Special Report by Amel. Pictures by Sabine Dundure (Full Album Here)
It is a special night for three reasons: our theme is The Future, it is Canada Day and…for the first time in the history of Spoken Word, we are blessed with more than welcomed…air conditioning. Max is playing the piano as Alberto guides us gently through the programme and the rules: “Tonight is a wonderful, very popular night of poetry. When I say poetry, I mean…n’importe quoi.” says he with his delightful Italian accent (or, should I say, what he often refers to as his “BBC accent”). This comes with a restriction though: “For us, poetry is whatever stays under 5 minutes. You can come here and read something you wrote this morning, or 5 years ago, or something somebody else wrote, you can sing, put a little play, some sketch, stand up comedy… But after 5 minutes…we don’t like it anymore. We put this 5-minute limit to your enormous ego. “Once the second bell rings to kindly inform the performer that time’s up, Alberto warns: “do not ask for whom the bell tolls, because it tolls for you!!!” Tonight’s featured reader is from New Caledonia (“where the fuck is New Caledonia??” does our host wonder), Albert Alla.
Helen opens the night with a poem recited from memory, first in English, then in Swedish, all the while looking straight at the audience with a wide smile on her face. “I will place a bench…” she repeats; “so that your eyes can see what I see when I see…you”. Alex reads, not from his beloved Iphone this time, but from a piece of paper. He chooses to share a piece of fiction, “The Hermit”, focusing on a mysterious old character at the origin of many a legend. It is the story of a man who committed a theft, and yet paid for it, leaving a check behind…
Meghan shares “Eden” from her notebook, a piece with a very strong first sentence: “When I was fifteen, my boyfriend unzipped his pants, let his penis through his pants and said: “Touch it!”. Again and again, each arm rises and falls in turns as they seem to chant stories about women whose bodies have been vandalized. “And Eve, I don’t blame you for Lucifer’s deceit. I understand how hard it can be, to see the flowers from the weeds, to find dignity after shame, even after every petal has been plucked…but spring always returns.” Fran reads from a sheet of paper the story of half-deaf William, “used to living in his head”, and his encounter with red-haired Jenny as she moves one floor above him with a boyfriend. Her voice is very soft, she reads with her swift, impeccable enunciation, as always. We might have expected a sad story about a forlorn character, but it is full of surprises and the last sentence, simply excellent. David Barnes reads three poems from his tablet: “Ritual”, “They”, and “Shooting fish”. Pace gradually speeds up with every piece. The first one describes an unholy family breakfast scene. The second focuses on Mr Smith-like commuters “making money making money making money while the world goes on its merry way to hell”. The last is a “prayer” for the believers in the “twin towers fairies”. Keith reads from his Iphone in his right hand, while the left marks the rhythm as his body sways from one side to the other. It is the first pages of a biography of Rasputin he is currently writing entitled “The Agony”. “He had been poisoned, shot, castrated and drowned, yet still he would not die.” A resilient fellow indeed. Ferdinand wanted to write something happy about the theme, but only heavy things came to mind, so he apologizes in advance with his inimitable and charming French accent. With his red soft-cover binder in one hand while the left one dances around as if casting spells, he guides us through lesson 12 of “How to learn English and French with Spoken Word” with a love poem. Part One comes to an end with featured reader Albert Alla who used to be a regular both at Spoken Word and the Writer’s Group until he went back home to New Caledonia. He is here to present his upcoming novel, “Black Chalk”, to be published in three months. The story, he apologizes, is about something rather grim: a school shooting, its sole survivor, his journey through the aftermath, his memories of the past, “Sleepless dreams and dreams without sleep”.
It is Elsa’s last Monday in Paris, so she opened round two. Both her dress and her notebook have flower patterns. She begins by thanking and praising all of us in the audience, before reading first in Swedish, then in English, a poem by one of her favourite authors entitled “Euphoria”. Her adorable voice is sweet and swift, and all the while, there is that constant smile on her face. We will miss you, beautiful, radiant Elsa.
Hamish is accompanied by Troy on the piano as he reads from an orange notebook. The music makes this piece about leaving, travelling, and the moment of falling in love all the more lyrical. His right hand punctuates the rhythm of his words and casts a gigantic moving shadow on the floor. “I didn’t realise then that to go, you had to leave behind; to travel, is to say goodbye”. Devon (from Canada!) recites four poems from memory. As always, his body sways, and sometimes dances while his eyes are closed during the whole performance. As always, there is that constant smile on his face. As always, he almost seems to be about to rush forward. “Utopia begins with you”, he says. “Lost in a daze of beauty and magic like a cavern of mirrors reflecting yourself.” Alberto shares a poem on theme dedicated to Gabriel (as he said, last week, that “a poem that lasts 5 minutes SUCKS.”). But then he changes his mind, and chooses to dedicate the poem to … the audience. He reads from sheets of paper a compelling piece: “What will you be within ten years you, gentryficartists?!” he begins. “…eating out of cans, drinking out of cans, what will you be, in ten years?” he asks. “Are we seriously going to work one day?…In the 21st century, being a bohemian is expensive, man…”. And, “Who needs art in these times? People care about what pays their rent.” But maybe, there is hope for a few…” but Alberto had to stop before the end, as bell tolled.
