Thursday, April 16, 2015

Six Awesome Poetry Events at Blue Met 2015

This is a big year for poetry at Blue Met and on both Friday, April 24 and Saturday April 25, we have several poetry events for either lovers and fans of poetry or for those who maybe don't know a lot about Canadian poetry but want to learn more.

Our top six poetry events for 2015 include:

Don McKay and Mark Abley
Don McKay

Don McKay is one of Canada's most respected poets and his new tome, Angular Uncomformity, collects much of his long career's work into a single volume. This is the kind of book you keep my your nightstand and pull out each night to read a poem or two. I love that kind of poetry book that might take a year or longer to get through, and when you fall asleep the words are still ringing around in your head. McKay talks with Montreal poet and writer Mark Abley (who launches his own collection, Tongues of Earth immediately after).

Don McKay hasn't been in Montreal in many years, so now's your chance.

This event is on Saturday, April 25 at 12:30 and tickets are $8 (and is followed by Mark Abley's launch of Tongues of Earth at 2pm, free). Both of these events are at Hotel 10.

Jeramy Dodds
Marie Howe and Jeramy Dodds
The New York State Laureate, Marie Howe, is one of contemporary poetry's most unique talents. Author of What the Living Do and several other collections, Howe is a master of delving deep into the ways we grieve and let go, the way we weave memory in with a loved one's legacy.

I first came to Marie Howe's work via NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross and have been a fan ever since.

Howe speaks about her unique work and career with Canadian poet Jeramy Dodds (author of The Poetic Edda, a fascinating translation of Icelandic chronicles). When I was asking around to find a good host for the event, at least three people mentioned Dodds' name. Not only was he an extraordinary young poet, I was told, but he's great on stage.

Don't miss this rare chance to see two amazing poets in dialogue. Even better: it follows immediately Don McKay and Mark Abley so you can get your entire poetry fix in a few hours.

This event is on Saturday, April 25 at 3:30 pm. Tickets are only $8 and can be bought here. This event is at Hotel 10.

Annharte and Taiaiake Alfred
Our First Peoples Prize Winner, Anneharte, will discuss her fascinating work Indigena Awry, on-stage at 11:00 on Saturday April 25 at Hotel 10. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about this event but for lovers of poetry or for lovers of Indigenous Canadian writers or culture, this is a must-see event.

This one is $10 and tickets are here.

Poetry at the Zen Centre
Linda Besner
There are two events planned for the Enpuku-ji Zen Centre in the Plateau/Mile End on Friday, April 24. Both of these events are free. The first is a round-table on New Directions in 21st Century Poetry with Jeramy Dodds, Jeff Latosik and Linda Besner.. This event starts at 6:00 pm.

The reading which follows at 8pm will have readings by Marie Howe, Don McKay, Annharte, Jeramy Dodds and German performance poet Paul Weigl.

Both of these events are hosted by Carmine Starnino. And if you haven't been to the Enpuku-ji Zen Centre before, the space itself is worth the trip up. It's ideal for poetry and the evening is sure to be magical and inspiring.

Enpuku-ji Zen Centre

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Yoko Ogawa: Revenge

I've long been a fan of Yoko Ogawa: her book, The Housekeeper and the Professor is very odd but very intriguing  (and made into a movie in Japan in 2006). She is a master of creating macabre, almost metaphysical settings where things are never what they appear to be with characters stubbornly refusing to understand their actions or motivations.

Film poster for The Professor and the Beautiful Equation
I've been reading her book Revenge and I was so entranced with the worlds that she creates that after I read it, I flipped around and read it again, something I don't do too often. (Check out NPR link here and ignore the references to Murakami: Ogawa has little to do with him in terms of theme, subject or mood and the only connection is that they are both Japanese).

This a novel only in the loosest sense: more like a collection of stories that are all highly linked. From stories of murdering landladies to a nostalgic memory of a long-lost stepmother, from a mysterious hotel guest and a car crash with thousands of tomatoes scattered across a road to a murdered surgeon who's carrying on an adulterous affair with a co-worker, the stories are creepy, freaky and very unique.

