Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

An Evening at the Art Bar

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By Monique Mathew, a budding writer, curator and OCAD graduate. She lives in Toronto.

The Art Bar, established in 1991, is Canada's longest running weekly poetry reading series. The series showcases a broad range of poets from across the country, with 25 percent of the featured poets emerging and unpublished, and the remaining 75 percent mid-to-advanced in their career.

The July 29th instalment of the Art Bar, held in the cavernous back room of Clinton's, featured three poets, Karen Petersen, James Dewar and OmahaRisinG, each reading for 15-minute sets. The event was crowded enough to allow for small tensions to build over the few remaining chairs in the space. The audience was a diverse mix of people, some attentively listening to the readings while others anxiously penned poetry on scraps of paper in anticipation of the open mic following the programmed readings.

The first poet, Karen Petersen, hails from British Columbia and is a self-described "West Coast gal." Her poems, in turn, address some very West Coast themes of new age spirituality, energy and deforestation. One of Petersen's poems was an apology to Gaia (a.k.a. Mother Earth) for the disastrous impact of humans on the environment. While the conservation themed poetry felt well-meaning, her poem about the sudden death of her close friend made a greater impact. Petersen made an interesting choice to avoid writing a traditional elegy; the poem recalls the verve and humour of her friend through quick, lively verse. Another memorable work involved a central character whose husband leaves her for a young French concert pianist, but then humbly returns to her, realizing "life with the pianist was not all crescendos."

Petersen's poems probe the difficulties of intimacy in relationships. In one of her poems, she likens the process of learning new and undesirable things about a new partner to "fart bubbles" rising to the surface of once-placid water while taking a bath. Save for that somewhat repellent analogy, Petersen's poems are well-rounded and create interesting spaces of contemplation for her audience.

Petersen was followed by James Dewar, reading from his new collection of poems, Forbidden Tree (Go ForWords Publishing, 2008). The poems chronicle the details of his extramarital affair, with Dewar writing descriptively about both the passion of the situation and the painful aftermath that ensued. Dewar takes a very confessional approach to a topic that is usually cloaked in secrecy and shame. He shares vivid details of his trysts, but also writes about the troubling dreams and sleepless nights that accompanied them. Dewar explores the complex nature of adultery without sounding cautionary.

Next up was another poet exploring sexually charged themes, OmahaRisinG (Eudysia, Mimp Yob, 2007). Highly theatrical in his reading manner, he moved about the stage and gestured purposefully with his hands and body. In between poems, he shared stories about his past as a firefighter and his current work running a poetry workshop. His poems were varied; one explored his arousal at watching a vampy woman in a bar while another recalled the experience of discovering a dead body as a firefighter. Entitled "Rigor Mortis," the latter poem explores this unsettling memory and terms death "the ultimate repose." A later poem, "Nocturne," was a gentle meditation on the topic of lovers asleep at night. A musical moment of the evening came with OmahaRisinG's poem about the death of Mathew Sheppard, a young gay college student who was murdered ten years ago in Wyoming. Accompanied by a cellist performing Bach's Prelude in D Minor, the poet paid tribute to the anniversary of Shepard's passing and lamented the homophobia and violence that brought about his end.

The evening, which held some very pleasant surprises, upon concluding, felt a little random in its offerings. What's wonderful about the Art Bar is there will be another roster of poets reading every Tuesday, creating an entirely different experience for its loyal following. For a full schedule of events, please visit http://www.artbar.org/calendar.html.

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