Monthly Archives: March 2017

BWS 08.03.17: Breaking with Form, with Teva Harrison

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Teva Harrison is an artist, writer and cartoonist. She is the author of the bestselling, critically-acclaimed hybrid graphic memoir, In-Between Dayspublished by House of Anansi Press. The book was a national bestseller, shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction and named a best book of the year by The Globe and Mail, The National Post, CBC, iBooks, KOBO, The Walrus and Quill & Quire. Numerous health organizations have invited her to speak publicly on behalf of the metastatic cancer community. She lives in Toronto.

Teva adapted the guest post below from her March 11 talk at Brockton Writers Series, entitled “Breaking the Constraints of Form: There Are Many Ways to Tell a Story”. Thanks, Teva!

Breaking with Form

I draw and paint. That’s the primary form my work has taken in the past, but I had an idea that required a different form. Rather than try to shoehorn my idea into big narrative paintings, I listened to the idea and allowed it to take the form that best suited it: a book.

So, I’d like to challenge you to do the same.

Do you usually write short stories, but an idea just won’t take form? Maybe it’s actually a poem, and rather than build it up, you need to pare it down.

Or are words both too much and not enough for a feeling you hope to convey? This can be exactly where pictures can say more than words alone. Pictures add a visceral quality, and we react to images differently than words. This can be a useful tool for a creator.

These questions can lead us to break form, to step outside of our comfort zone, to reach and stretch and find the form that will, with the most truth we can muster, tell a story that only we can tell.

How do you think of yourself? Are you a poet? A novelist? A journalist? Have you ever had an idea that you couldn’t wrestle into shape? Have you ever considered going back to that idea and asking it, what are you? What are you trying to be?

It might be that your poem is really a short story, that your essay is really a poem, or that your short story is the fifth chapter of a novel. It might be that you’re actually writing a play and you need audio to allow your idea to reach its potential. To answer these questions, you have to trust and listen to the work, to allow form to follow function, not the other way around.

I mean, I’m an artist who found herself writing a book because once begun, that was the only form that made sense, and I had to nurture it into being. I had to let go of what I thought I was (an artist) in the interest of being true to the idea and the form it needed to take shape.

So I invite you to open your heart to other forms of writing, to invite in visual collaboration if drawing isn’t a thing you do, to allow your ideas to dictate form to you, whether it’s letting illustrations into your margins or up-ending your entire practice.

Even if the experimentation doesn’t make the final cut, even if it comes out precious and you have to cut it, that paring down will make your final piece more clear, incisive, delicious. Most of writing is invisible, so is most of drawing. But it’s the foundation that lifts a few choice words or images up and into the reader’s reach.

Check back in May for more tips from our next Brockton Writers Series guest speaker–-and before that, see you at our next event: May 10, 2017, 6:30pm,  at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St., Toronto!

 

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BWS 08.03.17: It’s Tonight!

WEDNESDAY, MAR. 8, 2017 – 6:30pm

In honour of International Women’s Day, Brockton Writers Series presents:

Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm
Manasi Nene
Casey Plett
Giovanna Riccio

and special guest speaker

Teva Harrison

AT

Glad Day Bookshop

499 Church St., Toronto

The reading is PWYC (suggested $3-$5) and features a Q&A with the writers afterward. Books and refreshments are available for sale.

The venue, including its bathroom, is fully accessible. Please refrain from wearing scents.

Many thanks to the Ontario Arts Council for their support.

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And to the Canada Council for the Arts for travel funding!

GUEST SPEAKER

“Breaking the Constraints of Form: There Are
Many Ways to Tell a Story”

harrison_teva_portrait-c-david-p-leonard

Teva Harrison is an artist, writer and cartoonist. She is the author of the bestselling, critically-acclaimed hybrid graphic memoir, In-Between Days, published by House of Anansi Press. The book was a national bestseller, shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction and named a best book of the year by The Globe and Mail, The National Post, CBC, iBooks, KOBO, The Walrus and Quill & Quire. Numerous health organizations have invited her to speak publicly on behalf of the metastatic cancer community. She lives in Toronto.

READERS

img_0054Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm is Anishinaabek from the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation, Saugeen Ojibway Nation, in Ontario. Kateri is an internationally acclaimed writer, spoken word poet, Indigenous arts activist, publisher and communications consultant. She and her sons live in their community at Neyaashiinigmiing on the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation. Kateri has two collections of poetry, a collection of short stories, and two CDs of spoken word poetry. Her CD “A Constellation of Bones” was nominated for an Aboriginal Music Award. She is the founder and Managing Editor of award-winning publisher Kegedonce Press, which publishes and promotes some of the most beautiful, challenging, celebrated Indigenous literature in the world. Kateri’s first collection of short stories, The Stone Collection was recently shortlisted for a Sarton Literary Award.

