amongst books

amongst books

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Heard of Glaring Omission?

The documentary Heard of Poets by Ben Walker and Josh Massey debuted yesterday at the Ottawa International Writers Festival. There were some good bits; I enjoyed seeing the various styles of Ottawa poetry brought together, from spoken word, sound to more traditional narrative. I enjoyed the outside scenes and person-in-the-street interviews on the relevance or irrelevance of poetry in their lives, the cows in the fields. However throughout the whole documentary I kept wondering ... and ... as I left the auditorium, the only thing running through my mind was where was rob mclennan?

In Ottawa, he is the most active and engaged poet, attending more readings, reading as both a feature and at open mics at reading series. He also is the biggest promoter of Ottawa poetry to the world, to Canada and to other Ottawans.

To Canada and the world outside Ottawa’s literary scene, rob mclennan is Ottawa poetry. His work has been published worldwide; he has toured Canada and the UK. Likely the US too. He engages in dialog and poetry exchanges with poets from all over the world. At the Writers Festival, you’ll notice that every major poet who attends knows rob. His writing is a major contribution to contemporary poetry and poetic theory today.

The documentary wasn’t focussed on how poetry stuff was organized, so it was understandable that event/reading series organizers, publishers, poetry journal editors et al were left out, but it made no sense at all to exclude Ottawa’s most prolific and well known poet. It made the documentary less successful at doing what documentaries are supposed to do: to capture and preserve a moment in time. In the period the filmmakers showed, as is still the case, rob was very involved.

And when I watched the documentary, I noticed that rob was still very much present: his voice was in the Morin firework bit; his broadsheets and poetry books appeared in the background at readings. He is such a pervasive and necessary part of Ottawa’s literary scene that the filmmakers couldn’t succeed at erasing him entirely from the landscape.

[note that there are no links in this entry; that's what happens when i'm royally pissed off]

[go to for my entries on the writers fest poetry events; likely entry there on last night's poetry cabaret later today]


jmulligan said...

when i saw the notice for the event, i noticed that rob's name was missing from the lineup. i thought to myself, why? how can you showcase ottawa and poetry, and not include rob? it's like having a travel brochure for ottawa without the rideau canal. it just doesn't make sense.

perhaps the doc creators thought they were being clever, or perhaps snubbed him for a reason that no one knows, or thought he already had enough attention. either way, and keeping in mind that i didn't see the doc yesterday, i think it is short sightedness on their part.

rob has more going on right now than almost anyone. he lives and breathes this life and creates accordingly. not everyone is going to agree with him all the time, but that doesn't mean that his contributions should go unnoticed. if he were in any other industry, he would be one of the leaders, and people would be falling over themselves to get his name attached to projects...

doesn't make sense to me.

Anonymous said...

That was odd alright. Research glitch?

I'd have to see it again to confirm but as it played it seemed they lost the thread of the structure of the rate of the interspersed interviews too. That one more voice would help the film balance in aesthetics and content represented.

They did get a lot of good interviews and snippets and food for thought and people did well in interview.

Stuart Ross said...

Amanda wrote: "doing what documentaries are supposed to do: to capture and preserve a moment in time"

I don't think documentaries are "supposed" to do any one thing. But some of the best (Sherman's March, Dr. Death, Grey Gardens, etc.) reflect the filmmaker's point of view. Documentaries aren't "objective" — they're personal.

Amanda also wrote: "To Canada and the world outside Ottawa’s literary scene, rob mclennan is Ottawa poetry."

While I think rob is a committed, tireless and generous promoter of many Ottawa poets — perhaps even all Ottawa poets! — I don't think he *is* Ottawa poetry. He is one element of Ottawa poetry. Other elements include Stephen Brockwell, Michael Dennis, Amanda Earl, Max Middle....

Over and out.


Amanda Earl said...

hi Stuart,
thanks for commenting. yeah, i didn't mean to write a kind of popularity contest thing. there are lots of great poets in ottawa, but it's hard to imagine anyone else who is as tireless as rob, spending every single day in the act of writing poetry, promoting it, writing about poetry and poetics, raising awareness about poets both today and in the past etc etc. i love all those poets you mentioned (well not sure about that Amanda Earl, she rants too much and should be sending out poems more instead!)

Ritallin said...

In fairness to Josh and Ben, they stated right off the top that the documentary was not exhaustive and that for various reasons some people they would've liked to have in the film weren't. And they are not claiming to have compiled the definitive word on poetry in Ottawa. rob mclennan is important, for sure, because of what he does for lots of people in town. But even rob doesn't touch the full spectrum of poetry practice through his efforts. No one does. And neither does this film. So I think it probably would've been a good idea for rob to be there, but it doesn't make the work completely irrelevant either.

Amanda Earl said...

Thanks Greg, yep I agree. The doc isn't irrelevant. But when you have someone who has been an active and working poet in Ottawa for as long as rob has, and we're talking decades, in a documentary that is about ottawa poetry, I believe not including him is a mistake. I've seen many people in the Ottawa literary scene come and go and come back again, but his presence and his voice are a constant. I was really pleased to see an attempt to sample the various facets of Ottawa's poetry scene, as I said. And people are free to make the documentary they choose to make. I just wouldn't promote it as being representative of anything but the filmakers own skewed vision, which is fine. Perhaps like with anthologies like Breathing Fire 2, where publishers and writers felt many important representatives of Canadian poetry were not included, more great anthologies such as Pissing Ice (Fiorentino/MillAr, eds) were made, the same will happen with documentaries. That would be great. Sasquatch made its own documentary, other reading series could make them etc. In the end, dialogue and opinion about a piece of art is part of its beauty and part of the reason why it's constructive. I'm bad with a camera and I'm no film maker, otherwise, I'd make my own documentary ;. But I'd love to see one on rob and those who have been inspired, influenced and given their poetry start through his vision. The list is long. It would likely take a lot of DVDs.

Amanda Earl said...

and the other thing, you said rob is important because of what he's done for people in this town. yep, that's important, but that's not what i'm really talking about. i'm talking about his 13 books of poetry, his poetics and the place he has in contemporary poetry, the influence his work has on other writers and how he's been influenced by other writers himself. i'm talking about rob as a working writer.