So I spent three days in Durham Ontario this past weekend at the Words Aloud Spoken Word Festival.
I think Words Aloud - the authors, the audiences, the organizers - has ruined me for subsequent festivals. I spit on superlatives normally, but it was probably the best experience I've ever had as a writer.
To start, instead of making me take the bus from Toronto and Durham (which can be as long as six hours) I was picked up at the airport and enjoyed two hours of chatter with festival authors.
Then I was driven to the Riverstone Retreat just outside of Durham, a beautiful place enclosed by cedar woods. And then we were fed homemade soup and pizza, because organizers were concerned that we wouldn't have enough time to eat before our performance otherwise.
I got frocked up and was driven to Durham's art gallery where the mainstage performances were. And although we weren't able to get my laptop - containing a slide show of images from How to Prepare for Flooding - to talk to the digital projector, I felt, well, ready.
Even though my set was slated for 35 minutes and I've never done more than 20-25. Even though Lillian Allen and Ayub Nuri were also on the bill. Even though Anne Simpson, Steven Heighton and John Giorno were in the room, watching...
I was the first performer. And so I wasn't prepared for the applause after I read "Tit Poem," but it was just...so much goddamn fun.
To listen to the audience and to know that they were listening hard, that they were prepared to come with me wherever I wanted to go. That they were willing to laugh and sigh.
And, somehow, even though I'm usually timed down to the minute, I made the ultimate rookie mistake: I read too long.
I don't know when again I'll have the problem of such a generous audience, but I've made a mental note to get a stopwatch that BINGS at me when I'm near time. Because the LAST thing I want is to get a reputation for reading over time...
And then I was done. I stepped down from the stage, took a sip of water, and settled in for the rest of the festival. Which was a lively thing, with afterparties and dinners and readings. And I even got in two sessions of mushrooming, of walking Durham's streets, before I was driven back to Toronto airport, snoozing in the passenger seat.
So, to sum: This was my first festival as an out of town author and now I'm ruined.
I've still got things to say about about the Winnipeg launch of How to Prepare for Flooding and the reading with Laura Lush at Toronto Women's Bookstore, but that'll have to wait for another day.
(Thanks to Artistic Director Liz Zetlin for the pic: I somehow managed not to take any photos of the festival itself while I was there...)