The first LitLive reading series event of 2012 had some Super competition from a certain sporting event held on the same night. But the lineup of diverse and animated authors to take the stage at Homegrown Hamilton on February 5 did not disappoint.
Maria Meindl began the evening with biography, reading from her new book, Outside the Box: The Life and Legacy of Writer Mona Gould, The Grandmother I Thought I Knew. Meindl’s literary tribute grew out of the five years she spent sorting through 38 chaotic boxes of Gould’s journals, letters, and personal effects.
Her reading, like the book itself, was an intersection of family myth, her personal memories, and actual excerpts from Gould’s archives. Each piece brought to life a different layer of a renowned poet and broadcaster—an eccentric, wildly talented woman who began publishing in the 1920’s and later ventured into radio. Along with Gould’s extravagantly told anecdotes and Meindl’s tender, inquisitive recollections, she offered “curmudgeonly earfuls” of letters from prolific Saturday Night editor BK Sandwell, who worked with Gould throughout her poetry career. A real treat.
Next up was a lyrical smorgasbord of science, pirates, and….dinosaur porn (yes, you read that right). Hamilton’s own Gary Barwin read from his frenetically imaginative body of poetry and fiction with theatrical flair. He began with a magical-realist tale of a “single, marvelous hair” –a hair that grew so astonishingly long that it drew crowds, confused migrating animals and became “a comb over for Jupiter.”
Barwin then read an ode to the briefcase, a poem about a virus on a wrestler’s shorts, and a piece from a novel-in-progress told from the perspective of a Yiddish pirate’s parrot. He ended with a prehistoric romp of a poem, which imagined the ancient coitus of giant dinosaurs. No one could claim he went out with a whimper.
Rebecca Rosenblum ended the first set with fiction, reading from The Big Dream, her collection of stories whose characters all work at the same magazine publishing company. Her story, “Cheese Eaters,” took place in the workday world of Photoshop, aquarium screen savers, and awkward office mate lunches. It was a setting likely familiar to many audience members, but made freshly inviting by her realistically quirky dialogue and characters.
Rosenblum read only half of the story, stopping just as Rae, the jaded, dryly witty and newly divorced mother at the heart of the story receives a panicked phone call from her ex-husband. Surely many audience members either purchased a copy at intermission – or went home eager to secure a copy – just to see what happens next.
Poetry from Carapace, Laura Lush’s newly published fourth collection, began the second set. She started off with intimately voiced poems on motherhood. First was a glimpse of the eerie, moon-like environment of a Toronto maternity ward during the SARS outbreak, where she gave birth to her son amid hushes and masks and gloves, with awkwardness and awe. She also shared from her series of poems inspired by the life of famous American arctic explorer Robert E. Peary, stunning us with sensory imagery of flowing ice, “barely stitched together wind,” and noises “rising from the depths of tundra neither animal nor human.”
If you’re a Globe and Mail subscriber, you’ve likely read at least a few words by Russell Smith, a weekly columnist on culture and arts as well as advice for men. Smith shared two scenes from his seventh and latest novel, Girl Crazy.
As the audience learned in the introduction, the novel is currently being adapted for the screen. And it was easy to see why. Set in stylish suburban Toronto, Smith’s novel explores the life of a 32-year old community college instructor with an appetite for violent video games and ogling women. The two excerpts read by Smith that night—one Justin’s phone conversation with an ex-girlfriend and the other a date with a sexy young woman from another class—were executed in punchy dialogue that hinted at a work that dared to challenge social mores without boring its audience along the way.
The night ended with planets and prophets. Poet Adam Sol opened with a mischievous lament to Pluto after its recently demotion to a “dwarf planet”. It was part political satire, part ironic meditation on art, and all playfully original. But Sol was just getting warmed up for the epically inventive reading to come: excerpts from Jeremiah, Ohio, his modern recasting of the biblical story of the doomed prophet.
Described as “a novel in poems,” Sol’s novel has two narrators—the prophet-protagonist himself and his scribe, Bruce—and Sol shared both of their voices. Instead of taking a longsuffering journey through ancient cities, these two characters embark on a pilgrimage through American towns—the land of Twinkies, state parks, road kill, and flea market women “selling suitcases at the Sunday Jubilee along with ceramic geese and rifles.”
Appropriately, Sol read in an urgent, commanding voice—and mimicked scriptural style in language and cadence. He was also unapologetic about “stealing liberally” from the two books of the Bible that inspired his imaginative tale.
“[Their town was] an astonishment and a hissing?” he said, quoting but one of his many stunning phrases. “I couldn’t have invented that. That’s just way too cool.”
As for the night itself, it was an astonishment of literary talent, and an exciting beginning to a new season of this beloved, long-running monthly reading series.
For more information about the LitLive Reading Series, visit www.livelive.blogspot.com.
Adele Konyndyk is a Hamilton-based based freelance writer and editor. She’s also a huge CanLit adorer and, like many in the country, especially fangirly about Alistair MacLeod and Alice Munro. Currently Adele is at work on her first book, a collection of short fiction. You can email her or follow her on Twitter @AdeleKonyndyk.
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