Friday, April 18, 2008

Poetry Cabaret 2: greetings torpor vigilantes, children of the turbulation

Poetry Cabaret 2 took place at the Ottawa International Writers Festival last night and featured Nathaniel G. Moore, R.M. Vaughn and Steve Venright and was hosted by the ever charismatic Stephen Brockwell, who I think has to be my favourite host of poetry events at the festival.

I had never heard any of these men read before and I have to say it was refreshing and thrilling.

Moore began with the intro from his poetry collection “Let’s Pretend We Never Met” (Pedlar Press, 2007), which describes his attempts to get the work of dead poet Catullus published and the various responses from publishers, such as “The reason we’ve never published post-humous writing is that we’ve never had any submissions.” He read several poems from the collection, which marries his translations of Catullus’ poems with popular culture and some autobiographical material. It was interesting to see the 21st century so well blended with Ancient Rome. I enjoyed Moore’s stage presence, his rapport with the audience, his surrealistic sensibilities and his humour. The language of his poems is tight, playful and imaginative.

RM Vaughan read from his poetry memoir “Troubled” (Coach House Books, 2008) about falling in love with his psychiatrist as many patients do, of being sexually exploited by him and of the ensuing legal proceedings. What impressed me about RM Vaughan's treatment of such a personal and traumatic subject is that the truth never seemed to get in the way of the strength of the art, at least from what he read. Many times when someone tries to write about his personal life, the result can be quite banal or melodramatic. This was not the case in Vaughan’s work. Later in response to one of Stephen Brockwell’s questions about the self in poetry, Vaughan explained that for his writing he needed to have a character and that even though this book is clearly autobiographical, he still needed a character.

Steve Venright had me from the first words he uttered: “Greetings all torpor vigilantes, children of the turbulation, fleurs du mal, lucid dreamers, hunters of the snark, surrealists, recordists, fovea centraleans, ritual circus freaks... (and this amazing list poem went on for ages and i loved every second). It’s on the back of Spiral Agitator (Coach House Books, 2000). One of the things Venright is known for is his language play. The man loves spoonerisms. I love spoonerisms and all kinds of word games (my own fetish is palindromes). He read the witty spoonerist tale (toonerist sale) Manta Ray Jack and the Crew of the Spooner from “Floors of Enduring Beauty” (Mansfield Press, 2007) and it had the audience buzzing and popping puzzing and bopping throughout the entire reading. It’s the first time this festival that I’ve seen the audience so animated and engaged. The story also had a non spoonerist version for those who can’t handle spoonerisms. The captain of the ship spoke in transposition only, in other words, he spoke in the spoonerism. This was such a brilliant feat of word play and skill, the attention to language, the linguistic gymnastics, the depth of understanding that goes into something like this took my breath away. You’re going to have to buy this book for yourself. It’s too good to miss.

I bought all three of Steve’s books, including Straunge Wunder, The Metalirious Pleasures of Neuralchemy - New Poems by Steve Venright (Tortoiseshell and Black, 1996). At the signing Steve was kind and gave me a bookmark with a gorgeous variegraph from his site, where you can find more psychedelic abstract art and a site rich with wonders that will delight you and surprise you.

This is what I love about the festival, the discovery of someone I have never heard of or not heard enough of and how that discovery inspires and opens up possibilities for me as both reader and writer, audience and performer, watcher and creator.

During the Q&A session, Stephen brought back his lightning round where he quotes little bits of poetic wisdom and asks for a 15-30 second comment from each person. This time around, unlike on Tuesday, the guests rose to the challenge and we all had fun. I didn’t take notes because my synapses were still reverberating from the amazing reading.

[and wasn’t it lovely to have rob back again...he read an exquisite essay on Sheila Watson’s Double Hook and Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept]

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