Tuesday, 7 August 2012

people watching: the line has shattered, begats

Another quirky incomplete event review, from yours truly: 1963 Poetry Conference Remembered [2009]

The panel was eleven people long, with the moderator Stephen Collis making it an even dozen. He made the typical academic mistake of contexting for us the conference that took place two years before he was born, instead of allowing the people who were there to set it up & fill it out: all accomplished writers, they were eventually allowed to fill it out, on their own terms.

Judith Copithorne started off, I was an outsider, I already knew all this stuff, etc-- and later, during the readings section, she got Dorothy T_Lusk to read a long Gertrude Stein piece, then paced through the body of the group (the only one who was not to be captured by a lectern) reading a piece she whipped up in the break, duplicated, and handed out to audience members: all of the people and things that she'd been influenced by prior to the conference: this was not the beginning folks!!! I have a feeling that she captures the feeling of things best, even down to the fact that her poem, handed out as text, was unsigned: an example of text relying upon orality to be completely understood and remembered.

I haven't got clear in my mind the names yet, the who is who-- I think the next speaker was Clark Coolidge, US, musician: he was amazed that all these cool people (Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, Denise Levertov, Margaret Avison, Warren Tallman) would be teaching poetry together for three weeks, so he came along by bus from New England. When he performed, later, the pleasure was in watching his body move and the music of his words, which completely drowned out both sense and meaning-- to the works' detriment, i think, and not necessarily: I'll have to find some as text, and see. Anyway, already you can see the diversity of styles we're seeing here.

Next was Gladys Hindmarch, who has changed her first name to Maria: I find this inexplicable, that a published author with a public name would, so late in the day, decide she wants everyone to think of her as somebody else: but, her choice. She's a prose writer, and I have read her prose and it is very sensual, poetic prose, artful but not arty if that makes any sense: satisfying. For some reason, she started talking to me, after the first break, and I ended up exchanging phone numbers with her. [note to self, 2012: follow up] When she performed, she read a piece she wrote about the first day of the poetry conference, and it was vivid: she made us laugh with the look on her face as she reminisced, every guy she'd ever been with, every guy she'd ever loved and a few she might yet, all in this one course, one room: she looked toward heaven with such happiness, honestly!

I can't go through the whole group like this, but, I can say Daphne Marlatt took part on the panel but not in the readings. I can say that each presenter was unique one from the other, and what each found interesting or worth profiling and underlining was different, and so, bit by bit a collective picture was built up, of the concatenation of artists attending the 1963 Poetry Conference, the cultural situations feeding into it (North American, UBC English Department-specific-- yes, we did hear the name Earl Birney-- and globally), and Tish: who edited when, how contented and discontented the young were and the elders continue to be, with life generally and one another specifically.

It was fun for me, for instance, to see George Bowering get thoroughly annoyed with something Jamie Reid said, turn away abruptly to stare out the window: oh Jamie! he said, crossing his arms in disgust.  Only moments before this, when the moderator had thanked the panelists for coming  from so near and so far to participate, George had quipped, Like Fred Wah-- he came from China! Fred rubbing his face in a familiar sort of despair. Is George Bowering's unself-consciousness around saying unreflective/dopey things really a part of his charm? It seems to be, given his poetic references to Japanese people's dyed hair, fat people in bathing suits, and so on, and so on, and so on. Giving voice to a legitimate part of the Canadian spectrum, no doubt, indomitable.

Jamie's booming voice and deeply friendly person was a great asset at this event, especially for me, who followed him around like a little duckling in the early part of our four hour break, until i felt comfortable enough to swim off/dive in. Jamie was probably the only participant in the original conference who was also on the current panel, who had attended Vancouver schools, lived in Vancouver neighbourhoods prior to his attending UBC. Thus, and also by physical placement in the row of speakers (central), he was a real anchoring presence in the discussion, to flesh and blood and tangible reality, humble humanity, and the continuity guy for several important elements in discussion, providing a necessary balance to some of the more rarified (abstracted) contributions. Jamie's charismatic presence, and the sheer weight of his thoughtfulness on poetic, aesthetic, and political issues, much appreciated.

For all the reasons above, Jamie was also an excellent choice for beginning the readings. He made us laugh, by talking about someone telling him, "There's politics in everything. Even who you sleep with has political implications," then continuing, "I really got into politics after that." We all had a good laugh, and there's Jamie, "I must have said something inadvertently amusing," Classic Jamie!

So, here's the list of speakers/performers not already mentioned: Michael Palmer (US), Lionel Kearns, Bernice Lever, Robert Hogg. Bernice handed out copies of a poem called "Abortion," and made more than passing reference to how the other conference participants had giggled and guffawed at her poetry, which-- because she'd never been exposed to modern poetry before-- was thick with rhyme, clumsy. She talked about sharing her three page poem on having had an abortion, and the instructor lifting his hand to stay the students' snickering, "No, now listen," and he repeated back a line, an image that he really liked. So, through the course of the conference or perhaps in years subsequent, she revised that original three page poem of rhymed verse, a legitimate if unrefined capture and sharing of a deeply important experience, down to the short poem that she gave to us in both print and voice.

