2014 Poetry Reviews

Student-poet Abby Simone reviews the In-Words Reading Series

If you’re familiar with Ottawa, you’re probably familiar with The Clocktower, a brew and pub located in the Glebe. What you may not know, is that on the last Wednesday of every month, the basement of the Clocktower becomes a stage, for a night of poetry. Wednesday February 25th featured last month’s In-Words Reading Series. Hosted by the editors of the student-run magazine, these monthly events feature prominent poets from the Ottawa area and offer emerging writers the chance to share their work during an open-mic.

The featured readers for February were JM Francheteau and Sandra Ridley. Francheteau is the writer of the vine Nightshift and his work has been published in numerous publications. Francheteau read from his new chapbook Kids. He read poems such as “Preparing for Death and my Subsequent Transparency” and “The Tourists”. Francheteau read with a drawling inflection, hands sometimes in his pockets, sometimes gesturing as his words increased in passion.

Franchetau was followed by Sandra Ridley, a poet who has written three books and taught at Carleton University. Ridley read poems which were mostly serial works which “unfold into each other” like her poem “Phantasmagoria”. She also read some poems which she called “homeless poems” stating that “sometimes poems arrive and they don’t really have a home” such as her poem “An Incomplete Index of Charms”. Ridley was soft-spoken, her voice lulling listeners into her poetry.

Following the featured readers, was the In-Words open mic. Several first-time readers, as well as seasoned In-Words veterans participated. At the end of the night, prizes were awarded to open-mic participants.

First prize was awarded to Dave Currie as he read for his last time at an In-Words event. Currie read his poem “My Father Madonna” and short story “Reasonable Fishes”, the first piece that Currie ever read at an In-Words event. Other prizes were awarded to John Brownlee, a first-time reader who read two haikus, Ian Martin who read his poem “Last Supper” and Holly Long who sang an original song.

As always there were several chapbooks and little magazines for sale as well as free broadsides. If you stuck around to the very end, Sandra Ridley and Carmel Purkis read a surprise two-person poem, experimenting with sound as the night was being packed up.

If you’re looking for a night to be inspired, the In-Words reading series happens the last Wednesday of every month at The Clocktower.

Meredith R. Pal and Jordan Prato are students in the Creative Writing Concentration’s second-year poetry workshop (ENGL 2901). Meredith recently attended one of the bi-monthly Tree reading series events.  Jordan was in the audience for the “Reclaiming Indigenous Voices” coffeehouse held by Carleton’s Centre for Aboriginal Culture and Education (CACE) Their insightful reviews follows.

Tree Reading Series:

Check out these links to You Tube videos of the readers: Jenna Butler and John Terpstra

A fusion of writers, readers, and good-listeners filled the seats at Black Squirrel Books Jan. 13th for the Tree Reading Series event. A Writing Workshop had taken place moments before in the cozy and nostalgic Indie bookstore in Old Ottawa South, so the group was already comfortably sipping drinks and chatting as they took their seats to hear the evening’s featured readers: Jenna Butler and John Terpstra.

Introducing herself as a poet, organic farmer, and storyteller, Butler took the stage first. With her mother a refugee from Tanzania and her father a “British farm-boy,” Butler was born in British farming country. When her father got a job with Native Justice, she was raised on Native Reservations across Western Canada. “So the sense of home and a fragmented identity is very much present for me,” Butler shared with the audience.

To situate one of her poems she asked if anyone in the audience had heard of a town called Robinhood, which has been a small ghost town in Saskatchewan since 1971. “Except there’s this fantastic story tagged to it,” she insisted. Butler told a story of the grandson of two of the town’s inhabitants wanting to get married in the town, but wishing the area looked less run-down and abandoned. “So I’m pretty sure how it went is grandma got on the party line and called in all the favours she had ever been owed. Because people came from miles around. They cut the grass, they painted the church fence, they hung the bunting, they made ham sandwiches…” She paused. “If you’re from a small prairie town you know there’s always someone making ham sandwiches.” The next day, the bride and groom up-and-left for their honeymoon, “but for that one day in 1991, it was the Roaring Twenties again.”

Butler’s poetry explores the profound levels of human connection that take place in the many stories she has collected from her journeys. Having moved to the country to live with her partner on an organic farm, her writing is also imbued with visuals of the natural world and her changing relationship with it: “Have you ever seen a coyote with a trap? Oftentimes they’ll know it’s there and they’ll circle it and circle it, then they’ll hit it. I started thinking about how that’s a great metaphor for the past… we know something’s there in our past and we circle it and circle it in our memories and then it bites us.” These moments that she captures so eloquently in her poems speak to the transformative period she has experienced in her life, something to which everyone can relate.

Terpstra was up next. A self-employed cabinetmaker and carpenter, Terpstra is the author of nine books of poetry and four books of creative non-fiction. His writing, while sometimes satirical in its absolute honesty, is shadowed and simultaneously spotlighted with potent religious allusions. “I was what one might call ‘over-churched’ growing up,” Terpstra said, “and so I grew up with very distinct ideas of where people were going after they die. In the meantime I have developed my own theology.”

While he was raised on specific ideas of religion in his youth, Terpstra uses his writing to convey his own self-discovery along the way. The last poem he read was one that he had been asked to write for the opening of an art show, the artwork of which was a series of painted mandalas (a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism that represents the Universe). “The artwork was put together by a friend of the artist who had painted more than 1000 mandalas. He was a schizophrenic who died young. This was a show put on in his honour… he was quoted saying that he drew the mandalas as a way of keeping the voices away, quiet.”

This illustration of how creating art can instil an individual peace perfectly captured the atmosphere in the small bookshop, with two poets reading their art and selves aloud to others.

By Meredith R. Pal

Reclaiming Aboriginal Voices (January 14, 2015)

With the Rooster’s Cafe filled to the brim, the welcoming hosts started with opening remarks and acknowledged the uncharted Algonquin land we sat on before beginning the performances. Vera Webwgijig, a published poet and spokesperson for Aboriginal rights, began. In her silky voice, Vera started with ‘Ants’, a piece comparing the ants working in the earth, to cars on a highway. How the ants in line, worked towards a greater community, while the isolated cars, moved towards their own ends. Her poetry spoke to the power of nature and the many aspects of blood; from the bloodshed of war, to the blood tie of family and the blood of birth, speaking on a global shared humanity found in blood.

The next artist, Taqalik Partridge, performed spoken-word, describing the traditions of the Inuit people and their culture, which she referenced heavily in her poems and demonstrated through her incorporation of throat singing. The final artist, Moe Clark, combined spoken word, Native drumming and singing in her work; for one of small stature, her loud presence, quirky personality and powerful voice filled the entire room. During the performance, one could not help but feel that she was in her own world and through sharing it with us, we travelled there as well. The evening ended with an open mike, where one gentleman recited a poem about conquering obstacles, in regards to Aboriginal hardships and another sung a traditional chant. With the evening’s completion, the magic of the night was not confined to the room but stayed in the hearts and minds of the audience, as they reflected on what they had just witnessed. The venue was wonderful and I highly recommend any future events.

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Carleton University's Creative Writing Concentration

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