Reading series exposes local writers to poetry fans

Andrew Ng, Centretown News

Andrew Ng, Centretown News

Local poet Monty Reid hosted the Factory Reading Series in the absence of longtime host, Rob Mclennan.

Three-time Governor General Literary Award nominee Monty Reid hosted this month’s edition of the Factory Reading Series, at the Ottawa Art Gallery, while its founder and longtime host, Rob Mclennan, works as the writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta.

Reid, born in Spalding, Sask., is the author of Disappointment Island, a collection of poems for which he was named a finalist for the Ottawa Book Award in 2007. He has also written more than 10 other publications.

When he’s not writing poetry, Reid works as the director of exhibition services at the Canadian Museum of Nature. He says there is a connection between his work at the museum and his poetry.

“Building and creating exhibitions is a performance much like poetry is a performance.”

The Factory Reading Series allows local poetry enthusiasts to hear poets speak their written word.

Reid, who has read in the series before, says public poetry readings give the potential reader a chance to hear what the writer finds funny and the pace of the writing from the poet’s point of view. It benefits the poet as well.

“I often find myself editing the poem until the time I get on stage,” he says.

Rob Mclennan, a published poet from Ottawa, launched the Factory Reading Series in the mid- nineties moving it from various locations until finally settling at the Ottawa Art Gallery. He has nothing but kudos for the gallery.

“This has easily been the nicest any venue has ever treated my strange little events,” he says.

Veronique Couillard, communications officer at the gallery, says it is a great place for the series because the readings take place surrounded by artwork.

“You can sometimes make connections between the art on the wall and the poetry,” she says. “And this is purely by coincidence.”

The readings have also benefitted the gallery by bringing in up to 40 new faces from the local poetry crowd.

“It’s been a discovery for us too,” she says.

Although the readings can pull quite the crowd, Reid says he  thinks more funding can help publicize the event.  

“Most poetry readings aren’t going to draw thousands of people,” he says. “But I think it would be useful.”

 Mclennan agrees that funding could help, but it would depend on how it is used.

“Apart from having listings online, there really isn’t any other direct way to get the information out to those who are interested,” he says. “Although, it would be nice to know how to reach new audiences.”

For now, it’s free to attend the reading.

“It’s really a cultural gift to be able to hear these poets free of charge,” says Max Middle, a performance artist who was featured at last month’s edition of the series.

This month, the series features poets Mike Blouin, originally from Oxford Mills just outside of Ottawa and Naomi Guttman from Montreal.

Guttman is a newcomer to the series. Her book Reasons for Winter won the A.M. Klein award for poetry in 1992, a poetry award given by the Quebec Society for English language authors.

Her latest book of poems, Wet Apples, White Blood was published in the spring of 2007. She also teaches English and creative writing at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York.

Blouin, on the other hand, has read at the Factory Series before. The author of a collection of poems called I’m not going to lie to you Blouin will launch a new book this fall titled Chase and Heaven.

Blouin says if there was one word to describe his work it would be empathetic.

“I like to write about people who struggle with a great deal of darkness and manage to find their way to the light," he says.

“Reading about it enables us to share our experience. None of us should be alone.”

He says he enjoys reading his work in front of a live audience because it lets him actually see how his work touches the listener.

“There's a huge difference between sitting by yourself at two in the morning with your laptop and reading before a hopefully appreciate audience,” he says.

“This is as close as I will get to 10,000 cellphones in a dark stadium,” he says.

“Okay, it's not very close. But it's not bad.”

The next edition of the Factory Reading Series comes up in June. For more information, check out the event’s web page at