Tag Archives: Quattro Books

“What made me a poet? Curiosity. The thrill of adventure, of new worlds.” | Q&A with poet Penn Kemp

penn-kemp
Image of Penn Kemp linked from her WordPress site. Photo by Dennis Siren

Penn Kemp has been not only been a poet but a cultural icon around my home town of London, Ontario, Canada. Yes, her written words have inspired but her actions in a complex number of fronts have also been a source of enlightenment and engagement for numerous people. It was an honour a few weeks ago when she sent me an advance copy of her new work Barbaric Cultural Practice  (Link to my review) but discussing it only seem to capture a bit of this thought-provoking individual. She agreed to answer a few questions for me here, adding a bit more insight into her and her work.

*****

1) What inspired you to first write poetry? You have been involved in other forms of writing (including play writing). Does poetry hold any special traits for you that other writings don’t have?

My grandmothers were grand sources of inspiration. My Strathroy grandmother knew many poems by heart (that delicious phrase!) which she would recite to me in a kind of incantatory lilt.  The sound transported me. My little Irish grandmother told me wild tales of legends that sparked my imagination into new realms of possibility, realms beyond my house and yard.

When my brother was born, my mother no longer had all the time in the world to read to me. So I memorized the nursery rhymes I loved. But that wasn’t enough; I wanted more. I tried to make sense of the black squiggles on the page until they slowly, finally, swam into meaning. What a discovery! It was pure magic to go from reading other people’s poems and stories to writing them myself. I would set up my dolls in a line on the couch and perform to this unfailingly attentive audience. Power to the reader! Power to the writer!”

What made me a poet? Curiosity. The thrill of adventure, of new worlds. I began piecing out the words to myself. I remember the thrill of pure magic when a word would leap into focus, into meaning. The black letters would assume a third dimension; they would dance. I could almost hear them speak to me directly. I was hooked. I wrote my first poem when I was six, excited and amazed at having created through apparent magic something out of nothing with marks on a page. I glimpsed a world in which words had a life of their own, just as toys did. I knew that if I could wake at the right time at night I would catch my toys at play. So too, I felt words could be surprised and fixed onto the page. If I listened closely enough, words would well up in my head and emerge as a poem.

Writing that first poem was the first time that I recall consciously feeling that I was doing an adult thing— creating something entirely on my own, assuming independence— growing up! I felt like the Little Red Hen in the nursery story: “‘I can do it myself,’ said The Little Red Hen, and she did.”

2) You recently sent me an advance copy of “Barbaric Cultural Practice.” (Thank you!) How long did it take you to write it? Is there any special hopes you have for the book?

Many of the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice have been culled from performance pieces that have been honed over many years and produced on CD/DVD, but not in book form till now. I’m grateful for family and friends’ encouragement en route and ongoing during the evolution of these poems. The list is long and extends back decades.

Poetry needs to be heard as well as read, so I have concentrated in recent years on audio renditions and videopoems in collaboration with Bill Gilliam, John Magyar, Dennis Siren and (always!) Gavin Stairs. How exciting to be able to offer links to video and audio performances of some of these poems through QR codes!

Several of the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice were provoked into being by political events; hence, the title. As an aging activist, I confront by words such issues as climate change and overwhelmingly new technologies. The poems juxtapose the stress of urban life as compared to nature’s round. The poems deal, for example, with the effect of computers on our psyche and with the imprint of electronic media upon perception, consciousness and dream life. Barbaric Cultural Practice pays tribute to our dear Mother World’s enchantments as well as her upheavals. Poetry is my response to the unprecedented complexities of our time.

3) (These next questions is one I know draws fear from other writers when I ask it here but I know some of my followers are eager to know an answer from you.) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

I read Canadian poetry and fiction, especially that which our library stocks. Daily, I scan “New Items” from London Library’s website! (Link to that page) Am reading a new edition of Mavis Gallant’s  A fairly good time: with green water, green sky as well as Ann Carson’s Red Doc>. Then on to Margaret Christakos’s Her Paraphernalias: on Motherlines, Sex/Blood/Loss & Selfies.

4) I know you have a reading event planned at Oxford Books on Oct. 11 but do you have any other reading events planned? Are public readings something you enjoy?

I do enjoy public readings. It’s a privilege to share the innermost source of poetry when performing. And I love to hear poets read their work: the timbre of voice precisely matches their written word. Once I’ve heard a poet read, that voice echoes in my mind when I next read the work.

Here are some upcoming events where I’ll be reading:

September 3, 1:30 – 4:30 p.m. With musician Bill Gilliam @ 2pm. Vino Rosso Bar & Restaurant. 995 Bay St., Toronto ON  M5S 3C4, 416 926-1800.

