Our last reading & open mic of Season Two was a tumult of beauty, fun, profundity, song, humour. And character -- the people, the sheer human diversity with no fear of letting loose. The dogs were out and running. Some may have noticed, some not, perhaps depending upon how sensitive were their eyes and ears, their hearts. Or how desensitized. Who they were. Where they sat. If and when they got up and read. And what. And the eyes that played on theirs, shining or with tears or anger. Anxious eyes. Eyes brimming with care. There was love there in the room, bubbling from one table, from another. The room filled quickly this time, through the piano and song, and then the mighty words came, the flawless words, words recited, read, held out for tasting, sung so purely from Cheryl’s lungs, the quiet words crossing each other above the emptied plates and glasses of wine, words drifting out the open back of the terrace into the cool night.
We had come to hear Monika Lee’s tremendous poems. And we did, read the way they should be read, in the lilting rhythm of a person talking, but somehow better, more full, words that opened up inside each listener.
But before Monika read, we heard Sharon Bee, the blend of her piano and voice, the beauty of her songs, with drums to the side. And again, after Monika read her poems, Sharon sang one of them she had put to song, a strikingly beautiful combination of melody and poetry, voice and piano. We will hear it again on the video of Monika Lee’s reading, which will be coming here soon.
Somewhere in there I said my thanks. To those who had worked and earned it this second season. To those who came throughout the year. To the forty four who came to live the moment together.
I had brought notes to read, but over these two seasons my confidence has grown so that I hardly glanced at them, amazing myself. I said I had gone from zero to fifty on the scale of introversion and extroversion and, if that is so, I should be able to stand up there babbling, talking even with my hands and arms. But I admitted that was a level of reality beyond me. Yet it wasn’t. When I got to where I had planned to begin reading, I was relaxed. And into it.
I spoke about London Open Mic Poetry Night doing a pretty good job of filling a big hole in the poetry scene in London. Featuring great local poets, given them an audience both live and on the internet. And I said there are still many more in the city and the local region for the coming seasons. We may even bring back a few early readers as well. But even more important than that, in my estimation, we have also given a much larger group of poets the opportunity to read for five minutes at a shot before an open mic audience. (And this particular audience, hearing this, burst into applause, spontaneous agreement.) Poets who are beginners can read right alongside those who are highly published. And it gives them motivation. Largely because of the open mic, some of us keep writing poems. We actually create things we might never have attempted otherwise. And every time we write a poem, we not only get better at it but we think thoughts and appreciate things in new ways. In my case, I said, as part of getting ready for the next open mic, I work on a new poem or pull out an old one and rework it. Any kind of fame as a poet is far beyond my reach, but just for myself and for my five minutes in the open mic spotlight, I push myself into the throws of creative orgasm. And that’s a good thing.
I organize the open mic. And I write stuff like this for the curious. But it has become far too much for one person to handle. It’s now a group effort by necessity. So I said thank you’s from everyone who has enjoyed London Open Mic to those who worked on it this year.
Best wishes in your Post-Grad work.The loudest, biggest thank-you went to our host Dawna Perry. She has carried us through for two seasons, no doubt our roughest two. And she’s done it with poise, with calm and confidence, with humour, and with something I admire terribly, the ability to think on her feet. Alas, next season Dawna is going to be far too busy for the open mic. She’s going full time into post-graduate work. For which we wish her well. So Dawna, we thank you many, many times for your huge contribution. (This brought an ovation from the audience, and cued Linda to come forward and present Dawna with a large, lovely bouquet of freesia, mums, and carnations, a parting gift so unexpected that tears were threatening to overtake Dawna’s glowing smile.)
A big thank you went to Kevin Heslop, who is many things, beginning with a good friend. Kevin has done some photography for us during Season Two, but is now concentrating on interviewing our featured poets. He has a very clear mind when it comes to making decisions and has contributed greatly to the smooth functioning of the open mic. And, not a small matter, at least to me, he has managed to keep me excited about the actual act of writing poetry, as I push myself along the creativity-destroying road of organizing.
