Interview & 3 Poems:
Our Nov. 2nd feature Don Gutteridge
London Open Mic Poetry is proud to host London’s most well-known member of the Canadian literary scene, Don Gutteridge. The Nov. 2nd London Open Mic will launch Gutteridge’s 20th book of poetry, "Inundations", published by Hidden Brook Press: Brighton, 2016.
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.
For My Brother Bob,
in Loving Memory
Now that you are gone
I think of all the questions
I meant to ask and never
did, and I stare at these
of our shared boyhood
immortalizing the memories
I must muster alone:
the way you hung upon
the words of my stories and brought
them alive in your eyes
that will not brighten again
at my preposterous plots
and characters carrying on –
now that you are gone.
(Guelph: February 1961)
That night the snow
fell as soft as rose
petals on a bride’s veil,
and we walked through the
brightening air, hand-
in-glove, our dreams aloft,
while flakes feathered your lashes
and left your eyes aglow,
as if the world were there,
without preamble, to welcome
lovers and their slow, passionate
THE VILLAGE WITHIN
We all have a village within,
a place where we go
when the world fails us,
the home-ground where every
face is familiar and child-
size, where the streets welcome
our walking and each house
is a variation of our own,
its idiosyncrasies known
and loved just for being
there from the beginning
when our eyes were
as wide as any horizon, when all
was new and unrehearsed:
O the tug of the town
that gave us birth is one
of the sweetest joys we know.
Inundations, your most recent collection of poems, seems by its title to address the excess of stimuli in the world right now. Was that your intention––and if so, why?––or are inundations for you of a more internal sort?
Inundations is about the inundation of memories that inspire the poems in Part One. As I grow older I return evermore to my childhood days in the village of Point Edward, which has taken in my mind almost a mythical quality. I do memory exercises in which I sit in my study and try to remember images, sounds and events from my past. They have been flowing for the past several books: The Way It Was, Tidings, Inundations and a forthcoming book, The Blue Flow Below.
The term “cartographer” appears in Tidings, is as a theme much expanded upon throughout A True History of Lambton County, and implies itself through “The Village Within”; and in an essay called “History as Public and Private Metaphor” (19..), we find: “Much as the sense of place does, the figures and events of our historical past become part of our psychological ground.” Too, we come across in “Teaching the Canadian Mythology” the phrase: “In a sense one can only know as much about one’s country as one knows about one’s self.”
Is there a way in which, for you, returning through Tidings to the land of your childhood had been a process of personal cartography? Does this sense of mapping psychic geography combine with, influence, foster, or compel your sense of myth making?
Yes, my journey back has the appeal of a personal cartography It is similar to my earlier mythmaking in which the stories of Riel and Maquinna and so on resonated with something personal as well as historical and the two got fused somehow. I have always cheered for the underdog and the historical figures that attracted me – Riel, Matonabee, Maquina and Tecumseh – were all underdogs, trying to survive and maintain their culture just as the poet strives to maintain a sense of his inner self. I still feel I am mythmaking, even though the recent poems are all personal, because the personal is projected onto the “mythical” village of Point Edward (of which I have written probably a hundred poems, starting with The Village Within back in the 60s.
Have you returned lately to any poems or works of fiction and, in doing so, noticed that their meaning has changed for you?
I rarely re-read any of my earlier works, afraid of what I might find.
A lot of your writing features a stark awareness of time, whether it be “Year by year / I sit / in the sun’s thinning / my age growing around / me…” in “Death at Quebec” or the deep meditation on time in Tidings, with poems like “Time Was” where you are aware of the time “whittling / down the days one / by one”, or “Memory” in which you acknowledge the failure of memories to be a substitute for the past, and “An Odd Thought” in which you strikingly state “I am now an old man”. You also explore, manipulate, and re-create time in your works like Borderlands, Tecumseh, and The Village Within. The back cover of Tidings credits you with a “balance between nostalgia and ironic distance,” and, since you outline the sorts of things which time has taken away from you by recollecting or reiterating memories in your poems, I wonder, what has time given you? With both nostalgia and an ironic distance, how do you view the earlier trajectory of your work?
My early work was all about objectifying my own thoughts and feeling onto historical figures, which back then was really, in part, attempting to fill the fairly unoccupied space of Canadian Literature in general (There wasn’t very much until the 1960s: the landscape, both literally and metaphorically was barren. It took Atwood, Birney, Purdy, Munro and others to start filling in the spaces, and I was very much influenced by these pioneers and hoped to be among them. (My comment about ironic distance on the blurb of Tidings was a bit misleading: I feel passionately about my village characters and events but try to avoid sentimental nostalgia. That’s all I meant. Irony is a bit too strong. Time gives you both perspective and the past – yours to mine as you wish.
