Pints and poetry at pub

By Christian Cotroneo

Poetry and pubs can be a heady mix.

And no one knows that better than David O’Meara.

This fall, the Ottawa writer hopes to stir up a literary spirit among The Manx pub’s more traditional ones.

It’s called Plan 99.

And it comes from Centretown.

The reading series, directed by O’Meara and Manx owner, Chris Swail, will take place on Saturday afternoons throughout the fall and spring. O’Meara and Swail will provide the pub, while established writers provide the literary content.

This year, the series will ride the coattails of the most successful Ottawa Writers’ Festival ever. About 5000 people attended various readings and discussions over that nine-day period.

“To get a 25 per cent increase from last year, while focusing on new talent is awesome,” says Sean Wilson, one of the festival’s founders.

While O’Meara doesn’t expect that many people lined up at the bar, he sees the festival’s success as a positive sign for the scene.

“That means,” he says, “that there is a reading public out there and people want to see readings.”

Enthusiasm may be burgeoning, but the Plan’s pocket book is not. At least not yet. While the writers’ festival was able to reach out to writers from as far away as Norway, Plan 99’s reach doesn’t exceed its budgetary grasp.

So far, only nearby cities like Kingston, Montreal and Toronto stock the talent pool.

Several Ottawa venues extend a few minutes and a microphone for local writers. Plan 99, on the other hand, isn’t only a venue for aspiring locals, but for inspiring the locals.

“All of them have had at least one book.” O’Meara explains.

And all of them reflect the personal taste of the Plan’s founders – taste which leads out of town. Most Plan 99 writers hail from outside of Ottawa.

While Plan 99 brings reader to writing and poet to pub, the casual setting also provides for those who thirst for a little more than literature.

West coast writer George Bowering can appreciate that, having read at literary events across the country.

“You do your duty,” he grins, “and then go to the hospitality suite and get drunk.”

Irish writer Glenn Patterson did his duty at this year’s festival. He also applauds the premise behind the Plan.

Every reading series, he says, has value because it represents a “marriage of voice, text and subject matter.”

After attending this year’s festival, the award-winning author of The International returned to his home in Belfast with high praise for the Canadian literary scene.

“I was really struck by the variety, vibrancy and health of Canadian writers.”

Patterson’s favourite is O’Meara.

“His work really speaks to you,” he said.

While Northern Ireland may not fall under the Plan’s budget this year, the local pickings are anything but slim. Writers like Ken Babstock and Montreal poet, Eric Ormsby, topped last year’s events, making the Plan’s premier year an auspicious one. Only a handful of writers got with the Plan then, but O’Meara estimates that 30 to 40 people squeezed into the pint-sized pub for several of the readings. The sophomore season promises to percolate a little quicker. Possibilities for the Fall include a book launch for Ken Babstock’s latest novel. By Spring, O’Meara hopes to invite writers from as far away as Canada’s West Coast.

“There are some novelists, poets I’d love to get from other parts of the country.”

O’Meara needn’t hold his breath. Many of the writers are personal friends and acquaintances. Others know and respect him from his work.

“He’s spoken of very highly by other writers,” Wilson says.

If everything goes according to the Plan, O’Meara will continue to bring big fish to a small pub.