Or maybe you know someone else who could?
|London Open Mic Poetry Archive||
Normally Kenny Khoo does our videos, but it turns out he will be away on a business trip this time. If you have a camera that can do videos, with hopefully a small tripod to hold it still, would you do us a huge favour and volunteer your services?
Or maybe you know someone else who could?
#PoetryLab, a different and wonderful kind of poetry reading, was held at the London Museum on Oct. 26th, the last day of "Words", London's Inaugural Literary Arts Festival.
What made #PoetryLab a tremendous experience wasn't all its bells and whistles: the interactive Twitter feed from the audience, that sort of thing. Rather, it was something very simple: During a good share of the reading, we were allowed to see and read to ourselves each poem before the poet read it aloud -- on a large screen at the front, and in silence. Enough time was allotted that most people could read the poems twice before they dissolved into the voices of the live readers. Through poem after poem, we sank into the worlds they evoked in exactly the ways those worlds had originally been intended to be discovered on paper, and then into the poets themselves who described them to us aurally. Personally, I had never experienced this before except in workshops, which have always been my favourite kind of poetry event for this very reason.
The big problem at normal readings, to me at any rate, is that each word or phrase that's read attempts to crowd out or cancel the ones that came before it. So listeners are forced to continuously struggle to weld together two completely different things: the internal memory of what came before, and the present (and very external) voice, image and persona of the poet reading. So, unless it’s a fairly simple poem, the audience is unlikely to carry away more than a sample. Yet, #PoetryLab showed us how wonderful the results could be if the actual poem were somehow presented with the reading.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to make poetry readings more easily digested since the beginning of London Open Mic two years ago. Early on, I thought of having poets read twice. That could work, but only with certain, difficult poems. And only for some audience members. Then I thought of having readings videotaped, which we do; but watching the video is really a separate experience. What I'm trying to do now, for my own open mic reading, is to simply improve my reading ability: to read more calmly, more clearly, and with more care as to how the poem flows from my lips into the listeners’ minds. Like the leader of a group walking through a jungle, I try to keep looking back so I don’t lose too many people. And maybe that’s the only middle-ground there is.
I've been tossing a few ideas around lately about how to make the open mic more responsive to the needs of the poetry community, specifically the desire of those who come to socialize with each other.
My last in a series of ideas along these lines since the beginning of the open mic was to reserve the side room at the Wortley Roadhouse once a month and send out an invitation to all of our features, past and future, plus some others, to just come for conversation. No agenda. The more I thought about it, the more excited I got, because all it would take on my part would be to make the reservation and send out the invitation. But then I started looking at the cup half empty and concluded that no one would come, for any of umpteen reasons.
My last idea (with thanks to John Nyman) is a little less radical: simply make it easier for people to talk at the open mic. John frequents the different readings in Toronto and says many of them have no music at all, just the buzz of conversation. I think that now, after two seasons, we also have reached the point of not having to provide entertainment to get people to come.
We're going to experiment with it: I had decided to take January off from now on, to give myself a much-needed break in the middle of the season, but instead, at least for this season, we're going to have a totally-stripped-down, open-mic-only event, and see how that goes. No featured poet, with all the work that that entails for me, also no videos or photos to post, no summary to write, and, especially, no musicians--just Mykonos' normal piped-in background music. Only open mic readers the whole evening. And we'll try a little longer intermission: 20 minutes, instead of 15.
That'll be a test run. If it goes over well, we'll cut the music altogether after that, but of course not the featured poets.
What do you think?
Tom Cull is one of the organizers of Words, London`s first literary arts festival. He was interviewed by Kevin Heslop for London Open Mic Poetry Night.
K: What is Words?
Tom Cull: Well, Words is a creative and literary arts festival, the inaugural literary arts festival for London. For one weekend, from this Friday the 24th to Sunday the 26th, it brings together national and international writers as well as showcasing regional writers. There will be events all throughout the city, including readings, workshops, performances and panel discussions. * Reading from www.wordsfest.ca * “Words is a new festival of all things wordy – books, poetry, song, children’s literature, writing for the screen and stage, new media, spoken word performances and much more.” So, events will take place all over the city, and we can talk more about those specific events, but that’s the basics. The festival is the product of a partnership between Museum London, London Public Library, Covent Garden Market, and Western University - in particular the Public Humanities, English, and Writing Studies programs. Poetry London - with which I’m a committee member - came on board to advise on, and encourage, poetry-specific content. There are other poetry partners as well, including London Poetry Slam. And it’s ongoing and developing as we move towards the date.
