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Centretown News Online
Sunday, April 20, 2014
Local cinemas immortalized in new poems
Friday, 12 April 2013
By Jordan Adler
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Ottawa is known for its museums, landmarks and political history, but local poet and author Christian McPherson defines his hometown by its cinemas, old and new.

McPherson came of age while sitting in dark movie houses and those memories comprise his third book of poems, My Life in Pictures, set for release April 15. He says that several weekly trips to cinemas in Centretown and the Glebe inspired the creative prowess within him.

“I think part of becoming a writer was about my love of movies and wanting to write a screenplay,” McPherson says. “I’ve taken a crack at (screenwriting) but I’ve never finished it. So I decided, well, I’ll just get my feet wet with some short stories, some poetry. It has grown into this second career.”

Each poem in Pictures takes the name of a film, but many of the titles relate to the bitter and comic chapters in his life. McPherson writes about watching Jaws at a drive-in as a petrified child of five, as well as his youthful obsessions with Superman and the original Star Trek movies.

McPherson says he also fondly remembers watching classic films from the 1930s and 1940s.

“My mom was a nurse and she would wake me up, feed me a hot breakfast and then go off to work at 7 a.m., leaving me home by myself,” he says. “I would usually tape a film off of CBC Late Night or TVO. I’d watch an old Humphrey Bogart or James Cagney film. If I didn’t finish them in the morning, I would come home and finish them at lunch.”

Unsurprisingly, it was a film that also got McPherson focused on pursuing writing as more than just a hobby. As the book’s “Good Will Hunting” poem testifies, watching rookie screenwriters Ben Affleck and Matt Damon pick up Oscars in 1998 propelled McPherson to pick up a pen.

Pictures also tells the story of the relationship between McPherson and his father, Jim, who was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder late in life. McPherson writes that it was hard to look after his father. Jim often took his son to shows at the Somerset Theatre, which closed in 2000, the year after Jim died.

McPherson’s father never saw him pick up his first major honour: winning a short story contest and $500 from the Ottawa Public Library in 1999.

His early short story collections later caught the eye of Chris Needham, the publisher of Now or Never Publishing. Needham says that McPherson is a refreshingly honest voice in Canadian literature.

“A lot of (what McPherson writes) is incredibly personal stuff,” Needham says. “You can’t help but respond to it. It’s so blatantly honest, talking about himself so openly. It could be seen as almost narcissistic, but I don’t see any ego from him.”

Along with the Mayfair Theatre and ByTowne Cinema, many landmark cinemas that are relics of Ottawa’s past pop up throughout the book.

McPherson says some of his fondest moviegoing experiences happened at the Phoenix, an art house theatre on Bank Street, and the Capitol Square Cinemas on Queen Street.

The Mayfair will host a poetry reading by McPherson on April 20 featuring material from his new book – some of the poems even name-check the 81-year-old theatre and heritage site.

McPherson will also be reading his newest poems at the main branch of the Ottawa Public Library on May 17 and at Raw Sugar Café on May 30.

Guests at the Mayfair will get an extra treat. McPherson will screen a short film that he made as a high schooler at Glebe Collegiate.

“It’s called ‘Nightmare on Prep Street.’ It’s about a little preppy kid who gets chased through the halls by punks and eventually is cornered and turns into one,” he says. “I’m going to show that just for a lark so you can see me running around in grainy, unfocused footage.”

McPherson wrote the poems for My Life in Pictures in four months and says he writes as often as he can – sometimes during 15-minute breaks from work or after he tucks his kids into bed. He is currently working on a thriller and two more collections of poetry, while a sequel to his debut novel, the comedy The Cube People, is set for release this fall.

Even with a wife, two kids, three books in the works and a demanding public service job as an IT computer programmer, McPherson says he still gets out to the movies once or twice a week.

“I’m not a big fan of the Silvercity kind of ‘Bing! Bang! Pop! Noise!’” he says. “I prefer the small theatres.”

Last Updated ( Thursday, 26 September 2013 )
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