Battle of the Bards, IFOA

Since we slipped in almost late for the Battle of the Bards, with only 5 people coming after us, 2 once readings were in progress, I didn’t inquire about taking any pictures. It felt too complex to be worth it to risk having a waggling finger come at me.
It was a couple weeks ago. I still am not sure whether to post anything about IFOA. Big signs said no photography or videos. Such things suggest: ephemera only. If an event is to publicize things to sell, to ask for no recordings is to give a mixed message. The organizers set a tone of not wanting participation or interaction.
I can understand to a degree. It is baffling, for example, when restaurants publicize themselves with terrible photos of their product. Why should that bad branding be invited? But at the same time, why should red tape be invited? Maybe I overthink. Does the world need my opinion?
There were two, I presume official, cameras set up at the back on tripods. I was tempted to snap a shot of the cameraman filming in front of the sign.
Maybe it would have been fine. Maybe it was all on tape. But the presence of long lenses are not a reliable proof that any documentation will ever surface because either it is for sale only or it goes some private channel.
Long story, long, I am glad Jim Smith’s reading surfaced.

Kick ass reading. He has a power of presence that is uncommon for a reader. In audience role he is invisible. In speaking role he commands the room. And then his poems themselves were enjoyable and effective. The poem in tribute to his dog was touching and lovely.
Anyway, what else did I notice in the readings themselves?
Aisha Sasha John I was curious about, having seen intriguing bits but hadn’t heard her read before. The point of view was self-assured rather and assertive and pointed and lively which isn’t as common as one would think would be the case. Sharp writing and sharp turns in it. Not poetry of wafting and drifting and contemplation but engagement. “I want to smell the arm pits of the line” “There’s no salvation here, just a gap”
I would have bought her book on the spot, had the book table had the capacity to accept visa, or the bank machine in the lobby been able to accept my card. Funny when even people selling zines have had the wireless app and device for 3 or 4 years. She’s coming to Ottawa Writers Fest so second chances will come.
I hadn’t heard Julie Joosten read in person although I read her book. Her style was more lyric in the air than I expected and she looks a lot younger than I expected from her voice, which is neither good not bad but interesting other dimension. Because I had the book, I took no note of which she read. She read one long piece unlike others who gave a handshake sort of poem, then something serious/poignant and something comic to leave a good taste at the end. She sustained a thought and tone for her whole time.
Because of the demands of the format people chose poems that would fly easily in the air, thus picked their anecdote end of the spectrum. Was it 3 poems about grandmothers or 2? 2 poems about dogs, 2 about Al Purdy. The competitive nature skews the portion picked from the text.
The range of poems was broad in a way that suggested luck of the draw for who read. How could one aesthetic like all that?
I’ve heard Shannon Maguire give 2 other readings at least. She gave a great reading like a fusion of language poetry and stage play. This one, in which the judgement was based in how well you present your own poems, was presented with a sort of vidid dramatic monologue. I was sorry she didn’t include some of the sound poems that she has in the books, so other people would get to hear that too. At least we got to hear the sound poetry end of things at the Factory Reading Series.
Jason Camlot gave a reading that tickled the entire room. If votes were based on audience response that would have probably been in the top 3 at least. His last poem where the amount of yiddish(?) increased percentage wise as he went seemed to particularly grab people. He gave a great reading, and with no overlap of poems he read at the Ottawa launch, which is nice really. Some poems are enjoyable to hear again but there are some poets who make themselves their own chestnuts and over 3 or 4 years read the same poem sets in pre-publication, pre-release and book released.
Catherine Graham started by taking a poll. Who here likes Barbie? Who here is against all things Barbie? That revved people up. She grabbed people with presentation, mostly on the weight of a story from a point of view of a child talking about boobies and Barbies with her little friend, adding nipples to a sculpture of mashed potatoes. It was cute.
Her book came out of a manuscript of deconstructed glosas and is dedicated to P.K. Page and Irish poet Dorothy Molloy. Striking lines I jotted “even hunger needs a break” and “You stood still as branches, as a thing trapped.”
She ended up being awarded first place which means cash, and getting poems into a magazine.
Even with a flash round of 5 minutes per poet, and each poet introducing themselves over an hour an a half of poetry is pretty intense and tiring.
Poetry is a dense form, usually. It is written of things that matter most. A poetry series that happens every week or two but only last half an hour would be good.
What else was there said?
Edward Carson wrote with perfect rhymes of a lineage purely in a landscape. Was it birds or fish where he noted “the sharp evasions of their turnings”. The whole sample was of the tone of musing in a riparian meadow “not even know of this or that, a half dream that you will soon undo, that you will soon undo.”
Clara Blackwood is from Guernica. At this point I have seen enough by Guernica to know I probably won’t be able to catch in my mitt what they pitch. She had a poem with a sharp line “you believe there is a way to distill chaos.”
