Last night I went into Vancouver to attend a reading. The double-bill consisted of what seemed like an odd combination – Steve Noyes, a writer known mostly for his poetry, and Des Kennedy, known best for his varied writings about gardening. About all I could see as a point of commonality was the fact that both men live on islands.
Steve lives on Vancouver Island, in the city of Victoria where he works for the province’s Department of Health Services. Rising each day at 4:30 (a regimen he described in response to a question), he thinks and reads and writes before heading off to his job.
He read from his most recent book, Morbidity and Ornament. The poems he shared (and the voices he did them in – c’mon, Steve, get with the program and make that CD!) covered a range of topics and styles, yet all exhibited a deep respect for and understanding of the nuances of words. Because he also speaks a dialect of Chinese, the presentation was even bilingual. Talk about stretching the boundaries of language!
Steve’s first novel is scheduled to come out this fall, so he’s moving beyond past accomplishments and poems and into a whole brand-new genre. Considering the power of his previous work, I'm curious about this next phase of his career.
And the idea of more than one genre was also true for Des, who read a piece from his memoir, The Way of a Gardener and then read the opening section of his newest novel (his third), Climbing Patrick’s Mountain. Even though rose-breeding (the gardener strikes again) seems to be a key element in the novel, it’s clear that Kennedy’s capable of writing about much more than gardening. Apparently, both Ireland and ghosts feature prominently in this new book.
As Des described his life on Denman Island, it sounded much more idyllic than Steve’s. He rises at a more normal-sounding time, then spends the morning writing before heading out onto his 11-acre property to garden or do whatever else might be required in the afternoon (with roof repair sounding like part of his ongoing roster of duties).
Jill Margo, host of the long-running Robson Reading Series, conducted a stimulating Q & A with the authors after they’d read. Her questions did much to highlight the fact that two writers who might seem to write in such different directions can have such a lot in common. She asked about the differences between writing fiction and non-fiction, and even applied the query to Noyes and his poems, some of which seem to be grounded in fact, while others seem to be products of his imagination.
And those thoughts lead me even today to think about those differences -- what’s real and what’s made up? Especially when, as Kennedy pointed out, events in our lives are coloured by the cloud of long-term memory…
Just how much of what we present as real is made-up, and how much of what we think we're making up is based in some niche of ourselves?