Interview: Andy Verboom, our Mar. 1st feature
London Open Mic's March 1st feature Andy Verboom is from subrural Nova Scotia and currently lives in London, ON, where he organizes Couplets, a collaborative poetry reading series, and edits Word Hoard, a journal of creative and academic dialogues. His poetry has won the Descant/Winston Collins Prize for Best Canadian Poem, has been shortlisted for Arc’s Poem of the Year, and has recently appeared in Vallum, The Puritan, Arc Poetry Magazine, Contemporary Verse 2, and BafterC. He is the author of Tower (Anstruther Press, 2016) and co-author (with David Huebert) of Full Mondegreens, a winner of the Frog Hollow Press Chapbook Contest (2016).
after PK Page, Leonard Cohen, John Keats, Thomas Bruce, Earl of Elgin
“Here’s the problem with eternity:
guerrilla ranks of starlight taunt us
a lonely ragged column on a forced march
our umbilical slashed
clinking, tumbling onward, bones
shaken from a burlap sack, weeping
this will never end, weeping it will.”
The doctor takes my pulse in shirtsleeves
his eyes bruised. There was a vigil to keep.
During the day I laugh and during the night I sleep
—I have no quarrel with eternity--
but he receives me in his attic
fingers the melon readiness of my gut
and says, friend, there is something wrong.
A batty priest through a parthenon
he patrols his stacks of paper, tweaks wheels
on a telescope. On a bank of the Weser
on a bench, lunch in lap, I vomit blood.
The reddest waterclock peals.
My favourite cooks prepare my meals
but my stomach has declared its sovereignty.
The Weser courses on unconcerned
for the whole day, for its last ten long miles.
Peeking at my blood-flecked shoes
I think did it not run into the sea
it wouldn’t run, just sit, an arctic shelf.
In the mornings, I leap from my bed
a Lazarite. Life pinches like new boots
as if I come at night, become an elf,
my body cleans and repairs itself.
The doctor takes my pulse in shirtsleeves.
He is an old doe, shuffling through white trees.
He salaams at an eyeglass and is a moth
drinking nighttime through his proboscis.
My body, he says, is a broken planet.
I grin oceanic. I heave and swell
ambergris, fields of the North Sea.
“Once things stop happening, once all verbs
become be. Then are we indissoluble
and all my work goes well.”
I wonder if you’d offer a few words about the importance of surprise (and, relatedly, of humour), and of the subversion of readers’ expectations, of syntax, of logic––Martin Amis has characterized writing as a “war against cliché”; Keats had it that “We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us”.––which consistently and delightfully appears throughout your work.
I guess I’m a good Keatsian and a bad Amisian.
If I’m not surprised by a poem as I write it and then again after I’ve written it—if my palpable design upon it is actually achieved—I’m bound to hate it. I see this as a useful kind of self-loathing. Poetry, especially your own poetry, should surprise you so deeply and consistently that you keep suspecting you’re on the wrong side of history.
That said, I often feel like I’m moderating peace talks between surprise and convention. It’s an open secret that my personal sympathies lie with surprise, but I’m always asking it to demobilize, to stand down, to rein it in a bit for the sake of readability. Insofar as clichés are calcified idioms, and idioms are extensions of linguistic convention, and such conventions are the basis of mutual intelligibility, cliché can’t possibly be the enemy of surprise. Surprise needs to be reconcilable with understanding. You can’t be surprised by someone’s turn of phrase if that person is speaking an entirely private language.
Humour, I think, is a prime example of balance between surprise and cliché. The content of every joke is based on a kind of surprise (tension, incongruity, incompatibility), but every joke structure has been told countless times. You can see how humour works toward understanding when you attend a good poetry reading: each punch line (and the audience laughter that marks it as a punch line) confirms your understanding of (at least that part of) the poem.
How do you mean “on the wrong side of history”?
I mean a poem should reorient your senses—maybe just a nudge, maybe radically— such that you encounter your own assumptions as obstacles to… something… and are impelled to unassume them. This is poetry as catalyst for retroactive self-assessment, self-doubt, self-critique, etc., as occasion for staging your own miniature, internal judgment day. Maybe I should have said “…you keep suspecting you’ve been on the wrong side of history,” but that implies mere encounter with an artwork is enough to substantively change a person, that mere encounter marks a temporal break between the not-as-good pre-encounter self and the cultured-and-so-bettered post-encounter self. Change is a laborious process not an event, and that labour is the responsibility of the person not the artwork.
I wonder whether the value of humour in a poetry reading as you describe it has something to do with how a punch line makes a group cohere or signals a group’s unification––everyone in that group gets the joke and therefore shares a language––and whether you think ideal poetry therefore might be thought of as a community-forming mechanism, a coagulant?
