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Write On Ottawa: The first photograph of a middle finger and other poetic stories

By Alejandro Bustos on October 22, 2013

If you head over to The Manx Pub on Elgin Street and order a pint of beer, chances are that you will be served by one of Ottawa’s – if not Canada’s – most brilliant poets.

David O’Meara is a fantastic writer who wears many hats: Manx bartender, artistic director of VERSeFest, all around great guy.  However, it’s through his books where he lets the full force of his creativity shine.

Sean Wilson, artistic director of the Ottawa International Writers Festival, told me earlier this month that O’Meara is probably one of the best poets in the country.  This is high praise coming from someone who has been organizing the Writers Festival since 1997, and who has come across countless writers over the years from a wide range of genres.

After reading A Pretty Sight, the most recent collection of poems by O’Meara that is published by Coach House Books, I understand where this praise is coming from.

A Pretty Sight is a delightful read.  Like a collection of ingenious short stories, these poems describe highly original and incredibly entertaining scenes.  There is a dialogue between Socrates and Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols that is brilliant.  There is a poem set in the future about a performance arts centre being opened on the moon.  There are descriptions of ravers in a nightclub in war-torn Kosovo, and a piece about the first ever photograph of a public figure giving the middle finger to the camera.

A Pretty SightLocal book lovers can see O’Meara describe these and other great poems this coming Friday, October 25, when he officially releases A Pretty Sight as part of the Ottawa International Writers Festival. Musician and composer Mike Dubue of the Hilotrons will also be performing at the event.

So what common thread ties together the various poems in this new collection by O’Meara,  who has twice won the Archibald Lampman Award, and who last year was the Canadian judge for the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize?

“One of the themes of the book that pops us is dissent,” he replies.  “The DJ in Kosovo who can carry on despite what is going on in his country…  Charles Radbourn who is the starting pitcher of the Boston Beaneaters and who is giving the middle finger.”

Similarly, the dialogue between Socrates and Sid Vicious is infused with the power of dissent.   Socrates, we should remember, was sentenced to death for corrupting youth and impiety.

“Corrupting youth and recognizing new gods can be a description of the punk movement,” says O’Meara, .   “They also both died of a drug overdose.”  (Socrates drunk hemlock; Sid Vicious injected heroin).

In addition to rebellion, the book also celebrates the struggle of human expression.  One poem that underlines this is In Event of Moon Disaster, which recounts the true story of how William Safire, the late New York Times columnist and U.S. presidential speechwriter, was given the unenviable task of writing a speech for President Nixon in 1969 in the event that the U.S. moon landing went tragically wrong and the NASA astronauts were killed.

“It’s really a poem about writer’s block,” says O’Meara, as he describes this piece which imagines how Safire felt as he wrote words in preparation for the worst case scenario.

Overall, this is an excellent book with great writing and captivating stories.  If you want to see a writer at the top of his game, came out this Friday to the Writers Festival.  General tickets are $15, reduced $10, while Carleton University students can attend the event for free by booking online, and then bringing their student card to the event.