by Louella Lester
It’s become a tradition for me to attend the Mainstage Poetry Bash with some of my writing group friends. Over tea after the event (drinks didn’t pan out) we discussed each poet and the evening in general, agreeing it was one of the best we’ve ever attended. Why? Because of the variety, not only in content, but in presentation. The evening wasn’t 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 don’t always understand the meaning of a poem I’ve read once, let alone listened to once without the text in my hand (and we won’t mention the ones I don’t get after ten readings). I like to re-read a poem, savour it, mull it over and then decide what it’s saying to me. You can’t 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 that’s possible…
I don’t really know much about music technology, so I’m going to guess that Jordan Abel (The Place of Scraps) was operating some type of soundboard attached to a computer. But it doesn’t matter what it’s 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 ethnographer’s voice, “songs of the past” and “some so ancient” that they “go back to Siberia…” The words, the ethnographer’s 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 Carman’s 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 “human’s cannot take away the red sky once it is cooked.” Wow! I’m not sure if “I can copy absences” but it’s 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 Nolan’s guitar, sure can set the mood and give a performance. I’m happy when he tells us that it’s “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 Mozart’s whip. Snap!
The evening is done.