Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pure Poetry at the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival

Olive Senior and John Glenday were the highlights among the six poets hosted by Billeh Nickerson at Friday’s Pure Poetry event. Saturday’s evening Poetry Bash has four of the same authors, but I preferred the Friday afternoon time slot mostly because of the venue, the Waterfront Theatre being so much more comfortable than Performance Works.

Olive Senior read from Shell, starting with a whimsical poem about ginep fruit. She also shared a sweet story about how the poem had inspired an 11-year-old girl to write a story. It was lovely to hear Senior’s Jamaican lilt and phrasing – “in two twos the tree grows.” Senior followed some lighter pieces with a layered poem covering 500 years of Caribbean history, starting with Columbus.

John Glenday said he “did lots of things wrong when I began writing poetry. All my poems were first drafts for two decades.” I don’t know if Apple Ghost is from that time, but I’m glad that he read the title poem, since it is one I am familiar with and like very much. Glenday’s approach to inspiration resonated with me, calling it the work of examining the world, not something that enters passively into an artist. “By examining the world, we breathe life into it.”

Glenday told little stories to introduce the origins of three poems from his newest collection, Grain. Did you know the can opener was invented 48 years after the invention of the tin can? “Tin” is a love poem that made the audience chuckle and then heave a collective sigh at the end. “St Orage” was inspired by a sign with too much space between the “t” and the “o.” The final poem was a result of repeated viewings of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast when Glenday’s son was ill – he retold the fairy tale backwards. I could have listened to this Scottish poet for another hour.

Gull wants my lunch.
Sachiko Murakami, originally from Vancouver, read poems from Rebuild about real estate entwined with the death of her father. She encouraged us to go to her website to create for ourselves.

Sharon Thesen, another BC author, shared images from her childhood in Oyama Pink Shale – a time peopled by creatures like dogfish woman, and mummies who drove Ford F10 pick-up trucks.

American poet Fanny Howe read from Come and See, a collection about the catastrophes of the 20th century from the perspective of a grandparent.

Martin Espada grew up in the projects in Brooklyn and his poems from The Trouble Ball draw on his Puerto Rican heritage. I especially liked the one about getting his tonsils out as a kid – the promised “you can have all the ice cream you want” was a huge disappointment, since the ice cream burned his raw throat afterwards. Espada’s delivery was powerful and he ended with a rousing poem of rebellion in honour of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

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