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The Challenge of Poetry

The Challenge of Poetry

By Gregory Betts

Calgary’s widely celebrated Mayor Naheed Nenshi, officially ranked The Best Mayor in the World, issued a poetry challenge to all of Canada’s mayors: bring poets and their poetry, yes poetry, into City Council ceremonies. Poets and government intertwined, at the least for National Poetry month. Last year, 70 different cities across the country (not ours) participated. Nenshi wants more this year: “The creative industries in Canada are an important part of what makes our country a great place to live,” he said. This is work, though, so Nenshi the Good pays the poets and encourages others to do so.

It might be his progressive social policies, his urban vision, his gregarious wit, or his civic devotion that made him the World’s Best, but it might also have been his bold pro-poetry stance. Not taking any chances, St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik has opted to set aside the progressive social policies option and focus on the poetry: from best to verse. He has issued his own Mayor’s Poetry Challenge (Ed. Note: Poster is on the right. If you can read it, good for you, we can’t).

If I had to guess why Sendzik used an old picture of long-dead American poet Walt Whitman I would guess it was because of that desk standing scene in Dead Poet’s Society, O Captain! My Captain!, because they share a first name, and perhaps because Old Walt played a big role in Breaking Bad. Do you remember Stephen Harper on national television defending Netflix by declaring his love for Breaking Bad? (That was real!) So for a poet on a rare poetry poster, we get Walt.

The winning prize for “the lucky scribe” — why is poetry, like a small town ‘shoppes’, always framed as some kind of anachronistic quaint hobby? — is the chance to read your poem for free in City Council chambers. Poets need not worry that their art will be blemished with the corrupting touch of filthy lucre. As they say in the onion patch, another poet dies of exposure. But don’t let my mocking wit dissuade you from submitting: check it out.

Meanwhile, over on the paying side of the page, there are two literary events coming to the city this month courtesy of the In the Soil festival definitely worth your attention and attendance. Border Blur Reading Series is organizing a special evening of blurring literary, visual, and sonic borders, and the St. Catharines Poetry Slam is hosting a reading by three women from Ottawa and six local slam poets at Mahtay Café (details below). Below are some samples and excerpts from authors coming to the city.

Venue: Mahtay Cafe
Time: Saturday April 30 7:30pm
Price: $10 or Festival Pass

Jaimie Godard
Twiggy Starblade
Korey McDermott
Sarah Burgess
Blue Jay
Stephanie Forcier
Lindsay Jack Brauweiler
Kathleen Driscoll

Venue: Niagara Artists Centre
Time: Friday April 29 7:30pm-9:30pm
Price: $10 or Festival Pass

Elee Kraljii Gardiner, reader
Shannon Maguire, reader
Adrienne Gruber, reader
Jennifer Zilm, reader
Margaret Christakos, reader
Eric Schmaltz and Kasia Smuga, artists
Mark Laliberte, artist

From Waiting Room by Jennifer Zilm:

“elegy, a rain fragment”
The rain a silk mesh blanket,
giddy at a prose poem, a monologue
of hobos, a tiny leaf
a prayer of thresholds. Theft under
your chargeable offense, your diagnosis. Goodbye
from the boundary shore. If she said
that to me

From Buoyancy Control by Adrienne Gruber

In the end there is only swallowing and inhalation.
Two dichotomous acts that move things deep into us,
debilitate or free us dependant on reflex and
how steadily the heart pumps.

“Ever After”

Our wedding day should be full of butterflies:
fossorial apprentices to the sky. The best man
holds the glass lid tight over the sleeping,
sunken eyes. The twisted breeze.
The sun huddles, pigmented. Ignites strappy shoes,
garments, the electricity of damp thighs.
The crowd hungers and assembles.
The lid opens; prism-scaled wings,
large batting eyelashes crumple to the ground.
Half-dead and drunk on dying.

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