September 27, 8 pm. The Root Cellar, 623 Dundas St. E., London. Launch, Another London, Harmonia Press, harmoniapress@hotmail.com.

October 5, 7:30 p.m. Quattro Book Launch, Toronto, Supermarket Restaurant, 268 Augusta Ave. Free. Contact: info@quattrobooks.ca. Launch of Barbaric Cultural Practice.

October 7, 2016; Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)  features Paul Dutton and Penn, sound poets. The topic is streaming influences from the ’70’s. Host: Lillian Allen.

October 11, 7 pm. London launch of Barbaric Cultural Practice (Quattro Books). Oxford Book Shop, 262 Piccadilly Street, London N6A 1S4. Contact: Hilary bookorderprocessing@oxfordbookshop.com. Tel: 519-438-8336.

Saturday, October 15, 2016, 2 pm. Reading with Daniel Kolos, Antony Christie. The Garafraxa Café, 131 Garafraxa Street S, (Highway 6), Durham ON. Contact: danielkolos123@gmail.com (Link to The Garafraxa Café’s Facebook page)

5) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

My forthcoming play, The Triumph of Teresa Harris, originated in a short piece for London’s PlayWrights Cabaret at McManus Theatre in 2013. Then it was produced as an hour-long processional play at Eldon House Museum, with one actor and two musicians (co-artistic directors of Light of East Ensemble). More information about the original production, The Dream Life of Teresa Harris is up on https://teresaharrisdreamlife.wordpress.com/. There too are some reviews from the show. I am developing the play into a full length piece with ten or more characters for production at London’s Palace Theatre in March, 2017. The original musicians are participating in the play again.

Teresa Harris was born in 1839 at Eldon House and died in 1928 in England. She tells her amazing life story from her home here.  Born the youngest of a prosperous pioneer family intent on bettering itself, Teresa married a Scottish military man who promised to carry her off to foreign parts she had dreamed of all her life, sickly though she had always been.  Teresa’s story emerges through her own voice and that of her protective mother and her two husbands.  Research reveals that Teresa and her second husband St. George Littledale were the greatest English explorers of their period, travelling further into Asia than any Westerner had.

Hers is an historical life as mediated through my imagination. My visits to beautiful Eldon House brought the era alive.  It was easy to write from Teresa’s perspective since I identified with her and admired her adventurous spirit.  It was fun to imagine her desire to escape the strictures of family convention for more exotic locales. Having been raised in London in the Fifties, I felt the town hadn’t changed all that much from the colonial outpost it had been in Victorian times. It was still very Anglo and class-conscious, patterned upon London, England like a pale shadow of the Mother Country. At twenty-one, I too couldn’t wait to escape, to travel the world!  And I did. I was also happy to return to settle comfortably back in the house I grew up in after forty years away from London.

6) You seem to be active on both Facebook and Twitter. How do you like using those platforms in relation to your writing? Does your WordPress blog site also work well for your writing?

The platforms are a necessity for a working writer to spread the word… and sometimes they are an escape from writing: fun, as well! The virtual communities are engaging: who could have imagined being able to keep in touch with so many people at once. And folks can promote various causes on my (Facebook) group, Support and Promote Canadian Arts and Cultures.

7) You have travelled around the world and still call the London, Ontario, Canada area your home. How do you like living here?

See #5. Yes, London is home. I was born in Strathroy and raised in London. I belong here.

Are there cultural institutions here that you consider unique that inspire your writing? If yes, what are they?

As the City of London’s first Poet Laureate and as writer-in-residence for Creative Aging London, I was very involved in different aspects of the community. Several occasions prompted poems. Other poems were commissioned by groups such as ReForest London.

Western U. gave me a great grounding in literature as a student there. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed teaching classes in Continuing Ed., and as Writer-in-Residence, and hosting a radio show, Gathering Voices, at CHRW. (Link to CHRW’s webpage for “Gathering Voices”)

This fall, I will be working on aspects of the play, including publicity and marketing, with students from Western in the course, Canadian Literature, Creativity, and the Local, with a Community Engaged Learning component. Working with me in this applied learning opportunity, the students will cultivate links with Eldon House and The Palace as part of the project. (Link to the course outline from Western University’s online calendar)

A grant from the London Arts Council allows me to complete the writing of the play this Fall.

It’s been a joy to see several of my Sound Operas mounted at the grand Aeolian Hall and several short plays at the McManus Theatre.

I first became involved in publishing when a local publishing house, Applegarth Follies, asked me to be their poetry editor in 1977. (Josiah Applegarth was London’s first settler). While I edited Twelfth Key, the famous Brick Magazine was published alongside. Another offshoot of Applegarth was Brick Books, still publishing glorious poetry nation-wide some forty years later and still based in London!

