Becky Blake’s childhood best friend might have been too badass to be a real person.
You can tell just by looking at Ruckus Readings’s website that the organizers pursue two fundamental qualities when creating an event: originality and fun. On Sunday, November 17th I attended “Ruckus Readings Volume V: There’s a Rucker Born Every Minute” at The Only Cafe. The venue is part bar, part cafe, and part hostel. Appropriately, Ruckus V was part reading, part concert, and part dramatic exercise. There was something for every type of patron to enjoy. Lisa Hoffman sang and played her guitar in between the evening’s readers, which included Terri Favro, Becky Blake, Nicholas Daniel Michelis, and Andrew Faulkner. Finally, just to raise the stakes a little higher, each reader had a custom-created cocktail that the host recommended to the audience.
The first two readers of the night definitely take home the prize for originality. Terri Favro, who you may recognize as the author of The Proxy Bride, performed a reading from her latest comic Waiting for Mario Puzo with her husband Ron Edding and Eufemia Fantetti. The comic is part of the Bella series and this second instalment tells the story of a teenage girl named Bella who, having grown up in a shady part of the Niagara Peninsula, hungers for adventure. Puzo’s The Godfather has just been released and she is fascinated by the gritty world of crime that Puzo masterfully makes so appalling and so appealing. This was the first time I had seen and heard a reading of a comic, but Favro, Edding, and Fantetti got into the spirit of the dramatic dialogue and used voices and subtle costume changes to express the tone and feeling of the comic. Favro writes dialogue that is concise, poignant, and very funny. Bella’s parents are shocked by the novel’s subject matter but, to their dismay, recognize that The Godfather represents one of very few opportunities for people to read about Italians. Bella is less interested in debates over ethnic representation and struggles to insert herself into the novel’s plot, with Puzo scolding her: “leave my book alone.”
Becky Blake won the 2012 CBC Short Story Prize for her story “The Three Times Rule.” Taking a note from the Ruckus organizers to do “something different,” Becky shared with the audience one of her biggest inspirations for writing: Kelly. Kelly was Blake’s best friend when she was thirteen. Kelly did drugs, had a lot of sex, got into a lot of trouble, and she’s an ’80s rebel girl that sounds almost too badass to possibly be a real person. Blake noted that when Kelly took a shining to her, “the voyeur, I mean writer, in me was fully awake.” Since then, Blake developed a character archetype that was a combination of Becky and Kelly, which Blake deemed the “Nerd Slut.” It’s worth noting too, that Blake pointed out the problematic connotations of the term, which received a couple of grateful nods from the feminists in the audience. She then shared a story called “Seasick,” which opens with an astounding image of a rolling waterbed whose movements magnify the erotic experience (between a girl and two male identical twins) double, quadruple, the four hands holding her down more than up. While the story inspired by Kelly’s antics was great, I must admit that the highlight was Blake’s reading of Kelly’s actual letters to her from more than twenty years ago. “Dear fucking sleazebag, how the hell are you?” I think you get the idea.
The final reader of the night was Andrew Faulkner. He co-curates The Emergency Response Unit chapbook press, his work has appeared in Issue VIII: Fall 2009, and he was Hart House Review’s Feature Poet for their 2013 print edition. Ruckus’s host described his poetry as “really good diner food” that is both enjoyable and absolutely impossible to replicate. After Faulkner’s reading, the host also mentioned that after he heard Faulkner read for the first time, he was inspired to pursue poetry and credits Andrew with his interest in contemporary Canadian writers. Faulkner read a few pieces from his latest collection Need Machine, published by Coach House Books. He began with a poem entitled “Hot Mess,” which opened with, “It is noon in the sweat glands of the gorgeous.” Faulkner’s style feels both familiar in its accessibility yet utterly unique in its execution. Lines such as “You’re a tall drink of water because you’re so fucking thirsty,” or she “smiles like a hood ornament and smells like peppermint schnapps,” demonstrate Faulkner’s unique ability to combine clichés, euphemisms, and provocative imagery to create new meanings, fraught with sly jokes and unexpected twists.
While Ruckus Readings are still a relatively new literary series, I anticipate a dedicated group of attendees to emerge from these wild and innovative evenings. Where they provide the details for their fifth instalment on their website, the organizers even provide a reason for why you should go: “Because Sunday nights aren’t just for dinner at Gran’s house anymore.” It appears that Toronto’s literary scene has just gotten a lot more interesting.