Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Interview with the Black Coffee Poet

I was interviewed a little while back by Jorge Villejos, the Black Coffee Poet. He works inside the U of T and is a powerful human rights advocate. He also wrote an article about my chapbook A State, A Statue, A Statute.

My interview can be found here:

His article about me and my work :

His website :

Thanks to Jorge for the support, it means a lot to me.

A guide to poetry readings in Toronto

All these series have an open mic aside from the SH and EW (shoo, gnat) series, usually held at the end of the evening.  When I moved to Toronto I couldn't really find an up-to-date list of all the open mic poetry readings here, and I had to hunt.  These are most, if not all of them.
I should also mention that PWYC is strongly recommended for all these events. For more non-open mic events such as Pivot, Brockton, Draft et al., and other literary events, visit  Information for all the events below can be found by clicking on their above titles, which contain links to their websites.

The Emerging Writers (EW) Reading Series:

Created by the awesome Jess Taylor, this series is affiliated with Dragnet Magazine and has a strong mix of poetry and prose. I've featured there in the winter and I'm doing it again in January. Information can also be found in NOW magazine.

The Art Bar Poetry Series:

The longest-running poetry series in Toronto, held Tuesdays at 8PM inside the second floor of Pauper's Pub. I was a featured poet at Art Bar back in March.  The two other featured readers didn't show up, so it was just me.  But to compensate there were a lot of people on the open mic.

The Underdog Poets Academy:
A great series run by the talented Sarah Beaudin, this series encourages those who haven't read much or at all to get out and perform. It also features accomplished poets on a regular basis as well.  It's a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere all the time, and is always receptive of every poet. I've featured there twice as well and it was quite fun, once doing my satirical character Jezebel Beelzebub Bells...which is another post in itself.

Plasticine Poetry Series:

Now moved to Pauper's Pub, the same as Art Bar. The first series I did an open mic at here in Toronto, and the first series I featured at.  Run by the great Cathy Petch and Michael Fraser, who are tolerant if you go over the time limit for reading on the open mic, but not to the extent that the whole series is compromised.

Hot-Sauced Words:

Every third Thursday of every month at 8, inside the second floor of the Black Swan Tavern.  Hosted by my friend James Dewar.

Rochdale Rhymes and Readings:

No posters of the RRR exist, so here's one of Mark Gonzales shot by Ari Marcopoulos instead.  This series is usually held in the back studio of the Regal Beagle Pub at 335 Bloor St. W, during the fall, winter, and spring at 8 PM. Hosted by Mike Lipsius.  I heard one poet read a bizarre and hilarious poem about Jesus here once, that made it worthwhile.

Impossible Words:

Impossible Words is the newest reading series here in Toronto. No photos of it exist yet, so here's one of Chris Pastras and Jason Lee shot by Tobin Yelland. It happens every two weeks on Saturdays from 1:30 to 3:30 at the Academy of the Impossible.

The Beautiful and the Damned:
Now held at the Glad Day Bookshop, this series is LGBT-oriented but still welcomes readers of any kind, so long as their work isn't hateful. Everyone's friendly, you just have to get there before it starts to sign up for the open mic.

Secret Handshake Art Gallery Reading Series:

Run by my friend David Bateman with assistance by bill bissett, the SH gallery hosts a poetry reading every month.  I was fortunate to feature here in January, and I gave a copy of my chapbook A State, A Statue, A Statute to bill.  He was supportive, it was great.

Slam Poetry at the Drake Hotel:

There's usually a $5 entrance fee for slam poetry events at the Drake Hotel. A lot of people show up.  I read my work on the open mic here.  A girl was into it, a guy stared at me.  I didn't read slam poetry, I read a prose poem.  If you're into slam poetry, this is the event to attend.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The rudeness of talking in a foreign language

You're really not that important. Never mind that Sopranos scene where they travel to Italy.

 But take this following scenario, which happened to me: You introduce yourself to someone who speaks with an accent. You show them something of yours. As they're looking at it, their partner comes up beside them and starts speaking in their native language, and they start giggling as they look at your item. What did I do in response? I said "Hm", loud enough for them to hear me. They didn't continue talking after that.