Thank you to Frank Davey, not only for having his blog on our website, which brings untold numbers of readers from elsewhere in Canada, but also for contributing his decision-making ability and his huge experience to our committee meetings.
And thank you to our second-newest member, videographer Kenny Khoo. This is Kenny’s third month of creating videos of our readings. We’re especially grateful to him because of the amount of personal time at home that he puts into this, time he has little left after working his day job as an engineer. (Not only that, but Kenny has just acquired a little puppy, which has been keeping him up nights.) Kenny’s videos allow us to re-experience any of the feature and open mic poems which fascinated us first time around. (Beginning this month he is also recording the musicians.) This by itself makes London Open Mic a much more substancial event than it was.
Thanks also to London artist James Wood, for supplying a monthly drawing for the home page of our website. His first drawing, which really is a visual poem, is on the home page now. New drawings will replace old about mid-month.
A special thank you to my great friend Carl Lapp, for his tremendous help making decisions, and so much more. Carl didn’t know it before I said this, but he’s now the newest member of our organizing committee. (To which he pumped his arms in the air, so even without his help I obviously made the right decision here.)
(I said to Carl on the phone, after a long, rambling conversation, “When we’ve gotten to our age, we’ve not only experienced a lot of different things, but just from so much thinking we’ve kind of absorbed the workings of the world, haven’t we Carl?” to which he responded, “Yes, and the open mic is the world in microcosm.”) !!!!.
And lastly a big smooshy kiss of a thank you goes to the lady sitting at the book table at the back, my wife Linda Burfield, who is more important to London Open Mic than anyone knows. To read off, point by point, everything she’s done and supplied, physically and emotionally, would take far too long, so I won’t. She is the support every vital organization needs.
And then at the end I said thank you, everybody, for coming. You’re what it’s all about.
Oh, one more thing. Today is also somebody’s birthday. Happy 77th to Roy MacDonald. He’s going to be our next featured poet, on Oct. 1st. If you want to be truly astonished by a poetry reading, make sure you come to hear Roy.
Monika Lee interview and four poems
It was nice to be back at Mykonos Restaurant after our previous event in Landon Library, where there was no wine or beer, no Greek food, none of that great European ambience. Singer/songwriter Carly Thomas opened the event with her beautiful singing, followed by readings from two of Canada's finest poets, Susan McCaslin and Lee Johnson. After an intermission and the picking of three raffle prize winners from amongst the people who donated, a full slate of twelve open mic poets entertained the audience until closing time.
Susan McCaslin interview and poems
Lee Johnson interview and poems
Our National Poetry Month reading on April 16th at Landon Library was a success with 33 in attendance even though we didn`t have those great tables to sit around at our usual venue, Mykonos Restaurant, and we missed the food and wine that goes with them. Nevertheless, we had two great featured poets, Penn Kemp and Laurence Hutchman. Their honorariums were paid for by Canada Council for the Arts and The League of Canadian Poets (with the proviso that the event be held in a library, not a restaurant).
Bernie Koenig, familiar to many in the audience, bounced those riffs of bright notes that he`s famous for off his vibraphone before the poetry began, and again during the intermission. A highlight was his demonstration of how one tune sounds when played in the manner of different genres of music.
Penn Kemp, who has a natural performing flair, began her reading with straight lyrical works, beautiful, but not too dramatic. However, as her reading progressed, she became more and more expressive until we were all fully open and ready to hear her final, climactic, poem, a true `sound poem`. It was the big experience of the night for many of us.
Laurence Hutchman, who has lived and taught elsewhere in Canada, mostly Moncton, NB, since his initial education in English literature in London, brought a completely different feeling into the room, less of the inner world and the overtly artistic and more of the people and the land and its history. In his Q&A he even gave us an unexpected and very comprehensive description of all the kinds of rhyme that fill every good poem. He had us all running down our own checklists in our minds.
We had time for six of the twelve hopeful open-mic readers who dropped their names into the randomly-chosen Ballot Bowl before closing time. Our next event, on the first Wednesday of May (the 7th), will be back to normal, with a full slate of fifteen open-mic readers at Mykonos Restaurant.
