Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Open Mikes

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For the benefit of those who have wandered in from a far planet or a near sheep pasture, “open mike” is short for open microphone. “Mike” is usually, annoyingly, and unphonetically spelled “mic.” What is the worry? That “mike” will be confused with someone named Mike?

An open mike, or mic, is the part of public poetry readings that comes after the main readers have performed. The unheard, untried, untested, unpublished, or otherwise unheralded are given a chance to briskly read their poems for, say, three minutes each. Ten readers add up to 30 minutes that, for some in the audience, seem much longer. The commencement of an open mike typically inaugurates a stampede for the exits.

The Tuesday night open mikes in the Art Bar reading series are the ones with which I’m most familiar. I have followed the Art Bar’s peregrinating venues from a goulash-haunted basement restaurant on St. Clair Ave. West, to the Imperial Pub on Dundas St. East (its upstairs room is termed the “Library Lounge,” though no one has ever been known to pull a book from its shelves), to a divided, staple-shaped upstairs room at the Victory Café on Markham St., to its present location in a large sepulchral back room in the Clinton Tavern at Bloor and Clinton. Beer seems a common theme.

Fugitives from the Art Bar’s open mikes may do themselves an injustice, because for sheer entertainment the mikers are often better value than the headliners. (I am compelled to mention that, on November 1, Colin Carberry and I will be among the headliners.) Some are there to test-drive new work, some apparently just to show off. Some of the same people persistently pop up to read their stuff elsewhere. If they don’t watch themselves, they’ll end up turning pro.

Those who don’t sprint for the subway, or skulk out to the side patio for a smoke, eagerly hope that they will hear a Great Bad Poem, something like the famous “Ode on the Mammoth Cheese Weighing Over 7,000 Pounds," by James McIntyre, Ontario’s nineteenth-century poet laureate of pressed milk curds:

We have seen the Queen of cheese,
Laying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze —
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.

But their hopes may be dashed. Sometimes a good poem can beam from the mike.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Fraser Sutherland

At last count, Fraser Sutherland has published fifteen books: one of them short fiction, four nonfiction and ten poetry, His most recent poetry collection is The Philosophy of As If. A freelance editor, he may be the only Canadian poet who is also a lexicographer. Born and raised in Nova Scotia, he lives in Toronto.

Go to Fraser Sutherland’s Author Page