October 5, 2014

Wolfe Island LitFest

All year, as I’ve been going around from literary festival to literary festival, there has been a quiet but persistent legend growing in my mind of the Wolfe Island LitFest.

“Have you heard of Wolfe Island?”

“Have you been to Wolfe Island?”

“If you get invited, GO!”

And then I was invited. So I went!!!

The 11th Annual Wolfe Island Joe Burke Literary Festival

You can see from the poster that this happened in June. But that was a mere blink of the eye ago in blogging time...

Rumour has it that Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip (!!!) is sometimes in attendance. Joseph Boyden is usually there, and this year his absence was lamented by many (including me). I was told by a few people that the first public readings of sections of The Orenda and Through Black Spruce happened on Wolfe Island. (I don't know if this is true, but it was a fact related with a significant amount of pride.)

The mystique of Wolfe Island was such that right up until a few days before I left, I wasn't 100% sure how I was getting there or where I might be staying. It was the kind of uncertainty that otherwise might have made me nervous (I like to plan! I like to visualize!), but I also knew that I shouldn't worry...I knew it was all going to come together.

I was charged with connecting with visiting Irish writer Kevin Barry upon leaving the train and to take a taxi to the dock, where we would be met by someone in a boat. Somehow, without ever having met before, Kevin and I spotted each other immediately, and along with his wife Olivia, easily found a cab.

The taxi drove along Tragically Hip Way, which caught the attention of the Irish, and as a long-time Hip fan, I had the fun task of trying to explain how awesome they are and the place they occupy in the national consciousness.

We were found by the lovely people who needed to find us (including the inimitable Mark Mattson, whose family plays a role in this wonderful festival), and we crossed very choppy waters on a little speedboat. Not knowing exactly what to expect -- or rather, having ignored some of the concrete information I did have at hand -- I was wearing heels, which made the boat boarding process slightly more nerve-wracking than it ought to have been. City girl mistake!

On a boat!

Then we crossed to the island, which was beautiful. We were fed, welcomed, introduced to a whole host of lovely Wolfe Islanders, taken to a remarkable abode known as the Duck Club, and then, later, to the venue. 

Beautiful peonies on the lunch table
The reading venue was a beautiful spot. The festival is supported by Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, an charitable environmental group that works to protect the lake and keep it safe for drinking, fishing, and swimming.

Gorgeous light at the venue

Listeners gathering

Posters from previous years

Ken Babstock reading

Kevin Barry's (hilarious) reading

The photos are lacklustre and incomplete, I know. But all of the readers were amazing, those pictured as well as those not. Mostly, I was too much in the moment to worry about documenting things. Tanis Rideout read a poem about Wolfe Island which was full of references to past festivals and which was somehow moving and funny even without access to the full knowledge to understand all the allusions.

My own reading started with an introduction from Dave Bidini (!!!) and some microphone trouble, and I really enjoyed the reading itself. There were actual, palpable good vibes. At one point, I was startled to look up and notice Sarah Harmer in the audience. I got super into the band Weeping Tile after they broke up (sadly!), but Sarah Harmer’s solo album You Were Here was a major theme with me and my friends during my undergrad. (Listen to this as a sample if you don't already know it...then buy it.) I was lucky enough to see her play at least half a dozen times over those years. I was so thrilled she was there and even more thrilled when she came up to speak to me afterwards!

After the readings, everyone ate, drank, and made merry. A lot of us watched part of the World Cup game between England and Italy in a nearby garage while an eclectic soundtrack, (including "Poets" by the Tragically Hip, achieving a quintessential interdisciplinary artistic CanLit moment for me!) blared at full blast. 

Merry-making evidence

Dreamy drive through a wind farm

Bundled up outside the Duck Club before a night out

Then that night Dave Bidini and his band played at a beautiful patio venue on the water, where sadly my phone was too dead to take any good photos. Although I did work up the nerve to ask Sarah Harmer for a photo that Kevin Barry was kind enough to take and send to me. She is so gracious and lovely!

Me and Sarah Harmer!

I don’t want to unravel any more of the Wolfe Island mystique, so I won't get into the antics that played out after dark (most of which, due to exhaustion, I didn't even witness).  Maybe you really don't want to know what the poets are doing... Let's just say that there are good reasons to keep guns under lock and key.... 

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