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VERSeFest Day 5: Capital Slam

As a civilian – as opposed to those on the organizing committee or the reading series organizers – I sometimes feel as if festivals were built for me. Given the room of 30-80, or so, for each event, evidently it fit with more people than me for audience.

audience attention Monty laughing
JM Francheteau watching the show and Monty Reid laughing during VERSeFest.

Saturday night ended with a double-header: Magpie Ulysses and RC Weslowski. If you’re on FB you might have seen my first response: “If I had wifi and sway or access to transporters y’all would have seen the 9pm versefest. Egad. Tingles until chills and laughed until ab workout.”

Other readings had given me tingles and made me laugh or set me back on my heels to give something a think.

A few other people raved at how this was the event to not miss, although, one can never know that in advance. Something about the people in the room resonate to complete the any performance.

Still, this one was utterly professional in form and content and presentation to a thunderous degree. Part of the effect was how both moved thru their set list in a curve that rode the energy of the room and directed it. It wasn’t jolting as here’s a poem sampler. Here’s a disconnected sample poem. The attention wasn’t choppy. It went more in waves so even though it was the same amount of time as other readings, it rolled better.

How much is that is being exactly the meal I wanted when I wanted it? Some, but not all.

Magpie Ulysses Kevin intro
Magpie Ulysses after Kevin Matthew’s intro.

Part of what struck me was the compassion in the poems of Magpie Ulysses and RC Weslowski. Instead of the saying people mistreating people is a problem, or thumbing noses at things that make us uncomfortable or being self-depreating about our own insecurities, the invitations were often to dig a little deeper at what’s going on, the complexities. There was a different point of view that prevailed as well, relating stories of encounters not just story of self as lead.

Part of the impressed was their entrance playing with the 4th wall before even being introduced, hiding behind the signs on stage and making shadow puppets and waving. They framed themselves as ones who would amuse and use the whole space, not only the spotlight where they shoes are to be tied to the mic base.

Magpie Ulysses
Magpie Ulysses

She was on hand with her third chapbook, Strangler Fig with a scrum of signature-getters at the end. (Take my word for it. I forgot to photograph it.) From p. 9, Reckoning Winter” which she read,

What I wouldn’t give
to waste a Sunday with you.
Preach in your housecoat,
pray to your soft musculature,
sing hymnals to your tibia and fibula.
Because, yes we are made of bones,
but we are not merely skeletons looking for meat.
No, we are shadows and muscles seeking joy
to fill the undefined watery spaces that can become
cataracts and cancers
all too quickly.

As gorgeous and glowing as that it, and as much as it could stand alone, it’s within a 3 page poem that complicates the territory of subject, includes a faded type-written letter on an angle in its body of an eviction notice of evicting sofa surfers who overstayed, and/or the figurative equivalents in her life. And it swoops thru what an earlier stanza calls boy crazy needs

And you look good to me.
Like you look a bit older,
like I feel a bit shorter,
like I am already sinking in an oversized couch with my
bra coming off and onto the hardwood
with a twist of two fingers.
Like you look a little too un-tampered with,
and I kinda want to tamper with that shit.

I like it’s energy and its contained uncontainability.

She does some surprising things with metaphor, like a poem where she says we are all tied to the bedpost of post-modernism. She also has poems for social conscious such as one in which she says, There is carbon in the sky.
Breathe in.
Can you taste
the old growth forests as they burn?

Many of her poems of the night were from her project of hitchhiking 25,000 km and the people she encounters. Except for one woman, everyone who picked her up on the road in the were men. One guy who picked her up said the house was hers since there was no more use waiting for his woman to come home again. Her eye for telling detail showed in that poem where by the waterbed there was “The Joy of Sex with her name inside the cover as if it were meant to be lent out and returned.”

In a few poems she’s relating the glimpses of stories, a mom and kid on the way for their chemo treatments, to being in North Alberta and the only ride coming past smells high of pot and the occupants of the truck look dodgy but it’s the only ride going and the stories unfolding over the miles. In a striking poem that I can’t bring back to mind, she accumulates a pile of all our diversity and ends asking, who are we to judge the paths when half of us are on our way to dying of cancer? (That would be one of the chilling moments.)

RC Weslowski
RC Weslowski on March 16th who declared “there’s no place like homelessness”.

Part of the color-me-impressed was R.C.’s presence in the room once he stepped on stage. Or rather, once he didn’t step on stage. He didn’t use the mic at all but could project his voice to fill a room as he roved around it, moving chairs and going down the aisle and engaging with individuals, all without losing the pace of his content.

He owned the room and attention and kept it. And as a civilian audience member he’s invisible, unlike some authors at events who gain attention when not on stage as well. When he snapped on, he was on.

There was a humour and good-humouredness but a sharp wit as well. Some of it was in the terrain of stand-up with pope tweets where the audience was asked to call out “pope tweet” to ask for the next. He said, this is the part where you may be offended. And that’s okay. It’s not going to stop me, but that’s okay. In another poem Floyd Jones the profanity of the miner catches the flavour and something of affection for the characters encountered.

There wasn’t a heavy-handedness in presumed answer but left more open-ended in some cases that suggested a humbleness of here’s the data, but not always a therefore; a gathering and presenting details without an implied one possible response. Except when the thrust of the message was let’s rebuild it all, but better. burn your residential school to the ground. Or a piece about the oil sands. Even if he does love poetry, it isn’t the same-same trajectory. Where else have you heard, “Our love is just a used condom in a dead unicorn.” (I may have popped a rib at that point from laughing.)

They were narrative with a story arc, word play, sound and rhythm, bow to the detail and a curtsey to the profound rather than exclusively language in language, although on that count he did poems which fell into sound and coined words rather than an anecdote model of poem like Ev Ree Bawdy Haz a Sownd and Beauty Ba Bo


With eye on theatre on performance that’s between theatre and sound poetry.


And someone thinks you’re delicious. It is quirky, silly, funny and uplifting.

How can a poet stand in front of the work you have to look around the poet to see the words? What would that look like? If one is not present and reliving the words in performance, the body language mismatches the content and isn’t convincing. If the poems are about one emotional state but the voice is another, it muddles the poem. The poem on the page doesn’t have that distraction. It is in a more original state than the reproduction in person before an audience. Can the words on the page be fully disembodied or is the body always there in the rhythm and breath?

conversation circle
A conversation circle at VERSeFest with RC Weslowski, Rusty Priske, and Ruthanne Edward.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. […] thing that distinguished RC Weslowski’s performance was his use of the second circle. How much of the time when attention wanders from poets is it that […]