Looking Back -- by Stan Burfield, founder and previous organizer
A month ago, on June 7th, the very last London Open Mic of my five seasons as organizer was held at Mykonos Restaurant, our usual venue. 45 people came out to hear me read my poetry as feature, and to read theirs in the open mic.
Several things stood out to me: first, my wife Linda, who is shyer than I was when I started London Open Mic (partly to help rid myself of my own shyness), introduced me with her first-ever stage presentation before any audience ever in her life. Amazingly, she didn't pass out from the stress, or worse. I had been quite worried. Actually, she handled it quite well. And the audience appreciated her for it. Linda had not told me what she was going to say in advance, so when she said nice things about me, like how much affection she has for me, it was moving, not only for the audience. She did make a few factual errors in my bio, but considering that she put it all together from memory years after hearing the stories of my past, she did a pretty good job.
When I finished my reading and the Q&A, I stepped down to take my seat and was shocked by everybody else standing up. At first, I didn't get what was happening and it just seemed odd, until I realized it was a standing ovation! Wow. That felt as good as it was unexpected. It's nice to know that people appreciate and like the open mic that much. Thanks, everyone!
In the open mic section after the break, Martin Hayter surprised me by reading a beautiful poem he called "Stan Burfield". Martin and I have come to know each other pretty good since our days attending Ron Stewart's excellent workshop before I started the open mic. His poem described me so well that it was like looking in a mirror. Better, actually, because as I listened to Martin read it was like seeing a reflection not of how I look but of the real me inside, which, to a shy person, is the only "me" that matters. Thanks for the experience, Martin! Watch Martin read it. (It's the third poem).
See the SLIDE SHOW and SUMMARY for the June 7th open mic.
See the VIDEO playlist: The videos include:
The climax of my organizing adventure was this astonishing dream:
What an adventure this has been, and so late in my life! Adventure is usually thought of as a young person’s thing, and I certainly indulged myself when I was young. But a life never stops changing, either willingly or unwillingly. So it makes sense that a person should jump into those changes whole-heartedly, making adventures of them.
In my case, I was dealing with lifelong high anxiety, that mainly manifested itself as shyness. My adventure of trying to rid myself of it consisted mostly of physical high-endurance adventures designed simply to make me feel stronger, physically and mentally. They did that, but it had no effect on my anxiety. It was only decades later, in my 60s, that I finally figured out how to tackle it properly: I would have to meet my fears of people head on. The climax of that adventure saw me becoming a social organizer, which was the last thing I would have ever wanted to be. It would either kill me or cure me of my shyness.
I started out by attending Ron Stewart's poetry workshop, and then, lacking a place where I could take that next step further into fear by reading my poems in public, I founded and organized London Open Mic Poetry. Well, it did it's therapeutic job: I survived it and am no longer nearly as shy as I was before these five seasons began.
Half way through, I experienced in a very dramatic way how far I had come--in an astonishing dream. All my life, my nighttime dreams have contained very few people, and those they did contain usually looked weird in some way, not quite human, or just poorly drawn, and anyway seldom represented actual people but were more likely to be symbolic of something else. Then, somewhere in the middle of my years as organizer, I awoke from a dream that was exactly the opposite, and to the ultimate extreme: it was full of people, beautifully real people, all socializing and all enjoying it. I had entered a large restaurant and was slowly walking through it, between tables full of people, all of whom were very detailed in their faces, expressions, their colourful clothes, even in their conversations, which I heard a bit of as I passed each table. There were no empty chairs. And no one in the restaurant was just sitting there bored. Everyone was part of some excited conversation, but each of which was unique, as were all the individuals themselves, as unique as they would be in the real world, excited, interested in each other, many laughing, or just talking, others listening. But the thing is, they were all socializing comfortably, in a healthy way. I was astonished, and walked slowly from one large room into another in the restaurant, each one full, enjoying it all. Until finally I woke up. This had been my subconscious talking to me, demonstrating it’s new attitude. Revelling in people for the first time. And SOOO excited about it. And I was amazed that my dream mind could create so many perfect, live people all populating only a couple minutes of real time. Ever since that morning I’ve enjoyed talking to people--strangers, friends, anybody.
So thank you to everyone who has come to the open mic, and especially to those who have kept coming, despite my many social faux pas (no truly shy person ever learns much in the way of social skills). You are the proofs my fearful subconscious needed, that no one was going to lop off my head each time I opened my mouth. And one thing I’ve learned in this adventure is that the subconscious can’t be argued with. It’s not reasonable. You can’t persuade it with beautiful logic. To the dream mind, logic is water off a duck’s back. The only thing it takes seriously is proof. And not just a bit of proof--lots of it. You open mic readers, you featured poets, you poetry aficionados, you were the proof my subconscious took seriously. Every time I stood on the stage and told a stupid joke that nobody laughed at, or introduced the event so awkwardly that my inner cringe was all I could feel, or simply spoke with such lack of speed and finesse that I felt like a beginner in my own language, you didn’t desert me. Nobody ever got up and stamped out. And you kept returning. That was the proof I needed. And after a couple years of that, I woke to that wonderful dream. So thank you from the bottom of my heart!
