Review: Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear

Monday, 20 February 2017

Every once in a while a book floors me. It happened with Just Kids by Patti Smith. It happened with Us Conductors by Sean Michaels. This month it happened again when I was stunned by Kyo Maclear's elegant and wise memoir Birds Art Life.

Birds Art Life takes readers to city parks, harbours, and trails as Maclear seeks joy and solace through birding following a period in which her father's failing health consumes her. Though it is deeply appreciative of our feathery friends, Birds Art Life is hardly a manual for want-to-be birders. Rather, it's a contemplative journey exploring the ways in which the natural world can shape or influence our lives and art, yet at the same time, allowing us to escape them.

"For me, birding and writing did not — and do not — feel interchangeable. Birding was the opposite of writing, a welcome and necessary flight from the awkward daily consciousness of making art. It allowed me to exist in a simple continuity, amid a river of birds and people and hours. The stubborn anxiety that filled the rest of my life was calmed for as long as I was standing in that river."
Kyo Maclear, Birds Art Life

Birds Art Life is also about waiting. It's about the act of sitting quietly along a river or at a park for a momentary glimpse of a bird or birds — so small in the grand scheme of things, but with an ability to intensely affect a birder. It's about patience, even if a birding experience is happening amidst a hurried city. Like most of us, Maclear failed to notice the avian life around her until she made the effort to be watchful.

"Sometimes in the quiet moments of waiting or walking in a place empty of people, in vacant lots where the damage and hideous underview of the city was not to be denied, I felt a loneliness that struck me to my core. Why would anyone invite the experience? And yet there was also something undeniably uplifting in catching glints of life, sharing sightings with strangers. There was grace in witnessing the constant aerial motion and nervous twittering of common species."

Birds Art Life is one of those books that constantly saw me jotting down and sharing passages, not only those about the flit and flight of birds, but also Maclear's musings about books, reading, and love. Here are just three examples of Maclear's crisp, intricate prose that gave me pause, causing me to read them over and over again.

Kyo Maclear on Children's Literature
"The spark of children’s literature — stories lusciously rendered in words and pictures — was distinctive and determining. These books had a radiant quality, a quality that Anne Carson describes in her book Decreation. 'When I think of books read in childhood,' she writes, 'they come to my mind’s eye in violence foreshortening and framed by a precarious darkness, but at the same time they glow somehow with an almost supernatural intensity of life that no adult book could ever effect.'"

Kyo Maclear on Books and Reading
"Books have given me great stores of happiness, but if I am honest with myself I can see they have also taken something away. I glimpsed the real world between paragraphs of novels. I traced words when I might have touched the ground.”

Kyo Maclear on Small, Intimate Moments
"One morning while standing at a cafe counter staring at the magnificently thick brows of the man making my coffee, I discovered one should not gaze too long at faces unless one is prepared to fall in love again."

Hamilton Winterfest 2017

Monday, 6 February 2017

In 2015, I attended my first Hamilton Winterfest kickoff event at Pier 8 (Read about it here). A year later, I was part of the organizing team at gritLIT: Hamilton's Readers and Writers Festival who welcomed Lawrence Hill to Winterfest. This year, despite the cold, I was back at the kickoff event for a third year in a row, just long enough to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate, listen to Syrian performance troupe – Yasmeen AlSham (Jasmine of Syria), and watch skaters take to the ice.

Hamiton Winterfest is a celebration of the city of Hamilton and the beauty of the season, which takes place between February 4-20. This year, as part of the festivities, gritLIT is pleased to present an evening of winter tales at the Staircase Theatre on Thursday, February 9. The event will include a reading by Heather O'Neill, the Winter's Tale flash fiction contest, and the reveal of the 2017 gritLIT Festival. Details and tickets are available at

See below for the event poster (Help spread the word!) and see a few photos from the Winterfest Kick Off event. Stay warm, #HamOnt!

Quotable: Into the Blizzard by Michael Winter

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

"I spent the day at the archives and photocopied enough material to cover the entire floor white. But the original diaries I never got to handle. Someone had taken them out before me. Somewhere, across these several well-lit acres of industrial study of the past, a set of eyes was reading about the Newfoundland regiment. It was the only fact I could not research. Who. Reading was the only activity in the room not ordered or catalogued." — Michael Winter, Into the Blizzard

2016: A Year in Review

Sunday, 1 January 2017

In 2016, I marked five years since beginning Not My Typewriter. It started as a book blog and transformed into something else, and each year, it evolves a tiny bit more. Thank you to everyone who has been reading over the past five years, and to those who have just stumbled upon it recently. I look forward to another year ahead of exploring #HamOnt and #CanLit.

