At the cafe today, I was showing London Open Mic's new Internet Manager, Mary Dowds, what it takes to put an interview blurb together and post it, this one of James Deahl and Norma Linder, our April 5th features. I walked home smiling because this is the last interview I'll ever have to tackle! After five years of them. The very last one! YES!!! Thanks, Mary! Here it is: http://www.londonpoetryopenmic.com/…/james-deahl-norma-west…
Interview with Stan Burfield, organizer of
London Open Mic Poetry Night
Interview for The London Yodeller (Jan. 31, 2014 issue) by Jason Dickson, writer, novelist (three novels published to date), and bookseller at Attic Books.
J.D. What inspired you to start a reading series?
S.B. Shyness! That may sound contradictory, but it’s not. My wife and I sold our flower shop and moved to London in 2008. I decided it was finally time to do something about my shyness, which had caused me endless problems all my life. I had tried to deal with it before by going on extremely difficult adventures by myself, to toughen up, so to speak, but I eventually realized that did more harm than good. So now, being semi-retired and having more time, I started going in a social direction. I joined a poetry workshop, then tried to read my poems in front of others when I had the chance, which wasn’t easy, to say the least. Anyway, I accumulated a couple poetry friends and we went to an open mic reading in Sarnia. On the way home I wondered why they could have a monthly open mic in the town of Sarnia and there wasn’t one in London, which is so much larger. The answer was simply that someone had to organize it. My two friends didn’t have the time, And I thought there was no way I could do it because of my shyness. But then, on second thought, what the heck, if I don’t do something drastic now, at 61 years of age, I never will. So I took the bit between my teeth. How did it work out for me as therapy? Well, now, after our first one and a half seasons, I can get in the elevator in our building and CALMLY chat with people as we go up. For the first time in my life.
J.D. Where was the first night held?
S.B. They’ve always been at Mykonos Restaurant. A local poet, Frank Beltrano, showed it to me as a possible venue. I had been searching through dingy bars and so on, and as soon as I saw this place I knew it was perfect. It couldn’t be improved upon. In good weather it’s a large square terrace open to the outside at the back. In winter it’s enclosed and well-heated. Beautiful Greek atmosphere. The tables hold up to 65. (We’ve been averaging about 45 lately.)
J.D. Tell me about the first night.
S.B. Well, that was extremely stressful for me because I had to host, not just organize it, as I do now. (Our current host, the very confident Dawna Perry, hadn’t joined us yet.) Anyway, I did manage to get through it. We opened with a half hour of music (Bernie Koenig on vibraphones and Emma Wise, cello--what a combination!), followed by Andreas Gripp doing a feature reading. Then a musical intermission, and after that the open mic. It went well.
J.D. How did you promote it? Was there a good attendance?
S.B. Well, I started out just Googling how to organize an open mic, then set up a website, then looked for poets to feature. I decided they had to have at least one book of poetry published. I think it was one of these poets who suggested I needed to have a Facebook page, so that was next, (and what a lot of work that turned out to be). Then I looked for all the places I could list the open mic for free, mostly online. Which I did. And finally made posters and put them around. I was surprised when 47 people turned up at the first event. For poetry, that’s a pretty good turnout, no matter how large your city is.
J.D. Why a published book? Why not a free-for-all?
S.B. Well yes, it could be a 100% open mic. That’s about as close as we could come to a free-for-all. And that is one kind of poetry event for sure. In a big city like Toronto you could get enough attendance with that. But here you would find that some poetry lovers and poets -- any percentage is too high in a small city -- would only come out if they felt sure there would be at least one reader there they could learn from. I mean many of us who love writing poems are amateurs, like me for instance, in the sense that we love to be creative with words, and are good enough at it that it pleases at least ourselves. But poetry is like any other art; There are the Picassos and Mozarts, and then there are us dabblers. By having a featured poet, followed by an open mic, we can at least partially satisfy most everyone. Anyway, when I started this thing, I just made up this simple rule: To be a featured poet you have to have published a book of poems. I didn’t realize then that it’s next to impossible for a poet, no matter how good, to get published by a commercial publisher these days. There are far too many poets and very little market. And, on top of that, suddenly the internet came and took a huge cut out of what little there was. So nearly all poets are self-published now. The problem with that is that anybody can be self-published. So now I can see that this doesn’t really work as a criterion. I and the people on our organizing committee have reluctantly had to become judges to some degree.
