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Sunday, 24 September 2006
The Typing Explosion Local 898 (& Poetry Buses)
Topic: art events

I wish I had been the one who came up with the line, "This out-stranges SAW." But I wasn't. That was Cathy MacDonald-Zytveld, talking about the Wave Books Poetry Bus and The Typing Explosion (Local 898), which descended on Major's Hill park this evening. 

The Poetry Bus is a project involving more than 100 poets, which arrived in Ottawa today on Day 21 of a 50-day tour starting in Seattle and heading generally eastward, apparently picking up and dropping off poets as it goes. I had to check it out. The bus was hard to miss - a full-sized coach bus with "POETRY BUS" written on the side in large red letters, parked in Major's Hill Park at the north end, next to Blink Gallery, which I didn't even know was there until today. Check it out, it's in the little stone building at the bottom of the hill just across the street from the Art Gallery. The art on display was cool, and the setting is about as unique as any gallery I've been to. I found this picture on their website.

There was already a good-sized crowd of curious poetry fans outside the gallery. The open, garage-like half of the gallery was full of people poking through the table of books and other merch, including awesome silk-screened T-shirts featuring winged buses and typewriters. There were also cookies and coffee and what looked suspiciously like wine, although I couldn't see how to get any.

After a few minutes of standing around and chatting, three women dressed in brightly coloured 60s-style secretarial wear (the hairstyles and shoes matched the era too) and carrying suitcases marched across from the bus to the enclosed end of the gallery, where they removed typewriters from the suitcases, set them up, sat down at a table, and began typing - and occasionally striking bells next to them, at which point they would whip the paper out of their typewriters and switch with another typist, and keep going. To a background of piped in lounge-like music.

It took a minute to figure out what was going on, and at first people just sort of gathered to watch. Then we started to notice the rules projected with an ancient overhead projector (you know the kind from elementary school if you're anywhere near my generation.) The process was: you drop a dollar into the coffee can near the first typist, and pick a title out of a card file (the coffee can was vintage, as was the card file cabinet. Come to think of it, so were the pulp novels sitting on the desk for when a typist had a few moments without a poem in front of her, which happened from time to time.)

You hand the card with the title on it to the first typist. She types part of a poem, strikes the bell, hands it off, another typist types a bit, strikes the bell ... and when the page is full, they all pick up squeeze-ball horns, honk them, and pass the finished poem to the third typist, who stamps it with an official stamp, gets you to initial for it, removes it from the carbon copy, and hands it over, keeping a copy. Here's my poem (title: 'Kat B.' - you can't read it from here, but then it's actually copyright The Typing Explosion, so my butt's covered that way.)

The flying bus, incidentally, is a temporary tattoo I picked up and included when I scanned my poem. So, they just mass-produced poems for a while - there was a "haiku speed round" announced via another transparency dropped on top of the "rules" transparency on the projector - and then blew the whistle three times and stuck a transparency on the projector that said "Union Break," and we all went out to the terrace to hear some poetry.

There were about seven poets reading, against the admittedly lovely backdrop of Parliament Hill and the Ottawa River (sometimes I'm just so darn proud of Ottawa for being so impressively pretty when people come to visit.) The reading included Danid O'Meara and Kevin Connolly as the Canadian representation, and a pack of other poets who had joined up with the Poetry Bus at some point along the trip. It was cold sitting out on the terrace in the September wind, and it got dark pretty fast, so for a while the poets were working with a flashlight in one hand and their poems in the other, until a light was jury-rigged to the mike partway through. But the reading was good - a lot of the poets seemed (to me, anyway, knowing nothing about it) to have been cross-pollenating on the bus. In particular, I noticed we were hearing an unusual number of villanelles. Wonder if there was a challenge somewhere along the line to write one? 

I was also struck by the humour in a lot of the poems; these poets seemed to be coming from a point of view that lets you get a laugh and still have a serious poem. The styles were remarkably similar, though, and I thought partway through that more variety of styles would have made this into an even more fruitful experiment. Although, what I was seeing was already a hell of an explosion of creativity. What I wouldn't give to hop on this bus and head off to Montreal tomorrow (the Green Room, 6:30, September 25th, if you're in Montreal and want to see something truly crazy cool.) 

I anticipate pictures on both Charles Earl's and John W. MacDonald's sites, so keep an eye out. This has to be seen to be believed, especially the setting for the Typing Explosion in that small stone building in the middle of the park...

By the way, check out the Typing Explosion's website. Seriously. Check it out.

Posted by Kathryn Hunt at 9:54 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 25 September 2006 11:15 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 29 August 2006
Art Openings and Kitchen Ceilidhs
Topic: art events

Last night I decided to hit the opening for Cristian S. Aluas's show/sale at Rasputin's Cafe. I first met Cristian through the span-o small press fair, back when he was doing a lot of handmade, self-published art books - really lovely stuff - and then later got to talk to him when we were both interviewed at CHUO about span-o. He's largely moved out of the bookmaking field now, and has been doing art full time for a few years. The pieces on display at Rasputin's are mostly small acrylics and oils, largely in very cool colours, with some pen-and-ink and spraypaint (and occasional scraps of clothing, I found out.) There's something appealingly straightforward about them: I liked the simplicity in a lot of them - although I also enjoyed the frenetic lines and detail in some of the pen-and-ink pieces. 

