Monday, December 27, 2010

My $0.02 about Peter

I wanted to thank Amanda Earl and Greg Frankson for posting about Peter Simpson's recent bit in the Citizen, in which he lists slam poetry as 'hot' and other poetry readings as 'not.' Nice to hear essentially the same response to this bit of ignorance coming from significant folks on both sides of the spoken word/page divide.

And not to repeat what they both said, but excuse me, Peter, I can't say I've ever seen you at a poetry reading, so where do you get off calling them 'funereal'?

This smacks, to me, of knee-jerk-ism. And that's what bothers me. Peter was constrained to present his list as pairs of things that are "hot" and things that are "not," and while he's dead right that, at the moment, poetry slams are red hot in Ottawa, that convention caused him to say to himself, "now I need a 'not' to pair it with." He couldn't really, at that point, do anything but slot "literary" readings into the "not" column, and he could do it with impunity because the stereotype is so ingrained. But of course! Everyone knows that poetry readings are boring, inaccessible, and grim! Cue the knowing chuckles!

It bothers me that people who never go to poetry shows use them to get cheap laughs in sitcoms and McDonald's commercials. It's as though "poetry" is shorthand for "dense, obscure, elitist, boring." But I understand that for the vast majority of people, the last time they read a poem was in high school when someone made them 'interpret' Robert Frost, or Wordsworth, or bloody Keats, and that their only exposure to it since has come in the form of black-turtleneck-clad caricatures, or winking references to angsty teenagers burning candles and writing about death and suffering.

And poetry reading series, far from not being hot, are starting, once again, to proliferate. The House Band Reading Series, Voices of Venus, the new blUe mOnday series, the rapidly growing AB Series, the Poetry Show . . . all new, all good, all growing. Someone, clearly, is enjoying them, if not Peter.

But, hey, I'm probably preaching to the choir here. At least I hope I am. And if I'm not, go find a poetry reading. Somewhere in Ottawa. Here's a good place to start looking. Go into the basement of the Royal Oak on Laurier, or down the stairs into the Manx Pub, or under the Thai Restaurant on Queen at Kent, or the upstairs room (and sometimes the roof) of the Carleton Tavern, or the Raw Sugar Cafe on Somerset on a nice night, or a rainy night, or a stormy snowy afternoon. Get yourself a beer, or a wine, or a cup of coffee or tea. Sit down. Get comfortable. Strike up a conversation with your neighbour. Talk poetry. Or talk whatever you want to talk. Listen to the banter, the chatter, the community, and the poet or poets up there on the stage. Maybe catch a catapulted chocolate or shout out a word to include in the next poem. I've seen people jump up and perform brand new, just-written poems in flash-writing contests. I've seen djembes appear for impromptu jams. I've laughed out loud and chanted along, been impressed and touched and encouraged and reminded why I go to these things, more times than I can recount.

If that's funereal, I really should be attending more funerals.

This was at a poetry reading....

And so was this...
I mean, just look at all these un-pained, smiling, cheerful, non-moping people! They actually appear to be enjoying themselves! (And yup, this picture too was taken at a poetry reading. 'Nuff said.)

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