October 01, 2012


By Steve Locke

While this weekend was Thin Air’s farewell for 2012, Charlene Diehl and her cadre of tired, yet enthusiastic staff and volunteers provided Winnipeg with yet another literary banquet to satisfy the bottomless stomachs of local bookworms. Poetry was on the menu for Friday’s mainstage readings as well as the beatific “Afterwords” event, where two of Canada’s most beloved poets graced an eager stage, yet another prize was awarded to a national treasure, and the spirit of Kerouac and Ginsberg were invoked with a bit of jazz. Also, the cheese was delicious.

Where poetry crystallizes sometimes enormous moments into edible bite-sized chunks, the first half of the mainstage “Poetry Bash!” whetted our appetites with food for thought. Reading from his books including The Politics of Knives, local Jonathan Ball explored the bloody realm between language and violence. Ball was a wolf that dropped its granny-guise, exploring violence as a theme especially where the colour red was concerned. Later, he calls upon his muse to deliver him a poem, and when she responds, “If I must be a muse, then I must be terror,” I was made aware of a Kurtz like horror of the soul, which included a swift quickening of the blood, and a sudden hunger for meat.

JonArno Lawson followed with his series of nursery rhymes for adults, which he described as being either “funny or terrible.” Playful in his use of sound patterns reminiscent of Dr. Seuss, Lawson’s lyrics uncover an acerbic and clever wit often found in both comedians and confuscians. In the line drawn between child and adult in Lawson’s poetry, the reader finds images reminiscent of school, bible stories and playtime, though their use in the wordplay suggests a requirement for adult experience to grasp their connotations. There is a sense of darkness and lost innocence in Lawson’s work, despite a creative spirit that prevails with an unassailable sense of humour.

Moments before accepting The Banff Centre’s Bliss Carmen Poetry Award, Halifax’s Sue Goyette read her poem, “Canadian Apology,” which proved that she truly deserved such an honour. Being so unabashed both as a poet and a Canadian, Goyette examined our widespread and ironically unapologetic use of the word ‘sorry,’ as a part of our identity. It is my opinion that this poem should be printed on the back of every Molson label to remind us to be sociable, and to take no prisoners in our courtesy, especially when our beer and Leonard Cohen come into question. 

After a sizeable primer for our still growling stomachs, next came the entrée, the steak wellington and scalloped potatoes of the evening. Real-life partners Patrick Lane and Lorna Crozier sat nonchalantly upon the stage furniture, seemingly un-phased by the list of accolades they had achieved in their individual careers as beloved Canadian writers and poets, which proved that cool comes with experience.

Lane went first, reading from his latest collection of poems, which he self-deprecatingly described as an “elegant doorstop.” There was an age and weight to his voice and breath, which made it seem like it emanated from an old crackling record player, rather than his body. The features of his face set in stone, his great, quiet presence hinted at a lifetime of deep human observation, and even deeper human emotion. One could glaze over the character of Patrick Lane in his own poetry, glazing over him, yet aware of him in the background, watching; glimpsing at the details. 

If Lane was the spice, then Lorna Crozier was the sugar, affably exploring the essence of inanimate objects in her poems from Book of Marvels: A Compendium of Everyday Things. Common objects such as knives, bicycles, even ear lobes were brought to life and given identity and sensuality with a unique and grounding perspective. As an example, given the choice, a knife would prefer to cut through an orange rather than an apple, given the fluidity of movement. We then marveled at stationary bicycles, for their function in clocking the distance of a rider who isn’t moving, and in the design of ear lobes, which contain a clitoris like cluster of nerves, and are somehow perfectly fit to the shape of a tongue. It begs one to wonder at the purpose of objects without us beings to attach meaning to them. And what of us as objects?

Sleepy with gorging on all this thought-food, we all went to bed for the night, only to return to the banquet table for yet another full course meal at the Centre Culturel Franco-Manitobain in belle Ste. Boniface. A perfect bookend to match the lively ‘Forewords’ event a week earlier, the festival wrapped up with an open mic, backed up by a jazz duo of stand-up bass and flute, featuring local master Steve Kirby. In this intimate venue, the power was handed down from the literary gods to the people, who were affectionately invited to relive the boppin’, beatific days of the fifties and sixties where jazz was the vibe and spoken was the word. Each performance took a life of its own, as Kirby and his stage partner coaxed lyrics from the speakers, where even the nervous were allowed to fall back on a cushion of flawless improvisation to let their voices flow. 

Phew. I think that after Thin Air 2012, with my distended head full of new ideas, I think a stringent diet of blank pages is in order to level out this new weight of books and experiences I’ve recently obtained, not to mention this reinvigorated love for both the written and spoken word. Hmm, that copy of Cory Redekop’s Husk is looking particularly tasty. Geez, this is going to be tough.

And say, is there any of that cheese left?

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