London Open Mic Poetry NIght is becoming more of a social occasion than ever, with much of the audience chatting over wine for an hour or more after the poetry has finished. The Mykonos is open for an extra two hours now, so our musicians play not only for half an hour before the poetry begins and again during the intermission, but also for a while into the night as the conversations warm up over the Greek food and drinks.
This evening featured poet Jacob Scheier, currently Writer-in-Residence at the Algoma University campus in St. Thomas and the 2008 Governor-General's Award winner, read some amazing poetry from his latest book Letter from Brooklyn. He was followed by a full slate of fifteen open mic poets, reading a wide variety of poetry, including several great performance poems.
The audience of 45 went home satisfied.
On the way to the open mic, our car nearly slid sideways into a Jeep which was spinning its tires with two teenagers pushing. Linda and I got out of there safely, but decided we would be lucky if a dozen people showed up at Mykonos Restaurant in this weather.
We counted 38! All good Canadian winter drivers. With no accidents.
Inside, it was as warm as a summer beach in Greece. Bluesman Tim Woodcock and his bass player Rick “Catfish” Bardawill were plugging wires into speakers and tuning up their instruments.
At 6:30, Woody strapped on his big dobro guitar, fitted his harmonica into its neck rack, and he and Catfish began playing. Beautiful blues. Right off the bat, some people started dancing. Their bodies made them do it. Good blues is like that.
I was sitting talking to Carl Lapp when that dobro tossed out some very familiar notes, and then Tim was singing those words that go so deep in me. One of my favourite songs, by my favourite singer: “We were born before the wind, also younger than the sun, every bonnie boat was one as we sailed into the mystic...” It sounded quite a bit different than Van Morrison’s version, which, when I was 20, I would play every night before I went to bed. Still, Tim nearly put me into a dream with his.
The feature of the night was unlike anyone we’ve had yet. Not a senior poet, as usual, but four young people, all still going to UWO. I had asked Scott Beckett, the current Student Writer-in-Residence, to round up some good young poets and put together a presentation for us. Whatever he thought might work. These are poets who are still immersed in the study of English literature, in all it’s forms, but who prefer poetry, and so are putting a lot of their energy and excitement into reading and creating it. Scott is in his 4th year, along with Erikk Zadrozny, and Koral Scott. Jilian Baker is in her 3rd.
Scott’s plan was to come up with three lines, which everybody had to include in their first poem, with one of the lines as the title. The three lines were: "When it was over", "____is like a tree and ___is like a shadow" (this is based on a quote by Abraham Lincoln), and "it is foolish to turn off the heat". What perfect lines to spark creativity. Reading them takes you places instantly. When each of the four read their poem, its difference from the others was astonishing. Which is something we’ve been noticing at our events all along: Each poet is very different from any of the others. It’s as if they must have to struggle just to keep themselves inside the category.
I’ll probably reproduce those four poems here later. The students each went on to read several more of their creations, again a huge variety, from love to anarchy to a desire to see life through Mother’s eyes. There were straight readings and a bit of performance as well.
Host Dawna Perry ushered in the open mic section, thirteen brave poets who each took a deep breath, and opened their mouths and their souls. Some went trippingly and some skitteringly, but all won applause. And in the middle of it, we took a musical intermission, complete with “Moondance" and dancing.
I found myself talking to Catfish’s wife Liz, who is a wonder on Twitter, tweeting for the London Writer’s Society. In a flurry of words and concentration she taught me the basics. From now on, you can find us on Twitter, along with all the other London events, if you use #LdnOnt. I knew nothing about hashtags before, except that they existed. Thanks, Liz.
Dawna picked the raffle prizes from the tickets of those who donated. (Much thanks: Your Loonies, Toonies and Fives are our only income to offset expenses). The prizes consisted of about a dozen poetry books supplied by Brick Books and the Association of Ontario Poets, plus a new hardcover of Leonard Cohen’s “Stranger Music”, donated by Ron Stewart.