K: Do you have a sense of what the impetus or the spur for this festival was? Whether someone heard people walking down the street using poor grammar, or whether a good example of this was observed elsewhere and it was decided it would be an interesting -
T: Well, that would be a good question to ask the original organizers. If I had to speculate, a city of this size, which has a vibrant literary arts scene and is an important city in Canada that produces writers, is due for something like this. That’s my perspective on it. We have a population of people who are consumers, creators, and supporters of literature and the arts in general, who I think are going to come out because they’re interested. Also, we have writers that need showcasing, and I think there’s a real desire for it, a real call for something like this. And of course other cities host literary arts festivals and I think they’re a fantastic thing for a city. So, we’re having one because we need one, you know?
K: If you would, address specifically Poetry London’s involvement. In what capacity is Poetry London involved in Words?
T: We came on board to the organizing committee and became part-sponsors. Working with the organizers, we’ve co-created a number of the events. We’re also helping to bring specific poets like Jeramy Dodds to the Words. And then I’ve been working with Josh Lambier and Phil Glennie on a number of projects, specifically the Guerrilla Poetry event and the Poetry Lab event.
Guerrilla Poetry & PoetryLab
K: What is each of those events about?
T: So, the Guerrilla Poetry event is more the brainchild of Phil Glennie -- he came up with it when we were talking about what poetry events we could imagine for the festival, and one of the things we wanted to capture was the idea of poetry as a living, embodied thing that happens in a community, that forms and engages a community. The idea is that we’re going to fill as many street corners in London with poetry and spoken word as possible. We’re going to go in groups of volunteers who will read poetry and/or literature - anything from their own work to the classics - to specific street corners along the corridor in which many of the events are happening.
Volunteers will meet at 11:15am in the front lobby of Museum London on Saturday, October 25th. Here they will be put into groups and given instruction as to their reading location. Each group will include an organizer to help facilitate the event. We will leave Museum London at 11:40 to take up our positions downtown for 12pm. The public readings will run for 45 minutes (until 12:45pm). Volunteers will be welcome to read anything they like---from their own work to world classics. We also welcome any poetry that is in a language other than English.
So, basically, we’re going to populate those corners and, starting at noon, stand on apple boxes and read poetry. The idea is, you know, to have a cacophony of poetic voices raised at one time so that the city becomes alive with poetry. It’ll also give us an opportunity to talk with people on the streets and tell them about the literary festival. We’ll have information that we can give to people about all the events that are going on over the weekend. In terms of the readers themselves, we’re hoping for all kinds of poetry: everything from spoken word, slam, traditional, lyric, experimental - whatever’s your pleasure, come and join together with other poets. And even if you don’t want to read poetry, if you want to read a particularly lovely passage of, say, Moby Dick, do it - the idea is to come and put your words out into the air. So that’s a really exciting thing that’s going to happen that Saturday.
And then Sunday there’s PoetryLab, which will be happening at Museum London. It’s a cool event. I read at an earlier PoetryLab when it was hosted at Western in Conron Hall. It is an immersive poetry experience. It blends visual poetry and sound effects to create a unique poetic experience, and it uses multi...
T: Multi-media. The reading takes place in a dark room so it’s really immersive, which helps you focus on the poets. At the previous PoetryLab I read with Joel [Faflak], NourbeSe [Philip] and the student writer in residence, Scott Beckett.
K: Hell of a line up.
T: Yeah, it was great. And the line up this year is Penn Kemp, London’s -
T: - former Poet Laureate, our first and only Poet Laureate, Penn Kemp, Laurie D. Graham, who was shortlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize, Andy Macguire who was long listed for the same award - he’s a musician, poet and all around awesome dude. And then there’s Emma Blue, who is on the 2014 Poetry Slam Team. And then Steven Sloka, who’s the student writer in residence this year at Western. He recently read with Gary Barwin, who is the writer in residence up at Western - he’s fantastic. It’s a fantastic line up.
K: So, just to get a sense of the way in which the visual media intermingles with the poetry, would there be a projection display behind the poet?
T: Yeah, there’s a projection display behind the poet, [overseen by] Phil Glennie, who works with Josh [Lambier] in the Public Humanities at Western. This is his brainchild.
