Ah, the Seventies…

Mona Fertig has asked me to write about the reading series in Vancouver which she ran in the Seventies at the Literary Storefront.  My memories of reading there loom large but vague, dissolving into impressions rather than facts.

Here goes, November rain of the moment back to BC rain, nearly forty years ago.,,.

The air is heavy with rain and early darkness. We’ve entered Gastown, a part of Vancouver that reminds me of nineteenth century London (England), a scene of swirling mist lit by streetlamps. We clamber over cobblestones, back in time, into Literature, into Myth.

The doll is the first to greet us as we climb the wooden steps to the Literary Storefront. The elegant doll, smartly outfitted in the style of the Twenties, is propped in her corner at the turn of the wide stairs. She lounges nonchalantly, with the eloquent air of the truly blasé, mute but ready to drop a bon mot at any moment. Then, out of the dimly lit space, comes transformation. The doll springs to life, is made manifest in the equally gorgeous person of our hostess, Mona Fertig.

There’s no doubting it could be anyone else but Mona: those scarlet, generous lips in a welcoming smile and the startling eyes,blue with the clarity of glaciers but warm and inviting. Is that a glass of swirling white wine in her hand? And so we enter an evening of literary splendour, of community, of attentive listening, of words that matter. We enter a milieu in which poems thrive and poets. The BC air breeds poets and here they are as audience, shadows at first that slowly become distinct figures as we adjust to the light.

I’m reading with Daphne Marlatt. We first met when I invited her to read in my own reading series at A SPACE Gallery in Toronto in 1973. I’ve heard her read, in that liquid tumble of exquisitely caught phrases that is her writing, but she hasn’t heard me. I open my mouth, looking, I suppose, relatively normal, and perform.  Sound Poetry. “Once having known you the certainty of seeing you move moves me certainly.” A round of incrementals that rolls on and on. Daphne regards me with a complex expression somewhere between disbelief and bemusement. Mona catches the moment on camera: me in full flight and Daphne alert, perhaps alarmed.

Mona brings me out to read the next year, through the Canada Council. It’s always an adventure in wish fulfillment, alighting at the Storefront. I wish I could stay on in such a hospitable realm forever, but am happy to be a guest . I read with Maxine Gadd this time, and, as with Daphne, am enthralled by the sonorous west coast sea swell of her voice with all its resonant modulations.

The Literary Storefront is such a medium for growing Poetry, a rich and fertile seedbed very unlike the crisp, sharp-edged Toronto scene I’ll return to soon enough. I treasure it, yet am unable to live for long in such a rich environment. I fly home, satiated, filled to the brim, ready to write.

Penn Kemp



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