Sadiqa de Meijer’s book is rather diverse. The samples she read in Toronto had one overlap with the ones she chose in Ottawa. In the intervening time, my handwriting seems to have come unknit. Could she have said something about “belled metal restaurant elephants”? That quote may be worse than useless.
Kate Marshall Flaherty wrote of Alzheimer’s and related her encounter with a mother to whom she as daughter seems to be the mother’s childhood sisters. “I must know you but the name dissolves like tissues in the bath”. “They say you stew in your own juices. If sweet”…or if sour.
JonArno Lawson did comic verse and aphorisms/one liners “death is the last thing I want to experience” or “you will be judged for the one foolish ting you say not by your 10,000 sensible silences.” The room at around halftime got reset by the comedy amid the poems of death or serious nature observing.
Chris Pannell write of the “red-winged black bird on the wire fence” and the what the “wind carried in each of its infinite pockets” and did some light comic touches that were well-received as well such as the self-deprecating “I wish that I had not been squeezed out of my previous form by beer”.
I read Sarah Pinder’s book it seems a couple years ago. In the voice it had, it seemed a different feel, more ironic and sharp somehow. I’m not sure if I can qualify that remark well; so much time has passed between the seeing text and the hearing of ideas. Sarah Pinder had a raspy voice that reminded me of local poet Jenna Jarvis. “Logic [illegible] beside my body”. It’s interesting to see the poet live and how that changes the text.
Jacob Scheier came with his EWC book and had a poem after Al Purdy. He gave a comic tale of “freedom” after a breakup of being able to be messy again, eat what he liked, walk when he wants “astonished and a little frightened by his freedom, throwing thong underwear to the 4 corners of the [apartment] world.”
Sheila Stewart asked what can you do on the subway? Read. Watch golden flowers. Deena Kara Shaffer I seem to have taken no notes during. Adrienne Weiss was shooting for an audience not me. Something about solid gold dances. Topics included music, celebrities and Walmart.
By process of elimination, reconstruction and bad handwriting, who from Gaspereau Press would be, if memory serves, male and writing about dropping a mattress out an upper window of his father’s house and driving it to the dump on the top of his vehicle like the world’s largest grilled cheese sandwich draped over its roof? John Terpstra I think.
Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang poems are taken from friend’s status updates on Facebook. Each update becomes a title. The biggest hit in the room so far as you could hear a pin drop was the statistics on sexual assault poem where it was driven home the demographics of who and how it’s not even. If you’re disabled, if you’re native, if you’re college age and female, there’s more risk.
Because records of events tend to vaporize off the internet again, all the readers this year at IFOA’s (entering its 40th year this June) Battle of the Bards, were:
Clara Blackwood is a poet, visual artist and tarot reader. Her first poetry collection, Subway Medusa (2007), was the inaugural book in Guernica Editions’ First Poets Series, which features first books by poets 35 and under. Her poetry has appeared in Canadian and International journals. She lives in Toronto. Blackwood presents work from her collection Forecast (2014).
Jason Camlot is the author of four collections of poetry, The Animal Library (2001), Attention All Typewriters (2005), The Debaucher (2008) and most recently, What The World Said (2013). He plays bass in Puggy Hammer and is an English literature professor at Concordia University. He presents work from his most recent collection.
Edward Carson is the author of two previous books of poetry, Scenes (1977) and Taking Shape (2008). Twice the winner of the E.J. Pratt Poetry Award, Carson was Writer in Residence for Open Book Toronto in In 2010. He lives in Toronto. He presents work from his collection Birds Flock Fish School (2013).
Sadiqa de Meijer was born in Amsterdam, and moved to Canada as a child. Her poetry, short stories and essays have appeared in many journals, including The Malahat Review, Geist, The Fiddlehead, Riddle Fence and Poetry Magazine. Her poems were anthologized in The Best of Canadian Poetry in English 2008 and in the international anthology Villanelles. In 2012, her series “Great Aunt Unmarried” won the CBC Poetry Prize. She presents work from her debut collection, Leaving Howe Island (2013).
Kate Marshall Flaherty has published in journals such as Descant, CV2, Freefall and Windsor Review. She was shortlisted for Nimrod’s Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize, The Malahat Review Long Poem and Descant’s Best Canadian Poem. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three spirited children, where she guides yoga/retreats/writing workshops. She presents work from Reaching V (2014).
Len Gasparini is the author of numerous books and chapbooks of poetry, five short story collections, two children’s books, a work of non-fiction and a one-act play. In 1990, he was awarded the F.G. Bressani Literary Prize for poetry. In 2010, he won the Poetry NOW competition. He lives in Toronto. Gasparini presents work from his collection Mirror Image (2014).
Catherine Graham is the author of four previous poetry collections. She teaches creative writing at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies, and her poetry has appeared in journals and anthologies around the world. A new and selected volume of her poetry is forthcoming in the United Kingdom. She lives in Toronto. She presents work from her collection Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects (2013).