My blog birthday wasn't the only thing I had to celebrate in 2016. It was a huge year for Hamilton's literary community: Lawrence Hill won CBC's Canada Reads for a second time. Wolsak and Wynn, Hamilton's local publisher, had their first book on the Giller Prize longlist. Gary Barwin's Yiddish for Pirates landed a spot on the Giller Prize shortlist. Michael Helm of Dundas was nominated for The Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize for his book After James. Local first-time author Jamie Tennant started Get Lit, a radio program which airs on CFMU (Check out the first few episodes here: On a personal level, I was proud to be part of the team that launched the Hamilton Review of Books in November. These examples are really just the beginning. It was an exceptional year for local lit.

I've pulled together a few of my favourite posts from 2016. I look forward to many more adventures in 2017! Happy New Year!

Winter 2016

Spring 2016

Summer 2016

Fall 2016

Hamilton Review of Books

Thursday, 29 December 2016

It was such a treat to be featured in the Hamilton Spectator yesterday as part of the team behind the newly launched Hamilton Review of Books, an independent online literary journal created by writers, editors, reviewers, and academics from the Hamilton area. Read Graham Rockingham's story here.

We launched the review in early November, on the same night of Game 7 of the World Series and a terrible downpour. Despite having the odds against us, we had close to 100 local book lovers in attendance. Here are a few photos from the launch, which was held at the Art Gallery of Hamilton's Annex. You can find the rest on our Facebook page.

Tor Lukasik-Foss as our literary palm reader

The Hamilton Spectator's Jeff Mahoney with local writer Jen Jones

Giller Prize shortlister Gary Barwin 

 Jeff Mahoney with some of the women behind gritLIT: Hamilton's Readers and Writers Festival

Jaime of Epic Books on Locke Street and Noelle Allen of Wolsak and Wynn 

 Hamilton Review of Books editorial team members Sally Cooper, Dana Hansen, and Krista Foss

 A literary journal dedicated to paying its writers!

Concerts in the Round: Hawksley Workman

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

The fourth floor of the Hamilton Public Library's central branch is my go-to place for a lot of things: I've held meetings and events there. It's where I most-often do my freelance work. I've toured the Circuit, the library's collaborative creative space. However, until a week and a half ago, I hadn't attended an the space's music series, Concerts in the Round, which has boasted performances by Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, The Sadies, and 54-40.

Most recently, the HPL hosted one of my favourite musicians, who is also now a published children's book author, Hawksley Workman. Workman's book, Almost a Full Moon, is based on the lyrics of a song from his holiday album, also called Almost a Full Moon. It was released by Tundra Books in September.

HPL's Concerts in the Round series is a chance to see musicians in an intimate venue in a unique downtown space, complete with brews from Collective Arts. (Seriously, drinking beer in the library: It's Jes heaven). I can't wait to see who they announce next.

St. John's: Downtown

Sunday, 11 December 2016
“Walkers are 'practitioners of the city,' for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go.” ― Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

I began my series of blog posts about St. John's with a post on eating and drinking, which felt to be the most logical place to begin. Our trip could be easily divided into two categories: Eating and walking, and much of our walking took place in downtown St. John's.

What stunned me about downtown St. John's is how new it all is, the result of a fire that ravaged the city at the end of the 19th century. Very few buildings were left standing.
Late in the afternoon of 8 July 1892, a small fire broke out in a St. John’s stable after a lit pipe or match fell into a bundle of hay. Although containable at first, the flames quickly spread due to dry weather conditions, a disorganized fire department, and poor planning on the part of city officials. Within hours, the fire had destroyed almost all of St. John’s, leaving 11,000 people homeless and causing $13 million in property damage. (Source: Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador)
When we began researching things to do and see in the St. John's area, I relied heavily on the insight of bloggers. Here are just a few of the many places that helped me quickly fall in love with the city.

Harbourside Park

The National War Memorial

Bookish St. John's

Afterwords Bookstore (245 Duckworth St.)

Broken Books (183A Duckworth St.)

Jellybean Row

George Street Festival

The George Street Festival has been on bucket my list for many years, so we snagged tickets to not one, but two nights, to see our hometown boys Arkells and later Alan Doyle (formerly of Great Big Sea).

Fred's Records (198 Duckworth St.)

Government House

The Battery
The colourful Battery is where we began our hike up Signal Hill, but more on that memorable day later!

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