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Fifth Issue of Our Literary Journal Foment

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Home Schooling (Part 2)
by Carol Windley

Home Schooling  Part 2

cStories eBook Single by Carol Windley

From the original collection " Home Schooling "

Published by Cormorant Books

(cStories eBook Single ...continued from ) ... Harold’s school was, or had been, called Miramonte. When they first came here Annabel had discovered the name carved into a rock near the front gates. When she’d shown it to Harold, he’d said how interesting: the apartment building where he’d lived in San Jose, the auspicious year he’d met their mother, was called the Miramonte. He’d considered the coincidence a good omen. He’d called to Nori, who had been up near the house hanging laundry out on a clothesline, to come and see. She’d picked Mika up and walked down the driveway to where Harold and Annabel were standing. “I remember that apartment,” she’d said. She’d handed Mika to Harold and had drawn a finger lightly over the carved letters, then wiped her hand on her jeans. “It isn’t a name I’d pick,” she’d said, her voice cool.

“What would you pick?” Harold had asked. Nori had said she didn’t have time to think about it. She’d taken Mika from Harold — Mika was still a baby, less than a year old, when they came to the island — and trudged back up the drive to the waiting basket of cold, wet laundry. Harold had brushed dust and grass seed off the rock. The name shone out at him, a light in darkness, Annabel could see, although in truth the letters were weathered, malformed, with a dark greenish tincture, like verdigris on copper.

Annabelle saw first the woman’s hands, bruised and scratched from her work. Then she saw her laced-up shoes, blunt at the toes, with rundown heels and draggled laces. The woman’s unruly reddish hair tumbled from under a rain-spotted, wide-brimmed hat. She crouched near the rock. I gave our home this name, she seemed to say. Another time, the woman stood in the field near the forest, not alone, but with a companion. Annabel saw them and they saw her, she knew they did. Their names were Jane and Fredericka. Their story went something like this: in the early 1930s they came to the island and purchased five acres of low-lying land on Mariner Road, where they built a house, the same house Annabel lived in now. Jane, it was said, had been escaping a jealous husband — and a child, according to some versions of the story — and Fredericka, who was called Freddy, had given up a promising career in the civil service to be with Jane. On the island they could walk arm in arm along the beach, go skinny-dipping, hold hands outdoors, run through the grass with their hair streaming in the wind, their faces flushed with exertion and laughter. They could do as they pleased, with no one to give them curious looks, not that they would have cared.

Jane shot wild ducks and quail. Freddy dug clams at low tide and kept chickens and acquired an amphibious car that she navigated across the channel to town when she needed to stock up on supplies. Annabel knew these things about Fredericka and Jane because Patrick had told her. When he was six years old, Jane and Freddy would let him feed their chickens and play with the newborn kittens in a cardboard box on the back porch. They’d invited him to their house and fed him treacly oatmeal cookies that stuck to his teeth. They poured glasses of homemade blackberry cordial, sunlight reflected like clotted cream in its murky depths. Iron pots the size of cauldrons simmering on the stove, a mousetrap in a corner, a Westminster clock that chimed the quarter hours.

... continued on




Home Schooling (Part 1)
by Carol Windley

Home Schooling  (Part 1)

cStories eBook Single by Carol Windley

From the original collection " Home Schooling "

Published by Cormorant Books


It began with three sisters who lived in a cottage beside the sea. Except the cottage wasn’t beside the sea, it was some distance away, and it wasn’t a cottage, it was an old farmhouse, and the farm was no longer a farm, it was a boarding school. Then something happened, a tragic, unforeseeable accident. One night a boy called Randal walked out of his dormitory and was found some hours later in the salt marsh. He had drowned. Less than three years after it had opened, the school closed. On a cold April day parents began arriving to collect their children. At first they refused to speak to the school’s principal, Harold Dorland. Annabel and Sophie saw their father trying to placate the parents. They heard him pleading for understanding, a little consideration, a little time. He was waved angrily away. The parents mentioned their lawyers. They accused Harold of incompetence, misconduct, negligence. Harold reeled. A cold wind stirred the trees; rain began to fall. The parents got in their cars with their children and drove to the wharf, where they caught the ferry back to Vancouver Island. And then the school reverted to a farm on which very little farming ever got done.