*****

Link to Penn Kemp’s WordPress site

Link to Quattro Books website

Making Us Consider Our Actions | Discussion of Penn Kemp’s “Barbaric Cultural Practice”Quattro Books – To Be Launched Autumn 2016

penn-kemp
Image of Penn Kemp linked from her WordPress site

I had been in a bit of a funk with my blog last week. The summer months have been busy on other fronts for me, and my personal reading and reflection time has been somewhat limited. I had been trying to look forward to the autumn new releases in hopes of something invigorating for my mind would come forward. Then a message from Penn Kemp came via Facebook, asking if I would look and review her new book coming out in the fall. I agreed and I found myself enveloped in her Barbaric Cultural Practice. 

Penn Kemp is an icon in the cultural landscape. Her biography page on her blog states she has over 25 books of poetry and drama published, plus six plays and numerous works recorded on different electronic means. But this new work is brilliant in its form.

No doubt, many of us Canadians were shocked last year when the government used the term Barbaric Cultural Practices on several fronts to justify their actions. We were outraged by the term, elected the government out of office and, no doubt, didn’t give the term much thought since. But Kemp has done something enlightening for readers by using the term for this collection of poetry. She has crafted her personal thoughts and views in this work and given all of us something to consider about our own actions. As she told me in the email she sent me with the advance copy:   . . . the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice pay tribute to our dear Mother World’s enchantments as well as her upheavals. They confront the stresses of urban life as juxtaposed to nature’s round, and deal, for example, with the effect of computers on our psyche and with the imprint of electronic media upon perception, consciousness and dream life. They are a response to the need for action against climate change and a humorous protest against overwhelming technology.

The beauty of me reading poetry at this stage of my life is the admiration of thought and consideration of the human condition that writers of the form have. After spending numerous years attempting a career in the media field, turning to reading and considering literature has been an enlightening experience for me. Literature should cause a reader to consider their world and their actions in the world around them. Penn Kemp has done that for me with her collection  Barbaric Cultural Practice. No doubt I will be reading it again and quoting it here when it is published.

*****

Link to Penn Kemp’s WordPress site (which includes new works)

Link to Quattro Books website

Link to Oxford Book Shop in London, Ontario, Canada. On Tuesday, October 11, 2016 at 7 pm. Penn Kemp will be do a local launch of Barbaric Cultural Practice there.

 

 

The True Complexities of an Era | Review of “Real Gone” by Jim Christy (2010) Quattro Books

gone

We tend to hear about the simple things that make up a historical moment in time. Take the 1960s for example. For those of us who weren’t around to live through that era, we are bedazzled by simple images and concepts that made up that turbulent time. But we aren’t given insight of what the complexities and the difficulties of that time was like. That is the beauty of a good piece of literature. Through the eyes of a well-created protagonist, we can honestly understand what a time period was like. That is why Real Gone by Jim Christy is such a great read.

To San Francisco and back . . .  (Page 9-10)

That summer, anyone my age and Ellen’s age who considered themselves anti-establishment in any way or were inclined to adventure or who were simply after kicks would have been foolish not to go to San Francisco. Larry Demeter and his Italian girlfriend Laura Longo were all for it and so was Ted Rogel but he didn’t have a girlfriend. I suggested he drive up to New York and put an ad in the Psychedelicatessen on Tompkins Square. He showed up at my apartment on Elderidge Street and I took him over to the place; he pinned his note on the bulletin board ‘Chick wanted for trip to San Francisco! Must travel light’, and when he got back to West Chester, just outside of Philadelphia, there had been three or four calls.

The next day, Ted was again knocking on the door, and with him was a beautiful 22 year-old girl in high heels, tight black satin slacks and a flowery blouse. Her name was Dalia and she was wearing three or four necklaces, a dozen bracelets, had rings on every finger and on most of her toes. She was part Vegas showgirl, part hipster road chick. In other words, she was just my type. We looked at each other and it was like there was a magnetic field connecting us. We both said hello, got into the fishtail Plymouth, and from then on ignored each other until we got to California.

In South Carolina I’d heard music when we pulled over to get something out of the trunk and down the road saw a few black people go into the forest, followed minutes later by several more, all carrying boxes, baskets, bottles of booze. I went over and found the trail, and my companions reluctantly followed me into the piney woods. There were bonfires in a clearing, lanterns powered by car batteries and a pig turning on a spit. Four guys in suits and bib overalls were playing rhythm and blues that was fifteen years out of date and just the way I liked it. People looked but nobody hassled us. The alto sax was held together by electrician’s tape. It was as if time stood still in the woods; it was eternally 1948, and Wynonie Harris was at the top of the Race chart. But the music either bored my companions or they were afraid the darkies would get them. So we left the woods and emerged into July 1967, and back on the road. The long, long road to the coast, and all the way across the country, the big song on the radio had nothing to do with white rabbits or flowers in your hair; it was Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe.” It was the summer of love.

