But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Opening was Sir Realist (aka Nathanaël Larochette) who has been working with youth doing poetry in schools for 6 years. He said whenever he feels down he makes a poem to inspire himself and sometimes those become performance pieces that reach others.
He opened with a cover poem by Kevin Matthews then did his own acrostic poem Beautiful. Here he is performing it in Vancouver:
It starts after patter at 1:30. It flows to make it look natural. Here’s one cycle through the word: “Breathe. Exhale. Again. Until truth illuminates fuelling unconditional love.” That he keeps the pattern flowing naturally as if there were no constraint there – well, I can’t imagine how long that took to work out.
He set up a frame for an audience to engage, speak back, repeat and did a choose your own adventure poem where volume of votes dictated where the poem goes next. A couple people threw in votes that weren’t on the list. (How could it be elsewise with an audience with so many poets.)
That was picked up by the next reader Emilie Zoey Baker who had the audience pick a poem that’s a secret or uses bad language.
Emilie Zoey Baker from Australia performed poems that had the audience laughing from the Vegetarian Zombie poem to one on making spaghetti. Here’s spaghetti inspired by Emilie Zoey Baker’s poem from last night.
She also had a poem on what baristas needs to have for life experience before they can make a proper coffee. For example, to feel themselves explode in their chair at seeing someone across the room, and have their wallet stolen in Vietnam, and feel their soul expand from a marble to a palace in a single breath.
She had copies of her chapbook Bombora on hand. Her poem on Vegetarian Zombies and Fuck You Glee are in the chapbook, and surely worth the $10 price of admission for them, but alas, her poem on spooning isn’t. That’s a marvelous ravelling piece.
She mentioned how in Berlin there was poetry in any language and did her piece in deep Aussie. (Wouldn’t it be nice to see the French vers appear in VERSeFest more.)
He presented himself as a formalist, mentioning he often performs with a projection of the poems behind him so you can see the tercets or sextets or shapes of stanzas and lines on the page for a second experience.
He won the Montreal Poetry Prize and shortly thereafter, the Cardiff poetry prize. He presented poems on his paternal grandfather Rev. Tredinnick, or more accurately, a dream of him where the suitable dour Methodist fellow – who lived suspicious of any music that was not composed by a Wesley – danced his sermons like nothing on earth. “It was Mormon bluegrass[...] but it felt human and glad with a license to live”. Coming from a similar (but different denomination) of upbringing, I could feel the scandalousness of the dream and the revelation of it being a way forward, an acceptance to go forward into life as well.
Music also featured in a poem of his maternal grandmother who had a piano all her life that had only played hymns. One night after she had died at 4 a.m. when the dead souls change shifts, he heard the piano play two notes with no one near it. He ended with a profound gesture towards “there’s a music out there that knows us by heart.”
There were lots of sub-vocals and ahs from the audience. His poetry leaned heavily toward the large picture and profound statement, speaking on the gods of the old pantheons and them as us, as rain, us as them and rain and remembering and forgiveness.
The audience responded well but I was in the curious seat of being between seats where to my right was enthusiastically wowed and to my right not so very much. Poetry is such a personal taste for what fills the bill. Both directions are engaged and amusing to watch.
The first night of VERSeFest had 6 poets over about 4 hours. Some people came for the 7pm, some arrived for the 9pm. There was some shifting but there were about 80 in the audience at any given time. A pretty decent start.
And the crowd was warm too, in thanks to the chemistry and rapport that went between readers. It’s always nice to see the roster of writers in the event chatting before and after and referencing each other during the show instead of parachuting in and out, doing a fixed set and being airlifted away.
The second event was sponsored by Arc Magazine.
Rob Winger has two books (and a third hopefully in the wings soon). He likes to go at fresh angles and remix against expectations. He’ll do a pastoral, but not how you might think. The litany is with categorical attitude and humour. I love hearing him read, anytime anywhere. [Such a pity that the university didn't see fit to give tenure and keep in town one of the most inspiring teachers I've met, and beyond 19 years of school, I worked as a Cont. Ed. teacher for a decade, and done national conferences. I've met a lot of them but not with his zest often. I've rarely seen a wave of so many people inspired years later by one teacher like that. Anyway,...] He has a poem in the In the Next Poem poem where I have a few second clip from. You can see how the audience was taken by it. It worked by accumulations piling on ad absurdum of the patterns we use to preface poems.
Rob Winger was the Writer-in-Residence for Arc and under his time there he mentored 30 poets flagged as promising.
Brent Raycroft was one of these. As he said in self-deprecation, it is not my first time to emerge as a poet. That was in the 80s. I never stopped doing poetry. I just stopped finishing poems. I won’t be reading from my 11th book or my first because they don’t exist. What he did read from is included in Arc Magazine and an upcoming Freefall.
He did a number of relationship sonnets remarking on how the world has enough unrequited love poems so he does requited love poems.
He also did a poem on sex, the word, and how the shapes relate to one another; the X so angular and the e between the letters as if saying “you two should meet”.
In Anita Lahey’s turn at the mic, she acknowledged the pattern of audience participation and said I considered letting people vote for which poem to hear, but I’m too much of a control freak for that. She interlaced references to Rob Winger’s poem as well.
Anita closed the night with poems from her more recent book of poems from kickboxing and conflict (“she’s raining shredded knuckles”), and from life in Cape Breton where fishermen do fishing boat races and wait for storms to come. And ones from and for Ottawa including an ode to a parking lot “a night sky with constellations of gum, oil spills and spit”. She does some nice things with metaphor. In a poem on nicknames, “one is pinned like a tail to that galaxy” of the particular scene.
P.S. Twitter is an amazingballs. I tweeted about VERSeFest yesterday and it got picked up (retweeted, RT) by a few people and thereby bouncing to over 8000 screens in a few minutes. Arrival at isn’t reading but still the internet speed is a wonder sometimes.
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