84 Authors and Counting

My perfect day is sitting in a room with some blank paper. That's heaven. That's gold and anything else is just a waste of time."

— Cormac McCarthy

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The Mom narrative

Laurie Kruk is an accomplished poet from Northern Ontario, where she’s a professor of English at Nipissing University. She has embraced the theme of motherhood in her work — it’s no surprise to see her featured, for instance, in the online lit magazine, Literary Mama.

As she describes in her Insight recording for AuthorsAloud, she is interested in the silences of women, fascinated by what’s discarded — notions many of us (to our shame) can easily apply to the mothers in our own recent past. Her latest collection, My Mother Did Not Tell Stories, features narrative poems built on Kruk’s bracingly direct and honest voice. For AuthorsAloud, Kruk reads the title poem from that collection, and I encourage you to give it, and her Insight thoughts, a careful listen, here.


What the reading reveals

It’s long been my contention — indeed, it’s part of the impetus for this site — that the performance of writing meant for the page opens a window onto the work and its author. By listening to the voice of the poet or fiction writer, or by watching him or her at a microphone, you gain insights into the author’s personality and mindset that can enrich your appreciation and understanding of the work. In the case of poet Nyla Matuk, that may be doubly true.

Although Matuk has just released her first full collection of poetry, Sumptuary Laws, she’s been working at her art for a while. In his exhaustive, analytical review of her collection, Stewart Cole (no relation to me) wrote that he suspects many of the poems have been “brewing” for a decade. “This is the antithesis,” Cole wrote, “of … the rushed-into-print debut.” He also mentioned having discovered Matuk’s work at a book launch, “and in hearing her read was immediately struck by the lushness of diction, the risky willingness to disorient rhetorically, and the overall impression of uniqueness her work conveyed.”

So, that’s one, quite learned, impression of Matuk’s work, taken initially from a public performance. And I think it’s one reflected in the reading she has given to AuthorsAloud. The Nyla Matuk you meet when you listen to her poems and her insight here is a serious artist, dedicated to her diction, as it were. And that’s an important part of her.

But I’d suggest there’s another Nyla Matuk, and it’s the one I witnessed myself at a reading last night, at the Black Swan pub on the Danforth in Toronto. It’s the Nyla Matuk of shy and wry humour. She creates a strong, confident impression at the microphone, there’s nothing timid in her demeanor. But she’s quick to dispel any sense of self-seriousness, lamenting with a smile “all the sad and serious poems,” the “existentially morose pieces” she frequently reads. For the audience at the Black Swan, she wanted to “spice it up,” she said. So she read us a poem about lust, and another about the Mad Men character Don Draper (“You’re the dark dew on the green grass of home”).

I wish more public readings happened this way, although I admit not everyone is suited to it. But as a general rule, playfulness like Matuk’s doesn’t diminish one’s impression of the artist, it enhances it. The willingness to be self-deprecating at a reading lets the audience in, which inevitably allows a clearer, more complete picture of the work. In the case of Nyla Matuk, I’d say the effect was altogether admirable.

Lavorato the Second

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Several years ago, Mark Lavorato was among the first contributors to AuthorsAloud. Back then, his literary work was focused on fiction. But Mark is nothing if not multi-dimensional. Fiction, music, photography — he explores it all, and more than that, he’s good at it all too. You just have to sit back and applaud a display of so many talents.

And now we can add another. What brings Mark back to AuthorsAloud is poetry, on the occasion of his first book-length collection. There are a number of Canadian authors out there who publish both fiction and poetry, but I’m pleased to say that Mark is the first to contribute readings in both disciplines to AuthorsAloud. “I find writing poetry a great complement to writing fiction,” he writes on his website. “I think fiction becomes better the more you remove yourself from the text, the more you let the intricacies and egos of your characters take over; whereas poetry becomes better the more you put yourself in, the more you give of yourself to the page.”

It’s a great summation, and I have to say the brief taste he gives us of the poetry in Wayworn Wooden Floors is very compelling, even intoxicating stuff. It’s over too quickly, but I promise you’ll enjoy it while it lasts.


Back to the Divine

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In her debut collection of poems, YĆ«suf and the Lotus Flower, Doyali Farah Islam offers readers what she calls “a bridge of verse” that she intends to connect the divergent paths of Western and Eastern spirituality. As she explains in a note on her creative intentions, she wrote the poems over the course of two years. While writing, she kept up a daily regimen of Islamic prayer and Kundalini yogic meditation. But she doesn’t mean for her poems to be exclusive, only for the followers of her faith, because “all journeys and streams,” she says, “lead back to the Divine ocean.”
The result is striking, both beautiful and purposeful, rather like the Lotus flower of the title. Poet Sylvia Legris, winner of the 2006 Griffin Poetry Prize, calls Islam’s poems “bold, intricate buds of faith” that weave together parable and mysticism. They’re poems that can be appreciated both for their messages of spirituality and also for their aesthetic beauty.
Islam’s reading and insight are equally entrancing. Hers is a young voice, but it carries an impressive clarity of intention, and it’s not surprising to learn, in Islam’s note to readers, that her poems were “meant to be listened to, voiced aloud.”
That makes them — as well as Islam’s insight — wonderful additions to the AuthorsAloud collection.

Alone with Elizabeth Hay

The Muskoka Literary Festival this fall offered a number of delights — vast vistas of trees at their colour peak, the comfy accommodations of the Deerhurst Resort, the charm of a young festival and its enthusiastic organizers. But for me, maybe the chief pleasure was getting to meet and talk, however briefly, with Elizabeth Hay.

I may have said this before (and hell, I may say it again) but the Canadian literary community is, in general, a collegial one. We know in our hearts that most of us are here for love, not money, and so we’re mostly a friendly, supportive group of folks. Elizabeth Hay struck me immediately as the best example of that — truly warm and accommodating, despite her Giller success, willing to engage in deep and genuine conversation. I also happened to love her reading voice. Hay spent a decade as a broadcaster in the Northwest Territories, and it shows in her calm comfort in front of a microphone.

I stole her away from a lavish breakfast one morning and together we found a quiet corner in one of the forgotten public spaces of Deerhurst’s sprawling main building. There Hay gave a lovely reading from her latest novel, Alone in the Classroom, and provided a wonderful insight. That insight, by the way, contains in its closing seconds a revelation that may surprise some readers, but one to which all novelists will relate.

I encourage you to find a quiet few moments in your day and spend them with Elizabeth Hay, here.

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