Friday, October 06, 2006

Politics and Poetry Set to Music

Last night’s festival activity saw us touring the venues. We started with Eddie Goldenberg’s discussion of his book, The Way It Works, in the cabaret, then sashayed over to the foyer of the auditorium to hear Betty Warrnington Kearsley and Seymour Mayne, then dosi-doed into the auditorium for the Song Writers’ Circle to hear Lynn Miles, Jim Bryson and Oh Susannah.

I’m not going to spend much time talking about the Goldenberg event, except to say that the music was as smooth and well-rehearsed as any conductor of political symphonies could orchestrate. I would have liked to have heard more excerpts from the book rather than a description of what was in the book, and I would have liked to have heard a more hard hitting interview with Angelo Persichilli, a reporter from the Hill Times.

I wanted to go to Writing Life 2, especially to hear Michael Redhill, but I couldn’t be in two places at once. If festival organizers would be so kind as to invent a cloning machine, I would really appreciate it. It’s on my Christmas wish list.

My main reason for attending last night was to hear fellow Bywordian, Betty Warrington-Kearsley read from her first poetry collection, Red Lacquered Chopsticks (Tsar, 2006). Betty’s poems were spell binding and exotic. She has a magical way with words. The poems she read were chiefly narrative and there were quite a few autobiographical poems. I don’t have the book yet to see if this is the case throughout. One poem about learning to write her name in Chinese was especially enjoyable. Betty combines precision with a good sense of fun. I’ve known Betty for a few years. We both took a poetry workshop at Carleton with Armand Garnet Ruffo a year ago and both of us were students of Seymour Mayne’s Creative Writing workshop at Ottawa U. It’s quite satisfying to see a fellow classmate publishing her work and to hear a poem we workshopped in Armand’s class too.

Next up was Seymour Mayne who read a few of his word sonnets from Hail, but this was by means of introduction to the featured event: soprano Doreen Taylor Claxton’s performance of his word sonnets, with music composed by John Armstrong. I have to admit that I have no education about classical music and therefore am not really able to comment on the performance in any intelligent way; however, I am fascinated by the idea of music and poetry together. Such collaborations have been tried before, notably by Terry Ann Carter, who sometimes performs her haiku to the accompaniment of an ensemble or accompanies herself on autoharp, and by Susan McMaster, whose spoken word pieces are often accompanied by jazz (her husband is an excellent jazz musician!).

Moving on to the auditorium, we ended our evening with the music of Bryson, Miles and Ungerleider (Oh Susannah). This was the festival’s first songwriters’ circle, I believe, and I think it’s an excellent idea. I heard Lynn Miles two years’ ago at a similar circle at CBC. Singer-songwriters discussed their literary influences and sang a few songs. Lynn is very well read and enjoys Canadian poetry. This comes as no surprise, given that her lyrics are poetic and moving.

Last night, along with some beautiful music, Oh Susannah read a chilling poem by Carl Sandberg and a piece of her own prose from a journal. She’d transformed the prose into a beautiful ballad. Jim Bryson, who is good friends with poet Ken Babstock, merged two of Babstock’s poems and added a bridge to create a song.

These days the calls for submissions are all about cross genres or pushing the boundaries of genres such as poetry. The songs I heard last night were most definitely poems set to music.

With two more days left to go for the festival, I’m starting to wish it wouldn’t end. I always begin the festival wondering how my attention span will make it through the whole thing and then I end the festival wanting more.

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