Sunday, April 28, 2013

Rewind: a weekend in Ottawa

Besserer Street, Ottawa
I realize that in terms of working my way into the Niagara literary scene, I’m doing myself no favours by continuously writing about Ottawa. But having just returned from a three-day trip to our nation’s capital, wherein virtually every waking hour was committed to visiting friends or exploring favourite haunts, I feel compelled to share a few spoils.
We arrived late on Saturday, checked in with our bed and breakfast, and then immediately set out for Genji take-out. They have the best sushi downtown. We ordered as if we hadn’t eaten a bite over the six-hour drive. At 7am, we awoke from our sushi-coma and dressed while a Claude Leveillee and Andre Gagnon LP – probably the most famous (but still little-known) Quebecois jazz record of the 1960s – played from the bedside. It sounds superfluous to prioritize retail-therapy over, say, visiting Hog’s Back Park but there are some things you simply cannot buy with ease in a small city: namely, lots of jazz records (thank you, Jake & Mike at CD Warehouse) and, tragically, Irving Layton’s A Wild Peculiar Joy.
CD Warehouse on St Laurent Blvd
Our impulsive trip was a week early for Writers Festival but still proved impeccable timing for two unique events. After a Sunday dinner at Green Door on Main Street, we settled in at Umi CafĂ© on Somerset for a stunning IMOO (Improvised Musicians of Ottawa) set of electronic-tinged jazz. The quartet, composed of Adam Saikaley, Craig Pedersen, Rolf Klausener and Pat Johnson played a mix of Saikaley’s originals and dubstep/electronic covers from semi-obscure independent artists. I was drawn to the event as a fan of Pedersen, a trumpeter who first surprised me during his quartet's opening slot for Jerry Granelli in 2011. He has since released two excellent records – Days Like Today and the live quintet LP Live In Silence. The IMOO collective also has a few compilations available to buy and/or download.
(L-R) Craig Pedersen, Rolf Klausener, Pat Johnson & Adam Saikaley 
Good green tea
On Monday, we caught Ottawa-based writer Shane Murphy taking the stage at Absolute Comedy’s Open Mic night. A comic, screenplay and Cable TV writing machine, Mr Murphy’s set covered everything from lazy Nazis in his apartment building to prostitutes he drove around during his stint as a city bus driver. He was a highlight on a bill filled with impressive talents.
Comic Shane Murphy
We departed Tuesday morning, having done about a fifth of the things we would’ve liked to but still finding time for a leisurely walk around Major's Hill Park. A big thanks to those we met this weekend who promote Ottawa’s ever-thriving culture.
Major's Hill Park, Tuesday morning

Friday, April 19, 2013

Rogue Poem: "Springtime on the 86"

Springtime on the 86

Caffeine, jazz
new drugs
clear clustered
bus panes drenched –
April lawns,
mirror-slate streets;
tiny earths

Besides the boy
who’s the voyeur
taping me turn
Coronation onto
and vaporizing?

All manner of
matter divided into
things I’ll tell you
about things I won’t –  
vessels congest,

Spring, 2011. Taken from a note I left myself in iPhone while bussing downtown.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Inside look at *Nickel95's Issue 1

Thought I'd share a few pictures taken of a package that arrived in the mailbox this week. Besides the DIY-styled, newspaper-sewn splashes of colour, *Nickel95's first issue contains some marvelous, often dark poetry by Debbie Okun Hill, Howie Good, R L Raymond, Amanda Earl, Mamta Madhavan, Gary Robinson, David McLendon and myself. 

A sneering and enticing production handcrafted by Melissa Upfold. No two copies are alike so I'm hoping to see photos from some other readers and/or poets. Buy yours on Etsy, through *Nickel95's website, or at select book stores in the cities of London and Sarnia.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Emotional geography & a trip to Ottawa!

Rainy chatter, droplets peppering the glass and deep breezes moaning through the sliver. Beyond the odd exchange between my cat and I, the day has been especially still, spent reading, reviewing and writing poetry. Pretty great.

It began with re-reading The Sad Phoenician’s Other Woman by Amanda Earl, which responds to a Robert Kroetsch poem by recollecting a decade's worth of relationships with men. Casual flings, extramarital affairs, threesomes and one-night-stands digress and converge as fluently as tales involving long-term companionships and marriage. And given Earl’s inclinations to the erotic genre – her ability to resurrect the bones of something real but leave readers to the task of filling in some x-rated blanks – it’s salaciously good fun. (300 copies were published. See if you can still snag a copy right here!)

Afterwards, when I turned to work on a manuscript of my own, I realized that one of the main things I enjoy about The Sad Phoenician’s Other Woman – how Earl roots so many unique and intimate stories to Ottawa’s restaurants, hotels, apartments and familiar landmarks – is that sense of emotional geography, so to speak: the intersections and surroundings that stain our memory, and/or vice versa. It’s something I cannot help but do myself when I write, calling upon a sense of place to make sense of the place. A hotel may be just a room with a bed and bath but anyone who has stayed in one likely attaches its memory to something deeper, fed by criteria including (but not exclusive to): their company or lack thereof, their feelings toward being there, toward themselves, the city, the room-service, and onward.

My manuscript began in Ottawa about Ottawa. Over time it curled around the idea of feeling a sense of home with the knowledge of eventually abandoning it. I think this manuscript sharpened in scope when I did move away, creating a contrast of space and belonging that I never would've written from one committed postal code, but now my home’s drifting again. Sure I’m sitting on nearly forty poems now (which for a single, unfinished project, is a lot to me) but, as my focus tightens, certain poems fall out of the greater theme, becoming solo poems to shop around. And hopefully, leaving space for future ones to slide in.

We’re all influenced by our surroundings, for better or worse. For years I moved from city to city and let my muse roll with the hand it was dealt. But lately, I feel as though the trajectory of this collection is beginning to lead me, as if I’m teaching myself subconsciously where I want to exist.

So it’s with equal parts excitement and trepidation to tack on that I’ll be returning to Ottawa next weekend, Saturday through Tuesday, with nothing planned outside of seeing friends and places I’ve gone several months without. Maybe a few days writing in Ottawa again will finally knot this manuscript shut. Or maybe it’ll spill all over the place. When it lets me know, I’ll let you know.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

New "Recent Reads" at Ottawa Poetry Newsletter

I've been under a rock. At first by force and then by habit. Weeks after being buried by the flu, I'm still trying to get back into the productive mode I'd been churning on until mid February. Excuses and apologies: I'm a wuss.

With more on the horizon, I thought I'd share the latest "Recent Reads" I've written about over at Ottawa Poetry Newsletter: great new work by Vancouver's Jordan Abel and Ottawa's Abby Paige. The latter, a fantasy memoir of Samuel Champlain returning to modern-day Quebec, is a wonderful distraction from cabin-fever, for those of you still winter-sick or otherwise trying patience. C'mon Spring.