabble in the ocean and look at big mossy trees.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Other mossy trees

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This doesn't begin to do it justice, but...

Mossy tree

All photos Frances King Park, Victoria, BC. October 4, 2014.  
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So last weekend Yvonne Blomer packed up her son and her son's friend and her dog and me—her visiting poet—and took us to Frances/King Park.

And as I crossed the highway and entered the park, chatting with her husband Rupert, I glanced around and went, "Whoa."

Even though I'd thought I was used to the difference between Winnipeg and Victoria—we have many of the same shrubs, for instance, it's just that Victoria's are 12 feet tall—this was something.

I'm used to my young-ish aspen forest or our elderly 100-year-old elm canopy, so the massive, old-growth Douglas Fir trees, some of which are apparently 500-years-old, snagged me.

Like an outflung branch. Right in the eye.

(I liked this tree in particular because it was so moss-encrusted and fern-draped that you couldn't actually see any of its bark...)

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Unicity: Joan Thomas

Winnipeg novelist Joan Thomas will probably remember October 7, 2014 for a long time.

This morning, it was announced that her third novel, The Opening Sky, was shortlisted for a Governor General's Award for the Arts. And then, tonight, Joan will have her Winnipeg launch.

I interviewed Joan a few days ago before all the hoopla descended. And am happy to share this quiet little interview today, given that it reflects Joan and her work perfectly: intelligent, wide-ranging, courteous.

What do you want people to know about The Opening Sky?

The Opening Sky is the story of three people in present-day Winnipeg going through an intense personal crisis. It’s very different than my last novel Curiosity, which looked at how 19th century England was rocked by the discovery of huge reptile fossils on a Dorset coast. But it has the same preoccupation at its core. How do people respond when the way they see the world is fundamentally challenged?

As a writer (i.e. someone whose artistic practice is predicated on time spent alone) how do you approach performance? What do you get out of it?

Public readings were hard for me at first (What is a writer but a failed talker? I ask). But there’s something wonderful about reading aloud and being read to, and gradually I’ve become more at ease with it. Sometimes I actually love it—when the lights are dim, and the sound system lets you talk naturally, and you can tell people are really listening. By the time a book goes to press, each page has been so scrutinized that it has almost lost its meaning for you. And then in that moment, you experience the intimacy between the audience and the story, and the words are fresh and forceful for you again. That’s the gift an audience gives a writer.

Your first two books, Reading by Lightning and Curiosity, were historical fiction set in England and rural Manitoba. What was it like to write your own time and place? What was it like to invent a fictional street in Wolseley?

It was incredibly scary—I feel way more “out there” with this book. For one thing, the burden of proof is higher. When a novel has a familiar setting, readers bring a sharp eye to every detail. And in a culture where ideas and artefacts have a shelf life of about 12 hours, it’s daunting to get things right.

I think every novelist with serious intentions is staggered by the complexity and chaos of life today—it made me nostalgic at times for the certainties of the 19th century. But I think it’s crucial that writers take on the challenge of the present. I don’t mean that I approached it as a duty. My own reading is almost exclusively contemporary novels, so it was exciting to finally write one. But it was harder, and I likely had to have the first two books under my belt before I could tackle it.

Augusta Street...I wanted to capture this family’s life in all its particularity, so I needed a house number. And I didn’t want to use a real house on say, Greenwood or Lipton. Augusta Street is by no means my largest liberty with Winnipeg. I’m waiting to hear what Winnipeggers think of the others. But you know how it is—the demands of the story will always win out.

Your bio says that you’ve been writing fiction since 2000. You taught high school English as well as working as a freelance writer and program officer at MAC. What prompted you to turn to creative writing? Can you pinpoint the moment?

It’s clear to me now that I always wanted to write fiction, but I seldom admitted it. I thought that probably everybody who grew up reading Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon dreamed of being a writer. I did a lot a lot of reviewing in the 1980’s and 90’s, so I was always thinking about how fiction works. And then a story based on something that happened when I was a kid came to me and I thought I’d try to write it. I never published it, but I joined a writing group and worked mainly on fictionalized memories. Those pieces led me to Reading by Lightning, which is set in the decade when my mother was a girl.

