On Wednesday night I attended the inaugural launch for untethered, a new (paper!) literary magazine. It was, in Toronto Poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke’s words, “off the hook.”
Rule number one for a great launch: pack the place. By the time Descant’s Editor-in-Chief Karen Mulhallen introduced the editors of untethered, the Monarch Tavern’s upstairs pub was jumping with family and friends ready to hoot and holler and welcome Nicole Haldoupis, Sophie McCreesh and Stephanie McKechnie, co-creators of untethered. But who are all these people, you ask, and what have they got to do with you?
Everything, if you are a writer and reader in Canada.
The evening began and ended with pointed comments from Karen Mulhallen and George Elliott Clarke about the sorry state of dwindling government support for the arts and culture in Canada. There are clear, demonstrable reasons why a culture that wants to remain democratic needs to support its arts culture; there is no dearth of research here. There is no evidence whatsoever that we need to build mega-jails. None.
We are not the only western democratic country that is constantly having to fight for its arts and culture sector. The UK has a similar history. Why fund the arts? The short answer: because the arts challenge the status quo and breathe new life into wheezing democracies.
At the launch, I spoke with Diana Manole who read some poems she had translated. She read one in English and then in Romanian — I always like when poets do this and I’m surprised at how much of it I seem to get, intuitively, when I hear the reading in the original language. I told Diana how much I enjoyed her reading and she said, “I just loved tonight. You know, we don’t really have readings like this where I’m from.” Really? “No,” she said, “in Romania anything like this tended to just be all about Ceaușescu.” Ah, right. I rest my case.
The great thing about supporting your right to a democratic and open society is that you don’t always have to risk your safety at a protest; to support the arts, you just need to, well, support the arts. Attend events, buy stuff, spend your birthday and Christmas money on subscriptions and tickets. In the fall especially, there are so many literary events going on because it’s book launch season. Many writers get up at 5 am, five days a week to squeeze in a couple of hours of writing before leaving for their day jobs. They will be celebrating the results of years of labour this fall and they’d like you there for the party. Consider this an official invite. From all of them.
Michael Mirolla, VP of Guernica Editions, brought an armload of new books to donate to the raffle table for the launch of untethered. He said to me later that it was good to “soak in all that energy.” Especially if you’re a writer, launches are great events to attend — that energy Michael talked about keeps you going in your own work. Meeting and talking to new and established writers is the heart of these events. You may not know any of the names in this blog post, and my point is not to sound clubby or exclusive: it’s to encourage you to get out and get to know your own local lit peeps.
Quite a few of the guests at the launch for untethered did already know each other — parents, brothers, sisters and best friends hooted and cheered when their person took the stage. And when it was announced that the issue sold out its first run, the place exploded.
Everyone I talked to — and I did talk to almost everyone as I tried to extract a toonie or a fiver from them for the raffle — said that this was one of the best, and even the best launch they had attended all year. Yes, for all the fuzzy feel-good reasons that are hard to quantify, but also that the readings were so damn good. And there were eight of them. Everyone respected their time limit (key at all readings, people!) and read so well. Okay, George Elliott Clarke may have gone a bit over his allotted five minutes. The man can make the rudest words sound musical. He is, dare I say it, untethered.
There are some solid practical reasons for attending literary events in your community: you’ll find out what’s going on and what’s new. I found out from Justin Lauzon, Descant volunteer and contributor to untethered, that he has a new job with a great title: Literary Events Coordinator for a local restaurant. The Windup Bird Café, which hosts, among other things, a monthly Best Canadian Poetry series, has a program called Birds of a Feather. According to Justin, “we’re reaching out to people in the community to tell their stories on stage – just regular people, no need to be a writer. The admission process to perform is basically, ‘Do you have a good story about this topic?’ and if we think you do, then you’re on!’” I know — you don’t live in Toronto, right? So start up one of these where you live. Approach a restaurant, café or pub and pitch the idea.
No one really cares about the political benefits of attending a literary event when we’re there – we just want to meet up with friends, meet new people, have some fun and talk about books and writing. Or how we have no money or time for books and writing. We came to Wednesday’s launch primarily to support the three co-creators whose imagination, experience, talent and optimism brought a new magazine and about a hundred happy people together.
The untethered editors have all volunteered at Descant. Nicole Haldoupis was production editor for our issue The Brink and the Break (another great launch night, come to think of it). All of us at Descant, one of the oldest literary magazines in Canada, wish them well in their new literary endeavour. And I know that they would join me in encouraging you to get out to literary events this fall. Support one another, support people you don’t know (why not?), buy books and tickets and — let’s keep our arts culture…