Posted on behalf of Evelyn Schofield
On December 15 a goodly number of us gathered again to enjoy an evening of fine poetry together. We started off with some readings from near and far at our open mic, welcoming regular contributors Herb Bryce, Nefertiti Morrison, and Peter Marcus, as well Josephine LoRe, Erin Brown-John, and Catherine Chen.
Our first featured poet was Wendy Donawa, who joined us from Victoria to read selections from her latest book Our Bodies’ Unanswered Questions. During the Q&A session she commented that poetry often starts with everyday experiences and explores beyond them to place them in a broader context. She compared this to her work as a museum curator, where she needed to consider the stories behind the different objects on display. This approach was evident in poems such as the pantoum Stroke of Genius, which speaks of the devastating effects of a stroke, and Vespers for a Tent City, in which she commented on how fitting it was that the tent city that sprang up in Victoria during the pandemic should be situated in a “sodden field sandwiched between cathedral and courthouse”. She finished her reading on a lighter note with On Considering My Demise after reading ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’, a semi-humorous look at mortality as she imagines watching others callously dispose of her possessions after her death.
Our second featured poet, Chantal Gibson, began by commenting on the recent passing of the Black feminist author bell hooks, whose writing had a profound influence on her own work. She read poems from her recent book with/holding and other works. In poems like Terms and Conditions and Fair Use, she focuses on the commodification of Black images and uses her command of the language of digital technology to challenge us to confront our unconscious, ingrained biases and break free from the “grinning tyranny of cut and paste”. Her use of dates in poems like Revisionist History and State-sanctioned Violence points to a growing impatience that time moves on but nothing much changes for Black women, who remain “phantom[s] of the racist imagination”. During the Q&A session she commented that “we are not separate from history, we are in it”. Or, as she writes in her poem Anchors, “now the news is always breaking”.
These two fine poets certainly ended our year of poetry readings on a high note and that may be our last online reading for some time. We do hope to be coming to you live from Fairleigh Dickinson University on January 19, when we will feature Ellie Sawatzky and Shauna Paull. We know that some of you won’t be able to attend in person, but we plan to get our readings livestreamed as soon as we can manage that technical feat. Happy holidays – we’ll see you on the other side!