amongst books

amongst books

Monday, March 12, 2007

Hugh Thomas at the Carleton Tavern

Saturday night a crowd of familiar and unfamiliar (to me) folk gathered together to hear New Brunswick math prof and poet, Hugh Thomas. He looks familiar. Maybe he’s read before in town? Did he read at the Shift and Switch launch at Mother Tongue?

I liked his stuff. Plain language, seeing the world thru fresh eyes, playful experimentation and all that.

Some of the highlights of his reading for me were:

from Mutations, Book Thug, Toronto, 2nd Printing 2005

Pablo Neruda Poster Poem, a found poem made up of words showing on a poster, hidden beneath other posters.

Pantoum, which starts out with the funny and ingenious line: “Once again, this poem turns into a pantoum.”

Girls Who Eat Flowers and Fail Their IQ Tests, based on Thomas mishearing “guerillas who eat flowers...”

and from a self-published chapbook, Joyce’s Walking Stick, 2nd Printing, Corrected Version, October 2006, an edition of 40 copies numbered 31 to 70:

My Glass Father (from the Swedish), a translation from a language Thomas, who is a translator, doesn’t know.

Act of Thanking (from the Galician) for Erin Mouré, based on the Galician glossary in Little Theatres. Galicia is a region in northwest Spain.

Additional readers were Sandra Ridley and Max Middle.

Ridley’s poems about nuclear site testing were the ones that lingered with me most. These poems were playful, using devices like repetition to emphasize the drama of the nuclear bomb. I liked them better than the more narrative stuff she was reading. There was a kind of letting go in these nuclear poems that wasn’t in the earlier set of narrative poems. I’m happy see her coming out more to read these days.

Max Middle performed his standard set of sound poems, many of which are crowd favourites such as moon potatoes, and one i think was called run scrummy or something like that. It reminded me so much of those old Dick and Jane readers. See Spot run. Whenever I hear Max perform, my main feeling afterward is one of complete freedom. I want to come home and write something without limits. Alas I came home and slept.

rob mclennan, organizer of the reading, did a great job of matching poetic styles by inviting these three to read. it was exotic to go to a reading in the upstairs of the Carleton Tavern. we had the run of the entire upstairs area with two rooms. the readers read near the dart board. no one seemed to want to throw any darts, probably a good thing.

It’s great when we have the opportunity to hear little known writers from other places right here in ottawa. we have rob mclennan to thank for much of this. he’s so well published and so involved in literary scenes outside of ottawa, outside of ontario, outside of canada even, that people find out about us and come.

See the photographic stylings and words of Pearl Pirie for more on this event.


Max Middle said...

Hugh wasn't in town for the Ottawa Shift & Switch launch. He was present at the above/ground press 13th anniversary celebration (not as reader, there all the same). You might have seen him at the a/g event in August, hence the familiarity.

I've been enjoying reading Hugh's chapbook Joyce's Walking Stick. The naive translations suggest a form of universal linguistic communion rendered in English. In some of the poems, I get the sense of the mundane, familiar conversational statements, becoming highly aestheticized by their transformation into something ambiguous as in the opening poem: "I do not understand you/(because I do not speak Japanese)./This is a beautiful city./"

By the way, the poems I read wouldn't be considered sound poetry in its pure sense. They're simply poems in the poem's most conservative conception as text composed for performance by the human voice. Many of them are constraint based - if a sense of freedom is gathered from them, that's excellent; although, their composition requires an adherence to rule.

Amanda Earl said...

thanks for the clarifications, Max, and the additional thoughts on Thomas' work :)