Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Aqua vitae

Here I am, reading last week at Aqua Books, aka Winnipeg's Cultural City Hall, as part of an evening of readings, talks, performances and reminiscences related to the store's writers- and artists- and songwriters- and etc.- in residence program.

I was writer-in-res at Aqua last fall, the idea of which -- though incredibly flattering -- initially made my stomach hurt. I didn't actually spend any time "in residence" but the opportunity to work with a merry band of emerging writers (so various and intriguing the group could not have been better chosen by a sitcom casting agent) was my first foray into the world of mentoring, leading, or otherwise Being In Charge of writers.

Turns out, I was one of 27 such folks-in-residence at Aqua since they started the program in 2008ish. It was a long night.

And, unfortunately, it looks like it'll be the last reading I do from that stage, with the plaster Stone Angel replica looking on. Unless Bookstore Owner Kelly Hughes can figure out an alternate plan (and if anyone can, it's Kelly), the store will be closing sometime this fall. It's sad news for writers in Winnipeg.

When I was thinking, last week, about what I would read and what I would say, I realized how many milestones and highlights of my recent writing life have been Aqua-related. It's where I read my boxing poems to an audience for the first time. Where Ariel and I launched our Night Owls and Newborns tour in 2008. Where I met Jeanette Lynes, who I would later work with in Banff. Where I got to read as part of the Speaking Crow, Soapbox and Lansdowne series. Where I read from Seed Catalogue as part of Mondo Kroetsch. And that's not even touching on all the fantastic readings I've attended there over the years, or the soup I've eaten at EAT!.

It's a wonderful place and we've been lucky to have it. Fingers crossed that Aqua will find a way to stay afloat.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tall order

July 2010, I measure up against Edouard Beaupre (life-size photo).

Hmmm... Eerie similarity...

This time last year, hot on the heels of a vacation packed with Saskatchewan oddities, I was newly infatuated with the story of Edouard Beaupre, aka the Giant of Willow Bunch. I found his story  relentlessly tragic and, therefore, ideal poetic material.

The year that has followed has been filled with at-times-productive Googling (I highly recommend a visit to thetallestman.com, even if you have only a passing interest in things height-related. And highly do not recommend a visit to thehumanmarvels.com too close to bed time); wading through the two volume, 1,000-plus-page history of the town of Willow Bunch; May Day attempts at poems in Edouard's voice and, throughout it all, a series of grant applications requesting support for this, my current/next project: a series of poems about Edouard Beaupre.

A couple of weeks ago, just before leaving for this year's summer holiday, success! A grant from the Manitoba Arts Council will help me as I work through the first draft of a manuscript. And now my job begins in earnest. It's equally exciting and daunting: the opportunity to tell a great story; the responsibility to get it right.