PoetryLab blends visual projections, sound effects, and poetry to create, an intense and immersive literary experience. It features an interactive component, by which attendees are invited to bring a Twitter-enabled mobile device so that they can record their impressions and help shape the event as it unfolds. These impressions are projected on a screen during “Twitter-ludes”- interludes between the poets where people in the audience comment on the event as it is going on.
And the poets take turns reading one poem at a time, so it’s a really dynamic, sensorial, multimodal event which engages the audience by reinventing the poetry reading. So, the poetry readings [hosted by Poetry London] - I love them - are very traditional readings: the poet reads at the front of the room for a period of time.
K: It’s not everybody’s cup of tea?
T: It’s a good cup of tea.
K: No question.
T: But there’s room for other kinds of reading too. PoetryLab re-imagines what a poetry reading can be. And Poetry London has been a supporter of this experiment from the beginning. It’s a lot of fun, it’s dynamic, fast-moving, you’re always getting different voices. The poets are asked to read their stuff, but they also read poems [of other poets that they admire]. Having participated in it, and also having been an audience member for it, I’d say it’s one of the most exciting things happening in poetry in London. It’s fun.
Also, Poetry London has also been instrumental in bringing Jeramy Dodds to the festival. Dodds is the Writer in Residence at [the University of New Brunswick], and a former Griffin nominee. He’s got a book coming out with Coach House which is a translation of classical Icelandic poetry. It’s really cool stuff. He’s fantastic. And that’s just a part of the poetry content of this whole festival. I mean, there will be plenty of local voices and great events such as the London Poetry Slam at the London Music Club on Friday night between 8 and 11.
I’d say it’s really important that people go to www.wordsfest.ca because there’s so much more than I could even hit upon. We haven’t even talked about the headline writers, you know: Vincent Lamb, Guy Vanderhagen, Joe Sacco, Joan Barfoot, James Barwin, Gary Barwin, Matt James, Jeremy Dodds and more, you know? So, it’s gonna be a great weekend.
Tom On Poetry, Politics and Posterity
K: W.H. Auden said something to the effect that ‘every creative act is innately political.’ ["In our age, the mere making of a work of art is itself a political act." – “The Poet and the City”]
T: Well, language at its root is political. During the recent controversy surrounding PenEquity’s development of Dingham Wood outside London, an interviewer asked Penn Kemp something to the effect of, “Should poetry be political?” And I thought that that question could even be asked was amazing. I mean, “Can it be political!?” What would it be otherwise? As Karen Connelly said [at her reading] the other night, “The choice to be non-political is a political choice.” The non-political stance is a form of status quo support. When you say, “I’m not political,” what you’re doing is tacitly supporting the status quo.
I mean, part of the reason that I write is that it keeps me sane---it helps to calm a general panic that is always with me about this world, a panic that is not showing any signs of easing.
K: That’s an understatement, isn’t it?
T: Yeah. I mean, yesterday on Facebook I read an article put out by the World Wildlife Foundation that said that since the 1970s, half of the population of animals in the world has disappeared. So, that just becomes another kind of meme, you know. So, every comment that I make on Facebook for a month, I’ll respond with that article. Someone’s gonna say: “Hey, I made a great dinner last night. Here’s a picture of it.”
T: And I want to respond, 50% of the animals are gone. To me, I just can’t understand why people are not running around in the streets pulling their hair out. But instead, what people are doing - and I’m guilty of this myself - is passing that information along and downloading cute animal photos. So, I find… I find an urgency and a panic, and those are the things that propel my desire to speak and my desire to speak through poetry. I mean, there are other ways to do it, but poetry is the form that I choose.
I hope that the festival is a place where people come together to talk about poetry, talk about literature - its place in the world and what it does. It’s not just an event where we come out and listen to great writers read and speak - that is what part of it is about - but I hope it’s also about conversations, that part of what it is or becomes is an opportunity for conversation about literature and art and what it does and who does it and why people do it. That’s what I hope for.
Tom Cull was born and raised in rural Southwestern Ontario. He holds a PhD in English Literature from York University and is an adjunct professor at the Centre for American Studies at Western University. He is also on the board of Poetry London and is a co-facilitator of their poetry workshop. Tom created and runs Thames River Rally, a volunteer group that meets monthly to clean up garbage in and along the Thames River. His first book of poetry, What the Badger Said, was published by Baseline Press in September 2013.
