14 May 2007

Kootenay Katch-up #2: the tango singer speeds to Nelson

A chill night last night, so I built a fire in the woodstove. It's the most comforting sensation, being in the cabin while the fire burns.

Last Wednesday's trip to Nelson to read at Oxygen turned out to be an adventure. I set out at a reasonable hour. I love the winding mountain roads, the straightaways through the valley. It's really an exhilarating drive. On the way through Winlaw, which is a small village mainly set along the highway, I kept my eyes open for a bookstore that Ali Riley, who once lived there, always swore existed but that I had never seen. And there it was: hiding behind some trees in a small row of shops almost across from the coffee shop Sleep Is For Sissies.

The shop is called Jennie's Gardens, and it's a tiny place — just a single room — but the book selection is fantastic. There must only be a few hundred fiction titles, but there are tons of books in translation, really high quality stuff. I didn't exactly need another book, but I wanted to buy something there: just to recognize this fantastic bookstore in a village smaller than New Denver. And to my amazement, I found a copy of The Tango Singer, by Tomás Eloy Martínez, translated by my friend Anne McLean! I remember Anne sending me a few sentences while she was working on this book, asking if they sounded right to me. So that was the book I bought and it sure felt nice buying it at this little literary oasis in the Kootenays. Can't wait to read it!

Hopped back into the car and began speeding off to Nelson, as I was now late for my pre-reading dinner with Castlegar poet Linda Crosfield, who organized the reading, and some of her friends. I'd also invited Peter McPhee, the Toronto poet who'd moved to the Koots a couple years back. Anyway, speeding was the operative word, and I soon got pulled over for my first-ever speeding ticket. The cop was a personable fellow, informing me I was doing doing 112 in a 90 zone. I felt like an idiot. And now I'd be even later for dinner. So, $113 poorer, I gave the officer a copy of my little poetry leaflet. "Hey, you should write a poem about being pulled over!" he offered. "No, it's something I'll want to forget," I told him.

We met for dinner at a great Nelson restaurant, of which there are plenty, called the Outer Clove. Linda was there, as well as poet Bobbie Oggletree and a couple of other friends. Peter came wandering in a little later and eventually we all headed off to Oxygen, a little artspace tucked in an alley behind Hipperson's Hardware,

upon the roof of which magical things take place in David McFadden's amazing poem "Secrets of the Universe." Anyway, my assumption was that I was doing a free reading; Linda had told me that we'd have to pass the hat to raise the $15/hour that Oxygen charged for the space. At the door as we walked in, Oxygen director Nic Harwood sat behind a table with a sign: "Suggested Donation: $5-$10." I started to realize what was going on, but pushed it outta my head till later.

Soon the room was filled -- about 25 people coming out to hear a poetry reading organized by Linda on about a week's notice. I had told her I'd hoped to hear some local poets, and I was not disappointed. The evening began with brief and engaging readings by Linda, Bobbie, Judy Wapp, and Harwood herself. It was great to hear the range of what the local writers were up to: Bobbie read two long poems that were funny and pointed; Linda read a cluster of vivid, precise shorter poems; Judy read one long and impassioned rant; Nic read a couple of Day of the Dead poems and some other stuff. The audience was enthusiastic and receptive. For my set, I read mainly from I Cut My Finger, including the various Kootenay poems and two poems about David McFadden, who taught in Nelson in the late 1970s (I sure hope David gets invited back for a Kootenay reunion, now that his Selected Poems is out!), and I read a few newer poems, including a couple from my back-and-forthage with Richard Huttel (a correspondence I've been stupidly neglecting lately!).

Half an hour later, the deed was done, and I sold about eight or nine books, which was great. Had some nice chats, and was urged by a few people to come back and do a workshop again sometime (I'd done one in Nelson in 2005), and a very interesting guy named Doug Wilton. Before the reading he told me how much he loved my stuff and how much he enjoyed Hey, Crumbling Balcony! After the reading, he told me he felt unmoved by the new work, but he bought a copy of the new book anyway to check it out on the page. He asked me if I liked philosophy and gave me a copy of his own book, To Break the Wheel of War: Waking from the Nightmare Circus of the Dualistic Mind (New Orphic Publishers, 2006), which looks like a wild trip about "human consciousness and its propensity for inner and outer conflict," with a lot of great graphics and bits of poetry scattered throughout.

As we were getting ready to go, I heard Nic ask Linda about her expenses around the poster for the reading. I'd seen the donation bowl: musta been at least $100 in there, maybe $150. But did Oxygen offer the readers the surplus above the space rental? Nope. It felt a bit like I'd just done a benefit reading for the artspace.

Now, I sometimes don't mind reading for free, as long as no one's paying to get in and it's understood that that's the arrangement. But I would think that people entering a reading and being asked to pony up $5 or $10 expect that the money is going to the artists they've come to hear. I really hate when this kinda thing happens, and I feel like a mook for not checking out the terms in advance. Artists have to make a living, too, and even a nominal $25 makes one feel recognized.

Anyway, this little tooth-grinder wasn't enough to spoil the evening for me. Linda did a fabulous job and made me feel very welcome. She put together a great event. I regret I didn't have much time to hang with her and talk more, but hopefully next time.

Headed off with Peter to his new home in Slocan Park. It was incredible: a huge three-storey house set on about 10 acres of wild land, with creeks and rivers and little waterfalls. Shangri-la. Rekindled my own sometime dream of having a place in the Kootenays. It was a really brave thing for him to pack up his Toronto life and move out here. I mean, he was so embedded in the reading and poetry community back home, where he'd founded the Scream in High Park and organized reading series and been a fixture at other reading series.

Had a great visit and wanted to accept his invite to crash overnight, but I had a 9 a.m. class in New Denver the next morning, so I hit the road a little before midnight. Had never driven any real distance here after serious dark, but I took it slowly, as there were tons of deer out: some on the roadside embankments, some just leisurely standing in mid-highway. Listened to the Pernice Brothers as I glided slowly through the surreal scene of animals on the road at night. A serene drive, and nice to get back to the cabin's coziness at the end of it all.

Over and out.


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