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Writer Festival Fawning

Last night’s Poetry Cabaret #1 at the Ottawa International Writers Fest with Nicole Brossard, Kevin Connolly and Ken Babstock brought home the fact that most people who attend poetry readings are in fact poets themselves. Also, that writers are, surprise, a pretty self absorbed lot. It is an egotistical enterprise. So many questions about how they feel, who they read, what they think, how they write, why they write, where they write. Festivals are filled with people who fawn over them. And while the answers to these pat questions can and often do elicit interesting insight, they rarely get to the heart of who these writers are. Any writer can answer them. Only one writer can authoritatively answer questions about specific works. That’s why I find text based questions so much more satisfying. Why waste breath on questions that can frequently be answered anytime. Take advantage of the fact that you have an author in front of you who can address your specific questions, the ones you have about your experiences with their work, with answers that will mean so much more to you and your individual understanding. All this said, although I didn’t ask a general ‘occupational’ type question, I didn’t go with the text either, at least with the first of a planned three questions. A friend recently attended a reading in Ottawa by the great Scottish poet Robin Robertson. Unfortunately I couldn’t be there, although I did interview him in Montreal earlier in the week. At the event here, Robertson apparently quite innocuously refered to the fact that although cited as editor of the Canadian edition of his collection Swithering (Anansi 2006), Ken Babstock didn’t really do anything. I thought it might be fun to find out if this was the case. Perhaps the question was perceived as unproductive, because, although presented as the first of three, moderator rob mclennan, who incidentally did a lovely job reading with Nicole Brossard, ‘muzzled’ (see Tushingham post) me. Quashing the opportunity for further inquiry. Just as power corrupts, so microphone-holding dictatorializes. Never did get a decent answer from Babstock. Pity, the absent humour.

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11 Responses to “Writer Festival Fawning”

  1. Nigel Says:

    I didn’t find your performance fawning in the least rob. Your demeanor was relaxed, humourous and at times erudite. A good mix. Plus the reading you did was ‘lovely’. Howz that for fawning.

    You are correct. My question was perhaps a bit ill advised. My information was second hand. I did however think that Robertson’s remarks, as reported to me, were amusing, and thought it might be fun to explore this. No hostility. Just curiousity alchemized with perhaps a tiny drip of gadfly blood.

    Evidently this mixture is an acquired taste.

  2. David O'Meara Says:

    Dear Mr.Beale,
    Re: article titled Writer Festival Fawning? posted on
    I was directed to your website out of interest of your coverage of the Blue Metropolis and Ottawa Writer Festivals (interviews etc.), and partly as you’d also requested a future interview with me. It so happened that the first article I came across was your account of the opening evening of this year’s Ottawa Festival, and the poetry cabaret featuring Nicole Brossard, Kevin Connolly and Ken Babstock, which I attended. Quite frankly, I was unimpressed at your misrepresentation of the evening’s events; in general your condescension toward the genuinely interested audience, and in particular, your contribution to the Question/Answer segment of the evening Any benefit of the doubt I may have given you for the spontaneity of your misjudged approach to questioning has been erased by the consistent tone and continued misjudgement of your recent column. If you wish to continue in the role of a reporter/columnist, no matter how amateur, I think it necessary that you get your facts straight.
    Your allegation at the event, posited in your own words as a piece of ‘gossip,’? was, you’d heard, that Robin Robertson had stated previously (at an event preceding the Ottawa cabaret; one you admit you had not attended) that Ken Babstock had done no editing on Mr. Robertson’s book, though Ken was credited as the editor? When Ken confirmed that he had not edited Robin’s book, you continued to badger Mr. Babstock with the question, then why is your name on the book? Then when Mr. Babstock questioned why you assumed he was in fact credited as the editor, you admitted that you were unsure, since you had not read the book yet.
    Mr. Beale, I have a copy of Robin Robertson’s latest book, and I can confirm that not once is Ken Babstock’s name mentioned in that volume, in the capacity as editor or otherwise. And not once has Mr. Babstock or Mr. Robertson made that claim. Whether the source of your gossip had led you astray or not, I think it highly irresponsible and unprofessional of you to make public statements based entirely on inaccurate gossip (which you made no effort to corroborate), and then to smugly dismiss the incident as a lack of humour on Babstock’s part. Or as a bit of fun. As a reporter, most particularly, you should understand the basic tenant that one does not make or pursue claims based on assumptions. Given the erroneous state of your enquiry during the event, it would have seemed good judgement on Rob McLennan’s part as host to discontinue your participation, or muzzle you, as you so self-righteously put it. I think you owe both McLennan and Babstock an apology.

