Montreal Lit Night at The Ossington

New Trends in Montreal Writing // Jason Freure

The Feline Friendly MTL Lit Night

The diary entry is the newly trending genre among Montreal’s young English-language writers. Three of micro-press Metatron’s authors opened Montreal Lit Night on July 3rd at The Ossington, an event that counted a great number of Torontonians among its audience members. All three had one thing in common: they wrote semi-autobiographical poems and stories about ordinary events.

The first four readers, Jay Winston Ritchie, Ashley Opheim, Roland Pemberton, and Guillaume Morissette were launching their first or second literary efforts. For Mike Spry, it was the Toronto launch of his third, Bourbon & Eventide (Invisible), while Jon Paul Fiorentino read from I’m Not Scared of You or Anything (Anvil), his ninth book to date.

The combination of new and veteran writers was a wise one. The younger readers had a penchant for pushing the audience’s patience, although in this matter, Broken Pencil host Alison Lang might be to blame for skipping Torontonians’ cherished mid-reading break to refill their drinks. I noticed that even some of the readers couldn’t resist slipping out of The Ossington’s back room and into the bar.

Jay Winston Ritchie opened the night, reading from his short story collection, Something You Were, Might Have Been, Or Have Come to Represent. It was a solid opening, the selected reading was the right length, and he got the crowd laughing early as he read a story whose protagonist spent much of a pot luck party worrying about what his flavoured hummus said about him. He hit a strong note describing one of Montreal’s doomsday-like snow squalls on a familiar 10:45 beer run (the convenience stores [or dépaneurs] stop selling beer at 11), but finished flatly when he read the line, “Art imitating life … No. Life imitating art.” Continue reading

Reading Kafka in the Czech Republic

The Castle and the Impenetrable Fortress of Entertainment // Tracy Kyncl

Kafka’s The Castle: Boring book, exciting cover?

I am reading Kafka’s The Castle while visiting my family in the Czech Republic. Can you imagine a more appropriately meta setting than that? Admittedly, this is my first experience with Kafka. I’ve explored my cultural heritage more through film and drama as provided by courses taught by Professor Veronika Ambros at the University of Toronto than I have through “the classics” of literature. Whether or not my having omitted him from my reading makes me a bad patriot, I am glad that this novel is my premier attempt at embracing the Kafkaesque, for it left much to be desired and spurned me to find more inspiring material. My book club democratically selected this work for our reading list; however, even before anyone could have finished the novel, I received a text from a good friend lamenting the book’s tedium. Indeed, The Castle is very boring.

The novel centres around K., who arrives at a rural town after being appointed there as a land surveyor. Try as he might, however, the town’s dogmatic devotion to bureaucratic proceedings bars him from achieving any sort of contact with the people who hired him. Most of the novel focuses on various characters’ explanations of the quixotic ways in which the village is run. Peppered among the verbose appraisals of the authorities are small bursts of action, which include a failed marital engagement, a recounting of a family’s social ostracizing, and a wild goose chase in search of the elusive and powerful Klamm, whose absent-presence is responsible for the plot’s hobbling narrative arc.

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Walt Whitman’s Toronto

A Reflection During World Pride // E Martin Nolan

Walt Whitman
How would Whitman respond to the tolerance at World Pride?

Walt Whitman wasn’t perfect. Even in a book that proclaims Whitman as America’s “Better Angel,” Roy Morris argues that traces of a particularly New York-form of racism (where slavery was sanctioned until 1828) could be found in the Old Grey Poet. Morris quotes from a 1858 editorial by Whitman: “is not America for the Whites? And is it not better so?” Later, Morris records an incident in which Whitman decried, “I don’t care for the niggers in comparison with all this suffering and the dismemberment of the Union.” The suffering that most saddened Whitman was that of his adored, white, and “noble young men.”

Despite all this, one cannot help but imagine that Whitman recognized—at least in some deep part of his consciousness—the irony in his complaints: here was a man with an unsanctioned attraction to men complaining because those men were dying to sanction the slaves’ freedom. There is no way that Whitman could relate to the plight of the slaves, but he certainly knew what it was like to be denied freedom. Otherwise, he would never have buried “Live Oak with Moss“—a sequence of gay love poems—within the Calamus section of Leaves of Grass in order to hide its overt homosexuality.