Referring to Riel: Poem for Voices, you write that, “the poem took its own final shape––which turned out to be quite different from what I had initially envisaged.”
And, elsewhere, “The words are the poet’s, but they belong to others as well, as they mean in ways beyond his control.”
Does the arc or final form of your fictional works often surprise you? And do you, as a poet, ever feel a responsibility to attribute part of your work––its inspiration, direction, or conclusion––to “the Muses?”
Yes, the final draft of a work of fiction or a poem is always a surprise. Writers work incrementally, phase by phrase or chapter by chapter, each new set of words setting off a fresh range of possibility and some inner sense (all poets have this) that somewhere/sometime a final fully shaped entity will emerge. It is still a mysterious process to me after some 1500 poems. I write a single phrase, and soon further possibilities emerge (influenced in my later lyrics by rhyme and consonance and the drive to make something whole and complete.
Is the experience of writing poetry different now from what it was when you were in your twenties, thirties, forties, fifties? If so, in what way(s) is that process different today?
Today I write short personal lyrics, driven by sound and sense. In my early work I looked outside myself to historical figures whose stories resonated with something in me. In my middle period I experimented with documentary material and found poems (excerpts from newspapers, journals and so on). Now I write only brief personal lyrics about both the past and my present life as a father and grandfather and a handful of poems about the creative writing process itself.
In many of your poems you speak with an authority through your characters, specifically Riel and Maquina. You particularly make claims about the Metis culture, masculinity, and the passing down of knowledge and tradition from earlier generations. Ex. “Riel: Walking (Pembina 1858)”:
They were walking as a Metis always walked
Because a man could feel the Mother Earth through the palms
Of his feet, and know the firmness of her flesh
And the great unturning heart at the centre of her,
Were walking because walking told in every stride
Of man’s moving over the earth in a passing as brief
As a footprint, and because a Metis found
In walking a togetherness of spirit,
Of flesh knowing the same earth at the same turning
Of the sun or the season, and a man moving
Was like the wind’s loving of the deep grasses,
And did not stand like the rocks and die with stillness
In the bones, and because walking made spring
Out of muscle and limb, and a man could feel
His body lean as a willow in its long greenness,
And because there was joy in a Metis walking
With himself or his brother. These things had been told
To him by his elders, and he had felt them.
And “Riel: Last Stand” (19) ends with “Because they were a people, and because they knew / what it was to be a man, and make one’s choice, / and stand.”
In Borderlands, you make use of real historical figures and include brief descriptions of their histories in the introduction. What was your process in researching these cultural and historical pieces, and how did you work to reconcile the knowledge that you accumulated with your poetic voice? Were there conflicts and/or discrepancies between fact and fiction? Did you find that you had a lot of room for your own creation of myth within history?
My use of material outside the poetry grew out of my wide reading in historical documents and old newspapers and journals. When I went looking for “found” material to resonate with parts of a longer work I simply read until I could say “Aha!”, this would help to reflect the themes of the longer poem I was working on. I simply developed a sixth sense of what would fit into the poetry and enhance the overall meaning. When a documentary piece is fitted into a longer poem, it becomes not only an integral part of the overall meaning of the work but is transformed by its context into a “poem” itself.
Has your relationship to ambiguity, mystery, or contradiction in poems changed over the course of your years?
My early narratives were straightforward, highly rhetorical with dramatized “voices”. My recent lyrical phase has made my work more subtle land at time ambiguous. In the short lyric there is more word-play, and in my poems about Eden there is an ironic tone.
In response to the unlikelihood of your fearfully returning to read earlier of your works, I’ll just offer that I was recently chastened by the image of a writer chasing her published work like tattoos about the body, the next driven by the desire to distract from the previous.
Do you identify with this sense of functional distancing with regard to your early work? As a fair portion of those who will encounter this interview are largely, so to speak, un-inked, have you any words of advice regarding the pen and its early consequences?
I feel distant from my early works, written forty years ago and in a different style. They are mostly longer-line verse while my current lyrics are all three-beat lines (with a variety of rhythms) Ironically, my lyrics still maintain the narrative spirit, as most of them are a single, continuous sentence with a strong close-out.
In what proportion do you feel your work is guided transcription as opposed to generation?
If I had to choose I’d say generation. I write quickly and usually revise the same day. My novels were all written quickly as well, with a first draft taking up to four weeks. (Further drafts are of course much slower and rigorous)
Are there in the Canadian literary landscape elements whose development has surprised you?
Yes, I am surprised that much modern poetry has become obscure and difficult. My recent work is out of fashion with its use of internal rhyme, consonance and strong rhythm. I find much contemporary verse rhythmically flat and toneless, although still strong on imagery and voicing.