Sometimes, in the weeks that followed, Annabel and Sophie looked in the windows of the deserted dormitories, at the cots stripped bare, locker doors hanging open, nothing inside but dust and cobwebs and mouse turds. Annabel missed the children. She missed their laughter, their silly jokes, their earnestness and ineffable patience. Just children, and yet how patient they’d been with Harold’s pedagogy, which he insisted wasn’t pedagogy, but a flamboyant careless engagement with life’s unevenness and unpredictability and wildness. Wildness tamed, that was, lined-up and biddable, waiting for further instruction before ripping itself loose and going on a rampage.

“Everything this family does is doomed,” Sophie said. In her opinion, the school would have failed even if Randal hadn’t drowned. Anyway, he’d only done it to get Nori’s attention and sympathy, she said, and for that she’d never forgive him. Sophie could say anything and get away with it, because she was Sophie, with her precise, delicate beauty and her formidable musical talent. Annabel might at times almost hate her sister, but she also loved her. They were, after all, marooned together on this stupid island with no television or movies and they couldn’t afford new clothes and, since they were small, they’d been taught at home by Harold and Nori and had only ever had each other for company. Poor darlings, Sophie liked to say, of her and Annabel. She meant it.

... (continued on )


Ladykiller (Part 2)
by Charlotte Gill

Ladykiller (Part 2)

cStories eBook Single by Charlotte Gill

From the original collection   Ladykiller
Published by Thomas Allen Publishers

(cStories eBook Single ...continued from ) Gary continues on, waiting until he’s put the lengths of a dozen cars between them before giving her an over-the-shoulder glance. She’s looking straight at him with an expression he’s seen many times before – halfway between amusement and outrage. He quickens his pace and disappears around the bulkhead before he invites more trouble than can be refused.

The stock rooms, the service elevators, the fire stairs, the airport bathrooms, the least frequented wings of public places, the unvisited hallways of the mind. On some occasions there’s more, sometimes just this – an unknown female, whiffs of hope and relief, a feeling of continuous arrival.

Gary travels back to the car, enjoying the soft pause in his thoughts. Across the water is their island destination, cloaked in rain shadow. He looks out at the horizon where the sky turns pink, and he remembers what it’s like to be free.

The ferry nudges up against land and disgorges their car. Gary relinquishes the driving to Roz. The traffic around the terminal is heinous and claustrophobic, the streets rampant with roadside convenience. Wal-Mart, Canadian Tire, Over-waitea Foods. Everyone shopping, eating fast food, driving, parking, making mountains of garbage. Home – he could rip off his shirt, run screaming into the ocean and begin the swim back to the mainland.

As soon as the tires hit the highway, Gary says, “Let me out.”


“I can’t go,” he says. “Let me out. On the corner will be fine.” He points at the curb where a guy battles the weather in a clown suit, between the planks of a sandwich board advertising roses.

Roz swerves over onto the shoulder and squeaks to a halt. Gary reaches for the door. But before he can make his escape Roz has her finger on the button. All four door locks ratchet down. They sit there for a time with the engine idling, the muffler puffing smoke. He can feel her gaze burning into the side of his face.

Gary undoes his seat belt. He elbows into the space between the steering wheel and her chest and hits the autolock on her armrest. He opens the door and sets his foot down on the pavement.

“What will you do? Call up one of your old girlfriends and see if she’ll give you a ride?” Roz has her sunglasses on though the day is grey and sloppy.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Gary asks.

“Don’t be stupid,” she says.

Ah, he thinks. And there it is again. Lurking in their conversations like a butcher knife at the bottom of the dishwater. His extra life, snug and seamless, has caught on the keen edge of Roz’s attention. Roz knows – though she can’t prove a thing. She smells guilt on his breath, on all his clothes. Other women. Sidelines and diversions. They roll around in his thoughts like foreign words, like the crimes of other people.

Roz says, “If you get out now I’ll circle around the corner. I’ll hunt you down with my bumper.”

