Meat in Mittel Europa

We’ve got an excerpt of a new story by #IFOA36 author Mark Anthony Jarman, courtesy of our friends at Gooselane! Catch Mark at this year’s Festival in both a round table (Keep it Short) and a reading!

In a new city, nervous after the police and train, I walk Zagreb’s jostling streets, more aware of being in the Balkans than when I was in Ljubljana. Ljubljana is so close to Italy, but in Zagreb a greater sense of Soviet ghosts and Slavic voices, big faces arguing over outdoor chessboards, venerable Czech streetcars rumbling past stucco facades that crack to reveal ancient brick beneath and high over the city a watchtower, high on a hill over Zagreb a cool Steampunk tower.

I wander the Museum of Failed Relationships, and the rooms are funny at first, but then it turns spooky and exhausting and I want out. Luckily, Jason’s friend Vanja looks after me, she takes me to eat at a Zagreb club called Jazz.ba, and we sample an excellent Bosnian dish of onions, grated cheese, mustard, and two kinds of sausage held in a large pita pouch. Vanja has baklava afterward, she gives me a taste and it is very good, not too sweet. Vanja says baklava is perfect after meat. Vanja says the outdoor chessboards are like someone working on a car: men must come over to watch and comment.

Vanja gives me a great tour of the hills of Zagreb and Vanja introduces me to Vinko who knows local music and Vinko illuminates, Vinko tells me of underground bands which sing in Croatian, and have Croatian-sounding names. He translates. “Muka” (“Anguish”), “Drama” (um, “Drama”), and “Pogavranjen” (“EnRavened, I guess,” he says. “It’s not a word in Croatian either.) Bear in mind, says Vinko, that these are pretty harsh, musically and lyrically speaking.

I ask Vinko about Johann Wolfgang Pozoj, a band I have heard of.

“That’s pretty underground,” he says, “you’ll get extra cool points for that reference, that’s a little bit grimmer and off the radar. I once went to a generator party on top of a mountain in the woods where they performed at midnight to promote their album. It was pretty surreal, it was memorable.”

I ask about bars and clubs and Vinko says Zagreb’s most popular place is Močvara (The Swamp). “It’s by the river and well-established and sort of “mainstream/alternative”, if that makes any sense. Attack! is part of the Medika squat complex, where anti-globalists, artists, activists and students congregate. It’s filthy and grimy as hell, and I absolutely love it. You also have a couple of attempts at biker bars (“Bikers Beer Factory” and “Hard place”), but to me they’ve always appeared like simulacra, something someone saw in a movie and decided to open a similar bar, and didn’t get it quite right.”

This summer Zagreb also hosts the bands Hammersmith, Franz Kakfa Ensemble, New Wave Syria, Goulash Disko, and Stiff Little Fingers, old punkers from Belfast, Northern Ireland. The parallels are not obvious, but Croatia reminds me Ireland. The locals are very friendly, concerned about hospitality, and there is strong pride in the idea of their own homeland, and a pitched awareness of long centuries of persecution and war. Croatia has been in this spot forever. In 1322 Croatia had its own currency, they traded in salt, but over centuries they have been a colony to so many empires, slaves to foreign flags, trading masters so many times; Ireland is a new kid in comparison. It is staggering to think of all the combined wars ancient and wars recent, all the bloody ravines and blood avenues, all the butchers old and new. Over and over we unravel, we unlearn. War is the great unlearning, the great un-doer of all.

Excerpted from “Meat in Mittel Europa” by Mark Anthony Jarman. “Meat in Mittel Europa” was written after Knife Party at the Hotel Europa, Jarman’s latest short story collection, published by Goose Lane Editions in 2015.

Writing is a Dialogue

By Sheniz Janmohamed

IFOA and I have a long history. When I was a bright-eyed student in the University of Guelph’s MFA in Creative Writing programme, students had the fortune of attending master classes, readings and round tables at IFOA. I remembered thinking, “This is where the professionals come to play.” I shook hands with Wole Soyinka (and swore to never wash mine again), interviewed Mohsin Hamid and sat in a master class with Mark Strand. It was an enriching and inspiring experience for all of us, and the words of mentors and literary idols come to mind when I’m faced with a writing roadblock.

