February 22, 2008

Vancouver Writes 2008

I attended "Vancouver Writes" last night, hosted by the Vancouver International Writer's Festival (VIWF). Over a hundred of us, huddled in groups of ten around tables and paired up with published authors of apparent higher repute, wrote through spontaneous writing exercises. The tasks: choose ten words out of a bowl and create a prose piece, each person writing two sentences before passing paper and pen onto someone else. Or, pair up and choose three words from said bowl and come up with the best possible haiku. All the while a three piece jazz ensemble, named after Bukowski, seamlessly played through various arrangements of songs I'd never heard before--but still enjoyed.

Now I went to the same gig last year and had an absolute riot. The various writers: Nancy Lee, Steven Galloway, Miranda Pearson, Brad Cran to name a few, were charming and fun, putting on the requisite act of feigning interest in the minions around them. The food and drink were adequate, the prizes worth playing for, and the MC Billeh Nickerson was quite outrageous. The people at our table were electric and intelligent, witty, inspiring. It made for a wonderful evening.

This year, the whole event felt a little tired. While the music was good, the food and drink up to par with the previous year, the writers seemed less interested. Timothy Taylor did manage to spill his entire glass of wine on our table, which was good for a laugh. But most of the writers seemed preoccupied, more interested in picking up past conversation with one another than engaging with the "paying folk" at the tables. We appeared to be a trivial obstacle to their evening of socializing. Well, that's a little harsh, but you get the idea. There wasn't much of a connection, at least at our table.

Perhaps my cynicism stems from the poor efforts put out by some of the those who joined my table. One woman decided to personify a rainbow. Honestly, who does that? This isn't The Wizard of Oz. The word "rainbow" was drawn from the bowl (a bad enough plight already) and this silly woman, rather than work the word into setting or an abstraction, gave the rainbow a voice and had it speak to the characters. She did this after we'd established the opening line to be a quote from Flannery O'Connor (a name she'd never heard before). She did this with Miranda Pearson, yes the divine Miranda Pearson and her lovely voice who I wanted to bring home with me so she could read poetry out loud until I fell asleep, sitting at our table. I almost had a seizure. Not to mention that she used the adjective "haughty". It couldn't just be a talking rainbow. It had to be a haughty, talking rainbow. Thankfully there was a woman who shared my grief. She gave a brief rant afterwards that made my evening.

The tables that won were most deserving. Some impressive pieces emerged from these chaotic exercises. And yes I still laughed and snorted and made a general ass of myself as I'm prone to do in situations where I'm not quite comfortable. But Vancouver Writes 2008 was not as inspiring as 2007. I didn't walk away motivated to one day join the ranks of those "elite" writers who took turns gracing our tables. I walked away wondering about the sincerity of it all, whether these writers actually want others to succeed. Or whether it's all just a mechanism, a game to be played in order to keep people interested, keep people buying their books with the slight tease that maybe they too can one day be called an "author".

Yes, I'll go next year. I'm a glutton for a dangling carrot and the guise of potential. Not to mention Miranda Pearson...oh wait, I did already mention that. Maybe I should sign up as a volunteer.

Save This Page


Sam said...

There we were in our guild hall, clinking together mighty flagons of mead and toasting the latest orc hunt. Surely the minstrels will compose elaborate madrigals of our chivalrous adventures. Long live the Scriveners Guild!

Harry Tournemille said...

Couldn't have said it better myself.