I was listening to Leonard Cohen on CBC Radio's Inside the Music yesterday. he was asked to differentiate between a song lyric & a poem. he said that poems are read inside the chamber of the heart. I took that thought with me to VERSeFEST last night & it came to my mind as I heard Roo Borson read from a diary of the seasons published in the latest issue of Arc Poetry Magazine.
I don't know about you, but I have a hard time focussing & listening at poetry readings. when I first hear work that tends to be more narrative or deals with themes such as mortality & nature, it can be very difficult for me to pay attention. I am trying harder to be more attentive & open. I stopped listening to the narrative, which for me was very prose-like without much sound play & concentrated on the imagery.
of late I've been reading Shawna Lemay's excellent book of essays, Calm Things, which centers around the subject of Still Life painting. The images in Borson's poem became for me a series of still life paintings, the red cardinals, the windfall apples, the snow. Once I did that, I was able to enjoy & concentrate on the poem.
By way of trying to give some kind of play by play of the actual events that took place last night, I will tell you that the first reader was Abby Paige, who has been published in the winter Bywords Quarterly Journal & read at the Bywords Warms the Night Reading back in January, her first reading in Ottawa.
Abby read the poem that she'd worked on with Borson, who had been Arc's 2011 writer-in-residence, a program that puts together experienced poets with emerging poets for manuscript editing of the latter's work. Abby read a poem about marriage with some lovely spring imagery, but I would have liked to have heard more of her work. what I want is fewer words in intros by hosts & more poetry by poets.
Fred Wah gave an eclectic reading with poems from his latest Is A Door. There was end rhyme, there was narrative, there was more experimental stuff. there was humour & irreverance.
After the break & delicious treats provided by Arc, I felt fine enough (ear ache & sinus pain gone!) to attend the second portion of the evening, Ottawa Fountain, the Ottawa Youth Poetry Slam team & C.R. Avery.
Biting Midge, Blue, CauseMo, Scotch, Switch performed separately & together. There were poems about suicide, sex, virginity, mental illness, god. The youngest poet was Biting Midge at 13 years old. (13!) I am glad to see teenagers being given an opportunity to express themselves. Hearing the candid words of these young poets about their fears & life experiences could help fellow teens. Poetic-wise, there were some unique & powerful images, particularly in a joint piece by CauseMo & Switch. the friendly & energetic host for the evening was Array-of-Words.
The final feature was C.R. Avery who performed some amazing beat box covers of Dylan's Maggie's Farm & Springsteen's 57 channels. with the assistance of a banjo, a guitar, a harmonica, & a keyboard & some killer lyrics & poems, Avery mesmerized the house, me included.
I tip my winter touque to VERSeFEST for the versatility of the festival, or as I'm calling it VERSeFESTatility.
for more careful & complete notes & notes on days i'm not in attendance, plus photos from the festival, you want to visit Pearl Pirie's blog here.
also Pearl reads tonight at VERSeFEST.