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
I’ve been trying to solve this problem. I think I have, at least to some degree. Poems are words. When reading a poem on paper I can blot out everything except the words. But when I’m watching someone read, I’m really sitting over in the visual part of my mind, my dominant part, and from there frantically trying to catch things coming in elsewhere, missing many of them. Instead I’m forming a very strong memory of the flip in Stewart’s hair, his angular face, the way he reads looking at the audience most of the time, his stance. None of this has the least to do with the poem. So last night I tried out my remedy. I simply closed my eyes. And there were the words. They were describing an anthology Stewart is working on of poems that have to do with money. And then his own version, from his book, `Questions in Bed’.... ‘’It’s called `Money Talks’. Pause. `North American proverb’. Pause.
‘’Adorned with purse-lipped busts
of power brokers cashed-out
long enough to gild their debts
and liquefy their minted mugs
among the public trust, it keeps
hush. Depends on chronic mass
amnesia for its thrust, the way
a case too long before the judge
finds its column-inches nipped
away at like a small inheritance
from a spinster aunt. It persists
in retailing the spent myth
of the shoot-second cowpoke
Loquacious Cash, yet gloves
our eager faces like a count
affronted when we dare request
it louden or repeat itself.
its grubby riffle can approximate
a lulling susurration, a comforting
motherless shush. At worst
a hiss rent from a snake’s larynx,
viciously post-Edenic. Most
often though, it occupies
a sonic shelf shared (grudgingly
no doubt) with tapped keys
and swept verandahs, cleared
throats and muffled traffic heard...’‘
Heard clearly now. It felt like I was in a different world than the room I was sitting in. I opened my eyes. There it was. All the people sitting around me. Frank Beltrano on the other side of our little table. Stewart up there, still with the flip in his hair, on the right side of his head. Already I had missed several lines. Oh well. I tried to remember the name of one of the women at the large table in the middle. Gone. I wished I had discovered Stewart early enough to have him read at a Poetry Night in the near future. But no. I’ll have to wait till next year. Too bad.
Karen introduced the first of her main readers, one she had created a chapbook for, Gabriel Wainio-Theberge. He seemed only a kid. Had to be one of the youngest people in the room. He had taken days off from his studies at Concordia in Montreal to come here. He read loudly at the mic, having practiced his delivery. A little distracting. After that poem I closed my eyes. There they were again, pure words. They were explaining that a particular word, that was the title of one of his poems, ‘Wndryn’, didn’t exist. He had made it up. He read from a copy of the chapbook of autumn poems that Karen had made for him, ‘Small Hallows’:
‘’Wndryn the rain. A season's baptism
plasters leaves to the asphalt. Wndryn.
The asphalt sweats out its heart. A clod of cold
slips down its road throat. Something moves.
The leaves are transfixed. A twisting
inside the red branch, a twisting of something green.
The asphalt chokes, but it is
saying something - Wndryn.’‘
With these words, in this word-world, this boy had created an autumn I had never seen through my eyes. It felt like he had somehow freed himself from the reality that was bonded so strongly to eyesight. I was getting excited. I started thinking about a poem I had been working on since forever. I needed to loosen those bonds. Wished I had a copy with me. I could see it’s structure in my mind. Let go of it. Weave it somehow. When I get home.
Blair Trewartha was up there now, a sturdy guy, ancient, probably in his 30s. His chapbook was based on a deadly fire in the Sudbury area, where he had moved from London. Harsh reality. It bothered me that he was playing with these deaths. I closed my eyes.
The wagons are rolling to Golgotha.
Atop, the dead sit upright, lighting candles,
holding the heads of gutted fish.
Each bump or pothole, every wheel over stone,
and I can hear the cracking shift of ribs.
A bend in the road and wooden planks
beneath their bones turn like a carousel,
a little battle of blackened femurs
and hollowed skulls, jostling in unison -
charred marionettes dancing only for me.
Words. Maybe imagination can mix in easier with words than with the visual. Still, it must not be easy with fire. Fire is very visual. Viseral. Viseral! Hey, I am loosening up!