Back then, I was in love with the idea of writing (I still am) and the perks that come with it—meeting the greats, dining with publishers and writing for a living. Almost eight years later, I have come up against the hard truth of being a writer. The uncomfortable truth that being a writer is rarely glamourous, often tedious and mostly fulfilling.

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Lee Maracle at IFOA by © ifoa.org/George Lobb

And so, returning to IFOA as a Delegate, I had difficult questions to ask. Questions about survival, appropriation and labelling. I wasn’t sure if I’d get the answers I was looking for. Part of me already knew that asking those questions would require action, not words.

I found myself in an IFOA van with the gloriously funny Lee Maracle, en route to the Woodland Cultural Centre for IFOA Branford. As we left Toronto, she pointed out where the wild rice fields used to grow, the meaning of Toronto (“Gathering Place”) and reminded us that water remembers. It was a fascinating conversation—a conversation that did not separate the political from the personal, the communal from the individual. She listed off the vegetables she grows in her garden with the same passion she listed off her favourite poets: “Dionne Brand is Canada’s greatest poet—elegant, direct, simple. Every poem is a feast.”

The length of the journey and the casualness of our conversation allowed us to jump from storytelling to our traveling experiences in a matter of minutes. I learned that Maracle travelled to India for a conference and theatrical collaboration. We spoke of the politics of class and the caste system as well as our disdain and love for Indian-style bucket baths.Maracle reminisced about the days when she set up her living room with mats and blankets for her children and children’s friends—and they’d spend the weekend reading an entire book aloud.

We laughed, paused to reflect and returned to the discussion with thoughtful questions. It was fulfilling because I was speaking to Lee Maracle, not the literary idea of Lee Maracle. We talked about writing that is deemed “too ethnic,” the fine balance between tradition and evolution, and the challenges of writers who do not speak in their mother tongue. Maracle spoke of storytelling as an interwoven web that is linear and simultaneously spirals in/out. Characters’ names have positions, not just meanings.

Maracle reminded me that writing is a dialogue with your community, not just yourself. And that’s what IFOA is really about—bringing together writers who have never met, who haven’t seen each other in a long time, who have nothing to say to each other, who have too much to say. It raises questions that require contemplation, action, change. It provides answers that are sometimes unexpected, often understood and at times, complicated.

It doesn’t end when the curtain closes. It has just begun.

Let’s continue the dialogue.

Sheniz Janmohamed is an author, artist educator, spoken word artist and the Artistic Director of Sufi Poets Series. She has been published in a variety of journals, including West Coast Line, Catamaran Literary Reader and SUFI Journal. She has published two collections of poetry: Bleeding Light and Firesmoke. Janmohamed is also an IFOA Delegate.

The Importance of Setting

By Brian Francis

On November 1, as part of the IFOA Delegate programme, I attended a roundtable discussion about the importance of book setting. The panel featured writer David Bergen (Leaving Tomorrow), Richard Wagamese (Medicine Walk), Christos Tsiolkas (Barracuda) and was moderated by Lewis DeSoto (The Restoration Artist).

Richard Wagamese, David Bergen, Christos Tsiolkas and Louis DeSoto

Richard Wagamese, David Bergen, Christos Tsiolkas and Louis DeSoto ©ifoa.org/Ricky Yu

One mistake that aspiring authors sometimes make is not paying close enough attention to the setting of their stories. But an evocative setting is crucial to a story’s success. After all, if you can’t create a believable world that your characters inhabit, how will readers believe in those characters?

Setting can play such an important role in your story that it can even become, as Lewis DeSoto pointed out, an extension of a character. Setting can even be a character, providing the obstacle your characters need to overcome. Think blizzards, jungles and shopping malls during holiday season.

But setting is more than the physical location. As David Bergen pointed out, setting is also how people speak, how they talk, the cars they drive. Often, it’s not about the physical setting but its nuances that contribute to creating a believable backdrop for your readers.

When it comes to researching your setting, the panel agreed that while Google comes it handy, it doesn’t provide the sensory details you need in order to truly capture your setting. You, as the writer, need to experience your settingthe smells, the landscape, its inhabitantsif you want to create a believable place that will captivate the imaginations of your readers.

Brian Francis’ most recent novel, Natural Order, was selected by the Toronto Star, Kobo and Georgia Straight as a Best Book of 2011. His first novel, Fruit, was a 2009 Canada Reads finalist. Francis is also an IFOA Delegate.

