Mainlining the Word
I might as well confess right away that my two favorite literary forms are the short story and poetry. Why? It’s true that both forms are under-appreciated, brief, intense, image-driven, and seem to mirror reality in an artful way. But I suspect that my preference is also because I have a short attention span. Most novels bore me, and I am somewhat of a literary snob.
Okay, I’m a geek. I know it. For my birthday, I buy the Best American Short Stories. I buy the O. Henry Awards prize stories, the Best New American Voices (which used to be the Best of the Fiction Workshops under a different publisher), and I spend countless hundreds of dollars on literary journals, ostensibly to keep abreast of current voices in the writing world, but really because I am a junky for words the way comic book collectors are for graphic novels. Much of what I have been reading lately is stultified anti-writing that seems much more content to be clever than good.
I was delighted, therefore, when I received my review copy of The IV Lounge Reader in the mail. A collection of short stories and poetry predominantly by Canadian authors, it has the structure and feel of a literary journal without all the annoying essays, interviews, and letters. Because it is an anthology of sorts, it also has the feel of a “best of” collection. The press, not being mainstream, is more likely to take chances (which can be good or bad).
This book really stems from a reading series hosted every other Friday at The IV Lounge in Toronto by editor Paul Vermeersch. Inaugurated in May of 1998 at the Café Za Che Zu, the series was nearly halted just one month later when the café closed its doors. The building’s owner, oddly enough, helped to keep the fledgling series alive, even tended bar during one of the early readings. Soon after, the venue reopened under the name The IV Lounge, and the reading series took off, hosting a number of nationally known authors and a few local favorites.
Although all of the authors have read at the venue, the book, according to Vermeersch, is not intended to be a historical document, (in the sense that every work in the text was originally read aloud) but rather a sampling of pieces read. As a book, the stories and poems are interesting and varied. The reading pace never staggers or slacks for lack of variety or style. Whether it be new realism, surrealism, post-modern, or language-based work, they’re all represented here. No school of writing seems to predominate. Much of the work has been dragged kicking and screaming onto the pages, resulting in a hodgepodge of work that either succeeds grandly or fails equally as grandly, exposing all of its wounds and scars.
As with most collections, there is good work presented, as well as bad. I was absolutely floored by the quality of stories such as Tamas Dobozy’s “When X Equals Marylou” and kristi-ly green’s “The Happy Diary”—easily equal to any story I’ve read in a more prestigious collection. I was captured by the strange surreal poetry of Blaise Moritz, and Patrick Rawley’s plain-spoken, often funny lines made me laugh out loud. Some of the work is very bad—weakly developed, cliche, or transparent—but whenever I caught myself groaning at hackneyed endings or poetry trying to be too clever, I realized that I was always fully engaged with the text. This book, like a jewel made more interesting by flaws, is unique because we see authors genuinely struggling with the material so as to make it work. It is vital and alive. Paul Vermeersch has done a wonderful job of assembling a sort of misfit cast of characters whose voices are all over the map, and I find myself wondering if the atmosphere of this project has played a part in fostering such a fresh sense of inventiveness and creativity. I hope that this is the first in a long and prosperous series.