While it is a novella, Real Gone has a complex plot nonetheless. Readers travel with the protagonist through the turmoils and excitement that was America in 1967/68. We gain an honest understanding of the feelings and emotions of the time period, not just a saccharine review of those years.

To New Orleans and back . . . (Page 29)

“No, sir. I’m not in the Army and I don’t have to do anything you say.”

“When I get you in the back room, you’ll do what I say.”

While we were having our conversation, I glanced at the line of young men beyond him, many of whom looked over their shoulders with interest. I could see the fear in some of the faces. They didn’t want any port of the whoe deal. One fellow in particular, a tall, gangly black guy seemed particularly scared. I was nervour but I wasn’t afraid. I wanted to call to him, “Hey, man. It isn’t difficult. You don’t have to go in the Army.”

But who was I to say anything? What did I know? Perhaps he had no choice. It would be presumptuous of me to tell him: “Look around you. Look down the line. Three quarters of the others are brothers.Why fight for America when you can’t even get served in most restaurants despite some bullshit civil rights legislation that isn’t enforced anyway? Hell, I can’t get served in diners in this same state. You try going in and sitting down at the counter. What did America every do for you?”

He kept looking at me, just looking in my eyes, as if wondering what they’d do to me and how I’d handle it…

The book reviews several trends and events of the 1967-68 era but it is the interpretation of those events of the gives the books it’s true feel. Christy has a very simple style that makes the novella easy to read and comprehend.

Page 122-123

I drove to Atlantic City to see Charlie Leeds. I hadn’t seen him since he pretended to be jack Ruby’s brother. He was actually at home when I telephoned, at his mother’s house at 44 South Windsor Avenue. We arranged to meet on the Boardwalk neat the Steel Pier.

The season was over and boardwalk nearly deserted. The saltwater taffy shops and souvenir stands, the tawdry lean-tos that would make a carnie blush, were all boarded up. Charlie came down the boardwalk with a kind of hobbled glide and he seemed to be listing, because of the wind, I thought, and the briefcase he held in his other hand didn’t help to balance him. But no, it wasn’t the wind, that’s just the way he was.

We leaned against the rail, looked out at the angry gray ocean and Charlie told me that he too was going to prison. I knew he’d been arrested and I’d heard the details from Nanette, Ellen’s sister, and Charlie’s long time friend. I remember how four years earlier I had made the rounds of Atlantic City bars looking for this character that had become legendary in my mind. And soon I realized was legendary in fact. He had played with famous and infamous musicians beginning at the end of the big band era. Charlie Shavers, Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Stan Getz, Lennie Tristano and his great buddies Brew Moore and Joe Albany. Nanette and I finally ran into Charlie, two nights after we began the hunt, at a place called Cody’s Bar. He was playing his bass with a quartet on stage but he didn’t remain on the stage for long. He was so far gone into the music that he just fell over and onto the floor, working the strings the whole time. And he was a great writer, too.

Real Gone by Jim Christy is  an detailed look at life in 1967-68. The novella gives honest insight to that over-discussed era and is a insightful read.

Link to Quattro Books webpage for Real Gone

“I’m not going to get into whether I was a dope addict or if I lit fires or anything like that…but I will say that the book came from me sitting down and writing about a world I knew. ” | Q&A with author Jesse Gilmour.

Jesse Gilmour gave us The Green Hotel (Link to my review) which gave us insight to a reality that is bitter yet honest. Although a small novella, it contained some themes that many mainstream novels wouldn’t dare look at. Gilmour recently answered a few questions for me which provides insight not only to his writing but his character.

1)  You have quite the literary family. Was it difficult for you to write “The Green Hotel” with others in your family who have written books as well?

One of the main themes in The Green Hotel is competition. In the book the father and son are competing for life, for oxygen. In real life, I remember in my early twenties telling my mother, the wonderful actress Maggie Huculak, that I wasn’t competing with other writers my age – I was competing with my father. I think that was the proper course of action, too. One should set the bar as high as possible.

There were troubles that came along with that, though. My father was my main influence and favourite writer growing up, and there are parts of us that are quite similar, and so for a while there I found myself, consciously or sub-consciously, working the kind of subject matter that he’s generally been associated with. I stopped letting him look at my work when I was about twenty one because I’d take in his notes and start writing and all of a sudden this unmistakable tinnyness would come into the dialogue; the narrative, just hours before something organically mine would have distorted and I’d be hitting brick walls on almost every turn. I stopped discussing my work with him altogether by the age of twenty-two. I knew it was going to be difficult to break away from his influence but I knew it had to be done. Whatever’s left over, I’m comfortable with.

