I'm making a list of National Poetry Month events in the London area (out as far as Sarnia and Stratford). Yes, it's starting today. If you have something you would like on it, send it to me ASAP at firstname.lastname@example.org
As organizer, I have a big decision to make before the end of April.
I want this to be my last season, and, if that turns out to be the case, there are three events left that I'm responsible for. But what comes after that? Well, at least we now know there will be a next season because we have a new volunteer who will be doing most of my duties, consisting of all the internet work (website, facebook, tweeting, newsletters, constant communication with people). Mary Dowds, whom I'm training now, is our new Internet Manager. Nobody else in our group either has the time or the ability to do this essential work. So, with Mary, the open mic will definitely be able to continue.
The big question in my mind is what form the administration of the open mic will take. The ideal would be a group of equals, with each member taking responsibility for a share of the work, and each excitedly trying to make the open mic work. Sounds good, and it's my #1 hope, but having researched it a bit, it seems committee-run organizations tend to get bogged down in rancour and conflict, often resulting in some members leaving, and even, occasionally, the demise of the organization.
I have till the end of April to feel out the volunteers who are actively working on the open mic now. If I decide by then that a committee-run system wouldn't work then I have two choices: to appoint someone to take over my position, or to stay on as organizer for another season to try to work out some lasting solution more gradually.
After seven years of facilitating his monthly poetry workshop at London’s Landon Library, Ron Stewart is stepping down to put more time into his own poetry. He and wife Jan will continue to support local literary events, partly through the now-traditional announcements on his extensive email list, which many Londoners have long depended upon.
Stewart, a retired airline pilot, began the workshop as an essential finishing touch to the group of ingredients already supplied to the local poetry scene by the Poetry London Reading Series, also held at Landon Library. Since then, many poets have benefitted from his initiative and hard work.
Following are expressions of thanks by Poetry London and some of the local poets who have attended the workshop:
Ron and his wife Jan continue to embody the creative energy, hard work, and congenial spirit that has come to define the London poetry community. We offer our congratulations and appreciation to Ron for initiating and nurturing such a successful workshop - one that has meant so much to so many writers in London over the past several years. We wish him continued success with his own writing and all of his future endeavours in our poetry community.
~ the Poetry London Reading Series
To the other sentiments expressed here by others, all of which are true, I would like to add that if not for Ron’s workshop there would be no London Open Mic Poetry Night, which is simply a spinoff of his workshop.
~ Stan Burfield, organizer, London Open Mic
I want to thank you so much for making the London (especially winter) nights seem so much more welcoming for your generous hosting of those wonderful poetry gatherings.
With much appreciation and warmth,
~ Cheryl Cashman
I think Ron is a wonderful poet, and a great supporter of other poets. His way of summarizing other’s poetry and encouraging them to write, is remarkable, heartfelt and full of spirit!!!
~ Joan Clayton
Thanks, Ron. I haven't been to any workshops recently, but I have good memories of those flights of fancy. Arriving to find you at the end of the table ready for take off. Orienting us to the program. Apprehensive as to what this flight would be like. Excited about reaching for the upper ether of poetry. Hearing your calm confident gentle voice reassuring us it would always be a good flight (which it always was) and landing us safely at the end (which you always did). They were quite the trips. I miss them. Good luck with your solo flights. Bon voyage.
~ Martin Hayter
When I think of Ron, I see, when entering the clean, well-lighted room in the Landon Library underground, at the head of the long, peopled table strewn with poems, the welcoming smile, the articulate, white goatee, the glimmering eyes and freckled dome which I have come to know and trust. If there is any one secret to the endurance of his workshop, I think it is that trustworthiness which has compelled each of us to uncloak the vulnerability which in daily life we habitually deny, to communicate in all its shifty-eyed, anxious humanity a wish to express ourselves and be heard. Ron - thank you for listening. And thank you for having tenderly impressed upon each of us those four simple words which unfailingly conclude your summations: Live Life, Love Poetry.
~ Kevin Heslop
The poet Muriel Rukeyser said, "Breathe-in experience, breathe-out poetry." Ron Stewart helped us add a third dimension, share poetry. He did so by creating a non-threatening, congenial poetry workshop. Thank you for that, Ron.
~ Louisa Howerow
Ron’s workshop was unique and will be missed. It was one of a kind.
~ Carl Lapp
A bit lost at the Poetry London Events, it was really Ron's Workshop that helped me feel at home in the London poetry scene. His gentle and positive leadership developed my confidence and introduced me to friends I hope will be in my life for a long time to come. Thanks, Ron (and Jan)
~ Janice M. McDonald
Ron is an enthusiastic and talented poet whose presence enhances many events in London’s poetry community. His dedicated work has fostered and supported the growth of various venues. Particularly important is the monthly workshop (held at the Landon library) organized by Ron. This workshop series has provided London poets an opportunity to share and discuss their poems. Many thanks, Ron!
