July 30, 2013

Two Interviews with Souvankham Thammavongsa

Possessing a "jeweler's eye," Souvankham Thammavongsa is a delicate, but powerful poet and individual. Her first collection, Small Arguments won the ReLit prize for poetry. Her second, Found, was based on a scrapbook belonging to her father. She will be releasing Light, just in time for Thin Air's Poetry Bash! on Wednesday, September 25.

If you are unfamiliar with her work, or haven't (yet) had the pleasure of seeing her read, here are two interviews to break the ice before you get to see her in person this fall.

The first is an interview on the blog, 12 or 20 Questions, in which Souvankham discusses her opinion of being framed in concepts such as gender and race, and offers some insight into her creative process.

Also, here is a recorded interview on the website, Into the Field, where you will get a taste of her poetry with some readings, as well as a brief discussion on The Wu-Tang Clan, and the film that was based on her second collection. This link also provides access to Souvankham's webpage and a trailer for the film.

Stay tuned to the blog for more festival insights and updates!

July 24, 2013

In a Canoe with a Modern Day Voyageur

By Steve Locke

Fun fact: "TiBert" translates to "Little Robert".

This week during Fringe, I had the pleasure of taking in a show featuring everyone’s favourite time-displaced voyageur, TiBert. The story goes that TiBert was a hard working, fur trading, mangeur de lard until he took a nap under a tree and woke up two hundred years later in a very different world. Going with what he knew best, he found work singing songs and telling stories about his experiences, keeping his heritage and identity alive in a predominantly English-speaking culture.

Out of character, TiBert’s alter ego is Rob Malo, a St. Boniface born entertainer, educator, slam poet, musician, and museum tour guide. On September 23, Rob will join the readers at Thin Air’s main stage event, Voices From Oodena/Voix d’Oodena, which will take place at the eponymous natural ampitheatre, at the Forks. There, Rob will don his TiBert outfit and share some new poetic works that speak from the heart of his identity as a member of a cultural and artistic diaspora.

From his familial roots and mythical tales at Le Festival du Voyageur, Malo constructed his show with a solid grounding of evidence provided by experience as a museum tour guide. Not always a voyageur necessarily, TiBert is a stage persona that connects many identities with a liberal use of bilingualism, history, and of course, storytelling. To both Rob Malo and TiBert, it’s the oral tradition, particularly in a bilingual context, that is important discuss and keep alive:

“I’ve considered myself quite bilingual since I was twelve. I think in both languages, so for me, it’s a scary thing, because what does that mean to adopt a new culture and language? Does that mean it replaces the old one? Does that mean it becomes one culture between the two?”

Fringin' with the kiddies at school.

Having had much difficulty on finding advice on bilingualism from elder members of both the French and English communities, Malo came to forge his own sense of identity, which sits right in the middle. There, he is free of the fear of losing his language and culture, and is instead able to promote it through the perfect venue as TiBert. Despite there being a real fear of shrinking communities, Malo challenges this idea by encouraging the breaking down of cultural barriers.

“I feel as though we need to have a few leaders in our community to help make those bridges between the English and the French, and to help the younger French-Manitobans to come to terms with having two worlds in one brain, two cultures you’re living all day long.”

Malo will be bringing this attitude to Oodena in the fall, as he has done recently on local poetry slam stages. Slam offers him a venue that’s youthful and free of tradition, to explore the social commentary of his personal experience.

“If I wanted to do poetry, it seemed like slam was the option, and after a year and a half of performing, I think I’ve finally found my voice, which is bilingual, of course. I’m really looking forward to the next year’s competition because I want a chance to show that in the prairies, there is such a thing as bilingualism. And if there’s any province that could show it, it should be Manitoba.”

For a chance to hear this new, inspired work, check out TiBert at Thin Air’s Voices From Oodena/Voix d’Oodena event on September 23.

You should also hurry to see TiBert at the The Winnipeg Fringe Festival before it wraps up at the end of the week. You can catch his performance every afternoon at 3:30 at the Steinkopf Gardens stage.

July 22, 2013

The Great and Powerful Editor

By Steve Locke

Step one on "The Yellow Brick Road".

At Thin Air, readers and aspiring writers have a fantastic opportunity to see their literary heroes in the flesh. Though, where it would seem that their wonderful texts sprang from their imaginations like spells, of course, it’s simply not the case that abracadabra, a book is printed, and distributed just like that.
What’s missing in this equation is an overseer, a great and powerful wizard hiding behind a curtain, otherwise known as an editor. More than just a capable individual with magic wand (a red pen), the editor is an educated collaborator set on bringing their apprentice’s work ever closer to the reader. This is all while making it seem like the writer had done all the work and the editor was never there, having only whispered enchantments (constructive suggestions) in their ear.

This past week, a local word-alchemist was kind enough to take me under her wing for a short apprenticing session. There, we engaged in a bit of role-playing: I acted as an aspiring writer with a workable manuscript, which I hope is not so hard to imagine, and herself: an editor at a reputable publishing house. This is much less difficult to imagine, since my master was Karen Haughian, the editor of fiction and non-fiction at Signature Editions. She helped me to dispel the myth of the editor, even the red pen.
First off, "Master Haughian" described an ideal manuscript as one that her publishing house may invest in as a marketable product that appeals to a national audience. She also mentioned that in the submission process, it’s best to demonstrate professionalism by sending a query letter and sample through the publishing house. 

