Thursday, April 14, 2016

Dennis E. Bolen panel of poets at Canadian Authors Vancouver

Left: Bolen looks across at poets Elena Johnson, Jennifer Zilm and Timothy Shay.

The poems of Elena Johnson, veteran Writer in Residence at a biologists' camp in the Yukon, evoked the remote land above the tree line, where plugging in the electric "bear fence" before retiring to one's tent is a necessary preventive against nocturnal visits by grizzlies. Published by Gaspereau Press, her delightful volume of poetry is decorated with her own northern photo and images of caribou.

Right, Timothy Shay listens as Jennifer Zilm reads.

Describing herself as a "direct descendant of a Civil War veteran," Zilm says her title, The Waiting Room, refers to Dante's time in Purgatory, and hers in therapy: her "only insight after years" is that "waiting is part of the therapy." She had mordant comments about the decor of her doctor's office. Turning away from an inappropriately depressing picture, she found herself facing a TV screen. Wherever we go, she said, there must be "a newsfeed, to keep people traumatized."

Her lines are fresh and often funny: "Trigger warning: we're all going to die. Directive: follow this poem. Hashtag: Carepoint Clinic. Anti-social media."

Below, panel host Dennis E. Bolen chats with Johnson about the importance of place in poetry. Her collection Field Notes for the Alpine Tundra, she says, is all about place.

Timothy Shay is a veteran of the poetry scene. He knows poetic giants Patrick Lane and Tom Wayman personally, and once drank with Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. His new collection, The Dirty Knees of Prayer, evokes the crow, "in his dark uniform," and says that poetry can be used as a "phony excuse," or even a "weapon."

As we chatted later, Tim shared his poetic practice. He begins with a neutral word like if or and to access unconscious preoccupations, and writes daily, whether or not he feels like it.

Then he puts each piece away for a month before deciding whether to carry on. "Consciousness," he says, "is like a butler, who packages everything for social acceptability." But it's the unconscious mind we need to contact in order to create poetry.

Overall, it was a delightful evening. I don't remember when I've seen an audience more engaged.

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