Monthly Archives: December 2020

BWS 13.01.21: Sonal Champsee

Sonal Champsee writes plays, fiction and essays. Her work has been published in anthologies and magazines such as The New QuarterlyRicepaper, and Today’s Parent. She holds an MFA from UBC, is an instructor for the Sarah Selecky Writing School, and is currently working on a novel.

What happens to a writer who can’t do more than watch pleasant television? Sonal muses on pandemic brain, not writing and the Great British Bake Off.

So, I haven’t been writing.

Whether that’s pandemic-brain or garden-variety resistance or something else entirely, I don’t know. But it’s been very clear that my capacity for mental tasks is limited. Even reading has been difficult. Television is more my speed, but not any television. No gritty dramas. No complex storylines. Nothing that requires a commitment. I’ve instead been binge-watching past seasons of The Great British Bake-Off.

What a joy the early seasons are! No kitting out an entire patisserie in thirty minutes using nothing but gluten-free flour. Instead, it’s make a cake. Bake some cookies. Make a pie. Disasters are a mousse that didn’t set, a cake that didn’t rise, a pastry that crumbled, all of which are soothed by Mel and Sue, doling out comforting words and hugs. No social distancing! How much do I long to be upset over a cake and be given a Mel-Sue sandwich? And then still have cake to eat.

And the food! I did not know the British had so many words for cake. Victoria Sandwich. Lemon Drizzle. Iced buns. I pat myself on the back, a little, since all of this deliciously spiced and sweetened British baking comes from the many places they colonized. What would a classic steamed British pudding be, without colonialism to flavour it?

There are much better cultural critiques on the Great British Bake-Off than this one, but invariably, it is a brown-skinned baker that becomes the flavour person. The one who adds mango and chili to things, who draws on their heritage to give us Jamaican Black Cake and Buko Pandan ice cream. Sometimes this is to their detriment, as the flavour can be too bold for the improbably named Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. But more often, it seems, these bakers are expected to Bring the Flavour.

It has almost become a trope. If you are brown, you will bring in your cultural background to make flavourful food, because of course you cook it frequently and are an expert in the cuisine. The white bakers will draw from other countries as well—Bake Off has shown me that British people seem to know their Indian food, even if they pronounce it funny. But this seems something they can sprinkle in on occasion, rather than an expectation. In Canadian Bake Off, it certainly feels like multicultural contestants must bring some of that multi-culture to the gingham alter.

But then, if they didn’t bring this in, who would?

Isn’t it better that Chetna makes the same kachoris she makes at home, rather than some random blond making them for the first time based on a blog about someone else’s singular trip to India? Isn’t it better that Nadiya made a wedding cake decorated with sari fabric motifs instead of someone else trying it because they saw it on Indian Matchmaker?

I don’t have answers. I have experiences.

Certainly, as a young writer, who also wasn’t writing much, there was a time when award-winning desi-Canadian literature would exclusively take place over there. Back home, although India has never been my home. And so already, without having started, I was afraid because I didn’t want to write about a country I had never lived in, and yet still felt expected to present and explain. I never wanted to include South Asian characters, because it felt as though they must be stories about The Struggle, and not stories about anything else.

Certainly, I have hit upon these same expectations in writing workshops. With literary agents. In my own writing classes, where my brown-skinned students will ask me, am I really expected to write about The Struggle, and then will turn in stories featuring white characters to avoid it.

And yet, I loved those stories set in India, and immigration stories, and stories about The Struggle, in that I could still recognize something of myself in them. As familiar as mom’s cooking, which is food I never make.

And yet years later, my stalled novel in progress is still largely set in India. And I wonder, is this creating more expectations for desi writers? Should I even write this at all?

Ultimately, though, I think the answers can be found in the Great British Bake Off. When Nadiya, with her headscarf and perfect eyebrows and increasing confidence won. Through tears, she declared, “I’m never ever going to put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never going to say ‘I can’t do it.’ I’m never going to say ‘maybe.’ I’m never going to say ‘I don’t think I can.’ I can, and I will.”

And she has.

Sonal Champsee visits Brockton Writers Series via ephemera series on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 starting at 6:30pm alongside Dominik Parisien, Laure Baudot, and Kirby. Our guest speaker, Cree-Métis scholar Deanna Reder, will give her talk on, “Supporting Indigenous Authors: from the archives to the Indigenous Voices Awards”.

Special note: As we adapt to current social distancing regulations, we’re happy to announce our event will be hosted by the wonderful ephemera series! They have already done their show online multiple times, so we are thrilled to benefit from their technical expertise, while also increasing collaboration within the literary community and growing connections between organizers, authors, and audience. You can attend the event by watching on the ephemera series YouTube channel. Please log in at 6:30.

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BWS 13.01.21: Dominik Parisien

Dominik Parisien is the author of the poetry collection Side Effects May Include Strangers (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2020) and his recent work has appeared in journals such as MaisonneuvePRISM InternationalQueen’s Quarterly, and The Literary Review of Canada, among others. Dominik is a disabled, bisexual French Canadian. He lives in Toronto.

Earlier this year Dominik collaborated with musician Forest Muran for a joint performance at the LOMP reading series in London, Ontario. Forest adapted and reinterpreted Dominik’s poetry through music.

lomp

v. (1) to collaboratively smelt artistic disciplines and perform the result;

(2) to observe (1) (see omnivore).

n. (1) an instance of lomping, usually at TAP in London, ON and taking place on the first wednesday of every month.

