Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tree Seeds and Learning Things

Yesterday I managed, finally, to make it out to the Tree Reading Series for the season-ending open-mike and the workshop with Phil Hall. Tree so often conflicts with other things on my schedule that I hardly ever get to go: I was amazed to find myself free this time.

Tree is unique among the series in town in that it offers the Tree Seeds workshops, before the reading, and creates a lot of other ways for the readings to be a chance to learn, overtly as well as the learning that happens whenever you listen to writers read. There's the workshop series, held for free for whoever wants to come. There's the Dead/Undead Poets Reading, in which someone is invited to read from or talk about the work of a poet that he or she wants to introduce, or sometimes re-introduce, to the audience. And this evening there was also a talk by Shane Rhodes on the found poem, its history and variations and the theories behind it.

I came in moments before - or maybe after - the workshop started, bike helmet in hand and looking for a place to put my damp, gritty rain pants, and got the last free chair. It seems like a lot of the people participating in these workshops are repeat attendees, although there were, I think, other new faces than mine. Phil seemed surprised at the numbers - about 15 altogether - and said there were about twice what there had been the last time he ran a workshop. I'd love to think that had something to do with the publicity I've been doing for Tree, but I rather think it might have more to do with the fact that Phil won the Governor General's Award a month or two back.

He'd talked, at the previous workshop, about tryptychs, and was continuing on the same sort of theme, bringing out some illustrations and encouraging conversation about what the underlying relationships we have with numbers can do for a poem. Number of syllables, numbers of stanzas, numbers of natural pauses in a line, patterns and rhythms. Rather than present a fully formed theory, he nudged forward a couple of ideas at a time and let them sort of steep. I did feel like I was coming in to the middle of something, a bit, but I didn't feel excluded by the fact that some of the others had clearly been at the previous workshop. I scribbled down some notes and we shared the example poems between us ... an hour went by fast, and then it was time for the reading.

The Dead/Undead Poet for the night was Leonard Cohen, and Rod Pederson and his daughter Jennifer did something quite lovely; she sang "Hallelujah" while he read it, simultaneously. Besides the fact that "Hallelujah" is one of the more simple and lovely melodies out there (and Jennifer's voice is beautiful), I found it fascinating that with Rod reading the words as Jennifer sang, I started seeing how eerily the spoken and sung words matched up; it was a really subtle illumination of the musicality, the singability, of so much of Cohen's work. His poems are lyrics and lyrics are poems because both of them preserve the natural pace of the words even under the constraints of form and melody.

And then Shane Rhodes got up for his talk on found poetry, which was short enough that I really wanted to hear more. I picked up, and so did some others, I think, on the similarity of found poetry (and other kinds of conceptual poetry) and abstract art in terms of the relationship of process to product. In abstract art, and in some of the poetry that Shane used as an example, the physical thing produced at the end - the painting or the book - is really more of a byproduct of the artistic conversation, thought, process, and questioning that produced it. "The idea is the fascinating thing, and the book becomes something you can put aside," was what Shane said.

And then there was the open mike, with some readers I knew and some I didn't, and then it was time to pack up and head over to the Avant-Garde Bar for Baltikas and conversation.

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