Topic: art events
I wish I had been the one who came up with the line, "This out-stranges SAW." But I wasn't. That was Cathy MacDonald-Zytveld, talking about the Wave Books Poetry Bus and The Typing Explosion (Local 898), which descended on Major's Hill park this evening.
The Poetry Bus is a project involving more than 100 poets, which arrived in Ottawa today on Day 21 of a 50-day tour starting in Seattle and heading generally eastward, apparently picking up and dropping off poets as it goes. I had to check it out. The bus was hard to miss - a full-sized coach bus with "POETRY BUS" written on the side in large red letters, parked in Major's Hill Park at the north end, next to Blink Gallery, which I didn't even know was there until today. Check it out, it's in the little stone building at the bottom of the hill just across the street from the Art Gallery. The art on display was cool, and the setting is about as unique as any gallery I've been to. I found this picture on their website.
There was already a good-sized crowd of curious poetry fans outside the gallery. The open, garage-like half of the gallery was full of people poking through the table of books and other merch, including awesome silk-screened T-shirts featuring winged buses and typewriters. There were also cookies and coffee and what looked suspiciously like wine, although I couldn't see how to get any.
After a few minutes of standing around and chatting, three women dressed in brightly coloured 60s-style secretarial wear (the hairstyles and shoes matched the era too) and carrying suitcases marched across from the bus to the enclosed end of the gallery, where they removed typewriters from the suitcases, set them up, sat down at a table, and began typing - and occasionally striking bells next to them, at which point they would whip the paper out of their typewriters and switch with another typist, and keep going. To a background of piped in lounge-like music.
It took a minute to figure out what was going on, and at first people just sort of gathered to watch. Then we started to notice the rules projected with an ancient overhead projector (you know the kind from elementary school if you're anywhere near my generation.) The process was: you drop a dollar into the coffee can near the first typist, and pick a title out of a card file (the coffee can was vintage, as was the card file cabinet. Come to think of it, so were the pulp novels sitting on the desk for when a typist had a few moments without a poem in front of her, which happened from time to time.)
You hand the card with the title on it to the first typist. She types part of a poem, strikes the bell, hands it off, another typist types a bit, strikes the bell ... and when the page is full, they all pick up squeeze-ball horns, honk them, and pass the finished poem to the third typist, who stamps it with an official stamp, gets you to initial for it, removes it from the carbon copy, and hands it over, keeping a copy. Here's my poem (title: 'Kat B.' - you can't read it from here, but then it's actually copyright The Typing Explosion, so my butt's covered that way.)
The flying bus, incidentally, is a temporary tattoo I picked up and included when I scanned my poem. So, they just mass-produced poems for a while - there was a "haiku speed round" announced via another transparency dropped on top of the "rules" transparency on the projector - and then blew the whistle three times and stuck a transparency on the projector that said "Union Break," and we all went out to the terrace to hear some poetry.
There were about seven poets reading, against the admittedly lovely backdrop of Parliament Hill and the Ottawa River (sometimes I'm just so darn proud of Ottawa for being so impressively pretty when people come to visit.) The reading included Danid O'Meara and Kevin Connolly as the Canadian representation, and a pack of other poets who had joined up with the Poetry Bus at some point along the trip. It was cold sitting out on the terrace in the September wind, and it got dark pretty fast, so for a while the poets were working with a flashlight in one hand and their poems in the other, until a light was jury-rigged to the mike partway through. But the reading was good - a lot of the poets seemed (to me, anyway, knowing nothing about it) to have been cross-pollenating on the bus. In particular, I noticed we were hearing an unusual number of villanelles. Wonder if there was a challenge somewhere along the line to write one?
I was also struck by the humour in a lot of the poems; these poets seemed to be coming from a point of view that lets you get a laugh and still have a serious poem. The styles were remarkably similar, though, and I thought partway through that more variety of styles would have made this into an even more fruitful experiment. Although, what I was seeing was already a hell of an explosion of creativity. What I wouldn't give to hop on this bus and head off to Montreal tomorrow (the Green Room, 6:30, September 25th, if you're in Montreal and want to see something truly crazy cool.)
I anticipate pictures on both Charles Earl's and John W. MacDonald's sites, so keep an eye out. This has to be seen to be believed, especially the setting for the Typing Explosion in that small stone building in the middle of the park...
By the way, check out the Typing Explosion's website. Seriously. Check it out.