World Poetry Day was declared by UNESCO in 1999. The purpose of the day is to promote the reading, writing, publishing and teaching of poetry throughout the world.
So a group of Winnipeg based poets are gathering to discuss poetry on Thursday March 21 at McNally Robinson Books. The event is co-presented by Winnipeg-based literary journal CV2 and Prairie Fire magazine.
SCENE asked each of the poets involved to tell us about a book of poetry that changed their life:
I stumbled upon Afterworlds by
Gwendolyn MacEwen when I became serious about reading and writing
poetry. At the time I wasn't familiar with MacEwan's work and didn't
know she was considered to be one of Canada's most important poets. I
was just smitten.
After reading Afterworlds, which was
published after her death in 1987, I went back and read as much of her
work as I could get my hands on. Afterworlds is still one of my
favourites. The poetry in it is passionate, smart, resonant, sometimes
tinged with humour, sometimes darker than dark and always slightly
koo-koo--kind of like the world we live in.
Poetry reflecting life--this always makes sense to me.
"The Small Words in my Body" by Karen Connelly (Kaleyard Books)
The first book of poetry that spoke to me, that made me feel as if I had something to say, was unlike anything I had come to associate with poetry to that point before (ie: Shakespeare or mid-twentieth century American male writers).
The book was The Small Words In My Body
by Karen Connelly, a young, prairie poet who, at the remarkably young age of 24, would go on to win a Governor General's Literary Award for her travel memoir Touch the Dragon
Connelly's voice struck me as honest and insightful and her subjects and landscapes close. The poems seemed to get at something real and urgent that I wanted to get at too. An insight. A hunger. A self. The Small Words In My Body
represented the possible in writing for me. If a young, Albertan woman could find a space for her voice, then why couldn't I?Lori Cayer
The book that had that life changing influence on me was an anthology called I am a Sensation
, by Gerry Goldberg. It was a 1973 McClelland & Stewart anthology that we used as a textbook in high school.
book grabbed me because it was designed for teenagers - oversized, with
a scattered layout---you had to turn the book to read some of the
poems--and it had lots of cool line drawings.
I started reading
the poems and found I was reading a kind of language I'd never seen
before, not like traditional poetry at all. It reflected the way I
thought and made me realize that my language too, could be written down
and made into something bigger than itself.
"The T.E.Lawrence Poems" by Gwendolyn MacEwen (Mosaic Adult)
The poet whose work I greatly admired when I began to write was Canadian Gwendolyn MacEwen. The T.E. Lawrence Poems
was a book I read with great amazement.
Her ability to take the facts and landscapes of Lawrence's life and make out of them such magical poetry was both inspiring and frightening.
I marvelled at the musicality, intense emotion, strong voice, and her powerful use of the image of water--who could ever hope to achieve that level of art?
I had begun attending poetry readings and her reading in Winnipeg in 1984, not long before her death, is still the most memorable reading I've experienced. (She did not read, but recited, and her voice and presence were arresting.)
I still treasure my signed copy of The T.E. Lawrence Poems
. It was never far from my mind when I was writing Simone Weil: Songs of Hunger and Love
, wondering all the while if I could sustain my exploration of this unique life for the length of a full manuscript. Barbara Schott
It is impossible for me to select a single book that changed or started my writing life; this would feel reductionist for me. Poetry was something that was always in my life and in my bones, from the time I was young.
The poems that crossed the paths of my life - at home where my father would recite the Schiller & Goethe he remembered from his days in school, my own days in the schools and the demands of the curriculum - and later, as I was exposed to the local writing scene, and some terrific home-grown poetry which really opened things up for me - cumulatively worked together to form this life-long love and the very fertile environment within which I work.
I read a lot and all the books spoke to me in different ways. It was like having a large family. Some of the early collections that influenced me deeply were David Arnason's Marsh Burning
, Ondaatje's Billy the Kid
, Robert Kroetsch's Seed Catalogue
, Dennis Cooley's Bloody Jack
, Atwood's True Stories
, the work of Patrick Lane and Lorna Uher/Crozier. Discover poetry for yourself at McNally Robinson on Thursday March 21, at 7 p.m.
Related:Leonard Cohen's artwork inspired by his poetry.