And finally there’s the paranoia. For about a solid year before the book came out I entertained fantasies of people yelling “nepotism!!” out of car windows. Pretty much the opposite’s been true. The book has been reviewed generously and it’s barely been brought up.

2) How has the reaction been to “The Green Hotel?” Any memorable responses you care to share?

The reaction to The Green Hotel has been pretty favourable right across the board. Good sales, good reviews – it seems to have deeply affected many young women I’ve spoken with. There really aren’t any women in the book, and I suppose The Green Hotel could be classified as a “young guy’s book” or whatever so that was a nice surprise. It also seems to have spoken to young men who don’t generally read. It’s no secret that our education system has a tendency to suck the joy, the mystery, the entertainment out of reading; and young guys today don’t have the strongest attention spans – so hearing things like “that’s the first book I’ve actually liked in ten years” makes me really, really happy.

I still don’t feel like I’ve been given my due as far as attention for the book.

I believe I should win The Giller or The G.G or both….and I’m not joking or being provocative when I say that.

3) Where did the inspiration for “The Green Hotel” come from? Did you do any research for the novella?

That’s always and interesting question and always a difficult one to answer.

There was an interesting article in Granta by Richard Ford entitled “Where does writing come from?” that anyone reading this should check out.

I’m not going to get into whether I was a dope addict or if I lit fires or anything like that…but I will say that the book came from me sitting down and writing about a world I knew. And then re-writing and re-writing until this odd, unexplainable electricity started to take over. Myself, I can feel it in my body when it’s happening: you’re being truthful, but you’re not telling the truth. You’ve hit a point where you’ve distanced yourself enough from the actual feelings behind the story so that their still alive yet malleable. I suppose you could say that you’re ‘distilling’ the truth. Catching these moments, these people, these situations, on the side – that’s where the electricity is, on the side, if that makes any sense.

5) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

Raymond Carver was the first writer that really affected me; where I’d put one of short-stories down and smoke a cigarette and feel kind of cozy and lost at the same time.

Cormac Mcarthy, especially Blood Meridian. He isn’t afraid to go after big terrain, big philosophy. I also really like the lack of humour in that book. Everything is a joke these days, there’s an undercurrent of irony to everything. It can disguise itself as intellectual superiority but when I read stuff like that I get the feeling that the writer (a) doesn’t really believe in anything (and who would want to read a book by someone like that?)

Or…and this is probably closer to the real situation, that they’re too scared too fall into cliché (which means they’re unable to accept that every story has been told…but not by you…”

So they’d rather polish irony in a corner somewhere until it’s gleaming and walk it around as if it actually fucking means something.

As Nietszsche said: write it in blood or save us the time.

Right now I’m going back and forth between Martin Amis’ The Information and Heather O’Neill’s The Girl who was Saturday Night – both of which I’m really digging.

Others of note: Ron Currie Jr. Ernest Hemingway, Leonard Michaels, Jules Lewis.

6) Have you participating in any public readings of “The Green Hotel?” Has it been the subject of any book club reading? If yes to any of those questions, what was the experience like for you? If no, is it an experience you would like to partake in?

I’ve done some readings. I enjoy them. And would do them again. The only issue is that I believe writers should be paid to do those things. Even at the very small level I’m at…it took me a while to get here and I think it’s just fair that I’m compensated.

7) You used Toronto as a setting for “The Green Hotel.” How do you like living there as a writer/playwright? Does it’s cultural scene offer you enough to engage you for your writing?

The manuscript was originally called “Toronto” but my publishers nixed it. They were right to.

Just the city’s name kind of explodes for me…I’m deeply, deeply connected to this city – but I’m a writer, and I grew up here, so I don’t think there’s much mystery there.

8) You seem to use both Facebook and Twitter a bit. How do you like using those platforms as a means of communication?

As an emerging artist; if you don’t have Facebook or Twitter…you don’t have a shot.

Necessary evil.

9) How did you get involved with Quattro Books?

My agent Sam Hiyate introduced me to Luciano and Allan. Those three guys saved my life.

10) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

I am working on something new. It’s been a real slog since the book came out and just in time for spring I hit something on the side…just the other day.

Link to Quattro Books page for The Green Hotel

Looking Beyond our own Realm | Review of “The Green Hotel” by Jesse Gilmour (2014) Quattro Books

hotel

Literature allows us to expand our perceptions into other people’s reality. We may think we understand what is going on in their lives but until a writer gives us the opportunity to immerse us into somebody else world, we are truly at a loss to understand what problems and issues they may have. Jesse Gilmour has given us a detailed glimpse into Toronto’s darker side with his novella The Green Hotel.

Page 11

We live in a two-floor loft a block away from Chinatown, but you can see it from the window in my room. In the day it’s depressing, figures moving too quickly, selling garbage. They strike me as the kind of people who wouldn’t help you even if you really needed it.

