25th Trillium Award

Ottawa Lit: fall 2014 preview

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Fall Preview

by rob mclennan

As we gear into fall, I thought it good to get a quick overview of what is happening in and around Ottawa literature and its literary community this fall, so sent questions off to a variety of local writers to hear what events and books they?re looking forward to, what they think has been overlooked, and just what writers they think are worth paying attention to. Chris Johnson, outgoing editor for In/Words and incoming coordinating editor at Arc Poetry Magazine, offers his take:

   In the Ottawa literary community, I began by attending open-mic events at Tree and In/Words? Reading Series. I still    enjoy the open-mic events for the potential of hearing someone new and interesting. I?ve also recently began attending    slams and spoken word events organized by either Capital Slam or curated by Brandon Wint, and there is an energy at    those events that is always enticing. What excites me most, however, are events where spoken word artists, musical    performances, and poetry readers are all brought together.

   Really experimental shows are certainly overlooked, or they are at least so rare that its easy to forget that they have    great potential. Maybe this is personal naivety, but I really wished there were more sound poetry shows or experiments    with cross-over between poetry and different art forms. I can think of Messagio Galore and Michele Provost's exhibition    this past year. When those events pop up, they get some attention and some acclaim, but certainly not enough.

   To show my bias for Carleton University and the writing scene there, I'm looking forward to the new year and new    editors at In/Words Magazine. I'm also looking forward to the new manifestation of Carleton's first-year focused    magazine, Anthem Little Magazine. As for books, I am excited for Pearl Pirie's new release with BookThug.

   Some writers here who I've always admired, or started to really greatly admire this year, include Steven Artelle, Jeff    Blackman, Dalton Derkson and Brecken Hancock. All of these writers have consistently interesting (even if mainly    entertaining) work that is pushing the boundaries of form and style. I also always appreciate when a poet is conscious of    their public performance, and each of these poets' readings have kept me captivated, amused and interested.

This fall sees a flurry of activity, from events such as The TREE Reading Series, In/Words Reading Series, the AB Series, the twentieth anniversary of the Ottawa small press book fair, and the creation of a brand-new reading series: the Sawdust Reading Series, curated and hosted by Jennifer Pederson. Former director of The TREE Reading Series, VERSeFest founder and current RailRoad Reading Series co-organizer Rod Pederson (father of Jennifer) writes that ?I don't think there are enough spots and enough time given to open-mics around town, and Ottawa is blessed with a large group of people who can contribute to open-mics. RailRoad will include a significant open-mic, and the Sawdust reading series, debuting on 17 September, will focus a lot of attention to an open-mic.? Ottawa poet Roland Prevost adds:

   Wish there was something equivalent for songwriting, to support singer-songwriters who can craft great lyrics with    music. Also, no events specifically aimed at very short fiction. Tends to get subsumed into poetry, which to my mind is    kind of a different thing. Don?t mind the mix. But would like to see at least one flash fiction event, per year, or some    such.

A variety of Ottawa poets are finally publishing first trade collections: Frances Boyle?s Light-carved Passages( BuschekBooks), Amanda Earl?s Kiki (Chaudiere Books) and Roland Prevost?s Singular Plurals (Chaudiere Books). Also, a couple of more well-established poets have new books this season as well, from Deanna Young?s third poetry collection, House Dreams (Brick), to Monty Reid?s newest, Garden (Chaudiere Books). As Boyle herself says of Deanna Young: ?Her second book, Drunkard?s Path, is a favourite I?ve returned to, and what I?ve heard and read from the new collection is stunning.? She continues:

   What tends to get overlooked in Ottawa generally is fiction, especially by local writers. There is lots of poetry but no    regular fiction-only series. One-off readings get less attention than those associated with a series, so fiction readings,    apart from those in Plan 99 and the Writers Festival, often get lost in the shuffle. Listings like Bywords and the CAA    bi-weekly email help, but a fiction series is overdue. Anyone want to organize one?

   At the festival, Arc Poetry Magazine will launch the latest issue -- a collaborative exchange with the Australian magazine    Cordite -- featuring readings by Australian poets Bonny Cassidy and Natalie Harkin. The two poets will also facilitate a    master-class workshop (co-sponsored by the Tree reading series) that I?m keen to participate in.

   Staying with Arc (and full disclosure that I?m a member of the editorial board), the reading by the Lampman poetry    prize finalists on October 9 should be fabulous. The shortlisted books are particularly strong this year (announcement to    come soon!). I?m also looking to hearing Brebner prizewinner Anne Marie Todkill, who will be part of the event.

   Robin Macdonald has an amazing book in the works, part memoir and part meditation on a pilgrimage walk she made    along a rail line in Northern Manitoba.

   Cameron Anstee is doing amazing things with Apt. 9 press; I expect his own book will be equally amazing whenever it    appears.

