June 7th feature Stan Burfield: Interview & 3 poems
The featured poet at the June 7th, 2017 London Open Mic will be the organization’s founder and organizer Stan Burfield. The June event is the last of his tenure, the culmination of five seasons of work. He will be passing the torch to co-organizers Mary Dowds and Kevin Heslop. Before his featured reading, he will be introduced by his wife Linda.
I was raised on a small farm in central Alberta. My first ambition, a very serious one, was to live alone in a log cabin as a trapper. That changed to farmer, then biologist, then journalist, then florist.
In Calgary, I studied biology, then journalism. Amongst numerous more-nondescript jobs, I was for two years a reporter.
Then, over a four-year period, I went on some extremely long, arduous adventures by foot, canoe and bicycle, hoping they would break me out of my life-long shyness and anxiety. No such luck. So, having read that poetry was a possible route into the subconscious, which I assumed was the home of my anxiety, I took a poetry anthology out into a closed provincial park near St. John’s, Newfoundland. For a month and a half, I read, wrote and memorized poetry until it floated across the sky in my dreams. But it did nothing for my anxiety.
In 1987, I married Linda, a flower designer, and we opened and ran a flower shop in Vancouver for nineteen years.
When we sold the shop and semi-retired, we moved to London, Ontario in 2008 to be near our children and grandchildren.
With more time on my hands, I revved up my poetry writing, and, as a form of shyness therapy, began attending Ron Stewart's excellent poetry workshop. When I got used to that, the next logical step in the direction of my fear was to find a place to read to an audience. Since there was no open mic for regular “page poets” in London then, I decided I would have to organize one. In doing so, the constant social contacts that were necessary turned out to be just the therapy I needed. The stress nearly killed me but I eventually got used to it, and by the fifth season had lost most of my shyness. After 62 years, I felt like I was stepping through a door into a completely new life.
In the process, my ability to write decent poetry has dramatically improved. And I have a place to read it!
• The 2014 Ted Plantos Memorial Award from The Ontario Poetry Society.
• 2nd Prize in the 2014 Poetry London Poetry Contest
At the bottom I start again
lift myself, glance up.
And try to peel away
all those things I've always known--
the objects, their dryness, their hold,
even touch those
old splashed years--
some other life.
But now I've decided it's
next foot above the last--
sadness, now relief--
my muscles, my joints, my eyes open,
my own solid walls moving past.
An important component of London’s literary arts scene, the Open Mic has provided a platform for poets “up on our soap boxes / dropping loud words / down into the block.”
Riff, if you would, on how your experience as a poet in and citizen of London has been affected by your tenure as the Open Mic’s organizer. What did you set out to achieve by establishing this series? Why do you think it has been successful?
It’s all been very interesting, to say the least. From both the personal angle and the community angle. A big discovery was that in going in the one direction I necessarily went in the other simultaneously. My main concern at the beginning was personal, to try to solve my serious shyness. The idea was that reading my poems in public, a very scary proposition, would be a form of therapy. Since there was no such place for page poets in London, I had to create one, and it turned out that the social work of creating the community I needed was exactly what it took to demonstrate to my subconscious that it didn’t have to be so afraid of people. It worked amazingly well for me. And I think some of my fellow poets here in London are getting a similar benefit, to some degree, from the open mic, both from reading at it and from being a member of the community.
Another reason the open mic has been a success is simply that it gives poets a goal. If they’re writing only for their own pleasure and nobody else’s, chances are their motivation will peter out at some point. And if they send to journals, that long wait can be frustrating. But giving themselves a simple, immediate goal like reading a new poem at the open mic can supply for some people the impetus they need to work on those poems. And thus to read and maybe study. As with me. Over these five years, I’ve read a lot more poetry than I ever would have otherwise, some of it written by the poets I’ve featured. In the process, I’ve learned a lot, and my poetry has improved tremendously.
