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Arriving in Birmingham: the air shuttle; very cool!

You might remember that I went away for a little while in April.  My first destination was Birmingham.  How exciting!  Not really, it was my second time there and I was still not impressed by the town.  However, the reason why I was there was a lot more exciting: the British Association for Canadian Studies annual conference.

The Bullring by night; 8pm and the streets are empty...

Clock tower, University of Birmingham


Luckily for us, the conference was taking place outside the city at the University of Birmingham and we were also staying on campus.  It was so much more pleasant than the city with birds, trees and flowers…

Thus, for three days, I listened to interesting papers on Canadian studies.  I mostly went to the literature panels, although I now regret having missed some of the other panels.  That’s the problem with big conferences like that: they have a few panels running at the same time and one has to make difficult choices.

As always, it was great to meet people with a similar interest and sit back to listen to them talk about their research.  I was part of a panel on Atwood and was pleased to see that the three of us were dealing with the “minor” genres: poetry and short fictions.  It was all the more surprising that the theme of the conference was “Peace and (In)Security: Canada’s Promise, Canada’s Problem?” and one would have expected some of Atwood’s latest novels to be discussed.

Panel on Atwood; drawing by Heather Spears

The keynote addresses were varied.  Professor Stephen Royle (Queen’s University) presented a lecture sponsored by the Eccles Centre (British Library), which was entitled “Insecurity in Canada’s past: James Douglas keeps the peace on Vancouver Island”.  Dr. Susan Hodgett (University of Ulster) gave a presidential address and delivered a presentation on her latest project, which involves the use of Sen’s capability approach to evaluate social attainment of immigrants in Canada.  I was not familiar with her work, but her lecture was interesting and really approachable.  Professor Claude Denis (University of Ottawa) gave a lecture entitled “Canada-US armour for a happy place?  Building ‘perimeter’ security withoutMexico”, which discussed North-American relations after 9/11.  Finally, Professor Louis Balthazar (University of Laval) also discussed Canada-US relations in his presentation, “Canada’s Continental Destiny and Quebec’s Americanité Confronted with American Security Obsession”.  He emphasised in particular why Quebecers felt less threatened by the US because of their distinctive culture.

There was also a presentation by the novelist Kate Pullinger entitled “(In)Security, and Belonging in The Mistress of Nothing and Flight Paths”.  After briefly discussing The Mistress of Nothing, for which she won the Governor General’s Award, and the research she did for the novel, Pullinger focused on the future of publishing and the new media available to writers.  She discussed new forms of literature, such as her digital novel Flight Paths, which is a community project associating writing to images and music and is hosted on a website.  Pullinger has espoused new forms of media for literature; you can see all she is involved in here.  However, she insisted that there is room for all kinds of forms in literature and that new media do not mean the end of the traditional book.

Our evenings were equally busy and on the first night there was a poetry reading.  Poetry is not my favourite genre, but I usually prefer to listen to it than read it and I really enjoyed the readings by Roz Goddard, Heather Spears and Kim Trusty. 

Roz Goddard

Roz Goddard, a local poet, read from her collection How to Dismantle a Hotel Room and had us in stitches; I couldn’t believe that poetry could be so fun! 

Heather Spears

Heather Spears, a Canadian artist living in Denmark, was more serious and her poems had you thinking.  One of the poem she read was especially poignant: it was about her experience of being asked to draw stillborn babies.  

Kim Trusty

I also connected with the poetry of Kim Trusty, a Canadian based in Birmingham.  She read poems that are quite ordinary and could be about you or me.  In one of them, the speaker tells us about her failure in relationships; how she falls in love but always ends up bruised and on her own with her cats.  It was humourous and sad at once, but then I realised in shock that it was about me!

The BACS conferences are also known for organising great book displays.  Indeed… a whole room filled with books connected to Canada and most of them actually coming from Canadian publishers.  I had a hard time choosing only a couple; I wanted to buy everything!  Next time, I might take an extra luggage!

New books

Overall, it was a great experience and I hope I will be able to assist to the 2012 edition, which will be on sustainability.  It will be hosted in Cambridge; I have never been there, so this is the perfect excuse!

University of Birmingham