Friday, March 25, 2011

More Local Touristing

My second piece on Local Tourist Ottawa just went up: an extended mix of the review I wrote here of Clare Murphy's show at the Fourth Stage. . . May be doing some writing for them about Once Upon a Slam, too, which I'm heading off to tonight (which reminds me, I really need to run through my story and get it down to 5 minutes! It's a break from my past stories: a historical true story from the last days of the Vietnam War. You'll have come out if you want to know more!)

And then, just for a change, maybe I'll write something for them that's not about storytelling.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

First Local Tourist piece!

Hey, check it out: just posted my first piece on Local Tourist Ottawa, where I'm writing about the lit scene. This post covers the wrapup of VERSeFest and why I think it's going to make a huge difference to Ottawa's poetry scene.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Gods and Monsters

Am I ever glad I ran - ran - from the CKCU studio to the NAC in time for Irish storyteller Clare Muireann Murphy's On The Heels of the Hound. This was a presentation by the Ottawa Storytellers Fourth Stage Series, and not one I wanted to miss (even if Thursdays are choir night, so, sadly, I often have to miss OST Fourth Stage shows.)

I'm an Irish mythology geek, so I was pretty happy to find out Clare Murphy was going to be here. On Saint Patrick's Day. To tell the really old stuff; origin myths and creation stories and ancient epics.

The room was pretty full when I came sneaking in minutes before the show (and my friend Ruthanne had saved me a seat right up at the front, bless her!) The teller came on stage singing, carrying a staff, in a white dress with a green shawl and ogham letters written down the back (and yeah, I knew what they were and thought that was a great touch.)

Murphy's storytelling is conversational, and vivid. The sound effects and different voices she could produce with just her voice were amazing, and she leaped from character to character, becoming a a warrior poet, a snorting, belching, repulsive giant, a crafty old Druidess, an arrogant king, a little boy - often back and forth between lines of dialogue. She spoke straight to the audience - to particular people in the audience at times - involving us in the story as well. We became, through the show, the chant that healed King Nuada's arm, the sound of the wind, servants put to sleep by magic, druids being chosen for a task, and by the end, the chorus of the song she'd been singing between stories. So in a way we became shapeshifters as much as she did, as did her staff and shawl, which became different objects through the stories as well.

Something about the updated, conversational, 'this is all happening in a time and place we can recognize' tone she used kept the myths she was telling fresh: these stories are thousands of years old, but she kept them from feeling distant. You could relate to these people, which is one of the things I find so interesting about the Irish legends. The characters are very human, even when they're gods. They have human failings and passions and fears and loves - and senses of humor - and Murphy brought that out. I don't think I've ever felt quite so much compassion for Fionn mac Cumhail in his search for his lost wife, or for little, stubborn, innocent, pigheaded, terrifying Setanta (he grows up to be Chu Chulainn, who Murphy described as "like Hercules, but psychotic and homicidal.") And I'm not sure I breathed during the warrior poet Amairgin's crossing of the nine waves to land in Ireland.

I wanted more: when she was done it felt like no time at all had gone by. Certainly not a couple of hours. Now where's my copy of the Dictionary of Celtic Mythology? Think I want to spend some more time with these stories.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

VERSeFest Taught Me

I'll be on CKCU's Literary Landscape tomorrow 6:30-7:00, 93.1 FM) talking about the repercussions and impact of VERSeFest with Jessica Ruano (and possibly other poetry people).

I'll also have a blog post up soon about VERSeFest on Local Tourist Ottawa, which I'm right now composing, and struggling not to drag the possibly-not-yet-embroiled LTO readership into the heated, sometimes vitriolic 'page/stage' debate. But still wanting to give them some sense of why that debate exists, why it matters, and why what VERSeFest did, in bringing together a very diverse group of poetry organizations, was not only important, but got a few people all verklempt at the closing party.

