Author & Teacher

The universe speaks…in others’ tongues…

The most beautiful of Northern Lakes

After reading Dave Bidini‘s summary article about Wordfest 2010 in the the NP, I wondered how a wrap-up from the point-of-view of an attendee – a wannabe writer – would look. It’s not as exciting or funny as Bidini’s account…no one could be that witty. Except Will Ferguson, of course.

Heidi and I go on Thursday night-Great authors with the fabulous addition of the WF house band.  Jack Hodgins – true to form, he circles us, herding us along the path he chooses, cello playing softly in the background. And who is this Drew Hayden-Taylor? Hilarious reading of Sweetgrass and Motorcycles. (Review to come on FFF) Dave Bidini reads from the book that I know will be my father’s perfect Christmas present. Will Ferguson kills, as always. We’re nothing if not loyal to our Western writers! Alberto Ruy-Sanchez, a Mexican author obsessed with desire, tells a fabulous tale about goats and trees – no, goats IN trees! His reading of sexual Haiku with the help of Moe, the WF guitarist is a highlight of the night.

Then come the poets. Susana Cook (who I believe is the Argentinian poet referenced in the NP piece) blows the crowd away with her bombastic delivery of a rant against hypocritical haters of homosexuals – and cookers of upside-down lamb. (I saw her in Banff, and tiny as she is, she is absolutely, gorgeously, formidable.) C.R. Avery sucks us in with a sweet little ditty about a hockey arena and being famous, then brings the house down with his rollicking song about oral sex –  shamelessly accompanied by…his harmonica. (Heidi and I agree-we will never hear a harmonica the same way again.) Marc Berube, great singer – leaves the audience sidestepping puddles of evoked emotion all over the floor. Shane Koyczan, the Olympic poet, recites a lovely poem about his first girlfriend’s father palming him a condom before he takes her out. Then he joins with his two old travelling buddies Avery and Berube for a song that has the whole crowd singing along-I’m gonna be something-But I don’t know what.

The next day, more great writers, but who is that, here to hear Steven Heighton read? Peter E., from our summer writing class. Good to see him. And Saturday, another member of the writing group-Devilio- shows up. As we wait for the doors to open, a man named Rick waits with us. He wears a bright orange porkpie hat. Devilio wants it. He starts bargaining – his ticket, my scarf…nope Rick is having none of it. This hat is lucky, so lucky he bought three. But they are still friends, and soon they are crooning Old Man River in double-deep baritone. The whole damn song.

Melanie joins me Saturday night in Banff for the Paul Quarrington tribute. We find ourselves seated next to Alberto Ruy-Sanchez. We try to keep him talking in that sexy Spanish accent. He tells us a story of his research for his books on desire.

“I invited my friends over and asked them ‘Who was your best lover and who was your worst?'” He laughs. “It was funny, one person’s best was another person’s worst.” We laugh. “For the same reason!” More laughter. Then he reaches over and touches both of our arms. “No! The worst part is, that lover was me!” Which is how I come to be wiping mirth from my eyes as the lights dim and the tribute begins.

Peter Oliva kicks off the evening by reading a piece he showed me soon after PQ’s death. It’s funny and wistful. And perfect. Peter is the ultimate performer. Like Hodgins, he’ll get you there, but the it’s the ride that takes your breath away. He’s done it every time I’ve seen him read.

Paul’s band The Porkbelly Futures are fabulous.

Later, Mel and I tag along with a few authors for a glass of wine at the bar and then crash the hospitality suite. We’re invited in by two of the writers, but we don’t stay long. (Look, it’s Drew Hayden Taylor on the couch! Must speak to him! But no….It feels odd and sycophantic to be there, and emotions are running high among the authors and publishers after the memorial.) I congratulate Peter on his fantastic reading and Mel and I hightail it out of there, back to Canmore where we drink better wine than the swill the authors are being served and scarf down some damn good Brie with crackers.

Finally, Sunday, Curtain Call. And this is where the universe comes in. Tomson Highway performs. He attended the residential school in The Pas that was only a mile or two from where my novel is set. He sits down at a grand piano and plays a composition that is all about the beauty of the lakes of Northern Manitoba. My novel is about the most beautiful of Northern Manitoba lakes. Drew Hayden-Taylor wrote of being a blue-eyed Indian. Well, my novel’s main character? Blue-eyed. Half Dene. Add in an offhand comment from Steve Heighton – or maybe not so offhand, knowing him- “I’ve never regretted cutting anything.” This after I told him I hacked the whole first half of my novel and started over. And, Peter O., ever the mentor, gives me a November 15 deadline. Firm.

The universe speaks. Time to get my ass in gear.

Book of the Week-Motorcyles and Sweetgrass – Drew Hayden Taylor

Song of the Week- The Sage, the Dancer and the Fool – Tomson Highway

Leave a Reply