The Revue Theatre on Granville Island fills with eager lovers and writers of poetry. Tonight is the Vancouver 125 Poetry Cabaret Evening One, part of the 24th Annual Writers and Readers Festival. The evening was held by Brad Cran, Vancouver’s Poet Laureate, essayist and photographer. His collection of poetry The Good Life, has been hailed in the Vancouver Sun as a must read. The host of the evening, Poetry Is Dead Editor-in-Chief, Daniel Zomparelli (bow-tie and suspender clad!) was consistently adorable and charming, nearly stealing the show with his not-so-subtle flirtations with the performers. He begins the evening by quoting the Globe and Mail, that “hopefully more than 15 people come to this thing…that is if there is not the competition of paint-drying the same night.” Despite this, wine glasses and red velvet seats are filled, and the first performer takes the stage.
Catriona Strang, Vancouver-based poet, read a piece from Proust and memory, accompanied by Francois Houle on the clarinet. The words of Spill Kit rose and fell with both Proustian abstraction and lofty expressions, but it was matched well by Houle’s haunting and distant melodies (at one point, he was playing two flutes at once!). Strang’s elusive poetry didn’t so much as grab the listener with what was being said, so much as how. It demonstrated how language can be just as impervious as a complicated math equation.
The next performer, Jordan Scott, discloses his performance with “This is the paint drying version of the evening.” This was certainly grossly inaccurate though. Scott is a stutterer, so every word was a battle, every line needing to be combated, and appropriately his poetry was woven with themes of body versus speech and the procedures of interrogation. He wonders, “What words are you putting in my mouth?”
Our third performer of the evening, Wayde Compton, read from all new works, entitled Loxodromic. His travel narrative was actually written on the plane, on the way to Taiwan, exploring such themes as the riots in Paris and Hogan’s Alley (the old black neighborhood in Vancouver). His treatment of race, “race is a verb. It takes place,” is incredibly reminiscent of a Harlem Renaissance era Langston Hughes. I was impressed with the infusion of jazz-like qualities in Compton’s poetry.
Next up was Kevin McNeilly, accompanied by trumpet player Taylor Bo Hynum. McNeilly’s piece, entitled Embouchere, dealt with impersonations and the varying careers of jazz musicians. Jelly Roll Morton and Thelonious Monk gamble themselves broke, perfectly paired to Hynum’s incredibly impressive trumpet improvisation. Hynum goes red in the face and sputters his final notes, just as McNeilly does.
Mugbait, an ambient noise duo from Alberta, picks up right after the intermission. Sitting cross-legged on an Arabian carpet, the duo used various tools and electronics to create the slightly abrasive, high-decibel volume that filled the theatre. Copper sheets were scraped together and a guitar was manipulated. Sandra and Ben Doller walk up to two microphones on stage and begin their performance-based spoken word. Repitition of “shirt” and “baby” serve to confuse the audience as to where the focal point of the performance is, and yet there is a comedic element to the confusion of language, as words collide and meanings are altered. The performance ends with Ben Doller, dryly punctuating with “applause,” a mere suggestion.
One of my favourite performers of the evening, Matthea Harvey, warns us that her poetry deals with “mermaids, terror, and aliens.” The petite brunette begins with a tale (catch that pun there?!) of Frankenmermaid, a mythical creature doomed with being in love with her creator. The two of them identify the resemblance of two fries with ketchup to her two severed legs. Yes, there were gasp/laughs in the audience abound. Her poems about aliens were inspired by a headline in the newspaper, claiming that “Using a Hoola Hoop Can Get You Abducted By Aliens!” Harvey reasons that “they want the creative ones, those that dream of another place.” If this is true, everyone in this room is at risk of being swept off to Saturn.
The final performance of the night was super charged with energy from Christian Bök’s reading of Xenotext. The Giffin Prize Winner explained the piece as an allegory about the nightmarishness of poetry, and this creature-of-word certainly defied the ordinary daydreaminess of Wordsworth’s poetry. Bök is actually, literally, trying to find a way to encode the verses into an extremely resilient form of bacteria (extremophile bacterial DNA called Deinococcus radiodurans), so then art imitates life imitates art. He explosively describes this indestructible being out of one side of his mouth, his face flushing with intensity. This bacterium will not perish if submerged in the Antarctic Lake Vostok and it can withstand 392 degrees Calvin. Basically, it will survive billions of years after humans are gone. And thus so will Xenotext. This guy is nuts (brilliant!).
This was just a taste of the International Vancouver Writers and Readers Festival, and if this eclectic collection of Canadian writers is any indication of what else Vancouver has got to offer, sign me up!
- October 2011