259408_10200167724741825_2025039434_oManasi Nene is a writer and performance poet from Pune, India. She founded the Pune Poetry Slam at 17, and it has emerged as one of the leading literary communities and spaces in the country. Her work deals with sexuality, power politics, anxiety and what it is to be a young adult today. Halfway through a degree in Literary and Cultural Studies, she is currently in Toronto on an exchange program. Hopefully, you’ll be reading more of her work soon.

casey-plett-headshot-1-1500pxCasey Plett wrote the short story collection A Safe Girl To Love and is the co-editor of the forthcoming anthology Meanwhile, Elsewhere: Science Fiction & Fantasy From Transgender Writers. She lives in Windsor, Ontario.

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Giovanna Riccio is a graduate of the University of Toronto, where she studied Philosophy and English Literature. Her poems and essays have appeared in newspapers, magazines, journals and anthologies. Her work has been translated into Italian, Spanish, Slovenian, French and Romanian. She is the author of Vittorio (Lyricalmyrical Press, 2010) and Strong Bread (Quattro Books, 2011).  An Italian anthology that includes translations of her poems will be published in Italy this year. Giovanna co-organized the Toronto reading series, Not So Nice Italian Girls, for three years and is now part of the team that organizes  Shab-e She’r, Toronto’s most diverse monthly reading series.

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BWS 08.03.17: Manasi Nene

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Manasi Nene is a writer and performance poet from Pune, India. She founded the Pune Poetry Slam at 17, and it has emerged as one of the leading literary communities and spaces in the country. Her work deals with sexuality, power politics, anxiety and what it is to be a young adult today. Halfway through a degree in Literary and Cultural Studies, she is currently in Toronto on an exchange program.

Ahead of her Mar. 8 appearance, Manasi submitted some microfiction to the blog. Enjoy!

Elemental

I was one of those child prodigies who was expected to take over the world. It started off as incredible skill at maths and engineering; I had built three models of a solar-powered car with my father by the time I turned 8, an ice-cream machine by the time I was 10, and reconfigured a laptop at 15 into something that the military has made me promise not to talk about. Then it dried up.

At 16, I found punk rock. At 17, vodka. At 18, love. At 19, heartbreak. At 19.5, vodka again. At 20, art. Now I wouldn’t know where to drive my solar cars, even if I could rebuild one.

Sculpture is just a less fancy form of engineering, I’d say. You still need just as much of your processing power; just not the most conventional parts of it. Not everyone will understand what you’re trying to do; sometimes not even yourself, until you look back with surprise that you managed to make something beautiful and not just find it, that you could be happy with something you made for yourself, that it’s alright not to have someone pat you on the back for something you’re already quite okay with.

Unlike my child prodigy days, I taught myself sculpture. Of course, there were books and videos by the best, but I wasn’t sitting in class 8 hours a day, paying attention for only 4. I started with the mud from my backyard, and then clay, and then cookie dough. I moved on to gluing bongs on top of each other and then wine bottles and then broke it all and remade it into ground-glass flowers and ground-glass flowervases. And then stained glass, and then blown glass, and somehow I managed never to cut myself. Then I moved to something more impermanent. Snowglobes made out of barbed wire and soda cans; tea sets made out of thrash metal records. I’d never really fallen out of love with my old engineering habits though, and the now indie art paparazzi decided that I was a cultural icon.

I’m not all that; I still don’t know how to handle certain materials. I’ve been trying to capture icemelt forever. I’ve never made windchimes because they just sound pretty–but they have nothing to do with wind, something that can make you feel glad to be alive but you can’t even describe what it is like to touch. I’m too scared to plant trees. If you gave me fire, I wouldn’t know what to do with it.

Mostly, I just want to know how to work with love. How to hold it. How to sew it inside a blanket so it can still keep someone warm at night. How to use it to power fairy-lights that won’t die. How to keep it safe. How to use it to fly a kite to the moon and back. Sometimes I feel like there is no point to a solar-powered car if you can’t drive away with the person you love, no point to an ice-cream machine if you can’t discuss secrets and swap dreams with this person on days the sun has decided not to be kind to anyone. Then again, it is the impermanent that drives us.

You can’t record a windchime and have it sound like it’s supposed to; you can’t really tell anyone what icemelt tastes like. If you do end up planting a tree, it will die, yes; but not before all the children that tried to make treehouses. If you gave me fire I could trace you fireworks; I’d be able to sculpt the person I love; I might even make art out of it. If you gave me love I wouldn’t know what to do with it but if you gave me something more understandable, even slightly, I think we could figure out how to make magic.

Manasi Nene visits Brockton Writers Series on International Women’s Day, Wednesday, March 8, 2017, in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St., Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Casey Plett, Giovanna Riccio and a special guest talk, “Breaking the Constraints of Form: There Are Many Ways to Tell a Story” by Teva Harrison!