I think it was really important to have a space where people got to hear what was going on at other reading series and among other groups in town. It was very, very cool to hear the spoken word audiences snapping their fingers for the page poets, and the page poets responding to the spoken word. And for me, it was particularly interesting to be there for back-to-back shows and to hear - along with the differences between styles - what was similar.

At the moment, I'm running a quick Twitter campaign - using the hashtag #VERSeFestTaughtMe, I'm hoping to garner some responses on what people learned from this opportunity to be exposed to other people who might be practicing poetry differently from them. Just sent out another call - I'll read whatever I get back out on-air tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

True fandom

Okay, now this is a strange and yet kind of impressive tribute. I just stumbled across this tattoo.

Yes, that's fragments of text from William Gibson's novel Neuromancer. Say what you like about tattoos, when so many of them are fairly generic 'tribal-knotwork'y graphics, I have to be impressed by someone who wants an entire sleeve of text. And fragmentary text. And, well, cyberpunk text.

(Click here for an unmicronized version of the photo in its native web habitat.)

Friday, March 11, 2011

VERSeFest (Part 1: Wednesday night)

Did the people who had never been to a Voices of Venus show have any idea what they were in for? Did the people who had never been to a blUe mOnday show have any idea what they were in for?

If not, that's exactly what I had been hoping for VERSeFest: that I would look around and see someone in the audience being exposed to something entirely new. Although, I have to say that even I can't remember ever having been to a poetry show before where not one, but two of the performers removed clothing . . . but that's another story.

Wednesday night was sort of a girls night at VERSeFest - Voices of Venus, of course, is the city's only women-only open mike & series, and the University of Ottawa's blUe mOnday series, who hosted the second of the evening's events, featured Sandra Ridley and Christine McNair. Voices of Venus hosted an open mike (all erotica and all signed up in advance) and then a sexy set by Beth Anne Fischer, a new and very welcome addition to Ottawa's spoken word scene. She started out the set with a piece accompanied by a lovely flamenco guitar that made the whole poem seem somehow sun-dappled and sultry, encouraged the audience to get loud, did poems that were funny and funky and hot (check one of them out here), gave out chocolate, and wrapped up the set with a polished, fun, really well-choreographed... burlesque routine. Yup, she did a striptease, tassels and all, to Michael Buble's rendition of "Fever." There's a gorgeous picture, snapped by Charles Earl, here.

I've got to say the open mike was pretty stellar as well - the whole set damn near stolen by Luna Allison's theatrical, vulnerable, hypnotic piece, more dramatic monologue than straight up poetry performance. (See? Boundaries and borders getting shoved around all over the place!) But the other performances were also strong: Allison Armstrong's "All Woman" and Emily Kwissa's love poem to anger being standouts for me.

Going from the Voices of Venus show to the blUe mOnday was a brain-expander for me. The crossover that was going on between the different series was made obvious when the host, after their open mike, said something (possibly a bit too self-disparaging) like, "That was a really good open mike. I've seen a lot of those performers as features at other shows. Usually our open mikes are, well, they're kinda different. You know. And usually our open mikes aren't so . . . slam."

"Spoken word!" someone yelled from the audience, "there's no competition here!" (She meant that "slam" is a kind of poetry show which involves a competition, although it's frequently conflated with the style of poetry that most often makes it onto the stage at a slam. That terminology, and all the discussion that goes with it, and all of that stuff about poetry categorization, is getting clawed to the surface at VERSeFest, which is something else I'm happy about.)

"Well, you know what I mean," he said, kind of defensively. "Just - our open mike isn't exactly like that." Meaning, I assume, that their open mike has more people reading their work off pages, and probably more new poets. (I don't know, haven't been, should go.)

