Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Eastern front: League of Poets meeting in St John's, Nfld.

Toronto traffic wardens waved us in and out of Pearson Airport on Thursday

where I paused at Wolfgang Puck Express and had a pretty good (though overly sweetened) bowl of butternut squash soup in a styrofoam container, with a freshly-dressed green salad on a plastic plate. How dismal the meals of today's travellers. I thought longingly of the clever system at the Edmonton Folk Festival where you pay a deposit on a plate (not china, but better than styrofoam and disposable plastic, and still served with regrettable cutlery). Why oh why?

Then a two and a half hour flight to St John's, with an hour and a half's time change, making it all four and a half hours later than Victoria, if I counted that right. We landed in dense fog that made me wonder at the marvels of modern navigation systems, and was whisked away with a pair of fellow BC poets to the conference hotel, the Battery, whose name might better be changed to Battered from the smell of the fat fryer that permeated the careworn building.

My "million dollar harbour view" was this (though no water visible even when the fog lifts):

and I helped another poet decamp down the hill after being offered two different rooms, each with a unique view of a different parking lot.

Bedroom decor, St John's style:

After one night myself in what I can only describe - even after two nights with both windows wide open - as smoky hollow, I was moved late last night to a different and less pungent room due to the massively popular party that was building steam across the hall. Although it was due to be shut down ("they won't last long", the security boys told me) on a third complaint, it could have been an ordeal they kindly thought I wouldn't want to spend the night living through. The new room was better and life carried on.

The League of Poets AGM steams ahead in convivial fashion. Yesterday's panels included Newfoundland Voice in Poetry, featuring St John's poet laureate Agnes Walsh and screenwriter/poet Des Walsh, no relation

as well as Mary Dalton and Carmelita McGrath, speaking about the frictions and inspirations of being caught between a lively but unwritten oral culture and the alien traditions of English literature. The panelists had all lived the wave of Newfoundland poetry and publishing that began in the 1950s and grew through the 1970s with magazines like TickleAce and publishing companies like Breakwater Books to support the writers who were surfacing through that time. The Newfoundland contingent has made available copies of a new magazine, Riddle Fence so we can see for ourselves what's happening here.

Then a panel paying tribute to Margaret Avison, who died last July, by Sally Ito, Stan Dragland, Barbara Nickel

and Maureen Scott Harris.

They paid tribute to Avison's skills as a poet and editor, talked about her roots in Regina, her connections with the Black Mountain Poets, and read from her challenging but rewarding poetry.

And then we piled into taxis and got ourselves down the hill to City Hall for a reception, where the nibbles were like this

with circulating platters, one of them - according to its bearer - "deep fried goodness" (the usual offenders, deep fried shrimp and fish of various kinds); the other with somewhat local fare including cod tongues, which were unidentifiably battered and fried to an unidentifiable fishiness. The free bar was a great attraction, and then we sat down to enjoy new member readings

and a few words from the mayor, Dennis O'Keefe

and then were set free to seek out our own suppers in town.

We went to Restaurant 21, where the waitress rather too glibly advised us that "everything" on the menu was local. So I asked someone else where the tiger prawns came from, as it stretched credibility to say they were from Newfoundland, and the kitchen confirmed they were Thai. This is the second reputable restaurant in a row I've been to on this trip across Canada that proclaims its food is local - I guess that's what they think we want to hear - when it can't possibly be so. Live, learn and be cautious.

Anyway, Restaurant 21 was a nice place, and I liked the needlework that greeted us.

After some warm sourdough bread with four kinds of butter (plain, partridgeberry, maple and pesto),

we got an amuse-bouche of beef curry

and then I had mussels, with quite a lot of cream in the bottom,

followed by some tasty halibut sous-vide with grapefruit and black rice.

Stopped in at a kitchen party up the road, but was fading at that point so after greeting the resident tortoiseshell,

climbed the hill with a couple of compadres and (after the room-shifting had been carried out) finally hit the hay.


Blogger the regina mom said...

You're there with Maureen! Hugs to you both! And oh, what an adventure crossing the country at the speed of light!

1:19 a.m.  

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