April 23rd, 2009

Rose-coloured Reviews the Al Purdy Tribute

Are there lovelier people anywhere than Toronto lit-folk? (and those in search of a grim and serious review surf away) Last night at the Dora Keogh, Paul Vermeersch hosted an incredible night of readings in honour of the ninth anniversary of the death of Al Purdy and as a benefit for the project of saving the house he built and wrote in, to be turned into a writing centre.

I attended despite not being a mad Purdy devotee–I loved Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets but hadn’t really gone farther. I thought, perhaps I should. It couldn’t really miss being a fun night, with such great readers on the bill, like Elyse Friedman,

Nick Thran

Katherine Parrish

and many more. And of course the Purdy poems, the lovely space of the Dora, and the stellar line-up drew even more lit-folk into the audience, like

Mark Sampson

Russell Brown

Adam Sol

Ok, I’m trying to make this a review and not just a name-drop–starting right now! What was awesome about the evening? First, the vast range of talented and diverse readers. Dani Couture and David McFadden are very different poets who gave very different, lovely and heartfelt readings. Every poet did and there were *twelve* by my count!! They even brought in an out-of-town ringer to replace a couple absentees, and we got a lovely off-the-cuff reading from

Adam Getty

Overall, it was quite a raft of readings, but another thing that was great about the evening was that every reading was short and sweet. When a reader reads just enough, the words hang in the air instead of getting buried or blurred, and with everybody doing just one or two poems, we got that effect time and time again last night.

Also, the evening moved along smoothly due to Mr. Vermeersch’s “belief that there should be enough breaks to allow people to purchase drinks and go to the bathroom.” Indeed, especially considering the facilities at the Dora are *behind the stage.* Awkward!

Ok, and another good thing was there were two fundraising activities added onto the evening, both a silent auction with a poetry broadside, litfestival tickets, and a homemade quilt; and a raffle for another broadside. And these are objectively good things, not just good because I won the raffle (as part of a complicated raffle-ticket-buying collective, exact disposition of prize yet to be determined). I was very worried about tripping over one of the petit barstools, a shopping bag or a friend’s limb on the way to the stage to claim my (our) prize as the MC said, “Congrats, Rebecca Rosenblum.” I had just about made it when the always on the ball Julie Wilson called, “And congratulations on being nominated for a National Magazine Award, too!” Then I stumbled, but survived to turn in the ticket and go ask Julie, really?

Yes, apparently, really.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Of course the best thing about the evening is that Al Purdy’s poems are *meant* to be read aloud, practically demand it. Much poetry is, of course, but not everything is

May 23, 1980

I’d been driving all day
arrived home around 6 p.m.
got something to eat and slept an hour
then I went outside
and you know
–the whole world smells of lilacs
the whole damn world

I have grown old making lists of things I wanted
to do and other lists
of words I wanted to say
and laughed because of the lists
and forgot most of them
–but there was a time
and there was this girl
this girl with violet eyes
and a lot of other people too
because it was some kind of party
–but I couldn’t think of a way
some immediate plan or method
to bathe in that violet glow
with a feeling of being there too
at the first morning of the world
So I jostled her elbow a little
spilled her drink all over
did it again a couple of times
and you know it worked
it got so she winced every time she saw me coming
but I did get to talk to her
and she smiled reluctantly
a little cautious because
on the basis of observed behaviour I might be mad
and then she smiled
–altho I’ve forgotten her name
it’s on one of those lists

I have grown old
but these words remain
tell her for me
because it’s very important
tell her for me
there will come one May night
of every year that she’s alive
when the whole world smells of lilacs

That wasn’t even one of the pieces read last night but somebody mentioned it and reminded me that it was once a favourite of mine (and no, not for the reason you are thinking).

Great great evening.

Because you sleep with a gun

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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