Monday, November 29, 2010

The Dogged Sport of the Stray Ukelele at the Gates of the Winter Embassy: Mansfield Press in Hamilton

This season Mansfield Press published four books of poems and, last night, the poets came to Hamilton to read at the Mulberry St. Coffeehouse on James St. N. The books themselves are beautifully designed by publisher Denis De Klerck and were edited by Stuart Ross.

Pricila Uppal wasn't wearing ski boots.

Priscila Uppal read from her Winter Sport: Poems, written when she was the poet-in-residence for Canadian Athletes Now during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games. These were witty and charming pieces. It makes sense, poetry and sports. They both have rules within which there is play. There are ‘goals’ by which to measure achievement, if only of grace and play. There is emotion – joy, hope, celebration, recognition. There is invention, fear, iconic moments, myth, and story.

Trick or treat?
Trick, trick!
Trick, trick!
Trick, trick!

—Snowboarder at the Door

Leigh Nash is not as blurry in real life

Leigh Nash read from her wonderful first collection, Goodbye, Ukelele. These poems explore, as it says on the back cover, “truth, lies, and what glimmers in between.” There is, here, the magic of consciousness, the glimmer of images, and our awareness. How we mediate experience through language, awareness, image, sound, and ourselves.

I’ve been collecting for a while
now, and I’m no closer to figuring out
right from wrong—but it sure is nice
to have pinned down so much beauty

—from Let’s Take a Cue from the Catholics

Peter Norman is not in the Theme Park

Peter Norman read from At the Gates of the Theme Park. To me these poems are fables of wonder, bemusement, surprise, trepidation, and the striking images themselves are the characters and plot devices which make up the fabulist yet actual experience of our modern world. Never mind the Jackpine Sonnet, I think Peter’s onto a new genre with “What He Found in the Vacuum Cleaner Bag.”  I’m going right now to empty out mine. Mostly dog hair, forgotten promises, and an excess of hope.  Peter has two poems in this collection in which time and causality move backward. They’re fantastic and create meaningful new relations with their vibrant reversed imagery.

Outside, a robin
cocks her head,
feeds worms
to the hungry soil.
—from Recursion

Unfortunately Natasha Nuhanovic wasn’t able to make the reading. I was looking forward to hearing her read from Stray Dog Embassy. I think of Tom Waits’ great idea of a ‘rain dog’, a dog that has lost its bearings because the rain has washed away all the territorial markings which give its world shape. The images in Natasha’s poems are an attempt to find one’s way. We use images to connect things, to give our experience, our troubles and our hopes, new names. We shape our experience and our world by naming it. These poems are an attempt to help us know where we are. Some of these poems recall—and this is high praise indeed—Charles Simic’s The World Doesn’t End.
It has become so cold outside that the rain
freezes in the air and turns into prison bars

—from Day Before the War

It was a lovely, intimate reading. And, Grey Cup-like, after poetry had been declared the victor, we ran through the streets of Hamilton, jeering, hooting, drinking, and smashing windows, or at least, perception.

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