Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Originally published  Saturday, October 20, 2001 St. Catharines Standard

"Writer's group helped me to find my voice: All that I've learned, I owe to people from The Writing On The Wall" by M. Fogel

For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be a writer.  Now as I look back, I remember the first place I really felt as if I was one.  It was a spoken word reading group:  The Writing On The Wall.
I'd spent the last month working on my latest short story.  I felt it was pretty good.  I'd revised it umpteen times and I was just about ready to ship it off to perfect strangers in the publishing industry who couldn't give a damn that I thought I could be the next Hemingway.
I went downtown to have a coffee and sit and think about whether I should mail it out or if I should just keep it to myself.  Maybe it wasn't good enough.  Maybe those editors just wouldn't get it.  Maybe I should just drink more coffee.
It was one of those typical nights spent in the downtown core.  There wasn't a whole lot going on, none of my friends were at our usual coffee shop, but I knew there was a poetry group meeting in the Niagara Artist's Centre building, so on a whim, I headed down to 2 Bond Street with a copy of my manuscript.  I figured most of my friends were there and it would be a good place to get a feel for how my story sounded to an audience.  When I got there, I signed up at the door to read.
When my turn came up to read, I got that feeling you get when a letter from a publisher arrives in the mail.  Only now I couldn't just shuffle the feeling away amongst the junk mail.  My name was announced.  It was time to present my work.
I walked up to the stage and the MC greeted me with a handshake and said reassuringly, "Good luck.  You've got 10 minutes," then he walked off the stage.  I began to read my story, a tale of a boy walking his dog and watching two lovers in the park, and a hush fell over the room. The story took on a new life as I read it aloud.  I tripped up on a sentence near the end.  I realized that the line was awkward and I decided to work on it when I got home.
The crowd was very forgiving, and as I finished reading the story there was an absolute silence; then, thankfully, a moment later, applause.  After my reading, I decided to stay to listen to the other writers and poets read their work.
Later, as I walked home, manuscript in hand, I made a promise to myself to catch The Writing On The Wall again next month.  I figured there was no guarantee it would improve my writing, but it was, after all, a great place to listen and be heard.
The Writing on The Wall was started in late spring of 1996 by Amy Eggleton and Eileen Cochrane and ran through the winter of 1997.  Together with the help of a loosely formed bunch of Niagara-area poets and writer and with the help of the Niagara Artists Company on Bond Street (who generously lent us their
space each month), Amy and Eileen managed to bring a little bit of "big city" culture to Niagara.
I owe them and all the poets and writers I met that year a debt of gratitude. They gave the downtown crowd a chance to have our own not-so-Dead Poets Society.  They taught me to accept myself for me and helped me see sides of my friends that I would otherwise never have realized existed.
The old crowd has moved on to other things.  Some, like me, got married and are now starting a family.  Others have begun challenging and fulfilling careers.  But every once in a while when walking downtown I'll run into someone from one of the reading series and the memories of those evenings spent sitting and reading our latest to each other while sipping coffee flood right back.
To my knowledge, there were four amateur spoken word readings in St. Catharines during the past five years.  Calling All Poets was the first I attended.  Then came Calling All Writers, The Writing On The Wall, and most recently, The Voices In Your Head, which is still held in the same building as The Writing On The Wall was.
I hear the poetry readings at the NAC are still fairly lively.  Perhaps one day I'll attend.


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