Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sasquatch / CBC

On Sunday I went to Ottawa to do a poetry reading at the Sasquatch series.

As we drove up (my partner & I), we listened to Michael Enright interview Nancy Huston at the Metropolis Blue festival -- an interview we had been seriously considering going to hear live. It was excellent: Mr. Enright is clearly a devoted reader of Nancy Huston, and asked many pertinent questions about her latest book, Fault Lines -- which sounds like it would be a very interesting read -- as well as other things she had written, her relationship to the English and French languages, living in Paris, etc. She didn't read from the book, and that was absolutely fine.

Which made me reflect upon an obvious point related to my foregoing complaint about the lack of actual poems in the poetry coverage on the CBC. Talking to a fiction writer (or non-fiction prose writer) about his or her book without actually having them read from it is OK, because the writer can give an adequate sense of the book by talking about its story and central issues & main characters. But when a poet is interviewed the same way, it's hard to get that adequate sense of what his or her poetry is like. And since poetry is compact & soundbite friendly, as I put it, it seems evasive (particularly during a long interview) not to actually read from it, or, in the case of a print review or interview, to show or link to some of it. Especially as one can't count on picking it up during ones' next bookstore browse. That's all I'll say on the matter for the next while.

The Sasquatch reading turned out to be a remarkable experience. I'd recommend that venue to any poet who could be featured there. At first, though, it seemed auspicious, then terribly inauspicious: here it was the first truly warm and beautiful day of the spring, and the restaurant/pub where it takes place is quite classy, until -- after filing past an outdoor terrace of couples sipping their daiquiris, one discovers that the poetry reading takes place in the damp basement barroom of the place. How symbolic. Poetry as "hairy beast, hidden in the forest" indeed. Today, there were about ten there, including the hosts and me -- about half the usual number, they told me, and all but my girlfriend had come to read their creations (of varying levels of quality of course) at the open mike -- if I don't include the blowzy man who interrupted the proceedings by clomping down the stairs and bursting in with, "Where's the washroom?" Ah well... But the host was gracious, and as I was the "star attraction", they gave me plenty of time -- I read more poems than I'd planned + translations of Francisco Santos and Gabriel Celaya + 4 songs -- maybe an hour of reading and music. And in the end, sold four books and a CD -- amazing sales for such a small group. I think I made some personal friends in Ottawa with this reading. Without a doubt, League funding did what it was designed to do this time.

7 comments:

Brian Campbell said...

...which means, RW, we may have to put off the Slaughter for the time being...

R. W. Watkins said...

I was wondering, Brian, if you had read that article, 'Battle of the Bards', in the May 28th edition of Time. Apparently, someone by the overly-Anglo name of Nigel Smith has published a book entitled Is Milton better than Shakespeare?, claiming Milton is the superior poet. You can probably find the article at the Time website; other reviews, no doubt, are available online. Anyway, I was wondering what your opinion is on this rather contentious issue....

Brian Campbell said...

Without having read the article -- don't have time today -- it sounds like a contention meant to draw attention to someone by the overly-Anglo name of Nigel Smith.

Obviously, Milton is not the better playwright. But he was a better epic poet. As for lyric poetry -- well, although Coleridge said "Milton is not mutton," that is a matter of taste.

The contention -- rather, conviction -- that Milton was superior as a poet was practically de rigeur during the 18th C., until Coleridge & others resurrected Shakespeare from the critical dust, and critics like T.S. Eliot & F.R. Leavis gave Milton a critical drubbing for his overly elaborate, latinate diction in the early or mid 20th C.

To me Shakespeare is zesty, and frankly I like him better; Milton stodgy but lofty.

If we are returning to an 18th C.-ish sensibility -- a stuffy and stodgy one in my opinion -- this may be a symptom, along with the rise of New Formalism -- and what I would call pseudo-formalism in what would otherwise be called free verse -- as well as the sunset in critical esteem of undisciplined "wildmen" like B.P Nichol, Ferlinghetti & Artie Gold.

R. W. Watkins said...

By the way, Brian, what do you think of that Poem Hunter website? Do they seriously get permission to carry all that stuff by famous living or recently deceased authors...? I have a feeling it's just brimming with copyright infringements. Maybe we should sign up under aliases and just fill the place with bullshit!

Brian Campbell said...

I was familiar with the site from individual searches, but just checked out the site as a whole. Obviously they make their money from lots of pop-up ads for emoticons and shoot the duckie to get a free laptop. Hard to enjoy serious poetry with those things flying into your face. By the looks of it, anybody could submit a poem -- obviously lots of copyright infringement possible here -- and, looking through their poets list, there is already lots of rubbish under aliases like I Like Llama Fuzz and Jack the Ripper. The thing is, the site is searchable by name, and therefore, if each particular name is refereed like Wikipedia then the site is about as susceptible to rubbish -- but indifferent to that rubbish -- as the net itself. I suspect though that the site is not that well taken care of, because I found a Louise Varese translation of a Charles Baudelaire prose poem, without any acknowledgment of that translator and with a couple of egregious typos in it besides. I commented on the errors, and they were never corrected. The way to test the site therefore could be to submit nonsense under some famous name like William Butler Yeats or William Shakespeare and see if it goes up alongside the other poems by that poet. I don't feel like doing it right now, but if you feel up to it try it and get back to me with your results...

Brian Campbell said...

Actually the poem was Windows -- a prose poem from Paris Spleen -- at

http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/windows/

Brian Campbell said...

... here's another variation that would almost surely go under the radar on that site: Add a poem by a famous poet, slip in some absurd alteration and see it it's caught. That could be quite amusing.