read last night at the Tree Reading Series and was breathtaking. He chose passages from his first book, The Shadow Boxer (Vintage Canada Edition 2001), a new and hilarious work in progress about someone who teaches English in Japan, and poetry from his most recent collection The Address Book (House of Anansi Press, 2004), an older collection called The Ectascy of Skeptics (House of Anansi Press, 1994) and new poetry in progress.
What impressed me most about his reading was the pacing of his work and its music. There’s something about the rhythms and line breaks, the language that he chooses in both his fiction and his poetry that creates an intensity and urgency to the work.
I’ve been a fan of Steven’s since I heard him read from The Address Book at the Ottawa International Writers Festival in 2004. (I know the date because he dated my copy of the book when he autographed it; I wish more authors would do this.)
His writing is very sensual, particularly in works like the Shadow Boxer (I confess I just started reading it yesterday and haven’t had time yet to get past page 9) where he evokes so many different senses in his descriptions. At the reading he mentioned that this book changes from a lyrical and descriptive narrative to something hard and minimal as the book progresses.
Two of the poems he read from the Address Book were requested by Rhonda Douglas (who is stepping down from Tree alas! we’ll miss her.) and they were the ones I’ve heard him read before and particularly like: Constellations, about a child who dons those glowy stars and stands in the dark to show her parents and Address Book about the process of transferring addresses from an old into a new address book. The latter he read after he was asked for an encore, which is the first time I’ve ever heard an audience at Tree request such. He also read Like A Man (Catullus), which is part of the 15 Approximations section of the book, and Drunk Judgement, A night address, which had some fun rhythms and word play. What stands out in these poems are the lyrical moments.
A new poem in progress about the gap that one feels when realizing that money, love and even a good fucking can’t fulfil one’s life. I believe it was called Memo to a Self, the famished chasm.
He read the cover poem from the Ecstasy of Skeptics. I enjoy his sound play and his imagery in this and other writing in his body of work, which encompasses 9 books and counting. I like the way Steven plays with traditional forms like the sonnet, like our own Stephen Brockwell and also George Murray to name a few.
I’d like to leave you with the Ectasy of Skeptics poem but my abilities in blogger don’t allow me to get the spacing right, so instead I’ll just end with the final line of the poem and say that his reading did leave me blazing with inspiration.
“Now, love. This way. With the lights on. Blazing.”