I didn’t see every reading in Ottawa this year, because there were, as Philip Larkin would say, a fuck-tonne, but I did go to a lot, and along the way I took note of a few that stood out for various totally arbitrary, completely subjective reasons. And of course I know a bunch of these readers/promoters, and they’re all paying me. Anyway, these are they:
3. Elizabeth Bachinsky, Plan 99 – Technique is a steel skeleton and Bachinsky is a Terminator; a hilarious Terminator, a warm, encompassing Terminator, a quickly-you-forget-she’s-a Terminator. But a Terminator. Walked out wondering what the hell I’m doing with my life, but happy.
4. Rob Winger, VERSeFest – Winger’s been nominated for a GG, but the short set of uncollected poems he tore through at VERSeFest were his best and funniest yet. A vicious satire of overblown poem introductions is the kind of pipe bomb no one wants to follow at a reading, and I loved it.
5. Phil Hall, A/B Series – On the page, Phil Hall’s Small Nouns Crying Faith poems grind language down from a simple word-referent relationship into a field of possibilities, words swallowing neighbour letters and morphing with a logic that seems almost ex post facto (after the fact). So how does he read it with such a relaxed, warm ease? A mystery.
6. bill bissett, A/B Series – This actually took place in December 2012, but I only started really attending events last November, and I missed his December 2013 reading, and it’s my list so there. It was just too special to leave off.
7. Don McKay, VERSeFest – A living legend. I just really enjoyed this reading.
8. Paul Vermeersch, Tree – Tree usually has a quiet, respectful vibe, and that can be a pro or a con depending on the reading. Vermeersch’s poems can be pulverizing things, and for once the atmosphere there felt somehow… taut? I dunno. Some mesmerizing stuff.
9. ottawater #9 launch – A cheat maybe, since like 15 or 20 people read, but sometimes the tapas/All-You-Can-Eat approach is best (this is one reason In/Words has the most fun reading series in the city). Abby Paige, Steven Artelle and Jeff Blackman stand out in my memory, but this was the first reading that gave me a sense of the depth of Ottawa’s local scene. Bought a Robert Kroetsch chapbook from rob mclennan with the change I scrounged from my pocket; I was short a penny (NOSTALGIA), but he let me have it.
Also ended up super-awkwardly foregrounded in this picture:
10. Gary Barwin, above/ground Anniversary – There’s no one quite like Barwin, and this reading managed to capture many of the facets of his writing; child-like sense of wonder, an organic, delving thinking, ribald humour. Wide-eyed and wandering.
Two Fistfuls of Honorable Mentions in No Good Order
JM’s Jam: Magpie Ulysses – Promises