... continued on




Ladykiller (Part 1)
by Charlotte Gill

Ladykiller (Part 1)

cStories eBook Single by Charlotte Gill
From the original collection  
Published by Thomas Allen Publishers


They embark in Roz’s car, a practical sedan of foreign make from a design phase when cars were built to look like cigarette packaging, streamlined and boxy at the same time. It’s raining, yet even more wintry inside the car. Gary drives. They don’t talk. They don’t even listen to music. They sit in their silence as psychic snow drifts up against the windows. Roz looks straight ahead, cracking her ankle every few minutes, then slapping her glove like a leather tongue against her lap. The highway passes underneath them, slick and black. Water shushes in the tire wells.

Three days before Christmas, the next-to-shortest day of the year. Holiday traffic is backed up a million miles from the ferry terminal. Roz insisted they leave at this hour. Gary had wanted to sleep late. Now she looks straight ahead with her legs crossed and her hands intermeshed. A satisfied frown at the corners of her mouth like, who was he to doubt her? Workers with flashlights and high-viz vests direct traffic onto the shoulder of the highway. They permit a strip of this millipede to crawl off the boats. The sky goes a fecund shade of eggplant. Clouds, the possible sun.

Roz wants to go up to the top decks. She gives him a sort of kiss-off with her middle and index fingers.

Gary stays behind in the car with a newspaper spread over the wheel. Roz has left him alone and a thin film of worry coats all of his thoughts. In his chest, the press of amorphous dread. He runs his eyes over chunks of text, his mind absorbing nothing. They are on their way to his mother’s, Gary’s boyhood home. The visit looms. A boredom verging on anxiety. It drives him out from seclusion onto the vehicle deck in search of some visual distraction.

The ferry’s hold is like the gut of a giant mechanical behemoth. The walls and the floor are grimed over with grey-brown soot. Cars and trucks packed bumper to bumper, lit by caged fluorescent tubes. He prowls the rows. Underneath him the boat engines rumble.

Few passengers remain down below. Poodles left behind, yapping at inched-down windows. His eye is drawn to the interior of a sedan where a girl dozes on a reclined seat with her back to the door. Headphones, a rectangle of exposed skin, low-riding pants, coloured thong floss peeping over the waistband. Gary collects the visuals, then veers towards the ferry’s outer edges where a stiff sea wind pours in.

There he catches sight of a sheet of billowing hair, a woman leaning out over the railing. Blonde, from a bottle, he can tell from its flat lustre. She wears a cropped silver parka of the variety worn by cheerleaders – an amenable sign. He surveys the curves and contours of her lower half, and finding himself pleased, tucks into the narrow strip between the cars and the railing to further his investigations. She has her elbow propped on the railing and her chin in her hand, and she looks out at the sea, he thinks, wistfully. She ignores his approach. It only serves to encourage him. His stride grows energetic, his shoulders lift – with each step closer he’s starting something. A motion, like a sneeze, that can’t be stopped once triggered.

Gary swoops and dives. He takes his hands out of his pockets, and as he squeezes past her, grazes his knuckles across her sacrum. He skims his nose through her hair, which smells of vanilla and showered wetness. Sensations penetrate like X-rays, his bones lit up with strange touch. Then the contact breaks and the world flattens out again. He sweeps and passes through.


... continued on



Slow Motion: Jeff Rubin and the End of Growth

Former Chief Economist and Managing Director of CIBC World Markets, Jeff Rubin spoke to a mid-sized crowd on a Friday evening at Southminster United Church to promote his new book, The End of Growth , but the discussion was about much more, often referring back to his first book, Why Your World Is About To Get A Whole Lot Smaller . Rubin was an engaging speaker, a story-teller able to describe economics in laymen’s terms; sparking very thoughtful audience questions and handling them with poise and confidence: speaking of the future as if it is a sure thing. He makes thoughtful, well-reasoned arguments in favour of his predictions, but ultimately, he is predicting the future, and thus could stand to be proven wrong (or right) in the years to come.


The general premise of his argument is that higher oil prices, a necessity given that the world’s current oil supplies cost more to take out of the ground than they yield in profit, will lead to the end of growth. Rubin outlined how globalization has been made possible by affordable oil. Oil is the source of transportation and without transportation, globalization would not exist. He further pointed out the rise in oil prices will make shipping goods from around the world no longer the most cost effective way of producing and distributing the things that we use on a day to day basis. He predicts this leading to more manufacturing locally and a return to the economy pre-globalization.


