Thursday, May 17, 2007

CV2: "Poets Who Swing Both Ways" -- excerpts online

Excerpts from the latest issue of Contemporary Verse 2, "Poets Who Swing Both Ways," are online here:

I am totally stoked about being in this issue.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Downtown notes

My new dayjob has me in downtown St. John’s, one of my favourite places. It’s old St. John’s, at least some of the building pre-dating the Great Fire of 1893 – some, but not many. The architecture on the stone buildings is a bit Georgian, a bit Gothic. Shannon Patrick Sullivan in his novel The Dying Days portrays an invisible St. John’s, one made of memory – memory without marker. Walking around downtown or Bowing Park, you can see why he’s done that. Downtown is already crackling with the arts, oil money and misery; behind this sticky present is an obscured past. Wooden houses were hastily built after the Fire. Downtown looks old but hurried.
I tell visitors to park their cars elsewhere and just walk around downtown. You miss a lot when you’re looking for a parking space.

Here’s what I’ve found in the past few weeks.

1. In my cups 1: Britannia Teas
2. In my cups 2: Hava Java
3. Omens for my ears: Afterwords Bookstore
4. Metamorphoses: Say Nothing, Saw Wood and Recent Works

In my cups 1: Britannia Teas

Growing up, I used to sneak cups of tea when my parents were out of the house.

Once puberty hit with all its feminine joys, my mother – who always drank tea with her mother, an English war bride – officially introduced me to the healing powers of a "good cup of tea." Better than Midol, I can tell you that. It was King Cole, maltier than either Tetley or Red Rose, steeped at least 5 minutes with one bag to the mug, and then lightened with – hey, sing along, you know the words – Carnation evaporated milk.

Kelly Jones, owner of Britannia Teas, now open at 199 Water Street, used to drink 5 cups a day with her Nan in Brittania on Random Island. It’s not hard to understand why the Japanese have developed an elaborate ritual around the preparation and serving of matcha tea. It’s a very social act, making tea for someone else. Easy for us, with running water and electricity to boil the kettle. Harder when making tea meant drawing water and building a fire.

Britannia Teas is an uncluttered tea shop. I say "uncluttered" because many of the shops I’ve visited in Ontario are so crowded with china and glass that I’m afraid to move. At Britannia Teas, you’ve got room to have a good look.

That’s not the only thing Ms Jones has done well. Most of the tea is loose, which makes for a better cup. Much of the tea in regular tea bags is what’s called "fannings." That means broken leaves and dust. Loose tea leaves expand in hot water and make for a more flavourful and cleaner cup. Yes, cleaner. Next time you brew Tetley, look how cloudy it is.

The loose teas at Britannia are in dark canisters, protecting the leaves from light. I visited an expensive tea shop in Ottawa last year and nearly cried when I saw all the tea in clear glass jars. Sure enough, the small amounts I bought were stale and tasteless. So how do you know what the tea at Britannia Teas looks like or smells like? Ms Jones has put out a small sample canister of each. Brilliant.

The variety is amazing. Two Assams, three Darjeelings ... and that’s just the black teas. Several green teas, both Chinese and Japanese, are available, and there’s even an Earl Grey Green with a Newfoundland connection. The organic Lapsang Souchong must have been withered over a real pine fire, like it’s supposed to be, because you can smell distant pine on the smoke.

Best of all, there’s a selection of teas for children. Mostly fruit-based, these caffeine-free herbals will make any child feel more grown up and part of their broader community. The rooibos (pronounced ROY-boss or ROY-bus) varieties are also appropriate for children (who might be sneaking the regular stuff when you’re out of the house). Rooibos is a reddish bush that grows only in South Africa. It’s full if anti-oxidants and can be very soothing; South African mothers give it tepid in bottles to colicky babies. My older daughter drinks rooibos day and night. Britannia Tea’s Hunny Rooibos will likely go over well with children, or anyone with a sweet tooth. The Rooibos Chai lets you know you’re alive.

If you’re nervous about brewing loose tea, Brittania Teas have many infusers and teapots to make it easier.

Bagged varieties include the incredible Yorkshire Blend and the even better Yorkshire Gold. This is what Tetley wants to be in its fondest dreams. These black teas brew up dark and "proper," as my Yorkshire Nan would have said. They’re malty and bright, and on a foggy bonerot of a day, they could save your life. Britannia Teas also stocks the Yorkshires loose.

Kelly Jones and Danielle Irvine know their teas, and they’re ready with recommendations.

Life is short. Go get some tea.

In my cups 2: Hava Java

Hava Java on Water Street is my favourite coffee spot. I’m also eating lunch there a fair bit, which is not fiscally responsible but is at least good for me – lunch at your desk deadens the soul. The sandwiches, available from noon to 2 on weekdays, are enormous. Red and green peppers are always available, and the cheese is real cheese.