~ O. Nowosad
For Ron, who has, in the Open Poetry Workshop at Landon Library, created a safe and encouraging atmosphere for poems finding their perfection, a place of meaningful, good-humoured discussion, an evening from which we come away with both wits pencils sharpened. For Ron, who has faithfully and with such generosity led the workshop 10 months of the year, for so many years. To Ron, I offer my deep gratitude.
~ Christine Thorpe
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.
The celebrated and influential poet Frank Davey has joined the organizing committee of London Open Mic Poetry Night.
Davey will bring to the open mic a world of experience with diverse aspects of the poetry scene.
Strathroy resident Frank Davey grew up in BC and studied at UBC where in 1961 he co-founded with George Bowering and Fred Wah the influential and contentious poetry newsletter TISH. His first volume of poetry, in 1962, was described as ‘the act of the moment’ rather than poetry as the commonplace attempt 'to express feelings.' In 1965 he launched the avant-garde poetry and criticism journal Open Letter, and, with the assistance of bpNichol, developed it into what many still see as Canada's most important forum for discussion and examination of innovative and experimental ideas and texts.
Davey obtained his PhD from the University of Southern California in 1968. With the encouragement of George Woodcock, he began writing literary criticism, a body of work from the 1970s to the ‘90s which would be described as 'the most individual and influential ever written in Canada.'
His most important early contribution was his withering 1974 critique, 'Surviving the Paraphrase, which discredited thematic criticism in Canada, including that of Northrop Frye, D.G. Jones and Margaret Atwood.
From 1975-1992 Davey was one of the most active editors of the Coach House Press. In 1984 he co-founded the world’s first on-line literary journal, Swift Current. In 1986 he became the chair of the English Department of Toronto’s York University, where he quickly assumed a nationally influential role. Then, in 1990 Davey came to London, where he was appointed to the Carl F. Klinck Chair of Canadian Literature at UWO. Here he began a new writing phase involving analysis of various Canadian cultural scenes—from literary criticism to politics, celebrity, and popular crime writing. These studies have given him much fodder for his poetry.
Over the years, the stance Davey has taken in his criticism has occasionally put him into conflict with the Canadian literary establishment. For example, he has described Canadian literary and academic prizes as institutional rewards for 'banality and careerism'. On the other hand, he has often been seen as a 'poet’s poet'.
Through his books of poetry, his literary and cultural criticism and his rich range of essays on diverse topics, Davey has been a major figure in introducing the idea and practice of postmodernism to writers in Canada.
So far Davey has published 27 books of poetry, six since 2000, the latest being ‘Spectres of London, Ont’ (2012). He also has numerous non-fiction titles.
Amongst other endeavours, Davey is currently posting on Frank Davey Blog, which is hosted by London Open Mic Poetry Night.
London Open Mic Poetry Night is a group of amateurs. There’s not a professional bone amongst us. Which makes for many interesting situations, risks and ruffled feathers. It’s an adventure.
You’re welcome to join us if you can do one of the jobs below.
THE REWARDS: Each working volunteer earns a spot in our organizing committee, a vote in our major decisions and a blog on our website, which has been averaging about 120 visitors a day during the last couple months, and rising. Members are totally responsible for the contents of their blogs, and can post prose, poems, photos and YouTube videos, all automatically shared to any other social media selected -- Facebook, Twitter, etc. Thanks to Erik Martinez Richards for paying for a website upgrade, bloggers can see how many visitors are coming to each posting on the blog, where they came from and what search words they used, if that was their route. These volunteer blogs should deepen the website itself even further, attracting more visitors.
POSITION #1: INTERNET MANAGER, which would mostly involve constructing postings out of incoming material, basically keeping the website and Facebook page up to date and in good shape.
POSITION #2: VIDEOGRAPHER. This volunteer must own a hand-held video camera. Eric Martinez Richards, our chief photographer, wants to expand his department with videos of all the readers, featured and open mic. Individual videos of the readers would be posted on YouTube, and from there onto our website. We would have a special page for videos of each month’s readings. Of the 15 readers at our last reading/open mic on June 5th, there were at least 10 whom some attendees would have loved to see again to further digest their poems. A poem read once is difficult to get because the mind wanders, but if it can be watched two or three times, it can really be appreciated. Also many people who can’t make it to our readings can watch the videos. And we have many visitors, a growing number, from beyond London, even from outside Canada, who of course can’t come. The videos would also form an archive of our events. Years from now some of the early readers may obtain notoriety, and fans may one day wish to watch their early readings. We already have a couple open mic readers who seem to be on their way.
