A happy introduction to Victoria’s literary community

Victoria Literary Festival at The Metro- (L-r)Patrick Lane, Lorna Crozier, Esi Edugyan.

Last night I went to an event as part of Victoria Literary festival. I had never heard Gregory Scofield read and I have yet to read any of his books. Last night he gave a reading of his long poem, Muskrat Woman, about MMIW and it was really compelling. It’s such a great reminder that when writers can also read really well, the audience is silent and they are right there, present, in the belly of the delivery and changed in some slight way afterwards.

I was introduced to Zoe Whittall through her readings. She’s another writer who, I’m sorry to admit, I’ve never read or even heard of. I’m impressed that she can write for some of CBC’s really successful shows such as Baroness von SketchSchitt’s Creek and still have the ability to go back to her own personal writing. And of course, I’d seen/heard Patrick Lane read. The  last time was a long time ago when his book, There is a Season, came out. It was at the Sechelt Writer’s Festival. What year was that? 

I’d only seen Lorna Crozier read at the introductory Growing Room Festival last spring or whenever that was. But to see them together, and the banter between them, was pretty entertaining. I think I know who wears the pants in that family and it isn’t Patrick Lane. But I’m sure, in reality, it’s very give and take. They just seem like the kind of people you’d love to be able to linger around a dinner table with. The evening was quite wonderful.

As a newcomer to Victoria, I got a real sense of the strength of the writing community here just from attending that one event. And it was clear, even with Esi Edugyan facilitating the conversation, that this pair have had a hand in the careers of so many writers who have gone through the UVic Creative Writing program. It was like witnessing a family reunion or something. 

It also made me think that anyone ranting on about the history of CanLit and its white roots, should just get over themselves because these are the people who historically made things happen. Like anything, evolution is a part of that, and the transformation is happening right now as it should be. It’s because of that foundation that a Canadian literature even exists even if it isn’t yet as representative of all realties in the country as it needs to be.

As I sat waiting for the event to begin, I was eavesdropping on the conversation behind me, well, not really eavesdropping so much as not being able to avoid overhearing it. It was that somewhat excruciating navel-gazing about a personal writing process that as writers we’re all so familiar with, especially if you’ve been involved in any kind of workshopping. I feel so done with that.  I just feel the need to find the time to focus on my own writing and it’s pretty clear to me that I just need to show up for that and there’s no need to discuss anything really. I know that might sound harsh but it feels like that phase is over. Let’s not get all precious about putting some words on a page or the process. As Patrick Lane so perfectly described it. “I’ll sometimes write a sentence that I really love  and get really excited about that, until I realize, Oh fuck, I need to write an entire paragraph.” And then keep doing that over and over. Again and again.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t love to have just one person who I could rely on to be a reader of my stuff to give me feedback, someone whose opinion I trusted and who actually would give me feedback when they said they were going to. Someone who understood the process, especially when it comes to first drafts,  but that’s so hard to find unless you pay someone, or they’re in your life as a partner and into literary things or you just luck out. Not having that is a real lacking for me in so many ways, much more important ways, of course, than just writing feedback.

I also met a young woman who was working for a new self-assisted publishing company (I found that terminology interesting) called TellWell Talent. She is the digital media marketing person for them and we talked about how a lot of authors these days are choosing to self publish because of the control it gives them, the ability to get things done more quickly than traditional publishing and to market the book as effectively, if not more so.

In my books, that all counts as a very satisfying evening. 

A Gum Ball Machine that Spits Out Poetry

poetrycapsuleI went to WORD Vancouver on Sunday, another gorgeous fall day and when I came away, I realized that it’s true that when you go through The Writer’s Studio (TWS) at SFU, you do indeed become part of a community, even if that community is more likely to be woven across the landscape of the many writing events that dot the city than up close and personal in your living room.

As I walked around, I met up with Barb, a poet who was at TWS the same year I was. I hope she won’t mind me saying that she’s re-energized about getting back to writing poetry, hunkering down for the winter as the mood more easily shifts into a reflective mode but right now she’s working on a piece of non fiction.

Before then, I chatted with Andrew Chesham, publisher, writer and program assistant at The Writer’s Studio. He was asking me about a tweet I’d posted the day before in reference to some writing event I’d been to and my less than enthusiastic response to the famous author. Andrew was worried it may be something related to TWS which it wasn’t.

Barb and I put our Toonies into the Poetry Machine that was designed by Anne Stone, a novelist, editor and teacher, and Wayde Compton’s partner. I put in my Toonie and out popped a poem written by Anne Hopkinson. I was wracking my brain all night wondering why that name sounded so familiar only to realize that she’s in the book club of my friend, Anne Watters, who lives in Sechelt. How strange that I should get her poem, of all the poet’s words stuffed into the plastic containers inside the revamped gumball machine.

Barb had a bit more difficulty with the technology but eventually ended up winning a poetry book as a prize in the capsule that finally got spit out.

Wayde, poet, essayist and director of The Writer’s Studio was there with his six year old daughter. He was reading from his newly released debut work of short fiction, The Outer Harbour.  I missed Wayde’s reading intentionally because I’m aiming to attend the official release at the Vancouver Public Library on Sunday, October 19th at 2 pm. You should come too if you’re into that sort of thing.

I passed Elee Kraljee, Thursdays Writing Collective and as I was arriving I noticed Rene Sarojini Saklikar, children of air india, going outside.

I think I saw Karen Jean Lee, whose non fiction piece, Happy Hour, was published in Prism International’s Love and Sex, Fall 2014 issue.

Brian Payton, former non-fiction mentor from 2012, was there reading from his book, The Wind is Not a River.  I believe Lorraine Kiidumae was in the audience. Afterwards, Barb and I ran into Brian in the library foyer and chatted, briefly discussing his impressions of the new cover on the paperback version of his novel which was released earlier in the month.

Cynthia Flood, Red Girl, Rat Boy was seated behind the Joy Kogawa House information table. I didn’t know you could actually rent out that space for readings for 15-20 people.  Cynthia will be reading as part of an event to support the People’s Co-op Bookstore on October 10th at 7:30 pm at the store on Commercial Drive.

Coming up the stairs from the Alice McKay Room, Kagan Goh was leading the dragon procession going down into that area for reasons that weren’t clear, and then we had a nice chat afterwards about his recent engagement in a hot air balloon in New Mexico and thoughts about him and his fiance, Julia,  possibly moving to Mexico. As I write that it strikes me someone needs to write a gossip column focused solely on writers in Vancouver. There’s only one problem, I don’t know any really juicy gossip and even if I did, I’m not sure it would be the wisest move to put it out there.

Finally, just about to leave, Brian O’Neill who is in Wayde’s Master Class with me came up to say hello. It was his birthday and he was recovering from a party the night before. I wasn’t masochistic enough to ask how young he might be. How many candles on the cake? Just a baby.

I’m sure there were many others there from TWS throughout the day that I didn’t happen to run into or notice, but it was a really nice way to spend a sparkly Sunday afternoon. How could you not have a good time?

There should be a whole bunch of other familiar and new faces this Thursday, 8pm at The Cottage Bistro on Main Street when the feature reader will be Doretta Lau from her latest book, How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun?

Looking forward to however the evening unfolds.