Rubin predicts that the means to dealing with this will involve things like job-sharing and adjusting our expectations of a reasonable standard of living. To quote Rubin on this, “Perhaps it is better to learn to do with less than always wanting more.” He notes that we can’t keep pace with the physical demands that we are making of the world. While I agree that we want too much and that these would be superb ways of equalizing out resources, it seems highly unlikely that in the competitive and materialistic culture that we currently live in that people will willingly accept living on less in the interests of the whole.


Until this happens, Rubin predicts regular bubble and bust cycles, all related to oil poking the bubbles, which will be made worse by the lack of financial regulation; which he (correctly I believe) identifies as a major problem. When banks can gamble with people’s investments without fear, knowing they can pass losses off on their millions of customers - we all lose. Rubin is a promoter of more regulation and a return to the days when those managing investments must back them up with their own money. On this point, I whole-heartedly agree, but unfortunately, getting these rules changed will be an uphill battle given the power of the people who maintain them.


While Rubin predicts that prices will force this cycle to end because the people will rise up and demand change, I have my doubts. The government has already hit some legal blocks in their attempt to bring about some more regulation, and I would imagine that they will likely hit more in the future. He puts a lot of faith in prices, and while his arguments do have some merits, they may be an overly simplistic view of the economic picture. It would be interesting to hear him debate this point (and his others) with fellow economists.


An audience member raised the point that the majority of money in the economy is out of the hands of the majority of people, floating around in financial transactions and not being put to any real use. The audience member called for taxation of this money in order to spread the world’s resources around so that we all can survive and thrive in the world and perhaps if this was the case, then growth might still be possible. Her point was very well received by the crowd. Rubin appeared to be in agreement about getting that money out of the financial realm and into the hands of the people, but he failed to answer as to whether this would permit some growth.


A difference of philosophy between Rubin’s world-view and that of the mainstream, and especially certain other economists, emerges. Economics is founded on the premise of growth. The discipline strives to find ways to maximize this growth. But Rubin raises the ultimate question: how will we re-think economics when we remove the growth factor? Ultimately, only time will tell.


The Namesake


With a sun-splashed spring evening in full strut outside, those who gathered within Southminster United Church for the first post-festival event could be forgiven for missing the patio. For they were more than compensated by the regal, radiant Nazanin Afshin-Jam; here to promote her book The Tale of Two Nazanins , which she co-wrote with the esteemed writer and journalist, Susan McClelland.


While her profile is outsize – she is after all a former Miss Canada and a recording artist – it is her efforts to be a humanitarian, tinted with earnestness, which really sustains her listeners' receptivity. Nazanin begins by sharing the all-too-familiar story of the flight of Iranian dissidents after that country's Islamic Revolution of 1979, with all its ensuing disappointments. Having a father who managed Tehran's Sheraton, what with all its mingling, boozing and fun, did little to bestow any favours from the new theocratic regime and its imposed morals. It was only the twist of fate, whereby her tortured, impisoned father's executor met with a car accident; allow a window of opportunity for Nazanin's family to flee Iran to Canada, by way of Spain.


“A senstive child”, Nazanin displayed early signs of activism and empathy. She undertook a political science and international relations degree, in her adopted home of Vancouver, at UBC. Lucky the person to whom it falls a clear clarion call to pursue justice. Nazanin's involvement with her namesake in Iran – the Kurdish teenager Nazanin Fatehi – began with a chance reading of an e-mail from a stranger (whose message apparently and thankfully got through the spam filter) who shared the story of this young girl's tragic entanglement.


Nazanin Fatehi's lot was to be born in a culture where women face the stark alternatives of being a hidden, voiceless womb or a dishonorable whore; the judgement solely and sternly asserted by the men in their lives. As it happened, the 17 year old and her 15 year old niece were strolling in a park when a gang of three thuggish men harrased and attempted to rape the young girls. In the ensuing struggle, Fatehi managed to stab one of her assailants, leading to his death. For the alleged 'crime' of self-defence, the still teenaged Nazanin Fatehi, was sentenced to death for murder.


