Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Dancing Words in Time: 2018 John Newlove Poetry Award

 

“Poetry is magic. Just the dance of words” – John Newlove

 

John Newlove’s poetry is a dance between dream and forgotten memory. Sardonic existentialism infuses Newlove’s words and, to turn his expression, makes monuments out of the ordinary moments of our lives. His gentle words and playful cadence both invite introspection and champion inward hope.

 

The poems read at this year’s Newlove Poetry Awards similarly present an encounter with time and express moments of magic under the lens of domestic and imagined space. The four poets that read were (in order of speaking): Doris Fiszer (Winner of the 2017 John Newlove Poetry Award); Lana Crossman (2018 Honourable Mention); Mary Lee Bragg (Honourable Mention); and Tomasz W. Wiszniewski (Winner of the 2018 John Newlove Poetry award).

 

Doris Fiszer began the evening by delving into the personal narrative behind her chapbook Sasanka (Wild Flower), which is dedicated to her mother and children. Fiszer spoke of her mother’s courageous youth as a shooter in the Polish Army, her being taken prisoner during the Warsaw Uprising, and finally her transition to life in Canada where she found herself in “the Godforsaken place” of Bells Corners. Fiszer’s poetry exudes her love for her mother. From references to her mother’s pierogi to her search for edible mushrooms and purple lilac bouquets, Fiszer’s poetry captures a sweet nostalgia for time past. Fiszer also read her poem “Zen Garden” in calm, measured tones equally meditative as its title.

 

Lana Crossman was next to take the stage, painting a domestic sphere with luscious sensuality. Her reading of her poems “Murmuration” and “For Mary,” as well as John Newlove’s “White Lies” received murmurs and explosive sighs from the audience at the expressive beauty of her undulating words and their intimacy. Her self-proclaimed “dual citizenship with the Maritimes” was impossible to miss as her words evoked the sea with formidable charm.

 

Mary Lee Bragg then read “Wishful,” which journeys back to the time the uprising that overthrew Portugal’s authoritarian dictatorship. Bragg also read "The Landscape That Isn't There," the title poem of her upcoming collection. Bragg’s personality shone as she gave a dramatic rendition of John Newlove’s poem, “Big Mirror,” which brought to life the imagined terrors of a fearful visit to the dentist.

 

Finally, the 2018 award winner took centre stage. Newcomer Tomasz W. Wiszniewski is an understated talent. He began by declaring to the audience, “I’m not good at this at all,” and then proceeded to impress the audience immensely. Wiszniewski claimed that he had never set out to be a poet, these were just words he felt compelled to jot down on a page. The reticent young poet does not yet realize the power of his own words. He said he admired Newlove’s poetry as being “full of truth and fearless,” yet this equally describes Wiszniewski’s own poetry. He blazed through his poem “Polyanemic Ply” with a fierce intensity that held the audience in suspended thrall. The poem is punctuated with magical phrases such as “Let us dance the bolero atop Molokini soil until the ocean recedes and we turn to lava rinds.” The language forms a Molotov cocktail igniting idealism and action as he urged the audience, “they say truth be told, I say truth be raised”. Wiszniewski touches on deep truths in this iridescent panoply of reflections on love and alienation, sleepless nights, imagined futures, and lament.

 

Music by folk artist Subhraj Singh bracketed the evening with an emotional arc of sentimentality and playfulness, ending in an engaging audience participation in song-writing on themes ranging from being stuck in traffic to desiring avocados.

 

 

 

Tomasz W. Wiszniewski at the Newlove Award. Photo: Allana Haist