Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

House of Anansi Poetry Bash

Everyone who came to the House of Anansi Press Poetry Bash on Saturday night was treated to wine, cheese, and excellent Canadian poetry.  Anyone who came ignorant of the three authors, Sara Peters, Adam Dickenson and Michael Crummey, left as fans.  Those that did know them were just as appreciative.  All three poets demonstrated a mastery of language and form that was simultaneously inspiring and intimidating.  Each poet was sharing work from recent collections published by House of Anansi.


Sarah Peters opened the evening.  She was reading from 1996, her first published collection.  Her use of language to explore memory and personal history (both invented and real) is like a scalpel in its precision.  She dissects events, revealing their raw beating hearts.  One of the poems she read, “Cruelty”, was inspired by her cousin operating on a gopher with a serrated tin-can lid.  While the image is quite unsettling, she uses this unbalanced state of the reader to reflect on the cruelty many children exhibit, and how they grow up to use these lessons learned from their childhood in their adult lives.  Her poem, “Your Life as Lucy Maude Montgomery”, was just as sharp.  This poem was inspired by a quote from Montgomery: “I am very careful to be shallow and conventional where depth and originality are wasted.”  When Peters read the line “She places her knife on the thinnest skin you own”, I heard a person gasp at the imagery.  Peters read six poems from 1996, and each was of equal quality and potency.  


Adam Dickenson was the second poet to read.  His book, The Polymers, is a concept album of sorts having been envisioned as a book project from the beginning.  Dickenson took the concept of polymers, “molecules composed of numerous repeating parts”, and wanted to perform a scientific analysis of cultural polymers like memes, line-ups, financial credit, etc.  Much of Dickenson’s work in the past has explored science and technology as a metaphor for culture, and this is a continuation of that theme.  Dickenson read “Hearsay”, which envisioned an imaginary parking lot with cars from every one of the 50 states – the poem contains the slogan from each of the fifty different state plates.  This was well received by the audience for both the wit, and the craft to accomplish such a task.  Dickenson was a great presenter, and he explained the origins of his works well which helped with appreciating them more deeply. 


The final poet showcased was Michael Crummey.  A poet for 30 years, his experience was on display through his sparse use of language while simultaneously revealing so much.  He was sharing work from his recent collection Under the Keel.  The first poem he shared, “Watermark” was inspired out of a project where he was given access to the archives at the Rooms Provincial Art Gallery in St. John’s Newfoundland.  One photo in particular, of a minister presiding over a full-immersion baptism in the Atlantic inspired this poem: “If they want comfort, let them join the Sally Ann.” … “I’ve been sove three times now/ Please God this one will take.”  Crummey shared his poem “The Kids are Alright” that has clearly come from his experience as a parent; “The kids are alright but you’ll never forgive them for making you feel so human.”  Crummey’s final poem of the night was “Something New”.  It’s a poem dealing with his father dying of cancer, and is at the same time a love poem.  The narrative examines the love his mother showed for her dying husband which the narrator doesn’t comprehend, yet is beginning to understand what it will take to become that kind of person and promising that to his wife. It has that existential-love-song feel to it; raw, honest, but hopeful.


The discussion after the readings was well moderated, with good questions asked to the authors and great discussion.  Clearly a lot of people enjoyed the poems on display, as there was a significant line-up after the event to buy the works from these three poets.  These are three books I look forward to reading.  Overall, the night was a successful showcase of poetry by House of Anansi, and a reminder of the quality of literature they continue to publish.