Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The "Impermanence, Ontario" Diaries | #3

A line of Simon Frank's concrete poetry on Locke Street, Hamilton

"Since my house burned down
I now own a better view
of the rising moon." ~ Masahide

In the spring of 2012 my wife and I abandoned plans to move to Hamilton after a job offer there fell apart. Given that we’d spent a few months getting to that stage and already notified colleagues and friends in Ottawa of our imminent departure, we adapted and chose our hometown St Catharines; a reasonable contingency plan since leaving Ottawa was in large part predicated on a desire to be closer to family.

Now I’ve encountered the hometown stigma everywhere I’ve lived, in friends and co-workers having a disenchanted outlook on their surroundings because it’s where they grew up. I relate the condition to people who grow up entrenched in religious or wealthy families; it’s easier to take for granted what you never sought out for yourself. As my wife and I found an apartment on an all-too-familiar street, we rationalized the likelihood that ten years removed from the city, during which time we’d grown into ourselves, might diffuse our shared stigma.

It was an honorable attempt. I look back at those first few months of getting reacquainted with a sense of wonder: we shopped in malls, signed up for gym memberships and ate in restaurants that were plagued with awkward “run-in” potential. What’s more, we realized how immature those fears had been and commended each other on social skills that had unknowingly survived while deep in the two-person bubble we’d cherished for years.

Six months in, we owned up: this wasn’t meant to last. Or maybe it wasn’t meant to happen in the first place. We left Ottawa for some quaint pretense, a leap of faith. And it would be just as tempting to call the whole move a mistake if not for the undersides of our disappointments bearing fruit; each regret twinned with knowledge we’d have otherwise never found. Would we ever face our nomadic guilt without taking this backwards voyage? Could we ever feel assured in our secluded hideaway without investigating the alternative? As the past year has given us time to reflect and dismantle those questions, we can now confidently answer: no and no.

Well we’ve met our lease, paid our dues and finalized a move to Hamilton. It’ll be a return trip for both of us: years ago, my wife was a student at MacMaster and I had a Greyhound ticket. We tested our friendship on a boardwalk in Cootes Paradise, had our first kiss on Emerson Street; I worked a nightshift job on Main Street West, rented my first (and only) solo apartment on Woodbine Crescent.

For me, having grown up in Niagara but going to school in London, Ontario, Hamilton gained the easy impression of a smokestack tragedy. I saw the brownfields from the Burlington Skyway and kept going. Getting to know the city at the same time as my one-day wife, I realized what a secret Hamilton is: a staggeringly diverse and vibrant community surrounded by waterfalls, valleys and amazing urban architecture. Its history, good and bad, sits on its sleeve. We loved the city then and are proud of its revitalization in recent years.

Leaving St Catharines so soon – and for misunderstood Hamilton, to boot – will cause some confusion, I’m sure. That’s okay. The hometown stigma is indiscriminate but, more significantly, it’s a gut instinct worth paying attention to. There’s something to be said for discovering and staking one’s own city; for some it’s about new chapters and clean slates, for others it’s part of a lifelong adventure. And it’s about time we got back to living ours.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Quilliad | issue #2 launch party

Tequila Bookworm took full advantage of a balmy October evening, opening its glass-panes to Queen Street West’s busy sidewalks and dimming the lights to a summer’s glow. Nestled a floor above the chattering of a healthy weeknight crowd, writers and literary enthusiasts gathered to celebrate The Quilliad’s second issue.

Once upstairs and inside the narrow blue room, I was greeted with a contributor copy as well as a few unfamiliar but friendly faces. Among them stood Sarah Varnam, The Quilliad’s Editor-in-Chief, and Devin P.L. Edwards, who handled the event’s audio needs. After guests had seated themselves in strings of theatre-styled bucket-seats or rogue office furniture, Sarah invited a procession of writers to take the floor and read. The first set featured Christian Quaresma, Jessica Bebenek, Calista Michel, Devin P.L. Edwards, Dylan Wagman and I (reading my accepted poem “Degrees”).

