Originally published in the May 2017 OSCAR.
And see what nuts you can crack! At Black Squirrel Books and Café, on the second and fourth Tuesday each month, the Tree Reading Series presents outstanding poets from Old Ottawa South and beyond, such as Ottawa’s own Sandra Ridley, whose book Silvija is one of three nominated for the prestigious Griffin Prize. On April 11, 2017, she gave listeners a privileged sample of her new, very moving, manuscript. Says past director Colin Morton, “We try to have a mix of local and national poets, and often put an up-and-comer with a veteran, to cover poetry in all its contemporary forms.” Notably, the other 2017 Canadian nominees are also Tree readers: Jordan Abel in 2014, and Hoa Nguyen coming up June 27, 2017.
Featured with Sandra was Paul Dutton, one of Canada’s original sound poets from the seminal group The Four Horsemen. Rap, Hip Hop, Spoken Word all grew in the fertile ground he helped dig and till, and his full-voiced rendition of sound poetry classics made the coffee cups clatter. While squirrelling away chairs brought out for the overflow crowd, staff member Joe commented that “Tree fits with the aesthetics of the store. Every once in a while you get a real gem. I may have found some kindred spirits.”
Tree started to sprout just about when The Four Horsemen began their gallop. The oldest poetry series in Ottawa, and one of three oldest in Canada, a few regulars remember the first reading: May 9, 1980, at the Glebe Fire Hall, featuring poet Jane Jordan. The name was almost accidental. “Somebody yelled out ‘How about tree?’” said co-founder Marty Flomen. “Nobody argued and the name stuck.”
It’s since been transplanted many times: to the Quaker Meeting House, Irene’s Pub, Royal Oak, Arts Court, Saw Gallery, Gallery 101 – and since 2014 to Black Squirrel. Twenty-Five Years of Tree (www.buschekbooks.com) and treereadingseries.ca tell the full tale. Director Pearl Pirie says “Tree is community. Since coming here, we’ve attracted a new cross-section of people and have lots of expanded programs and workshops – including plans for weekend retreats.” No wonder she’s looking for a new co-director.
There’s plenty of room on Black Squirrel’s branches for nests of writers like the Monday workshop and Other Tongues. Among the best are the Tree Seed Workshops held before readings and led by respected writers like Phil Jenkins and Susan Gillis. Coming up May 9, 2017 is Jeff Blackman, on “Pop Poetry.” Co-owners Steven Yong and Vaughn MacDonald are welcoming. “I like to have poets in here, says Vaughn. “It’s certainly not a penance to listen to them!” The store keeps an open aisle for buyers and browsers throughout readings, making it easy to eavesdrop.
All Tree events are free – and offer a rich feasts of literature for the many writers and readers of OOS. Come climb a Tree with Black Squirrel, for unforgettable views.
Susan McMaster is a poet from OOS who is launching her book at Tree on May 9, 2017.