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Tuesday, 17 October 2006
The Importance of Being the Audience
Topic: readings

I was, naturally, at the Dusty Owl reading last Sunday to see Jacqueline Lawrence.  I'd really been looking forward to this reading - Jacquie is a gorgeous poet, and her reading style is so honest and velvety - and downright sexy -  that you stop noticing time going by.  For this show, as well, she'd brought along a saxophone player and a singer to come up and play or sing on a couple of the poems, which they did in a beautifully understated kind of way.  It was magic, from her wracking opening piece about slavery, to the laughs and responses she got to the 'Mango Bath Poem' - which I have to admit made me wish you could really get mangoes here. 

But the thing that really struck me was how a good audience can turn a good reading into a fantastic one.  The audience we got for Jacquie was warm, engaged, involved, vocal, and listening not only respectfully, but empathetically.  Very often I go to readings where everyone sits still and claps sporadically, never sure whether they should wait until the poet finishes or clap after each poem - and if they should clap after each poem, then they inevitably don't know when one poem starts and another ends.  That didn't happen with this crowd.  They nodded, they laughed, they answered the poet, they made sounds of appreciation loud enough to be heard, and they kicked the atmosphere of the reading up another whole fistful of notches.  At the end, they gave Jacquie the first standing ovation I've ever seen at a Dusty Owl.

Audience members, listeners - this is your challenge. Make readings hum.  You can. 

Posted by Kathryn Hunt at 10:55 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 13 September 2006
Bellissima Belina
Topic: readings

The ShapeShift reading at Collected Works yesterday was awesome. Small - I counted about 14 people attending - but a really magical space. I've already said, I think, that I'd travel some decent distances and give up more than a few other activities to see Paula Belina read. She does a lot of what I think a spoken word artist should - she shapes the language, she juxtaposes startling ideas, she loves the sound of things, she breaks with what you expect syntax to do, she free-associates from one word to another based on sound or concepts. Most importantly, I think, she operates under the idea that a poet is both actor and vocalist. A singer shapes a phrase very deliberately, considers volume and pitch and where the fullness of a vowel is, and so does Paula. She talked later about how she'd been working lately with pauses; leaving the audience waiting. Staging things. 

And to add to Paula's performance, there were the other performers, Kyra Shaughnessy and Lisa Hoffman. These three are travelling together with this tour, and they're clearly friends and co-conspirators, so having the reading in this small and intimate a space worked really well - you could feel the participation of all three even if only one was performing. I was really glad that Paula and Lisa had apparently won a bet forcing Kyra to do one particular piece at every venue on the tour - I thought it was her most powerful. It had a sung chorus that surprised me with how sweet her voice was - it sounded like a cross between Billie Holiday and a native chant. As well, her entire voice changed for the spoken sections, and became much more musical. It was quite beautiful.

Lisa Hoffman is a musician, who performed in the middle between the two poets. She also had a lovely sound (the voices of these three women, spoken and sung, all share a sort of vowel-bending, jazzy, smoky quality that really carries through all three performances - I wonder if they've ever performed together as a trio, or if they'd consider it? The results could be fascinating.)

Anyway, I was glad I could be there. I noticed Mackenzie MacBride there with a tape recorder, but didn't find out where or when she would be broadcasting if she was recording for broadcast. If I find out, I'll post it - I think she was planning on recording at least one poem per person and doing some interviews after the show.  

And last but not least - Capital Slam is back in the saddle for the season as of this Thursday! Sept. 14th, 7:00, at The Thirsty Scholar.  

Posted by Kathryn Hunt at 2:15 PM EDT
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Sunday, 10 September 2006
Topic: readings

It's been a while since I wrote anything... I'll blame a combination of my web host being recalcitrant and two of my best friends getting married (to each other, incidentally.) The latter took up a lot of my time and the former wouldn't allow me to edit or make any new posts until now. But I did want to plug this reading. I thought I was going to be out of town for it, but it turns out I won't be! Hooray!

It's this Tuesday (the 12th) at Collected Works -  featuring three sung & spoken word artists: Kyra Shaughnessy, Paula Belina, and Lisa Hoffman. I don't know the other two that well, but Paula was one of the people involved in my Three Day Novel challenge a couple of months ago. (See my entries from June 28-30 for details.) She's based in Montreal, where she's involved in the Streeteaters collective and runs a 'walking distance' distro as well as creating great zines and poetry. I've known her for, oh, about a year now. Her poetry performances are just magic; lots of sound and participation and energy getting passed around the room. I'm really glad I'll still be in town for this! The reading is at 7:00, pay what you can. 

