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Monday, October 03, 2005

One Of These Kids Is Doing His Own Thing

I did a reading last night at Hamilton’s Lit Live, a monthly gathering of writers reading from their work in the Aquarius Lounge of the Junction Cafe on King William Street. My ever faithful buddy Pete was there to show his support, which was great -- and thank God for that, because I’m thinking that I stuck out like a sore thumb.

First of all, it was very exciting to see the entire bar filled. There must have been between 30 and 40 people there -- yes, for a literary reading event. One of the readers, a very talented writer from Ottawa whose reading I quite enjoyed (Kim Barry Brunhuber), commented that he’d been to readings where there were five people in the room -- 3 of them his friends, one of them his publisher and the third some crazy lady who wandered into the wrong place. That type of thing was more along the lines of what I’ve been used to. But I was in awe of the size of the crowd last night.

I did my reading with five other writers: three poets and two novelists. All of them gave great readings. It was about the time I took the stage that the little song from Sesame Street started going through my head. You know the one: there’s this split screen with four kids, each of them doing something. The first one is bouncing a ball, the second one is using a hula hoop, the third one is jumping rope and the fourth one is sitting reading a book. These actions, of course, are accompanied by music and the lyrics “one of these kids is doing his own thing -- can you guess which one?”

As I stood on the stage in my black shirt and skull tie, nervously holding my book in front of me and trying to decide, on the spot, what I’d lead off with -- I suddenly wondered what I was doing there. These people were here for a literary reading -- I was a horror writer. Would they boo me off the stage, or would they just start to walk out once I got a few lines into the reading? Or would they sit quietly, applaud politely when I’d finished, then go yell at whoever had the gall to actually have invited me here this evening?

I thought I’d try to find a natural flow from the reader who’d gone before me, a poet. So I thought I’d start with a few poems, then finish with a short-short story. It worked out that the reader after me was a novelist. There, if I could offer nothing more to the evening, at least I’d be a nice segue between the normal writers. Not just that strange freak on stage who read a poem about killing trick or treaters and Santa Claus, then went on to read a poem that took a beautiful Elvis Presley song and turned it into a homicidal maniac’s fears of retribution from beyond the grave, then a story about an escaped convict that sounded like a cheap rip-off of an old campfire ghost story.

After reading the first poem, one that I was hoping would bring forth at least a few chuckles from the audience, I dreaded looking up and seeing something from an old Bugs Bunny cartoon. There's Bugs, dragged into a medical demonstration where they're going to switch his brain with the brain of a chicken, and he gets up, starts trying to amuse the crowd with jokes, slapstick, anything to win them over -- but all he sees is a completely quiet crowd, serious, just staring at him with blank faces. I was relieved that I didn't see that, but instead, a few smiles and a couple of laughs. Whew!

Between two other poems, I remember looking to my left and right to see if there might be one of those long cartoon hooks slowly sneaking in from the side that was going to whisk me right off the stage. It never appeared either. Second dose of relief.

There was applause when I finished my reading, nobody asked me to leave, and my buddy Pete tells me that I did a great reading. But I still get the feeling I was that “odd guy” doing his own thing (offering mostly bits of dark humour) while the other readers read poignant pieces, elegant pieces, moving passages.

In all, despite my "odd man out" routine, it was a wonderful event, one I hope to be able to return to in the future; not to participate in (God knows if I’ll ever get invited back), but just to enjoy the ambiance. Hamilton does have a very active literary community and Lit Live is a wonderful example of that.

4 comments:

Pete Mitchell said...

OK.

1st:

Dracula. Frankenstein. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Beowulf.

All established literary classics written by confirmed writing masters.

Anyone can write poems about love gone wrong; the loss of childhood innocence; biographies; autobiographies; and personal stream-of-consciousness. They all culminate from an individual's personal experience. Horror goes one step further. It taps into the collective human consciousness and fleshes out those universal fears that have plagued all people irregardless of race and culture. It is ancient; it is primal; it is real. You can even go back to the Bible: what is the first thing God did? He created light out of darkness. Why? Because everyone is scared of the dark. Great horror writing is achieved on a much higher level than most other genres. Only a few are able to achieve this level. You are one of those few.

2nd:

I am always amazed by the vast numbers of writers who simply go up to the stage and just 'read' from their works; often in a simple monotone with little, if any, inflection. They suck the life out of their own works leaving the audience with mere zombie-corpses of works that should be vibrant and alive. Public reading is more than just reading; it is an art in and of itself. It is performance. Look at Charles Dickens or Mark Twain. They were known world-wide for their readings because they didn't just stand on the stage and read. They brought their works to life with their tone, their inflections, their gestures, and their enthusiasm. They were actors playing all the parts; even establishing time and place with nothing but their own voices. With no disrepect intended to any of the other fine writers who read from their works; you were the only author to breathe life into his own words like the old masters.

You were great. Trust me; you were great. And you had just as much right, if not more, to be on that stage as anyone else in that room. So pat yourself on the back and give yourself the credit you deserve.

Cuz if ya don't, next time I'm bringing a whoopee cushion and a kazoo.

Bob said...

Dude... I wish I had known that you were going to be at the Junction Cafe. I would have loved to have been there. Besides, it's two blocks from my house.

Mantaray Ocean said...

Congratulations Mark!!! I know that you did brilliantly! You are a great teacher and you know how to address your audience...you made the facets of SAP interesting so I can say with confidence that you blew away the room ...

Shannon

Mantaray Ocean said...

and I forgot to mention that you are a "great author"