   Derek Kunsken is a tireless science fiction writer who is already publishing with the cream of genre, including in    Asimov?s SF Magazine.

   Are underappreciated? The ?senior? writers in town (Colin Morton, Susan McMaster, Rita Donovan among others)    deserve more credit. They have all been publishing dozens of books for several decades, and still continue both to do    their own work and to support and mentor newer writers.

I?ve even got a new poetry collection, If suppose we are a fragment (BuschekBooks), launching as part of the RailRoad Reading Series on September 25. The launch for Young?s latest hasn?t been established yet, but the three Chaudiere titles are scheduled to launch as part of the Ottawa International Writers Festival in October.

In/Words alumni Dave Currie, who recently had a chapbook of short fiction produced through In/Words, has a new publication coming this fall through Cameron Anstee?s Apt 9 Press. Poet Anita Dolman, included in the anthologies Decalogue: Ten Ottawa Poets (Chaudiere Books, 2006) and the new Women in Clothes (Penguin) edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton, has a second chapbook out this fall with Amanda Earl?s AngelHousePress, a decade after her first, Scalpel, tea and shot glass (2004) appeared with above/ground press. When asked her thoughts on what Ottawa overlooks, her answer felt a continuation of Boyle?s comments:

   Genre fiction. But that?s part of a whole other discussion about divisions within the CanLit scene as a whole, and I also    think it's something we are going to see change here, especially with strong advocates in Ottawa like Sean Moreland,    the annual Postscripts to Darkness publication and the relatively new Can-Con speculative arts and literature    conference.

   Kate Heartfield is absolutely rocking the sci-fi right now, and I think we're going to see more great things from her. I    also had the honour of co-judging the poetry category for last year's Carleton University Writing Competition. I think    winner Adam Meisner and runner-up Meagan Black are poets to keep an eye out for. I was really impressed with their    work. As for the underappreciated, I am always interested in whatever strange and amazing thing jwcurry is up to. I    think it's a sin that more Ottawans don't know we have this legendary and inventive artist in our midst.

It is worth noting, too, that her husband, James K. Moran, who successfully ran The TREE Reading Series about a decade ago, also sees the publication of his first novel this fall, Town and Train. On the question of who we should be keeping an eye on, Rod Pederson suggests:

   Janice Tokar is emerging as a crisp, clear and unique voice. I hope she can find the time and energy to publish a first    collection. I'd walk a mile for that. I also think that poetry's niches - sound poetry, concrete poetry and video poetry -    need to be brought to the fore more often. If anyone is labouring in obscurity, it's them.

A small group poetry anthology, Five, will be produced this fall through Apt 9 Press. Edited and designed by Cameron Anstee, it will feature work by five poets, all of whom are In/Words alumni: Justin Million, Rachael Simpson, Jeff Blackman and Jesslyn Delia Smith, as well as Anstee himself. Some of the most vibrant of the young poets currently working in the city, they will be launching on October 11 as part of The Factory Reading Series as part a brief tour for the poets that will take them to Peterborough, Toronto and Montreal. Anstee writes:

   I came out of the student writing community at Carleton University centred around In/Words and will always speak up    for it at times like this. I'm excited to see what their new editorial board will do. The mag and chapbook press have    been relatively stable the last few years, and it has become something of an institution in Ottawa's scene for the first    time. I hope the new editors make it their own, and I'm curious to see what that will look like.

   I feel as though the people within our community are thoughtful and aware and care about what others are producing. I    have less of a sense of how our scene is appreciated beyond our area code. Ottawa's writers have done well publishing    trade books in the last few years, and I hope that continues. I tend to hear nice things from other cities, and often there    is surprise at how much is going on here. I think VERSeFest has done a lot to boost our profile in other cities, putting on    a world-class poetry festival that other cities are jealous of. I'd be jealous of it if I didn't live here.

   I don't think I'm quite answering the question, but I would love another chapbook press or two in the city. We have    plenty of reading series, aren't badly served by magazines, and with Chaudiere up and running again I think our trade    publishing will be healthier. But let's have some more chapbooks from new editors with different editorial interests.

Poet Brecken Hancock, author of the poetry collection Broom Broom (Coach House Books, 2014) writes: ?I think the Ottawan community does a good job of supporting its members. I?ve noticed, in my two years here, an amazing mix of demographics and tastes all coming together to create a vibrant network of creative energy. I love Ottawa for this reason?I felt included almost immediately and have been welcomed with open arms by all sections of the literary community that I?ve encountered. I love the inclusivity and the support for young writers. I love how warm people seem to be to one another?I?ve certainly felt a lot of warmth from fellow writers here. I?m grateful to live here and I?d like to think that everyone feels that way too!?