At night it’s pretty, though. It’s a mysterious place and even before we moved to the area I’d go there as a teenager, always at night, just to walk around and watch the people in the corridors of gambling halls and in the windows of the orange-lit restaurants. There were alleyways in Chinatown that seemed like they’d been there for hundreds of years. I’d sit in them alone and smoke cigarettes, and later on, I’d go there to drink.

Gilmour captured a bitter slice of reality with his protagonist Hayden and his suicidal father. They exist in a world of booze, drugs, and petty crime. But considering all the hopelessness that his life contains, he has small moments of profound thoughts that provide some glimmer in his life.

Page 48-49

One night I caught her praying in the bathroom – her hands clasped over the toilet seat. I’d never seen anyone pray before. At first I thought it was a joke. Like she was going to turn around and grin and say “gotcha!”

I was bartending the lunch shift at a sports bar on College Street at the time. They had pictures of Sylvester Stallone everywhere – not movie shots, they looked like personal photographs. Sly outside of a barn, Sly next to the refrigerator . . .

It was weird.

My shift ended around the time she finished school (she was taking philosophy at York) and almost every day after work I’d step out into the street with a pocketful of money and there she’d be on the patio, her green knapsack on the chair next to her, her hair in braids, smoking a cigarette and drinking something orange and sticky and glowing. The Portuguese guys would stare at her.

We’d go all over the city. We’d go to High Park or to Scarborough – anywhere we hadn’t been before. It didn’t matter, as long as it wasn’t Chinatown or Yonge and Eglinton. We’d find parks, usually. We’d find parks and kiss. She had a way of touching me that calmed things. It made me light-headed, dizzy almost.

Gilmour’s words here are both lyrical and frank at the same time. In that manner we understand both the quagmire that surrounds Hayden’s life and the beauty of what he desires. It is an easy read but one that is full of depth at the same time.

Page 55-56

In June one night, I came home from work and her mother was standing on the front porch in a rain jacket smoking a cigarette. She looked kind of sexy, her hair matted, her eyes dim. She told me she was sending Samantha to rehab in California. The place cost twenty thousand dollars. She was leaving in three days. I asked if I could go upstairs and see her. No, she was sleeping. I had to leave, now.

I still remember the consecutive amount of raindrops vibrating through my work fleece when it hit me.

I wandered around for a little while and then I went back to my father’s. I hadn’t seen him, or spoken to him for more than a year. I passed the abandoned house on the way up my old street. Our door was open.

He was sitting on the couch in his boxers with one sock on, The X Files on television. He looked okay, he had colour in his face and the house was clean. The was a poster of Britney Spears in a schoolgirl’s uniform on the wall in the kitchen.

I told him what had happened; he nodded like he already knew.

I asked him what was going to happen to me, now that she was gone.

“Of course it’s raining, right?” he said.

I went into the kitchen and made myself a pop tart – then I went back into the living room and asked him if he wanted to paint me.

He said, as we moved into this study, that he had taken nine sleeping pills and drunk eight beers – and for the first time, in a long time, he felt really good.

The Green Hotel by Jesse Gilmour gives great insight to a reality that many of us may not be familiar with. Filled with frank and lyrical writing, it is a novella worth the read.

Link to Quattro Books page for The Green Hotel

The Difficulties of being Transgendered in Today’s Society | Review of “Jazz” by Elizabeth Copeland (2014) Quattro Books

jazz

Being an adolescent today is a tough place to find oneself in. Trying to be yourself with all the rules, norms, expectations and stereotypes that exist in modern society is frustrating at the best of times. Yet imagine being an adolescent and being trapped in the wrong body type. The confusion and frustration of a transgendered youth trying to find their place in the world is insurmountable. Elizabeth Copeland has given us some insight to the problems of such a youth with her novel Jazz.

Page 15

I see my reflection in a window outside of Zellers. With my hair short, I may just have a chance in hell of passing as a guy.

I jump on the bus. Find a seat in the back where I can sit alone. Where I can think. Where I can enjoy this final ride from my past into my future.

I swallow the knot of fear that sits like a golf ball in my throat. Time to take stock of what I have. I dig down into my back pocket. Feel the envelope that was Auntie’s gift. Pull it out. Rip it open and count. One hundred dollars.

What else do I have? Three tokens. A ten-dollar bill. Two loonies. Three quarters and a dime. A penknife. My library card. My health card. My cell phone. Half-charged. And no charger.

I check the pockets of the black windbreaker. Five dollars. A few pennies. A coupon for Burger King. A half pack of Trident gum. Mint. And a paperback.

