When I first moved to Fredericton in high school, I soon met Joe Blades at the poetry reading series he organized at the Owl's Nest Bookstore and, later, at Molly's Coffee House. The intimate, supportive atmosphere he nurtured in these spaces served as my introduction to literary readings, and it was here that I first read my poems in front of an audience. It felt warm and welcoming, and soon I fell in love with the terrifying yet thrilling experience of reading my creative work in front of others.
When I moved away to university the next year, I was turned off by the comedy-show-performance feel of a local poetry reading and wouldn't again return to the literary stage until I moved back to Fredericton eight years later. Joe also organized many of these readings, and soon I joined the writing group he co-led with Biff Mitchell. The BlackTop MotorCycle Gang, a pop-up poetry performance series, performed "reading raids" in places like small press book fairs and in front of statues and cafes downtown.
This was a truly exhilarating and valuable experience for new writers such as myself who joined them, and I honed my reading skills with each heart-hammering performance. Joe and Biff also spearheaded an impressive project two years in a row, pairing the BTMG with a local group of artists in 2010 to produce an exhibition that showcased poetry, flash prose, and artwork at Gallery ConneXion, a Fredericton art gallery. The next year, we exhibited a follow-up project at Government House, the residence of the Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick. Joe published the writings from our Gallery ConneXion project in Re:Myth: Stories and Poems by the BlackTop MotorCycle Gang, which became my second-ever literary publication. Our magical launch night offered my first experience of being a featured reader at a literary event, and it remains a highlight in my early writing career.
As a very new writer, I was incredibly excited and honoured for my work to appear alongside such a dedicated author as Joe Blades. I owe a huge debt to Joe and others in Fredericton who shared their talents so generously. Joe was a gate-opener who consistently created opportunities for creative people to flourish, and he continues to be an incredible inspiration to me and so many others. I am so grateful to Joe for his years of leadership in the Fredericton literary community.
Thank you, Joe. You will be greatly missed, and your absence is a sore loss to the Canadian, New Brunswick, and Fredericton literary communities. Your legacy will live on in your impressive body of literature, the numerous publications of Broken Jaw Press, as well as through the many lives you've touched, and most especially in the writers you've helped to nourish in so many ways. I am truly indebted to you, and I will remember you always as a huge inspiration. Rest in peace, Joe.
Yolande House’s creative writing has appeared in literary magazines such as The Rumpus, Grain, PRISM international, and Joyland. Her writing has made it to the finalist round at Creative Nonfiction three times, and her Entropy essay was selected as one of the magazine’s “Best of 2018.” She can be found online at www.yolandehouse.com and on Instagram (@healthruwriting). Currently, she’s revising a completed childhood memoir.