As a writer it is nearly impossible to extract oneself from one’s work, and in your poetry there are traces of yourself in the histories of place and memories--whether it be in Point Edward or in the thoughts and feelings of your historical characters. You mentioned the poet’s endeavour to maintain one’s inner self—do the poems themselves function as safekeeping for your thoughts, emotions, and memories?
Yes, the poems are a place of safekeeping for memories, thoughts and emotions. They also serve to trace my inner development as a human being: father, grandfather, custodian of the family and historical memory.
You mentioned your sixth sense of using ‘found’ material, particularly in your earlier writing, and how a documentary piece can be transformed by its context into a poem. In your opinion, where are the best places to look for ‘found’ material, or material that melds well into poetry?
To find found material I search the library for old newpapers and secondly for books that can act as companion pieces to the poetry as it develops. For example, I read biographies of Riel, Matonabee (Samuel Hearne’s journal), Maquinna and Tecumseh and historical materials written about them.
Does the mythical quality of Point Edward hinder or enhance the personal memories that you draw from it?
I’ve created a Point Edward in my memory and given it a mythical quality (as every-village). And such a creation enhances my own memories about the town.
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. The terrace is open to the parking lot behind. Overflow parking is available across the side street and in the large lot one block north, in front of Trad’s Furniture.
THE FEATURED POET: Don Gutteridge opens the event with a reading that begins 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.
Couplets Episode 6:
Madeline Bassnett & Kevin Shaw
Friday, Sept. 28th, 7:30 – 8:30pm @ 211 King St. (2nd floor)
Madeline Bassnett is the author of two chapbooks: Elegies (Frog Hollow, 2011) and Pilgrimage (Baseline, 2016). Her poems have appeared in journals such as Grain, The New Quarterly, Riddle Fence, The Fiddlehead, and The Malahat Review. She teaches English and Creative Writing at Western University.
“Bassnett’s most significant accomplishment in this collection is her technical mastery of the interplay between syntax, line, and stanza. …[H]er sentences both weave across line breaks and stretch over stanza breaks to create complex patterns of tension and resolution. …[I]t’s like watching a close tennis match, though one with perhaps more at stake. …Elegies is characterized by a technical virtuosity that allows the poems to carry the reverberations of loss that echo through a person’s quotidian existence. They alert us to the unexpected resonances that crop up in the wake of a loved one’s passing.” —Sue Sinclair, The Fiddlehead
Bassnett was the featured reader at the London Open Mic Poetry Night on October 7th, 2015. Visit the London Open Mic Poetry website to read an interview with Bassnett and three of her poems from Elegies. (Credit for Bassnett’s author photo, below, goes to Debra Franke.)
Kevin Shaw is from London, ON. His poems and nonfiction have recently appeared, or are forthcoming, in Contemporary Verse 2, Grain, The Fiddlehead, and The New Quarterly. His essays have been nominated for the CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize (twice) and the Event Nonfiction Contest. He won Arc Poetry Magazine‘s 2015 Poem of the Year award and the 2016 PRISM InternationalPoetry Contest. He’s currently a PhD candidate in English at Western University, where he researches censorship law and queer poetics in English-Canadian writing.
Shaw’s PRISM Poetry Contest-winning “The Flood of ’37” (pictured above) appears in PRISM 54:4.
OCT. 5TH LONDON OPEN MIC: DAVID HUEBERT AND OPEN MIC POETS
VIDEOS: THE FEATURE AND OPEN MIC READERS
Slide show of the event
Season five of London Open Mic Poetry kicked off Oct. 5th 2016 with a lively reading by featured poet David Huebert, who has developed a following from his numerous previous readings at the open mic.
Huebert, who is currently working on his PhD in English at Western University, was introduced by Andy Verboom, organizer of the popular Couplets reading series. Verboom raved about Huebert’s creativity, but, in particular, expressed admiration for his very strong work ethic, in all genres of writing. That combination earned Huebert the 2016 CBC Short Story Prize for his story, "Enigma". He read from his first collection of poems, We Are No Longer The Smart Kids In Class-- Guernica Editions, 2015, as well as his coming collection, Alkaline Purr, and threw in some prose for good measure.
Check out our excellent interview with Huebert, as well as a sampling of his poetry.
When the questions from the audience finally ran out of steam, London Open Mic organizer Stan Burfield made some announcements, including, to murmurs from the room, that this will be his last season and that so far no one has stepped forward to replace him. He asked everyone to consider it themselves, or to pass the volunteer job opening on to anyone who might be interested. As well, he said that this fifth season will be the season in which his Sidewalk Poetry idea will be proposed to London Arts Council (LAC). The idea, which he has been stewing over for a couple years (of the city stamping poems in fresh sidewalk concrete when repairs are made), is now being researched in detail by three 3rd-year students of Western’s English prof Manina Jones. They will present it to LAC before the current school semester ends.