POSITION #3: SECOND STILL CAMERA. This volunteer would need a good still camera, and would be expected to replace Eric Martinez Richards when he can’t make it to an event. Also the person would work together with Eric after the events, helping to crop, brighten, etc, the photos and post them to the websites.
POSITION #4: EBOOK EDITOR. This is a bit more tentative than the other positions. We have an idea that possibly we could produce an ebook at the end of each year featuring the year’s poets. However this may not be possible, costwise, or whatever. We haven’t really looked into it yet. But if anyone knows about it, or wants to look into it a bit (google it) and finds it can be done cheaply somehow, we would then be happy to make them a member and get it going.
These four positions are for poets or poetry aficionados. Volunteers must have two qualities: They must be able to do the task well, at least after a short learning period. And they must be very responsible, which means the task must be fulfilled properly whenever it is needed to be done, unless there is some specific reason that it can’t be and other arrangements are made in advance.
Please email Stan at email@example.com
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
By Penn Kemp
(Editor: First published in Open Book Ontario, this article is reproduced here with the author's permission.)
Surrounded by placid, excellent farmland all too quickly mushrooming into suburbs, London lays claim to many acclaimed writers, whether they were raised here, lived in the area most of their lives; left and returned; or are now here for the duration. Think Joan Barfoot, Bonnie Burnard, Emma Donoghue, Frank Davey, Don Gutteridge, Jean McKay, Orlo Miller, James Reaney, David Suzuki, Colleen
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?
At the 100,000 Poets for Change reading at Landon Library in September, many of
us in the audience were nearly brought to tears by the harp and vocals of Jennifer White.
When she opened with the harp, we were in awe of the beauty of the celtic music, and of her virtuosity, but when she began to sing, her vocals and original, celtic-based songs were even more astonishing. From the murmurings of the crowd, and the huge smiles, it was obvious the rest of the audience was just as affected as I was. She and her partner, percussionist Robert McMaster, received a
So I was very happy when she and Mr. McMaster agreed to play for our next, Jan. 3rd (Thursday) London Open Mic Poetry Night event.
Most of Ms White’s pieces are original compositions, both melody and lyrics. They were inspired by Celtic music, myth and story. Her songs and her storytelling (which we may hear at another time) are “woven together with old tales”.
Influences? She “likes hanging out with wyrd people”. A more likely early direction came from her father, jazz cornetist Eddie White, whom she quotes as saying: “I'm just here to play!"
In her own words: “I've been an independent musical artist since 1998, mostly since I never fit nicely into corporate 9 to 5, so I had to figure out a creative way to pay the bills and keep the wolves from the door. I hooked up with an ecclectic percussionist, Robert McMaster, around the same time, who's kept life interesting around my little corner of the world. One of these days I'll get those novels out of my head and onto the page. In the meantime, I'm having fun with my music. I get to meet people I would not normally have met, and venture off to places I wouldn't otherwise have had opportunity to visit.”
Those of us who attended the Poets for Change event remember Robert McMaster as the white-bearded, beret-wearing gentleman behind the huge assortment of drums, cymbals and some kind of plate from which dangled a
multitude of spoons, one of many instruments he puts in the category of ‘Found Sound’ (which, by coincidence, is very suitable for our Jan 3rd event which he will be playing at, because its featured poet, John Tyndall, focusses to some degree on ‘found poetry’). Mr. McMaster is not only a full-time musician (percussion, 'Lacota flute, guitar), but is also an activist, having “seen more and more changes around me that are not good for the Earth or it's Peoples." In the past, he has been a photographer and body/enery worker (Kripalu massage).
A favourite quote: "Think outside of the box... but try not to fall off of the shelf." (I said that - Robert McMaster).
White and McMaster perform original music in concerts, music festivals, corporate events etc. They have one CD out ‘Jennifer White - Clarsach the Celtic harp’. A second CD is in production. A vocal track of a traditional song and three of Ms White’s original instrumentals have been featured on a number of world release compilation CDs.
Jennifer White’s website: www.Knockgrafton.com Samples of White/McMaster music here: http://www.knockgrafton.com/contents.html
RL Raymond, who will be launching his third book, 'Half Myths and Quarter legends' at the Dec. 5th London Open Mic Poetry Night, has just been nominated for the prestigious 2013 Pushcart Prize.