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Write a House in Detroit

Generous Writer-in-Residence Program Attracts New Detroiters // Jason Freure

Write A House
To channel Virginia Woolf, one needs “a room of one’s own.”

Want to move to the United States’ fastest shrinking city? Write A House is a new writer-in-residence program giving away Detroit houses to writers. The move to Motown has recently been touted as a way for millenials to make lives for themselves in a low-rent city as more typical destinations become prohibitively expensive. The people who stay and try to make Detroit a more livable and successful city are featured on Vice and CityLab (formerly The Atlantic Cities). Now Write A House wants to add the literary arts to Detroit’s continuing success with music, burgers, and online mortgages by granting successful applicants the deed to a newly-renovated house.

While Write A House is open to people already living in Detroit proper and the surrounding metro, the primary goal seems to be resettling literary artists in Detroit, a city that’s seen its population decline from 1.8 million to 700,00 in the last 64 years. Due to rampant arson and crime in Detroit’s abandoned properties, the city has demolished many empty houses and may continue to do so. Write A House is a rehabilitative alternative to demolition that both preserves housing and encourages artistic endeavours in a struggling city.

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Going Coastal: Daniel Kincade Renton

Daniel Kincade Renton on Poetry Camaraderie // Jess Taylor

Daniel Kincade Renton
Daniel Kincade Renton grips a drink

Daniel Kincade Renton is an emerging poet and academic living in Toronto, Ontario, originally from New Brunswick. His poems have been featured in CV2, The Fiddlehead, and Prism, while his poem, “Love After the Pepsi Generation Ad” can be read over at Hazlitt, with still more work forthcoming from The Malahat Review. On June 20, 2014, I was able to catch Daniel read as part of the Argo Reading Series in Montreal, where he read a set of poems, most memorably, a villanelle about watching his mother’s descent into illness. This fall, he will be releasing a chapbook with Frog Hollow Press.

While Daniel draws a great deal of inspiration from personal experience, he also uses the work of other writers as a catalyst, such as in “Everyday Adjustments.” Originally published in Prism and excerpted below, the poem was based on a few lines from Hamlet:

“There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow.
If it be, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will
be now. If it be not now, yet it will come. ”

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“Collaboration Is a Great Motivator”:

An Interview with David James Brock // Kris Bone

David James Brock
Midway upon the journey of our life, David James Brock found himself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost.

David James Brock is a playwright, poet, and librettist whose plays and operas have been performed in cities across Canada and the UK. He is the winner of the 2011 Herman Voaden Canadian National Playwriting Award. Brock penned the libretto for The Sloans Project (composer: Gareth Williams), which was most recently performed at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe Festival (previous: Glasgow’s 2011 Merchant City Festival, Tapestry New Opera’s 2011/2012 season). Other highlights include libretto for Sewing the Earthworm for the Canadian Art Song Project (Toronto, 2011. Composer: Brian Harman) and Pretty Boy for the Paul Dresher Ensemble (San Francisco, 2012. Composer: Jack Perla). Brock’s debut poetry collection, Everyone is CO2, was published by Wolsak & Wynn in spring 2014. He is currently working with Scottish Opera on Breath Cycle, a multimedia operatic song cycle developed with cystic fibrosis patients. He lives in Toronto and can be found on Twitter @davidjamesbrock.

Puritan correspondent Kris Bone recently caught up with David and discussed his various creative endeavours in playwriting, poetry, and libretto.

Kris Bone: As a multi-talented playwright, poet, and librettist, how do you find the time to juggle all of your passions? Is there a hierarchy of artistic pursuits in your mind? Do you have any particular method for organizing your time between your varied literary pursuits? And which of the three do you find most rewarding?

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Marc di Saverio’s Sanatorium Songs

Reflections on Songs beyond Bounds // Andrew Brobyn

Marc Di Saverio Sanatorium Songs
A dynamic duo of milk and coil

Sanatorium Songs (Palimpsest Press), a debut from Hamilton’s own Marc di Saverio, conveys with its title the beautifully ironic yet aesthetically pleasing nature of a deeply disturbing brilliance. Even the cover image, a silver spoon holding barbed wire in milk like it’s cereal, does more than knock the sense out of you with a simple symbol—it also knocks the sense back into you with its crystalline honesty. To the careful observer, this collection can be judged by the cover: it is sharp, surreal, and sublime.

