11 July 2006

Screaming in the rain

Dana and I went to Scream in High Park last night. We were among the heroes who arrived for the first set, while it was raining, not the wimps who showed up after the rain had abated. Of course, the bigger heroes were the organizers and cheery volunteers who forged on through the early part of the evening, armed only with faith, camaradie, and umbrellas, doubtless hoping that they'd eventually get a bigger audience than the average Art Bar. Which did eventually happen; and it was a generous, warm crowd that mostly stayed to the very end.

Seems like a lot of people in the lit community aren't talking to me these days. I hope I don't increase that number by saying that the supportive, upbeat spirit of the evening seemed to surpass the quality of the work. It's always a challenge to read from a stage, across a "dance floor," to the audience, with spotlights in your eyes. It must've been especially difficult in the rain, which tends to muffle all sound and response.

Not to say there weren't some excellent moments. Kevin Connolly overcame his initial discomfort with the mic to give an excellent reading, and funny too, mainly from his most recent book, Drift. For me, he was the evening's spirit of poetry. This was what it was all about. Alarming, surprising, jarring, fresh words on a page. No show-biz or flash in the presentation, though certainly good humour. Just good, solid poetry. The audience rewarded him with perhaps the best response of the evening.

Jon Paul Fiorentino always cracks me up. But I think he'd have done better crammed into a living room somewhere with the audience. With the rain turned off. But I liked what he read, and I look forward to the new book, and I like how he sort of pathetically flung his finished-with books towards the audience. Reminds me a bit of Daniel Jones literally launching his book Obsessions with a giant slingshot at the Paddock Tavern in the '80s. The book hurtled about one meter and clunked to the floor.

I'm never quite sure what Maggie MacDonald is doing in her writing, but I like her attitude, her politics, and her preambles a lot. I've gotta sit down and read her work one of these days. But even better preambles, postambles, and midambles were to be found in the evening's closer, Ryan Knighton. I imagine last night wasn't one of his greatest readings, but it was an awful lot of fun anyway. And educational, too, for a blind-ignorant person such as myself.

Perhaps the weirdest performance of the night was that offered by Mindbender. He reminded us before, during, and after each poem that he was, in fact, Mindbender. And he shared with us his plans for world domination, and told us how he'd remember us as he travelled the planet spreading word of "heaven." I got the feeling that he'd never actually read a poem before, or studied a good lyric. So his work was a kind of atrocious immaculate conception. It soon became apparent, though, that his role was merely as straight man to the mic. The mic gradually was broken down into smaller and smaller pieces, until it was like the Terminator's mechanical hand, detached from his destroyed body, crawling painstakingly along the floor, threatening to throttle Mindbender for crimes against poetry.

A good time was had by all.

Over and out.


At July 11, 2006 8:39 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"No show-biz or flash in the presentation, though certainly good humour. Just good, solid poetry. "
if i were your poetry shrink, i'd put you on the couch, have you go back in time, leave no stone unturned, and get to the bottom of this. i know you have your reasons, and knowing you to be a rational, thoughtful and compassionate man, i'll bet you have a column or two to fill with a good rave and/or rant or three.

At July 12, 2006 3:59 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

After initially feeling nervous and gloomy about the prospects for the evening, I thought about the people who had worked for free to make this happen (Maggie, Mark, Bill, so many others) for stand-offish dorks like me, people like you and Dana and Gary and Michael and Hadley and Alana, but especially the many others I didn't know who'd just got pissed on for two hours and were still there to listen to what we all had to say -- good, sad, awkward, earnest or otherwise -- for our allotted 12 minutes. It was, frankly, inspiring, not to mention a nice cure for the jitters.

Two things I'll remember most are Stephen and Sharon's gloriously cute and talkative child insisting without knowing that his "doggie" story was what was really happening (Dude, I was totally reading a poem, back off!), and a delighted, soaked young girl (8 or 9) collecting signatures on her program like I used to collect NHL Power Players stamps at Esso. Our audience "catching up" with us, we can only hope.


At July 12, 2006 3:16 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I seriously doubt that anyone will be upset with you for making fun of Mindbender. Me, I'm almost sorry I didn't catch this already-legendary flame-out.

The Rain Scream had its own kind of magic, I think. And it sure proved that our hardcore audience is truly hardcore. I never realized so many people would sit in the driving rain to hear poetry. It's inspiring, in some kind of way.

-- mh

At July 13, 2006 6:13 pm , Blogger melmoth said...

There is actually no "lit community". Rather, there are groups made up of individuals who happen to be friends or acquaintances, and who 'hang out' at varying venues, or spend time with each other; and being friends and/or acquaintances, they 'support' one another's work.
In this regard, true critical evaluation of a work is more often than not inhibited; or perhaps is unnecessary since the friendship and comradery is perceived as more important than the work.
For good healthy criticism (and I don't mean that godawful politically correct notion of 'constructive criticism') to exist, there needs be an environment of objectivity where the subjective investment made between individuals as friends or colleagues or acquaintances can be suspended or put aside somehow. As artists, we have to be able to say of another's work "That's mediocre" or "That's weak and flawed", have the critical skills to back up our criticism as well as open a broader dialogue.
Stuart, when you use to publish Mondo Hunkamooga (and I would read it avidly), you were never frightened of being critical publicly of another's published work - you never pulled your punches - even with me - and that's why I've always respected you. If a writer publishes or performs their work, then they feel it is good enough for the public domain, and should be mature enough to be able to take criticism, even if it is harsh. So don't worry about the "lit community", be more like Groucho Marx and his dictum that he would never belong to any club that would have him as a member (Groucho didn't like conformity).


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