In the process, I've gotten to know a lot of people. Before this, I hardly knew, or wanted to know, anybody other than Linda.
And, in the process, I have an open mic to read my poems at.
And I've learned a LOT about poetry that I didn't know before, and become a much better poet myself.
And I've helped a local community of poets to form. All shy people have a dream of community in the back of their minds somewhere, and of being part of one. Well, after five years there is much more of a community here in London than there was before.
Success, and the proof of it!
Early on, I began to fantasize about London Open Mic fostering a poetry community in the city, to the point where I actually told a few people that I would consider us a success, a real success, when I heard of the first person moving here from elsewhere because of the poetry scene, instead of leaving for Toronto. Of course, nobody took me seriously. Someone said, "Good luck with that," and another, "You're kidding," and a couple just laughed.
Well, my idea is that London Open Mic and it's spinoff Couplets are two more big poetry events added to the two already here (Poetry London and London Poetry Slam), which means there are two more reasons for people to keep thinking about poetry, and writing it. If, every time they turn around, they see another poetry thing taking place, how can it not excite them, and once they’re into the idea because so many other people are, it could very well become a local fashion, and then the poetry itself will take over. It only needs to get its toe in.
But somebody moving here because of the poetry scene? Seriously? Well, at the June 7th open mic, after I had finished my Q&A and after Poet Laureate Tom Cull and Ola Nowosad and Ron Stewart and Mykonos-owner Heidi all finished saying a few kind words about me, a lady from the audience, Robyn Marie Butt, who has been driving in from Woodstock for some time now to read at the open mic, got up and said, "...I'm one! I'm planning to move to London and actually it's entirely because of the atmosphere and the culture of this event!"
YEAH!! SUCCESS!! And much laughter and smiles and happiness and peace. And all the other good things that come in the end.
Feature Stan Burfield's last hurrah, as he retires as organizer
"In the beginning..." Playlist of videos from the June 7th, 2017 London Open Mic:
***feature Stan Burfield, introduced by Linda Burfield & Kevin Heslop, followed by tributes from Ola Nowosad, Tom Cull, Ron Stewart & Robyn Marie Butt.
***Open-mic readers Chris Mantle &
***Martin Hayter, reading his wonderful portrait: "Stan Burfield"
***Robyn Marie Butt
***Janice M. Christie McDonald
***Kevin Andrew Heslop (thanks, Kevin!)
See the complete SLIDE SHOW of the event.
The June 7th event featured poet and founder of London Open Mic Poetry, Stan Burfield. The night was a celebration of his vision, his journey and his poetry, as well as an opportunity for attendees to give thanks and appreciation for Stan’s years of tireless work in forming, building and maintaining London Open Mic.
Stan’s wife and devoted life partner, Linda, showed great courage considering her shyness by standing before the audience and opening the evening with many tales of Stan’s life, travels and adventures. Stan then took the stage and read several of his poems, along with details of the genesis and personal significance of each. The audience responded with a hearty and well-deserved standing ovation.
Stan had originally founded London Open Mic as a therapy for his own serious shyness. He created a place to read his poems to others, which was intended as the immediate source of therapy, but in the process of organizing the series, the required social interactions were what actually reduced his shyness to a tolerable level. In the process, over the five seasons, he created an institution and a community of poetry lovers.
Interview with Stan & 3 poems
Stan’s reading was followed by the evening’s open mic segment which featured an array of veteran and first-time readers.
This June 7th event was Stan Burfield’s last as organizer of London Open Mic Poetry, but he will return regularly in coming seasons to share his poetry as an open mic participant.
London Open Mic Poetry will take a summer break and start up again at Mykonos Restaurant, Wednesday, September 6, 2017 at 7:00p.m.
COMING: Videos of the featured reading and the open mic readers supplied by Sebastian Rydzewski: Please support Sebastian who volunteers all his work for the open mic and is looking for new business: www.customprojectslondon.com
Future seasons of London Open Mic Poetry will be led by two organizers: Mary Dowds and Kevin Heslop. They will be backed up by an organizing committee.
As co-organizers, Dowds and Heslop will each specialize in specific aspects of organizing, and will share others.
Mary Dowds will be responsible for most of the internet work and for keeping everything chugging forward as it should, making sure every aspect of the series takes place at its designated time. She has already carved out a very new job for herself as well, using her accurate reporting skills to write detailed summaries of the Q&As by the featured readers. Watch for her first one in her summary of Jason Dickson’s feature, to be posted shortly.
