Recap by Rosie Long Decter
Summer often starts to lose steam around mid-July, but the back of Art Lounge filled up easily last Thursday for a jam-packed night of readings. The six writers who took the stage treated the crowd to a range of forms and voices, tied together by host Anya Leibovitch.
Becca Schuh, a New York-based writer and editorial director at Triangle House, began the night with an excerpt from her upcoming novel. The passage centred on Schuh’s art student protagonist and her relationships with various men on campus; in one scene, she flirts with a professor at a party, in another, she hooks up with a fraternity bro. Schuh read with enthusiasm, conveying the confidence and confusion that come with campus power dynamics and liking a guy who kind of sucks.
Up next was Natasha Young, who also read an excerpt from her upcoming book, Static Flux, which is coming out via Metatron this fall. Young began in a similar place as Schuh – with a young artist, this time a writer, heading to a party – but her narrator approached the evening with skepticism and detachment, not excitement. Young’s calming voice and fluid language gave the sense that the story was happening around the narrator, not to her. The passage poked fun at the pretentious art scene without letting its narrator off the hook; when someone at the party asks her what she writes, her response is both joke and admission: “nothing.”
Third reader Andrea Bridgeman apologized as she took the mic, because she was about to read a “summer bummer” (which, as someone who hates the heat, is my kind of summer content). Her short story, “Summer Camp Boy Band,” was definitely a bit of a bummer, but in the sweetest of ways. Undermining the trope of the life-changing camp story, Bridgeman’s piece was quiet and deliberate, softly outlining the days and desires of each idiosyncratic pre-teen. Pausing occasionally to turn a page, Bridgeman described with care the candy the girls ate, their secret spots on the campground, and the way they began to notice themselves and each other, the images hanging together in the summer air.
Poet Diana Hamilton read next. Her poem, “Persuasive Essay for Sex Ed,” was written from the perspective of a student in a sex ed class contemplating desire and consent while her teacher talks about how to get out of having sex. Funny, incisive, and heartbreaking, the piece explored the ways in which the burden of consent is consistently and harmfully placed on women. Hamilton’s matter of fact reading voice allowed the poem’s playfulness and sense of humour to come across, while making sure the commentary hit just as hard.
Rebecca Fishbein – also from New York – picked up where Hamilton left off, reading a personal essay about her own relationship to sex, and wanting – or, mostly, not wanting – to have it. Fishbein recounted tales of bad sex in a wry voice – several times referring to the voice inside her vagina – encouraging the audience to laugh at and interrogate these experiences. The amusing stories doubled as an analysis of how and why women often end up having sex not because they want to, but because they feel like they should.
The final reader was local writer Anna Leventhal, who read a short story from her 2014 collection Sweet Affliction. The wonderfully titled “Frenching the Eagle,” in which a facilitator lectures a group of women on the importance of elegance, was perfect for reading aloud; Leventhal became the facilitator as she lectured the audience, forcing us to wait through the pauses in a countdown that you could skim over on the page. Her voice sped up as the story developed and the tone darkened – eventually it became clear that these women weren’t in a yoga class or on some kind of retreat, as I had first assumed. They were heading to prison. By the time the story finished, my whole body was tense, my mind reeling from our facilitator’s plight, her call to elegance.
In a night with so many readings, the different pieces easily could’ve been lost in the shuffle, but instead the styles and subjects all seemed to enrich one another. At the end of the evening, I left Art Lounge with several new worlds of women occupying my mind, the various voices talking loudly amongst themselves on my walk home.
Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!