Last night at the Poison Oak on Laurier. First Tree of 2006, first Tree with Rhonda at the helm (ouch, the helm of a tree...the root maybe?) It was odd not seeing James and Anita, and Jennifer there, but they deserve a break after six years. Rhonda implemented some changes to the open set immediately: a 4 minute max and a set list limited to 8 people. Since my attention span is three minutes, this works pretty well for me. I enjoyed it when Rhonda called "time." This means the open mic is now just 20 minutes long, which is perfect. The open mic set was prose heavy as it often is. I'm hoping this new time limit will cut off some of the deadwood prose. I do like hearing some prose at readings, but it's very difficult to deliver prose, and open mikers have trouble chosing engaging pieces that work well in front of an audience. It's the same with long narrative poems. They are bad ideas to read at a reading, especially at an open mic. I'm already pleased about the time limit for this reason.
Rhonda also discussed the plans for the rest of 2006 and it sounds innovative and fun. Feb 14 will be for love and anti-love poetry, for instance. The line up of features sounded good too, including some of my faves: Steven Heighton and Helen Humphreys. Rhonda also handed out a survey to get comments and suggestions for Tree improvements. I suggested a leafier venue (well a cooler one at least). I really loathe the Poison Oak. The service is mostly crappy and slow unless Gerry is the waiter, the food sucks and the basement doubles as a poet-burning oven. I always leave scorched and doughy-eyed.
After a brief break, it was time for the feature. I found it interesting that a few people came for the open mic and then didn't stay for the feature. Jon Paul Fiorentino didn't read long, but what he read was his usual unusual poetry: lots of clever word games and provocative ideas that take more than a beat to understand. That's why I like his stuff. He read a bit from Transcona Highway, which he then gave to a member of the audience. I already have that, but I still found myself salivating with envy. He read from Hello Serotonin and from his newest publication: Theory of The Loser Class, based on Thorstein Veblen's economic opus from 1899, Theory of The Leisure Class. If that sounds a tad zany to you, perhaps it gives you a glimpse of of the creative and esoteric wit of JPF.
He also told a few stories: about meeting his future wife at a gas station, about staying out till 5am with grad students and other fine tales. While his writing is comedic at times, he says he's not really a comedian, so not good at reading comedy. For this reason he didn't read anything from Asthmatica. In my opinion, whle Asthmatica has comedic elements for sure, it is also quite poignant and touching, but I didn't mind that he didn't read from it. After the prose heavy open mic, I was in the mood for poetry. Jon Paul Fiorentino's set was short but memorable. He sets a high standard for the rest of Tree's 2006 features.
The reading was finished by 9:20, which I think is a record for the shortest Tree I've ever been to (climbed on?).