Under international law – to which Iran is a signatory – the execution of any person(s) under the age of 18 is illegal. However, Islamic law as applied by the state of Iran supersedes any “man-made” laws. This wrong-hearted judiciary system not only holds a girl of 9 criminally responsible, it also adds insult to injury by alloting half-weight to the testimony of a woman. To corroborate a woman's accusation of rape, the testimony of four men of good standing is mandatory (leading one to wonder what men of “good standing” were doing in idly observing a rape occur in the first place). The suffocating, shallow strain of shame and honour deeply distorts the worldview of many – savaging the lives of both women and men.


Nazanin immediately felt drawn to get involved and help Fatehi from prison. There is a type of boldness in taking on a powerful regime which is commendable. Nazanin did face anonymous threats regarding her campaign to free Fatehi. Nazanin pressed on: a petition to force the government of Iran to grant a stay on the execution, netted over 350,000 signatures. Engaging the European Parliament and the United Nations to place pressure resulted in exoneration of Fatehi of murder charges; but not before a bail of $40,ooo had to be paid. Apparently, two out of five judges did completely clear Fatehi sans bail; a glimmer of a humaneness that exists even within Iran's legal system. Descriptions of Fatehi's treatment in prison brought to the fore jarring images from the film Incendies . A now liberated Fatehi, kept in touch with Nazanin in the ensuing years before vanishing without a trace. Mixed endings populate our experience more so than happy ones. While Nazanin hopes that Fatehi is alive and well somwhere, she can never know for certain.


Nazanin firmly opposes external military intervention to effect regime change in Iran. She believes that the use of targeted sanctions and the freezing of assets will be effective in allowing the youthful Iranian population (70% under the age of 30) to eventually form a more democratic and liberal government. Even in this wished-for renewed nation (as one of her interlocutor's pointed out) there is also the necessity of a plural state to make room for its conservative, religious population – of which in Iran there are legion. A challenging tension in every society.


While the dominating issue with Iran has been its nuclear program and its tit for tat against Israel, Nazanin feels that this sadly distracts from human rights issues within Iran. While Nazanin cites the many examples of counter-revolutions that have been successful, the tense, unfinished unfolding of revolutions in places like Egypt and Ukraine into illiberal directions, paired with the heavy suppression in places like Syria and China, dims hope.


Then I remember the extraordinary if imperfect changes in Burma. Nazanin's book and her message seeks to emphasize, in Bismarck's words, “the art of the possible.” Nazanin's lifestory and work embody these very possibilities, however circumscribed.

Cultivating Poetic Sensibility with Phil Jenkins

Phil Jenkins started the final afternoon event of the Writers Festival by limning the question of what “poetic sensibility” is and why it is such an essential quality to have in not only literature, but in life itself. The architecture of religious texts, such as the Bible, were presented as the archetype of what we gropingly classify as ‘creative non-fiction’ at the slightest hint of imagination.


According to Jenkins, the heart of the desire to suffuse an inventive quality that breaks the mould when writing or making an artistic statement, is to really get at the truth; not capital T truth but truth nonetheless. Or in James Wood’s words, “...the real, which is at the bottom of my inquiries.”


Jenkins makes the astute observation that almost everyone who is literate, writes but what distinguishes a writer is that (s)he re-writes; with poets perhaps re-writing the most. The anecdote of Jenkins’ poet friend who takes an hour-long stroll for every line of poetry summons up images of the painstaking work of historians like Robert Caro, who has spent decades on a single subject – in his case the life of Lyndon B. Johnson.


When it comes to documenting reality, too often the dogged stance of being objective “has got in the way”. As Gloria Steinem put it to Moses Znaimer, as “the new journalism” which promulgated a personal style came into vogue in the 1960s, “some of the tears need to get into the story” - when speaking of a New York Times reporter who sobbed while recounting President Kennedy’s assassination, over the telephone. While professing the vital role of the poet in “conducting emotional research and development” what Jenkins is implying is that the role of bringing lyricism should not be left to the poet alone (or alternately, that poets need to get busier!) Michael Ondaatje’s memoir Running In The Family and Vittorio De Sica’s Ladri Di Biciclette (The Bicycle Thief) were held up as examples as works of documentary that transcended stale objectivity whilst simultaneously not betraying it in a fit of artistic license.


