September 28, 2014

Friday Night Poetry Bash

By Jeannette Bodnar
Friday night was the final Mainstage event. The Poetry Bash is a favourite of seasoned veterans of the festival and always brings out a great crowd peppered with faces of local literary celebrities, especially those from the Winnipeg poetry community, one of the most supportive of the arts.
The night kicked off with local poet Alison Calder. Calder’s witty observations on her own obsessions are humorously relatable. A writer’s writer, Calder’s poems are as much about the process of writing as they are about the content of the poem. As she confessed Friday night, “tonight I’m going to read away my obsessions.” Calder’s readings were a perfect opening to the evening, as her poetry feels familiar and welcoming but with a cheeky freshness that makes you want to hear more. Winnipeg audiences expect a lot from their poets and Alison Calder did not disappoint.
Jordan Abel took the stage next.
Part poet, part performance artist, part visual artist and sculptor of words…
Abel had the audience captivated under the rhythmic enchantment of competing voices, as he demonstrated the deafening power of colonialism through his revelations on the works of archaeologist Maurice Barbeau. What stands out about Abel’s performance is that the multisensory presentation forces the audience to feel the effects of Barbeau’s work on a cellular level. The planning and care taken for Abel’s live performance can also be seen as a commentary on medium and the ethnocentric delivery of history, as there has been a traditional emphasis placed on written histories (such as Barbeau’s) over oral histories. Abel’s work is holistic and does not so much present history, as it presents the feeling of historical events and their legacies.   
Owain Nicholson and Charlene Diehl
Owain Nicholson wrapped up the first half of the evening, and although he no longer resides in Winnipeg we will proudly (if not entirely honestly) claim him as our own. Nicholson, who Charlene Diehl joked looks about 13, has a humble confidence on stage that challenges any notions about his age. As Owain read his work I felt as though he was holding my hand and leading me into the forest or walking me by the streams he so vividly details. Nicholson is exceptional at connecting his audience to nature. He also graciously accepted the Banff Centre Bliss Carman Award and replica ring for his poem “Hunter (II)” which is featured in Prairie Fire. 

After intermission Ken Babstock read his latest collection. When Babstock read from SIGNIT, I was at once transported inside the NSA surveillance station from which the work is set. I could feel the heaviness of the air as he read, “humans cannot take away the red sky once it is cooked.” Although his poetry feels masculine, I still felt I could embody the speaker and see the world through his eyes.

CR Avery and Scott Nolan
The evening ended on a high note with CR Avery. Avery has the kind of charm your mama warned you about. Backed by blues guitar, Avery boldly commanded the stage delivering poetry that is as sexy, fun, and adventurous as a gin soaked night in an after-hours club. When I sit down to read his collection from Some Birds Walk for the Hell of It, I imagine I will do so with a martini and cigarette (sorry Mom) in hand.
Poetry events are always my favourite during the festival. I think this is because poets, more so than other authors, are aware of the importance of live performance of their writing for contemporary audiences. Poets are forced to create a big picture with a lot detail on a small canvas and therefore there isn’t any room for bullshit. Thin Air is amazing for consistently delivering high calibre talent that showcases what is happening in contemporary circles and Friday night was no exception.

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