Thursday, May 15, 2014

Thundering Word Heard

In 2004, when I was a student at UBC I was given an assignment for my Canadian Poetry class: Go see a live poetry reading, interview a published poet and write a review of the performance. I went to what was at the time a weekly gathering of spoken word poets, “Thundering Word Heard.” T. Paul Ste. Marie was a poet well known in the Vancouver community, and I had had the honour of meeting him and Shane Koyczan at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival a year or two earlier when they were there as performers. Backstage, we joked in the lunch and dinner lines for volunteers (me) and performers (them) while we waited for our free meals. Their unique personalities and senses of humour led me to seek out their performances at the festival, and they did not disappoint. I quite enjoyed their slam poetry at Folk Fest, so when I needed to find a poetry reading for class, it seemed natural to go to a poetry slam hosted by T. Paul and frequented by Shane - who you might recognize from his performance at the Vancouver Winter Olympics. I absolutely LOVE Shane's Remember How We Forgot:

I had a great time at Thundering Word Heard, and meant to go back repeatedly, but only made it out to one other performance. T. Paul passed away unexpectedly in 2007. He used to open every TWH night with his slam poem “Invocation,” insisting on audience participation.

Here is the review I wrote, followed by the Q&A's I managed to get some of the performers to participate in. I wish TWH was still a weekly event, as I am sure it would be a treat to re-immerse myself in that world.  I would be sure to raise a glass to T. Paul, while remembering not only his passion, but that which he insisted upon inspiring in others.

 March 14th, 2004

Café Montmartre: Thundering Word Heard
Enter a dark, low-lit Parisian-style café, narrow yet deep. Tea lights on each narrow table are flickering in the breeze caused by the door propped open to Main St. at 28thAve. A combination of pop-art, photographs, mirrors and prints cover the walls as an old-fashioned tricycle and a pair of gauze and feather wings hang suspended from the high ceiling. The audience fills the many tables, reaching far into the back of the narrow café. It is 9pm on a Sunday at Café Montmartre.
T. Paul Ste. Marie steps up to the microphone as his theme music plays. He asks the audience "what do we need?" "Passion!" is the weak but unanimous reply. "I'm sorry, what do we need?" "PASSION!" shouts the audience. This play between host and audience evolves into T. Paul's weekly recitation of his poem "Invocation." He pauses intermittently to ask the audience what is needed. Each time the response is "PASSION!" "We've got to EXPAND on this vocabulary, form a mental constabulary arresting ignorance at hand because knowledge IS power." T. Paul finishes his invocation with the following lines: "And some days they split atoms. And some days they kick stones. Today they find our voice."
After completing the introductions, T. Paul calls to the feature performer of the night, Paulie Lipman, an American spoken word artist currently touring the West coast. Lipman has been writing poetry for 18 years, has produced two chapbooks, You Are Here and Evolution of a Dork In Progress, and two CD's Doing the Door and What's With All The Shouting!? All of Paulie Lipman's published works are available through his website
Before taking the stage, Paulie climbs atop his chair in the middle of the café and shouts "I am feeling the spirit tonight! Now the subject for this evening's sermon is rooted in the utterance of the Lord communicated unto Larry who occasionally dabbled in prophecy. And on the eve where Larry contemplated whether or not to give this prophet gig a shot, the hand of the lord doth appeared in the heavens and the lord doth proceeded to righteously bitch-slap Larry. All the while proclaiming: BE NOT HALF-ASSED!" This is the beginning of Lipman's poem "Potential Damnation" in which he preaches not religion, but individuality. The poem holds a caution to measure people by their actions, not by their "potential."
This touching poem is followed by the comical "Lacka-Assa-Tosis" in which Paulie Lipman describes his "medical condition" of having no behind. While his poems contain a substantial degree of humor, Lipman has a number of insightful messages to share with his audience. Having dropped out of college, Lipman believes in the school of life. "Sometimes ya gotta quit reading and writing… get out and live." When asked if he had any words of wisdom for aspiring poets, Paulie Lipman replied: "Keep at it. A goal to strive for is to be personal and universal at the same time." He certainly achieves this goal in his own work.
Following Lipman's performance, the open mike portion of the evening begins. Poets and musicians are each given ten minutes to perform. Some performers choose to combine poetry with recorded tracks of music and background noise, while others read from their own chapbooks. The most entertaining moment of the evening occurs when accordion-playing Rowan Lipowitz asks if there are any requests from the audience. A joker in the back of the café calls out "Hit Me Baby, One More Time!" Instead of going on to a more serious suggestion, Rowan indeed begins playing and singing the pop song. There is little in this world that can compare to a thirty-something Jewish, accordion-playing man singing one of the best-known and most-hated songs to emerge from the commercial pop-music industry.
Once the crowd has contained their laughter, Vancouver poet Fernando Raguero takes the stage and performs a number of his works, many of which can be found in his chapbooks two dragonflies mating on my toe and one hand tied behind saturn. "Ode to Suburbia" scoffs at the cookie-cutter style of suburban greater Vancouver. Raguero's single-line poem "Warm" paints a vivid image of downtown Vancouver. "It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling when I see two crack dealers overcome their differences and embrace." His poetry contains simple, everyday language which does not hide the message with "too many big words." Raguero encourages poets to "keep things simple, there is great beauty in the ordinary, things don't have to be complicated to be great." Raguero's final poem "Measuring Stick" is a tribute to "all those who have been called weird of strange or whatever." Through the poem, Raguero points out that the "weird" and "mad" person's perspective can be a wonderful thing.
The night continues with a number of performances both of spoken word and music. Cole Robertson performed for the first time, reciting his poem "What can we know of another?" T. Paul encouraged Robertson and the other first-time performers to return and share more of their work in the following weeks. Cole Robertson's self-published Chapbook "What Happens" is currently only available through the author. If his performance is any indication of his ability, his work will soon be found in more established publications. Cole's advice to other new spoken word poets? "Write all the time. Perform even if you think you aren't good. You'll get better."
As the evening draws to a close, Laughs are had, tears are shed, and Thundering Word Heard founder and host T. Paul Ste. Marie brings a special energy to the evening. New performers are given warm support and encouraged to return. Returning performers of varying skill and renown are welcomed back to the stage. The audience is energetic and supportive of all performers. The food and coffee are amazing. I recommend attending Thundering Word Heard's open mike night each Sunday from 9 to midnight. Those wishing to perform should arrive at 8 to sign up. Arrive early as the tables fill quickly.