On the subway platform, I flip open the book and begin to read. Perfect. A book about Thomas Cromwell. Overarching ambition. Nefarious plotting. Betrayal. All leading to a rise to power, and then. Off with his head! A bad omen. I leave it on a seat in the subway car when I get off at Yonge station.

Copeland has given us great insight though her telling of the story of Jazz. Being born a boy in a girl’s body, Jazz makes his way from the suburbs to the downtown core to find an identity that is more suited for his emotions. Along the way, Jazz deals with a collection of people – employers, social workers, street people, roommates, – that makes Jazz’s odyssey a combination of heartache and humour can’t be forgotten.

Page 29

The coffee tastes bitter. But’s it’s free. No cream or mil. Just powdered creamer. Mixed with three teaspoons of white sugar, it’s not so bad. I slip two packages of Dad’s cookies in my jacket pocket. For later.

Revived by caffeine and sugar, I start in on the form. The first page is basic stuff. Name. Jazz Gupta. Address. The streets. Phone. My cell. Employed. No. I added three years to my age. Scribbled in my Medicare number. My medical history as best I could remember it. Reason for your visit? To be discussed.

Another swig of coffee. This stuff grows on you. I turn the page. Hold up. These are pretty personal questions. Had I experienced any early childhood trauma? Was I sexually active? If so, in a committed relationship or with multiple partners? Had I ever suffered from depression? Been diagnosed with a metal illness? Been hospitalized? Had I ever tried to commit suicide? To all of them I answer – none of your business. Then scratch it out. Better to leave it blank.

The language in the book is simple and frank – perfect for describing the world around Jazz. We empathize with him as we witness the trials, the pitfalls and the joys the frustrated youth endures to achieve his new identity. Readers gain an understanding of transgendered individuals no matter who they are or where they live.

Page 73

I’m back sleeping on the cot at the back of the salon. From the frying pan into the fire.

Sister Mary is nowhere to be found. When I call her office, Carrot-top says that she is unavailable. Yah right.

Rosa finished her course at the ballet school, and has gone home to her boyfriend in Kingston. What an idiot I am. I should have known better than to think a girl like that could want me.

Kim is not happy to have me back and is getting on my last nerve. Always making snide comments. Sticking in the knife.

“You’re late. Your attitude sucks. You need to get it together.”

And my favourite one. “Are you stoned?” Hell yah.

Jazz by Elizabeth Copeland enlightens readers about the world of today’s transgendered youth. It is a novella that uses frank and bold language to tells it’s bold tale. A stunning read.

*****

Link to Quattro’s Books page for Jazz

“I was most pleasantly surprised by the humour that was found in it.” | Q&A with novelist Cassandra Cronenberg

It is amazing the things I find in the “New Releases” sections of bookstores and libraries. That is where I discovered Cassandra Cronenberg novella Down The Street. (Link to my review) In it, Cronenberg has brought forward a familiar tale of so many people we know and witness going through a mental and emotional crisis. A brilliant yet complex book, it attempts to enlighten us to grasp what is going on with so many family members and friends we have seen go through a meltdown yet are unable to help. Cronenberg answered a few questions for me via email recently

*****

1) How has the reaction been to “Down The Street” been since it was released? Have there been any memorable responses to it you care to share?

A: Very good, I think. I have been very happy with the response. Yes, I guess I was most pleasantly surprised by the humour that was found in it. And some one said the main character was sweet and vicious, I think she said.

2)  Your bio page on your website lists you as “painter, writer and filmmaker.” Is writing something you enjoy doing as compared as the two other endeavours you partake in? 

A: Yes, I do enjoy writing very much. Writing and painting.

3) The cover art of “Down The Street” is listed as something you did. Is it a piece you did specifically for the book? 

A: No, not in it’s original form. I did however, photograph the original piece in black and white for the book and then they cropped it and turned it upside down. I’m very happy with the cover. They did a great job.

4) How did you get involved with Quattro Books?

A writer friend of mine suggested that I send to them.

5) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

Salinger, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Paul Auster, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Silvia Plath, Virginia Wolf, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (although I haven’t read very much of the last three), Margaret Atwood’s early work, some Timothy Findley, Robertson Davies, Henry Miller, Anais Nin. Also Stephen King

I just started re-reading Head Hunter and recently read Jesse Gilmour’s book, The Green Hotel, which is very good, also published by Quattro Fiction, and my father’s book Consumed.

6) Have you done any public readings for “Down The Street?” Has it been used for any reading circles or book clubs? If yes to any of those questions, how did you feel in participating in those events. If no, is it something you would like to partake in?

A: Yes, two public readings and one on the radio. No book clubs as of yet. Yes, I learned a lot about my writing giving readings.

7) Are you working on any new fiction right now? If yes, are there details you can share? If no, why not? 

