16 January 2006

Frankly speaking

Spoke with Dana on Thursday afternoon, from Chile to Nova Scotia, where she was preparing for that night’s opening of the Halifax presence of The Idea of North. She sounded great, and had her own show prepared, and was helping other artists with theirs. The chat left me feeling buoyant, and it turned out to be a great and full day all round.

My “students” wrote some exciting stuff during our sessions, and in the afternoon I met with Frank Keetley, a British guy in his 70s who has been at 62 writers’ retreats and has written thousands of poems, the great majority of which rhyme, in the tradition of folks like Roger McGough. Barbara called him “your highness” the other day, as he’s the senior writer of the group, and has an incredibly commanding reading voice, a nearly regal voice. Frank’s aesthetic seems light years from my own, and I’d been wondering if he was getting anything out of the workshop sessions. He writes these incredibly spare rhyming poems, hermetically sealed and usually very funny (though he has his poignant moments too). We started off looking at two poems of his, and to his credit, he’d given me two non-rhymers, at least one of which he’d written during the workshop.

They were good and accomplished what he’d apparently set out to do. I had little by way of constructive suggestions for him, but our talk was good. In my workshops, I generally discourage rhyming poetry, but I have to admit I could see little fault in what Frank does. I mean, he really does do it well. It’s not the same experience as reading David McFadden, Dara Wier, or Nelson Ball, but there’s something very satisfying about Frank’s work. He’s a neat guy too, and it seems a compulsive writer. There have been sessions where I assign a project, and soon Frank seems to have dozed off at his chair. But when it comes his turn to read, he has written something invariably clever. Did he write it in his sleep?

I’m learning a lot from this guy.

Early evening we were treated to a trip to a nearby village for some beers. The venue reminded me a lot of places I visited in Nicaragua: a big, garage-like joint, no sign outside, and one brand of beer (the local Cristal). It was a blast. Eileen, Susan, Barbara, Merle, Frank, and I stayed for a few rounds, and for the longest time we were the only customers there. Susan hadn’t been in a few years, and the ancient woman who owned the place didn’t recall her, but soon they were amazing friends. They held hands up at the bar as Susan, the owner, and a middle-aged woman who ran things had a great talk. It was a genuinely authentic experience in a bar that no tourist had probably ever been in before.

After Thursday’s dinner, Alejandra, the teenage daughter of the family who run the farm for Gord and Susan, came over to Susan’s place and gave us an amazing reading from her poetry. She’s a lovely, humble, friendly girl, but when she read she was full of confidence, making eye contact with her audience and answering questions articulately and openly. Her poetry, to the extent that I could understand it, is generally romantic, a little philosophical, and probably cliche-laced, but there was an incredible ambition and care for the language there too. It was a magical hour or so. After she read, I read a couple of my own poems in Spanish, from my “Dos Poemas” leaflet, and felt like a blundering fool. Alejandra and I had a nice chat afterwards, though perhaps she didn’t understand any of my horrible Spanish.

But hell, my Spanish was better than her English.

Over and out.

2 Comments:

At January 16, 2006 10:53 am , Anonymous rox. said...

two things 4 yu stu: what's the mood concerning the big election news? also, how's the red? over.

 
At January 17, 2006 5:41 pm , Anonymous CB said...

Hey Stu:

You just blew my blogotheory all to hell. I was talking w/. my girlfriend J--- the other day about how your blogs are more "private" than your poems (we see all your anguish over what to read at a reading, how you did, the minutae (hey folks, it's Stu's brain!)) but also more public (I'm wondering if more people by now have read your blog than have read your poetry or fiction). And you don't give your last name, and not usually the last names of people you talk about (I could be wrong...). But then here you are giving Frank's last name. Fuck. Now I have to go back to the drawing board for "From Pods to Blogs: the Cyber-Deconstruction of a Canadian poet."

 

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