It was a pretty relaxed sort of night - Rasputin's lends itself to that, with its kitcheny feel. It really does feel like someone's house - the tables are spread with mismatched tablecloths, the long bench on one wall is dotted with patchwork cushions. If you want a drink you get up and go to the back and rouse Dean. Or just get it out of the fridge yourself and let him know later. The debit machine is in the kitchen. And as we were sitting around talking, a collection of fiddlers, a guitarist or two, a recorder player and a keyboardist trickled in, set down, tuned up, and started jamming on classic Celtic folk tunes. The rest of the night was set to a great backdrop of music - really felt like a kitchen ceilidh that we just got to sit in on.

Posted by Kathryn Hunt at 1:05 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 29 August 2006 1:39 PM EDT
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Thursday, 24 November 2005
Totally on Spins and Needles
Topic: art events
I finally came to my senses and went to Spins and Needles.

This was voted the Best Arts Event in Ottawa at the last Golden Cherry Awards, and it's deserved. Mostly, in my mind, because of the vibe, the attitude, the idea that art is an inclusive, collective thing, and - most happily for me - that you really shouldn't take it that seriously. Have some freakin fun. Tortured artists get into fewer cool conversations.

The idea is, you go to the basement of the Clock Tower Pub (Bank and Isabella right next to the Queensway), where there is a DJ, a bartender, and literally buckets of random crafty supplies lying around. You grab a table and a drink of your choice, and knit or collage or paint or sew or doodle whatever takes your fancy, while listening to house beats and chatting with a lot of other likeminded people.

I went with my friend Cathy, and luckily the "Craft of the Month" was collage on canvas! They'd provided canvasses, glue, string, buttons, magazines, paper, tissue, cloth, bottle caps, plastic grommets, you name it, and I actually got to work for the first time on a real canvas. I think it may actually have been my first ever collage. (I'm going to be finishing its edges, finding a frame, and hanging it on my living room wall soon - so it actually did turn out!)

We got in a little late and there were few tables open. So we asked a couple sitting at a big table if we could grab a couple of chairs there. They looked a little confused, but shrugged and said yes. We were at the table amassing our collage gear maybe eight minutes when I realized we'd sort of set up at the table with a first date. They hadn't had any clue that there was an event that night. Oops.

But it turned out to be wonderful - for one thing, we got to see what it would be like for a couple of 'straights' to suddenly find themselves in the middle of a freaky Ottawa event like Spins and Needles. The girl, Christina, was delighted; her date was definitely a 'dude's dude' and didn't really know what to make of the whole thing.

"I'm just so amused by this whole thing," she kept saying. "The - vibe - I don't know how to put it, but this is great. I don't think I've smiled this much... maybe ever." He mumbled something, and said, "If you guys get her hooked into this, she'll never pay any attention to me," and we said, "Well, grab some glue!" He didn't take us up on it. She kept looking around her, her face literally alight.

But he did offer a couple of interpretations on the weirdness we were both creating on our canvases - Cathy's involving a lot of strange hellish images and kitschy slogans from Jane magazines, and mine featuring a lot of postcards from Morocco, a giant black-and-white robot, and a recreation of Odysseus's ship. "That's awesome," Christina said, "That's so cool," leaning over to look at where I was gluing the words But before I send you home, you must make a journey over a strip cut from a postcard of the city of Fez. And she kept looking around. "Come on," she told her date. "No matter what, you have to admit, this is going to be memorable. We're going to remember this night for the longest time."

The rest of the room was full of people knitting, creating stunning textile collage, one table full of stencillers, and at least one painter. Brad, from World Beats & Eats, came around with chili chocolate cookies for everyone, because Spins and Needles was celebrating (sort of) having argued their fine for 'illegal postering' down to $90 from $360 (for more on that, check out their website.) They were fantastic. Cathy and I happily snipped and sliced and occasionally got advice from Christina, who turned out to also have some experience with collage herself and gave me tips on glazing my collage when I was done. She also convinced me to include the elephant in the top left corner...

Christina said, "You know, I have to be in the mood before I really create anything..." but we told her to come back for the next one anyway. She was cool. When we left, we shook hands with our inadvertent tablemates, and Christina said, "Thanks, guys, this was the best date I've ever had."

"Yeah, thanks for making this really interesting," her date said. We gave her a picture cut out of a National Geographic, of a rock covered in paleolithic handprints, as a memento.

Next Spins and Needles is, I believe, on December 15th? GO. Make Christmas presents for your friends and family.

Oh, and here's the collage I made:

Posted by Kathryn Hunt at 12:56 AM EST
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