The title, too, tells an accurate tale. These are songs from beyond the bounds of conventional society; these are manifestos for the mutinies of the mad; these are slogans for the search for self. This is medication, prescribed by patients—those with a firsthand taste of psychotic side effects. And yet, Sanatorium Songs has its place beyond the bookshelves of Bedlam. For are we not, each of us, a tad untied? Do we not all, sometimes, lose the line of reason? In love? In war? In boredom? In a society comprised of sterile stores amongst the open sores of poverty?

Insanity is as inherent to the experience of humanity as rationality—to ignore it is tantamount to ignoring a virus, or the immunization that virus may yield. What Sanatorium Songs has achieved is a bridging of the estranged shores of ‘sane’ and ‘deranged’; it is our duty, as readers, to lead the way (from both sides!)—that we may meet in the middle and conquer the trivial river dividing us from one another.

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An Interview with Donna Thomson

Donna Thomson on Being a Caregiver of Disabled Individuals // Kris Bone

donna thomson
Donna Thomson and her book, The Four Walls of My Freedom (House of Anansi)

When it comes to Canadians with severe disabilities and the people who care for them, a suspicious opacity surrounds them in the public consciousness. Fundamental misconceptions about the nature and benefits of the relationships between people with disabilities and their friends, families, and caregivers—as well as underestimations of the immense cost and work that go into providing adequate care—act as impediments to positive change. That is exactly why a book like Donna Thomson’s The Four Walls of My Freedom (House of Anansi) is such an important one: it gives readers access to all facets of the life of a caregiver, even the ones we’d rather not think about. It also reminds us that in omitting to think about these issues, whether intentionally or not, we are doing some of the most vulnerable people in Canada a dangerous disservice.

To approach the importance of Thomson’s book in a slightly different way: there is one incident relayed in the text that has stuck with me since reading it months ago.

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Elections Canada: Politics on Our Bookshelves

Behind the Politics and Political Slogans // Tracy Kyncl

Iconic white voting boxes

Toronto felt more political than ever this election season. After a tumultuous year for the city, its mayor, and its voting public, we’re all feeling conscious of the changing political landscape—whether that breeds excitement, anxiety, or outright dread. To better navigate our rocky political landscape, it’s now necessary to stay informed beyond the typical breaking news stories and catchy headlines, and there is no shortage of great books that have been written by or about politicians and their ideas.

More and more social events are spattered with policy debates and everyone you know is either a Party volunteer or has been annoyed by one knocking at the door. This tension will likely increase as environmental catastrophe draws near and as daily social and economic injustices continue to press on the collective conscience. While our sense of political urgency means voter turnout is still nowhere near 100 percent, it still seems that our city (and province) is becoming increasingly concerned with current events and that we are still willing to engage our critical faculties.

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Trans Activism in Canada:

Research, Resistance, and Reform in Transsexual and Transgendered Advocacy // Nicole R. Grimaldi

Trans Activism in Canada
A collection that fights against the oppression of transgendered and transsexual people.

It has taken over 40 years for a multi-author anthology about trans activism in Canada to find its way to the press, and at last the wait is over. The new Trans Activism in Canada: A Reader was launched on May 30th at the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Archives on Isabella Street, in a building nestled between a bar and string of apartment buildings. Meeting my friend after the launch at the nearby local, I told him about the launch, the bustling trans activist community, and editor Rupert Raj’s legacy. “Rupert who?” he responded. He was also dumbfounded to learn that he lived next door to the CGLA. “No kidding. I must walk past that place every day.”

It is quite a feat that despite its citizens’ cultural and ideological differences, Toronto is a relatively safe and laissez-faire metropolis. It is an urban body with a number of hearts, its pulses various and arrhythmic. It consists of countless nested communities all coexisting—all with particular interests, aims, political and social affinities. But overall, people mostly keep to themselves.

Peaceful coexistence can easily turn to indifference, and I occasionally find Toronto’s live-and-let-live character jarring, placid, cold—the city is a closely-packed set of insular spaces, with each community self-contained and generally uninterested in the aims of others. This is preferable to violent social clashes, of course, but there seems to be a widespread lack of interest in cultivating a genuine awareness about surrounding communities—even those in immediate geographic proximity, sharing the same street corners, the same facilities, the same landmarks. I wonder if this is the inevitable reality of living in such an eclectic city, and whether we can do more to foster cross-community conversation.  Continue reading