Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Earthborn 2011 & Story Slam

This weekend is going to be a busy performance weekend for me! The poster above is the gorgeous poster Sean Zio created for the Kymeras' summer show - Earthborn 2011. We'll be at the Clock Tower Pub on Sunday at 7, reprising some of the stories and poems we did in Almonte when we opened for Evalyn Parry, along with some new material, all about bicycles. I've got a couple of new poems to bring, and I hear Marie's telling a story about bike that falls in love. Funny how bikes and love seem to come together. As a bike blogger, I'm pretty happy that it seems that my friends also see the fun of bikes (and have such great stories and poems to share about them.)

I'm also going to be competing in the Once Upon a Slam finals on Saturday night. . . somehow I made it in as a finalist! Check out the website for updates and profiles of all the finalists... and here's a preview of a story I told earlier this spring for your viewing pleasure:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Seriously not cool, and illegal

Sending out an APB:

Yesterday I saw a series of messages from Rusty Priske and Ruthanne Edward asking if anyone knew anything about someone recording one of the old Oneness Poetry Showcase shows at the East African Restaurant. . . because Rusty had just discovered a website that was selling mp3s of his work, and that of a few other poets in town (Ian Keteku, Chris Tse, PrufRock.) I'd link to the site but I don't want to drive them any traffic, because what they're doing is illegal. None of these poets were asked, or told, and none of them are getting any of the money.

It seems that what happened was that someone recorded the show on video, posted it on YouTube, and someone else downloaded the audio from that, and decided to sell it. Entrepreneurial, I suppose. And illegal and infuriating.

Rusty's putting together a cease and desist order (Google your name and mp3-find, and if you come up, contact him - @RustyPriske on Twitter.) And I started thinking about it. Posting YouTube clips of your work is getting to be practically de rigeur for spoken word poets. Someone will argue that if you posted it publicly, online, you gave up your ownership of it. But that all collapses as soon as money is involved. Rusty's response, on his Facebook profile, was to tell people emphatically not to buy the downloads. "I'll give you the poems if you want them," he said. And someone questioned whether his being willing to give them to friends invalidated his claim against the people who'd put them up for sale.

Nope. It totally doesn't. Rusty wrote and performed his poems. They are his, to do with as he will. If he wants to give them away, that's fine. What isn't fine is a third party taking his work and making money off it without asking him, getting permission, or sharing the profits - or exposure - with him in some way. It's not that they're making money that Rusty would have somehow otherwise got for his work: Rusty doesn't sell his poetry that I'm aware of. It's not that this site is stealing money from Rusty, exactly. But the people that download the poems may think that Rusty was the one that uploaded them, and that the money is going to him, for one thing. They may not know that they're not supporting the artist with their purchase. But that's not even the point.

The point is that even in the broke-ass and not-always-money-based artistic economy, you don't get to profit off someone else's work without compensating them in some way. Maybe this isn't a question of economics (come on, the poems are probably selling for a buck apiece) but it's a question of where the ethical lines have to be drawn. It's not about the money. It's about people knowing, or being taught, about what it means to respect an artist and the work they've put into their art. The money is just a convenient way of marking that respect, but it could just as easily be marked with credit, asking permission, directing someone to someone else's website. There is an intangible economics that has to be respected. What this website has done undermines all that.

Monday, June 6, 2011


This weekend the Kymeras got to open for Evalyn Parry and her fantastic show 'Spin.' A celebration of the bicycle (and in particular the phenomenal changes it created in the lives of women), this show is a little hard to describe. Part musical show, part documentary, part one-woman-and-a-guy-playing-a-bicycle show, it was moving and mesmerizing and surprising. Personal and political.

Evalyn's songs and stories and snippets of theatre take us, mostly, through the 1890s and the bicycle craze, when bikes became not just ubiquitous, but also, serendipitously, propelled a good chunk of the women's movement. She tells tales of rebel entrepreneurs, suffragettes and the Ladies' Christian Temperance Union, and interweaves them with her own relationship to bicycles - your bike is a part of you - and the rich metaphors you can wring out of this simple machine. "The past is behind us / the back wheel is the power / the front wheel freewheels / hour after hour . . . "

I was riveted. As well as giving us the songs and stories - Google 'Annie Londonderry' sometime! - Evalyn was joined on stage by Brad Hart, who played a vintage bike mounted on a mechanic's stand. I think I heard him say there were fourteen separate pickups mounted on the bike, so he could play the tubes and fenders with drumsticks and brushes, whack on the seat for a bass line, spin the pedals, ring the bells, use a bow on the spokes, and rattle drumsticks on the spinning wheels. Add to that a set of looping pedals, and the bike sang. It was an absolutely constant presence in the show, a third character, the main character. Your eyes kept drifting to it where it hovered on the stage.

Sean, in the audience, just before Evalyn's show. And the bike.
The Kymeras - well, three out of four of us, since Ruthanne was at a storytelling conference and couldn't come - lucked into this gig. We'd been out to Almonte last year as part of Mississippi Mills bike month: arts organizer and poet Danielle K.L. Gregoire knew that I was a cycling blogger, knew the Kymeras, and asked me if I thought we could do a show about bikes. We did - to a small crowd, admittedly, but it was a fun gig, and this year, with a star like Evalyn coming in, Danielle thought of us again.

So we came out to do a bike-themed Kymeras set, to open for Evalyn. I don't think any of us really realized how big it was going to be until we got to the Almonte Old Town Hall for sound check and saw the seating. There were going to be about 170 people in the audience at this show.

