Well, as the Diebold evil entities are working overtime to ensure a Republican victory today, I reminisce about my weekend at WindsorBookFest, where I read with a Detroit backdrop.
Ended up being a really nice festival. My only complaint stands: too many events scheduled simultaneously. I was treated very well, though, with just about all my meals looked after, in style, and a nifty hotel room at the American-teenager-clogged Ramada: I peered out the window down at the toll booths that slid cars along between Windsor and Detroit. Strange view.
Saturday early afternoon I checked out "For Better or Verse" (really!), readings by Ken Babstock, Brian Joseph Davis and Barry Dempster. Davis played some of his aural collages and read a bit from Portable Altamont. Nice overview of the kinds of things he does. I enjoyed Ken's reading, but worry about that formalism influence on his work. Some great stuff, though. Barry Dempster was a real departure from the first two readers: folksy kinda narratives that entertained at times, but didn't thrill me. And then I had to leave suddenly because it was time for...
Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner. It was astonishing to me that they were there. And not even mentioned in the programme. Seems someone else dropped out and somehow WindsorBookFest organizer Lenore Langs, a truly cool woman, was able to bring in Harvey and Joyce as replacements. Anyway, this event took place in what I think must have been a kids' craft room. Big space, though, with high ceilings and a construction-paper-backdrop for the special guests, who sat at a foldy-legged table in front of the audience of 100 or so. Harvey read from the Best of American Splendour, while Joyce sat immediately to his right, knitting or crocheting or something, and occasionally whispering to Harvey about something he should have said (to which he usually responded with a slump and an eye-roll). They were amazing. After the reading, they alternated talking: she telling about the making of the bio-pic, he talking about how he met Crumb over their mutual jazz appreciation. They were just like they are depicted in the movie and in Harvey's comics. Smart, funny, tired, all-suffering.
Had to flee that event after 90 minutes, as I was on a panel called "Small Press, Big Ideas," along with Brian Joseph Davis, Emily Schultz, David Helwig, and moderated by Marty Gervais. About 30 people in the audience for this pretty specialized talk. I liked the balance of the youngies (Schultz and Davis), the getting old (me), and the oldies (Gervais and Helwig). The trajectory of the conversation was tending largely towards the struggles of the small press, and at the end, Gus Morin, of all people, reached out from the audience to suggest we talk about the positive things small press can do. Point well-taken. Gus has this amazing quality of spewing bile and stirring shit on the one hand, and being idealistic and earnest on the other.
Soon it was dinnertime again. The meals were mainly offered up in the Art Gallery of Windsor restaurant, and man was it good stuff. Tomatoes stuffed with cous-cous, green beans in toasted sesame sauce, spectacular soups and bread....
[IN THE BACKGROUND RIGHT NOW, REPORTS OF VOTING IRREGULARITIES IN DEMOCRATIC NEIGHBOURHOODS.]
And soon it was time for the evening reading. The name of the reading was "Oh Baby, It's a Wild Word." Karl Jirgens curated and hosted. It was up on the third floor, in this very long, triangular room that pointed towards the Detroit River and the hideous GM buildings beyond. Each writer stood in the point to read, back to Detroit (where scaly-skinned Diebold fucks were crawling around the sewers, getting ready for today's travesty).
Karl had a really good percussionist kick things off, doing a John Cage piece. Hate that I don't remember the guy's name. Next up was Louis Cabris, who I'm sure years ago I was prepared to dislike for his Languagey leanings. But first, he is an extremely nice and smart guy, and second, his work is really good. He also showed a lot of breadth in his 15-minute set. Some very political work, some pretty funny stuff. All read very effectively and engagingly. Equally engaging was Nicole Markotic, who was up next. Again, a real variety of approaches, and even with a strong Language influence, a lot of room for denseskulls like me to enter the work. Gus Morin was next, and he walked up from the back of the room wearing a black shirt and black pants and otherwise painted a very attractive blue. He lunged directly into a very long sequence, and while there were some phrases here and there that caught me, it felt like an unrelenting wall. And he read it all with a "This is important stuff, you stupid fucks" seriousness. After nearly 25 minutes (we were to read a maximum of 20), Karl quietly let him know his time was running short. "My time's up? I've got one more. No, two more. Okay fine, if you don't want me to read anymore..." And he scooped up his poems and strutted grit-toothedly outta there. I like a lot of what Gus does, especially his visual and performance stuff, but this didn't do it for me.
[WELL, AT LEAST ORTEGA WON IN NICARAGUA, WHICH WILL AT LEAST REALLY IRRITATE THE U.S. GOV'T. TOO BAD HE HAD TO SELL OUT THE SANDINISTAS TO DO IT. BUT MAYBE HE'LL DOUBLE-CROSS THE ELECTORATE AND BUDDY UP WITH FIDEL AND HUGO, AFTER ALL.]
Post-break, and the night is getting on. I'm wondering if my diet of Ashberyesque density is gonna be the thing to read. Darren Wershler-Henry heads up to read from the Apostrophe Engine, a book I've avoided because I didn't think I could handle a 300-page joke. Turns out I'm wrong. At least, from the sample Darren read. Lots of interesting things in this book he created with Bill Kennedy and a team of robots. Darren also read very well, and seemed as amused as the audience with the results of the robotic work.
So, I backed off my masterplan for a reading unlike any other I'd done. I kicked off with the short story "The President's Cold Legs," which is about a president who falls into a river and is crippled. Sorta neat to read in front of the Detroit River. Read a few poems, both dense and less so, and ended off with "I Am the King of Poetry" from Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer. In the end, it felt sort of good to reading a wide range of what I do.
Karl wrapped up the evening with a fantastic short story. Brilliant stuff, and read very well. Intense, funny, and harrowing. Looking forward to seeing the other prose he's been writing and hopefully nabbing something for This Mag.
[IF THE REPUBS WIN, I PLACE THE BLAME DIRECTLY IN THE SPACE BETWEEN WOLF BLITZER'S TWO FRONT TEETH. AND TO RAMPANT STUPIDITY AND BLINDERISM IN THE LAND OF BIG PORTIONS.]
Sold quite a few books afterwards, both from the bookstore and from my supply of contraband. And then we were off to a tiny upstairs restaurant called La Cuisine. Very charming place, and incredible food. I ate 792 spring rolls. And a few stuffed mushroom caps. Great chats witih Marty Gervais, Dan of Biblioasis, Louis and Nicole, Carolyn Marie Saoud, some of Karl's students, Gus Morin (still blue, but not at all angry; I wondered if his stomp-off had been an act), Nicole Brossard, Karl, Mary-Lou, Babstock, Lenore, and others. A great party, and I hit my hotel room for about 2 a.m.
A look at CNN made it clear that Saddam would soon be sentenced. I stayed up till 5 to watching him yell "God is great" repeatedly while being sentenced to death by a kangaroo with Dick Cheney in his pouch.
Sunday: an excellent final breakfast and a ride to the train station as everyone clustered into the big hall to watch Alistair McLeod remove his red nose and announce winners of some prize or another. I'm still waiting for him to fork over the Trillium he nabbed from me in 2000.
Wound up sitting on the train beside Gail Nyoka, a novelist and playwright I hadn't met at the festival. Excellent talk for a couple hours, followed by exhaustion.
[IF THE REPUBS KEEP THE HOUSE AND SENATE TONIGHT, I WILL NOT TURN ON CNN FOR THE REST OF THIS YEAR. NO POINT WASTING ANY MORE TIME ON THOSE PROTECTORS OF WAR CRIMINALS. YOU READ IT HERE FIRST.]
Over and out.