Monday, September 21, 2009

My Russian Existentialist Face and the Frightening of Small Children


Here are two recent photographs of me at two different literary festivals. The first is a screen capture from Charles Earl's fantastic photo website which features his many photographs, including many of authors. His work is intriguing to me. His photograph of me (taken during a reading at the Junction Arts Festival) as well as many of his other photographs, surprise me -- they reveal a side of me -- and of those who I know -- that I didn't expect. And that's what photography is supposed to do -- show you something that you haven't seen before, show you a side of something that you never noticed, or thought about that way. The picture of me is maybe what I would have fantasized looking like when I was 13 -- a writer absorbed by the really 'Great Themes', the weight of the world (and my great sensitivity toward it) showing on my troubled brow. We don't know what we look like as we go about our business of living (why is the business of living? and not the 'art' or the 'summer camp'?), our faces forming according to the inner and outer world. And, in this case, my face might scare small children. (Which, incidently I think I did when Greg Betts and I were performing the sound poetry portion of our reading for BookThug editions. There was a little girl a few feet away from me who somehow didn't relate my screamed "O" to the Canadian sound poetry tradition, to Dadaist, and primitive art, as I did a vocal detournement of the first syllable of our national anthem.)
Luckily for the small children attending the performance recorded in the second photograph, I have another, less frightening face. The image is of me reading my children's picturebook The Magic Mustache outside the Jerseyville Train Station in Westfield Heritage Village yesterday as part of the "Telling Tales" Festival. The festival was an entirely charming affair, set admidst this captivating heritage village. It was a perfect day, bright and warm, and we walked around the old buildings and large trees, listening to children's writers reading and kids gasping and laughing. I was somewhere behind the Apothecary's, near the church, the general store. Mark Twain stood and listened to my performance, and many 'recreators' walked around. There were about 30 children's authors reading, giving workshops, and signing books. According to this morning's newspaper, about 4000 people attended, and quite a bit of money was raised for literacy projects. Kids from the inner city were bused in for free by the school boards. I heard an entrancing performance by Shane Peacock, including something from his book, Eye of the Crow and ran into many friends, neighbours, writers, and various people from the community. A bunch of my students and some neighbourhood kids attended my performance which I really appreciated. We made up a story together, something to do with a pink elephant who landed on Grandma's Thanksgiving dinner and then flew to Costa Rica before encountering some trouble with sharks. Or something with that. These kind of improvised group stories are more about the process and the unfolding of the story than the actual result. But it is always thrilling to have 40 or so people, from 3 year olds in their parents' laps, to adults, provide all of the details of the story and to dive right in and become part of the creative process.

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