Pearl PirieQ & A with Pearl Pirie

Interview by Ren Tomovcik
(Photo courtesy of Charles Earl)

Ottawa poet and blogger Pearl Pirie stops in for a chat with us about her work, her current inspirations, and tons of local literary activities to share.

Pearl, how long have you been living and writing in Ottawa?I've been going to school, working or living here since 1991. I've been going to readings since around 2000 and the Writers Fest since 2004.

I began to get a lot more out of it once I actually lingered and talked rather than wallflowered then disappearing, hoping to be unseen.

If you were describing Ottawa in just a few words for someone who had never been here, what would you say about our city?Come in summer. :) Or bring skiis between November and May. Check the calendar if you want to know what's going on in anything literary. (I've been reading it since 1995.)  And talk with people -- Ottawa's still at green alert for vampires yet!

Ottawa's literary arts community has been growing over the last few years.  What do you think unites Ottawa's community of writers, and does having a support system of like-minded individuals influence your work?What unites Ottawa writers is what unites anyone, a willingness to respect and support which self-perpetuates. And sense of humor. How does like-minded help? One is more free to think and grow when  there's a receptive rather than blank, closed, or disinterested look coming back at you. When people have the same sort of hooks to speak the same dialect, then it's naturally more gratifying. One can  proceed. As for well-meaning, just make it {longer, shorter, simpler, more troubled, more narrative, more regular, more abstract, like I am instead of you are} when that isn't your trajectory is less useful than writing in a vacuum. Perhaps.

You often read your poetry at local events, and you participate in tons of literary groups.  What events or groups would you recommend to someone who's interested in learning more about Ottawa's literary arts scene?Each person comes with a different leanings and learnings. Go to as many events as possible. The energy and chemistry at each group is a little different and varies. Taste test widely and often. Most are free or affordable. The individuals you can meet are wonderful.
Where in the city do you go when you need to find some inspiration for your writing?
Going to readings tends to spark writing. I tend to go to a lot of  them. There's such a wealth for a city of any size, with people brought in from out of town by the Factory Reading Series, A B Series, Capital Slam, Plan 99, Tree Reading Series, Dusty Owl, and Sasquatch

There's another new series popping up regularly, like the New Stalgica Poetry Series which will have its 4th reading in April. Lit events happen at Umi Cafe, Raw Sugar and Carleton Tavern on a more irregular schedule. Ottawa Storytellers have regular readings at the NAC 4th Stage. I haven't made it out to one yet but there's also the .ism(e): performance cabaret at the SAW Gallery.
And then come April it's poetry month with the Writers Fest. The spring edition of the Writers Festival is 11 days this time. There's a cross-section of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Whether I've heard of the writer or not, there's a wonderful exchange of ideas. There's always a few good ones that you expect to enjoy. This year excellent speaker Wayson Choy is coming and iconic feminist Ursula Le Guin.

There's also an April-only Canal Mug Series at the Sunnyside branch of the Ottawa Public Library with local people featured. The Bywords Quarterly Journal year round supports writers who are from Ottawa. Coming this fall will be the the Haiku North America conference at the National Library and Archives.
Other than that, there's exploring shelves at Collected Works where I can browse firsthand things I've read reviews of. And I'm in 2 online workshop groups (including the Internet Writing Workshop where I've been for 7 or 8 years) and 3 face-to-face circles where we can discuss poetry generally and our poems in small groups.
I've also gained from the Dusty Owl Workshops on Tuesday nights and the workshop rob mclennan runs once or twice a year.  Other workshops get offered by Richard Taylor, Capital Slam Collective, the Canadian Authors Association, by continuing education of the Public and Catholic school boards and by the City of Ottawa.

If you could give a piece of advice to writers who are just getting started, what would you say to them?What resonates is rare. Listen anyway. If you're lucky you write one good poem in your lifetime. Write reams anyway. Read. Tear it apart to see what makes it tick. Listen. It doesn't tick anymore? Put it back together. Listen. Read more. (Ok, so that's 3 pieces; a surprise blitz of 3-for-1 deal.)

What are the local lit blogs and websites you visit most?The nice thing about blogs is connecting to people asynchronously and a-geographically, independent of class or career stream or generation.  For the first few years I blogged (I'm in my 7th year now) I wasn't aware that anyone local was blogging. The appeal was to connect with who I couldn't access face to face. Just sayin'. 

Now that Amanda Earl has hung up her blogging heels, there's rob mclennan's blog for book poetry and Rusty's World and free range print for slam poetry and the Ottawa Poetry Newsletter which is a group blog to cover all genres of literary in Ottawa.

I put mine at Humanyms or Pesbo.
For photography of lit events there's John W. Macdonald's Weblog and Through the Broken Viewfinder.
The Ottawa Arts Newsletter  and Ottawa Poetry Newsletter and have upcoming literary event listings, and Apt. 613  and  Wellington Oracle have local theatre and community groups, but there's room for more people to dialogue on what they've heard and seen. There are surprisingly few lit blogs locally proportional to the audiences (I tend to read internationally for lit blogs myself) but  there are loads of blogs of life, photography, knitting and mommie blogs.

** You can also check out the latest Bywords Literary Newsletter, published every Friday right here on!

Who is currently inspiring you locally?Gosh. Who ain't.

Tell us all about your latest work!
The most recent thing to hit print is a poem included in 1cent issue  #400. You may still be able to get it at the small press fair in June or you can get a subscription of all jwcurry publishes in a year from him. Info here with a sample of jwcurry's small press inventory. The last chapbook with copies for sale is oath in the boathouse from a year ago at above/ground press and can be bought from rob mclennan.
whack of cloudsOne of the writing circles I'm in expect to have a new chapbook for the small press fair in June. (It'll be Saturday, June 20, 2009 upstairs in the Jack Purcell Community Centre at Elgin).

Amanda Earl
, Marcus McCann, Roland Prevost and Sandra Ridley and I will each have a couple pages to go at our directions around a theme sound. Only 52 copies will be made. Last year's chapbook, A Whack of Clouds, launched  at the small press fair was also made by Angelhouse Press and sold out.

You love to share some of your favourite quotes with readers on your website.  What's an important quote that's resonating with you right now?
  "I will stop, because, otherwise I won't."
Ricky Garni [ ]


Upcoming Readings
  • Sunday March 22nd at at 2 p.m, Sasquatch Reading Series (founded in 1980, and no, rumours of its death are unfounded) at the Royal Oak II on Laurier, in the  basement. Free admission. A hat will be passed. There's time for open mic.
  • Monday April 13th, watch for a reading with Rob Friday at the New Stalgica Poetry Series
  • Sunday April 19th, Pearl will be giving a Spring Dusty Owl Workshop called  "Firestarters: Getting Back to Creative Burn and Finding Your Inner Pyro" at Sushi 88, 690 Somerset St. W with tickets available at Raw Sugar (692 Somerset St. W)
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