Aisha Sasha John is a dance improviser and poet. She was born in Montreal, but spent most of her childhood in Vancouver. She currently lives in Toronto. John has a BA in African Studies and Semiotics from the University of Toronto and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph. Her first book, The Shining Material, was published in 2011. She presents work from her new poetry collection, THOU (2014).
Julie Joosten lives in Toronto. Her poems and reviews can be read in Jacket 2, Tarpaulin Sky, The Malahat Review and The Fiddlehead. She presents work from her debut collection, Light Light (2013).
JonArno Lawson is the award-winning author of numerous books of poetry for children and adults, including Black Stars in a White Night Sky, A Voweller’s Bestiary and Think Again. A two-time winner of the Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Children’s Poetry, he lives in Toronto with his wife and children. He presents work from his collection Enjoy It While It Hurts (2013).
Shannon Maguire grew up on the mouth of Lake Superior and now lives in Guelph, Ontario. Her poetry has appeared in CV2, Ditch, Gultch: An Assemblage of Poetry and Prose, as well as other places. She is the author of three chapbooks: Vowel Wolves & Other Knots (2011), Fruit Machine (2012) and A Web of Holes (2012). She presents work from her debut collection, fur(l) parachute, from which a selection of poems was nominated for the Manitoba Magazine Awards in the category of Best Poem or Suite of Poems (2012) and was shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry (2011).
Chris Pannell has published three poetry books: Under Old Stars, Sorry I Spent Your Poem and Drive. He is also the author of a set of three poetry broadsheets entitled Fractures, Subluxations and Disclocations, which won the Hamilton Arts Council poetry book award. From 1993 until 2005, he ran the New Writing Workshop and edited two book-length anthologies for the group. He has been published in literary magazines across Canada and internationally. He presents work from A Nervous City (2013).
Sarah Pinder was born in Sault Ste Marie. Her poetry has appeared in various literary journals and small magazines, as well as the anthology She’s Shameless. She presents work from her first poetry collection, Cutting Room (2012).
Jacob Scheier is a poet and journalist from Toronto. His debut collection, More To Keep Us Warm, won the 2008 Governor General’s Award for English-language poetry. Scheier’s poems have been published in literary journals and magazines across North America, including Descant, Geist and Rattle, and have been heard on CBC Radio. He presents work from his collection Letter From Brooklyn (2013).
Deena Kara Shaffer‘s poetry has appeared in many magazines, including The Dalhousie Review, FreeFall and Canadian Voices: Volume 2. She is currently a Learning Specialist at Ryerson University. She presents work from her collection The Grey Tote (2013), which was shortlisted for the Marina Nemat Award.
Jim Smith is the author of 15 books and chapbooks, including One Hundred Most Frightening Things (1985), Convincing Americans (1986), The Schwarzenegger Poems (1988), Translating Sleep (1989), Leonel/Roque (1998) and Back Off, Assassin! New and Selected Poems (2009). He is Crown Counsel at the Ministry of the Attorney General. Smith presents work from his collection Happy Birthday, Nicanor Parra (2012).
Sheila Stewart’s first collection of poetry, A Hat to Stop a Train, was published by Wolsak and Wynn in 2003. She also co-edited The Art of Poetic Inquiry (2012). Her work has been recognized by numerous literary awards, including the GritLit Poetry Competition, Scarborough Arts Council, Pottersfield Portfolio Short Poem Competition, Dan Sullivan Memorial Prize and the Ray Burrell Award for Poetry. She has been widely published in such journals as The Malahat Review, The Antigonish Review, Grain, Descant and The New Quarterly. She presents work from her collection The Shape of a Throat (2012).
John Terpstra is the author of eight books of poetry, including Disarmament, which was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award. An earlier work, Captain Kintail, won the CBC Radio Literary Prize for Poetry. He has also written three books of creative non-fiction. The Boys, or Waiting for the Electrician’s Daughter was shortlisted for both the RBC Taylor Prize and the BC Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. He lives in Hamilton. Terpstra presents work from his collection Naked Trees (2012).
Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang is the author of Sweet Devilry, which won the Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry in Canada and was nominated for the Re-Lit award. Her work has been published widely in journals and anthologies, and appears in Best Canadian Poetry 2013. She is the editor of the all-Susan anthology Desperately Seeking Susans, as well as the forthcoming anthology Tag: Canadian Poets at Play. She is also a children’s author and essayist. Her new Young Adult novel, Breathing Fire, is forthcoming in Spring 2014. Tsiang presents work from her collection Status Update (2013).
Adrienne Weiss has been a sketch comedian, college communications instructor and poet. Her poetry flows around issues of identity, performance and self-mythology. She presents work from her collection There Are No Solid Gold Dancers Anymore (2014).

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