The evening’s open mic section, hosted by psychotherapist/novelist/screenwriter Joan Clayton in her usual sparkling fashion, included a mini-launch of Harmonia Press’ anthology Another London, a collection of poetry about London by London poets. Many of the poets included in the anthology were on hand to read their selections, including Harmonia Press’ publishers/editors Andreas Gripp and Carrie Lee Connel. Other poets rounded out the open mic of eighteen readers before an audience of thirty eight.
Help us keep 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.
Starting at noon on Saturday, Nov. 5th, 2016, volunteers of the Words Literary Festival will take to the streets of downtown London for "Guerrilla Poetry." Participants will travel in groups and take turns reciting poems aloud to listeners and passersby. The poems will range from world classics to the participants' own work. Our guerrilla poets will also provide information on other exciting events in the Words Literary Festival lineup.
This event is organized by London Open Mic Poetry, Poetry London and The Public Humanities at Western.
CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS
Do you want to fill downtown London with the poetry you love? We are looking for volunteers for "Guerrilla Poetry" on Saturday, November 5th. During the event, you will travel in a team of four readers-reciters to a designated space in downtown London. Once there, members of your group will take turns reciting poetry to the public. The event will also give you the opportunity to promote the Words Literary Festival by handing out promotional materials. You can perform any poetry you like, from classic works to your own creations! Contact us now to volunteer and join our growing group of guerrilla poets.
To register for a spot in our growing squad, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
LONDON OPEN MIC’S NEW GUERRILLA POETRY ORGANIZER
Jaime R. Brenes Reyes is London Open Mic’s new organizer of guerrilla poetry. His first task is to co-ordinate the guerrilla poetry event for the Words Literary and Creative Arts Festival, Nov. 5th. Subsequent to that, Jaime will spring other guerrilla poetry events on London.
Originally from Nicaragua, Jaime R. Brenes Reyes is a student in Comparative Literature where he tries to explore the intricacies of fantastic literature. Jaime appreciates the force of words to express emotions and feelings that in many instances escape the realm of language. Reciting and reading poetry is one of his main life passions as well as staring at the Moon.
NEW IDEA: A BASIC POETICS STUDY GROUP
I'm fishing for potential here. Please tell me what you think.
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.
If there's enough interest, we'll definitely start this thing.
Express yourself here, but especially send me an email so I can put you on the invite list: email@example.com
Thanks, Stan Burfield
THIS WILL BE THE SEASON OF SIDEWALK POETRY
Those of you who have watched the stop-and-start progression of the idea of sidewalk poetry for the last couple years may be relieved to know that during this 5th season of London Open Mic Poetry there will be four people working on it, so that now I can guarantee that the idea is definitely going to be refined, thoroughly researched, a proper proposal written and then, finally, the submission made to the London Arts Council (LAC).
Three energetic young students of Manina Jones' third-year class at Western, "Canadian Literature, Creativity and the Local", have volunteered to pour themselves into the project as part of their class work, and because they are very enthusiastic about the idea.
For those of you unfamiliar with it, the idea is to get the city to stamp poems into the city's sidewalks as they are being repaired with new cement. An annual city-wide contest would decide on a few poems to be made into stamps each year for all that year's repairs. The poems would then be pinpointed on a map on the city's website. Citizens could use it to chart a route between poems, for a foot, bicycle or car adventure. My own motivating fantasy is that a child on the way to the bus or school would step over and look at a poem every day, and, as the years passed and as the child's mind developed, it would gain new insights into the deeper meanings in the poem, which would then become a part of the person's entire life, and poetry would become one of the pleasures of the grown adult.
The three students working on the project are (in alph. order) Jennifer Ball, Leizel Rafanan, and Noelle Schmidt.
We will keep you informed of progress, and hopefully keep you excited about the project. Let's face it; the more support we have, the more likely it will be that the city goes for it too.
Photo: This is one of over 700 impressions of nearly 50 poems in the sidewalks of St. Paul, Minnesota, the first city to institute this idea, and, as far as we know, the only one. During their first year, 2008, over 2,000 submissions were made!
Fifth Season (last season with Stan Burfield as organizer):
Oct. 5th, 2016: David Huebert
Nov. 2nd, 2016: Don Gutteridge book launch
Dec. 7th, 2016: David Stones, Stratford
Feb. 1st, 2017: Ron Stewart
Mar. 1st, 2017: Andy Verboom
Apr. 5th, 2017: James Deahl & Norma Linder
May, 2017: Jason Dickson
June, 2017: Stan Burfield