Posted by Kathryn Hunt at 10:07 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 10 September 2006 10:31 AM EDT
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Sunday, 30 July 2006
Topic: readings

Incidentally, I'm back from vacation (you'll note the gap; apologies, but I was on the East Coast.)

If I hadn't been having a picnic with Steve and Cathy Zytveld yesterday evening in the Park of the Provinces (below Christ Church Cathedral) we wouldn't have spotted rob mclennan biking up the Parkway. We wouldn't have yelled, "rob! get over here for some couscous and wine!" and he would not then have told us that jwcurry was going to be reading all of bpNichol's Martyrologies at the gazebo behind Parliament Hill. 

And we would have missed out on an exemplary moment of Ottawa's true oddness. Ottawa seems like such a vanilla place until you get to know it, and as we walked past the setup for the Sound and Light show on the Peace Tower, it seemed both pretty and totally conventional. Then we got to the gazebo. There was a gorgeous sunset going on over the Ottawa River, and a small group of people were milling around the gazebo. We signed a 'guest registry' (the back of a lined notebook) and grabbed a seat with what was left of our picnic, and around 8:00 jwcurry got up, pulled his shirt off, and started reading, after a short preamble about the possible breaks we might have to take for the Sound and Light show and where in the process he might, or might not, say something about the book. This is a seven-volume poem, and it's hypnotic when you get into it, with all kinds of sound changes being rung, themes cropping up again and again, a voice that roams across Canada and through decades - and it's almost as impressive to try to read the whole thing out loud and maintain enough energy. If anyone can do it though ... 

We had to take a break for the fireworks show over the Casino in Hull, and it was fun watching the confusion of the tourists coming up to the gazebo before we paused and trying to figure out what was going on. The sun went down, it got dark, but the gazebo is illuminated slightly, so the reading went on. Someone else had also brought some wine, and there might have been 14 or 15 people there at the most. Who comes out to hear a poet read a six-hour-long poem? A surprisingly diverse bunch, as it turns out. I had to leave at midnight, as we were getting to the end of Volume 3, and there were still about eight people gathered in a corner of the gazebo. As jwcurry said, "if it gets to be three in the morning and I'm still here reading to no one, that'll be. . . neat."

Charles Earl took this picture. Check out his site at

Posted by Kathryn Hunt at 11:17 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 30 July 2006 1:31 PM EDT
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Friday, 30 June 2006
Oh, and for Canada Day....
Topic: readings
Just thought I'd add this - poets will be on deck at the Swizzles Parking Lot Party on Canada Day. From 1:00 to 5:00, at half-hour intervals, spoken word poets will be up to take the mike in the coolest parking lot in Ottawa... between Elgin and Metcalfe, Albert and Slater. So far we have Ritallin, Oni the Haitian Sensation, Steve Sauve, and maybe DJ Morales and Jacquie Lawrence, up to alternate between karaoke craziness, beer and barbecue, and dancing. Dusty Owl will have a merch table there, of course, for books and buttons and t-shirts oh my. Come by and say hello!

Posted by Kathryn Hunt at 11:28 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 30 June 2006 11:36 AM EDT
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Sunday, 16 April 2006
Rocking in Peterborough. . . .
Now Playing: Super Mario question blocks on my kitchen wall.
Topic: readings
This Friday I rented a car and headed out to Peterborough - about 3 hours away for S. James Curtis (AKA Steve)'s book launch for Quarter Century Crisis. The book's a Dusty Owl release, so I thought I'd go down and represent, bring our books, hand out a few business cards, and get in on the energy that happens when an author gets his own release party put together.

So I hopped on the highway, and got there in time to help him make decorations for the reading; spraypainted Super Mario question blocks. We even spraypainted one at the head of his landlady's driveway. We grabbed dinner, and then ran over to the cafe where he was holding the launch - The Spill, an awesome place with a cool look and way cooler staff - with the decorations (a lot of spraypainted posters and a few little cubes shaped like the boxes Super Mario has to jump on in the videogame - it's a long story but it did have something to do with the book. We stuck the cubes on the tables, the posters on the walls, and I set up a merch table so we could sell the book (and a couple other Dusty Owl titles.)

