Posted on behalf of Evelyn Schofield
We had a great turnout for our chapbook reading on February 15: lots of live, warm bodies in the seats at FDU and over 30 folks joining in online. At our open mic, we welcomed back a few regulars and were also pleased to hear some new voices. Our monthly readings generally make space for up to 10 open mic poets, who each may read for a maximum of 3 minutes, either in person or online.
Our first featured poet of the night was rob mclennan, who joined us from Ottawa to read from Alta Vista Improvements, his 66th chapbook recently published in celebration of the 30th anniversary of above/ground press. A wonderful playfulness was obvious from the moment he zoomed in on his webcam to fill the screen with one giant eyeball. The poems he read revealed a talent for reframing situations using gentle humour, curiosity and affection for both his subject and his readers. In Rose collects a second fish, to replace the first one, he addresses the challenge of writing poems for his young daughter about one doomed goldfish after another, for each of which she “crafts a portrait, profile / of her fish, an X across / the single, visible eye.” In Summer, pandemic, he waits in the “pre-cooked car” for his cat to emerge from a follow-up appointment at the vet and writes:
This is a time travel story: for sale, cat’s
Elizabethan collar, newly worn. The painkillers
we administer, with the usual contusions.
His poems can also do the heavy lifting, and he approaches weighty subjects with words carefully measured and distributed across the page. In Quartet for an end of landscape, with farmhouse, he writes about his father, yielding to the progression of ALS and slowly giving up the activities of farming:
To watch him grasp
the cypher, signal, of each leaf, yet occupy
such bounds of silence.
In the Q&A session after his reading, rob answered questions from the audience about his experience with producing chapbooks at above/ground press. He confessed that he has spent many hours in front of the TV, wielding a long-arm stapler to fold and staple each literary creation by hand. He estimates that he has worn out 6 staplers in the course of producing countless chapbooks!
The second feature spot of the evening was shared by 3 talented, young poets who have all recently published, or are about to publish, a chapbook.
Zoe Dickinson joined us from Victoria and began with an indigenous land acknowledgement in which she reminded us that “we cannot begin to repay what we continue to take”. She then read from intertidal: poems from the littoral zone, in which she writes with admiration and respect about tidal pool creatures. Her attention to detail surprises and delights and yet does not shy away from the stark reality of humankind’s culpability in reducing biodiversity. In Starfish she talks of sea star wasting disease and laments “you did not see this coming”.
Hannah Yerington next stepped up to the mic to read poems from her chapbook Sheologies, which will be coming out in March. She read Tikkun olam, which refers to a concept in Judaism describing actions intended to repair the world and asks “who knew light could be so heavy?” In My ancestors wear lip gloss, she explores the idea that we can choose our ancestors and has, for herself, chosen ancestors who wrote “pink gel pen signatures dotted with a heart”. With that one simple phrase, she shows that she identifies with a generation of young millennial women.
Catherine Lewis rounded off the evening by bringing a bit of bisexual romance to our one-day-past-Valentine’s-Day reading. She read from her 2021 chapbook Zipless, in which she talks about relationships with disarming directness. In one poem, she bemoans that “this is the only time we speak of love in any tense but the past”. In another, she expounds on the subtle change of connotation of the word ‘girlfriend’ when it is preceded by the prefix ‘ex’. In My First Date with a Writer, she comes to the frank realization that “we are both about to become material.”
Thanks to all our poets for an evening filled with wonderful, inspiring, thoughtful poetry.