Saturday, April 16, 2011

April is National Poetry Month. Here, I got you a Haiku...

Greetings, Persistent Purveyors of Poesy!

Wait, I didn't catch that...did you just say that you don't like poetry?  Why the hell not!?  What's wrong with you?  Were you dropped on your head as a kid or something?  Sheesh.

You like music, dontcha?  Music has lyrics, right?  You like lyrics, capish?    

I've always personally defined poetry as "an economic concentration of meaning in as succinct and artistic a manner as possible".  Ever send a text message to someone?  What can be more succinct and meaningful then a text?

Okay, maybe "can i use ur washroooom i realy hav 2 pee" isn't the best example of art, but in this age of insta-communication, I really wouldn't be surprised is poetry doesn't have a major resurgence soon.
When you're an English Major, like it or not, there's just no way you can avoid poetry.  Through a mix of dedicated study, personal predilection or even osmosis, you eventually become intimately familiar with Shakespeare's sonnets, Blake's head-trips, Wordsworth's daffodil fetish, Dickinson's vigorous verses, Coleridge's epics, T.S. Elliot's dirges and Shelly's romantic surrealism.  Eventually it begins to bleed into you.  You become obsessed with seeking out works of renown, analyzing everything for deeper meaning and reading it aloud to people in the hopes of possibly having sex with them.

One of the coolest things that a bunch of us did while we lived in residence was compose poetry during some of our more pedestrian classes.  At the end of the day, we'd gather in someone's room and read what we'd composed.  Mercifully this never resulted in us having sex with one other.   *Shudder*  

So why did we do it?  Beat's me.  It might be because that, at the time, some of us considered folks like Leonard Cohen and Jim Morrison to be kinda "pimp".  Maybe it's because we had no creative outlet otherwise.  Maybe it's because we were just stone-cold bored in class.  Or perhaps we wanted to write something good enough to impress the ladies.  

Whatever the reason, we were pretty prolific there for awhile.  Our efforts certainly weren't limited to weirdo English Majors, either.  There were International Studies and Commerce students in the mix as well.  Generally what we wrote was pretty crappy.  I know my first few efforts were alternately waaaaaaay too heavy handed and/or pretentious to see the light of day.

Periodic boredom in the classroom eventually gave way to chronic boredom in the workplace.  Call centers, with their regimented protocols and lack of innovation, are a veritable breeding ground for composing verse.  I wrote a fair bit during this time and some of my cubically contained inmates followed suit.  Occasionally my pathetic plea for a creative outlet would raise it's head when trying to cope with the sometimes surreal office environment  or worm its way into supervisory emails sent to staff members prone to fleeing the work place:

Revealing A Mystery...

"Reading fleetly 'tween the calls
Phone and clock upon the walls
Scream in your ear 'You must take flight!'
Alight in carriage, bold and bright.

Epiphany strike, a thought declare:
'I left my book and notes back there!'
Dawn a class comes, naught to show.
'I'll skip the damn'd thing, I WILL NOT GO!

So knowledge gain'd and lesson learn'd
Accoutrement all I must confirm
Before the mad dash to the brink

Sorry, I couldn't resist.   You'll find your Edgar Allan Poe book and binder at the Coaches desk.

P.S. Make sure you read The Tell-Tale Heart.  Good stuff."

When finishing my book became priority one, poor, neglected verse fell by the wayside.  That is, until this time last year.  I had the good fortune of reading the following article in Halifax's Weekly Dose of Realistic Optimism, The Coast:

For those of you too lazy to click on ye olde link (I'm lookin' at you, bub!) it tell the story of one Donal Power, a former journalist turned editor who's been passionate about poetry since High School.  In this wacky modern world he just can't wrap his head around why an art form which was once so pervasive and easy to practice has fallen into cultural oblivion.  He can't conceive as to why reading, sharing and publishing poetry has become so academic and insular.  He struggles with how local institutions seem more concerned with creating a cottage industry for people already published versus fostering talented but yet-unheard voices.

His solution to this deficit was so simple it was brilliant.  He created Open Heart Forgery, a self-described "grass roots, guerrilla journal of poems and lyrics that seeks to energize the writing community in Halifax and the HRM".  Every month Donal asks creative folks (just like you, Gentle Reader) to email their lyrics and poems to him.  He then turns his aesthetic, analytic and editorial eye on each submission, separates the wheat from the chaff and publishes the ten-point font, 28 line max results on a tri-fold sheet of colorful legal paper. 