The reading went really well - Steve is a really funny writer, although he tackles some tough issues as well. Makes for a really entertaining reading, and he performs well too, which is a big bonus. It's sort of half reading, half standup routine, and he got a lot of laughs and cheers. One of the things I like about Steve's writing is that while it can be deeply personal and at times harrowing, he also injects a really sharp and cutting sense of humor, and occasional word twists that really surprise me.

It wasn't a huge crowd, but it was friendly, even the people who hadn't actually come for the reading, but who stopped to talk and hand me one of their own chapbooks. And afterwards Steve and I went out to hang out in downtown Peterborough, which is actually kind of cool if you know the right people and the interesting bars. Luckily, Steve does, so we had a really good night. Got back to his place pretty late, I crashed on the couch, and then I took him to work after breakfast in the morning and headed back to Ottawa. All in all, we were both still buzzed by the middle of the next day. Possibly until much later - check Steve's Myspace to find out!

Posted by Kathryn Hunt at 11:43 PM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 16 April 2006 11:53 PM EDT
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Thursday, 16 February 2006
Cracking a bottle of champagne on a new zine. . .
Now Playing: whatever's on the hard drive
Topic: readings

Wednesday night was the launch of the first issue of The Dyke-tionnary, a new zine by Ina Julien. It was at the Lookout, in the Market, and it drew a pretty good crowd for a weeknight and a new zine. I think the Ottawa lit community has that going for it in a way the communities in other cities might not - it's a very warm place to be a newbie.

The event went pretty smoothly, despite a couple of technical glitches and the fact that it was, I think, the first event of its kind for the organizers, Ravenswing and Apt. 5 Distro. I was pretty happy to get to hear Festrell read (I know, I'd heard all but one of the pieces she read, but her performances keep getting better...) as well as Jennifer Whiteford, the author of the zine "Matilda," whose novel Grrrl is coming out this spring, which is something I anticipate running out and buying about as soon as I can.

I picked up a copy of Dyke-tionnary Issue 1 - as well as the latest issue of Slightly More Than Sound Bytes - at the reading, and enjoyed both of them. I like the idea of building a zine around coining words for things that there aren't words for but should be (my personal favorite from Dyke-tionnary was 'Fetrosexual,' the female version of 'Metrosexual'), and I liked the personal passion of Slightly More Than Sound Bytes.

Got to wonder, though - why is it when you hold events like this in bars there's always one half-in-the-bag regular sitting back by the bar who takes it upon himself to bray out lame comments about the poetry and have loud conversations with the bartender? Just a question.

Posted by Kathryn Hunt at 10:49 PM EST
Updated: Thursday, 16 February 2006 10:58 PM EST
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Saturday, 11 February 2006
Kwame Dawes - "Bob Marley and Mozart are one."
Now Playing: Who do you think?
Topic: readings
Well, he said someone would quote him on that, so I'm obliging.

Been a reggae-heavy weekend; I was in Wakefield at the Black Sheep Inn to see H2O on Friday night (a small crowd but a lot of fun; there's another whole review there) and I just got back from Kwame Dawes's talk at the Archives on Bob Marley. I had a vested interest in this talk; I've been a sort of Kwame groupie since I was in high school, when my big brother played bass in his reggae band Ujamaa, and I went to all their shows that counted as all ages and some that didn't. It wasn't until later that I started to figure out that Kwame was way more than a front man for a really tight reggae band; his poetry is powerful stuff, he's a major scholar, and now he's apparently written the first serious in-depth study of Bob Marley as a lyrical genius.

Of course, the thrust of his talk was pretty much preaching to the choir as far as I'm concerned - I really do agree that Bob Marley is a great lyricist, that his work is profound and considered, and that some of his songs are as great as anything else out there. But although I sort of knew about it, I hadn't thought about the way Marley consciously shaped his body of work - the way he would quote from himself, and re-release old songs so that they fit into a sort of thesis he was building. I also know, sadly, very little about Rastafarianism (aside from the basics I picked up as a reggae groupie ten years ago) and Kwame's reading of Marley through a larger rasta perspective was really interesting. (Okay, okay, so I already knew about 'Exodus,' but that one's a giveaway.) It was a thoughtful, all-encompassing talk, and Kwame is an extremely engaging speaker (helps that he has a lot of experience as a storyteller under his belt too.)