A: No. That’s a difficult question to answer; it’s all interconnected right now. And at the beginning, so to speak.

8) You seem to have an active role on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. How do you like your experience with those programs?

A: Social media is an interesting tool. I have grown using these platforms; there are also many holes one can fall down. I think it can help when the work you do is mainly solitary. It also stores my information and reflects it back, and you can edit it! It is a bit of a trap as far as self-promotion goes, however.

9) You opened the book with the phrase “No characters or events are based on any reality” yet it seems that Itessa is such a familiar figure. Where did the notion of her come from?

A: Her name came from a Music Dictionary I picked up second hand, originally it was Istessa, it is an Italian word for tempo. And then I dropped the s. It’s funny because she doesn’t have an iphone or anything, so she really is Itessa before all of that, she is just discovering the on-line world really. That phrase is kind of a disclaimer and facetious at the same time.

10) The narrative of “Down The Street” in not a common one for most novels. Is the term ‘streams of consciousness’ the right term for the type for the book. Was it difficult to write in that style?

A: I think “streams of consciousness” is exactly right although my editor wasn’t so sure either, which still confuses me. It was very easy to write like that.

******

Link to Cassandra Cronenberg’s website

Link to Quattro Books page for Down The Street

What is she thinking? | Review of “Down The Street” by Cassandra Cronenberg (2014) Quattro Books

Street

We all have that friend who starts to act dangerously irrational. We all have looked at them at wondered at what they are thinking as they act and do odd things. Cassandra Cronenberg has given us insight into one such mind as it starts to go through a mental breakdown in her novella Down The Street.

Page 7

DOWN THE STREET, on the street, these lyrics can’t be beat. This is my head don’t destroy it. “I gotta place to be to be,” he said. “I gotta place to be,” he said, bouncing along the street as he often did and always did and always did before and forever. This is the way he walks; this is the way he walks. He/she, he/she, he/she, this is where it is, the never-ending flow, why does there have to be finality? Why doe there have to be a finality? Can it not keep going? Can it not keep going?

“THIS IS SHE.”

This is a girl’s life, the life of a girl, not the life of this hustler, this hustler who is on the street doing coke, living to the beat, coughing and cursing and hurting, this is not his life this is my life. This is my life now. “What do you want?” he said to me once and I crossed my hands in front of me and back out and jutted my chin to him and he said, “I’ll remember that for next time.” A fight, I wanted a fight

While this book is only 142 pages, it is a complex novella and shouldn’t be rushed through. Cronenberg goes from one thought to the next (known as streams of consciousness) of the protagonist as she deals with not only the collapse of her marriage and the raising of her children but deals with her desires and her impulses. The language is frank and bold yet not too complex.

Page 49

That night in bed I had a fever and it was like my shoulder was dislocated. I started on antibiotics the next day.  At first I thought I had completely fucked everything up by that last visit and I could never go in and would have to move and never go in again and that destroyed me, although someday to live in the Annex would be cool, not now though, my community was here and the thought of not dating him was fine because we were already together. I am abstaining from sex anyway, so . . . I do need his music though.

My friend who has been trying to bag the boys at Terroni jinxed me by saying, “Remember when you made me that mixed tape?” to one of them. Now she just works/lives there, every meeting, etc.,  but I now know we are special to each other and a mixed tape still signifies something special, as does dinner; if he made me dinner, I would just about die. His boss was right. “I bet you want that (blank fill in the words) now don’t you?” Yes, I want the tape and the dinner, yes, yes I do. How are we going to get there?

We seek cultural items out to give us quick answers and that is a mistake. We should be engaging culture to give us an insight – if not an understanding – of subjects around us. That is what Cronenberg has done with this novella, given us an insight into a mind of somebody we have pondered about – an ex-girlfriend, a sister, a friend, a daughter, whatever. We can’t have easy answers to our complex lives but we can have a bit of insight to the thoughts of others.

Page 80

The Conversation with my ex was the first we had had that was good in a while, really good, about the girls, and I was, am, stoned. There you go, women in need or pot to get in touch with their emotions. Well, I needed that for sure.

Shit, I’m old. I’m too old. That woman at the counter, in the coffee shop, even if my coffee friend talked about me to her and the “hi” was because I was standing there and he didn’t think I would come in. He needs to be with someone young like himself. I am too old, I’m having a midlife crisis, perhaps; I mean the thought had crossed my mind. Going through all the boys and men in my life, and they are young.

“Night and day,” he said, as he followed my gaze out the window to a mother and daughter running together. Running with the girls and not.

Down The Street by Cassandra Cronenberg is a complex novella that gives insight to a confused mind to somebody we all know. A brilliant and bold read that is frank in it’s language. A great piece of literature.

Link to Cassandra Cronenberg’s website

Link to Quattro Books page for “Down The Street”