Then, our editorial process began:
“So you’ve submitted a sample, it’s piqued my interest, and I’ve asked you to send in the complete manuscript. When I do a first reading, I try to do it without a red pen in hand, which is harder than you might think. I do keep a notepad handy, though, and if I’m seeing real potential to publish, I’ll jot down some notes as I go along.”
No magic wands were used in the editing of this article.

If the manuscript has sustained interest, has commercial potential and fits with publishing plans, the editor might make an offer to publish. Such an offer will rarely be without editorial conditions, of course, which will determine if the writer and the editor “are on the same page”

If, at this point, it already seems like a working relationship simply cannot be struck, Haughian’s advice is to run! “You should never, ever sign a contract to publish your work with a press if you feel it doesn’t ‘get’ your work.”
Once a go-ahead is agreed upon, then a contract is written up, which will outline an editorial schedule that works backwards from a projected publication date.
Okay, so at this point, my master agreed to take me as a full-time apprentice, and had already suggested some incantations to add to my manuscript. Since it was my first apprenticeship, I felt somewhat intimidated. Thankfully, she assured me, “The editing process is not a battle or negotiation; it’s a completely collaborative process, with both parties working together to make the manuscript the best it can possibly be.”
Whew! I was certainly on board for that, especially when she put her role into perspective for me. She said, “The editor’s first task is to get inside the author’s head in order to suggest revisions that are true to the author’s vision and voice. The editor’s aim is to make the connection between the writer and reader stronger.” If the editor does their job well, they will make her work look invisible, and have me grasping exactly what I was trying to say.
The second task is to smooth out any flaws in the work. “The editor will question all kinds of things – from plot inconsistencies and character motivation and development to order, pacing and flow – and make suggestions on how to address them.”
It was then that she took a serious tone and explained why her role was necessary, and objectivity was key. A reading by friends and family simply won’t do, she said. “No one will have the same investment in your work as your editor does. Part of the editor’s job is to keep an eye on how (your work) will be received by people who don’t know you – the elusive reading public.”
After a length of time spent on perfecting the story and characters, then it gets down to the nitty-gritty of editing syntax, grammar, spelling, and punctuation. After that, the manuscript is sent off to the proofreader who is sure to find all the mistakes that are missed. Then, after going through the manuscript for an umpteenth time, it’s off to print!
I asked Master Haughian if there was anything else that I needed to know. She only said that a certain perspective on my manuscript might help the editing process, which comes from experience. She said that new writers are sometimes more difficult to work with because they often feel closer to their work. Seasoned writers, on the other hand, come to view their work as separate from themselves, and an appreciation for the process is reached through sheer volume of words written and re-written.
I took that as a fine perspective to apply to my writing career. Then it occurred to me that the editing process isn’t really all that spectacular; no more so than the writing process, really. I admit that I might have looked to my master with a slight bit of disappointment on that matter.
Never really goes out of style, does it?

She said, “So that what it looks like from under the editor’s hat. As you can see, there’s no mystery, no magic. I’m not any kind of editing wizard, despite the hat. I just do my best to be attentive to the work and the author’s intentions.”

I thanked Master Haughian, and then I thought that maybe next time, I'll submit my manuscript to an editor of fantasy novels instead.


July 17, 2013

Winnipeg Poetry Slam Finals: The Icing on the Decade

By Steve Locke

2013 champ Aaron Simm throws it down on stage at the WPS finals.

On Wednesday, June 26th, a lucky King’s Head audience bore witness to a very special culmination of the 2013 Winnipeg Poetry Slam season. Not only did it result in the formation of a championship team, it also marked the tenth year in which Winnipeg has sent their poets to a national slam stage.

This season, the WPS made their home at the King’s Head Pub and Eatery. There, poets and slam fans alike got to know the venue’s beloved bartender, Francis, very well. He and the slam community saw the rise of some new, yet significant voices, not to mention the return of many of its veterans and beloved heroes who have been missed in recent years.

With the show set for 8pm, by quarter past seven, the second floor of the pub was absolutely packed with buzzing poets and patrons. The latter were eager to cheer on their favourites or to discover the art form in the best possible setting. Despite sharing a high level of performance anxiety, the former group exhibited much joviality and support towards each other in a truly communal experience.

The evening was hosted by slam team alum Leif Norman, who would also act as the feature in the absence of the indelible Andre Prefontaine. The Calgary slam champ was a victim to the city’s flooding, and could not make the trip. In a heartfelt message read aloud by local slam supporter, Bruce Symaka, Prefontaine sent his love to Winnipeg as well as his regrets for his absence. Delving into the crisis, he admitted to being overwhelmed by the tragedy he had witnessed, but also by the humanity and support from all across the country.

With the audience now primed by the inspirational message as well as a sacrificial offering by longtime slam poet Paul Friesen, host Norman set the competition to ignite. That it did, with performers representing a wide range of voices and backgrounds such as school teacher, jazz vocalist, restaurant cook, and more. Poems ranged in style and topic from political rants to choose your own adventure with themes of hope, rapture, and redemption. No two poets were the same, yet all of them left the stage with uproarious applause.

In the end, this ongoing social experiment/art form resulted in the assembly of a super team consisting of the B-boy narrator T’ai Pu, the enchanting Mira Black, the mastermind Steve Currie, the clever bonhomme Mike Johnston, and your slam champion and captain of the anti-mousketeers, Aaron Simm.

In its tenth year, the Winnipeg Poetry Slam continues to draw inspirational voices to its stage, transforming audience members into poets, performers, and heroes. According to many slam followers and veterans, this tenth anniversary team might be among the best the city has ever offered. This fall, they will represent Winnipeg in Montréal to compete in the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word. Québec and rest of Canada had better beware.