J.D. Tell me about some of your favourite moments so far. What has stood out for you?
S.B. Favourite moments? There are so many. There are poems I`ve heard, from both the featured poets and the open mic readers, that have astonished me. And you never know when it`s going to happen.
And all the poets are so different from each other. After a season and a half, I'm amazed at how different all these really good poets are from each other. And their poetry as well. Completely different. Well, it`s exactly the same with the open mic section, but much faster. Each person has five minutes. And you never know who`s getting up next. You just begin to get used to one poet`s character, clothes, look, reading style, and poetry, and then that person sits down and a totally different one gets up. It`s like that for an hour and a half. You don't even have to be into poetry to get a kick out of the variety. The thing is, in those few minutes you don't just see the person visually, as we do with most people we don't know, but from their poems you get a deep picture of their lives and who they really are inside, as well. I love it.
J.D. Where is the series now, in your opinion, now that it has been going on for a while? What are your plans for the future?
S.B. Now it’s beginning to fulfill one of its original purposes, which was not only to provide a place where local poets, and poets from the region, could read their work -- to fill that gap in the city -- but also to help form a community here. Due to the nature of the art, it’s easy for poets to find themselves working, and being, alone in their rooms. Thanks to our events, and our website, they’re at least starting to recognize each other. Some of them. They’re seeing each other’s abilities and styles. Some are being affected by others. Some are talking to others.
Earlier in the series, most featured readers would just read that once and you would never hear them again. But lately, more and more of them are coming back, sometimes to read at the open mic. And many really good poets who have never yet been featured are also becoming known and appreciated from their open mic readings. During the last few events, the open mic section has really begun to shine, to come into its own. It’s becoming very exciting, and more open. Maybe people are just relaxing and getting used to it, but I think part of it is a growing enthusiasm. Also new people are always showing up, eager to take part.
My latest idea is probably the best I’ve had personally. It’s a result of always being aware of probably the only little negative at poetry readings, which is that you only get to hear a poem once. You can’t go over it the way you can in a book, and really get deeply into it. I keep trying to solve that problem, and this idea is one attempt. It’s to get the city to stamp poems into the sidewalk when they make repairs with wet cement. If they did, it would expose poetry to a lot of people who would never get into it otherwise, including children on their way to and from school. The number of poetry readers and writers would go up instead of down as it has for so long. Well, I Googled it. One other person has had the same idea, and consequently St. Paul, Minnesota has been stamping poems into their sidewalks for five years now, totalling over 700 impressions. So I made an initial presentation to the London Arts Council before Christmas and they were very enthusiastic. They want me to present it to City Council as soon as I can get it together.
J.D. Tell me about Frank Davey's involvement.
S.B. I think it was Andreas Gripp who told me that Frank Davey was now living in Strathroy, part of our local territory. Frank is one of the most well-known and influential poets in Canada, considered to be THE poet who introduced post-modernism to the Canadian poetry scene. I asked him if he would consider being our headliner at our April National Poetry Month event. He agreed and we met for coffee to talk about it. Just as we were leaving the cafe it occurred to me that I had nothing to lose by asking if he would be interested in having a blog on our website. Well, It was a very lucky coincidence that right then he was in the midst of retiring from his lifetime work asf editor and publisher of his hugely influential critical literary journal Open Letter. And he hadn’t decided where to go from there. I told him I would support his blog to the utmost of my abilities, so he went for it. That blog has become a huge part of our website. About half of our readers come because of it. Anyway, Frank didn’t stop there. He has come and read at our open mic, and even joined our organizing committee. And one of our big ideas still sitting in the background came from him: the possibility of starting a publishing collective. Maybe, maybe not. If it did happen, it would be a separate thing from the open mic organization. We’re very slowly mulling it over.
J.D. Finally, what role do you see the series playing in town? Where does it fit with, say Poetry London or the literary efforts at U.W.O.?