The New York-based Pushcart Prize - Best of the Small Presses series, published every year since 1976, is, according to the prize's publishers, "the most honored literary project in America". Writers who were first noticed by the prize over the years include Raymond Carver, Tim O’Brien, Jayne Anne Phillips, Charles Baxter, Andre Dubus, Susan Minot, Mona Simpson, John Irving, Rick Moody, and many more.
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
(Stan: I only made a suggestion to Kevin, and a very light one at that, a couple times, that if he wrote a poetry-related personal essay for this page he would earn the right to have one of his poems posted with it. That’s all there was to it.)
ALRIGHT ALRIGHT ALRIGHT ALREADY by Kevin Andrew Heslop
The purpose of the following personal essay is to make it clear to Stan that I refuse to write a personal essay under any circumstances whatever.
A personal essay seems so much margarine to me. With poetry, or with a list, even, you got the bullets: bang bang bang. I got the idea across. I got the information across. Good. Have a nice day. I mean, there’s usually so much fluff and pomp that you get bored and if you haven’t done by now I’m sure you won’t see my point.
I went down to Organic Works yesterday evening, in our first snowfall, for the launch of the second season of Karen Schindler’s Baseline Press.
The room was packed when I arrived, and by the time the readings started they had brought in more chairs and people were lining the walls in the back. I had scouted out the place before as a possible venue for Poetry Night, so I knew that there had to be more than sixty people there. And on the book table at the back were stacks of Karen’s amazingly beautiful handmade chapbooks, each one cut and stitched by her own labour, craft and art.
I had read that Stewart Cole would be one of the guest readers. He had read at the last Poetry London reading and I really wanted to experience him reading his poems again. Not only had I been exhilerated, to some degree, the first time, but
Yes, we will gladly take your poem and post it here, on our Facebook
page and also on our website.
There's a catch, though. There has to be. If not, we would probably be
overrun with poems, and more than one from everyone. The problem is that in
order to winnow them down, I would have to judge them. And I certainly don't
have that ability. And even if I found a way to judge them well, I would be
leaving a trail of angry losers in my wake. Just as in any contest with only one
My catch is that you have to write an essay for us. Then you’ve earned the
right to attach one poem to it. The essay has to somehow relate to poetry. A
good idea you had, an intuition, a revelation in the sense of a sudden
understanding, even an opinion. But you need to write it in the form of a
personal essay, not the formal kind you remember from school. A personal essay
has no citations, no footnotes, no bibliography, only you and your ideas. In a
personal essay you are the only expert that counts, and you tell your idea
breathlessly just as you would to your best friend on the phone.
Including, if possible, how and where you came about the idea. Or, if part of it
is not your own, which is guaranteed, where that came from, in a general sense.
And so on. I wrote a personal essay below about writing personal essays, if
you’re interested. It’s called, ‘4th Poetry Night Essay.... Wanted:You’.
THE PROBLEM WITH SLAMMING SLAM by Bryton
There is a common misconception about the genre of "slam" poetry, that it all sounds the same. Yes, the syncopated rhythm is replicable. What I often see are very young poets repeating what they perceive as good poetry. But many developed poets grow to understand that they have their own voice that must be cultivated.
However like many of the poets who are not influenced by the genre of spoken word... poetry, many slam people still imitate other writers' works; imitation being the highest form of flattery. I would like to make it clear that we veterans of the London poetry slam do not enjoy this cadence and work to develop our own matured writing voice just like everyone who attends Poetry London and London Poetry Open Mic.
A little context to the evolution of poetry events: Poetry slams started as a reaction to the sophisticated, upper brow poetry reading all too common prior to the 1980's. Still relevant today, “noobs” would be put at the end of the night, after all the popular poets performed. The result was an empty venue and belittled
writers. A poetry slam was built so everyone could have a chance to share. To
let all styles of writing be shared on stage. Journalism, skits, novella excerpts, sonnets, etc. There is a 3 minute time limit to let everyone have a chance to share.
As for the political/catharsis nature of many poems, with slam that depends totally on the writers who attend. However, many poets/writers pre-judge the event as political or for only one style, and don’t see the totality of creative writing. They prematurely judge and so don’t attend the event due to bias. Slam isn't about a style of poetry, it is about everyone having a chance to share.
In regards to the competition aspect, that is based in dadism or absurdism. It is a farce. Points cannot be given to poetry. We have a saying in the writing community that winning is unpredictable; in other words, "any given sunday". The idea behind a cash prize is that we try to encourage people to continue developing their voice and reward writers for such.
So, if there was a lack of representation from non-spoken word poets at slams,, it is not because of the structure of the event, but the outsiders making judgements. Our slam is the "show the love" slam. We accept all. Even better, we encourage young writers by letting them share their work, just as was done at the first Wednesday Poetry Open Mic.
