Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Scream in High Park Mainstage

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The Scream in High Park Mainstage

By Monique Mathew, a budding writer, curator and OCAD graduate. She lives in Toronto.

The Scream Literary Festival celebrated its 16th anniversary this year with a busy twelve days of events taking place across the city. Copyright was chosen as the central theme of the festival, and the programming reflected diverse interpretations of appropriation, ownership, collaboration and intellectual property.

The popular Scream in High Park mainstage event, held each year on the park’s Dream Stage, took place on a mild summer evening. The grassy hill of the amphitheatre was crowded with a tranquil audience, many of whom had packed picnic items and blankets to tide them over through the four-hour program. Mischa Glouberman, well-known for his work on the inventive Trampoline Hall lecture series, hosted the evening. A relaxed and charming host, Glouberman joked with the audience and worked well with the casual outdoor energy of the event. The mainstage featured a line up of thirteen Canadian poets, performers and writers, ranging from emerging to established in their careers.

The first reader was writer and graphic novelist, Mariko Tamaki (Skim, Groundwood Books, 2008). Conversational and humorous, Tamaki read an excerpt describing her feeling of betrayal upon finding that the pants she had long believed to be her most flattering and stylish (affectionately named “the pants”) to actually be neither after a brief period of non-use in her closet. The audience warmed to her highly relatable prose. Claudia Dey, reading from her novel Stunt (Coach House Books, 2008), was an interesting contrast to Tamaki. Dey’s reading was quiet and had a dreamy tone that suited her writing. When reading Dey’s writing, its whip-smart humour is clearly apparent. In the large amphitheatre accustomed to bolder theatrics, however, these finer elements felt somehow subdued.

The age-old question of whether or not to have children was explored with great humour by author and critic, Jacob Wren. His novel Families are Formed Through Copulation (Pedlar Press, 2007) asks questions like “Will the children I rear add any value to the world or just take up space?” He concluded his reading with the three best scenarios for living, in descending order of desirability. The first is to never have been born. Failing that option (as we all have), the next best scenario is to be born, but to do the least amount of harm. The last acceptable scenario Wren describes is to be born, do some harm, but to not have kids. His cynical humour won over the audience, despite the preponderance of small babies and families on blankets in the crowd.

A highlight of the evening was venerable performance artist, Ron Giii. Peaceful and slightly bemused looking in a baseball cap, he gave a slow singsong performance that initially sounded like odd strung-out sounds. Giii engaged in a focused play of phonetics, exaggeratedly tonguing and juxtaposing words for effect, e.g. torque, Turk, Turkomen. He translated words from other languages, which he introduced into his strange staccato of sound. Offbeat and humorous, Giii played with the audience’s general uncertainty and charmed the crowd into laughter by the end of his performance. He was programmed to follow poet Sonnet L’Abbé (Killarnoe, McClelland & Stewart, 2007), whose theatrical reading also engaged the audience with a study of language and its many sounds.

Carl Wilson, who read from his book Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste (Continuum Books, 2007), also provided the evening with a great deal of humour. The book, which explores the boundaries of mass culture and popular taste, takes Céline Dion and her hugely popular album Let’s Talk About Love as its vehicle of exploration. Of her famed vocal powers, Wilson states, “Her voice itself is nouveau riche, a luxury item, and Céline wants to share its abundance with her audience.” Wilson examines the phenomenon of Dion, analyzing her appeal and her audience, to arrive at a witty and original critique. In honour of the poetry of the evening, Wilson read from a love poem he had finished back stage that was composed of lines from album reviews — a funny exercise that highlighted the absurdity of critical writing when taken out of its context.

Poets Sina Queyras (Lemon Hound, Coach House, 2006) and David W. McFadden (Why Are You So Sad, Insomniac Press, 2007) were standouts in their readings. Scheduled for the last set of the evening, long after dusk and a blanket of mosquitoes had fallen on the audience, Queyras read from poems that covered topics as diverse as Johnny Depp and apolitical young women, while McFadden offered a cynical and humorous take on cottage life. Despite their varying focuses, both poets share an ability to make even the mundane engaging.

The Scream in High Park mainstage event also featured lively readings and performances from Wayde Compton (Performance Bond, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2004) with Jason de Couto, Dani Couture (Good Meat, Pedlar Press, 2006), Motion (40 Dayz, forthcoming with Women's Press) and Ray Robertson (What Happened Later, Thomas Allen Publishers, 2007). The evening of stellar programming, set against the backdrop of trees and a darkening sky, came to an end with the audience filing out of the forest in a sated and contemplative daze.

David Waldman took photos of the Scream in High Park for Open Book. You can look at them on our Flickr page.

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