Saturday, April 06, 2013

The Olive Reading Series: season thirteen,

Anyone following this blog for any amount of time might already be aware that I’ve long been a fan of Edmonton’s Olive Reading Series [see previous posts here, here, here, here, here and here], currently held at The Empress Ale House. With a featured reader (or readers) monthly during the academic year, each event also features a new chapbook, which also sees limited distribution within the English and Film Studies Department at the University of Alberta. Frustratingly, I don’t have a full run of the chapbooks, but here are some of the recent ones Olive member Jenna Butler has been good enough to send along:

Season 13-1: Iman Mersal’s Anger in its back roads. (Tuesday, September 11, 2012)

The author of four poetry collections in Arabic, poet and editor Iman Mersal is currently anassistant professor of Arabic literature at the University of Alberta, with one collection of poetry translated into English, These Are not Oranges, My Love (New York NY: Sheep Meadow, 2008). Anger in its back roads. is a short selection of her prose poems from three different translators, including this one, translated by Youssef Rakha and first published in English in Banipal 38 – Arab American Authors:

            A man decided to explain love to me. Leftover wine, and noon is crossing over to the other side. He was doing up the last button on his shirt as darkness edged into the corner.
Directionlessness, like the moment the screen fades out, and the viewer has to start looking for the exit. In this way he decided to explain love to me, placing the glasses firmly over his ears while I was still naked.
            The room fogged up when he said, “Love is the search for…” I opened my eyes to see hordes of Spaniards looking for gold in Chile. They were hungry and empty-handed, while a Red Indian hid, terrified, behind a rock. When he said, “Love is being content with…”, my fingers started caressing a mountain of dark chocolate, while Ella Fitzgerald’s wailing slipped into my ears. “And it is happiness…” Then I imagined absolutely nothing.
            It must be that I never saw him again, because I don’t remember ever asking him whether love was forgetting his watch by the bedside.
Mersal’s poems weave their way underneath the skin in the most magnificent ways. Her short, meditative poems also manage the difficult tightrope of prose narrative while maintaining the unmistakable cohesion of poetry. One can only hope that a Canadian publisher might be smart enough to take on a collection of her work.

Season 13-2: Sheila E. Murphy’s I don’t often write on purpose I just write (Tuesday, October 9, 2012)
I don’t often write on purpose I just write

A skein of lariats defames heraldic acquisition
Just right for a glut of storage sheds
Where history will not find them
Or their innards
Or the mind beneath them.
Phoenix, Arizona poet Sheila E. Murphy has been developing quite the relationship with Edmonton over the past few years, triggered by her ongoing collaboration with Douglas Barbour, collected now in two trade books (and counting), their Continuations [see my review of such here] and Continuations 2 [see myreview of such here]. During my time in Edmonton, they were not only launching the first of their collaborative books, but reading together for the first time. Through multiple trade books, chapbooks and other ephemera, Murphy’s solo work is expansive, very much part of the bpNichol mantra of “the poem as long as a life.” Everything, it would appear, fits into a single, never-ending project; but a fragment of something large, the scope of which we can’t yet see.
One Hundred Ninety-Fourth

Tired eyesight, redaction of inaction, as if dream
released its legs, lived on invisibly as the mute key.

The specific horn lived in worn velvet blue
dented where the bell and valves had pressed too hard.

Imprimatur, wisdom presumed accessible
via remote, next best to pure absorption.

People, non-neighborly, refer to brandnames
of their weaponry, in hope of sharing that taut bond.

In music, a challenge occurs, and the conductor
oversees the change in seating for the innocent.
There is always such a lovely cadence in Murphy’s poems, and her language brings such an unexpected music. These are poems that might require to be heard.

Season 13-3: Titilope Sonuga’s Snapshots (Tuesday, November 13, 2013)

we are fearless

we will run
with scissors

stare down
a spitting cobra

play chicken

with a high speed train

we have known

our share of pain

swallowed a deeper

kind of poison

we are not afraid
to crash

We will walk

the eye of storm

call down lightning

and dare it
to touch us
One of the strengths of this series is very much the cultural range of the writers featured, not simply repeating the same English-language Canadian poets again and again, such as Nigerian-born spoken word poet Titilope Sonuga, who left Nigeria at thirteen to live in Edmonton, where she later achieved a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering. Author of the self-published Down to Earth (2010), the fierce clarity of her poems in Snapshots are striking, and show just how powerful these poems must be when they’re performed.

Season 13-5: Anna Marie Sewell’s Dark Season (Tuesday, January 22, 2013)
things you give up

arranging six small cups on your kitchen window sill so that
the plum blossom design arcs from cup to cup around
a perfect curvature

wondering whether the world has a place for you
that curvature is now perfected
Author of the poetry collection Fifth World Drum (Frontenac House, 2009), Anna Marie Sewell is Edmonton’s fourth Poet Laureate. The strongest pieces in her small collection Dark Season are the shorter pieces, where the strength of her meditative narratives are boiled down to their essence, keeping to the bare bones.

Season 13-6: Jeff Carpenter’s affordances of fear (Tuesday, February 12, 2013)
1:30 AM, November 12, 2012
North Saskatchewan River, Emily Murphy Park, Edmonton


I fear you least of all the fears afforded me. Your ice narrates and
forgets. Its advent meanders through the forest you forged, in the
valley you forged, through the city you forged. I feared my walk here,
alone in the woods at night. I was relieved to step out of the trees onto
your shore. I could see your other side where all the lights downtown
projected an orange nimbus above us.
During my tenure as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, I was fortunate enough to see the emergence of Edmonton poet Jeff Carpenter. All potential, raging and exploring and seeking, it’s fascinating to see how his work has been developing since, from a publication in The Peter F. Yacht Club and sound-collaborations (as Tonguebath) with glenN robsoN to work in the manifesto issue of The Capilano Review [see my review of such here] and a chapbook with Red Nettle Press, his malachi on foot (2008) [see my review of such here]. What is compelling about Carpenter’s work is its constant movement, even restlessness, not knowing exactly what might happen next. In this small chapbook, poems include title, notation, visual and text, the latter of which exists as a kind of poetic shorthand, whether sketch or notebook offering, all of which cohere into something difficult to explain or trace, and yet, one can’t look away.
3:00 AM, October 27, 2012
My backyard, Old Strathcona, Edmonton


The concerned firefighter drove down to Emily Murphy Park on his
day off to find me. I was trudging uphill to work. He rolled up beside
me and said, were you walking on the river? My beard was frozen
over. I said, why do you ask? and faced him. It was Brad, Glenn’s
brother-in-aw. He recognised me too and said something that
sounded like the ice talking to itself. He gave me a ride up the hill and
explained the dangers of the frozen river, its inconstancy, especially
in the city. He told me not to walk on the ice anymore.

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