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BWs 08.03.17: Giovanna Riccio

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Giovanna Riccio is a graduate of the University of Toronto, where she studied Philosophy and English Literature. Her poems and essays have appeared in newspapers, magazines, journals and anthologies. Her work has been translated into Italian, Spanish, Slovenian, French and Romanian. She is the author of Vittorio (Lyricalmyrical Press, 2010) and Strong Bread (Quattro Books, 2011).  An Italian anthology that includes translations of her poems will be published in Italy this year. Giovanna co-organized the Toronto reading series, Not So Nice Italian Girls, for three years and is now part of the team that organizes  Shab-e She’r, Toronto’s most diverse monthly reading series.

Her latest poems confront Barbie, the doll that, depending whom you ask, sits among both the world’s most beloved toys and its most loathed cultural icons. In the interview below, Giovanna tells the BWS Blog more about the project.

BWS: When and how did you start thinking about writing poems from multiple perspectives about Barbie? Was there a particular incident, conversation, work of art (etc.) that it sprung from?

Giovanna: Let me begin by saying that I have a conflicted relationship with dolls. I grew up with few toys and without any dolls. I experienced this as a loaded deprivation and have written about their personal psychological weight in an essay titled “Life’s Hard Play”.

Culturally, I consider fashion dolls as vehicles for transmitting stereotypical images of female beauty and roles. Physically, they affirm (and embody) what Simone de Beauvoir recognized as female essence being relegated to matter; in a patriarchal society, the body as physical beauty is a woman’s social capital–her power. When Barbie turned 50 in 2009, I heard an interview on CBC Radio and the interviewee outlined the history of Barbie’s development at Mattel. At the same time I was reading Randall Maggs’s book Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems, a collection written in multiple voices. The two resonated for me. I am interested in history and enjoy researching any topic I decide to write about, and I began reading both historical books and theoretical essays written about this complex cultural icon. My first poem, “Always Barbie”, comes from my reading and my research on the Mattel website and allows Barbie to introduce herself with her full name and as a malleable narrative and market diva.

BWS: At least some people have found Barbie objectionable for a long time, be it for her unrealistic body or for the arguably superficial themes (glamping, pet care sets, car wash) or stereotypically “female” careers (teacher, nurse, ballerina, etc.) that are sold alongside/instead of sets in which Barbie has an aspirational profession that girls haven’t always been encouraged to pursue (doctor, astronaut, etc.) and a slogan like “I can be anything”. Do you see any trends in our current moment that make engaging with Barbie (and the opposition to Barbie) more urgent than it might have been in the past?

Giovanna: At present, a number of socio-political issues have surfaced that pertain to what Barbie signifies when her history and message are decoded; let me express two important ones here.

A) The rise of radical conservatism in the U. S. (with rumblings in Canada and Europe) facilitates an attack on laws that protect a woman’s right to have control of her body in all contexts. Yet, conservative women like Ivanka Trump call themselves feminist because they are successful in business while promoting a conventional and confining image of female beauty. Engaging with Barbie allows for discussion of the parallel deception/conflict she has always embodied: Barbie touts a conservative, reactionary agenda through her look, yet her careers and lifestyle grant her modernity, independence and freedom. Her beauty, however, and the male-pleasing aesthetic of powerful women like Ivanka Trump serve as a social balm calming the threat to patriarchy and the status-quo. This is feminism reduced to economics.

B) The trending plasticity of the “made-over” female body also demands attention and reflection.  As I wrote in my poem on the original Barbie prototype, Barbie (who is a world celebrity in her own right) expresses no “cult of the original”.  Her essence is as plastic as the material that shaped decades of victory in the doll wars and gave her a body and identity that can morph into whatever the times and market require. In the human world, witness Barbie’s nature in the rise of reality show celebrities such as Kylie Jenner whose body obviously proclaims the use of invasive and non-invasive surgical procedures and who bears the plastic “rich face” of status and wealth.  Follow on social media, the digital plastic surgery provided by Photoshop–the dissemination of  the face as a sculpted, blank, wrinkle-free surface. Today, women (and especially young women) are bombarded with representations of female beauty that point to a plastic, unstable body always capable of being manipulated and disseminated. Our Western obsession with youth culture produces an ongoing “girlification” of womanhood. Fashion magazines and other media consent to promulgate and venerate unnatural (also termed inorganic) and unrealistic ideals and many women consent to consuming periodicals whose main content is advertising masquerading as journalism. One positive reaction to the emaciated model critiques is the recent appearance of full-figure models in some fashion magazines.

BWS: Barbie finally did what some thought unthinkable a couple of years ago and released dolls with different, “more realistic” body types and even some with flat feet–meaning that some consumers reported frustration with the inconvenience of having to make sure they bought the correct shoe type, the right-sized clothes, etc. What do you make of the collision between the practical reality of changing a product and the seeming increase in attention to a product’s social responsibility? And does the recent change figure in your work (if so, how)?

