by James Martin
Since she grew up with a father who spoke in tongues and transcribed heavenly
messages, its no surprise that Catherine Kidd is guided by voices.
The pressure of ghosts at my back compels my work, Kidd said
in an interview. The occasional Concordia writing instructor is a longtime
fixture of Montreals spoken-word scene.
Nothing moves me more than the attempt to speak, and with writing
and performing, I think Ive finally hit upon the thing that makes
me happiest. Its a balance thats been a lifetime in
Born in Quebec, raised in British Columbia, Kidd spent the first
20 years of my life just wanting to act. But theatre school frustrated
her with its emphasis on body over mind.
Kidd rebelled by pursuing the furthest possible extreme, moving
to India to pursue philosophy and religious studies. Living in a tiny,
1,500-year-old meditation cell overlooking the Ganges, she became what
she now laughingly dubs a floating chess game: all mind and no body.
There she began writing fiction, using characters to work through her
heady philosophical preoccupations.
But the longer I stayed in India, the more it seemed absurd to be
writing about these esoteric things when the physical landscape demanded
a response. In India, theres an intensity of having the most beautiful
smells and the most hideous smells at the same time, the most beautiful
things to look at and the most hideous things you just have
to engage with the physical at the visceral level.
Kidd returned to Canada to do a BA in creative writing at Concordia, then
an MA. After writing and performing a chapbook (everything I know about
love I learned from taxidermy), she was pretty sure thats what
she wanted to do until a publisher floated the idea of tackling
Calling it one of the hardest things Ive ever done,
Kidd worked for six years on what would become Bestial Rooms. The
novel tells the story of a single mother, living with her own mother,
revisiting her past with a newfound compassion.
In keeping with Kidds interest in voice, the novel is about the
spoken and the unspoken; about characters locating the stories they want
to tell (and confess); about family secrets and the recognition of metaphorical
elephants in the middle of living rooms. Since completion, the book has
shuffled between publishers (not unusual for the publishing world), but
Kidd is optimistic that Thomas Allen will finally release Bestial Rooms
sometime this year.
She is currently concentrating her efforts on live performances of Sea
Peach, a CD-book collaboration with DJ/mastering engineer Jack Beetz.
A sort of Bestial Rooms re-mix, Sea Peach reworks various
passages into a audio-visual bonsai performance version of
the novel. It is a project born out of frustration with the novels
prepublication limbo, as well as Kidds desire to re-connect with
Writing a novel is a shamanistic journey, an exile into the wilderness.
The fictional landscape I was making was just as compelling to me as the
more diurnal one which I hardly saw because I was in my room typing away.
I love the book, but by the time I was finished I really wanted
to go back to performance and community. Thats the thing about performance:
you bring a story to a roomful of people, and its almost like their
energy facilitates the story. Its not the lonely-writer-in-the-garret
kind of thing, which can feel more like youre studying life than
participating in it.
Kidd says that writing Bestial Rooms helped her reconcile with
her late father, giving crucial insight into why she does what she does.
In retrospect and, sadly, posthumously, I realized what a chip off
the old block I am, she said.
One of the things I try to teach is the importance of finding an
authentic narrative voice. If you hit on a narrative voice which is true
and wants to tell a story, the reader will follow you anywhere. Then you
allow the story to be told rather than force it.
I feel that my position as a performer is more of a vessel than
a decrier of things. The story is already written, so I have to be the
vehicle for it to work in this room full of people. So what on earth is
it that I do if not go into trances and speak in tongues? Thats
pretty much my job.
Catherine Kidd performs from Sea Peach at the Voix dAmériques
festival on February 15 and 17, and will debut a new piece at the Canadian
Centre for Architecture on Feb. 26. She will also perform at the Blue
Metropolis festival in April.