Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

At the Spider's House - A Night of Poetry

Great poets tell us much about the world in few words. A number of poets focus on a message; the rest are preoccupied with form and structure. No matter the preoccupation, all of us understand that poetry is a forced peek into the human soul, and perhaps we appreciate poems because those glimpses of our souls are rare to catch in the busyness of our daily lives. It was no surprise, then, to find the Christ Church Cathedral packed for the House of Anansi Poetry Bash.The House of Anansi boasts an impressive roster, and I have often sought comfort and laughter in its voices.


The presenting poets–Steven Heighton, Baziju, Suzanne Buffam, and Michael Crummey–are talented and their readings focused on different themes, but together their readings captured a large segment of human experience. I found Baziju’s reflections on ephemerality and the fragile essence of things well considered; Buffam’s lists of the mundane I found to be sublime and funny. Heighton, whose direct approach to acknowledging and surpassing his influences I found remarkable, delivered some well-constructed poems I found slightly underwhelming. I found the readings of the first three poets, while eloquent and imaginative and respectful of poetry’s aims and forms, unable to elicit deeper stirrings within me.


Not Michael Crummey.


Crummey, like John Berryman or Robert Frost, is a poet of the banal, and his ability to evoke is comparable to either man. More so, Crummey feels life pulsing underneath the indignities of human existence, and his most moving reading of the night, Bread, is a song to the unfathomable ways by which love enters the world. In the crowd that night there was a foreigner who spoke some English, and I saw her cry during the reading of Bread and laugh during his reading of Getting the Marriage into Bed.  To connect that deeply with a person from a different place with just an adequate understanding of the English language is a thing only great poetry can do.