Before Jef-something Brian Thomas Ormston (Jef) (who is much more humble than his name would lead you to believe) sat on his chair behind the mic and started playing that electric guitar like an orchestra of sound, a million bells, he said to anyone who was listening, “And now for my last piece”, and when that one was done, which was an astonishing rendition of Pachelbel’s Canon, with waves of notes scrambling, piling, sorting themselves out and upward, Jef said, again to anyone and no one, “Do I have time for another?” I thought, “He’s only started his set, what’s he talking about?” But big Bill Paul, London’s Town Crier, who has known Jef for ages, along with most everyone else in the city, leaned over and said, “Jef never knows how much time has gone by. It’s true. He really lives in the moment. You have to keep telling him he has more time.” I listened more carefully from then on, and yes got lost myself in some of those moments.
The sudden vocals on the next piece were a bit loud for some people, and I was scrambling to turn down the level when I realized it was one of my favourite songs from the Woodstock festival soundtrack, “Freedom”, which big, black, Richie Havens had opened the festival with, but which here was sung, just as deeply, by this scrawny little Jef-something. “Freedom, freedom, freedom, freedom, sometimes I feel like a motherless child, sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from my home." Yeah. At home Linda and I listened to it again on YouTube. “Freedom is scary when you’re young, when you first have it,” Linda said, “but then when you’re older, after having so much reponsibility all your life, you can’t get enough of it.” Yeah that’s for sure. More, please.
Our new co-host for this season, Joan Clayton, (me being the other co-host), thanked Jef and introduced Bill Paul (who really is London’s official Town Crier, but who goes by the name Laffmaster Bill on Facebook, for anyone who might want him to host an event or provide entertainment, or who might even want to be interviewed on his radio talk show, Straight Talk with Bill Paul, which, after 39 years, is the longest running talk show in Canada, on 106.9FM.)
It’s undeniable that featured poet Roy McDonald holds some fascination for people. He’s a bit of an old leprechaun, and maybe reminds us of Gandolph in Lord of the Rings -- that combined with street person, hippy, but mostly, being old but spry, he’s the embodiment of the mystery of aging. As I watched him do his well-rehearsed thing on the stage, booming out those old poems, which he’s practiced so often busking on the sidewalk in front of Joe Cool’s Fridays and Saturdays, I wondered how all the so-much-more-normal lives in the audience saw him. The other older people, like myself, where and why did we get off the bus? And why did Roy refuse to ever change after he’d returned from Woodstock? Is he the better for it, or are we? And the young poets in the audience -- are they seeing wisdom in him that they somehow haven’t acquired yet? Or just some archaic remnant of an age long lost? I think each one of the 65 of us in the audience tried to imagine being Roy McDonald to some degree, living his very unique life. As we compared our own to his we all became a little wiser.
By the time Roy was into his Q&A, answering questions about the washrooms at Woodstock, (“you had to wait half an hour or an hour”), about his spirituality, about the influences on his poetry and his life, and about conversations he had had with Allen Ginsberg, Leonard Cohen and so on, there were still stragglers coming in, but they were finding only standing room at the back of the big enclosed terrace of Mykonos Restaurant, while the rest of us sipped our wine and munched on souvlaki and Greek salad. We had never had such a packed house before and my mind couldn’t figure out whether to be happy about it or just more anxious.
The open mic section provided again all the pleasures I’ve come to associate with it: the huge variety of people, all displaying the equally various intimacies of their inner lives sculpted into their word art. There was every age, poetic ability, sex, kind of person, and of personality. And the audience was also a microcosm of humanity. The one thing everyone had in common was the enjoyment of poetry in this room together. At the end of the evening, open mic reader John Nyman, whom we will feature one day, told me how much he enjoys our events and compared them to the readings he attends regularly in Toronto when he’s there. He said he likes the strong feeling of community we have, whereas in Toronto there are so many events to choose from, a number of them every week, that none attract very big numbers, and they tend to be more specialized in one way or another.
I asked our new Internet Manager, Shelly Harder, for a few words on how the event went for her: "My first night at the Open Mic was all I'd hoped it would be,” she says. “Between the welcoming ambience of Mykonos, the pleasure of chatting with Roy McDonald, Joan's warm hosting, the passionate talent of the open mic readers, and Jef-something's guitar soundtrack, the evening was an exceptional one, and I look forward to many more!" And the rest of us chime in, “Me too!”
By Stan B., Organizer
See Interview with Roy McDonald