****************** Q&A ************************
Cole Robertson:
What poem(s) are you performing tonight?

"What can we know of each other?"

How long have you been writing poetry? Do you write prose as well? Do you prefer one over the other?

3 years. Yes. No.

Do you have any published work? Chapbook(s)?

Sort of. (He gave me a copy of his chapbook "What Happens")

How long have you been participating in spoken word?

This is my first one.

Do you have any words of wisdom or encouragement for the aspiring poets of tomorrow?

Write all the time. Perform even if you think you aren't good. You'll get better.

Paulie Lipman (Featured Performer):

What poem(s) are you performing tonight?

"Potential Damnation," "Lacka-Assa-Tosis," "First Ever," "DJ," "Orion's Example," "History After Hours," "Slowly Written Suicides"

How long have you been writing poetry? Do you write prose as well?

18 years. Not really, no.

Do you have any published work? Chapbook(s)? If yes, where would one find these works?

Yes 2 chapbooks (You are Here and Evolution of a Dork in Progress)
2 CD's (Doin the Door and What's With All The Shouting!?)
Available at

How long have you been participating in spoken word/ poetry slams? What drew you to this particular form of poetry?

About 4 years, slams I heard about from a friend of mine. What drew me to it was the energy and honesty of the audience.

Do you have any words of wisdom or encouragement for the aspiring poets of tomorrow?

Keep at it. A goal to strive for is to be personal and universal at the same time.

Any other information you feel would be beneficial to English Lit. and Writing students at UBC?

Sometimes ya gotta quit reading and writing… get out and live for that is what inspires the writing.

Fernando Raguero:

What poem(s) are you performing tonight?

Some old, some new.
Among them were: "Ode to Suburbia," "Warm," "Bukowski Can't Save Me," "Measuring Stick"
How long have you been writing poetry? Do you write prose as well? Do you prefer one over the other?

I've been writing for twenty years, just poetry, prefer poetry.

Do you have any published work? Chapbook(s)? If yes, where would one find these works? Under what title(s)?

Two chapbooks, [you can] get them from me.
"two dragonflies mating on my toe."
"one hand tied behind saturn."