Reading this collection I am reminded of the odd tales of Horacio Quiroga who was also a master of macabre.

Ogawa is one of Japan's most translated contemporary writers. The other novel I've written about in the past, Hotel Iris, is a book that stays with you. Even years later, I still remember so many specifics about it: the young girl befriending a translator, becoming his sexual slave with disastrous results. All kinds of allusions to Greek tragedy and the middle world between reality and the supernatural.

This collection is one I have really appreciated reading and anyone who likes the macabre, scary or generally creepy, should check it out.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Olga Grjasnowa: All Russians Love Birch Trees

Every year I am so happy that we have the chance to introduce some really amazing emerging writers to our audiences. Many people take me aside in hallways during the Festival and tell me that this is what we often do best: bring writers that our audience may not know but, in fact, should know.

This year the find that we came across was Olga Grjasnowa. This incredibly talented young woman is clearly going to be a name to watch. Born in Azerbaijan, she writes in German and has lived in Berlin for a number of years.

Her book, All Russians Love Birch Trees, is set in Frankfurt amongst a community of migrants to Germany, and is at once an ironic manifesto but also a very 21st century kind of story. An apt observer of contemporary life in Germany, and particularly the way that Germans talk about immigration ("good" vs "bad" immigrants), Grjasnowa manages to work in racism, homophobia, anti-semitism, anti-Palestinianism and communities of migrants and how they cope, all in one book.

It's an angry book but it's funny and touches on so many issues we see and hear in the news in recent months: terrorism, exclusion, trauma, globalization and much more.

Grjasnowa has been selected as one of the six best up and coming German-language writers and will be at Blue Met in conversation with Will Aitken. One of my most favorite Montrealers, his Queer Film Classic book on Death in Venice is a masterpiece of film analysis. Why Will Aitken isn't a household name in Montreal is beyond me because he is a massive intellect and incredibly gifted. None other than Eleanor Wachtel put me on to him and told me years ago that he is one of our city's greatest intellectuals.

In all honesty, if I had no connection to Blue Met and were to make a list of events not to be missed, this would be at the top: fascinating young writer, topical and critically acclaimed book, and one of the best interviewers and readers that our city has.

No Flag Large Enough: a conversation between Olga Grjasnowa and Will Aitken will take place on Saturday, April 25 at 7pm. Tickets are $10 and can be bought here.

Monday, April 6, 2015



Everything but confessions. My own life
Annoys me so, I would find relief
In telling about it. And I would be understood
By those wretches -- how many! -- who wobble
In the streets of cities, drugged and drunk,
Sick with the leprosy of memory and the guilt of living.
So what restrains me? Shame
That my misfortunes are not picturesque enough?
Or contrariness. Wailing has become fashionable,
Unhappy childhoods, trauma, all the rest.
Even had I been ready for a Job's complaint,
It is better to keep silent, to praise the immutable
Order of things. No, something else
Forbids me to speak. Whoever suffers
Should be a teller of the truth. Should? How,
With all the disguises, comedy, self-pity?
Falseness of feeling results in a false phrase.
I value style too much to take the risk.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Derek Walcott: Poetry is an Island

Excellent Paris Review article on the work and career of Derek Walcott.

And though it's an old article, it cropped up on my Facebook feed the other day, and happily so. One event I am very excited about this year is a film we are screening called Derek Walcott: Poetry is an Island.

The film chronicles the place of St-Lucia and how it's a major part of the work of Derek Walcott: through interviews with his friends, family members, childhood buddies, and of course, through Derek himself, this beautiful documentary goes back and looks at the early history of the Nobel-prize winning writer: his father and mother; his early schooling, his dilapidated former childhood home and attempts to get it restored and turned into a museum.