Another thing: London Open Mic provides one more big poetry event in the city (actually more than one), which is one more reason 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, and once they’re into the idea because so many other people are the poetry itself will take over. It only needs to get its toe in. Ever since the beginning of the open mic, my idea of real success was seeing people move to London because of the poetry scene here. Well, I don’t know if that’s happened yet, but I expect to hear about that person any time now.
“Staircase--eleven floors” metaphorizes the narrator’s climb of an apartment-complex staircase and the poet’s encounter with the blank page: “At the bottom I start again // lift myself, glance up. / And try to peel away / all those things I’ve always known....”
What, if anything, does writing (or reading) a poem promise or afford you––escape, respite, ascension?
For me, poetry does give a bit of respite from anxiety. The creative act enforces a temporary calm. Which is wonderful. But in another sense, poetry is just the opposite of respite and escape. Reading it brings me out of myself into someone else’s reality, into their outlook, their inner being. In doing so, it gives me one little revelation after another. I’m continually shocked to see how different we are from each other and thus to see how immense is the subjective world we all live in. And that I could be living in. … You mention ascension. Yes, I guess you could say that following all the little revelations is a process of mind expansion, as we hippies used to call it, and so could be seen as a sort of ascension. But let’s face it, we’re all here together on the face of the earth. There are no super-wonderful poets up there floating around above the rest of us.
Writing poetry for me is an even more wonderful experience than reading it. The creative act focuses my mind, which, for someone with ADD, is the opposite of my norm and so is like an orgasm in its intensity. In writing some of my better poems, I create my own revelations, pulling many things together that previously hadn’t been connected. Not random things, but pieces of reality that really are part of a larger whole. To me that’s one of the astonishing possibilities that writing a poem allows, and which seldom happens elsewhere.
I’ve also used writing poetry as a tool in helping to connect my conscious mind to my unconscious mind. That isn’t as difficult as it sounds. Sometimes, wanting to do it strongly enough is all it takes to make it happen. The conscious and unconscious sources of words and thoughts can become so blended that it’s impossible to tell which are conscious products and which unconscious. Most poets have experienced this without even trying. After the writing, a lot can be learned just from analyzing the poem, as if someone else had written it. By the way, two seemingly different aspects of human life are heavy with metaphor: poetry and dreams. When your subconscious mind helps you write a poem, it’s actually your dreaming self you’re working with. In the daytime.
Two more poems and the rest of the interview.
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: June 7th, 2017. Poetry begins at 7 pm. Come anytime before that and place your order.
THE FEATURED POET: Stan Burfield 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.
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.
Fifth season (last season with Stan Burfield as organizer):
June 7th, 2017: Stan Burfield
Sixth season (to be posted)
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.
Jason Dickson tossed some serious giggles on the May 3rd fire.
The May 3rd London Open Mic featured poet, author and bookseller Jason Dickson, who was introduced by friend and fellow poet Andy Verboom. Verboom posed the most-asked question in London: “Who the hell is Jason Dickson?” It turns out that Dickson, known also by the alias Old Man Book, is co-owner of Brown & Dickson Antiquarian Books in London, has had his work published in various magazine publications as well as three solo titles published by BookThug, and is a strong supporter of the London literary and arts scene.
Dickson kicked off the evening by explaining that what he wants to inspire in his readers are three things: anticipation, apprehension and terror. He then read a spooky selection from his work-in-progress The Demon Book, and followed up with some locally-flavoured morsels published in his book Clearance. A robust and informative Q&A provided biographical context as well as insight into what motivates and inspires this creative London-based poet. Questions posed by members of the rapt audience inspired Dickson to reveal the following:
A sample of Dickson’s poetry as well as our interview
Watch the video of Jason’s reading
Jason Dickson’s reading was followed by the evening’s open mic segment which featured an array of veteran and first-time readers and touched on subjects from swimming pigs to bubble baths to the simplicity and beauty of breath.
This May 3rd event was Stan Burfield’s last as host. Next month, he will be the London Open Mic featured poet. We look forward to celebrating Stan and giving thanks for his vision and tireless efforts in creating and building London Open Mic Poetry.