Thursday, June 16, 2005


Back I am from Toronto and here as promised... The LCP AGM (otherwise known as the League of Canadian Poets Annual General Meeting), which took place this year at University of Toronto's Hart House, will certainly be remembered, among other things, as the Meeting Where We Practically Sweltered To Death. Hart House, gorgeous though it may be architecturally, is not air conditioned, and those few days Toronto was about as hot & muggy as it gets, with temperatures soaring to 33 degrees C. and heavy smog warnings in effect. Pretty hard to listen to readings and discussion without falling into a slumber and slithering in sweat out of one's chair!

Last year it so happens I also went to the AGM, which took place in Montreal, my other home town. Below are comments I made at that time. A number of them apply to this year so for ease and speed I cut, paste, & compare. Here goes:

... It was enjoyable, hearing the readings, book launches, speeches, and sitting in on committee meetings, awards ceremonies and the like. Tempting though it is, I won't be too sardonic: the polite-old-ladies-in-pearls-and-flowered-dresses contingent was pretty prominent among the hundred or so present, as were the grey-professor-poets. In fact I felt like one of the younger ones there. Where was the young blood? I could have counted younger poets on one hand. My partner wondered if it reflects on poetry as a dying art in our society, that very few young people are writing it anymore. Actually it reflects on poetry funding as ... well... a dying industry. Travel/accommodation costs to the AGM aren't subsidized anymore, so any out-of-towners have to shell out of their own pockets to be there. That pretty well cuts out anyone but the well-heeled and tenured. Since arts funding is so poor right now - the entire budget for poetry readings (for 500-odd members) from Canada Council, Ontario Arts Council, the Heritage Ministry, etc. is $80,000 (think of it -- it's the salary of an average city bus driver or traffic cop) -- things are rather limited.

Ibid for this year, except that younger poets were somewhat more in evidence, partly because Torontonians in the organization could attend without incurring outlandish travel costs, partly because the meeting featured a panel discussion on Dub Poetry and Spoken Word, and a handful of younger representatives of Poetry Dub- & Slamdom were among the more prominent participants in the AGM as a whole.

To its credit, this overly WASP organization (one friend calls it the League of Canadian Anglo Poets With Money; a number of leading members have drawn attention to the problem of lack of diversity) is making a concerted effort to embrace minority poets and attract them into its fold. This year, for instance, Lillian Allen (a longtime member, by the way) and the Slam poet Spin participated in the panel discussion mentioned above; George Elliott Clarke, who at the age of 45 is already perhaps our most distinguished Afro-Canadian poet, conducted the Anne Szumigalski Memorial Lecture, focussing on nature of black poetics in Canada and how black poets and writers have been consistently dismissed and overlooked by our traditionally all-white literary establishment.

More on these panel discussions, etc. in posts to come. . .

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