amongst books

amongst books

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Stephen Brockwell, Knight of the Last Oak Tree

Stephen read at the last Tree at the Royal Oak II last night and gave a mesmerizing performance...but first a word about the open mic & the room.

it was heartening to see the open mic set so full: 16 people read and the room was packed. Tree has a great newsletter where they post poems from the open set, so you’ll have to go over there to get more info than what’s currently in my brain & also go over to Pearl's blog, but what i do remember is that we had a rapid fire, mostly one poem only per person, open set that included Marcus McCann, Pearl Pirie, Roland Prevost, Murray Citron, Janice Tokar, Don Officer, Carla Hartsfield, Jennifer Mulligan, Crimson, Adam, Claudia Radmore, Terry Ann Carter, Rod Pederson. And there were still many people in the audience who were just there to listen. Jennifer Mulligan mentioned when she read that she was there particularly because Tree was moving from the spot where she’d run it for six years,along with James Moran.

i have mixed feelings about the move. i am happy to get out of that hot, stinky basement, but i enjoyed the pub environment and location very much. Tree is moving to Arts Court at 2 Daly Avenue, 2nd Floor Library, starting with the next reading on July 8 when Roland, Pearl and I will read for the annual “Hot Ottawa Voices” feature. i don’t think we’ll be as hot out of that basement.

if you want to know more about the history of Tree, you should get a copy of Twenty-five Years of Tree (Buschek Books, 2005), edited by James Moran and Jennifer Mulligan.

and now back to our mesmerizing feature, Stephen Brockwell, a fitting selection for the final feature at the Oak because in 20 years he’s read at many a Tree from when it was at the Friends Meeting House on Fourth Avenue in the Glebe, back in the early 80s right up to now at the Oak and, i’m assuming, over at the new location too :).

last night he read from his four published poetry collections, explaining that Tree is where they were all test driven, particularly during open mics.

his first poem was a memorized piece from the 80s that shouted out in rather accurate sounding southern voice.... “Golly!...” that got the crowd’s attention.

Stephen then read from his first book, The Wire In Fences (Balmuir Poetry Series, 1988). Stephen is an excellent reader and these poems were great choices because of their emphasis on sound. the words were the right words in the right order. nature poems but ones where you can hear the branches snap. no smarmy reverence in there. wonder and sweat. and mucho sensuality. Stephen is on my sexiest Canadian male poets list for a reason :)

next on our tour of Stephen’s literary career, came a reading from Cometology (ECW Press, 2001). Stephen read from the section “Constructive Geometry.” it is clear from these poems that Stephen has a background in math and science. but we won’t hold his logic against him because he uses it deftly to create art, like so...


x(u, v) = (a, b, c)
A parameter-free representation of a point

Dim origin.
No matter how close
I place the eye,
represented by
the smallest dot.
No pins sharp enough
to place you.
Take a pen, draw a point.
Take a pin, push it out.
Look through it.
When I draw the line
you can’t be counted on:
everything to everyone –
yes, you take a position
but you carry no weight.

Stephen Brockwell, Cometology

Next we had Fruitfly Geographic (ECW Press, 2004) and the mathematically based long poem “Three Deaths of Hippasus of Metapontum” concerning the discoverer of irrational numbers and . if that sounds dry to you, you’d be surprised. the poem, is full of intrigue about the jealousies and politics of mathematicians, such as Pythagoras. and there’s blood and the sea. i hear echoes of Baudelaire and Rimbaud in Stephen’s work, particularly from this period. i want to run off to Paris and drink now, but alas my passport isn’t up to date.

the next reading came from the most recent book published The Real Made Up (ECW Press, 2007). Stephen read in the voice of his invented character (or dreamt up character) Karikura. i adore this personna. he is wise, impatient with those who insist on pointing out the self-evident, but has a sense of romance about day-to-day life at the same time.

it was a lovely, lovely evening and the afterbit was fun too. i will miss the Oak in many ways, despite my carping about holding readings there. there’s something magical about that place...must be the leak from the bar. see you at Arts Court on July 8.

and just because the end of the evening felt like this poem by Baudelaire...

Harmonie du soir

Voici venir les temps où vibrant sur sa tige
Chaque fleur s'évapore ainsi qu'un encensoir;
Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir;
Valse mélancolique et langoureux vertige!

Chaque fleur s'évapore ainsi qu'un encensoir;
Le violon frémit comme un coeur qu'on afflige;
Valse mélancolique et langoureux vertige!
Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir.

Le violon frémit comme un coeur qu'on afflige,
Un coeur tendre, qui hait le néant vaste et noir!
Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir;
Le soleil s'est noyé dans son sang qui se fige.

Un coeur tendre, qui hait le néant vaste et noir,
Du passé lumineux recueille tout vestige!
Le soleil s'est noyé dans son sang qui se fige...
Ton souvenir en moi luit comme un ostensoir!

— Charles Baudelaire, les Fleurs du Mal, Spleen et Idéal, 1857

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