“Crocuses, you’re down there somewhere,/but sorry to say, I forgot you existed.”* – Kateri Lanthier
Laughter rolled onto the floor like a magic wand, like candy eyes, like snowdrops and crocuses sprouting and blooming in fast-forward-motion. What a finale for Sarnia’s National Poetry Month celebration held Saturday, April 28, 2018 at John’s Restaurant on the fringe of the city!
Toronto poet Kateri Lanthier, who arrived in London, Ontario by train and then was chauffeured for an hour via car to Sarnia, has been praised for her highly original and witty poems. She was one of three out-of-town readers, joining Black Moss Press publisher Marty Gervais and Cranberry Tree Press co-publisher Laurie Smith, for the event.
To see and hear this award-winning poet recite some of her work was like watching the famous Stratford swans glide across the Avon River. Her interest in Shakespeare rippled like fine wine through her work. Not only was she awarded the prestigious Walrus Poetry Prize in 2013 (the winning poem is included in this collection) but her second book Siren (Véhicule Press, 2017) is currently long-listed for The League of Canadian Poets’ Pat Lowther Memorial Award. (The short-list will be announced today on Monday, April 30.)
Her initial decision to establish eye contact with the audience versus reading from a book set the stage for her performance. Her repertoire from Siren included several of her modified ghazals (a historic Persian form) and a long poem “Haiku” which began with the traditional 5-7-5 form: “Plums from the icebox?/Was he kidding? My teeth hurt./Poets are liars.” Lanthier also read from her first book Reporting from Night (Iguana, 2011). Additional information about Siren can be found on the publisher’s website.
Gervais and Smith drove in from Windsor via the Canadian scenic route versus cutting through Detroit and Port Huron on the U.S. side. Gervais, who is no stranger to Sarnia, but hasn’t read in the city for at least a decade, is not only Windsor’s first poet laureate but the person behind the popular “Poet at the Manor” literary event held annually at the Willistead Manor, a former Hiram Walker family residence.
“At six, or eight, or nine, the concept of indulgences sounded a lot like the game of Monopoly and being handed a get-of-jail card,” quipped Gervais during his reading of the tale “Sin” from his book Afternoons With the Devil: Growing Up Catholic in a Border Town (Mosaic Press, 2010). “But you didn’t dare mention that to the nuns.”
A storyteller extraordinaire, Gervais has learned what it takes to capture an audience: warm them up with some humour, and continue to inject heart-warming tales as a preamble to his poetry. Yesterday, his off the cuff narratives about his storytelling grandson and his adventures with magic wands left the audience craving more. His poems are down-to-earth-accessible with a step back into history or a reflection of ordinary life during current times. Humour often reinforces his message. His accomplishments are too numerous to list in one article. Check his website here. Watch for his next book Table Manners: Selected and New Poems 2004-2018 to be released by Mosaic Press this fall.
Smith is a hidden gem in the rough or (if the cliché is removed), she’s the sturdy backbone in a graveyard of osteoporosis. She “likes her steak rare”. Like the other two readers, Smith is also an award-winning poet. She was the first recipient of the Adele Wiseman Poetry Prize and her accomplishments are too numerous to mention here.
Her performance on Saturday night (with all her theatrics and voice transformations) was either on the razor cutting-edge of entertainment or leaning close to the macabre. Bring out the celery and ‘Bloody Marys’! What could one expect with a new poetry book called Said the Cannibal (Urban Farmhouse Press, 2017)? Her ‘tongue in cheek’ dark humour left the audience rolling their eyeballs or releasing their inner laugh tracks or both.
For example in her poem “eye candy” she shared, “i used to collect/candy eyes,/the colourful little/embellishments on/easter bunnies./lambs, duckies, chicks….so pretty to look at.” Yuck!! But the audience ‘gobbled’ it up. As for her critics, Smith has her answer all ready and even ends her poetry collection with a simple “fork it”.
For those seeking less queasy poetry, Smith also read from her book The Truth About Roller Skating (Cranberry Tree Press, 2011). From the poem “breasts”, she teased “there were the kleenex years, after all.” Learn more about Cranberry Tree Press here.
Bravo to local organizers James Deahl and Sharon Berg (both established poets and experienced publishers) who invited the right mix of bards to showcase poetry as a form of entertainment.
In addition to the out-of-town readers, three local poets from Sarnia’s After Hours Poetry group also showcased their work. All three are serious and passionate about their writing and have had their work published in national publications. They manage to write despite their full-time work and other familial commitments; all three had unique presentation styles that kept the audience attentive.
A professed warrior for justice, Lois Nantais often reaches deep inside her emotions to write about loss, grief, and the healing process for herself and for those around her. Her quest for truth and understanding about complex matters such as religion was evident in her poem about her uncle. She also touched on the impact of the recent college strike. As a Lambton College psychology and philosophy professor, she has a deep concern for students’ needs and has a deep appreciation for the arts as evident by her former roles as a literary board rep for the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts and co-host of Sarnia’s Spoken Word event. She has two poetry chapbooks published by Willow Path Press: of tender days: Poetic Reflections (2003) and The Heaviness of Rain (2008). Nantais is definitely a poet to watch.
Ryan Gibbs, another Lambton College professor and another former co-host of Sarnia’s Spoken Word event, is starting to get his name out into the literary community. He often writes about his travels and yesterday’s performance was no exception. For example, “Zealous travelling poets/recount their journey/along a path uprooted,” set the scene for his poem “The Buddha Room” published in the anthology Whisky Sour City (Black Moss Press, 2013). He also read a tribute poem for the late Sarnia writer Peggy Fletcher and another poem about Sarnia poets which was written in response to a comment made by an audience member during a reading in St. Catharines. Gibbs splits his time between Sarnia and London and can often be seen attending literary events in both locations. His poetry continues to grow in strength. Additional information about Gibbs appears here.
Grace Vermeer shared several long and interconnected poems that were influenced by spiritual readings and in particular the Bible’s Book of Genesis. She credits Professor Cliff Johnson for fostering her love of poetry and encouraging her early efforts which won the Eleanor B. Mathews Award. She attended Western where her poetry won the Lillian Kroll Prize in Creative Writing. In 2014, she was awarded the Monica Ladell Prize as part of the Scarborough Arts Big Art Book 2014. Another poet to watch. Additional information about Vermeer appears here.
Prior to the readings, poets and members of the general public gathered in a private dining area to wine, dine, and chat about literary matters. Special thanks to the League of Canadian Poets for their support of the out-of-town readers.
As co-host Sharon Berg applauded in Sunday’s Facebook post, “You really missed a good reading if you were not there to join in this event. The evening was filled with deep thoughts provoked by their words and peppered by roaring belly laughs.”
The out of town readers were pleased and responded positively on Facebook.
“Many thanks to Sharon Berg, James Deahl, and Deb Hill for a warm welcome and a wonderful evening,” wrote Lanthier. (Blogger’s note: Thanks Kateri but credit for all the hard work for this event should go to Sharon and James. My task was the unofficial blogger/photographer.)
“It was terrific,” wrote Gervais. “Thanks so much for the warm welcome!”
“What a wonderful audience last night,” wrote Smith. “Thanks again for inviting me to be part of this.”
As the temperature rises and spring somersaults through the crocuses and daffodils, the 30-day poetic celebration winds down.
On Tuesday, May 1st, National Poetry Month officially ends for another year but hark…is that the sound and scent of new poetry books already lined up for future release? Some folks celebrate poetry all year!
For additional information about upcoming Ontario reading events, check the event section of this blog. Updates are made approximately once a week.