Sunday, May 21, 2006

Another breath of fresh air from Hamilton, Ontario

I’ve been living in Hamilton for almost 16 years now. I didn’t really plan to live here, it was just the closest place to my grad school (SUNY at Buffalo) where my wife, starting out as a criminal lawyer, found a job. And we just stayed. (Co-incidentally, she was born here, and her family is here, and that became significant once we had kids.) Now we own a home here, my wife has a very established legal practice (she knows most of the criminals in Hamilton – and there are many!), I teach here, and my kids are settled in various schools.

Hamilton, in addition to being the centre of operations for Gary Barwin Industries, the Gary Barwin Foundation, and Gary Barwin Investments and Progeny Corp. and the home to sixty-odd waterfalls and, at least in one part of town, a Blade Runner skyline, has a literary community.

There are some very good writers here. As anywhere, there are some not good writers here. There are some writers who have a sense of the “big picture” (i.e. the world outside Hamilton) and some whose view is strictly thumbnail.

Yesterday, I attended the launch of a new periodical called “Street.” (More about that below.) I gots to thinkin’ about the Hamilton Literary Community. I’m sort of part of it, sort of not. I usually identify with the Toronto scene, if anywhere. (I mean, other than my buds, Keats, Yeats, Dave McFadden, Rod McKuen, and Anna Akhmatova.)

Thing is, I really like the scene here. It’s quite small and, though most of the people are sophisticated and knowledgeable, most importantly the scene is (at least in my experience) entirely unpretentious, earnest, and warm. At the reading, David Hillen’s widow, Janet, read a poem of David’s. She very movingly introduced the poem by thanking those assembled there for their part in her late husband’s life. She spoke of how important the literary scene was to him, how he loved the people in it. She thanked them for their “community.”

My writing doesn’t really fit in here, but no one seems to mind. It has a small town welcoming feel. There is an acceptance of such diversity as exists here (I guess we’re the local characters. Klyde Broox does dub, Jeff Seffinga does post-beat, Chris Pannell and Kerry Schooley and their “The New Phrenologists” text and music ensemble, etc.) I generally relate better to Toronto, have conversations that have more to do with my writing concerns there, however, Hamilton, at this point, does feel like coming home.

Certain people in the community are constantly resourceful, coming up with new ideas to promote writing in the city. (I remember reading in the food court at the downtown mall on a Friday night. Large packs of teens, neither particle nor wave, moved before us. I remember reading in a cramped little used clothing store, at Festival of Friends, of going to the east end to participate in having my picture taken as part of a group photo of “writers in Hamilton.”

It’s like Hamilton’s version of that famous portrait of all the musicians in Harlem. There are quite a few people who organize cool things. Of late, Francis Ward has been running Hammered Out magazine and sending out a mailing with a list of what’s on. And Kerry Schooley has been organizing things for years.

Kerry’s latest venture, in cooperation with Kairos Literary Society, Bob Megans and (see what I mean about Hamilton!) the downtown BIA, is Street magazine. To quote from the press material: STREET, [is] a new periodical reflecting our shared, urban experience. The prose and poetry is lifted from the printed page and placed in shop windows in the International Village from Wellington to Mary on King St. E. My poem is at “Ya Man! Caribbean Cuisine,” 315 King St. E., Hamilton.

At the launch, we sat on the bluster patio right on King St. at the BIA office and the BIA provided us coffee and apple strudel replete with custard and whipped cream from “The Black Forest Inn,” an amazing German restaurant that can’t have changed since the fifties. The last wienerschnitzel I had there was as big as Richard Wagner’s ego. We read as buses passed and passersby looked at us curiously.

The various poems scattered about downtown windows include work by Klyde Brooz, Chris Butler, David Hillen, Gary Kristiansen, John B. Lee, Matt Firth, Chris Butler, Chris Pannell, Bernadette Rule, Jeff Seffinga, and Ed Wood as well as my own.

As my favourite Hamilton writer, David W. McFadden once wrote as a blurb on my Outside the Hat poetry book ( – “Another breath of fresh air from Hamilton, Ontario.”


Billy Jones said...

I thought you'd want to thank Kate for submitting your site to be a part of 100 Blogging Poets In 100 Days-- Episode III.

gary barwin said...

Thanks for letting me know. I wondered how you found me. The airplane letter drop wasn't that effective. Either were: Those supper hour cold calls. Writing my blog URL on children's Tylenol. Tatooing links to my site on vagrant dogs. Having thousands of poets write acrostics with my blog title. Sitting alone in my room willing it to be. Nah. That only worked for getting my poems into the Norton Anthology of Canadian Crypto-Surrealist Verse. I'll definitely check out the 100 Blogging Poets in 100 Days. Thanks.

Billy Jones said...

Was that you who dropped those letters on my house? You owe me for the damage to my roof. ;-)

gary barwin said...

Yeah, I know. Next time, I'll choose less pointy letters. O's for instance. Perhaps, I'll drop some of the imaginary letters I've been working on. Or the irrational letters. You know, the square root of minus H.