S.B. Without us, there is a huge poetry gap in the city. Poetry London, which I attend nearly every month and really enjoy, mostly brings in poets from elsewhere. It does a lot for the poetry audience here, but little for the poets. Likewise, the literary efforts at UWO are fairly insulated from the rest of the community. But we are there for everyone. The poetry lovers and the poets of the whole city. And area. We want to bring everybody together, to be an event they can all own. This next event, on Feb. 5th, is our first attempt to really involve the UWO community. Instead of having one feature, we are having four, all senior poetry students. They will do at least three rounds of poems. In the first round their poems will all contain the same three lines, and will be written expressly for this event. It should be fun.
Today's issue of The London Yodeller has a fairly substantial interview with me about the open mic.
Jason Dixon of Attic Books asked the questions and I rambled on, unchecked. I'm one of those people who either doesn't talk at all or can't stop, which was the case here. jason asked me about the evolution of London Open Mic Poetry Night, the reasons for it, how I organize and promote it, how the first night went, some of my favourite memories, where the series is now and where would I like it to go. That sort of thing. Open ended questions that demand a certain amount of self-censorship, something i'm not that great at. But it turned out okay. I think.
Read the interview
The Paris Review Interviews
Philip Levine, The Art of Poetry No. 39
I was first introduced to Philip Levine through the mail in the summer of 1976. I was studying literature at Berkeley, and my friends and I, all college freshmen and sophomores, were ardent readers of Levine, W. S. Merwin, Donald Justice, Gary Snyder, and Hart Crane. A friend from the college literary magazine, The Berkeley Poetry Review, introduced me to Ernest Benck, a California poet, who kindly sent some of both of our poems to Levine.
Levine wrote back to us, marking our poems assiduously. Since then I have received many letters from him, always on yellow legal paper with comments like, “I’m not sure my remarks, which are fairly nasty at times, really indicate . . .” His comments, though never nasty, were always serious, as if he took the business of correspondence to be part of the education of a poet. I had the feeling he wrote many such letters to young poets around the country: poets driving trucks, picking oranges, poets who were waiters and acupuncturists’ assistants and college students. Levine takes his role as mentor with the responsibility of a sacred vocation. He has sometimes had trouble from the administrations of high-tuitioned writing programs for allowing auditors—poets who were a little older, talented and too broke to pay—into his classes.
Levine was born in Detroit in 1928, and left that city, as he puts it, after a succession of stupid jobs. He is the author of numerous books of poetry, including 7 Years from Somewhere (which won the National Book Critics Circle Award), Ashes (the NBCC and National Book Awards), They Feed They Lion (inevitably mistitled in reference books), and, most recently, A Walk with Tom Jefferson.
The interview took place in my Upper West Side apartment. Levine arrived looking very much the same as he had when I met him ten years earlier in Berkeley: wiry, agile, with a mobile face, curly hair, a boyish habit of movement. He wore enormous running shoes, which seemed to emphasize his small frame, and he walked with a slight bounce, which made him seem an inch or two taller.
I told him that Paris Review interviews usually take place in the writer’s home and so I asked him to describe the place he lives and writes. He told me that in Fresno he lives in a small farmhouse in a district called The Fig Garden. Built in 1919, the house (“the oldest around here”) stands on an acre of land, fronted by a huge eucalyptus tree, fruit trees and cedars. In the backyard, amidst twenty orange trees, alders, Modesto ash, and more eucalyptus, his wife Franny plants a legendary garden of vegetables, fruits, and flowers.
“Our payments are 165 bucks,” he said. “We bought it fifteen years ago when anybody could buy a house. And people ask me why I live in Fresno!”
Levine works in a small study overlooking the back garden. The room is filled with bookshelves (“of course it’s cluttered because I’m something of a slob”) and a number of keepsakes, among them a black-and-white photograph of a drawing by the Italian anarchist painter Flavio Costantini, which in a smaller form is the cover of Levine’s volume Ashes; a Robert Capa photograph of Spanish Republican soldiers at a campfire cooking soup; a picture of Lemon Still Jr., a fellow grease shop worker and the subject of a poem in They Feed They Lion; and a poster of airplane drawings by Arshile Gorky.
“And there hangs from the ceiling a kind of mobile a friend gave me years and years ago. It’s made of thistles, thorns, dry weeds. I don’t know why it’s lasted but it just hangs there and turns around in the wind, hitting me in the eye . . .”
