Writing poetry squeezes the Valentine red from your heart. It’s a calling (there I’ve said it) and Toronto, Ontario is one of those urban hubs that lives and breathes with a strong poetic rhythm. According to one source, this Canadian city’s literary calendar overflows with launches and readings scheduled for most days or evenings of the year.
In February, the public’s perception of poetry often bleeds with clichéd images of rose scented candles, cardboard cupids, silver-foiled kisses and gummy heart-shaped candies. Mix the words “poetry” and “romance” and what do you get? More sticky sentiments and tacky silk flowered thoughts? Think again!
For emerging and professional poets, a powerful and memorable poem represents more than a few cute sugar-cubed phrases on an annual Valentine card. It is literary art in a tuxedo or a poetic slam in a pair of worn-out work boots: a rhythmic or musical expression of oral and written thoughts and images. Think outside the heart-shaped chocolate box with poetic lines depicting topics as dark, deep and thick as blood or as light as a whiff of fragrance! Verse can be serious or humourous: entertaining as somersaulting sentences or thought-provoking as airborne word wads of crumpled paper smacked on the side of your head.
Last Sunday afternoon in the quaint darkened setting of Central (near Bloor and Bathurst), The Ontario Poetry Society extrapolated the “roses are red” theme and organized the For the Love of Poetry Festival. Guests were treated to a chocolate rose stem and yes, the curtains on stage were striking: a bright red sateen or brocade.
Several writers greeted each other with hugs as if they were family. Almost all of them were Toronto members of this provincial poetry-friendly grassroots organization but several out-of-town poets also managed to brave the snow and ice to attend. Most stopped by to share their work, to test a new poem, to practice their presentation skills, to network, to listen and to be inspired by others.
As a long-time member, I immediately felt at ease. I had been here before, so I was familiar with the format, the casual meet and greet, the sign-up sheet, a chance to have lunch or a drink with friends followed by the actual readings. For most poets there is nothing more nerve-wracking or exhilarating than reading in front of a live audience.
On this particular afternoon, four poets Pat Connors, Howard W. Isenberg, Laura DeLeon and Kamal Parmar launched new books while poet/musician Honey Novick shared some songs from her CD.
Fran Figge, the new President of The Ontario Poetry Society kept the afternoon moving smoothly with her emcee skills. There were four sets of readers and poet/musician Kent Bowman entertained during the breaks. Anyone who wanted to read could and did read with longer readings reserved for members launching new work. The afternoon ended with an open mic where non-members could also share their work.
Overall, it was an enjoyable way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I give it a thumbs up especially for new poets who are seeking a safe haven to break into Toronto’s poetry scene.
For upcoming members’ readings and/or open mics organized by The Ontario Poetry Society, check their website for updates. Two additional readings have already been scheduled: one in Cobourg in May, the other in Ottawa in October. Sign-up for readers is at the door. Admission is free.