Giovanna: So newsworthy was the announcement of Fashionista Barbie(s) parading a variety of body types, skin tones, heights , hair styles and footwear possibilities that it was reported in The New York Times. In the past, Mattel has tried to deal with difference by marketing their “Barbie Dolls of the World” line that reduces race and nation to colour and costume. The Fashionista line is a further movement, but if you look at the faces, there is no escaping the pretty Barbie look and hair on overload. It is questionable whether a corporation whose primary motive is to maximize profit can produce dolls that truly reflect difference; that they must design a prototype makes this self-evident.

For 56 years, Barbie had been 11 inches tall with the same body measurements, but now consumers can buy a Barbie that may reflect their own body types and look but also take home the wrong sized outfit and faulty footwear. I suspect that the allure of Barbie as tall, thin and voluptuous was as much a surface for fantasy and projection as she was a projection of female objectification. In the Middle East, Barbie outsold the competing doll she spawned: the more modest, less glamourous doll named Fulla. My cynicism regarding “the  good corporate citizen” opines that this line of dolls  was not the product of social responsibility but of market reality. Barbie’s sales have seen a steady decline since 2009, when Mattel claimed that, globally, a Barbie was sold every three seconds. I think this development is consistent with other Barbie changes that I have written poems about which reveal a response to social pressures to keep Barbie “relevant” and selling. I have not written about the Fashionista Barbie(s) yet, but intend to have them manifest in my Plastications section.

BWS: Do you think there might be something about girls/women/the world in general today that’s incompatible with Barbie? And might we ever see a world without Barbie? Do you and your new poems imagine where Barbie will be in ten years? Fifty years? (If not: hazard a guess?)

Giovanna: What great questions! Grist for the poet’s mill. Let’s begin with a travel story:  I was in Rome last September, immersed in the Forum’s ancient ruins, surrounded by old stone and imperial majesty when, across the street, at the entrance to a large museum, I spied  a hefty, hot-pink banner floating a sizable portrait of a blonde, blue-eyed Barbie. And on exhibit, about 500 Barbie dolls. Inside I met a professor from England who was interviewing Italian girls for an article on “girlhood”.

Whether Barbie’s popularity continues to decline, I cannot foretell; I’m sure Mattel’s marketing and research department is on the job and will not let Barbie go gently into that good night. I see young women in North America as a very mixed group. Some are very politically aware and conscious of female objectification and stereotyping but equally at play are conservative and traditional values. I am astonished at the feminization and sexualization of girls from infancy that I sometimes still observe and note the popularity of “princess merchandise” riding on Disney culture.

As for a world without Barbie, perhaps her manifestation as a toy will pass, but she has left her legacy. While researching my Human Barbie poems, I discovered the Barbification of real women, her echo in our flesh. Barbie collectors proliferate and Barbie fairs take place on a regular basis. A world without Barbie is not really an option: if she passes in her present form, she will appear in human editions and as obsessive nostalgia.  Like a totemic mother she will endure as an artifact and as the yielding subject of numerous theses and works of art.

BWS: We look forward to hearing more on the topic in your poems on March 8! Thanks, Giovanna.

Giovanna Riccio visits Brockton Writers Series on International Women’s Day, Wednesday, March 8, 2017, in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St., Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Manasi Nene, Casey Plett and a special guest talk, “Breaking the Constraints of Form: There Are Many Ways to Tell a Story” by Teva Harrison!

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BWS 08.03.17: Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm

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Kateri Akiwenzie Damm is Anishinaabek from the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation, Saugeen Ojibway Nation, in Ontario. Kateri is an internationally acclaimed writer, spoken word poet, Indigenous arts activist, publisher and communications consultant. She and her sons live in their community at Neyaashiinigmiing on the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation. Kateri has two collections of poetry, a collection of short stories, and two CDs of spoken word poetry. Her CD “A Constellation of Bones” was nominated for an Aboriginal Music Award. She is the founder and Managing Editor of award-winning publisher Kegedonce Press, which publishes and promotes some of the most beautiful, challenging, celebrated Indigenous literature in the world. Kateri’s first collection of short stories, The Stone Collection was recently shortlisted for a Sarton Literary Award.

Get to know Kateri before her March 8 appearance at Brockton Writers Series in
this interview on CBC Radio

…and check out the starred review The Stone Collection received in Publishers Weekly here!

Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm visits Brockton Writers Series on International Women’s Day, Wednesday, March 8, 2017, in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St., Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Manasi Nene, Casey Plett, Giovanna Riccio and a special guest talk, “Breaking the Constraints of Form: There Are Many Ways to Tell a Story” by Teva Harrison!

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