Let’s wayback-time-machine-ourselves from World Poetry Day to March 14th. Stuart Ross, Don Mckay and Catherine Owen were the 7pm show sponsored by Tree.
There were conversation circles forming the book area.
David welcomed people, thanked sponsors and passed over the mic…
the last few people came in the door getting their tickets or waving their passes at Jeanette as Deanna introduced the Tree-sponsored readers of the evening.
Stuart Ross is a card. His next stop was Montreal for Le 4e gala de l’Académie de la vie littéraire gala to pick up his Exist-Through-The-Gift-Shop Award. Stuart Ross was the second poet of festival to say the word smoking to have the building answer back with a ring of the bell in the room.
I think I was taking notes in the dark. My notes are particularly illegible. He read from You Exist. Details Follow. I was going to look for verbatim quotes but then ended up rereading it. Here’s a bit from a bit he didn’t read. p. 76:
Your tenor saxophone is not my toaster oven.
Your winning smile is not my tax return.
When I opened the door at 3 a.m.
to insistant knocking: s stalk of celery,
rocking gently in the breeze.
You see my city is full of history.
It is a wonderful relief to not have poetry take itself so grimly. Although the poems can be death-oriented and about unreturnable childhood, there’s a dance thru near and middle and far distances. See from p. 101’s Acontecimientos,
Pick a flower. Any flower.
The sullen world surrounds the neighbourhood,
bunching its shape
into the shape of
unmeaning. Oh, memorial lump,
examine the imaginative
blood sample. I am
a pointy landscape,
a waterfall of quivering farms.
He raised an ahhh, thru the room after one poem landed into the quiet and he added, “if you read anything with enough authority it sounds like it means something” which got a room-chuckle back.
He mentioned the Ron Padgett/Yu Jian collaborative project where each translates the other’s poem when they have no language in common. Ross read his own poem of translation from Chinese. He also read from a collaboration with Michael Dennis that seemed well received in the room. The poems were passed back and forth, each person adding the next 4 words.
He mentioned Larry Eigner who advised you have to make more boring endings, softer endings, not big drama finishes.
One thing that struck me as well is that I didn’t strain. Part of my brain could focus on the poems. Some people use the mic so poorly or articulate sloppily or rush through. I can’t imagine how much doesn’t come across if someone has a hearing problem. Here I could hear.
Catherine Owen lead a song in honour of Stompin’ Tom. Instead of Bud the Spud, it was a chorus for a singalong of “we love hanging out with our metalman”.
Her book is “Trobairitz” (Anvil Press, 2012). You can see a sample excerpt over at Amanda’s.
Ewan Whyte the next day would talk about the medieval storytellers that Owen’s book centres around. She takes the old troubadors and re-contextualizes their stories and songs into the metal music scene, carrying over the poetic forms in some cases. Some of them are unrequited love songs, the pain and pangs, and the closure of song as “our mouths like a whole note met”.
I was lost on any music reference but I do believe that the laugh of surprise at some of her wordery included genuine guffaws.
Don McKay said he could probably do 20 minutes just on the trilobite on the cover. He’s fascinated with them. He rolled history into his poems as well but going back in geologic time to when Ireland and Newfoundland were one as fossil record shows. They “dislocate space”.
The little creatures made a way of seeing that wasn’t a route that any creature before or since used. In this, his 12th poetry book, now shortlisted, Paradoxides, (McClelland & Stewart) on p. 43 says,
You pose on my desk in the photograph,
[…] Your eyes were calcite crystals, spars of rock
arranged to transmit light, unique
in all animalia – the more piquant
your present absence. Friend, stranger, paradoxidid,
I wave one jointed arm.
I wink one endothermic lid.
He quipped that trilobites should be the Newfoundland team mascot because they look terrifying and for the cognitive dissonance factor. And by the time the goalie works out how to say the word coming at him, score!
He was one of 4 writers over the festival to reference Keats and one of two to quote from him off the top of his head. A rather interesting convening I thought.
His book is not solely about the ancient creatures. By that I mean trilobites, not Keats. In the first half it is more about encounters with other species in the wild, hiking and northern lights, all in smooth but playfully eddying language.