I began noticing that the easiest way to respond to the poetry read at such events was to key in to its ability to entertain in the immediate sense and that it was difficult (for me at least) to get a sense of its more subtle features. Again, entertainment in poetry is entirely valid in itself. I decided though that I also wanted a chance to hear the work in a different way, in a different context.
Last night’s Test reading was the first I’ve managed to attend. Based on it I’d say that Mark is succeeding admirably.
The site of the series is the Mercer Union (a centre for contemporary art) and it’s a perfect venue. There’s something about a space designed to make you look carefully that somehow also makes you listen carefully. The two readers, Stephen Cain and Lisa Robertson, held the standing-room-only crowd rapt.
Stephen Cain’s work is very interesting, full of satisfying word play. And he did an excellent job of setting up each poem beforehand. I’ve noted before that, much as I enjoy hearing good poetry read aloud, I have a tendency to drift without the words on the page in front of me. Cain had a way of reeling me back in, grounding me each time for the start of the next poem.
Lisa Robertson has an extremely powerful presence, a beautiful voice for reading aloud. This reading marked the launch for her book The Men, newly published by BookThug. I bought it afterwards and went home and immediately read it cover to cover. This morning, I read it again. All I have to say is: buy this book.
The evening closed with a Q & A session. These always make me anxious. There’s that awkward moment of silence at the beginning and I worry that there will be no good questions or, indeed, that there will be no questions at all. But the moment of silence was brief and there were some excellent questions. Topics raised included the inspiration of visual art, the impetus behind found poems, what it means to be a Canadian poet at this point in history, poetic traditions versus poetic genealogies, the experience of being edited, inhabiting the “I” and the “eye” of the poem. High-flying stuff that generated smart and interesting responses from Cain and Robertson.
Watch for sound files of the readings soon to be posted at the Test website. And in the meantime, click over to BookThug and buy The Men.