Fostering poetry in London. I do not believe an "us" and "they" perspective would
legitimately build the London literary community. That being said two slams are
scheduled for October. On the 19th at the London Music Club from 8 to 11 and a
Youth Slam on the 27th at King's University College from 6 to 9. I hope to see
many first-timers – young and old – share their stories, ideas, and messages!
Get in its way.
The opposite is just as true.
I’m a mediocre poet, but when I read my poems aloud they tend to go over well. They
have an impact.
I thank my blind father for that. When I was a kid I would sometimes read to him, to give him a break from braille, or his talking books, which both of us would often listen to. The readers of the talking books were always very good. We soon forgot their existence and only heard the story. I picked up on this so that when I read to Dad I tried to make the feeling and drama of the story overpower the dryness of my voice. I still read like that when I read poems to others. It works.
On the other hand, some of the best poets regularly butcher their poems. I often go to hear some of Canada’s greatest poets read at the Poetry London readings. I listen as carefully as I can but usually am left wishing they would read them over again. I’m lucky if I grasp more than half of any poem.
The voices and the style of reading are usually so distracting, and the speed of reading so fast, that by the time I really take in a good phrase and enjoy the beauty of it I have usually missed the next line completely. I soon find myself putting most of my energy into just trying to figure out what’s going on and ignoring the subleties and beauty of the poetics.
I admit that many listeners are quicker and more focussed than I am. But let me give you a specific example. At one of the Poetry London readings the editor of one of Canada’s premier poetry journals, highly esteemed for his own poetry, gave a reading. A workshop was held before the reading, as usual, examining two poems by us local poets, and two by the featured readers. This guy’s poem was amazing. It had a huge impact on me. I can remember parts of it to this day. So I was really looking forward to hearing him read it aloud. I thought I might get more out of it than I already had, by how he emphasized or deemphasized certain words. Well, even knowing the whole poem so intimately, from such a recent examination, most of it passed by me without any contact. I was shocked. And angry. I thought, how can he so casually do that to such an incredible poem? And that was only one of many he read. Imagine the incredible stuff I completely missed.
`The worst thing he did was read every poem with some kind of a weird, monotonous rhythm that broke up all the phrases and sentences into totally illogical pieces. It made them impossible to follow. I suppose he was trying to get the look of the poem on the printed page across to his listeners without actually showing it to them. He would have been much better served by using an overhead projector. A poem written on paper and a reading are two completely different art forms. A person can’t hear a visual form.
But reading a poem on paper, you can get both the form and the content at once. If you focus primarily on the content the look will still have its impact. And if one intrudes on the other too much, you can simply reread it. But none of this works at a reading. The only way to really communicate the poem is to ignore the look of it and concentrate on the content, the meaning, the phrases, the sentences. Then, if the poem is truly poetic, those poetics will to some extent make themselves felt in the normal reading of the sentences. In other words, the sentences will be different than if they had been written as prose.
But forgetting the look of the poem is only the beginning of communicating it. It only points the way. The reader has to really try to communicate, just as people talking to each other have to. Communicating largely involves empathy with the listener, imagining how the listener is taking everything that is spoken. If a word is spoken one way, will that lead the listener astray? Preventing misinterpretations is a very big problem in written poetry, and is part of the difficulty of both writing and reading a poem on the page, but to then read it aloud poorly is to compound the problem dramatically. And the listener has no time to think about meanings.
The listener has no time because the poem is usually read too quickly. Many impatient conversationalists speak far too quickly. They never seem to realize that even though they already know what they are going to say before they begin, the listener seldom does. The listener not only has to understand the words and the grammar but also must try to figure out the correct meaning at the same time.
The speaker only has to say the words. One requires more time than the other. Many good poets also seem to be ignorant of this lack on the part of their audience. And to grasp a poem takes much more than does grasping a simple conversation. Reading slowly is essential.
But few poets read with this kind of empathy for their audience. Reading each poem twice would make up for it, but that never happens. As a result, I often find myself giving up after the first few lines, shrugging my shoulders, and daydreaming through the rest of the poem.
Here’s my recipe for a good reading: The reader shouldn’t start out with the idea of trying to get across the complexities of the written poem, but instead should begin at the other end of the spectrum, as if the reading isn’t a reading but is actually just a conversation and the simple story in the poem is all that is important to get across. Then, with that, the reader can add more and more complexities from the written version until an optimal point is reached. Stop there. Beyond that, both content and poetics rapidly lose their stickiness until, at some point, the whole thing just bounces off the skull.