 What else could I do? And what am I supposed to think? That they could be giggling about anything, least likely of which being your item? Or is it natural, healthy even, to preserve some discomfort over the fact that they're enjoying talking badly about you?

 The truth is that, in personal situations like these, suddenly talking in a foreign language is rude, and is not the mark of civilized and respectable people. I've dealt with much more than my share of rude behaviour. I shouldn't have to take it any longer.

 And for those of you who read this, you don't have to either. It's socially awkward to walk among people talking in a different language and think they're talking about you, absolutely. But it's not when you're in a situation such as the one I've described.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Discussion on Setting and the Attraction of Canada

On the subject of the attraction of Canada:

Being told that the country I live in isn't "sexy", and therefore does not sell products, is odd. Putting aside the triteness of the all-encompassing "sex sells" business maxim...this controversial statement spills over into my own self-image. Am I contributing to the lack of appeal in Canada? Guilt by association, theoretically if all Canadians were sexy then there would be no problem, website posts like these are boring, you're doing it to yourself without even noticing...

...Or is it the varied ecospheres of Canada? The flat prairies, the cold and uninviting north territories, the endless uniform trees?

Is it the fact that we're considered an integrated rather than an assimilated society? And based on that, the idea that we have no real identity of our own and rely on the US and the rest of the globe to further our own cultural progress?

Is it the notion that we're all considered docile and polite, with the exception of middle-aged Canadian women whom are thought to be loud and ignorant?

Is it how some artists based in Canada and trying to break into the US don't outwardly express their Canadian heritage? (which can actually work for Canada's benefit when the band is awful, even though the truth eventually comes out)

Or is it the lack of recognition as to what happens in a Canadian city? Our cities haven't been explored in art and media to the extent that cities like Tokyo or England have. And they lack the mystery which unknown cities like Antananarivo (capital of Madagascar) have. Canadian cities seem to be unknown, but who would want to know them?

On the subject of setting:

Robert McKee writes in Story that a precise setting in a story will give way to more possibilities and appeal, as opposed to a broad and unspecified setting which limits expression.
This is important when trying to write a story about Canada. In my opinion - the crucial aspects of setting are how appealing and relatable it is. The problem is, how do you write about a certain Canadian setting if people won't find it appealing?

My thoughts on these two matters:

The problem of writing an appealing Canadian setting has plagued me for awhile. Of course it's possible to write within a specific, unknown, seemingly boring Canadian setting - Alice Munro has done it repeatedly to great success.
The issue of setting doesn't limit her simply because her stories are so complex and absorbing that people pay the setting no real mind, not thinking to themselves of all the conceptions about Canada which I listed above.

Still, it seems that the odds are weighed against Canadian writers. The Life of Pi for example is considered a Canadian book but describes Canada as full of people with bad haircuts, and not really much else. It takes a lot to have the talent which Alice Munro wields, or yields, I don't know which. To base a story in a boring Canadian landscape and not have it reflect that boredom could be a difficult task. Of course it's a battle.

But it's not impossible to imagine a great love story based in the prairies of Saskatchewan or Alberta. Just because the audience doesn't have an awareness or interest in the prairies, that doesn't mean it can't be instilled if the story is written well enough. To say there's no sexual appeal in the Canadian prairies is inherently ridiculous just because of how it looks on the surface. Canadian authors who base their work solely in, New York City because it's well-known and everyone wants to go there, is weak to me. Of course a Canadian author can base stories in New York, but to try and capitalize on it without any mention of their own country/background is fake.

Any setting can be attractive. It's based on how the characters perceive and interact with it. But - I would argue that a setting doesn't need to be the central part of a story, because if a story focuses too much on a setting which no one really knows, it will eventually become tiresome and alienate the reader.

Of course an author may think, "What can I really do with this setting? What goes on here which is different and dangerous? How can I make this setting something which people will take a step back and re-consider, and actually get into?" It's something I struggle with...trying to write a story in Toronto while not thinking it's only going to appeal to Canadians. That's where research and imagination come in.