Held at Sparrow on St. Laurent north, the lounge provided the reading with the perfect atmosphere for a cozy Montreal reading in late March. The dim lighting, dark wood tables and old black and white portraits hung salon-style on the far wall was a warm retreat from the light snowfall outside. By the time the reading began the medium-sized room was packed with patrons leaning against walls and crouching on the floor.
Each reader, all featured in Matrix’s “New Feminisms” issue, offered a different perspective on the theme. The notion of translation, in particular, surfaced several times throughout the evening. Brownwyn Hsylam read translations of Nicole Brossard’s work. I was particularly impressed with the strict rules Hsylam imposed on her transations. She describes them as ‘anagram translations’ and offers further explanation in the “New Feminisms” issue: “… these translations use the same number of each letter as in the orginal French poem. This translation is tonal strain, inflecting English with the letteral character of the French.” The effect is a translation that combines both meaning and the feeling of the original language.
In addition, Christine Sy read from her prose piece “An Anishinaabekwe Intellectual History, 21st Century Turtle Island,” featured in the issue. Her lyric prose included Anishinaabekwe words, which required some translation. Her strong presence as a reader and beautifully crafted images drew me into her piece and the world it described. The Anishinaabekwe words, which were only translated once at the beginning of her performance, reflected what her piece ultimately provided for me: a translation of experience.
Indeed, the notion of translating experience, particularly the experiences of women, was loosely present throughout the reading. (In fact, it could be argued that all writing is, in a sense, a translation of experience, feelings, senses etc.)
Melissa Bow, who began the evening strongly, experimented with a ‘cut-up’ technique in one poem, where she took apart Derek Walcott’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize and put it back together. Reminscient of Burroughs’ and Dadaist techniques, the poem can be seen as kind of translation, offering a new intepretation of Walcott’s own words.
Julie McIssac read from “The Baby Section,” a story that appears in the issue. Simple language and precise descriptions characterize her reading. McIssac embodied the main character in her reading, perfectly capturing the moment of revelation, where this young women reveals her pregnancy and thoughts about the absent father.
Angela Hibbs read poetry not featured in the issue. “Good Housekeeping” stood out for me. The poem described the landscape of a housewife’s environment, focusing on cleaning products and areas needing attention. Again, a strong sense of the female experience was present and highlighted by her use of language and rhythm.
Zoe Page injected the reading with humor— and chose to share a prose piece about attending a “specific” party. Indeed the repetition of “specific” combined with her honest description of the speaker’s fears and position in this “specific” scene, both vividly captured ‘that kind’ of party and humorously jabbed the ‘hip’ culture of today.
Ending the evening with a bang, spoken word artist T.L. Cowan read a long piece composed entirely of questions. Often humorous and with a focus on sexuality, the piece prodded at the notion of female sexuality. Cowan’s strong presence as a reader was a joy to watch.
Ultimately the reading was a great experience. I would highly recommend checking out Matrix’s “New Feminisms” issue and visiting their website for online content that wasn’t included in the issue.