Hava Java also has the best oat cakes in town – when you can get them. A barista told me once the oatcakes are like unicorns, rarely sighted.

Last Friday morning, my husband and younger daughter stopped in to get me a coffee, and my daughter lucked out into a free broken cookie. She came to see me with crumbs all over her face and her baseball cap on backwards: — Mama, look. The ladies gave me a cookie.

My favourite thing about Hava Java is the people. Suits line up next to scruffs. Customers are all treated the same. Unlike in other coffee shops, I’ve never been made to feel I’m too ugly to be allowed in the place.

The coffee is good, the prices are fair, and the atmosphere is kicks like caffeine.

Omens for my ears -- Afterwords Bookstore

Afterwords Bookstore, Duckworth Street

I’ve been going here since I was a teenager. My Nan would always give my sister and I part of her "spoose’s allowance," as she called it – that does sound better than "spouse’s allowance," her portion of my grandfather’s pension – and I’d try to save mine for a trip to bookstore. Afterwords was the first secondhand bookstore I ever visited. The addiction took. Most of my library is second-hand paperbacks with loose pages and cracked spines. I wasn’t thinking royalties then. I just had to devour books. Before I had children, I’d buy books before food.

So any visit now to Afterwords is very like visiting a favourite relative. The house hasn’t changed much. New curtains, maybe, but it’s still the same house with stacks of treasure begging time.

I’ve got a weakness for earrings, too. Guess what else you can get at Afterwords?

But these were special earrings. I bogged earlier about re-structuring my novel ms Dead Reckoning. The outline is done, and in my head I’m winding the narratives lines around a belaying pin, just as on a square-rigged ship you’d "make up the lines," or wind the ropes in a sort of figure-eight (hug, hug, kiss) round the pins.

The earrings are figure-eights with a straight line dangling down the middle. My husband has since bought them for me. Omens for my ears.

Metamorphoses -- Say Nothing, Saw Wood and Recent Works

Say Nothing, Saw Wood by Joel Thomas Hynes
and Recent Works at Gordon Laurin
at the Resource Centre for the Arts, LSPU Hall

The beauty of live theatre is its very risk. Real people not too far from you, with real people’s flaws. Lines might be lost. Lights might fall from the ceiling. Language might alienate. Or, the story before you might compel you utterly, drawing you out of your own life and into someone else’s.
These risks are magnified with a one-person show.

Say Nothing, Saw Wood achieves more than the seamless intimacy you’re hoping for at the theatre. You’re brought into the guts of a terrible story – "terrible" with its root in"terror" – until you wind down to a truly powerless individual’s repellent violence.

And yet – the script and the performance build empathy. You understand precisely why Jude Traynor does what he does. This understanding goes beyond mere sympathy, which is tinged with noblesse oblige, pity and narcissism, with "I only like and approve of characters who are like me." Any progress humanity might make will depend on compassion and the willingness to listen, to try to understand what it’s like to be someone else, regardless of whether you like or identify with him. That’s the beauty and the risk of live theatre, and part of what’s happening in Hynes’s play.

Recent Work is an exhibition by Gordon Laurin. When I saw the 27 identically-sized panels on the walls at the RCA Gallery, I had my usual shithead reaction, one that comes out of fear: Great, abstract art, I won’t get any of it.


From Gordon Laurin’s Exhibition Statement:

"My interest is to create a forum where our relationships to the natural world can be considered through forms that are inspired by the earth’s natural events and cycles like rising tides and eroded shorelines."

His panels are crushed mica and resin. At first it seems only the colours change from panel to panel. But these abstractions, like stacks of book, beg time and thought. The colours wave and after a moment, move. The mica is grit ... or rocks ... or broken beer bottles on the beach. Or.

I need to go back.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

"Poets Who Swing Both Ways"

The new issue of Contemporary Verse 2 (vol 29, issue no. 4) features "poets who swing both ways," that is, poets who also, or mainly, write plays, fiction, non-fiction. Contributors include Alison Pick, Daniel David Moses, Francine Allard, Richard Harrison, Maurice Miereau and Jane Silcott.

I lucked into this issue, kindly shoved toward submitting by George Murray, with two poems, "Demoblized" and "Meet again." Both my pieces are monologues. My poetry comes in different voices -- there's the playwright in me -- and is relentlessly narrative -- there's the novelist. Being called a poet makes me feel like a bit of a fraud, like I should own up to something, explain I'm really an escaped copywriter or a deluded English major.

Or I could just shut up and write.

Spark-gap transmission / Michelle Butler Hallett

Spark-gap transmission / Michelle Butler Hallett
in progress