Jun 15, 2009

Shock, Small Press and Somnambulism


That was an interesting two days on several levels. Usually, when one has a show, that becomes the "big event" of the weekend. However, if you have two (and each long ones at that) within the course of 24 hours, they instead feel like a couple of stops on a long journey. And looking back, these past two days seem more surreal than festive.

During the day on Saturday, I was an exhibitor at this spring's edition of the Toronto Small Press Fair. Once again, there were new administrators for the fair, and this time the location of the event was moved to the Toronto Reference Library-- appropriately enough. Likely to adhere to the library's hours, the fair ran from 9-5, when in the past, it never started before 11:00 at the previous Bloor St. locations, presumably to let people finish their brunches before they went book shopping.

This year, the fair had a record 96 exhibitors, right in the center of the library on the main floor, as the upper levels of the building loomed around us. Thankfully everyone had enough wiggle room to move around, and the readings were held in another room off to the side, so as not to disturb the vendors. I had spent most of the previous evening printing some more of the latest issue (which, naturally, I didn't end up needing), and so I was still pretty tired during the day. (This drowsiness is helped in no small part by my new diet for which I've cut down on sugary foods. I'm not even supposed to have coffee -despite that I drink it black- but I need something to keep me from nodding off.) Traffic came in the expected fits and starts, but sales were still pretty good.

Friends and fellow Trash Palace denizens Jonathan and Siue were exhibitors at the fair as well, and during the day I had remarked at how much the fair had changed over the years. Eight (count 'em-- eight) years ago, it seemed I was the odd-duck-out. I was initially allowed to sell at the fair in 2001, only after sending them the latest issue at the time, especially because in my first dialogue with the (then) coordinators, they didn't really have arts-related stuff at the fair. And so for the few small press fairs, ESR was the only vendor who was not selling poetry or fiction in any format, but gradually, one saw an emergence of self-published humour or political publications, as well as comic books.

In this age, after the desktop revolution, the meaning of "small press" has become as diverse as the material presently sold at the fair, which hasn't limited itself to the old guard of poetry chapbooks and small runs of fiction. Some of the veterans in the past have expressed disdain with the way that the fair has changed, and I do see their point, as during the year there are venues like Canzine that better support some of the less traditional wares (CDs, DVDs and crafts have found their way to this venue in recent times). However, I do know that there has already been at least one literary fair (where vendors are invited only) that harkens back to what the small press fair used to mean prior to the "zine explosion" of the 90's. (In fact, this year, my neighbour at the tables asked me was a "zine" was, pronouncing it as though it rhymed with "vine".) And by all means, if they want to have their own fair with that distinction, they should! The more ways people can get their work out there, the better.

This time out, surely a highlight for me was that I got to meet Ralph Alfonso, who under the sole name of "Ralph" released four CD's of his euphonic spoken-word beatnik poetry with jazz-garage-tinged accompaniment. He used to put out a monthly four-page fanzine (including a cover), also with the same one-word title, which one could acquire for the price of a postage stamp. The front cover usually had some beautiful silkscreen art which recalled the bohemian style of the 1950's, the centerspread would feature that month's collection of beat-tinged poetry, and the back would have a smorgasbord of album recommendations or other things which caught his interest those four weeks. The fifty issues were anthologized in two volumes: Coffee Jazz and Poetry (issues 1 - 25), and This is For the Night People (issues 26 -50). I had the latter, but the first volume was out of print for years. To my delight, he was selling both of these, as well as some CDs from his own Bongo Beat label.

That night, I was listening to his release of Ian Ferrier's album "What Is this Place?" on my way to the Fox. The artist's spoken word (closer to a whisper), with minimal jazz, rock, soundscape backgrounds seemed to perfectly fit the scenery of desolate sidewalks I was seeing out the streetcar window past 11 PM. Saturday night, or more accurately, Sunday morning, our friend Dion Conflict held the third edition of his "Shock and Awe" all-night screenings featuring grindhouse films. The film I was most eager to see was Hell's Angels on Wheels, which I have always enjoyed, and was excited to see it on a big screen. The headliner was the cult fave Return of the Living Dead which was surreal to see in a theater Sunday morning, but perhaps no less so than the hardcore film Mona which preceded it.

I was exhausted before I even got to the theater (despite having a nap), and slept through one film entirely (Swinging Pussycats), while my friends thrilled to the appearance of Andrea Rau from Daughters of Darkness. But still it was another interesting and unique Dion experience, with blue light specials a-plenty.

Unbeknownst to me, my full-time job was trying to contact me throughout the day, and so Sunday morning on the way home, I had to make a pit stop at the office to look after some stuff. After having some excellent Indian buffet for lunch, I shuffled off home to bed.

Looking back at this weekend, I am less struck by the whirlwind of activity than by how much I seemed to sleepwalk through them. (However, that seems to be the nature of this scene-- everything happens at once, and then nothing for two months.) Singularly, either of these would have been a cultural event unto itself, but one right after the other, coupled with my overtired-ness turned the entire weekend into a waking dream.

Since I had had another incident where my full-time job collides with my other life (AKA- what I don't necessarily make money at, but would rather be remembered for if I had to choose), I thusly had necessary fuel for reflection as we crawled out of the cinema, and were blinded by the sun as is befitting to us subterranean moles. On my third wind, I pondered how different facets of our lives often collide. Whether it's in the dark recess of a movie theater or at the tables of a trade show, we are sometimes reminded how much we must hang on to those honeycombs of culture with which we struggle to define ourselves. Our sporadic visits to the nest may embody who we are, but we still cannot hide from the rest of the world even before the masks come off, and nor can we necessarily bring part of that caravan into our daily lives. Sometimes these side projects must remain as much of a secret as Dion's Film Number Four.

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