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September 04, 2008

The Unheralded Creatives

Yesterday I met Mona Fertig owner of Mother Tongue Publishing Ltd.
We spent a couple of hours together. The tea she poured at the beginning of the meeting eventually led to white wine as time passed on the front porch of her Saltspring home.

In 1978 at the age of 23 she started the Vancouver Literary Storefront modeling it after a famous bookstore salon (Shakespeare & Co. in Paris) run by Sylvia Beach who published James Joyces' Ulysses.

The Vancouver Literary Storefront became a hub for writers, readers, poets and the burgeoning literati in BC, and would be the precursor to the BC Federation of Writers.

The black and white photos from that time in her upstairs office are a Who's Who of BC Poets. Here's Mona with Susan Musgrave and Marilyn Bowering. There's Margaret Atwood giving a reading. Phyllis Webb. Dorothy Livesay. Helen Potrebenko. bill bissett. Patrick Lane. Daphne Marlatt...More than 600 readings took place in four years at the centre which was located in Gastown.

Walking through the house she shares with her husband, Peter Hasse, is like an ode to BC poetic history. There are black and white photos, programs from poetry readings, chapbooks. She has now sold a lot of it to the UBC Archives.

At this point, she spoke of the reasons she decided to jump over from a private press to try trade publishing. She was tired of thinking projects were worthwhile only to be rejected by a publisher. I decided, why not just do it myself. What am I waiting for?

Since 1990 she has run a private press with her husband creating beautiful, hand-made chapbooks of established poets out of delicate paper; handbound editions beckon the reader to take the time to experience a gentler world and stop time for a while.

Her father, George Fertig, was a painter in the 1950s. And, like so many artists, he worked in anonymity his entire life. Just because they weren't known, she says, does that actually make their art any less? It's not invisible just because it's not known. And, her father's contemporaries and artist friends form a rich history that is lost when they die she said. Our understanding of a time in BC's artistic history is defined by the notariety of a few.

Her father's paintings grace the walls of her house and it is one of her father's contemporaries that she has chosen as the subject of the first art history books she'll publish. The late David Marshall was a sculptor whose work was recognized internationally but received little acknowledgement in Vancouver. It will be published in early December.

Her other project, RockSalt, is an Anthology of previously unpublished poems by emerging, mid-career and established BC poets. Working with a co-editor she put out a call, received 298 poems, culled the book to 108 poets and will publish it in October.

Personally this interview was very timely for me because of how she spoke of her father's work and her own work. About how she was tired of waiting for someone else to acknowledge the worth of ideas that she believed worthy; or, in her own words, at least as worthy as some book on the history of chain saws or something...(referring to all those books that do actually get published that often make you wonder why?)

It made me realize, yet again, that there are so many people, toiling away creatively, and only a handful that the larger population will come to know because of the elusive marketing machine or them being in the right place at the right time, or knowing the right people and attending writer event after writer event.

Here was a woman who was able at 23 years of age to spark the creation of a community for writers and poets in BC and yet she was having the same sort of dialogue with herself 30 years later, that I've been having with myself about my own writing. What am I waiting for? Who's approval really matters anyway?

And, she has reached the same conclusion. It's time to stop waiting for approval of one's creativity from an external source.

All that's really required is an undying commitment to the project by the creator herself.


Ben Anderson said...

very interesting.

Your writings and photography are worthy, Gayle.

Go For It !!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

When do I get to see your book of poetry?!

Gayle Mavor said...

That all depends on who you are.