This is no easy task; anyone who remembers the defrocking of James Frey in the wake of his mostly fabricated memoir A Million Little Pieces can understand the tension inherent in Ken Kesey’s statement, “it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen.” Ondaatje describes his grandmother dying by being consumed by a tsunami whereas the real cause of her death was alcoholism. Not literally true but poetically so. On closer inspection, James Frey’s attempt evokes sympathy when considered alongside a very creative profile on the man and his later endeavours.


Jenkins accidentally uttered the phrase “poese” (an amalgam of poetry and prose). And it stuck – with him joking that if Shakespeare were permitted his numerous neologisms, then surely he was entitled to one.


As the hour wore on, Jenkins himself got personal. When discussing other books, Jenkins stated that he felt uncharitably towards Noah Richler’s This Is My Country, What’s Yours? since it fails to discuss works of poetry in its survey of Canada’s literary landscape. Jenkins also called for “poese” to sink into our political life. “When was the last time a politician’s speech made you cry?” was a preamble in reference to Jack Layton’s farewell message.


He was on shakier ground however in decrying “conservative” politics as being devoid of compassion and thus immanently incapable of the “poetic sensibility” he was espousing .T.S. Eliot would have surely been surprised to be told he lacked it. Jenkins is certainly entitled to his political views, even have them influence his oeuvre: but his implicit assumption that everyone in his audience shares them brandished an unfortunate lack of decorum and open-mindedness. 


Jenkins ended by taking some questions from the audience. One of his suggestions mentioned that writers should learn how to weld, so as to appreciate the craftsmanship required with words. His delightful characterization that “a well-written sentence is like a lozenge” left an urge to consume, encounter and produce words which get at the real. An experience for which in some places, the courageous are dying to live

'It's good to be here': Lunch with Vincent Lam









When We Talk About War

Noah Richler, who is the former Books Editor of the National Post was interviewed by Mark Medley, Books Editor of the National Post.  They discussed Mr. Richler’s book What We Talk About When We Talk About War .  I don’t know how much these two knew each other from before the interview, but they both conducted the interview with an obvious friendliness and respect for the other which led to a great event.

Richler's talk was not made of memorable talking points or simple slogans.  Noah was concerned with communicating complex ideas, examining how subtle changes in language can have large ramifications, and exploring how and why those changes in language occur. Just as the man himself is nuanced and hard to turn into a caricature, his talk is difficult to summarize precisely because its values lies in its nuance.

I had never met Mr. Richler, but from what I knew of him, I expected him to be more of a firebrand.  So, I was naturally a little disappointed to find that he was a reasonable and considered man.  To use his own words, he “love[s] the idea of doubt” because he sees doubt as the source of intelligent inquiry.  I would describe his tone regarding the language of war not as angry but as indignant.  He seemed to feel that the shift in language has been illegitimate and manipulative.  He also seems disgruntled that it had fallen on him to address this issues of language and to offer a different narrative. He felt that this represented a political failure: that the responsibility of the political opposition to provide an opposing narrative, has fallen short.


Mr. Richler’s focus was on the the language surrounding war, and not on the war itself.  The war in Afghanistan was always present, but it is our understanding and expression of that conflict here in Canada that Mr. Richler is concerned with. 


Mr. Richler felt that peacekeeping became associated with a wimpy kind of failure, and was presented as a failed vision.  Yet he pointed out that while this image if the Canadian Forces as a Peacekeeping force is still prevalent, it has rather been co-opted into recruitment ads with combat images.  This is a picky distinction.  Not that he is a fan of the Afghan mission, but that he thinks that the language has been shifting in ways that are dishonest.

I think that the source of Mr. Richler’s offence that generated this book would be the oversimplification of how the war has been presented.  Noah Richler is not a man who over-simplifies.  He felt that the war was presented in the media in the same way as sports; where it is assumed that we are all cheering for the home team.  Where every dead Canadian soldier is given full coverage in the media and added to the tally of lost soldiers.  The accompanying list of dead Afghanis is glossed over.  No tallies are kept.  Noah went so far as to invoke the Lord of the Rings.  Pointing out that no one morns the dead orcs, or sympathizes with their families.  While this analogy drew laughs, it was also a sobering moment for me, because this was the point where I decided that I agreed with him, and that we seem to have decided at some point which human beings are more valuable than other.  This is the language of war that Noah is repulsed by.  He prefers the language of peacekeeping, where the dignity of a shared humanity is far more inclusive.


