Come on in
to that place of pronunciation
between passion and slurring.
Come on in,
but leave your ego out here.
– Peter Gibbon, “Smoking Outside the Avant-Garde”
In my third year at Carleton University I became a published writer. Fiction work I submitted appeared in The Charlatan and eventually in the campus literary magazine, known as In/Words. At the end of third year I implored my Canadian Poetry professor, Collett Tracey, to allow me to serve as an editor with the magazine in the final year of my BA.
Along with Peter Gibbon, Nick Culhane and Mandy McIlveen, I had a hand in starting the In/Words reading series, which originally claimed a home at the Avant-Garde Bar on Besserer Street, owned and operated by the very Russian Alex and his very Russian daughters. We had to bring in our own audio equipment for the readings. In between sets, Alex would project strange Eurotrash music videos and work by Aqua and Daft Punk on a movie screen propped up in the window as onlookers from the street glanced inside with confusion.
On certain nights we had to talk over noisy crowds in the back who could have given a shit about poetry. We watched students come out of their shells, expressing themselves in front of a microphone as though the crowds weren’t even there. At the very first reading, a homeless man gave a rambling sermon about Jesus. There were musicians, slam performers, monologues, singers. People trying every which way to bend the rules of an open mic and pour their hearts out through an 80-watt Peavy amp. I’ll recall the bohemian combination of Baltika and stale cheese puffs for the rest of my days.
In November of 2005 the magazine was contacted quite at random to organize a spoken word show for Canadian hip hop artist Buck 65, aka Rich Terfry, whose incredible and meticulous music happened to be an obsession of mine at the time. It involved a few weeks of coordination with his managers. Interviewing Rich has to be a top-five highlight of my time in the city. I’ve come to view surreal moments like it as pedestals that ensure I’m heading in some kind of proper direction.
Working with the crew at In/Words until the summer of 2007 was a pleasure. We were well-read punks and upstarts who slowly matured into proud caretakers. As passionate as the original editing team was about getting the magazine’s name out, those who would join the mag the following year would prove to be its finest, cementing its status as a literary force to contend with in Ottawa. Because Ottawa, try as it may to be contrary, is a town of contenders. We all drink from the wells of the politicians. The Parliament Hill psychology floods the streets of Centretown to reward those with rafts.
On Wednesday evening, I attended my last In/Words reading. Over pints with Peter, I took in the poetry of Michelle Desbarats, pleased that the mag has stayed afloat. Ten years next year. I’m proud that I could be a part of it.