Lecture for an Empty Room
Notes on The Peter F Yacht Club,
An approach to writing, to literature. As Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One responded to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange in Doctor Strange (2016): This isn’t about you.
In the late 1990s, I co-founded an occasional social gathering that evolved into an occasional writer’s group journal, The Peter F. Yacht Club. It was a way for a handful of us to feel less isolated through our literary endeavors: writing poems, sending to journals, thinking about how poems are formed. Clare Latremouille, jwcurry, Stephen Brockwell, Laurie Anne Fuhr, James Moran. Max Middle. Our first attempts devolved quickly into social mayhem, which we maintained for a few years until AJ Dolman attempted to redirect our efforts into the occasional loose workshop somewhere in those early aughts, hosted at least once by Peter Norman and Melanie Little as well. Anyone could bring a short piece of writing to present for discussion, feedback. The effect was the same: a bonding, through which those present might have felt less adrift, less isolated. We wrote, we attended, we commented. We shared and exchanged items we’d published, and attempts at accomplishment.
A conversation, after all.
That initial idea has since spread out across a far wider canvas, including multiple other writers, publications and groups. The journal itself, founded in 2003, now lands at least once a year, producing an issue distributed free as part of our annual poetry festival, VERSeFest, and, since 2005, hosts an annual group reading between Christmas and New Year’s. Odd to consider the journal itself is now more than thirty issues strong, twenty years after the appearance of the debut. The journal itself has become more of a record of activity, of movement: who was there, who was around. What had been happening. In the same way Vancouver’s TISH documented the length and breadth of a generation of young experimental poets across the 1960s, Montreal’s mouse eggs documented the early Vehicule Poets as they formed through the 1970s, the 1990s Vancouver occasional TADS across an array of writing by young writers and their mentors, or what Victor Coleman and Michael Boughn worked a decade or so later in Toronto, through COUGH. Just think of how much activity might not have occurred, let alone been recorded, without the decades-worth of The Poetry Project Newsletter. The first decade of The Capilano Review, or of Writers News Manitoba, the publication that evolved into Prairie Fire. The literary publication-as-newsletter, going back to the beginnings, I’m sure, of literary publication at all. The news that can’t help that stay, news.