I closed the evening with a tribute to Dawna Perry, who has hosted tirelessly since near the beginning -- a year and a half ago. I admire her tremendously for her calm, her confidence, her ability to think on her feet in the midst of chaos, her humour, and her grace at the microphone. Also, she and I work together as a team extremely well. Between the two of us, we can easily solve the most complicated organizing problems. Like all of us, Dawna gets nothing for doing all this except the pleasure of contributing something to her community.
During the days after New Year’s, many folks are still away on extended holiday. As was evident at our January 2nd open mic. The audience of 23 was half what it normally is.
Realizing this would happen, I had already decided to cut January from our schedule in future.
But now I’m thinking of keeping it, because the event turned out to be a lot of fun, and had a much more intimate feeling than we’ve experienced in the past. I think it was the most deeply enjoyable event we’ve had. Maybe smaller is better. On Thursday, everyone went home feeling good about the evening.
A lack of formality may have had something to do with it. Everything was casual, starting with Jan Figurski’s music. Jan had been our featured poet, and our musician, back in October. He sings with such ease and beauty that it seems to flow out of him effortlessly. His personality feels like that too. When his set was finished, I was so warmed and calmed by it that I told the audience that if only I could sing like that I would never be down or anxious. I’d just be bouncing down that road happy. They felt it too. Quite obviously.
M. NourbeSe (noor-BAY-see) Philip’s reading at London Open Mic Poetry Night was undoubtedly the most memorable so far for many of the 42 in attendance at the Mykonos Restaurant Dec. 4th.
But first, singer/pianist Sharon Bee entertained arrivals with her own compositions. The classically-trained pianist has a very beautiful voice and a huge talent. Later in the evening she told me that she is adapting some of a friend’s poems to music, turning them into songs. Her friend just happens to be one of our upcoming featured poets, Monika Lee, due to read June 4th! So we decided that Sharon and Monika will do a mixed performance. Can’t wait!
When Sharon Bee finished her set, our featured poet, M. NourbeSe Philip, read poems from her latest book Zong!, which is based on a legal decision at the end of the eighteenth century that related to the notorious murder of many Africans on board a slave ship. Slaves were dumped overboard like excess cargo in order to lighten the ship. Philip’s poems don’t limit themselves to the situation, its horror and its legal aftermath, but deal with slavery itself and the social and personal effects of slavery, and with death, survival, and memory...the dwindling memory of the murdered. And the sadness of that. She used the court document and other historical details as ‘found’ material to inspire deeper, wider feelings and poetic content.
The Nov. 6th London Open Mic Poetry Night was well-attended considering it was competing for audience with a major literary event at Landon Library.
A total of 37 listened to one of London’s best poets, Susan Downe, and a dozen open mic readers, in the Greek atmosphere of Mykonos Restaurant while Irish novelist Emma Donoghue read from her novels at Landon. Even Susan Downe admitted wishing she could have attended the Donoghue event. We learned about the schedule conflict too late to change the date of the open mic.
However, those who couldn’t attend were able to view our entire poetry event on high-definition video on our website, the first event videography donated by videographer Kevin Austin of Hawkeye Video Productions.
Before the poetry began, the audience was treated to the beautiful vocals and celtic harp of Jennifer White, accompanied by percussionist Robert McMaster.
Interview with Susan Downe
6 Poems by Susan Downe
Event Summary by Kevin Heslop
There was a little Greek restaurant just south of Oxford east and Adelaide of flat white sign hanging above the stout four-step-set of stairs reads Mykonos in blue letters.
Open Mic poetry night in there Wednesday featured Jan Figurski who tread jazz, blues and radio-friendlies through the laughing air of wine-pouring and food coming or having arrived and hot before the readings began.
Jan’s musical accompaniment consisted of Geoff Johnson of Big Picture, who battered the electric keys with a shootist’s decisiveness and the rhythmical integrity of a skilled carpenter, and I, who intended to keep drum kit rhythm under the current of Jan under siege and telling us, blowing blues through harmonica and the music happening and on.