How long have you been participating in spoken word?

4 years, [I] heard about it about 4 years ago.
I like it because it's spoken, you are forced to listen.

Do you have a favorite Canadian poet/writer? Have they influenced the content or style of your own writing?

Favorite Canadian poet: Leonard Cohen.
I am influenced by Charles Bukowski.

Do you have any words of wisdom or encouragement for the aspiring poets of tomorrow?

Keep things simple, there is great beauty in the ordinary, things don't have to be complicated to be great.

Any other info you feel would be beneficial to English Lit. and Writing students at UBC?

Don't use too many big words.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Fires & Free Furniture

My mom was in a house fire when she was an Au Pair in her 20's.  She has understandably been hyper-aware of fire hazards and fire safety ever since.  When I was a kid, we had household fire drills where we would have to list and then use specific escape routes should one be blocked.  Those drills ended in tears when her 8-year-old daughter adamantly refused to climb out of her second story window onto a precariously placed ladder leaning against a flimsy wooden flower planter.  What?!  It was SCARY! I was 8!  14-year-old me would have loved the excuse to climb out the window, but 8-year-old me was rather wary of heights and enough of a daddy's girl to have a working knowledge of math and rudimentary woodworking.  She took one look out the window at that ladder and that planter, did the math, and said NUH-UH!  NOPE! NOT GONNA HAPPEN!

When we moved out of the house I grew up in, mom chose a place directly across the street from a fire hall. She maintains to this day that this was merely a coincidence. I think not.

Me & N visiting said fire hall (& fire men!)
The ironic twist?  Shortly after moving into the new house, my mother - the one who fiendishly drilled into our heads that we shouldn't leave unattended candles burning, or heating pads plugged in - after years of these warnings to groans of "I KNOW Mom!  Duh!" she left a plugged-in faulty heating pad on the couch and left the house.  It melted a quarter-sized hole through the fabric of the couch before I woke up and noticed the burning plastic smell, ran upstairs to investigate, and yanked the damn cord out of the wall.  Unfortunately, there wasn't really any smoke to speak of, so the firemen across the street never saw signs of distress and never ran to the rescue... Alas, my dreams of being "rescued" by handsome firemen were dashed. A few months later I posted an ad on Craigslist to get rid of the couch and a few other items.  I wrote the following (mostly true, though not contiguously so) story to advertise them waaaaaaay back in 2007.  I have slightly edited it, only to remove glaring spelling and typographical errors.  Sadly the accompanying pictures have disappeared, so you'll have to use your imagination.

Title: (free stuff) FREE Furniture - you pick up.

Picture this:

It's my day off, so I have lazily stayed in bed until around 10:30am. 

Finally resigned to getting up, I swing my legs over the side of my bed.  My feet do not reach the ground, as the mismatched Queen-sized Mattress set I've had for a couple of years and the new bed frame I've had a few months put the bed top to about waist height.  I jump off of the bed and land on a soft, warm rug.
The "Rug" Kaila

The "rug" gives a yelp and limps off out of the way, favoring one of her rear legs.  Yes, that's right, it's my dog, not the fuzzy rug that's supposed to be covering the floor by my bed.  No - that has migrated to the other side of the room, due to the dog's midnight need to dash back and forth (barking of course) through the house chasing fairies or gremlins, or whatever it is that dogs noisily chase in the middle of the night when the household is desperately trying to sleep.

Having convinced the dog that she is in no danger of being stepped on again, I coax her over and am able to ascertain that she isn't seriously injured, just understandably cautious of feet falling from the sky.

I start up the stairs to get that much needed mug of tea from the kitchen, only to trip over the same dog as she decides that she needs to occupy the same part of each step that I do, at exactly the same time as I occupy it.

Halfway up the stairs, having only tripped over the dog four more times, I smell something that isn't quite right.  I struggle with the "child proof" baby gate we have installed at the top of the stairs to keep my niece and nephew from an unwanted tumble, and with a final yank, manage to open it.

Trying to place the smell, I follow it into the family room where I can see that the heating pad on the couch is emitting an unwelcome waft of smoke.

I rush over and unplug the heating pad, trying to avoid the grotesque smell of melted plastic and fried electronics.  After rushing the melting heating pad to the kitchen sink - only tripping once over the dog, who is quite interested in the intriguing smells emitting from both furniture and heating pad - I rush back to the couch, thinking it must also be on fire.