Humber School for Writers presents: How We Write

By Janet Somerville

Workshop leaders Kevin Barry, Wayson Choy, Karen Connelly, Valerie Martin and Nino Ricci appeared in conversation on Wednesday with Antanas Sileika, novelist and Director of the Humber School for Writers, and their discussion opened with their responses to this question: What should a beginning writer know?

Kevin Barry

Kevin Barry and Karen Connelly

Dublin IMPAC-winning novelist Kevin Barry began by suggesting that “books and stories come out of our fear and anxiety, out of our dark places” and that it was essential to “finish everything. You must finish the bad stories so you know what the good ones are when they come.” His other advice: “Develop in yourself a sense of patience. There’s always a glow when something is finished, and that’s when you should put it in a drawer.” Finally, he referenced Annie Dillard’s wisdom to “keep your overhead low.”

Contrarian Karen Connelly, author of The Lizard Cage, claimed, “I encourage you all to be atypical. Penelope Fitzgerald didn’t start publishing until she was 62. You have to have the courage to take your life and return it to the world. Be daring.” Veteran American novelist and Orange Prize winner Valerie Martin, whose most recent book is The Ghost of Mary Celeste, insisted she has lived and written by the motto that “art saves your life and art ruins your life.” Her sensible advice: “Be patient. Be dogged. Don’t be afraid.”

Karen Connelly

Karen Connelly

Trillium Book Award winner Wayson Choy, whose The Jade Peony is now in its 30th printing, said, “Learn about craft. Figure out, for example, how James Joyce wrote such a memorable ending to ‘The Dead.’” Nino Ricci, whose first novel, Lives of the Saints, won the Governor General’s Literary Award, claimed his delusion he had as a young writer kept him going: “You want to keep a writer writing, by not telling them the truth.” Ricci suggested also to ignore the tolling laments of “Nobody’s reading anymore” and “The novel is dead,” because “the joy of the first book that you write is a gift you will never have again. Just write. Do as much as possible. Every day.”

Responding to Sileika’s prompt, “What do you mean about writing about life in the world,” Connelly said, “I lived in Thailand and I wanted to keep moving. I wanted to live in other cultures and discover what it meant to be human in different places. It’s such a powerful and transformative experience. Where your body is is what you’re going to write about. It’s good to feel born in the wrong place, because it makes you curious and seeking.”

For Choy, “Chinatown was a place I wanted to forget about. It was a ghetto. People only spoke with each other. But, Chinatown travelled with me. Carol Shields suggested in a creative writing class that I write about it. It turns out that who you are and where you come from may be the source of your greatest material.”

About his bold use of language in City of Bohane, Sileika asked Barry, “How do you make language fresh?” His answer: “I grew up in Limerick and Cork in working class communities. Language is used and abused there. I wanted to free myself from having to hove to the actual. It’s kind of a retro future in 2053, but I wanted to give the sense that it could be 1853 or 1953, that is, another world.”

Wondering how Nino Ricci dared to go into the territory he did in Testament, Ricci said, “People don’t really care that much about Christianity anymore. As a child, I always believed that Jesus was Italian. In my novel he’s the son of a Roman soldier. And, it seemed to me that we were living such unexamined lives about religion.”

Wayson Choy

Wayson Choy

Each writer described their process. Barry said he tries “to be still half asleep when I write. You’re closest to the murky place then. DeLillo says, ‘write when you are puddled in dream melt.’ And, places where you embarrass yourself and recoil in horror, those are the good bits.” Connelly insisted that for her, “procrastination is an important part of the process. I read. I do administrative work, and then I write in the afternoon, often standing up, for two to three hours each day.” Like Kevin Barry, Valerie Martin admitted to writing best “when I’m fresh from the dream. Often I’ll start about the dream. I write longhand on loose leaf paper.” Choy claimed he begins with a ritual: “I take out all of my fountain pens and arrange them. It’s sort of zen. Now I write in transit. When I can. When I will.” Ricci lamented making the mistake “of switching from handwriting to computer” and pledged that he’d change his ways.

Develop patience. Learn craft. Don’t be afraid. Have the courage to take your life and return it to the world.

Follow Janet Somerville on Twitter @janetsomerville.

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