Kevin Heslop will put most of his energy into the community, into all the ways London Open Mic can promote poetry outside of its traditional venue. Of course, he will also continue to do what he is most known for, interviewing the featured poets.
Mary Dowds recently moved to London from Victoria, where she was involved in the local poetry scene. Luckily, she responded to our ad for help in carrying London Open Mic forward when current organizer/founder Stan Burfield retires this season. (June 7th at Mykonos Restaurant is his last event, at which he will also be the featured poet.)
From Mary’s bio: “Mary Dowds was previously a Court Reporter. Having written millions of other people's words, she now enjoys writing many of her own. Mary was also a live TV broadcast captioner "and always some kid's mom."
Kevin Heslop has been a member of London Open Mic’s organizing committee since near the beginning and has specialized in interviewing featured poets, researching them massively before posing his famously-appropriate questions. Within the organization, Kevin is known and highly valued for his ability to solve complex problems with finesse and subtlety. He also knows the community, not only the poetry community but also the institutions of the city and the proper ways of approaching them when trying to accomplish things. Kevin has been known to the public for his sometimes-astonishing poetry, but lately has been taking a break while he gets his acting career off the ground. He has just finished his third role on the stage, a starring role in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew at The Grand. See our review.
Kevin’s (earlier) bio: “Kevin Heslop is a twenty year old writer-in-the-making, currently attending Western University as an English major. He is heavily influenced by the poetry and prose of Charles Bukowski and Ernest Hemingway, the philosophical works of Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Neitzsche, the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso and the music of J.S. Bach and Miles Davis. When not reading or writing, Kevin is either playing the drums, drawing with an 8B pencil and/or feeling distressed about not writing.”
----Stan Burfield, fulfilling one of my last duties.
Help us keep videotaping our poets
Sebastian is volunteering his invaluable services videotaping our poets. Please help keep him with us. If you or anyone you know can use his videography or any other tech work he does, which is extensive and detailed in the video below, by all means contact him.
When Martin read this poem at London Open Mic (June 7th, 2017), it was intended as a tribute to me for founding the open mic and keeping it going these five seasons. But during that time Martin has come to know me so well--and is such a good poet--that listening to him read it was an astonishing experience for me, a bit like looking in a mirror, but much deeper, because what was being reflected wasn't the superficial me (which we introverts hardly notice anyway) but the inner me that I actually think of as myself. And it was so accurate! Here it is. --- Stan
Dreaming in science, he watches the brainwaves of REM sleep lining
the royal road to the subconscious, brighter with the logic filters off,
but from the eleventh floor balcony, he farms the nature of existence
in gardens of language, plowing through pages, his eyes lifting from
there to the sky, to gauge the rainfall, hoping for a harvest of poetry.
He shuffles through leaves, among the five pillars of wisdom reading
the trees, when his eyes stray to the discovery channel, where human
settlements line the tunnels of Mars, in computer-generated imagery.
Since his solitary pilgrimmages across Canada, exploring the foreign
parts of himself, since camping out rough in closed parks, wintering
in his own worst fear, and waiting for that wilderness inside to thaw,
still finding himself just shy of man, the dreaming scientist had found
instead the perrenial seeds of poetry, fielding memories into a prairie
with radiant horizons rushing out, taking him far from the farmhouse
his father built blind, to a tent and a book of poems read by flashlight.
And poetry became a kind of crop circle: he gathers people inside
the mystery of its existence, spiralling in its language, translating
the alien brought to earth, through poems tunneling, like black holes
filling with light: reasons here, for the readings on the event horizon,
and gradually shedding the husk of fear, he climbs storeys of stairs
to wonder again at the night sky, touching down in the dream state,
more accepting now of being, his apparent solidity, despite knowing
we're all just centres of gravity, where atoms constellate, with so much
space between, we could think ourselves alien, even unto ourselves
if we thought too obviously. Despite this, he hears what he listens to,
sees what he looks at, absorbs more of life now, keeping the ink wet
he once left drying in the distance, out of hearing of others who called
from so far away, he didn’t believe, and feared to believe, that they
were calling to him, until he circled back to claim his calling among us,
standing at the microphone, on the patio behind Mikonos, right here
the first Wednesday each month, for London Open Mic Poetry night:
his brainchild spoken for here. The farmer calls on the seasons of life
in generations of voices he announces by name, to a room in the world
his heart's made room for, marking his place in the leaves of grass.
No longer foreign on this mutual pilgrimmage to the podium, he reads
with humans he now stands among, paging the unknown, and moving
inward through prairies of poetry. Where we plant our feet can seem
a barren and solitary place of silence, but entering together, we bloom.
