Posted on behalf of Evelyn Schofield.
Our June reading was a bit of a switch, as our frequent host Scott Ramsay joined the inimitable Billeh Nickerson to stun us with a one-two punch of extraordinary poetry. Jillian Maguire donned the host hat for the night and followed her Indigenous land acknowledgement by asking us to pause for a minute to silently reflect on the ongoing tragic legacy of residential schools in Canada. We then moved on to the evening’s program of poetry, beginning with some fine readings at our open mic, which brought to light more examples of life’s absurdities and injustices.
Scott Ramsay then led us on a wild tour through his hip-hopped-up poetry, with images that were as startling as seeing your mind served up on a plate with a garnish of minotaur horns and King Lear’s eyeballs. His poems demonstrated his quirky ability to interpret familiar themes of aging and mortality with unexpected images: a malevolent spirit waiting to inhabit the corpse of a drug overdose victim in “Hermit Crab,” family members finding a practical solution to a problem closing the coffin in “The Resurrection of my Grandfather,” or himself “hot-gluing [his] confidence together” in “My Middle Years.” In “No, No, No, Not the News” we were treated to a broadcast replete with bizarre characters and a great deal of “just plain silliness.” If you have yet to experience Scott’s crazy brand of creativity, check out his video “In the Event of a Summertime Death”, an excerpt of which was featured as our One Minute Poem on June 11. And click here for the full version.
After a short pause to catch our breath, Billeh Nickerson then took us with him into the skies as he read from his book Duct-taped Roses. He paid tribute to his father, who once flew bush planes and often had to rely on duct tape to hold things together. Later, his dad piloted 727’s for CP Air and Billeh recounted how as a boy he would search for that “orange speck” and that his “personal sky is still the view from [his] Langley back yard looking for [his] dad in the sky.” We laughed when Billeh revealed that when “Kissing in New Zealand,” your tongue does not circle in the opposite direction. Then, in keeping with his philosophy that it is not good to silo emotions, he took us from light-hearted humour to a moving elegy written on the sixth anniversary of the death of his friend Matt Davey, reminiscing over photographs “that aren’t enough to capture all he means.” In the Q&A session after the reading, Billeh explained that his book’s title signifies that there are some things, like roses, that you just can’t duct tape back together and refers to injuries suffered by the gay community. He spoke of poems as a way of remembering and the gravity of speaking plainly. His poems may sometimes be funny, but they are always true.
We rounded the evening off with a brief presentation for James Felton, founder of Poets Corner, who is retiring from active duty at the end of June. James spoke very eloquently of his love of poetry and how his motivation in organizing the reading series has always been to make people aware that poetry is art, as complex as music and painting, and that the people who write it deserve our admiration and encouragement. Well said, James.