Event Review by Benjamin Martin 

Big Finish: All In A Day Songwriting Circle

The venue is packed; it's the final event of the Ottawa Writers Festival, and the audience atmosphere is a mix of anticipation for the Songwriters' Circle, and regret that the whole thing will soon be over. Alan Neal of CBC's All In A Day introduces the theme of the night: the Stage Name Summit. Sure enough, all of the guests usually perform under stage names. Tonight will be a bit more informal, as we learn how these monikers came into being (and see some incredible musical prowess along the way).


The evening, it turns out, is to be divided into three “rounds”, each one having its own theme. Round one: perform any song about a name (or involving names thematically). First to perform is Oh Susanna (born Suzie Ungerleider), whose song “Zoey” is delivered with strident, alt-country tones and music-box delicate guitar accompaniement. Next to the mic is Socalled (Josh Dolgin), whose plan to perform “Richi”, a particularly angry song about heartbreak, has to be derailed briefly due to technical difficulties. Socalled is up to the challenge however, and bangs out a sidesplitting cover of Ira Gershwin's “Tchaikovsky” until the sound crew can get his equipment working. Joey “Shithead” Keithley (original last name “Keighley”, pronounced with a “th”), frontman for D.O.A., regales the audience with a ballad about early 20th century BC coal mining union martyr Ginger Goodwin. The ground-breaking punk artist, acoustic guitar plastered with a “This Machine Kills Fascists” decal, sounds like a counter-cultural Gordon Lightfoot giving the finger to the establishment. Masia One (Mei Xian Lim), whose sound equipment is also out of commission, instructs the audience to accompany her with a boom-clap, as she performs “Model Minority” a capella. Finishing up round one is Snailhouse (Mike Feuerstack), who pulls no punches in getting to the sentimental, low-key, introspective tune “Homesick”.


Round two invites the musicians to perform their first song (performed or recorded) under their current stage name. Oh Susanna starts it off with “Crooked Down the Road” from her first EP, confident and soulful despite her assertion of not having played the song in about 10 years. Socalled breaks out a track from his album “The So Called Seder” entitled “Chad Gadya” - Yiddish for “One Little Goat”. His fusion of hip-hop beats with klezmer melody keeps the audience on the edge of their seats, despite having no clue what the lyrics mean. Joe Keithley explains why his earliest material may not be the most edifying – consisting mainly of repetitive swear words and little content – and instead gives an acoustic rendition of D.O.A. classic “The Enemy”. Masia One follows up (her sound equipment finally working) with “Split Second Time” - her Much Music debut – switching it up midway through by instructing her DJ, DJ 2 Creamz to change the backing track. Snailhouse rounds it off with a twist: rather than performing his first Snailhouse tune, he gives a preview of his new album – the first to be released under his actual name, Michael Feuerstack.


Between rounds, the winner of the All In A Day songwriting contest gets a chance to perform. Each artist provided, in advance, a single word. The winning song had to contain all 5 words: hospital, important, ninja, willfull, and Agamemnon. The winner was Cape Breton musician Brett Maclean, with his harmonica-infused, folk-heavy entry “Why Can't Everybody Get Along".


In Round three, the songwriters have to showcase a song with a 4 syllable word in the title – though most of them have to stretch the definition of “4 syllable word” to meet the requirements. Oh Susanna follows the rule to the letter (to the syllable?) with her song “Alabaster”. Socalled joins in on piano, and the audience lets out a contented sigh. This sets the tone for the remainder of the evening, as gradually, the musicians become more and more comfortable collaborating onstage. By the end of the event, the musicians are all adding their own improvisational touch to a raucous cover of “Taking Care of Business”. The audience sends them (and the Ottawa Writers Festival) off with resounding applause, and the lights come back up. It's a cheerful end to a wonderful festival, and as we all part ways, we're sorry it's over – but not sorry that it was, that it happened.