Friday, May 27, 2011

John Lavery Memorial tomorrow

photo by John W. MacDonald
I'll just repost the announcement I got from the Writers Festival this afternoon - I know I'll be at the Manx to remember John. 


Sunday, May 29, 2011 - 4:00pm
Manx Pub, 370 Elgin Street
A memorial/wake reading for the late Gatineau writer and musician John Lavery (December 31, 1949 - May 8, 2011) will be held at the Manx Pub from 4pm-6pm.
Hosted by David O'Meara, this informal gathering of friends, admirers, fans and otherwise well-wishers will feature readings of Lavery's own words as tribute by some of his friends
If you would like to say a few words about/for Lavery, or have the opportunity to read a short selection from one of his works, email rob mclennan at or Max Middle at
For those who are interested, a limited supply of some of John Lavery's published works will be available for free distribution at\ the event. The family has suggested that those who wish may, in his memory, purchase and donate a children's book to the Campaign La lecture en cadeau (Reading as a gift) of the Quebec Literacy Foundation or a similar campaign in English.
For those inquiring about the cd of original songs John was working on over the past few months, the family will be planning a Celebration of Words and Music in John's memory as a cd launch sometime in September, 2011, with music and readings in English, French and Spanish.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Early Summer Morning Honey

Yesterday morning I found myself, quite by accident, downtown early in the morning. (It's a long story, involving a very early appointment far enough out in the western Barrhaven Wilderness that a missed bus meant not getting there at all, thank you to OCTranspo.) So, instead of going to my appointment, I decided to head for Elgin Street and Perfect Books, which I heard had been looking for a part-time bookseller. Figured I'd drop in and talk to them about that, as I'm still on the lookout for part time work.

I got downtown by about 8:30, so wound up sitting in the Bridgehead down the street reading (Shades of Grey, by Jasper Fforde, if you must know) while I waited for the shop to open at 10:00. In the cool morning sunshine, I walked over, chatted with the owner for a bit, and then made the rounds. Walked right back to the poetry section, since I've been looking for a copy of Michael Blouin's Wore Down Trust (don't ask me why I didn't buy one at the Writers Festival. Momentary brain slippage.) I didn't find Wore Down Trust - but I did find, with a note reading "Local Author!", a small stack of copies of Amal El-Mohtar's The Honey Month.

Now, I've been meaning to read The Honey Month for a long time. I follow Amal on Twitter, and while I've never met her in person, we have many friends in common, to the point where I'm not sure why and how we've never met. She recently reposted the Honey Month posts on her LiveJournal, with extra comments, but I can't read things on a computer screen. I just get vertigo when I try. Seriously.

Anyway, I picked the book up, said 'what the hell' quietly to myself - I might be looking for work but I refuse to deny myself books - and headed to the cash. It felt right. Turns out Amal used to work at Perfect Books, so I chatted to the owner some more about her, and why/how I haven't, somehow, managed to meet her yet. And then I headed out to catch a bus home.

It was a gorgeous day on Elgin. There was a light, cool breeze and a sort of clear, clean-feeling sunlight. The sky was blue, the streets felt clean, the trees had just gotten to full leaf, so they and the grass were a rich goldy-green: it was one of those early summer days. My bus even arrived just as I got to the stop. Everything seemed to be flowing along just about perfectly. And I settled in on the bus and opened the book.

Small presses make such pretty books, for one thing. But also, as the bus rumbled along and I started reading, I got sucked right in. The book opens a jar of a different kind of honey - peach creamed honey, black locust honey, fireweed honey - in each section. Amal describes the colour, scent, and taste of the honey, and then dives into a story or poem, as though the taste of the honey had triggered a synaesthetic fugue. In the stories, or poems, the colours and flavours and personality of the honey run subtly through a rich narrative. It's sensual and dreamlike. I kept emerging briefly to catch my breath and then diving back in with a smile on my face.

And I don't often write reviews per se - seems to me like everyone does and there are a zillion review blogs out there that probably do it better than me - but this is not so much a review as it is a reflection on how sometimes the book you're reading and the day you read it in can be just about perfect for each other. I haven't finished The Honey Month yet; I had to put it down and get back to work when I got back to my place. But as I stepped off the bus, it occurred to me how similar the day and the book were. Gentle, rich, clean, sensual, with a touch of magic hovering over the brickwork and a light, cool breeze. They fit perfectly with each other. It's very possible that any time I pick this book up, now, and my eyes fall on that old-looking serif font and its narrow margins, and the colour panel illustrations, I'll remember one particular day and the way it felt. I think I'll consider that a gift.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Chinatown Remixed

Yesterday was the kickoff of Chinatown Remixed, a really funky little idea of a street festival that started up last year and hit a stride this year, I think. It's an exhibition of local art on the walls of Chinatown shops and businesses, which kicks off with a day of street performers, buskers and musicians. Last year the Kymeras performed at a couple of tea shops, roving-minstrel-style, but it's hard to be a roving minstrel storyteller and possibly even harder to be a roving minstrel poet. We had a blast, but as one of a very small group of performers - that year Chinatown Remixed was mostly a doors-open art exhibit - we weren't really what people were expecting.

