Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Poetry Cabaret

A Saturday evening of poetry in the capital, what more could you ask for? Forget your nightclubs and bars; poetry cabaret is where the weekend fun is to be had. The Saturday evening in question brought together three exciting, contemporary poets: Rob Winger, Adam Sol and Sina Queyras, to share readings of their most recent work with an attentive audience.


First up to the podium was Rob Winger, an Ontario native whose most recent book Old Hat aims to subvert the clichés of poetry - or, depending on the cliché, reveal them to be inevitable to any poet. My personal highlight from his readings was “In this poem”, a poem about another, imaginary poem and the many complicated, pseudo-intellectual meanings and allusions hidden within it that the reader would be required to understand in order to fully appreciate the poem; meta-poetry at its finest.


While Winger was a hard act to follow, Adam Sol took to the task admirably, not least through his banter between poems which was almost as entertaining as the poetry itself. His newest collection Complicity seeks to understand how we can reconcile ourselves with our identities while comprehending the violent undercurrents in society; a deep and dark concept which yet gives rise to entertaining, if thought-provoking, poetry.


Finally we were treated to readings by Sina Queyras, whose latest book MxT is about loss and grief. Her work often combines poetry with non-lyrical writing; whether that be in the form of an instruction manual or with mathematical symbols, giving her poems a specific structure without losing the heart of the poetry. Her performance was more sombre in style than the preceding poets, unsurprising given the nature of her poetry, and the contrast in styles was interesting to see, especially during an evening in which the concept of “Canadian Poetry” as a movement was discussed.


Our host for the evening, Stephen Brockwell, estimated the audience to be made up of roughly 90% poets; a demographic inclined to enjoy an evening of poetry reading. However, as someone to whom the poetic muse hasn’t spoken since I was in the midst of those angst-ridden teenage years, I still very much enjoyed the event.


It is always fantastic to hear a poet perform their own work; to hear the inflections, emphasis and speed that the poet envisioned for their words, which are so often confined to the paper, and this particular evening was no exception. From Winger’s brilliant comedic delivery, to Sol’s rambling – but very entertaining – introductions to his poems and Queyras’ more sombre reading of her beautiful, grief-drenched poetry, hearing the poems the way they were intended to be read was a rare treat.


The discussion that followed the readings touched on the significance of events and discourse for modern poetry, an importance that was underlined by the evening itself. While poetry cannot be written with the sole aim of pulling in an audience, it is wonderful to have an occasion to experience live poetry readings. Adam Sol referred to poetry as a “quasi-religious experience,” and on a night such as yesterday, in a fabulous venue such as Knox Presbyterian Church, it is an easy statement with which to agree.