Thursday, November 08, 2007

Glitz and Glamour

It was fun being interviewed two nights ago on the CBC about poetry for a change. CBC TV reporter Leah Hendry interviewed both Nina Bruck at her place, and then Raphael and me chez lui. It was rather extraordinary attention given to a poetry chapbook -- but then, as I've said, not everybody puts out their first publication at 84. Leah struck me right away as not only attractive, but warm, personable, and intelligent. My hunch is she'll go places.... Nina told me afterwards that she was "just adorable". Obviously Leah related well to Nina's work, even had her read 3 poems twice for the camera. There was none of the professional cool one might expect of a reporter... She put us at ease by confessing how she had upset her parents by writing dark (ie. extremely dark) poems as a teenager; this put her on "our side", as it were; we talked a bit as the cameraman set up about a young person's need to plunge headlong into that fundamental blackness, to tear away the mask of "optimism" and "good cheer" so much of straight society wears -- but also to seem serious and profound. How as one ages, one is likely to seek more buoyant, playful themes and images, as ones' own energy as well as self-importance declines. Stuff like that. As the camera rolled, she asked us about why we went to the trouble of publishing Nina (we loved her work; and here it was, practically all unpublished, literally sitting in a bank vault somewhere), what we learned from the experience (mainly, how publishing can be an integral part of the creative process; just what made up a poetic identity over the many transmutations of a long lifetime.) There were quite a lot of laughs.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, this being superficial TV, none of Nina's poems made it on air.* This was turned into the final upbeat two-minute item before sign-off, following, I understand, the trite-but-true angle, "even you can publish your first book at 84." But, the cover of the book was shown, it's name mentioned twice -- in other words, quite a piece of promotion, worth at least a few thousand bucks in advertising -- even if not directly aimed at the *buying* demographic we'd want. Generally, though, it got a lot of people thinking about the art of poetry who otherwise wouldn't -- and that's definitely got to be for the good.

Last evening's launch -- and it really was a launch, it turned out, although it was not advertised as such -- was a huge success. The place was packed, the audience attentive and appreciative, and as many as 20 books were sold.

I have yet to see the broadcast and couldn't be at the launch because I teach those evenings. Fortunately, Raphael videoed both, and will be giving me a DVD of the two tomorrow night. I'm quite sure they'll end up on his blog or on YouTube.

*Well, they had her reading one or two lines.

3 comments:

R. W. Watkins said...

Nina may not actually be all that old, at least according to some out-of-touch nonsense I just read in Books In Canada (If it looks like a rag...). In an interview, some Scottish poet I don't think I had ever heard of, Douglas Dunn, was asked what young American poets he admires. His reply? Mark Doty (b. 1953), Sharon Olds (b. 1942), and Billy Collins (b. 1941)!!! Make no wonder poets like you and me aren't getting the attention we deserve--especially in Canada and the U.K.: In the eyes of the gray and wizened poetic establishment, we haven't been born yet!

The interviewer went on to note how strange it was that so many younger Canadian poets--even those in their 20s and 30s--were now writing in closed forms. Dunn noted that the same thing was occurring even more noticeably in the U.K. None of us 'young conservatives' were mentioned by name, of course. I would not be surprised to learn that Dunn and the interviewer don't even know what Eastern closed forms like tanka and the ghazal consist of in the first place.

Actually, Brian, there are a few other contentious matters poetical that have been brought up in Books In Canada in recent months that I'd like to discuss with you when I can get around to it....

Brian Campbell said...

Since I could be somewhat gray myself (it seems only by some freak of nature I'm not), I take exception to your egregious ageism, my dear sir. Think of the advantages of the long, slow build our unpaid profession: In music and other cultural sports, you're considered too long in the tooth to get anything like a career going if you haven't established a public following as a teenie or twenty-something. In poetry, you can arrive into stardom as a senior citizen. And by then, you're wise (wizened) enough to know what stardom really means. One nota bene point, tho: it's best to get to work at it, eager-beaver style, say, the age of 3, and keep on eager-beavering until you're 80! Send out those poems! And when they get turned back 6 months later, send them out again within, like, 3 hours!

Could the unrest in the Middle East be contributing to the worldwide ghazal shortage? (Fill up my tanka with ghazal, please.)

I'll have to pick up that Books in Canada thing to see what you're talking about. Is it the latest issue?

R. W. Watkins said...

September issue, with Conrad Black (interviewed) on the cover.