September 22, 2014

A Night of Laughs, Gasps, and Oh My!s

by Janelle Curry
Naughty bits always make things fun—they literally keep life going—but sometimes we want more than that (no, really). Sometimes we want swear words, too. We want puns. We want serious haikus that makes us feel smart and political. We want clever haikus that take a few seconds to grasp. But, more than anything, I guess we really do want haikus about penises.

In times of need, the Winnipeg Poetry Slam team is here.
Accompanied by author Tom Howell, who wrote what is probably the first story of the English language to make you laugh out loud rather than snore, the slam team performed poems to make us laugh, cry, and be all introspective, followed up by an intense Haiku Death Match. 

“Forewords” was held in Salle Antoine-Gaborieau at Centre culturel franco-manitobain (CCFM), September 20th at 8pm. There were tables and chairs placed on the rather large stage, as well as bar service and letter-shaped pretzels.
So, what else do we want from poetry, culture, history, and Saturday nights? Well, let’s look at these separately.
From poetry, we want something that moves us. In a sense, we want to be told what we already feel, but in new ways. We want to be engaged by it, challenged by it, and humoured by it. And really, we want to feel like part of something—whether it’s a mindset, an obscure reference, a contextual pun, or even just feeling part of the same wonderful, confusing, expressive language.
The phenomenal thing about language is that even though it’s so often depicted on the page, and as a structured rule-bound entity, language is truly shaped and changed by its speakers. Language is a tool of humanity, and arguably the most useful one we’ve ever come up with (though soap is really, really important too). With all that in mind, what better way to experience language than through the voice of another? To hear the tone, the passion, and the nuance that a person has attributed to her words changes a poem from something we read and interpret as best we can, to something we experience, feel, and see. Slam poetry provides an interaction between poet and audience that fills the room and makes everyone part of the same funny, raunchy, contemplative beast.
On to culture. This is a biggy. Let me narrow it down a bit to Literary Culture. Now if you’re anything like me, you’ve taken an English class or two. You may have even taken some in University. Maybe enough to award you a degree, or a seething hate for 17th century agrarian travel literature, and other such genres. Maybe you’ve encountered so much literature in formal settings, with money and grades and essays and citations involved, that you really just roll your eyes when someone asks how you’re liking the English Honours program. Maybe you had given up on the culture, thinking that all it had to offer you were more biblical references and phallic symbols than your secular feminist brain could possibly hold.
But then you attend an event like this, or you read a book like Howell’s, and it reminds you of what literary culture really is. How the English language gets wrongly trapped in rules and paper, so too can English literature be wrongly trapped in formal essays and anthologies. There are obvious benefits to both these aspects of English: you know how to interpret these written words, the sentence structure, and you probably nodded your head in agreement about all those bibles and penises. But to keep a language or a culture alive and thriving, we need to keep it interesting and fulfilling. This event, gloriously provided by the Thin Air Writer’s Festival, is a reminder to us all that we can have fun while being silly, and witty, and dirty (oh my!) with words.
History has always been an interesting subject, and I doubt there’s a single person out there who has not said “oh, wow, that’s cool” to a bit of historical information. But there’s one rather chunky electric blue elephant in the room: how can anyone really know what happened four thousand years ago? Or even four hours ago? How do we know what influenced which decision that caused which war? Because how can someone even know what is reality versus what is biased perspective? But okay, before you run off and stream the Matrix trilogy or pick up old intro to philosophy textbooks, hear me out. This is an elephant. It won’t stop being an elephant because you ignore it. You can try to work around it, but we all know it’s still there. So how about we all get real for a moment, and figure out how to utilize this chunky animal.
Oh wait, Tom Howell has already done the work for us in his book The Rude Story of English. Cheers!
He’s used the elephant to play around with theories on what was the first English word spoken. He calls this world the “asterisk reality”, which is a reality that is aware it doesn’t have all the materials, but by golly it’s going to try to paint you a picture anyways. He goes through how the language has changed, been influenced, and has spread across the world, all in the shoes of the language’s macho hero Hengest (J.R.R. Tolkien-approved). Because when we get down to what we want from histories, it’s ones that don’t take themselves too seriously. We want smart authors who not only admit that they don’t know everything, but celebrate it, while poking fun at smart people who think they do. We also want rude sketches of these asterisked histories.
I don’t know about you, but from now on all my Saturday nights will be compared to the Saturday night I saw a Haiku Death Match.
The rules were simple: five people enter, five people leave, but only one is victorious. Well, not really. Two people compete against each other by each presenting in turn a 17-syllable “poem” to the audience, which then votes for which poem they liked better, or which made them feel less awful for laughing at. The winner remains up front, while the loser goes back into the line of rotation, and a new opponent steps forth. Things get real, people. The poets work off of audience reactions, come up with strategies, have these fail, then give up and go for the penis joke. Some haikus take a while to understand. For example, I only just got the punch-line of one while writing this. Invisible ink indeed. Well Played, Ulysses, well played.
Now I’m so keen on these haiku things that I invite you all to join me in a little Haiku Death Match in the comment section. Of course, like all word battles over the internet, there can only be losers. So join me in being a 17-syllable loser. Form doesn’t so much apply, make it what you will. And brownie points for writing something Hengesty. Here goes nothing:
Sandals hurt my feet,
So while others mourn the heat,*
I find my Sorels.
PS. I highly suggest you pick up a copy of Tom Howell’s book, The Rude Story of English. It is filled with facts, humour, literary puns, asterisk realities, Hengestness, and, yes, naughty bits. Available anywhere. Well, not Home Depot. He didn’t break into that market yet. But here’s hoping.
*I didn’t intend this to rhyme, yours really don’t need to.


  1. I am bikini,
    Fill my cups up,
    With juice?

  2. The autumn air bites,
    Hot sun, green grass, warm breeze... gone,
    I dig out long johns

  3. Facebook posts demand,
    Much like the death of your son,

    Flintstones Vitamins
    Make me feel like a big boy
    Yabba dabba doo!

    Books are really dope
    Because they take you away
    From your shitty life