Attempting to sidestep the dog, and thus avoid tripping over her for the umpteenth time, I misjudge the width of our dining room table and catch the leg of one of the dining room chairs on my way past.  You can probably guess by now that the chair and I both take a dive, with the dog bouncing back and forth, voicing her excitement over the entire situation, and punctuating it with a big doggy kiss on my cheek.

Figuring that the potentially burning couch is a priority, I don't even glance at the toppled chair until much later.

Now limping to match the dog's earlier gait, I make my way over to the couch.  To my amazement and relief, it is not on fire, nor has it been too badly damaged.  The couch does have a small discoloured area, but is otherwise in good shape considering it's brush with certain firey death -er- destruction.  I won't lie to you, there is still the small matter of the smell to be attended to, but at this point I am just glad the house hasn't burned down, and I haven't killed the dog or been killed by tripping over said dog. 

Yes, for months my friends and I have been constructing elaborate fantasies involving ways to run into the firemen across the street, but smoke billowing out of the family room window is NOT how I want to grab their attention.

I should probably note here that the heating pad in question was one of those heating pads that is supposed to automatically turn itself off after a set amount of time, and is supposed to cut out if anything goes amiss.  Yeah, right.  My mother had left it plugged in (but turned off) the previous night, and had gone off early in the morning to some appointment or other, blissfully unaware of the coming excitement.

Nursing my bruised shin, I open the windows to air out the room, and make my way back to the toppled dining room chair.  It did not fare so well.  Somehow in tripping over it and landing partially on it, I managed to break one of its legs in half.  I don't know about you, but a three-legged chair just doesn't quite work for me.  Apparently my mom agreed, because she later replaced the dining room chairs with simple, yet much sturdier wooden ones.

This was not the way I'd planned to spend my one day off.

Since the day these events took place, we've made a few changes around here.

Sadly, the heating pad did not survive the ordeal.  It went to the place where all heating pads who have exhausted the ability to serve their owners wind up - the city dump.

The broken dining room chair and it's remaining 4 relatives were relegated to the garage while the garage-sale sturdy wooden ones took their place.  They're what many craigslisters might call "retro."  Personally I think they're gawdaful ugly, but I'm not one to judge other peoples opinions, and you may like the design... Or maybe you've tripped over one or two of them yourself, and need more to make a full set.  You could always recover them to match your decor.

The Queen-sized Box-spring Mattress has been removed from my bed, and placed in the garage for storage.  Note that this is only the box-spring part of the mattress, the other part is happily residing on my bedframe.  Now my feet can actually touch the ground when seated on the bed.

The dog has since passed away.  No, this was not a result of being stepped on or tripped over.  She was 10, and she had a relatively good life with us.  The mattress was removed a couple of months before she passed away, so for those months she was only bumped by feet leaving the bed, not jumped on as in the past.  Though I should note that her habit of being literally underfoot never was resolved.  She tripped many a person in her remaining months.  We loved her anyways.

The Couch on which the melting heating pad was found was placed in the rec room downstairs, where it is now taking up too much space to allow the room to actually serve its purpose.  The couch is in surprisingly good shape.  As you can see from the pictures, there is a discoloured area, but the fabric did not melt through.  The odour is long gone.  If you throw a blanket over the couch, you'd never even guess that anything had ever happened to it.

If you can provide any or all of these items (the RECLINING LOVESEAT, BOX-SPRING MATTRESS, 4 INTACT DINING ROOM CHAIRS, even the 1 BROKEN CHAIR) a home, and a ride to that home, please contact me.

I don't intend to have another day off like the aforementioned one anytime soon.  I've still got the scar on my shin to remind me of this one.

I had fun with this post, getting several positive responses before some holier-than-thou people decided they (and I quote) "didn't want to read a book" to find out what I was giving away.  So they flagged it and the post was removed.  Funny how I could get ten emails from people saying that they were nominating the post for "best of" and thanking me for giving them a chuckle, then two emails from people who couldn't be bothered to read the post (newsflash, ya don't have to read it if you don't want to...) and then the post was deleted by automatic flagging. 
I did get responses from people who wanted the couch and chairs, and someone took the box-spring when we leaned it against the fence, so it was ultimately a win.