From words on a page to a voice in our ears

Mary Ruefle read her audience new—sometimes unpublished—work. Photo by Kelsey Litwin.

“Writers Read at Concordia” kicks off its 2015-2016 season, making reading a shared experience

A skillfully designed sentence can make words jump off of a page, haunt your mind for days or even continuously inspire you. A whole other dimension is added to such a literary experience when you hear those words coming from the mouth of the one who put them on the page in the first place.

Jordan Tannahill read from Theatre of the Unimpressed on Sept. 22. Photo by Lydia Anderson.
Jordan Tannahill read from Theatre of the Unimpressed on Sept. 22. Photo by Lydia Anderson.

The “Writers Read at Concordia” series has kicked off its 2015-2016 chapter with readings by Jordan Tannahill and Mary Ruefle. The rich contrast between the style of delivery and the authors themselves in the first two events alone are setting up this year’s series to be an exciting one.

The first reading, given by Tannahill, took place on Sept. 22 in the VAV gallery. With the fading evening light of René-Lévesque boulevard coming through the windows, the night was started by Sina Queyras, a senior lecturer in the department of English at Concordia. She gave an overview of the intention of 2015-2016’s “Writers Read.”

“We’ll look closely at how reading series across North America operate, both in contemporary media and historically,” said Queyras. “We’ll look at how poets and writers present their work, how they select it, who reads what with whom to whom.” She then added that the series will finish with a compelling three-day literary festival.

She continued by introducing Tannahill—an author and artist who is largely a playwright but can also add “theatre director” and “filmmaker” to his CV. He presented an excerpt from his book, Theatre of the Unimpressed. This is not a piece of fiction, but rather a work—with a foundation of 100 interviews he conducted with artists, critics, theatregoers, etc.—which explores his views on theatre, what may be hindering it and what it means to produce quality work onstage.

Tannahill said that the passage he chose had “some fun personal anecdotes and … some colour that gave both a kind of sense of who [he is] maybe a little bit as an artist but also some of the things that [he is] thinking about at least in terms of why theatre is relevant.”

The audience travelled with the author as he engaged in conversation about theatre with colourful characters from multiple walks of life, ranging from an orgy partner to a seasoned theatregoer. But observing the author himself, in his black t-shirt, ripped jeans and Vans in all of his fast-talking glory added a whole new dimension to the image of the narrator and the personality behind the words themselves.

Mary Ruefle read her audience new—sometimes unpublished—work. Photo by Kelsey Litwin.
Mary Ruefle read her audience new—sometimes unpublished—work. Photo by Kelsey Litwin.

Mary Ruefle presented an entirely different personality and style at her reading on Sept. 25 on the seventh floor of the Hall building. In comparison, she was clad in a white-collar shirt and navy blazer, peering over her red-framed glasses, and she filled the room with pauses and soothing tones. Ruefle, a seasoned and accomplished poet, began her reading with a piece that wasn’t her own, a poem called “The Secret Name,” by W. S. Graham. After the first poem introduced the audience to the steady-paced, melodic voice that they were to hear for the rest of the 20-minute reading, Ruefle began going through the loose stack of papers she was holding in her hands—her own poems.

According to Ruefle, the majority of the work she presented was newly published material. She said that most of the pieces have never appeared in book form and that it is a habit of her’s to read new work, however some pieces hadn’t even been published yet. Therefore, the audience wasn’t just listening to her latest collection, but rather to pieces that were recently in various journals, if not brand new material.

Although both their genres, styles and personalities differed, both Tannahill and Ruefle had similar things to say about the importance of literature readings.

“I love listening to readings because I get a sense of what compelled the writer to write the work in the first place,” said Tannahill. “Having even just the way that they read, their enthusiasm, or sometimes lack thereof, for their own work really comes across. And the nuances, even just certain turns of phrase in their mouths, for me, illuminates the way that the text was intended … to be read initially.”

“Writing and reading is a very private practice …  it’s kind of a hermetic exercise actually, as a writer at least, and to actually be able to share that with a room of people … both as a reader and as a writer … can be a really profound experience,” Tannahill added.

Ruefle echoed similar sentiments. “For me, the importance of reading poetry in front of an audience is [that] it’s a shared space in the air where you’re able to hear aspects of poetry that many people are unable to access reading it on a page,” Ruefle said. “I think to actually hear it hanging in the ether can illuminate a poem, or a poet’s work in many cases, in ways that make it that much more accessible to the student, the listener, the reader.”

If these musings on the advantages of hearing a piece read aloud by the author are not enough to make you the one fidgeting eagerly in the front row at the next instalment of the series, then perhaps the long list of successful authors visiting our humble educational institution will be. The next authors to come read for us include Major Jackson, Paula Meehan, Dina Del Bucchia with Daniel Zomparelli and Roxane Gay, to name a few.

Add a new dimension to your next literary experience; buy some new pages to sink your metaphorical teeth into—and get them signed—or take advantage of the opportunity to be in conversation with a successful creator who surely has the capacity to inspire, impart wisdom and share insights.

The next “Writers Read at Concordia” event will feature Major Jackson and take place on Sept. 30 at 6 p.m. in the EV building’s York Amphitheatre.

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