Poets, Occupists, NaNoWriMo-ists

(part 3: excerpted from a longer essay in Geist 83)

The moment from which poetry emerges is often a moment of crisis: in the GoldCorp Centre for the Arts (where the conference concluded), crisis permeated the air we were breathing. Poetry is the struggle between language and time, said one of the poets on the panel, and a moment later he asked: what is to be done? Poetry, which has so little purchase in the world, has nothing to lose; precisely for this reason, in poetry everything is at stake. At the close of the session, the city mayor entered the hall, along with four elders from the Coast Salish Nations, who offered a speech of welcome that did not overlook the unfinished business of history, and then performed a powerful, almost overwhelming song of welcome with drum accompaniment that in its emotional and formal power offered a challenge of its own. Brad Cran, the Poet Laureate of Vancouver, whose brainchild, or brainstorm, the Poetry Conference had been, read a splendid “civic” poem written on the occasion of a gray whale swimming into the middle of the city via False Creek before the astonished eyes of citizens and children who thronged to the seawall to express their wonder. He had given his a poem an ambitious and risky title: “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Gray Whale, After Wallace Stevens and ending with a line from Rilke,” and the risk proved fully worth taking. When he came to the last line, I recalled the erasure poem from Shakespeare’s sonnet that we had heard two days earlier, and heard the two come together: nothing / is more / beautiful / you must change your life. 

. . .

A week after the poets had gone home, and records of the poetry conference had been lodged in the city archives, and the new Poet Laureate had been welcomed to her desk, a hundred or so aspiring novelists met for a NaNoWriMo brunch at Moose’s Down Under Bar and Grille, a walk-down joint that shares a wall with the Vancouver Bullion and Gold Corporation, two blocks from the recycled Bank of Montreal in which the Poetry Conference had opened its deliberations. The novelists, several of whom had visited the Occupists at the Art Gallery, were a slightly more homogeneous a group: predominantly twenty to thirty years old, a sprinkling of teenagers, one or two sexagenarians; a few were costumed (my young friend identified a “very good” Dr. Who, and a “wonderful Carmen San Diego”), and all were ebullient at the prospect of writing a novel in thirty days. Included in the “delegate kits” distributed at the door were strips of yellow crime-scene tape for securing privacy while writing, a 30-day calendar indicating an accumulative word-count at 1667 words per day; a lapel badge consisting of a large, elegant semi-colon; and instructions for making a “plot-device-generator” that resembled the bug snappers used by children as aids to prognostication. A woman with an air of experience sitting at the end of our table advised those who wished to hear to “simply start writing and don’t stop for anything at all.” A young voice in the middle of the room rose above the hubbub to testify that there is “nothing cooler than having fifteen or twenty friends and writers around when you hit the fifty thousand word count.” An informal poll at one table elicited a sampling of novels-in-prospect: a Snow White remake; a post-apocalyptic quest; a re-look at vampires; crazy ass crap about Santa’s daughter; stories of my mother and me; people doing stuff that could turn into adventure, tragedy, horror or scientific miracle. A young man in glasses gazed along the table and said, “I’m not convinced that Harry Potter is over yet.” I want to tell you something: here is where the story starts.


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