I remember a weekend with friends at Victoria Beach. We waded out to Elk Island and while we were sitting on the sand, I told them the story I was contemplating for Reading by Lightning. All of them were artists in one way or another, and they were tremendously supportive. That gave me a big boost.

What are your goals for your writing now, as compared to when you first started publishing?

At first the question that preoccupies new writers is, “Can I really do this?” I’m not plagued by that anxiety to the same degree, though in a certain respect you have to lay hold of a new confidence with each new project.

I think writers pick off the low-hanging fruit with the first few books, using a lot of stored-up creative ideas. And then you have to dig deeper—but I hope this means that your work deepens. I’m not jumping too quickly into another book. I’m thinking hard about the things I most want to explore.

What would you tell a stranger about Winnipeg?

I’ve just written 350 pages set in Winnipeg, but the one-sentence description is beyond me.

What are you reading right now? What are you writing?

I’m reading Caroline Adderson’s new novel-in-stories, Ellen in Pieces. It is the funniest, most alive, true and astute foray into one woman’s life. I can’t praise it enough. And as for writing, I’m making notes towards a new novel, doing a bit of research, drafting short passages. My idea is still in the shape-shifting stage.

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This is the third installment of a new interview series I'm calling Unicity, which, according to Wikipedia, was a term used to refer to Winnipeg around 1972.

That was when the rural municipalities of Charleswood, Fort Garry, North Kildonan, and Old Kildonan, the Town of Tuxedo, the cities of East Kildonan, West Kildonan, St. Vital, Transcona, St. Boniface, and St. James-Assiniboia were amalgamated into what we now know as Winnipeg.

The Chicago of the North. One Great City. Murder Capital of Canada. Winnerpeg.

The series runs parallel to my other interview series, Out of Town Authors, but takes as its subjects local authors instead of visiting ones.

Monday, October 06, 2014


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So here's a diptych of images from Friday night's Poems from Planet Earth Reading Series in Victoria.

Patricia Young read in addition to myself and Yvonne, but I was too busy trying not to cough during her reading to take any pictures. (Yes, that's how befuddled I was...)

But we had a great crowd, full of poets I admire, and several once-and-former Winnipeggers identified themselves after the reading.

Fun! (And tonight I read at Russell Books!)

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Reprint: Firelight Interview Series

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So Lauren Carter, who is a apocalyptic novelist and poet currently living in The Pas, MB, recently asked me to be a part of her Firelight Interview Series, which has also included Marguerite Pigeon, Elisabeth de Mariaffi, and Nancy Jo Cullen.

Here's Lauren's Firelight-y mission statement: "The series gives writers a chance to answer questions they wish they were asked but aren’t. A few others from me will also be throw in." 
Whatever the series' raison-d'etre, it was fun to swing at a few meatballs, to attempt to talk about some of my recent preoccupations around my work.

Fun! And many thanks to Lauren...

Friday, October 03, 2014

Saltspring reading

(Clockwise from top left): Yvonne Blomer, reading from As if a Raven, the crowd at the Salt Spring Island Public Library's Open Mic series, major domo/poet Christine Smart, and the crowd post-reading.

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The day after my arrival in Victoria, Yvonne Blomer and I packed up our reading frocks, our cold medicines, and our books and hopped on the ferry for Saltspring Island.

I had been hoping that I'd feel better by the time the reading happened, given that I've been pestilential—tired, achy, full-of-mucous—for a week now.

We went on a short walk in the forest behind organizer Christine Smart's house before the reading. And it was good and I wished it was longer, but I'm not sure I could have handled much more.

And the reading was fun, in a room in the new Saltspring Island Public Library, all wood and glass and good light.

And it was lovely to finally hear Yvonne read, after months of chatting with her online and reading her poems. And even though I was feeling under the weather, I think I gave an okay reading. I enjoyed myself, which is half of what makes for a good reading, I think.

And then we had a slooow morning of poetry-talk and tea and wandering around Ganges before hopping on the ferry again.

Fun! My thanks to Christine Smart, whose books I snapped up, for all her support.