In Twentieth Century Pleasures, Robert Hass says that rhythm in poetry provides revolutionary ground through its direct access to the unconscious . . .
We all agree with that. Rhythm is deep and it touches us in ways that we don’t understand. We know that language used rhythmically has some kind of power to delight, to upset, to exalt, and it was that kind of rhythmic language that first excited me. But I didn’t encounter it first in poetry . . . perhaps simply in speech, in prayer, preaching. That made me want to create it. My earliest poems were a way of talking to somebody. I suppose to myself. I spoke them and I memorized them. I constantly changed them. I would go out and work on my rain poem and improve it.
Read more of this very substantial interview.......
Canadian poetry legend Frank Davey
The first four months of London Open Mic Poetry Night's first season have been a success, with the last event, on Jan. 3rd, featuring John Tyndall, drawing a crowd of fifty to the terrace at the Mykonos Restaurant, even more than attended the series' launch. We're optimistic that the remaining five months of the season will be just as upbeat.
We've made good use of the first four events to test out and then toss out ideas that sounded much better in an excited discussion than they actually worked on the floor. In the process we ended up with a leaner, simpler event, composed
Poetry Night’s interviews with its featured poets are finding quite a few readers, considering the modest size of London.
For instance in the roughly 4 days since I posted the interview with John Tyndall on our Facebook page and our website, 121 have read it directly on the Facebook page, and another 223 have found it elsewhere virally. I’m not so sure about the website because I can’t afford to upgrade to see the stats on individual posts, but an average of 70 people have been coming to the site daily.
So now that all these poetry people have had their curiosity satisfied and they are definitely interested, there’s only one way to find that final satisfaction. They have to actually read some of Tyndall’s poems themselves. Or better still listen to him read them out loud. There’s only one place that will happen: at the Mykonos Restaurant on Thursday. Need I say more? Okay. At 6:30.Jennifer White and Robert McMaster are playing Celtic harp with song and percussion before the reading and it is being followed by raffled Tyndall giveaways, raffle tickets being given to everyone who donates to London Open Mic Poetry Night. After Tyndall, comes all the rest of us, roughly 24 open mic readers, reading for five minutes each. If there aren’t enough readers to fill the two hours, we will have a second round for those who brought a second five-minute batch of poems.
The Mykonos is at 752 Adelaide St. N., London, with parking, also overflow parking across the side street, plus one block N. in front of Trad’s Furniture. Cover by donation.
The terrace is enclosed and well-heated from above, but in cold weather there can be cool air at floor level so wear warm footwear.
John Tyndall will be the featured poet at the Jan. 3rd (Thurs.) 2013 London Open Mic Poetry Night. As usual, it will be held in the terrace of Mykonos Restaurant at 572 Adelaide St. N. London, from 6:30 to 9:30. The first half hour will feature the celtic harp and vocals of Jennifer White and the percussion of Robert McMaster. Tyndall will be followed by one to two hours of open mic.
A Londoner since 1967, Tyndall has been published in several anthologies, and many journals. Reflecting an interest in family, love, religion and traditions, his two recent collections, one with poems about the birth and childhood of his son, the second (2006) his family history as well as the illness and death of his mother, have been praised by the University of Toronto Quarterly for the use of "strange and iridescent language". Tyndall also will be reading newer works, both found poems based on an obscure book from 1947 and narratives in various voices, including that of his late father.
SB: How and why did you get started writing poetry?
RL Raymond, who has been nominated for the prestigious 2013 Pushcart Prize, will be launching his third book, ‘Half Myths & Quarter Legends’, at the December 5th London Open Mic Poetry Night, held at Mykonos Restaurant, 572 Adelaide St. N. Music starting at 6:30, event at 7:00.
The interviewer is Stan Burfield, the organizer of
London Open Mic Poetry Night.
Stan: When did you begin writing poetry and what got you into it?
RLR: I remember writing stories as a kid. Then for a while, I didn’t write a thing. It began in earnest during my university years; that’s when I started writing poetry. I was published in a few journals. I wrote, but not really seriously. Then I went dark for a few years when I graduated. It’s only the last 4 or 5 years that I’ve