Friday, February 10, 2006

transpoetry, part 2

Sponsored by Arc magazine and the Canada Council for the Arts (and a few other places), the new edition of transpoetry was finally launched on Thursday, February 9 at 1:30pm at Ottawa City Hall, 110 Laurier Avenue West, as today, twelve poems by twelve local authors will be appearing (two poems per bus) on OC Transpo's fleet of more than eight hundred buses. Picked blind (as they say) from submissions of over six hundred poems by local authors, this is the second edition of Ottawa's transpoetry, with the first run launched in 1999, with pieces by two dozen Ottawa poets (a piece of mine was even in the first round, a list of which is, disappointingly, nowhere to be found on the internet), almost half of which were French, highlighting the two solitudes that still exist in this old government town. Still, don't let the literature the City of Ottawa gives out with the transpoetry package fool you: Ottawa isn't the third city in Canada (in 1999) to launch poetry on buses, after Toronto and Vancouver (better to have said the third happening at that time in the country). The first poems to be put on city transit in Canada happened in Montreal, orchestrated by Vehicule Poet Tom Konyves (who has since moved to Vancouver). Launched December 13, 1979, with Louis Dudek the consultant for the English poems and Claude Beausoleil the consultant for the French, they even produced a limited edition of 50 copies of postcard versions that talk about the project:

"Poetry in Motion

Ten English poems and ten French poems were selected from among the poets of Montreal. Fifty copies of each poem were published on 11" x 28" styrene panels. The project was launched on Thursday, December 13, 1979 with all major media present in a bus provided by the MUCTC in front of the old bus terminal on St. Antoine St. The controversy regarding the posting of the English poems was alleviated by MUCTC and Trans-Public Ad Co. officials who allocated 70% of the space to French poems and 30% of the space to English poems."

After the Montreal version, a Toronto version was launched about ten years later, and is still ongoing, producing wave after wave of pieces by local Toronto writers and national writers, including the first English language poem produced in Canada (by a Newfoundlander in the 1600s), to late Ottawa resident and Saskatchewan poet John Newlove, with the British Columbia version doing the same, producing wave upon wave. After the launch of the original Ottawa transpoetry, there were versions launched in Calgary and Edmonton, as well as many other places, but my favourite has to be the British Columbia version. At least ten years old, what impresses me about the BC poetry on the public transit is that the transit system in BC is provincial, and not just city, which means a poem on the bus or Skytrain means a poem on transit in Vancouver, Victoria, Prince George, Kamloops, Kelowna and anywhere in the province where bus system exists, instead of leaving it exclusively in major city centres, making it far more interesting. According to the Canada Council website, they are currently funding programs in Calgary (Poetry In Motion), Edmonton (Take The Poetry Route), Vancouver (Poetry in Transit), Winnipeg (Poetry In Motion), St. John's NFLD (Metroverse), Toronto (Poetry On The Way), Ottawa (Transpoetry), Regina (Moving Write Along), Whitehorse (Moving Words), Montreal (La Poésie Prend Le Métro) and Trois Rivières (Poémes D'Autobus), which makes poetry on the buses, as Canada Council's Melanie Routledge suggested yesterday, the largest poetry publishing program in the country. That's pretty damn impressive, I'd say. When my daughter saw my poem on the OC Transpo buses a few years ago, she actually thought I was famous for about five minutes (she quickly got over that).


It only happens rarely that the line between
fall and winter is a single sheet
snap frozen on the lake no snow or
wind to mar the surface. Trees black-feather
the low border of grey sky. The ice a clear glass
and the shallow pebbled bottom of the
lake passing below me as if I'm flying.
The sudden darkness of this land dropping away,
my breath catching, and fish appearing beneath my feet,
a muscled brightness that I begin to follow. (Michelle Desbarats)

Unfortunately, I'm hearing grumblings about the new version, in that the folk who had poems turned down for the project weren't told anything, but were invited to the launch of the project. I say, bad form; I don't care if it says that on the applications or not, you should tell someone when you don't want their piece, and not leave them hanging. It just seems a matter of respect.

The second run of Ottawa's transpoetry features English poems by Stephen Brockwell (Westboro), John Cloutier (Côte-de-Sable), Heather Cullen (Westboro), Michelle Desbarats (Glebe), Christine Dickson (Westboro), Susan Robertson (Alta Vista) and Anita Utas (Katata), with French poems by Margaret Michèle Cook (Glebe), Nicole Champeau (Lower Town), Jacques Flamand (Lower Town), Myriam Legault (old Ottawa South) and Denyse B. Mercier (Alta Vista). They even handed out these great media packages at the launch yesterday, with reproductions of all the pieces to appear on city buses, and there were suggestions that there could be a new run of poems appearing every two or so years. Check out literary starlet John W. MacDonald's version of the events here.


Re-glaze the frame's cracked putty;
keep the heat in and our socks off.

Tape it up with plastic. Cut the draught
and let us sleep in less than sweaters.

But save the old glass; its pocks
and ridges make an accidental

prism for the winter sunlight
and spread its colours on our bed. (Stephen Brockwell)

One of the strange accidents of the event was a conversation with Ottawa Citizen writer Kelly Egan (who is not only an extremely nice fella, and not related to any of those Egans who invented Eganville, but shorter than I would have imagined), finding out that his brother-in-law was the late Ottawa poet Louis Fagan, who appeared in just about every little publication in town throughout the 1980s, including The Carleton Literary Review (which became The Carleton Arts Review), and Arc magazine, before he moved west, where he died in Vancouver in 1997 (another thing I didn't know). Fagan was part of a group that hung around Michael Dennis and Dennis Tourbin, just before I arrived in the city. Does anyone else out there remember him?

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