“Wayne Johnston has the ability to keep you on the edge of your seat with his tales of urban scenes.”* – Jim Chan, New York City videographer
I’m sitting on the edge of my chair,
staring at all the accolades for Ten Cities: The Past Is Present, a free literary performance by Wayne Johnston to be held Wednesday, May 23 at 7 p.m. at the Arts Project Theatre, 203 Dundas Street in London, Ontario, Canada.
“It’s brilliant! It’s funny, and sad, and unsettling and surprising.”* This quote is attributed to Guelph librarian Robin Bergart.
Promotional material for the show explains that Johnston is visiting “ten sites in each of ten cities that have had a formative impact on his life.”
He has already performed in New York City, Toronto, Accra (Ghana), Geneva (Switzerland), and Zagreb (Croatia). London represents his sixth stop with future performances scheduled for June 7 at the Arts Court in Ottawa and July 28 at Quixote’s Cove in Kathmandu (Nepal).
Events in Iqaluit and La Paz will also be planned but dates have not been confirmed at the moment. Each of the literary performances will feature Johnston’s drawings as well as his writing which mimics prose poetry, creative nonfiction or postcard stories.
I’m still sitting on the edge.
In his tale entitled “London: Lord Nelson Public School”, he writes: “We hatch a plan to sneak out into the night. He leaves a note on his bedroom window. I sleep through the night and the note is found by his father the next day.”
Do I dare to read more?
In an artist statement e-mailed to Poetry London organizers, Johnston stated he wanted to “formalize a process for saying goodbye to the places where so many of [his] memories were born.”
In London, he focused on his experiences at Beaver Lumber, the Richmond Hotel, Clarke Road Secondary School, Victoria Hospital and six more locations.
“At each site I allow the sights, sounds and smells of the place to awaken my memories,” explained Johnston. “I write about those memories but I also write about the current experience visiting the site. I look for common threads between the past experiences and the current visit. I also do a drawing. The end result is a bit of a collage where multiple stories and an image emerge. I look for common motifs or structuring elements that tie the various elements together, sometimes in very subtle ways. Sometimes those connections may be apparent to the reader/listener. Other times there may be disparities and contrasts that are hopefully evocative without being necessarily coherent.”
“One of the strategies I’ve employed is to write always in the present tense. That can be confusing when elements clearly come from very different points in time. What I’m trying to suggest is that the past is not something fixed in a point in time. The past as it exists in memory is alive, impacting the present, being impacted by the present. To quote Slaughterhouse Five again, it’s like being unstuck in time.”
To say Johnston’s work is edgy is an understatement.
In some cases, his words will push you over. He warns, “I know the piece won’t connect with everyone who attends but some people have told me that this exploration of the relationship between place and memory has been very meaningful to them, that it left them thinking about similar dynamics in their own experience.”
Wayne Johnston is a painter, performance artist, writer and librarian from Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
His writing accomplishments include publication of an oral history on a tavern that had historic impact on Canada’s art community in the sixties. Making a living as a librarian has taken him to places such places as Geneva, Zagreb, Accra, Kathmandu, La Paz, Manhattan, Ottawa and Iqaluit.
*Additional praise for Johnston’s performances is posted on The Arts Project website (which was recently re-branded as TAP: centre for creativity).
His London appearance is being hosted by Poetry London and will also include a regional poets’ showcase featuring Frank Beltrano, Stan Burfield, Debbie Okun Hill, and Ron Stewart who will read approximately 5 to 7 minutes each.
Admission is free. Hope to see you there!
The website in partnership with the London Public Library, hosts monthly readings and poetry workshops in London, Ontario. Johnston’s performance is a special event to be held outside the regular reading season. For the latest news from Poetry London, follow their Facebook and Twitter accounts.