On June 6th, 2015, the last event of London Open Mic Poetry Night’s third season, a lively audience of 53 turned out to hear featured poet John B. Lee and the largest open mic section we’ve ever had: 22 very creative poets.
John Tyndall, in introducing John B. Lee, said Lee is Canada’s best living poet. I have no way of vouching for that but I can truly say that his poetry, and his reading of it, was very inspiring.
As Lee said in our interview with him, “I want to write poetry, to be in the midst of the thrilling impossibility of doing the thing we do when we surrender.” As was evidenced by the poems he read. They were not neat square boxes, measured, sawed and hammered. They were inspirations, hovering in the air around us. But they were also very available, written and delivered in such a way that we could receive them. Kevin Heslop, who read a lot of Lee’s work before interviewing him, not only gained an appreciation of his writing in the process, but said of his reading on the stage, “His lines, compact on the page, opened up when spoken, reminiscent of Dylan Thomas. Mellifluous. You can see Thomas' influence. Or rather hear it.” Our video of Lee’s reading will be up soon.
You can read Lee’s bio, four of his poems, and Heslop’s interview of him
Now, at the end of three seasons, it is becoming obvious that we have something special going on here. Not only is the average attendance at London Open Mic, about fifty, quite large for a poetry event, but it tends to encompass all ages, genres and genders. By comparison, the much larger city of Toronto has many more reading series but each is far more specialized and attended by far fewer people. It would seem then that the main reason for the wide interest in our event is that there is no other such inclusive event in London in which poets and poetry lovers can participate. Well, good, if that’s what it takes to get this kind of magic. It’s just one more reason, if you need one, to love living in a smaller city!
After three seasons, each of which has outperformed the previous one, it would seem that London Open Mic Poetry Night is becoming an institution here. The question is, will it be able to keep itself going indefinitely as an amateur, grassroots, totally voluntary organization. So far, it’s relied mostly on the efforts of one individual, me, at first totally, but increasingly less so as other volunteers joined and began sharing the workload. I’ll be organizing for a maximum of two more seasons, but I’m confident that by the end of season five the group will be able to keep it going without needing one individual to run it.
But indefinitely? Well, I’ve noticed that at every open mic there are people in the audience who have never attended before. If that keeps up, and I see no reason why it shouldn’t, then there will always be enough young, excited newcomers on the scene to replenish the group and keep the open mic going.
We now are (in alphabetical order, of course) Stan Burfield, Joan Clayton, Frank Davey, Shelly Harder, Kevin Heslop, Carl Lapp, and our newest member: videographer Sebastian Rydzewski. And of course my lovely wife Linda.
One more peek into the future: On the last day of January, I became 65, which was a big surprise to me. It was a surprise because in order to not lose any income I was forced to cut back on my hours of work! As odd as that may seem. And I suddenly found myself with the time to pursue an idea I had had some time ago, to try and persuade the city to stamp poems in the fresh cement when they repair sidewalks. St. Paul, Minnesota, is doing this, with huge success. Each year they have a contest to pick the next year’s batch of poems to be installed, and so many people have been writing and submitting their work that the city had to set up a committee of seven judges to go through them all! In other words, poetry could become fashionable again.
Stan Burfield, organizer of London Open Mic Poetry Night