Bernice's presentations called vividly to mind a fellow poet from U of Windsor Creative writing classes, who wrote exquisite work about abuse at home but had been advised by a woman professor not to share it in class, and thus, only superficial and clumsy experiments that were nowhere near to her heart were ever shared with the group: the wearing upon her self esteem, as so few understood how really, really, really good she could be as a poet speaking true. Also, brought to mind an early reading, when I read a poem about abortion at the Cheshire Cat, and an older couple walked out in protest. Even with this "new & selected" that came out in 2007, organized chronologically, of necessity it needed to begin with a poem, "Abortion (like motherhood) changes nothing." The publisher did not want to open the book with that, as it would turn too many readers away: as it has already appeared at the back of a book, before, back of the book back of the bus samesame, I simply withdrew it. There is a world of difference experientially between having an abortion before you have had children, and after, and I did want my story to be true.

Robert Hogg got up to be a show & tell dude for one of Fred Wah's concrete poems, which he was wearing. Each poet was really good, and really interesting, and I'm sorry I can't do justice to them all. Those two (Fred & Robert) won my favour, as I like anything/anyone with that distinct prairie flavour, tastes good.

Michael Palmer was the final reader, and he expressed (as many did) much appreciation for the organizers bringing the group together: as he read his work, a new piece called "Thread," I felt a surge or a turn of energy in the room, a coming together of very gentle, happy, satisfied energies. All the disparate contributions of the day, all the disparate experiences of the original participants and all of us gathered in witnessing, coalesced during this final reading, and the whole room felt at ease, finished, satisfied.

I love this stuff, the taste and feeling of energy when it's strong and good. My favourite conversation of the day happened before commencement after the break, when I sat down beside a young man reading Dorian Gray. He put his book away, and we got to chatting, he's a stand up comedy performer as well as a UBC student and poet, and so we had a very thoughtful and interesting discussion about reliance upon group energy as a performer, and how you can modify the energy of the group by what you perform, and the differences between 'riffing" and presenting polished work. That whole loop of experience, the i & (collective) thou. 

Anyway, that young man (whose name was Alex) knew exactly what i was talking about. Yet at the end of the event, when I mentioned to two poets lurking at the back of the room (where I'd gone looking for Alastair's daughter & her friend, who eluded me), one looked totally confused by my comment, and the other-- who I hadn't met before-- managed to weave a word or two of my comment into everything he said after that, for a good five minutes, close to ten: what a tease. Anyway, at first I thought, geez, I really do experience the world in a way different from other people, then I remembered Alex, and appreciated him that much more.

Two good things you will like to know: one is, Fred Wah taped all of the original conference, and the tapes have been digitalizedand are I think available online [see link below]. The second is, the event was organized for the making of a film, by the fellow who made the very good film, John Newlove [Robert McTavish]. So a film will eventually ensue of this & that conference, too. And so, at the beginning and at the end of things, bless that little filmmaking heart of his, too.

all best

lightly edited from the 2009 original, links added
"Vancouver 1963 Poetry Conference & Miscellaneous Readings/Lectures" Fred Wah Poetry Recordings
Slought Foundation presents a digitized version of Fred Wah’s recordings of the 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference, as well as select readings and lectures (1961-67) from Wah's collection. The streaming media files available at this site were compressed from those digitized and re-mastered by Aaron Levy in Calgary, Canada from March 7-16 2002.


Warren Tallman: “Poets in Vancouver” (1963)

November 1963 and the poetry festival, like the song, is ended. But like the melody, the voices of the poets linger on.

2009/08/10 ~Introduction and Notes by Aaron Vidaver

“Poets in Vancouver” (Margaret Avison, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, Denise Levertov, Charles Olson and Philip Whalen, from July 24 through August 16), By Warren Tallman
[Warren Tallman fonds Simon Fraser University Special Collections MSC 26 Box 13]

Retrospective note: 
In attending the day and sharing the above review on a couple lists, I gathered a few impressions. I can say now, yes i was there, and little of what i've written about the day is also what i remember about the day, glimpses of people known and not mentioned, unknown and unmentioned, a few returning sense impressions as i reread my notes and go through the process of linking everyone to something else. 

The Line Has Shattered, the name of the event, i may have found a bit irritating, at least i mentioned it nowhere, recall it as the line has been shattered, with the follow-up question, whodunit
In November 2008 i attended another profoundly important BC poetry gathering, Strong Words (more details here )  [pdf].
Following on from the 2009 gathering was the Vanouver Poetry Conference 125, October 2011, a sprawling creature of four days' duration, which i saw very little of, due to competing work and family commitments, and a serving of the flu.

Before: The Commentary,
+ after: AHA Media,

The VANCOUVER 125 POETRY CONFERENCE DownTown Eastside ROUNDTABLE for 8th Annual Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival in Vancouver on Saturday Nov 5, 2011


Shine is Lattered
the continuities of the line are also of interest
the shattering melds
the line begats--

twisting individual lives the waves of being
famillies spin off on every side 
neighbourhoods morph
communities rise and fall in
great oceanic being
 in urban puddle
 in seashore rock

whatever i take from this
through ear, eye, bodysense
throw off a little poem, a little burden

into the wind--
is this wind 
off the pacific?

a great lakes surge? 

atlantic? does the wind

always blow downhill?

 northerlies & southerlies 
 easterlies and westerlies

horsetraders pull at collars, ahem

genealogies of canlit as conflictive as 
every feeder stream of being
who is that guy? who is she? why

should i care?

1 comment:

Joanne Arnott said...

i've tried three times to correct the spacing, in the poem and another paragraph or two-- now i'm moving from "make it new" to "let it rest"