Being from a small place that's almost off the map, I can relate to the kind of pride that comes from having your place associated with a big name. And Derek Walcott is a big name, make no mistake. When the dust settles from all the trends and side-steps that contemporary poetry is always in the midst of, Walcott will be remembered as one of the greats of our age: his relationship to nature, his pure language, his role as an outsider in a middle class white man's game, his sense of place which, no matter where he is or where the poem is set, is so acute and precise.

The documentary has a slow, soporific tone to it, never dull and never boring, but a sense that life on the island of St-Lucia moves slower than the rest of the world. The filmmakers linger on images: the waves, the wind in a palm tree, island animals, and they capture the sense of the island sensually in a very beautiful way. And, of course, there's Walcott's poetry which is just the perfect fit for this kind of tone.

Part of our series in 2015 on Caribbean writers, check out Derek Walcott: Poetry is an Island at Concordia University's De Sève Cinema on Saturday, April 25 at 7pm. Tickets are $10, $8.50 if you buy before April 8. Get your tickets here.

If you're looking for a book to start with to read some of Walcott's poetry, try White Egrets or The Fortunate Traveler.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Girl on the Train

I thought I'd take a break from Festival-related books over the weekend and I read Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train. It was a great read: very dark, though, and very pessimistic about people.

The premise is relatively straightforward: a woman who rides a train every morning and passes the old house where she used to live with her ex-husband becomes infatuated with a young couple she sees out in their backyard. She creates an entire life for them, checking in on them and their life each morning as she goes into London and then again as she returns home.

When the woman turns up missing, a big mystery opens up: did the husband kill her? Or her lover? Or has she run off to start a new life?

This is all tempered by the fact that the protagonist is highly unreliable because she has a drinking problem. Major drinking problem. So huge chunks of her memory just vanish and she does things when she's on a bender that we aren't privy to (even she isn't). So there's a whole theme of memory and how we make memories, happy or sad, and how we piece together parts of our lives that we can't remember, the stories we tell ourselves to cope.

So I liked this book though I read it fairly quickly and I wonder how long it'll stay in my mind. It did get me thinking about books whose main protagonists are alcoholics though: Fitzgerald. That guy who wrote the book The Lost Weekend was based on (Charles R. Jackson: that was a Wikipedia moment). There must be others. But a drunk narrator is really too delicious a narrator for a writer to ignore: so much emotion to deal with, backstory (how and why they became a drunk), so much mysterious about it.

In any case, the book was a good read with a very interesting twist at the end. My one gripe, I guess, is just in the way the book suggests people are: that most people present this happy, idealistic face to the world but deep down, most people are hiding things. Yes, I think most people are hiding things but very few are hiding anything interesting. Diabolical people, sociopaths are rather rare, I think, and few people are really evil.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Annharte at Blue Met 2015

As part of our ongoing efforts to promote all kinds of writing and writers, we created a new prize this year to shine a spotlight on Indigenous writers of Canada by creating the Blue Met First Peoples Literary Prize.

The inaugural prize is awarded this year to Anishnabe poet and activist Annharte for her amazing collection Indigena Awry.

This work is definitely one of the most original and provoking poetry collections I've read this year in preparing for this upcoming Festival. Annharte explores urban culture in fascinating and often hilarious ways: but in addition to her poems, she performs, tells stories, and fights for the rights of women and the disabled.

Annharte will do many events at Blue Met 2015 but the headline event is the awarding of the Blue Met First Peoples Prize to her on stage in conversation with activist Taiaiake Alfred. This event starts at 11:00 am on Saturday, April 25 and the tickets are $10 ($8.50 if you buy before April 8).

Annharte will also do a storytelling event at Westmount Library at 10:30 on April 23. This event is free.

She will be in conversation, too, with novelist Lee Maracle, on Witness: Indigenous Women Writers. This one is at 11:00 am on Sunday, April 26 at Hotel 10.

Finally, she will discuss artists and ability/disability in an on-stage discussion with Laurence Parent and Concordia Mobile Media Lab's Kimberly Sawchuk. Writing Disabilities: Poet + Activist on Sunday, April 26 at 12:30pm at Hotel 10. This event is free.