Word on the Street yesterday, a festival of literacy that has publishers, literary organizations and children’s play areas surrounding the ruin-themed Vancouver Public Library Main Branch as less an example of spectacular architecture than the entire block a feudal manor. My reading took place at the “Authors Tent”, one of many white plastic structures lining Hamilton and Homer Streets. Not my preferred venue, what with all the car honks and tire screeches, but one I consented to, being a believer in the event.
Preceding me was the VPL’s current writer-in-residence, the peripatetic Ivan E. Coyote, whom I first saw at a night club thirteen years ago when she was a member of the thoroughly entertaining Taste This collective (with Anna Camilleri and Lyndell Montgomery), and who has for some time now been out on her own, telling stories, publishing books, insisting her life is simpler than we think it is.
Watching Coyote perform, her biceps bursting from her tight black tee, her back as straight as the mike-stand before her, I saw two people: not the rural/urban Coyote, nor the daughter-as-son Coyote, nor even the bitter/sweet Coyote, but the artist who flickers between that which is written and that which is improvised. It is a subtle shift, not unlike a glitch in an old VHS tape, but one that (at least for this viewer) kept breaking her spell.
Of course there’s a side of me that appreciates the flicker, like the coyote trickster who can never shed its selves, a retention that reminds but does not frighten. As for who those selves might be, one is certainly Will Rogers, America’s “Great Communicator”, while another is his fictive contemporary, the earnest John-Boy Walton.
If only Coyote would expand her repertoire, take on the language that has her so imperfectly determined! As she left the stage I imagined a performance that had less John-Boy, more Gertrude Stein; a conflation of the rote and the unrehearsed, like we find with Lily Tomlin, or more recently, Sarah Silverman. But that’s just me.
Following Hal Wake’s introduction I attempted a few words about 8x10, BookRiff, and the collage version. I say "attempt" because the aforementioned car honks and tire screeches seemed to erase every second sentence, not to mention the impatient whisperings on the other side of the tent – what sounded like a grandmother urging her grandson to have a bowel movement in a bucket. But I may have imagined that too, lost as I was in my reading.