When asked about who to keep our eye on, Roland Prevost writes: ?I think Pearl Pirie?s a talent that?s already surfacing, but I believe will make a quantum jump at some point soon. She?ll knock our socks off even more, I think.? Amanda Earl includes her list of writers to watch as a short point-form list:

   JM Francheteau and Selina Boan should have poetry books out. They're very skilled & writing some unique stuff. Fiction    writers Craig Calhoun and Bill Brown. Playwright general mayhem creator Dave Currie.

Cameron Anstee adds:

   I?m excited to see the three new titles from Chaudiere Books. It is exciting to have Chaudiere back and active again.    Ottawa needs another trade publisher invested in the local scene (in addition to Buschek Books). First books from    Amanda Earl and Roland Prevost are long overdue, and a new title from Monty Reid is always a joy. I?m also curious to    see how Chris Johnson will influence the shape of Arc during his tenure as managing editor.

   Event-wise, I most look forward to the bi-annual small press book fair, to seeing what is new from those in town, and    to seeing who makes the trip from out-of-town.

   I think Jeff Blackman is getting close to having a full-length poetry manuscript that will impress a lot of people. The    chapbook of his I did through my Apt. 9 Press, So Long As The People Are People, was truly remarkable and I don?t    believe that it received the attention it deserved. Jeff?s poems are smart and sad and funny and politically engaged and    unmistakably his, and there is a deep and thoughtful humanity underneath it all. Trade publishers, go ask Jeff for a    manuscript! The chapbook is long since sold out, but I'll send you a pdf if you want proof of how great it/he is.

Award winning poet Phil Hall will be in Ottawa throughout the fall season as writer-in-residence at the University of Ottawa, and running workshops, teaching and reading both there and through a series of other events throughout the city, from his pre-reading workshop as part of The TREE Reading Series on October 28, to a reading through The Factory Reading Series on October 15, where both he and Mark Goldstein launch their new Beautiful Outlaw titles. As part of his tenure at the University of Ottawa, Hall says: ?I?m hoping to bring George Stanley to Ottawa in November to read at the University of Ottawa & to visit my Advanced Poetry class. He has a new Selected Poems out from New Star, called North of California Street. At a spry 80, George is one of my favourite poets alive. He and Stan Persky are the last representatives of that essential group of gay Californian writers (Duncan, Spicer, Blaser, Stanley, Persky) who, by way of British Columbia, have been so influential for us in Canada...It might be that George Stanley has never read in Ottawa; if that?s true, I?m sure that the whole city's poetry community will welcome him...? I?d say it most likely is true, as many writers haven?t done readings in Ottawa. Despite writers such as bpNichol and Michael Ondaatje doing readings in Ottawa circa 1970, David W. McFadden only read in the city for the first time in the mid-1990s, via The TREE Reading Series. Hall adds:

   Sandra Ridley and Pearl Pirie are both poets I admire ? they are both rapidly developing distinct and quirky, voices.

   And I think that Elizabeth Hay (despite her Giller win) is under-cherished for her narrative empathy and for the graceful    complexity with which she composes her characters.

David O?Meara?s Plan 99 Reading Series takes a break this season, but there are plenty of other options, as Erin Moure, Sandra Ridley and plenty of others appear this fall as part of the AB Series. And of course, there is the fall edition of the Ottawa International Writers Festival in late October, which should most likely have their full schedule up on their website very soon. The twentieth anniversary of the ottawa small press book fair, an event co-created by myself and James Spyker in 1994, happens on November 8 at the Jack Purcell Community Centre. As Sandra Ridley says: ?No one leaves with an empty bag.? The pre-fair reading the night prior, held at The Carleton Tavern across from the Parkdale Market, will include readings by Dave Currie, Anita Dolman and Frances Boyle.

As always, the best way to find out about any and all Ottawa-area events is to go to Bywords.ca, where every literary event in any given month is listed, as well as a new supply of poems by current and former Ottawa residents.

Former Ottawa poet and In/Words alumni Ben Ladouceur launches a first trade collection come spring with Coach House Books, as does Pearl Pirie, launching a third poetry title through BookThug. Ottawa poet Rhonda Douglas, spending the winter travelling parts unknown, has a first collection of short fiction out in the spring with Freehand Books, Welcome to the Circus. And of course, there are new titles in the works through Chaudiere Books, including The Collected Poems of William Hawkins, edited as a critical selected by Cameron Anstee, and a second trade collection by N.W. (formerly Nicholas) Lea. But spring is so very far away.

Born in Ottawa, Canada?s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of nearly thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014 and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles include the forthcoming notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, 2014) and The Uncertainty Principle: stories (Chaudiere Books, 2014), as well as the poetry collection If suppose we are a fragment (BuschekBooks, 2014). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books, The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at http://robmclennan.blogspot.ca/.

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