The organizers, Erica McKeen and Kevin Heslop, emphasize the collaborative nature of their reading series. Instead of a traditional reading, featured poets are invited to work with an artist of their choice. The collaboration can take just about any form, from visual arts to dance to music to whatever the poet considers feasible and interesting.

I asked for a musician. Much of my poetry involves the translation of bodily elements like pain and illness, and I was particularly interested in seeing some of those concepts translated into yet another form. I also wanted to work with a stranger, so I asked for a local musician they could recommend. They paired me with an artist called Forest Muran, a student of world religions who writes for concert settings and composes electronic music. Over several months we had a few video meetings where we discussed ideas. Initially, our vision was a bit narrow, largely because of my focus on the pain poems. That had been our opening conversation and we remained fixed on the subject, on that approach. Forest had superb ideas on how to engage with it, and we had a number of stimulating conversations, but we still struggled to bring all of it together cohesively, to allow for a level of variety that would make it more ambitious collaboratively. Unforeseen circumstances (my father’s surgery, the start of the Covid-19 Pandemic) delayed the reading a few times. So we had more time. And then we had even more time. So we continued to experiment with concepts, with approaches.

Our breakthrough came during one meeting when we expanded our scope, started discussing some of our artistic practice and interests more broadly. Although I am an atheist, some of my work reproduces the religious language of my childhood for the purposes of ritual. As someone familiar with different religious approaches to music, Forest started experimenting. Forest then introduced me to composer Erik Satie, with his unconventional approaches to music, and to some of Satie’s work considered “vexing” or “aggravating”. Satie’s unmusical influences brought to my mind an MRI, about which I’d written. I shared the poem with Forest and made him listen to MRI sounds online, which have an uncomfortable, aggressive, and dissonant quality. With these new elements our collaboration truly began in earnest. By bringing in more of ourselves, beyond the immediate project and concerns, we overflowed with ideas, with new approaches.

Forest later called the entire experience “thought-provoking, dramatic, and even mysterious” and I have to agree. Collaborating with peers in your field is wonderful, but working with artists in other mediums is an altogether different experience. It felt extraordinary, getting to engage with another artist that way, and getting to think about my own work in a completely different medium. It might seem intimidating at first (it certainly felt that way to me), but cross-pollination in the arts can lead to such wonderful results.

So with that in mind, here is our collaborative video. It might seem a little odd, doing a post about one reading series for another reading series, but to me it goes with that collaborative, interconnected sense.

And after you watch it (if you watch it), consider maybe doing a similar project of your own. Reach out to a friend, an acquaintance in another field, and see what magic you come up with together. You won’t regret it.

Dominik Parisien visits Brockton Writers Series via ephemera series on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 starting at 6:30pm alongside Sonal Champsee, Laure Baudot, and Kirby. Our guest speaker, Cree-Métis scholar Deanna Reder, will give her talk on, “Supporting Indigenous Authors: from the archives to the Indigenous Voices Awards”.

Special note: As we adapt to current social distancing regulations, we’re happy to announce our event will be hosted by the wonderful ephemera series! They have already done their show online multiple times, so we are thrilled to benefit from their technical expertise, while also increasing collaboration within the literary community and growing connections between organizers, authors, and audience. You can attend the event by watching on the ephemera series YouTube channel. Please log in at 6:30.

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Brockton Writers Series 13.01.21

Wednesday, January 13, 2020 – 6:30pm

Brockton Writers Series presents readings by:

Dominik Parisien

Sonal Champsee

Laure Baudot

Kirby

Special note: As we adapt to current social distancing regulations, we’re happy to announce our event will be hosted by the wonderful ephemera series! They have already done their show online multiple times, so we are thrilled to benefit from their technical expertise, while also increasing collaboration within the literary community and growing connections between organizers, authors, and audience. You can attend the event by watching on the ephemera series YouTube channel. Please log in at 6:30.

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

 If you’d like to donate, please do so here.

Many thanks to the Ontario Arts Council for their support.

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GUEST SPEAKER

Supporting Indigenous Authors: from the archives to the Indigenous Voices Awards

Cree-Métis scholar Deanna Reder is Chair of the Department of Indigenous Studies and Associate Professor in the Department of English at Simon Fraser University. In 2018 she was inducted into the College of New Scholars in the Royal Society of Canada and is the co-Chair of the Indigenous Voices Awards.

READERS

Dominik Parisien is the author of the poetry collection Side Effects May Include Strangers (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2020) and his recent work has appeared in journals such as Maisonneuve, PRISM International, Queen’s Quarterly, and The Literary Review of Canada, among others. Dominik is a disabled, bisexual French Canadian. He lives in Toronto.

Sonal Champsee writes plays, fiction and essays. Her work has been published in anthologies and magazines such as The New QuarterlyRicepaper, and Today’s Parent. She holds an MFA from UBC, is an instructor for the Sarah Selecky Writing School, and is currently working on a novel.

Laure Baudot’s work has appeared in publications including The Antigonish Review, The Danforth Review, Found Press, Prairie Fire, and Wasafiri Magazine of International Contemporary Writing. Her debut collection of short stories is This One Because of the Dead (Cormorant Books 2019). Her karate blog can be found at here. Currently a psychotherapist-in-training, she lives in Toronto with her husband and three children.

KIRBY is the author of WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE CALLED? (Anstruther Press, 2020), THIS IS WHERE I GET OFF (Permanent Sleep Press, 2019), SHE’S HAVING A DORIS DAY (knife | fork | book, 2017). Forthcoming POETRY IS QUEER (Palimpsest, Fall 2021) and NOT YOUR BEST no 2 [editor]. She is the publisher, book fairy at knife | fork | book [Toronto] jeffkirby.ca.

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