I wouldn’t collapse language into community, comprehension into belonging. You can (and should be able to) understand someone’s position and completely disagree with or be actively oppositional toward it. Two people can laugh at the same joke for slightly or dramatically different reasons. Anyway, with regard to community, I’ll say again that poetry is a catalyst or occasion: the labour of community building—or of community splintering—is the responsibility of people not of artworks.
See the full interview and 2 more poems.
WHERE: Mykonos Restaurant at 572 Adelaide St. North, London, Ontario. The restaurant has a large, covered terrace just behind the main restaurant, which comfortably holds 60 poetry lovers. Mediterranean food and drinks are available. Overflow parking is available across the side street and in the large lot one block north, in front of Trad’s Furniture.
WHEN: March 1st, 2017. Poetry begins at 7 pm. Come anytime before that and place your order.
THE FEATURED POET: Andy Verboom opens the event at 7:00, followed by a Q&A.
OPEN MIC: Following the featured poet, 15 open mic poets will read until 9:30 at the latest, with an intermission at about 8:00. Each poet has five minutes (which is about two good pages of poetry, but it should be timed at home). Sign up on the reader`s list, which is on the book table at the back. It's first come, first served.
COVER: Pay What You Can (in jar on back table, or use Donate Button on website Donate Page). Donations are our only source of income to cover expenses.
RAFFLE PRIZES: Anyone who donates at the event receives a ticket for a raffle prize, three of which will be picked after the intermission. The prizes consist of poetry books donated by The Ontario Poetry Society.
JOIN OUR NEW POETRY WORKSHOP
London Open Mic is opening to the public a new poetry workshop. The March 8th workshop is modelled after, and in honour of, the workshops pioneered in London by veteran facilitator Ron Stewart.
Each participant will bring copies of their poem, which will be read silently by everyone, then read aloud by the poet, then critiqued, first in terms of what people like about the poem, then in terms of ideas for possible improvement.
Participants aren’t required to bring a poem but can nevertheless join in the critiquing.
A maximum of six poems can be critiqued in the time allowed per session. From experience, twenty minutes allows us to get into each poem in depth. To accommodate more people, we are going to use a sign-up sheet. Everyone will sign up as they arrive and the first six will go first. Those who don’t make the cut will automatically be at the top of the sheet for the next month. If so many people come that even the sign-up sheet technique isn’t going to work, then we will start a second, Saturday workshop. The names left over from the first workshop will be at the top of the Saturday list, and then again at the next Wednesday list. If it’s no-show by then, they will be dropped.
Beginning March 8th, it will be held every second Wednesday at Landon Branch Library in London’s Wortley Village, in the downstairs room at the far end of the hall. If you would like to attend, bring ten copies of your poem (max. length, one page.)
Further info: firstname.lastname@example.org
After many delays, A BASIC POETICS STUDY GROUP is about to take off:
First proposed in Sept. 2016, it was delayed due to health problems and time constraints, but is now about ready for the green light.
Those who were enthusiastic about goinging the group at the begainning and gave me their names, you will be contacted soon.
1. This group would be mainly for poets (and poetry lovers) with little formal education in poetry. As for example, yours truly.
2. Because poetry is like chess in that a person can become endlessly more proficient at it (because of its ancient lineage and because bright people have been studying it and writing and teaching about it for nearly that whole time), there is a God-awful lot to learn. Thus the world of poets can be divided into two groups: those with a formal university education specializing to some degree in poetry, and those without one.
3. The group's professors would be the group members themselves. Each would pick a topic from the world of poetics, research it, and present it, discuss it, show examples of it in poems, and generally get the group thinking about how, why, and when to apply it, and what happens if it's not applied, and so on. In other words, by the end of each session, everyone should have a new tool at their disposal to help them enrich their poetry. (And to help them read others' poetry.)
4. Topics would include especially the aspects of poetics most commonly employed in contemporary poetry, but not limited to them. Some examples: the major aspects of poetry, including lines, syntax, diction, trope, rhetoric, rhythm, meter, stanza and then some of the zillion sub-categories like enjambment, stress, scansion, allusion, imagism, metaphor, free verse, feeling, metonymy, allusion, abstraction, how to read a poem, etc etc.
Send me an email so I can put you on the invite list: email@example.com
Thanks, Stan Burfield
Photos from the Feb. 1st London Open Mic
Fifth Season (last season with Stan Burfield as organizer):
Mar. 1st, 2017: Andy Verboom
Apr. 5th, 2017: James Deahl & Norma Linder
May, 2017: Jason Dickson
June, 2017: Stan Burfield
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.