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VERSeFest: Plan 99 Presents

Barbara LanghorstSteven Price
Susan Glickmansigning, Susan Glickman
Barbara Langhorst, Stephen Price and Susan Glickman read at VERSeFest March 16th under the exotic dazzle of purple gel lights.

Barbara Langhorst is considered in the experimental poetry camp. In her preamble she admitted that she used to about goth subjects like dead animals and didn’t key into what they wanted to say. They pointed to wanting to address the murder-suicide of her parents 20 years ago. She was working her way there.

It takes a while to progress. It’s a body’s best defence to turn away while first healing starts. As Samuel Johnson put it, “While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates. You must
wait till grief be digested, and then amusement will dissipate the remains of it.” Or in the poet’s vein, cut and remix with dead horses, kittens and ancestors of the Franklin expedition. But eventually grief runs its course, if permitted. Although some poets can fossilize and specialize in a stasis of it.

There is such intimacy with a body in pain, she remarked. She did a poem dedicated to her rheumatoid arthritis, which she has had since her teens. With erosion in every socket, she prefers to think of it as “eros ion” in every socket.

Her poems were generally marked by melancholy and regrets and coming to reconcile what might have been with what is. “I know I am guilty of many dead mice and rats” and “I will never be as I planned it”.

I noticed a couple starry-eyed young women clutching her book through the reading and one going fangirl and breathless at the signature.

For some reason I have merged in my head Stephen Price with Stephen Collis (who’s coming to A B Series with Margaret Christakos this month but I think I’ll be able to keep them separate them now.

With a carrying over of the spirit of jousting from the discussion of the previous event, he was introduced as one who had also engaged in the inferior art of fiction.

He had a poem about a road-killed racoon “a purse of fur”. He quipped that whenever he’s at risk for writing happy poems, he can go back to the touchstone of dead animals. He also liked the romance of grittiness, the pairing of pretty and pessimistic grim, such a poem where he said all things that live have hives of darkness inside them.

He seemed like a nice enough fellow. He recounted with part of his time the most entertaining part of the timeslot, a preface on the lifelong relationship between Gerald Manley Hopkins and his, eventual poet laureate, friend, Robert Bridges. He felt he was a poet 50 years before his time. Gaudi did with space what Hopkins did with time and sound. I have a book of Hopkins and I dabble into it due to a friend who’s a fan of him. Maybe I have to try again to see the electricity arc in it. Here’s a Hopkins’ close-read.

Susan Glickman and The Smooth Yarrow has a conversational tone in places, such as the poem of Homeopathic Remedies for Scar Tissue where she has a cheeky conversation with well-intended misguided advice, [p. 22]

Tie a handful of crushed mint leaves in a piece of muslin to extract their juice. Rub the cloth all over your scars. You may be wounded, but don’t you smell fresh!

As we know well-placed snark does a world of refreshing sometimes.

Although the book is also about grief and its toxins, she keeps a more irregular and irreverant distance from it. The poems are not without skin and allow themselves to unpin themselves, move and move again.

One of my favorite poems in the book is Things From Which One Never Recovers which is a list poem that shifts weight continually over its length from

The girl on the high school basketball team who said
You have the biggest ass I’ve ever seen
the taste of cod-liver oil in a spoonful of molasses
administered by a schoolfriend’s proper British mother
as a prophylactic against obsolete diseases

The clipped tone that moves sternly merrily on, saying and leaving it to the reader to understand rather than spend time jawing it all out further to the nth degree is nice. And the cadence is terribly tasty. As it is later in the poem that doesn’t grow old,

a contemptuous review that gets everything wrong in elegant language
like a sadist with impeccable manners
the entrenched injustice of the world that renders one’s own problems
too trivial to mention
that there are different kinds of shoes for every sport
but only one pair for arthritic feet.

It’s a dark humour but it lines up well with my own.

David at the Mercury bookstore
David was at the back with a mini version of the bookstore.

Plan 99 now has a site. Their next event is Saturday, April 27th: Fiction Cabaret with Tamas Dobozy & Elisabeth de Mariaffi.

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