The question session was pretty lively too, and I just kicked myself that I didn't run home before the reading to pick up my copy of Ujamaa's first album Chokota so I could make Kwame sign it - again. . .

The weekend series also includes a writing workshop with Kwame tomorrow: I'm going, and heartily looking forward to it.

This whole weekend (officially titled "Telling Our Stories: Celebrating Ourselves: Voices in the African Diaspora") was organized by Souljam Connections and 3 Dreads and a Bald Head, the latter of which seem like a really interesting collective of four women whose origins as an organization seem to echo Dusty Owl's (it starts with having breakfast together on a regular basis, and ends with organizing cultural events, supporting communities, and generally working to Do Good. I like these women. I want to work with them on something.)

Posted by Kathryn Hunt at 11:52 PM EST
Updated: Thursday, 16 February 2006 10:54 PM EST
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Monday, 7 November 2005
Shooting Angels at the Dusty Owl
Topic: readings
It's too bad it was dark, rainy, and miserable outside yesterday - it made for a very quiet Dusty Owl. It was also not our regular night, and I think not enough word had gotten out (partly my fault: it was Thursday before I had time to send out the announcement.) But the reading was warm and fun, and I think the small crowd and grey day made for a more laid-back atmosphere.

Interesting, though, having a large collection of the Sasquatch regulars coming out to the Owl. It's a whole different vibe- you could feel that they were expecting a pre-prepared introduction from Steve, and after the reading Mary Lee asked if there were any questions. (There were; one person asked if she ever had younger people ask about the political events in the book, since they happened ten years ago, and then the second question was from a fifteen-year-old asking about the political events in the book....)

The reading itself was entertaining. Mary Lee Bragg's novel, Shooting Angels, was published last year, and I've heard sections of it before. Keep meaning to buy it and being broke when she has it for sale. She has a great ear for dialogue, coming out with snappy, funny, true-to-life conversations that sound familiar. (I also particularly admire her ability to deliberately write bad poetry - tougher than it appears.) The incidental descriptions, however, fall a little flat sometimes (I especially found myself caught out by whether a child's lips would "part slightly in a pout" - wouldn't they close in a pout? It bothered me because it made the phrase sound . . . unconsidered.)

And there was a kind of ... slyness in the way she opened with a reading from her gardening journal - which I'm not really qualified to judge, since I know a lot of people write about gardening, and I really don't get it - long botanical lists of flower names don't really grip me, but as a meditative, localizing device I'm sure it can be effective. It would just have to take a really original tack on the theme to grab me. In this case, the bit where I started really listening was the section describing the provenance of a particular rhubarb plant, which had, by various complicated paths, made its way to Ottawa from Wyoming or somewhere, and involved a really quite dramatic real-life murder story.

But there seemed to be a point to the long descriptions of hostas and violets and snapdragons in this case - she seemed to be lulling us into thinking that she was just reading a puttering-in-the-garden meditation on the seasons, like a lot of others, and then sucker-punched us with the last entry, made on September 11, 2001, where the home-bound, local, complacent journal is suddenly derailed by world events, much like the main character of the novel.

Anyway. She got laughs with the down-to-earth tone of the novel, and its oddly-amused-and-yet-somehow-appalled take on the Language Issue, and the Quebec referendum, in the mid-90's. My favorite part of the whole book, so far, is when the protagonist, newly returned from Bosnia, rounds on his new tenant for saying that the exodus of Anglophones from Montreal is "ethnic cleansing."

The open mike afterwards was short - four readers - but sweet, with a couple of poems by Kevin Matthews, who I am always happy to hear read - I'm not even tired of "The Love Song of Roy G Biv" yet, and that's his most popular poem. Jim Larwill also brought out a couple of sonorous poems. Both of those guys are doing things with sound that I think people should pay attention to. They listen for assonances and internal rhymes, repetitions of sounds, and they both pay attention to the voice, and to the performance. Jim's old guard, Kevin's new guard. I was happy to see them both on the same stage. There was also a reading by Paul Leroux, from an online blog-novel, at http://thehandsIlove/ I have yet to check that out. I've seen him around though - his T-shirt says "Meet The Author" and his website on it in prominent letters, and he wears it to all kinds of literary events. Which I think is pretty cool.

Yup, that and a magic trick pretty much rounded out the night...

Posted by Kathryn Hunt at 7:12 PM EST
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