This year there were a lot more performers for the kickoff day, and we were set up in one location. What we decided to do was a series of small sets - the same show over and over, essentially - over three hours, at Umi Cafe, where we got the background of writer and artist Ian Roy's "words words" exhibit. Fitting - his works were silkscreen prints over chunks of greyscale text from his own short stories. It worked well - people seemed to come inside in waves, hang out with tea and muffins, stay for our short 20-minute set, and then move on. Each time we performed we wound up with something like 15-20 people in the room, and twice I had a stranger come up to me afterward to tell me how much they liked my poetry; a nice vindication. It was a chance to perform for both friends (someone we knew showed up in time for each set) and strangers, which is also pretty awesome.

Across the street from us, Glenn Nuotio had his keyboard set up in the window of the vintage Tang Coin Laundry. (We got to run over between sets to catch some of his show.)
Original photo: Sizzlevizzer on Instagram
And through the glass of Umi Cafe we could hear the Oda-Wa Taiko drummers down the street and watch people walking in and out of the shops around us (some of them carrying balloons.) Sort of a mini-WestFest. Despite the chilly wind and grey sky, people really seemed to be coming out and enjoying themselves. It was just odd enough, and cool enough, and quirky enough, to fit perfectly with Chinatown.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sad news

I came home last night to the news that we'd lost John Lavery. I knew he'd been sick. Two days ago when I talked to Steve and Cathy Zytveld from the Dusty Owl, they said they'd spoken to him that day and, in Cathy's words, he sounded like "he's leaving."

But I certainly wasn't expecting it. Even though I've known a long time that he had cancer. I wasn't expecting it this soon. It's always too soon.

There were gorgeous photos of John passed around on the social networks, and words of grief from the writing community on their statuses. And I couldn't think of anything to say that didn't sound empty. I didn't want to say anything in 140 characters or less, and I really didn't want to 'retweet' something someone else had said, although I tried, a few times, and hit 'cancel.' For one thing, this sort of news always sits wrong for me on a system like Twitter or Facebook, which are designed to be chirpy, full of LOLs and LMAOs. I couldn't think of anything to say in that brightly lit, neon space.

So I didn't say anything, although I felt I should. I didn't know John as well as a lot of people around me did, but I could have listened to him read - or sing - for hours without ever getting tired of it. He went unaccountably unrecognized by the national scene, but his writing, his lyrics, and his musical talent were utterly wonderful.

So I cried, but couldn't say anything. And then last night I dreamed about a guitar that had warped and broken - the neck twisted and the box cracked. It would never sing again, and I woke up sorrowful.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


I'm mostly posting this picture for Dad, who gave me this copy of The Sounds of Poetry, which I brought along to the ghazal concert last night, which was gorgeous.

Last day of Festival today: I caught the noon event with Mike Carey and JM DeMatteis, both comic book writers among other things, and it was great: more on that later. Two more events to go!

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Sounds of Poetry: Robert Pinsky in Ottawa

The former American Poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky, came to Ottawa for the Writers Festival, and I got to sit in on the second half - regrettably only the second half - of the Masterclass session he gave this noon. (I was out doing some driving, in fact taking an author to Osgoode Township High School, and missed the first half.) But the half I did get to see was remarkable.

I stole in through the back door of the basement auditorium at the Ottawa Public Library on Laurier. There was a really big crowd, for a noon poetry show. The immediate impression I got was of the quality of Pinsky's voice: quiet, resonant, measured, quite compelling. He was talking about, as I expected he would be, how the sound of poetry relates to the subject. In fact, he pretty much seemed to be saying that the sound to an extent dictates what is said. He was reciting lines of poetry - and I was amazed by the amount of poetry (other people's poetry) he could recite from memory. It's a lost art and shouldn't be. He was able to illustrate every point he was making with extended recitations of poems that he held up as examples.

The first line to grab me was "The grammar is the melody; the lines are like the rhythm section." He was talking about how to think of a poem not in terms of each individual line (and how it ends, or rhymes, or enjambs, or scans) but in terms of the grammar of it. After that, you can futz with the beats, but they're not the melody, they're the drum line. (When he answered a question, later, about his translation of Dante, he said something similar; that because of the difference in word length between Italian and English, English translations are syllabically much shorter. So, he had translated Dante by translating the sentences, and then trying to shape them with half rhymes, but had not, as many translators do, translated the poetry line by line.)

The next thing to grab me was watching him recreating the process he might go through to create a poem about being on stage in Ottawa by actually doing it, out loud, on the mike: coming up with a starting point - say, that the hotel was very close to the venue - and then ringing changes on the words, associated words, the reverse meanings of some of the words that spoke to him out of the sentence fragments he'd started with. It was absolutely fascinating. He said, "You pick out the elements, the words and ideas that seem to cluster together, and work with them: the other words are just words."

He also said, "The material psycholanalyses you. It determines what you need to say," and went on to explain that he discovers by working with the poem what it is he's saying. He doesn't start out with something he's burning to say or talk about and create a poem that talks about it. He lets the associations of sound and concept play themselves out in his mind and that way figures out what the poem is about as he's writing it.

After his Masterclass Session there was a reception at the American Ambassador's residence, where he recited some more of his own work: and I can't wait to hear the ghazal concert he's doing tonight along with Lorna Crozier, Rob Winger, and Sandra Ridley.