People often ask me if my new collection, Bottles and Bones, has a theme running through it, and I was surprised the first time I found myself saying that it does. I usually have the attention span of a fruit fly and can’t stick to a topic for longer than three poems (if you read my poems, you’ll see how very short they generally are, so that should give you an indication). But a few years ago, I stumbled across a term used in perfumery, fougère, which is a class of fragrances and is also French for ‘fern’. Think Drakkar Noir or Brut. Think oakmoss (a species of lichen. It’s all right, I had to look it up too) and sharp and spicy. But also soundless and green and soft and new. I was hooked.
This photo from IFOA Greece 2016, in partnership with the Thessaloniki International Book Fair, shows authors from Israel and Greece in addition to Canadian authors Madeleine Thien and Joseph Kertes discussing borders of language and the universality of ideas. Photo courtesy of the Thessaloniki International Book Fair.
IFOA Director, Geoffrey Taylor, and IFOA Associate Director, Christine Saratsiotis, have been on the road a lot lately.
Many know about IFOA’s mission to present the finest contemporary international novelists, poets, playwrights, short story writers and biographers at our annual 11-day festival at the end of October (October 19 – 29, 2017). Many may also know of the Lit On Tour: IFOA Ontario provincial touring programme, which runs this year from October 3 – November 23, 2017 and will include IFOA pop-up events at 19 locations across the province.
But did you know that IFOA does international touring as well?
Toronto’s International Festival of Authors is proud to announce the authors participating in the 2017 festival! The IFOA takes place from October 19 to the 29th at the Harbourfront Center. These eleven days are packed with readings, one-on-one interviews, thought-provoking panel discussions, special events and free book signings. Stay tuned for the full festival announcement on September 19th and tickets go on sale the same day.
As an outsider looking in, our neighbourhood in the 1980s could be perceived as sketchy with the Madonna-inspired prostitutes sitting on the side steps of the imposing Ukrainian church at the corner of Queen and Bellwoods, and the homeless asking for loose change outside our variety store. Our best sellers really did include cigarettes and condoms.
But for my family and the characters in Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, the neighbourhood was a vibrant reflection of the residents and our working-class background. The store allowed us to connect with everyone from immigrant families to starving artists–writers, musicians, and actors–who lived on white bread and cola but paid for brand named foods for their pets. And, although we were robbed frequently and our home vandalized, we felt a strong sense of belonging. People looked out for each other. One vivid memory of this was when someone set the entrance to our apartment (above the store) on fire in the middle of the night. One of the prostitutes who worked on our street corner called 911 and rescued us.
Pastoral is the first installment in Andre Alexis’ quincunx (a five book series) which also includes Canada Reads 2017 winner Fifteen Dogs, and his most recent novel, The Hidden Keys.
Pastoral elegantly follows the personal meanderings of a young pastor, Father Christopher Pennant, and a recently engaged woman, Liz Denny, in the small town of Barrow as they struggle with their own doubts and questions about faith and love. Alexis beautifully reinvigorates the pastoral genre through his story about a modern-day Canadian town in the lush countryside, exploring how the land’s beauty and mystery affect the lives of the townsfolk who live there.
As always, Alexis’ unique insight into the human condition is startlingly evident as he takes readers on a gentle but compelling journey through the seemingly simple lives of his richly detailed characters. Pastoral is a perfect read for the summer season!