Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Montreal International Poetry Prize winners read at Arts Court

A group of young Montrealers surprised the poetry world last year by offering a prize of $50,000 for a single poem in English by anyone in the world, promising that the competition would become an annual event, funded mainly by entry fees. In addition to the big prize, an anthology of 50 short-listed poems was to be published, as well as a broadsheet designed by a prominent artist to illustrate one of the short-listed poems chosen by the artist.
On Saturday, April 28, in the midst of the Ottawa International Writers Festival, the two winners arrived in Ottawa on the last leg of their reading tour. Grand-prize winner Mark Tredinnick of Sydney, Australia, and broadsheet prize winner Linda Rogers of Victoria, B.C., read at ArtsCourt.
Well-known Canadian poet Linda Rogers gave a brief reading, including an excerpt from her novel The Empress Letters. In her characteristic lush, elegant language, Rogers revisited some horrific episodes in recent history, especially involving a violence against women. While she apologized to the audience for the lack of comic relief, she made the point that it is important to witness the devastating effect that violence has on the lives of everyone involved.
Mark Tredinnick’s reading included many topical references and a “political” poem about his country’s exclusionary policies toward refugees, but he argued that the chief social role of poetry may be to counteract the rhetoric of politics by directing attention back to the constants of the physical world, family and love. A former lawyer and a lecturer on environmental law. Tredinnick came rather late to poetry, and in the past decade has established himself as a major voice in Australian poetry. His prize-winning poem, however, is based on his first trip to North America, last year.
The Ottawa audience warmed to Tredinnick’s vigorous yet reflective poems, both his preferred long-line meditations on the natural world and his occasional syllable-counting lyrics. Apart from a few unfamiliar words – antipodean animals and trees, for instance – his idiomatic writing seemed approachable and familiar to his Canadian audience. And he graciously opened his session by reading poems by others: the Australian poet Debbie Lim (who told him about the Montreal contest), and Canadian poet Jan Zwicky.
Tredinnick mentioned how pleased he was that five Australian poets had been selected (by Andrew Motion in a blind judging) for the Global Poetry Anthology. Another three of the short-listed poets were also included, and they opened the evening with brief readings of their own. Congratulations to Peter Richardson, Barbara Myers, and Maria Borys.
The Montreal International Poetry Prize is intended to be repeated annually, and its launch must be judged a big success. Winner Mark Tredinnick did comment, however, that there is room for improvement. For instance, nothing was set aside to promote the winners or the prize anthology, so Tredinnick and Rogers had to organize and finance their own cross-Canada tour by train. The little-publicized reading would also have benefited from being associated with the OIWF, which was happening across town at the same time. Fifty thousand dollars for a single poem, and he still rates the prize “could do better”? Well, yes. Tredinnick is equally demanding of us own work; the winning poem is not his favorite of the ones he sent in to the contest. No doubt, he will try to do better next time.

OIW: A Talk on Contemporary Poetry Feat. rob mclennan and Pearl Pirie

 “Be careful not to scratch and make too much noise with that,” said Brian, motioning to the pen and paper I’d removed from my bag. “I might be trying to commune or something!” Maybe it was due to the fact that I’d only met him minutes earlier in line to attend Ottawa Independent Writers’ latest discussion but gauging whether Brian was kidding or not proved difficult. In either case, writers young, old, experienced and curious alike had convened to soak up the wisdom of two of Ottawa’s foremost poets, robmclennan and Pearl Pirie – scratching away with my pen felt as natural a reaction as listening in.

It takes a poet-publisher of considerable expertise to tackle a topic as broad and massive as Contemporary Poetry but, as luck would have it, this evening delivered two. Calling upon proven skills and noteworthy anecdotes from careers waist-deep in the literary arts, mclennan and Pirie discussed some of the many poetic forms (examples being haiku, tanka) that stream and intersect contemporary verse. Those in attendance were encouraged to ask questions or even interrupt the flow of conversation, the latter option proving popular when the introduction of visual poetry came under fire. Make no mistake, the OIW isn’t a group of starry-eyed pacifists; for some members, the art of arranging letters in a way that deepens the author’s intent sparked a vocal debate on the merits of certain poetic styles. A surprising change of pace for the event, perhaps, but these stubborn viewpoints and insightful defenses provided even the quiet attendees with some food for thought.

At the very least, no one could refute the effectiveness of visual poetry any longer with so many convictions flying about!  One writer stood and passionately recited his criteria for good poetry, to which everyone applauded. Another scoffed at the example of several contemporary forms but took detailed notes on each. Even my new colleague Brian, who had worried about the sound of my pen on paper, stood arms-crossed away from the table, peppering the guest speakers with questions. Now this was unfiltered discussion! And as one of those demure individuals taking it all in, I found the heated yet respectful exchange life-affirming to any poetry-lover’s ears.

The immeasurable size of the topic at hand allowed mclennan and Pirie freedom to dive into certain facets or styles upon the whim of the audience. Some inquiries had concrete solutions, such as Pearl Pirie’s insightful breakdown of approaches that distinguish and shape a writer – a classification that caused the group to pause and consider their work’s intention. Concentrated dialogues also arose on the subject of prose poems – and by extension, knowing when to keep poetry and prose apart – plus ways of promoting one’s work in a changing industry.

Other questions were impossibly pointed; when asked to define poetry in two or three words, rob mclennan enunciated as though counting each word: “I don’t know”.  It was one of many refreshing exchanges during an evening dedicated to uncovering the joy of poetry’s borderless playground. Riffing off of each other’s leads and shedding light on how the expectations on contemporary poetry have changed from an editor’s perspective, mclennan and Pirie defied expectations with an engaging talk that refused to pull punches.

As a non-member, I witnessed many potential perks to enrolling with the OIW, including notice on inclusive submissions, writer’s retreats and a whole lot of local support. Get more information here:

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

A choir like no other makes Ottawa debut


See local participants perform in Ottawa's Feral Choir premiere!

Saturday, May 12, 2012
Church of St. John the Evangelist
Corner of Elgin & Somerset Streets
Entrance on Elgin Street
Ottawa, Ontario

Following dozens of stunning productions around the globe, Feral Choir comes to Ottawa!

A Feral Choir - photo by Bryony McIntyre

An A B Series Presentation

For more information and online advance tickets, visit A B Series’ website. Advance tickets are also available from Octopus Books at 116 Third Avenue and 251 Bank Street, 2nd Floor.

A UK singer and conductor, MINTON has taken Feral Choir around the world, hosting over one hundred workshops and transforming the lives of thousands of people. The project is comprised of a series of workshops open to everyone, amateurs and professionals, young and old, singers and non-singers. MINTON encourages participants to take a vocal leap and explore all vocal possibilities through exercises and improvisations, over the workshop period and in performance. Ottawa participants enjoy an unprecedented opportunity for voice exploration with the world’s leading sound-singing choral conductor. There is, indeed, something feral about MINTON’s approach, a primal scream philosophy to free participants from the limits of orthodox singing. The culminating choir performance, with dozens of local feral singers, premieres a public art project as never before staged in Ottawa.

MINTON notes that “the human voice is capable of so much more than is generally understood. In the workshops, I have encouraged participants to realize that anyone who can breathe is capable of producing sounds that give a positive aesthetic contribution to the human condition and many of these contributions are without any cultural influence or reference.”

“For over twenty years, with Feral Choir, MINTON has been helping people’s inner voice to break free!”

Phil Minton by Francesca Pfeffer