Canada day is also Gabriel’s last performance for three months, delivered with a small Canadian flag sticking out of his left pocket. Swaying back and forth, he almost seems to be doing pointes. He shares one of his poems, “The tap runs dry”, and “Elegy”, from Leonard Cohen’s first printed book of poetry entitled “Let us compare mythologies”, a collection published when he was 25 years old. Max reads from a wrinkled piece of paper a fiction piece written “when I was working as an artist in one of the neighbourhoods that Alberto mentions”. It is entitled “Summers now versus summers then”. In the course of the latter, “We’d fall back and see the stars as we’d only done in planetariums”. But the former…“ have a way of speeding up…what moments there are must fit into deadlines.” he observes. “We try to freeze moments with Instagram and Twitter but even those become replaced and forgotten.” Speaking of summer, this is the time when Alberto decides that we need to get some fresh air. He takes out a sexy yellow and green plastic water gun and…sprays the audience. Needless to say, no one complained.
“I’m gonna read now with water dribbling down my chin cause that’s very classy”, starts Romi, our next Canadian performer. Before reading, the public prompts her to sing the beginning of the Canadian anthem so she starts: “Oooh Ca-na-da, our home and na-tive land etc” followed by all the other Canadian members of the audience. She finally gets to read from her phone a piece on theme entitled “And the award goes to…”: “If life’s like a movie”, she says, “then you and I are starring in our very own indie film. Like with typical indie fair, for most of the film, nothing happens…”
Albert Alla closes part two with more extracts from his book. The protagonist is now in a hospital “with three other silent patients.” But he is lucky though, as his professor-in-experimental-psychology mother is constantly by his side throughout the entire visiting hours. “I kept on believing there was something vaguely sinister about her work. It took me years to dispel that idea.” Fascinated by one of his bed mates, he starts taking notes about him in his diary and spies on him, “like one watches a street performer, except that his was the only act.”
Now performers are chosen by the hands of chance: “It’s aaaaaall in the hand of fate, and the goddesses of destiny!!!” our host announces.
Lizzie is the only exception to the rule, as it is her last Spoken Word in a long time. She shares from memory one of her favourite poems by Wendy Cope. The first performer to be randomly picked is…Troy (another Canadian performer!), who reads, as usual, from his Iphone: “Booze berry”, “Sting and Lace” and “False Friend”. A few extracts: “She was swimming in chocolate…”, with the end punctuated as usual with “Yeah!…”. Change of pace for the second piece: “It was disappointing playing bingo with the leather girls.” he says. “False friends” he warns, “push down success in one swift swap, trying to hold their own head above the water”. So watch out. Second comes Effie, who sings, eyes closed, a beautiful and moving traditional Greek song. Then Will reads two of his pieces from a piece of paper: “Nickel dime Saviours” and “A Man of Many Things”. “Many nickel dime savers, not enough nickel dime saviours” he deplores. The mysterious laws of chance have Will’s co-editor of the beautiful Belleville Park Pages, James Bird, picked right after him. From a white page held in his left hand as the right one punctuates the rhythm, swiftly he reads “Go to Work”. “Up up up…down down down…that girl is in a rush. Stand on the right… Swim to the blood blood red….And stop. Stand on the right.” David Sirois comes next:He begins with “So. Most of you know I write poems about nothing, twilight, and imaginary things that happened during…twilight. But this poem is about a walk I took with my sister when I was very, very young.” As Sabine takes a picture, he says: “Thank you again Sabine, for your magic fingers”. David reads as always from his A4 spiral bound notebook, held in both hands, a piece entitled “Rain Fragrant Nights”. As always, he ends with his hands humbly crossed against his legs and his head bowed, thanking us all for listening. François comes next, and reads from two small pages, about the “dark side of his moon”. Dan Cohen follows:
with both Iphone and a small Moleskine notebook. We get to hear a gory story of how he got randomly bitten by an individual (he couldn’t tell whether it was a man or a woman), with “Zombie” written on her/his t-shirt at Gare du Nord: “I don’t care, I’m gonna eat you…raw!” Watch out on your way to the Eurostar… Cristina was supposed to be the last performer. From a small spiral bound notebook, she shares the portrait of “Paola” and, as always, smiles again and again at the audience as she reads. “Do you know Paola?” she asks. “Paola is small. Paola wears her Spanish curly hair short. Paola is admirable. And half crazy. She has a bird hat. Paola has all the time in the world. Paola is eternally young. Do you know Paola?” There were still a few minutes left before midnight, so there was room to pick one last performer. I closed the evening with a song which turned out to be perfect both for the theme and the day. I sang “Mushaboom” by Feist. Many people sang along, which is one of my greatest joys at Spoken Word.