Last night I attended a reading by students of the 2011 Vancouver Manuscript Intensive (VMI) held in the Rehearsal Room of the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. It was a small gathering, by invitation only, for friends and family, and I was lucky enough to score an invitation by virtue of the fact that I work with Tina Biello, one of the students, and apparently she trusted me enough to assume I wouldn’t heckle. (I didn’t.)
I’ve never been in the Rehearsal Room before. It’s a great space for readings: cozy and intimate, warm wooden floors, comfy red seats. At least I think the floor was wooden; that’s how I remember it. Could have been purple lino, though, because when I wasn’t being annoyed by the wanker who insisted on futzing noisily about with a candy wrapper for what felt like the entire evening, my attention was focused on the stage. (After the readings, when a friend and I were discussing our shared outrage at the wanker’s shocking lack of theatre etiquette, I suggested that perhaps he’d had a tickle in his throat and was desperately groping for a lozenge to avoid an even more intrusive coughing fit, but she assured me that she’d witnessed the final unveiling and it was indeed a candy. Something chocolatey, she said.)
Of the readings, two were excerpts from works of creative-nonfiction, one was fiction and the other two were poetry – a little something for every taste. Jennifer Irvine read an emotionally charged scene from her memoir, and Kate Bird’s piece was a recounting of her paddling journey through the lakes and rivers of Manitoba, replicating a similar journey her father had made years before. Beth Coleman gave a lively and entertaining reading of three scenes from her novel-in-progress, based in part on her own experience living and teaching in Abu Dhabi from 2000 to 2008.
For me, the highlights of the evening were the readings by the two poets, Tina Biello and Ann Graham Walker. Tina, author of the chapbook Momenti, published by Leaf Press, read a selection of poems from her current manuscript, most of them offering glimpses of her journey with her mother through Alzheimer’s disease. Spare, elegant and sharp as knives, her poems slice right through to the essential, evoking laughter and tears in equal measure, often at the same time.
Very different in style, Ann’s poems exploring the loves–both overt and hidden–of her family packed an equally powerful emotional punch. Her imagery is unpredictable and fresh, so delicious you want to wrap your own tongue around the words just to taste their shape.
A writing mentorship program, the VMI allows students to work closely on their draft manuscripts, both as a group and solo, with a mentor, in this case with the program’s director,
the critically acclaimed writer, poet, editor and teacher Betsy Warland. (More about the VMI here: http://www.betsywarland.com/vancouver-manuscript-intensive