In addition to his own distribution efforts, he invites readers to literally "forge" every issue by going to the OHF homepage, printing it, copying it and then scattering it all around the Halifax Regional Municipality.  If you live in the area, keep an eye out for it the next time you're out and about: it could turn up on a bus, in a coffee shop, at the library, in a pub, in a bookstore, at the laundromat or in the waiting room of the place where you routinely get a high colonic ("Hey, waitaminit, this isn't a Doctor's office!").

And I'll tell ya right now, folks, OHF certainly makes for more soul-nourishing, karmically fulfilling lunchtime reading then say, that crappy Flying Cow ad rag.   

Since I've been chasing the dream of official publication for years like Jeremy Wade after a River Monster, I decided to throw caution to the wind, nut up and send in one of my poems.  For the record, here is the very pram in question:

An obligatory glimmer of promise provided.
The unconscious optimist now resurrected.
His sermons of hope are ever-alluring.
The masses will follow, never returning.
Empowered, he usurps the throne of despair.
Just as the bullet will dagger the air.
The flock and the spirit will perish within him.
But that's the way it is without him.
The martyr must fall from the golden barony.
All for the sake
     of a little something
                   called "tragic irony".
To my amazement, here was Donal's reply a few days later:

"Hello David,

Thank you very much for your submission 'Anticipation' to Open Heart

Forgery (I particularly enjoyed the deft line  'the bullet will dagger
the air' - very deft and evocative). We've got it queued up for the
upcoming June issue.

Thanks again David and happy writing!

This led me to my first public poetry reading at Local Jo's cafe at the end of May.  Being forced to do presentations in university as well as training and presentations at work really served me well.  It was a major ego boost to realize that I'd completely conquered my crippling fear of speaking in front of crowds.  It was also inspiring and enriching for me to witness other shy people screw up their courage, march up to the podium and pour their creative little hearts out in front of total strangers.  Bless 'em...often they'd be up there with their voices cracking, bodies trembling, clutching sweat-soaked sheets of parchment in their white-knuckled mitts.

But in the end, they conquered their fears and survived the process intact.  I watched with growing pride as they became increasingly confident and bold.  I soon found myself falling in severe like with this crowd of supportive, interesting, quirky and sometimes wiltingly sensitive misfits.  

I was also amazed by the ever-increasing turnout.  Partnered with the already well-established Left Bank Poetry Reading group (featuring such local literary luminaries as David Rimmington, Meg Baird, Heddy Johannesen, Anna Quon, Steve Vernon and David Williams) we eventually outgrew our available space and moved into the tres popular Just Us! coffee shop on Spring Garden Road in downtown Halifax.

During this time I was fortunate enough to be published in Open Heart Forgery three more times.  I was so taken by Donal's contagious enthusiasm and his noble struggle to foster creative awareness that I pledged my ongoing support to help distribute new issues every month.  A few months later, I became OHF's official Distribution Manager.

April 2'nd saw us hit yet another milestone.  On the occasion of OHF's first birthday (and in honor of National Poetry Month)  Donal managed to bring the whole concept to its logical extension by publishing the periodical's first Anthology.  Readers and listeners alike gathered to celebrate it's launch at Halifax's venerable Seaport Farmers Market.   

I was blown away.  For the first time ever, I could open up a book and point to something I'd written and say: "Hey!  Check this shiznit out!  I wrote this!"

So where will Open Heart Forgery go from here?  Frankly, the sky's the limit.  We're starting to take our new issue launches on the road to libraries all over the HRM.  Our last gathering at the North Branch of the Halifax Public Library was a resounding success.  Frankly I'm not surprised that, despite a change of venue and a two-month hiatus, it's still growing.  In an age of people communicating vicariously though social networking and smart phones, there's something primal and visceral about gathering together in a common space to share stories, songs and poems with real people face-to-face.

If this blog has inspired you at all, then get choppin'!  Compose some verse!  Come to one of our readings!  If you're reading this in some far-flung corner of the earth and you feel compelled to act, then email Donal @ and see if you can start up your own regional version of Open Heart Forgery

Above all, stay creative!  The world really does belong to people that bring beautiful and artistic things into being versus taking things away.

If you're already one of those people, please know that your not alone.  When you're ready to share your unique voice with others, be heartened to know that you already have a built-in audience out there.

Open Heart Forgery's official site and on Bookface.

For any readers not in the area (or for those who missed the launch event), you can pick up a copy of the anthology in person or request a mail-order from local independent bookstore the Bookmark on Spring Garden Road in Halifax. 

The next Left Bank Poetry Reading will be Thursday April 28 from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm at Just Us! Cafe on 5896 Spring Garden. 

Hey, if Stimson J. Cat can write a poem, what's your excuse?

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