was on display at the Manx on Saturday as part of the very popular Plan 99 Reading Series, hosted by David O’Meara. Before we get to Ian Roy though, I’d like to say a few words about the talented musician Sarah Hallman and her vocals/electric guitar accompaniest Andrea Simms-Karp. Love the small worldiness of Ottawa. Hallman’s voice is incredible, and reminiscent of Ana Egge, one of my favourite singers, with that haunting and lovely tone. Alas a lot of people talked over her performance. It was hard not to, with all the interesting folks around to chat with, but I managed to keep fairly mum and my reward was a beautiful performance that helped set the stage for Roy’s poetry. If you missed Hallman, you can go see her at Bluesfest on July 8 at 1:15 pm, River Stage.
Now back to the movies, I mean Ian Roy and his first poetry collection Red Bird (BuschekBooks, 2007). I’m always pleased when a writer who I’ve read other places gets his first poetry collection published. Some of the highlights for me from the book were about the photos of Francesca Woodman, particularly a poem called the Eel; here’s a tiny excerpt to whet your appetite:
“Imagine the bucket/that carried them to her studio; full and alive,/moist eyes staring up menacingly at nothing; and then dead and slick: a bucket full of darkness.”
When discussing this poem, Roy talked about a Japanese film called Unagi directed by Shohei Imamura and based on a story by Akira Yoshimura. In a discussion about another poem, he talked about the Ingmar Bergman film, The Seventh Seal. The man obviously has some interest in films.
For me, Roy’s poems were like mini films or perhaps the screen plays for the films. They were very visual, such as “When I Think of Leaving,”from the Traveling, Traveling section. I liked the way the feeling of regret due to leaving someone, of not being able to go back, is illustrated with the speaker’s car collision into a flock of pheasants “But I think of it every August:/all those birds—I don’t know how many—and/the blood and feathers stuck to the grill,/and one in-tact wing hooked on/to the bumper./I see it when I close my eyes,/and then it’s gone.”
I liked the humour of Roy’s poems, the casual humility of the language and the accessibility of his work. I think at times he overexplains, and that’s where the screenplay notion comes in. In the Eel for instance, do we really need to hear the speaker tell us that the scene of a woman holding the eels near her naked body wasn’t “erotic exactly”? Some readers do. It’s a stylistic thing I realize, but I prefer a poem to leave some things for me to decide, to mull over.
Roy doesn’t always draw all the conclusions for us in his work and I’m glad. I want the poems to speak for themselves and at times, they are powerful enough to do so. For instance, in the wonderfully titled “Of Places I have Slept and Later Regretted: Exhibit A, or I Sat and Watched It Fall Apart, But I Was No Accomplice,” to say “you hear the thunder and you see the lightning” seems obvious to me and predictable. What else can you do with them? But earlier in the poem, “the light falls through every crack in the pavement, the river dries up, things start to crumble.” That’s a movie opening, and I can taste it.
[stay tuned for a photo of Ian Roy-Charles tells me it will appear on Tuesday-over here.]