Sean and Marie doing a sound check. Me getting artsy with the camera phone.
 We did a very quick sound check and went for dinner with our host and Evalyn and her band, then headed back over to the Town Hall where people were starting to fill in the seats.

We went back to the green room to munch on the lovely bowl of fruit the hosts had put out, run through our poems and stories one more time, and get dressed in our performing getups. Yup, we had a 'look': coloured summery t-shirts and black pants with one leg rolled up (to stay out of the gears.)

Sean and Marie: fashion icons.
And then it was time to go out! I have to admit to being pretty nervous, but the audience was not just big, they were warm, responsive, receptive, and a joy to perform for. I had brought my poems on paper (as the 'page poet' of the foursome, but also because I don't have Sean's confidence for memorization) and as I read, out of an embroidered notebook I'd bought and copied the poems into for the occasion, I could feel the audience coming along with me. It really breathed a whole other life into the words I was performing. The same thing happened the last time I performed in front of a really large audience, in January at the NAC. I could feel my performance getting kicked up a notch. I highly recommend the sensation.

Marie anchored our set with a pair of stories, about love winning over a bicycle, and then about a bicycle winning over love. I came between the two stories with a trio of poems about childhood bikes, about the one I have now (which changed my life) and about taking up my space on the road, and then at the end of the set Sean did a couple of his own poems - which echoed mine in their themes of love and summer and freedom and nostalgia - and then ended with a Mary Oliver cover, "Summer Day."

And then we were done, and giddy, and happy, and we headed down into the hall to watch Evalyn's show, which was, as I've said, totally mesmerizing. Watching Brad play the bicycle was a whole lot of fun, and Evalyn was a complete chameleon on stage, becoming a half-dozen different characters as she recreated the 1890s, and then took us through her own stolen bike and the bits of her life that had been tangled up in it. She got a standing ovation at the end: I was one of the people on their feet first, I think. Jumped up.

And I was so darn happy to get on my bicycle the next morning.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A weekend of fairs

As some of you might know, I was just hired as Circulation and Marketing Manager for Arc Poetry Magazine. I'm pretty chuffed about it - I love Arc, and the idea that I can actually work for a poetry magazine makes me do happy dances. This weekend I wound up at two separate fairs for Arc: ArtsPark in Hintonburg, and the Ravenswing Craft and Zine Fair.

The table at ArtsPark was organized by some of the Arc board members: I just showed up with back issues, me, and helped to man the table, smile at people, and hand out poetry cards. They had a Poetry Factory set up - a couple of metal boards and about eight different magnetic poetry sets, where people could create their own poems (and possibly win a prize) and a typewriter manned by a volunteer poet who, for a dollar, would write a poem on the spot for you.

I was fascinated by who stopped off at the table. The magnetic boards, perhaps predictably, pulled the kids over. Children, usually, are drawn to any chance to make marks. They see a board full of magnetic words as an invitation to come and move stuff around. Adults, on the other hand, struggle with this worry that they might 'do it wrong' or be judged. That someone might be watching. So, the first ones over were the kids, bringing their parents with them. Usually.

There was also a contingent, usually of older folks, who sidled over to the table and asked, after a moment of blinking, "Is that a typewriter?" and a healthy crop of people, my age and older, who said, with a sort of happy recognition, "Oh, my god, I learned to type on one of those!" I recalled, a couple of times, the old electric typewriter I wrote many of my first stories on (until my long-suffering parents, whose bedroom was next to mine, finally got me a computer to silence the 2:00-AM clatter.)

And then there was the interesting pattern of who would ask for poems, and what they asked for poems about. There were a lot of parents, often of infants, who asked for poems for their children. One boy, maybe 10, pouted and insisted that he didn't want a poem, so his father asked for a poem about fathers and sons. "No!" the boy said insistently. So, Claudia, who was on the typewriter at the time, wrote a poem called "This Is Not A Poem."

Meanwhile, the fair around us was pretty amazing. I used to live in Hintonburg, back when it was less of an artist's haven and more, well, sketchy. The community that has developed and its sheer vitality is inspiring. The crowds were out in force, even if it was kind of a rainy day, and the whole things felt, well, good. I was completely disarmed, in the afternoon, by a unicyclist pedalling around the whole fair, with a flock of small kids running after him and cheering. Like something out of a movie.

The next day was Ravenswing. Admittedly, I didn't think of signing up for Ravenswing until it was too late, which was silly of me. I've known the organizers for years, and I've been involved with Ravenswing since the get-go, when it was a monthly craft and zine fair in Jack Purcell Community Centre. But, I showed up anyway, with a backpack full of back issues and art cards to give out. The first few hours of the fair were pretty dismal - it poured rain and everyone, stoically, even heroically, set up their tables anyway. I hovered under a friend's tent. Next to us, Adam Thomlison of 40wattspotlight stood, with a strange half smile on his face, at a table with three or four zines under a clear tarp covered in rainwater, slowly getting wetter. Undaunted, though. Bless.

But by noon, though, the rain stopped, and the sun actually came out, and even in the rain, the crowds were pretty surprisingly good, and I really got down to wandering around handing out poetry cards, talking to people about Arc, and generally being a part of the fair. Only three times did I walk up to someone and say, "Hey! would you like a poem?" and have them shuffle, look uncomfortable, and mutter, "No, thanks." (Still trying to figure that one out. What, if you take the poem you'll have to, what, read it? Talk to me?)

Most people, though, looked pleased to get the card. More than a few said "Oh, Arc! I love you guys!" Which is a great thing to hear.

Next year, we'll bring the Poetry Factory to Ravenswing. It would go over *really* well.