This is a photo of courage.
Linda didn’t have to introduce me at my featured reading at London Open Mic on June 7th, 2017. I didn’t ask her to. It wouldn’t even have occurred to me to ask her, as she’s very shy, and I knew how much stress it would have caused her. I tortured myself that way when I hosted the open mic in its first year, and it nearly killed me. And Linda is even shyer than I was then.
No, I was only thinking aloud one day about who I should ask and she suddenly stood in front of me, looked me in the eyes, and said, “I want to introduce you.” I was shocked. It had caused her enough stress these five seasons to man the book table at the back, something she didn’t have to do either. But she wanted to support me, and that was her way. She did get something out of it for herself, however: she got to know the regular open mic readers to some degree, and began to look forward to each event as if it were a big family she was part of. But standing up on a stage in front of a crowd of nearly fifty, reading five minutes of introduction! That was extremely stressful. She got through it though! I was very proud of her.
---Stan Burfield, founder and now-retired organizer of London Open Mic Poetry.
Read the interview & 3 poems
Don Gutteridge, who is currently Professor Emeritus at Western and was our Nov. 2016 featured poet, and who has over 20 volumes of poetry to his credit, sent me a letter last week as follows:
“Stan: When I read your biography about your upbringing in Alberta, your years in the flower shop, and your lifelong battle with shyness (and its torture), I was moved to write a little poem about your defiance and persistence and the role that poetry played.”
For Stan Burfield
For more than a dozen years
you were surrounded by blooms
in your shop, a long way
from Alberta’s unlyrical
land, and when you tried
your hand at verse, were
your first poems for poppies
and their roaring red, sonnets
for sunflowers a-burst
in lavish light, lyrics
for larkspur and their passionate
purple, or pentameters
for peonies and their kissing cousins?
Did you let them speak
for you, go soaring through the
petrified petal of your fear?
For poetry is both bliss
and consolation, a way of speaking
to the world that subsumes
both shy and defy.
And only one day earlier, Don had sent me this message:
“Stan: I went onto your facebook page and saw that beautiful poem there. Gorgeous imagery and wonderful pace. … Anyway, poetry begets poetry. I sat right down and penned the attached poem, inspired by yours. I am looking forward to hearing you read on the YouTube video of your performance.”
Whenever I think of death,
I take a deep breath
and congratulate myself
on being alive, ever
since that day
long ago when I wished
my way out of the womb and uttered
my first articulate cry
and wondered how many
had come before me
in humanity’s slow bloom
all the way back to the
great apes and their generous
genes and the dinosaurs who groomed
the ancient foliage of the Earth
and finally the fish-churned
sea where something
grew anew, a birth
with no antecedent,
a blip in God’s thought,
and here I am against
the odds still living,
waiting patiently for my turn.
This is the poem Mr. Gutteridge had read:
CONCERNING OUR GLORIOUS FUTURE
As I lift the spoon
from this morning’s coffee
I feel the same long pull of time
that my father did
that their parents did
a chain rattling down
into the well so far
I cannot imagine.
And up, out of that darkness
into this present,
all of it--
the slow ages of our reptilian forebears,
our fearful hominid ancestors,
the entire charging ascent of Man--
comes to a juddering halt
at this drop of coffee
We are stranded here
at the endpoint
of time, banging
on the ceiling.
Suffice it to say, I feel honoured. Thanks, Don!
Don has a new book of poetry out, Sands of Canatara, of which he is donating 19 copies to London Open Mic. If any of you who received one of his books from his feature reading would like one of these, gratis, email me and you can pick it up Wednesday. The remaining copies will be given away first-come first-served.
BIO: Don Gutteridge is the author of more than fifty books, including poetry, fiction and scholarly works in educational theory and practice. In 1972 he won the President’s Medal at The University of Western Ontario for his poem "Death At Quebec". Among his best-known poems are the mythic tetralogy: Riel: A Poem For Voices, Coppermine: The Quest For North, Borderlands, and Tecumseh. Gutteridge is best known across Canada for his historical fiction. He has also recently produced a series of mystery novels, The Marc Edwards Mysteries.
Don Gutteridge was born in Sarnia, Ontario in 1937, and was raised in the nearby village of Point Edward, Ontario. His high schooling took place in Sarnia and Chatham, Ontario. He attended the University of Western Ontario (UWO), where he graduated with a BA Honours in English in 1960. Gutteridge then taught high school English for seven years before joining the Faculty of Education at UWO in 1969. He is currently Professor Emeritus. He lives in London, Ontario with his wife Anne. He has two children, John and Kate, and six grandchildren.
Read our interview with Don Gutteridge, & three poems.
Read our interview with Stan Burfield, & three poems.