    David O’Meara

  3. Nigel Says:

    Dear Mr. O’meara,

    I will respond to your unpleasant posting at length if and when I see fit.

    But immediately, you should correct your ‘facts’. I did read Robertson’s latest book in advance of interviewing him in Montreal last week, and I consider it to be a masterpiece.

    Secondly, your hurling around accusations of high irresponsiblity, smugness, misjudgement, misrepresentation, condescension and unprofessionalism…the list goes on…gives me a pretty good picture of what you are all about.

    Finally, your ” if you wish to continue in the role of reporter/columnist, no matter how amateur” (I don’t consider myself to be the former, and strive not to be the latter), carries with it an oddly threatening tone, perhaps you could elucidate.

    Always fun to run into big fish.

  4. Stephen Brockwell Says:


    You asked an transparently obnoxious, irrelevant and awkward question that served only to embarrass the poets, the audience and the questioner. Why wince when people object to your lack of tact and judgement? Equating a one-question limit to being muzzled only testifies to your egotism. You muzzled yourself by wasting your question. Don’t besmirch rob, David or any other member of our community because you were taken to task for unwisely chosing to stir shit with an unsharpened pencil. Your generalization about authors being self-absorbed lacks insight, as one might expect from an ironist. The fact is, the best of our writers are more absorbed by words than by themselves. That was something to celebrate at the opening cabaret. Nicole, Kevin and Ken, I think, put aside their egoes in favour of their work. Egotists rarely write well; they think their every utterance has the reek of a wisdom. This maxim applies to putative literary journalists as much as it applies to inauthentic poets.

  5. Nigel Says:

    Stephen: Thank you for deigning to visit my website.

    Bemusing how presumptous your post is. You attribute embarassment to poets, the audience and me in one fell sentence…did you canvas all for such an aspersion?

    Funny, I feel a bit like George Bush here. Where so many opponents call him stupid, rather than taking the time to present considered argument.

    Here’s a question: What name calling school did you graduate from?

    And another: Why don’t you try responding to my generalization about writers ‘ self absorbtion with something other than sophistry.

    And who started this rumour of me being a ‘journalist’. Labelling me as such simply provides another instance, it seems to me, of your lazy intellect.

    I do what I do, putatively or otherwise, because I love doing it.

  6. Nigel Says:

    And another thing Stephen: stirring shit with a sharpened pencil takes way longer.

  7. Stephen Brockwell Says:

    Clever riposte, Nigel! I did canvass quite widely after the event. However, I apologize for speaking for everyone in the room; I am in no position to do so. I can speak only for myself. There, apologizing was easy.

    Forgive me for thinking that you were putting yourself forward as a literary journalist. I must have misread your biography where you claim, among many other notable achievements, that your “articles and book reviews have, over the years, been published in numerous print and website venues.” I thought someone who contributed their writings to such publications was generally known as a literary journalist. How could I have made such a mistake? Ah, my lazy intellect.

    You would do me a great service by identifying the sophistry in my previous post; I’m just too thick to find it.

    In response to your question, I attended the Spade-a-Spade school of name-calling.

  8. Stephen Brockwell Says:

    My final post on this. Nigel, I apologize. I expect too much civility from others and not enough from myself. I hope that all OIWF participants can focus on the positive energy of this festival. I’ll certainly be directing my energies toward that from this point forward. Thanks for having an open forum and for being willing to engage in some wordspice. Energizing. Respectfully, SB.

  9. Nigel Says:

    My pleasure Stephen. Thanks for the engagement. Some of the best criticism ever written, ‘professional’ and otherwise, has come as a result of writer being pissed off.

  10. Kevin Connolly Says:


    You’re an idiot.

    Kevin Connolly

  11. Nigel Says:

    Thank you for your comment Kevin. I will take it under advisement.

    It normally takes years of close friendship with me to arrive at this conclusion. You definitely aren’t a friend. Never even met you. But I must say your perspicacity is impressive.

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