London Open Mic Poetry was proud to host two of Southwest Ontario's poetry legends, Sarnia-based poets Norma West Linder and James Deahl, at our National Poetry Month reading on April 5th.
James and Norma were introduced by fellow Sarnia poet Debbie Okun Hill, who was featured at London Open Mic in its third season (of five so far).
Following the readings, James and Norma fielded questions about their work and their lives, including their long marriage and what prompted them to begin writing poetry:
Norma: I started writing poetry in the 70s when I was conducting weekly creative writing classes at Lambton College where I taught English. I wanted to cover all aspects of writing, so I gave my students an assignment to write a sonnet. Unwilling to ask them to do something I wouldn't do, I wrote a sonnet myself.
James: I started writing when I was 8 or 9 years old. I had been greatly impressed by the work of Robert Louis Stevenson and thought I could do likewise. Easier said than done! About that time I also discovered the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe.
James Deahl was asked about People’s Poetry, which he has supported and promoted all his life of poetry. He response was one of regret and disappointment. From our interview with him:
“In general, people’s culture has been based on two key concepts:
1. That progress can be clearly seen in the human universe. In terms of social physics, this means that society moves from disorder to order.
Thus, society improves, becomes more fair and less governed by social Darwinism.
2. That humanity is perfectible within history. That is, humans play a (if not the) major role in personal and collective salvation.
It therefore follows that:
3. People’s culture promotes peace, equality, and human goodness.
4. People’s culture opposes racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination.
5. People’s culture opposes classism. It is art made for the people, not the elite.
6. People’s culture works to preserve the natural and human environment.
6 a. People’s poetry includes almost all nature poetry.
6 b. People’s poetry can also be a very urban poetry.
In practice, people’s culture tends to:
7. Be committed to Modernist concepts while retaining key Romantic ideals;
8. Support Socialist / Social Democratic political movements;
9. Oppose large-scale Capitalism and the “business culture”;
10. Encourage all people to participate in building their culture.
“The enemy, if you will, of People’s Culture (poetry, prose, theatre, art, and music) is Post-modernism. Strange as it may seem, while most Canadian poets claim to be working within the People’s Poetry tradition, they are not. Most poetry today is either Confessional or Post-modern. Few will admit to it, though.”
On a lighter note, his bio had included something culled from other sources: “Deahl is best know for his 1987 collaboration with Milton Acorn, A Stand of Jackpine.” When asked about this in the Q&A, James expressed surprised that he is known for this, but was happy to talk about it. James explained that his friend Milton Acorn created a form he called the Jackpine sonnet. James Deahl enjoyed the form as well, and at the time became known as a writer of Jackpine sonnets. Here is Acorn's beautiful description of what he envisioned a Jackpine sonnet to be: http://www.geist.com/contests/jackpine-sonnet-contest/jackpine-sonnet-campaign/
"Unlike other conifers it grows at opportunity, having no set form. Thus with its solid-looking needle-foliage, it makes all sorts of evocative shapes.
If it looks like nothing on Earth - not even a Jackpine. It must be a Jackpine . . . Or a Canadian."
"The Jackpine is resilient. It has a basic form, yes, but grows to any shape that suits the light, suits the winds, suits itself." --Milton Acorn
Read: James Deahl & Norma West Linder -Full INTERVIEW & POEMS
Reading this, it occurred to me that a Jackpine (and the Jackpine Sonnet) in many ways shares the characteristics of our series, London Open Mic! It follows no fixed rules; rather, it flows and morphs and is shaped by its environment and the environmental forces and energies with which it interacts. It's all about flow! London Open Mic is so much like that.
After brief announcements and a short intermission, the first open mic session of Spring 2017 commenced. Spring, of course, is a time of new beginnings and this open mic session mirrored that, with a number of first-timers in attendance, some sharing poems at the mic. Wind and torrential spring rain pounded the canvas terrace roof occasionally while the venue filled with supportive warmth and camaraderie, welcoming the newcomers, their youthful energy and (re)generative spark. Through years of hard work and dedication, Stan Burfield has created and built London's open mic institution, which is now in a time of transition. The evening's open mic session suggests that as he retires, Stan leaves us with an entity that is thriving, growing and filled with so much life.
--Mary Dowds, LOMP Internet Manager.
See the slide show