My recent trip to the Alice Munro Festival of the Short Story in Bayfield and Wingham Ontario earlier this month was a treat. Although I was only able to attend the sessions on Saturday I was not disappointed. I heard one of my favourite Canadian voices as Ami McKay took the stage and delighted the audience with her process and a short selection from The Witches of New York. McKay is fast becoming one of my favourite authors as I have been a fan since her debut novel The Birth House. Her writing process and her interest in historical events, people and places gives her stories life and the connections to her own relatives is fascinating. If you have not read McKay’s work yet, please do so because she is one of the best.
Further I was introduced to new voices including Sarah Meehan Sirk and her debut of short stories called The Dead Husband Project. Please read my review of this brilliant new Canadian voice in the link.
In addition to Meehan Sirk, I was introduced to my first transgendered writer Casey Plett. Plett is a new voice in Canadian literature and her novel, Little Fish tells the tale of a Wendy, who is transgendered coming back home only to learn that her grandfather may have also been transgendered. Shockingly, the grandfather was from a devout Mennonite background at a time when transgendered would not have been discussed. Plett offered the audience a little glimpse of her story (see picture above) and I was so intrigued as she started to tell Wendy’s story. She writes with vivid candour and develops each character’s voice in a unique way. I look forward to reading more of her work. Casey was exceptionally gracious and kind as she signed books at the end of the panel. Always a thrill for a bibliophile like me!
Lastly during the festival I was so fortunate to hear from established Canadian-Irish writer Emma Donoghue who was so funny and intriguing to listen to. She had the audience captivated from her first word. Although slated to read from The Wonder, her latest novel, she opted to instead read to us a hilarious story she had written for radio called The Road Taken (a nod to Robert Frost). She did not fail in her delivery as the audience laughed out loud at the absurd tale of a mother harshly criticized on social media. I will never hear the word (#) hashtag the same way again. Donoghue’s commentary on social media and her insight into writing in general was refreshing and very inspiring.
Overall I am so happy that I took the solo road trip to the festival. It was well worth my time and what I learned from each author was incredibly invaluable as not just a reader and writer, but as a teacher too. I look forward to going to the Alice Munro Festival of the Short Story in 2019.
Poetry has been long criticized for not appealing to the masses but I tend to disagree. Poetry can be a very unique voice in the world of words. Sometimes there are rigid and forced rules and other times, poets reject all forms of rules and write freely. One thing poetry is or at least should be to all people is voice. A voice to condemn. A voice to praise. A voice to lament and a voice to share joy.
During my university days I indulged in poetry as often as my timetable would allow. Although some of the courses I signed up for were compulsory, many were not. I loved and still love the language of poetry. I had forgotten that until recently.
Rupi Kaur is a Canadian woman of Punjabi descent who has rocked the literary world with her debut book of poems called milk and honey. How sweet it was as I flowed through each page pausing and absorbing this woman’s voice. The writing was lovely yet some of the poems were jarring and gave me pause as I murmured in agreement with the poems and their meanings. It is not a book for everyone as the subject matter can be difficult — abuse, love and loss, violence and feminism. And yet it is so necessary in our #metoo world to hear this poet’s fresh voice.
Evidently some literary purists have decided that Kaur is not a poet at all but I weep for them because they do not know what they are missing by ignoring this voice. She paints with her words lovely and raw images of what it is like to be in a relationship both healthy and not. She paints with those same words depression and sadness yet offers us light.
Kaur’s follow-up to the best-selling milk and honey is a beautiful collection called the sun and her flowers. I ear-marked many pages in this book of poetry. Parts of the book are clear declarations of her love for her mother but she also writes about loss and trauma as well as all forms of love. One of my favourites in this collection is about time.
“…life does not stop for anybody / it drags you by the legs / whether you want to move forward or not / that is the gift…”
As Kaur writes, she gives a message of resilience and strength. That we are more than we think we are. Her poetry offers hope in a world of much despair. the sun and her flowers is a great anthology separated into parts that include: “wilting”, “falling”, “rooting”, “rising” and “blooming”. The flower(s) becomes this beautiful metaphor for her poetry and her exploration of self.
So I give thanks to Rupi Kaur for re-awakening the word-lover in me for I had forgotten she was there. Will I still return to the classics like Wordsworth, Shelley, Browning and Keats in my well-worn 2652 page Norton Anthology of English Literature – The Major Authors that I lugged around campus all those years ago? Yes I will but I will keep my eyes wide open for those new voices that have been calling my name. It’s time I heard them.