Last night I took a bus and walked through a strange neighbourhood and happened upon two other ladies, carrying chairs and blankets, turning into an unmarked backyard. After my Google-blocked attempt last month, last night, I found Lilah Kemp.
The tiny backyard, grass freshly cut, was already packed by the time I got there. I took a spot up front (a decision I would regret when our host sat on the large decorative stone in front of me and smoked at least three cigarettes over the night). But it was a good night.
Our host read an admittedly awful story he wrote when he was 20 and had dug up when another reader had to cancel. It was about love and drugs–what every 20-year-old writes about–and switched from third person to first a page or so in. Next, a poet, who writes about the Maritime coast and North Ontario lakes, and says everyone has a PEI breakup poem.
Then we heard Willie Stratton play his guitar and sing the best music I’ve heard all year. He has a PEI breakup song. You should buy his album.
We heard pieces from published novels, from novels in progress, new poems, old poems, and poems that were written years ago, but have never been read. I asked the girls next to me why I see more TOMS here than I ever did back in Vancouver. We all reached out, trying to pet the brown and black mottled cat, stalking through arms and legs. When the music got loud, louder than you’d think a single acoustic guitar could be, I watched the neighbours two doors down come out to their balcony and listen. One woman, also a writing teacher at Dalhousie, told us that Halifax is big enough for a symphony, but too small for an affair, and that was just the in-between banter.
The last line of the evening was, “Wow, you turned out kind of weird, didn’t you?” That sentiment feels true in every moment of my life, except when there are other writers around. It takes things like this to get us out there where we can see and learn how to recognise each other.