September 27, 2014

Perfect Mix of Poetry and Performance

by Louella Lester

Its become a tradition for me to attend the Mainstage Poetry Bash with some of my writing group friends. Over tea after the event (drinks didnt pan out) we discussed each poet and the evening in general, agreeing it was one of the best weve ever attended. Why? Because of the variety, not only in content, but in presentation. The evening wasnt just filled with readings, it was a perfect mix of poetry and performance.

I have a confession that I think many people could make: I dont always understand the meaning of a poem Ive read once, let alone listened to once without the text in my hand (and we wont mention the ones I dont get after ten readings). I like to re-read a poem, savour it, mull it over and then decide what its saying to me. You cant do this at a reading, where every poem is a one-off. You need to enter the room with a different attitude.

So, last night I decided to relax and go with the word flow, the drum beat and the harmonica wail. I decided to go with first impressions and lines that linger. I can read the books for deeper meaning next week.

Alison Calder (In the Tiger Park) started off in 1913, had us walk with blind children through museums, exploring and touching everything. To them the colour brown is as plush as a beaver pelt. The room becomes smaller and as deaf as a blanket. Later, a cowlick snaps into place like the piece of a puzzle in an open pasture. Then Calder admits that she is obsessed with elephants and moons. Fuck off moon, get out of my poems and take the elephants with you. She sounded determined, but I wonder if thats possible

I dont really know much about music technology, so Im going to guess that Jordan Abel (The Place of Scraps) was operating some type of soundboard attached to a computer. But it doesnt matter what its called, because I forgot about it as soon as he pulled that red bandana over his mouth, creating an illusion. Then the drum started beating, followed by an early ethnographers voice, songs of the past and some so ancient that they go back to Siberia…” The words, the ethnographers analysis of First Nation peoples, soon began to trip over each other, blend, turn into gibberish and the repetition of frontier became a tear.

It seemed fitting that the winner of the Banff Centre Bliss Carman Award, for his poem Hunter (II), should be an archaeologist as well as a poet. Owain Nicholson can surely appreciate the prize, a replica of Carmans 100 year old ring. Nicholson mixes raven shit, four-wheel drive trucks, hares and the spicy smell of muskeg in the most beautiful way. The shovel moans and you realize this is not everything, but you are here and this is not your room.

Ken Babstock (On Malice) knows how to blend words in the most haunting way. These words echo from abandoned surveillance posts as elms and beeches scream into their own crowns. A
middle-sized giant wants to thump someone and someone sleeps under a desk dreaming, maybe of salmon. And humans cannot take away the red sky once it is cooked. Wow! Im not sure if I can copy absences but its interesting to think about it all.

A lone microphone, a small table, a glass of wine, a guitar and a harmonica. It could have been the 50s or the 60s or present day, it was timeless. CR Avery (Some Birds Walk for the Hell of It), backed up by Scott Nolans guitar, sure can set the mood and give a performance. Im happy when he tells us that its time to write again and time to awaken the savage because I know there will be more. The harmonica wails and kisses the blues. Avery speaks and sings, tells us poetic tales. He talks of a body brown and hot, just like desert sand. But there are also blue collar robots and Mozarts whip. Snap!

The evening is done.

The evening's poets, clockwise from top left: 
CR Avery, Alison Calder, Jordan Abel, Owain Nicholson & Ken Babstock.


  1. This article made me wish I had been there. I especially loved the line about the moon and elephants, and the photo montage, but really enjoyed all of it. Thank you.

  2. Thanks Elizabeth. It was a great Poetry Bash!

  3. I loved your review. It was informative yet funny and personal: not an easy essay to pull off.