Monday, March 17, 2008

Pacific Festival of the Book, etc.

Got back today (Sunday) from my weekend in Victoria. And a fine weekend it was, if not the best weather for interurban motorbiking.

Friday night, after having a drink and a good chat with my friends Harold and Amy, recent émigrés from Montreal who generously put me up for the weekend, I footed across the bridge from Esquimalt into Victoria to see another friend Mathias Kom, whose band The Burning Hell was playing a gig at a café. I've said it before in these virtual pages and I'll say it again: I love Mathias' songs and I love the way he sings them and how the band, in its ever-shifting configurations, plays them. What I loved less was the film, Chronic, that was screened after the music stopped. Chronic is a 45 minute story of hapless potheads in Peterborough, ON, scheming to score pot, sell pot, and scam other people selling pot. There were a few bright moments, and a couple of Burning Hell songs were in the soundtrack, but not a work of cinematic brilliance.

Saturday morning, I rode back into Victoria to attend the events at the Pacific Festival of the Book. I showed up at 10:45, in what I thought was plenty of time to catch Peter Trower's reading, which I'd been told was going to be at 11. I walked in and saw Pete signing books. I said hi and asked him when he'd be reading. He said he already had, at ten. This was somewhat symptomatic of an overall problem the festival seems to have had with organization and communication. Pete's reading shouldn't have been so early on a Saturday morning; he came all the way over from North Vancouver, only to read for five people. Another problem was that it was very hard to actually find out who was reading where and when, as the website for the festival didn't have any specifics [update: I just figured out that, although the downloadable PDF "full schedule" doesn't have details, the "schedule at a glance" does list what happened when; a problem of terminology, methinks]. Hard to say how many more people might have come had it been more effectively publicised.

At any rate, there was a very professional-looking glossy printed program, which I picked up on entering, so I consulted it to see what all was going on. And I noticed that my old friend Peter Richardson was reading at 12:30 (which might have been a better time for Peter Trower's reading). Until he retired from Air Canada and I quit working for First Air, Peter R. and I were probably the only two baggage-handling versifiers in the country. I wasn't even aware that he was part of the festival, so this was a very pleasant surprise. He wasn't supposed to be originally, but when Chris Patton backed out due to other commitments, Vehicule Press sent Peter in Chris's stead. I love Peter's work, so full of verbal brio and playful wit, and I picked up a copy of his third collection, Sympathy for the Couriers, which I'm really looking forward to spending some time with. Unfortunately, Peter was reading with two much less skilled poets, all three crammed into a half-hour (from introductory bio notes to get-the-hell-out-so-the-next-event-can-start. Another example of slipshod organization.

I also spent some time in the festival's exhibition hall, browsing the tables. I picked up what looks to be a very interesting issue of The Pacific Rim Review of Books, featuring an interview with, and review of, Robert Bringhurst, as well as a review of John Newlove's A Long Continual Argument, and much else besides. I bumped into John Barton at The Malahat Review table and we had a good chat about the perfidy of publishers and other writerly complaints.

At 1, I went to what was supposed to be a talk by Robert Bringhurst on "The Art of the Book." Robert started off saying that he was told he'd be doing a reading, not a lecture (yet another gaffe), and apologised to anyone who had come hoping to hear a lecture. He did present a beautiful handmade edition of a polyphonic poem for three voices he'd written. It's hard to describe the thing, but basically it consists of four books, one for each voice and one containing notes and other para-textual things. The individual books fold out from the centre, so that each speaker might stand around the book reading his or her part; the individual books can also be detached, for greater ease of performance. Really neat piece of work. At any rate, after the show and tell, Robert read some excerpts from his two recent prose works (which regular CLM readers know I can't recommend highly enough) as well as a good clutch of unpublished poems, which were very fine.

After Bringhurst's lecture/reading, PK Page was supposed to read in the same room. But a festival volunteer made the sad announcement that Ms. Page was ill and unable to attend. I wasn't the only one disappointed by this news; I only hope that the illness isn't serious. Page is around 92 now, so any talk of sickness can be scary stuff. The volunteer said that if there were any other poets in the room who'd like to read, the room was free for half an hour. I figured what the hell and volunteered. So did Peter Richardson. Only five of the dozens who'd come to hear Page read stayed, so it was an intimate little event, but the audience made up for its smallness in attentiveness, and I actually peddled a copy of Unsettled. This sort of thing is why I almost always have a copy or two on me.

After saying goodbye to Peter, I got back on the bike and headed down to Frog Hollow Press to pay Caryl Peters a visit. I was almost out of copies of Achromatope, so I figured I'd take advantage of being in Victoria to pick up a fresh supply. Caryl told me that it hasn't been selling all that well, even if better than some of the broadsides she's done. She's talking about getting out of doing broadsides altogether, because there's so little apparent interest in them. The problem is, I think, that the authors aren't doing their bit to move them. It's hard to persuade someone to order a collectible piece of literary art sight-unseen. You've got to show it to people, live, in order for those people to realize it's something they might want to own. Anyway, I picked up 25 copies, and I know that, given enough readings, I'll move them all and order more. The relationship between a writer and a specialty private press like Frog Hollow really has to be a collaborative one. You can't just let them print your work and then do nothing to help the work find an audience. And why Frog Hollow wasn't invited to the PFB, I can't imagine, but given the other oversights and errors, I'm not surprised.

From Caryl's, I headed back to Esquimalt, where I had a beer with Harold before heading back over to Victoria to meet up with Steven Price, his brother Kevin and Steve's partner Esi Edugyan. After a glass of wine, we went out for a delicious sushi meal, after which, I went back to Steve and Esi's and we carried on our dinnertime conversations. Over the course of several meetings during the last year or so, I've really come to like Steve. He and I have very similar literary predilections and he's just a lovely guy, a true gentleman. Esi I hadn't met before, as she'd been out of the country on a residency, so I was glad to find out she's a perfect match for Steve. The talk was so engrossing, I quite unintentionally stayed till 1:30. It's a shame we don't live in the same city.

Too early Sunday morning, I was up and getting ready to go. I bade Harold farewell and good luck (he's doing edits to the manuscript of his forthcoming short story collection) and headed out to the suburb of Langford to meet up with a good old high school friend and his family. After brunch and a walk along the creek with Mike, his wife Natalie and their charming 16 month old daughter Anna, I motored back to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal. A tad too cold for pleasurable riding, but at least not raining, as it was when I left Vancouver. Very fine regardless to get out and see so many good people and good writers. Probably enough social life to do me for a few weeks.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Zach,

Enjoyed your account of the weekend in Victoria. I got wind of it through Correy Baldwin at Vehicule Press. You had me chuckling there in a couple of places. I'm sure Heidi Bergstrom, who organized the festival, would've been in high dudgeon,
but your comments were on the mark.

I'll send you something by ground mail in a couple of weeks. Hello and congratulations to Rachel.