But what turned out to be the brain expander for me was listening to Christine McNair and Sandra Ridley, while being aware of the 'spoken word' people in the audience. Christine and Sandra are probably/would probably identify as (not that I want to run around slapping categories on people) 'page' poets. But as I listened to their readings, I started hearing how some of the wordplay is the same. Repetition to create a rhythm and to punctuate. Breaking or twisting a word in the middle to bring extra meaning out of it or to make it sing. 'Team pieces," even, since the two poets joined forces a couple of times to read certain sections of their poems in counterpoint. They both break syntax and juxtapose unlikely ideas and words, allow images and ideas to be suggested at rather than given, and put the listener in the place of building her own linkages and relationships to the poems, but (especially with the open mike bridging between their work and Beth Anne's spoken word) I couldn't help but feel a strong sense of continuity.

Both Christine and Sandra set a whole different rhythm to the night. Quieter, yes: from poems designed to get a round of applause at the end we had moved to a sense of sequence, a sense that it was okay not to clap (although people did, sometimes, for some poems.) It felt we were listening on a longer timeframe (and in fact, Sandra only read two long poems, both of which gave us - and her -  time to stretch out and relax into their flow: a meditative way to wrap up the night.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Is it wrong to be jealous of Sean Moreland?

I made it across town last night for the Dusty Owl reading at the Carleton Tavern (the new locale, at the moment, since Swizzles had been proving a little unreliable in the being-there-and-opening-the-doors department.) Call Me Katie were there for one of their regular Dusty Owl gigs, with a lot of new material and a collection of fans to fill up the upstairs room. And then Sean got up to read.

Yeah. Jealous. Is that so wrong? He's got the perfect poetry reading voice, and (when he needs to) he stretches and squishes it around like a slightly elastic, pliable substance under the pressure of the words he's pronouncing. I like the sound of Sean's stuff, I like the rolling repetitions of sounds and the dreamlike way the images are suspended. I like that he writes what I would have to call 'horror poetry' - creepily insidious and disturbing even while it's elegant. (The poem 'Alma Mater' was a mesmerizing exploration of the horrific aspects of the feminine. I want to hear it more.) He's also free to do a fairly straightforward narrative prose line (still with that ear for sound, though) or to break words and images down and stretch them around as he reads - both figuratively and literally.

Sean does this stuff so well I'm tempted to throw my hands up and just leave this writing thing to the experts. Except that he also makes me listen to my own words as they come out just that little bit more carefully. And he does make it seem like so much (brainy) fun.

Also, on the verge of VERSeFest, listening to Sean reminds me how much I'm looking forward to the cross-fertilization of the 'performance' and 'page' poets that VERSeFest will (hopefully) engender. Can we get rid of those distinctions please? They're so weighted. Depending on what side of the 'line' you're on, they're value judgements and that's just plain wrong. Sean Moreland is a performer. You can tell he thinks about how the poem is going to sound, not just as he's reading it but as he was writing it. He knows where he's going to drag a consonant out, twist a vowel to get a separate shade of meaning. He's thought about this stuff. Forget this 'page'/'stage' distinction-based-on-content stuff, there are poets that focus on how their poetry is going to sound and then there are poets that don't. But you know? Most of the poets that I enjoy do. Gonna be fun to hear them all in one place for once.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

VERSeFest kicks off Tuesday!

Hard to miss the buzz about VERSeFest lately. Check out their website: I'm definitely booking off some time next week to get out and see what I can! This weekend is packed with pre-Fest events, and then the official kickoff happens at Arts Court on the 8th with Ian Keteku, David McGimpsey, Brad Morden and Craig Poile. . .  and it all just goes from there.

I also have to join the rest of town to say congratulations to Pearl Pirie for the Robert Kroetsch Award win!

Ottawa, Ottawa, it's a poetry sort of town. Even if the people at Metro were a little unplugged (and it was funny to watch the indignation fly. Hey, Metro is a massive cheesenews conglomerate. Not that surprising they don't know what's going on in poetry (and that they called VERSeFest the city's "first ever poetry festival.") Really, if you're not involved with the poets, you don't know what's going on in local poetry. . . It IS kind of a niche market.