Wild Writers Festival with The New Quarterly

November 12, 2013 at 3:56 pm Leave a comment


This past weekend I attended events for the Wild Writers Festival in Waterloo, Ontario. Friday evening, the events began with The Rock Comes to Waterloo, with Wayne Johnston and Donna Morrissey plus other winners of New Quarterly fiction, non-fiction and poetry contests. Since that was the evening of Stories Aloud at the Button Factory, I missed the first event of the festival, but I was looking forward to a particular workshop and panel discussion the next day.

In particular, I planned to attend Amanda Jernigan‘s workshop, Poetry of Change. The workshop began with a fine introduction by Barb Carter who just happened to be Amanda’s Grade 10 English teacher in high school. She had followed Amanda’s career and delved into Amanda’s poetry, and so she knew of what she spoke. Anyone would be honoured by such opening greetings, and it gave us a brief history of where Amanda has taken her writing abilities.

Amanda nearly lost me in the beginning with her descriptions of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, since I had never read that work, and The Odyssey, a work by the Greek poet Homer, which is a story of return, another I had not read. Still I listened, for Amanda’s workshop was on change and I was interested in what she would cover. She said, “Poetry can preserve life” and she called motherhood  “a sea change.” The whole workshop would not be a lecture, however, and she had us think about a poem we’ve known for a long time and how we view it now. Since there were so many of us in that room, she took answers from eight or nine people. From there she asked us to write a line (or lines) about some change in our lives. It could be small or large. After a few minutes, she asked, in order around the table, if we would share, and most did.

I’d been thinking about Remembrance Day, since it was soon to follow, and had been contemplating the small wars around us— a topic for another blog— and  had scribbled down a reflection near the beginning of her workshop so I would not forget it. Next she asked us to turn that statement around, give it a twist, to enact change within the poem. Near the end, I shared my line that enacted change. She asked me to reread the first one and then read the final statement. I could see how our poetry could be a medium of change.  And I think she won me over on the early poetry by Ovid and Homer. I may just have to add them to my reading pile. Mind you, I won’t have a university class where I can discuss it, but I can at least experience it.

The second event I attended was  the panel discussion, How Geography Defines a Writer. I don’t know who comes up with these panel ideas, but I found it most interesting. Panelists were Tomas Dobozy, Ayelet Tsabari, Christine Poutney and Donna Morrissey. Ayalet writes in her second language, English, about her homeland of Yemen. She tried to write Canadian but it didn’t work for her and so she went back to writing as she would have done earlier, but still in her second language. Donna’s university English professor had said she was a good writer but that she must “muddy up” her writing.

Questions from the moderator covered how place matters in their writing; how their homeland affects their writing; as well as how that geography shows up in their writing, if it does. For Donna Morrissey, who hails from Newfoundland, she wanted to write about the French settlement on the western coast of the island, and so the shoreline, the wind and terrain figure largely in those scenes as well as combining history from the time. Having read The Deception of Livvy Higgs, I would agree. I gained a sense of the place early in the book because of her description. The characters lived and the place was real. She gave the closing keynote at the Editors Association of Canada conference in Halifax earlier this year and I had opportunity to meet her there.

Tomas said of the process of writing,  “I like those moments of filling a blank page and when stories turn on themselves and change. Those are the moments that keep me going.”  Christine asked, “Are we documenting” in our work? She mentioned “recreating geography  of spaces” and wondered aloud “how truthful is the imagination.” She is fascinated by this. Ayelet talked about “layered identities” in writing about her homeland and said she didn’t “see any books about them as a people, or about herself as a child growing up in Yemen.” So perhaps now she is filling that gap in her stories.

That’s really only a taste of that panel discussion, but I found it of great interest.  Perhaps next year I can attend more events when the festival comes again. By all appearances, it was a successful event.


Entry filed under: artists, arts, authors, books, community, culture, environment, leadership, lifestyle, speaking, storytelling. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

In Flanders Field— by Adele Simmons Sweaters for Syrian refugees at Canadian Lutheran World Relief

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