The second set marked an interesting turn, featuring readers who could not make the trip (with at least one hailing from British Columbia, another from South Korea) performing via audio files. Of the four renditions, two arrived too late to be “normalized” and were consequently pretty quiet. Even so, the absence of a tangible reader invited a more meditative experience. With nowhere in particular to focus one’s gaze, audience members stared off or down, visualizing the readers’ evocations between sips. The passing of streetcars sporadically interrupted their voices but that outside ambience only seemed to reinforce a pensive intimacy among listeners. I found the recorded segment surprisingly effective, even though Yusuf Saadi’s reading of “August, After Moonset” – perhaps my favourite poem from the issue – was impossible to hear. The other disembodied voices belonged to Shannon Campbell, Joe Gans and Gail Hulnick.

I took the pause before the third and final sequence of authors to visit a merch table that showcased several projects on the go. Alongside copies of The Quilliad’s inaugural issue, a chapbook by Sarah and visual art by Devin sat beautifully hand-made titles from Jessica Bebenek’s Grow & Grow micro-press. A quick flip through Consanguinity (by S.E. Chaves, a Quilliad editor who was unfortunately absent) and Infiltration (by Ben Groh) left a lasting impression. (Had my bag not been sagging under the weight of the many records I’d purchased earlier that day, I might’ve had room/cash for a few!)

Formalities came to a close with readings by Julia Wong, Lizzie Violet, Rachel Fernandes (who made the trip from Ottawa) and Jack Hostrawser. There was talk of fresh drinks and socializing but I – as well as my wife, who surprised me with a sudden appearance! – had to find our highway home. On the way out I ran into Rodrigo Marti, an excellent Toronto-based, mixed-media artist I hadn’t seen in some eight years, who was out to support the small press crowd. Despite missing out on the after-party, the launch left me feeling renewed and excited for future readings. Thank you, Quilliad team!

If you were unable to attend the launch, Issue #2 is now available digitally and physically through The Quilliad’s website. In addition to the written work, this issue contains a lot of beautiful photography by Scott Williams and Sean G. Marjoram. Be sure to seek this out!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Curious things for October 2013...

1) The small press market may be more diversified and thriving than ever before but the scene still hungers for reviews. So many writers, not enough readers. That’s why we need more sites like Small Press Book Review to get the word out on interesting and breaking new authors. It looks as though they’ve been at it for only a few months but there are plenty of new fiction and poetry titles to read up on, plus an interview or two. They’re also looking for more writers to tackle the load of review copies they have on hand, hint hint…

2) Writers Digest, a bastion of creative advice that hardly needs my reference, recently published 5 Ways To Be a Good Literary Citizen. Written by Chuck Sambuchino, the article doesn’t surprise so much as reinforce the life-affirming role writers can take in shaping a creative community. Sometimes it's easy to overlook the impact you can make simply by sharing a fellow writer's work!

3) Though unfamiliar with Liana Voia, I’m grateful for her efforts in producing a video series documenting the fall edition of Ottawa’s Small Press Book Fair, which went down on Saturday, October 12th. Unable to attend myself, I’ve enjoyed checking out a handful of the twenty-some interviews with poets and publishers who give Ottawa its literary reputation. Get an overview of her interviews here or track each author individually via her Twitter timeline.

4) Lastly, the Ottawa Poetry Newsletter continues with its popular “On Writing” series as well as some “Recent Reads” chapbook reviews from me. Following up a timely post on Marthe Reed’s exploration of repressed femininity (After Swann), the OPN today features reviews of Gary Barwin’s Seedpod, Microfiche and Monty Reid’s Moan Coach. If these two titles have anything in common, it’s an ability to communicate unspoken ideas through unassuming means. Do yourself a favour and check out the latest with above/ground press!

Rogue Poem: "122"

Months from now
I hope to look back
at so many blank acres

on my Twitter timeline
& be proud 
of what I let echo.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

“Degrees” to appear in The Quilliad; issue #2 launch

My poem “Degrees” is set to appear in The Quilliad’s upcoming fall release. Issue #1 dropped in the spring and I implore you to check out its lovely online manifestation here.

The Quilliad team will launch issue #2 on October 16th at Tequila Bookworm in Toronto. The list of poets reading (so far) includes Calista Michel, Lizzie Violet, Jessica Bebenek, Rachel Fernandes, Dylan Wagman, Devin P.L. Edwards, Christian Quaresma and myself. Check out the event’s Facebook page for details and swing by. $5 cover gets you a copy of the issue!