Portrait of the poet as an experimenter

The Public Humanities program at Western are presenting PoetryLab tonight in Conron Hall, a diverse and dynamic reading of poetry in a form that promises to be unlike any traditional means of the experience encountered before. Philip Glennie, program co-coordinator of the event, is excited for the poets and the audience to be a part of something he believes might be more than a ripple in the Canadian poetry scene.

“PoetryLab is different in the extent that it’s run from beginning to end almost as if you are going to a movie theatre,” Glennie explains. “There’s really no explanation of each poet as they come up to the podium. The event takes place for the most part in the dark. So you’re hearing the voices and seeing the poems being projected and when the poems are projected, what that gives the audience a chance to do is to read the poem on their terms, the way they would read it in a book.”

The atmosphere is integral to the effect that the Lab is trying to create. Glennie and participating poets Scott Beckett, the University Student s’ Council’s student writer-in-residence, as well as, Tom Cull, Jim Faflak and Western’s writer-in-residence NourbeSe Philip aim to breach private and public reception and explore how the audience interacts with poetry in such a way.

“You’re having this intensely private reading experience by reading it projected on the screen,” Glennie explains. “But when the poets become involved and start reading it aloud in their voice, it starts to blur the line between your private experience and the public experience of sharing it read by the author — the poet.”

Beckett, a participating poet, was drawn to the event because of the unique presentation it offered.

“The audience is going to experience poetry in a way that might reveal something more than reading it normally,” he says. “I suppose, to put it more simply, the special thing about this event is that PoetryLab is not an act of reading nor listening, it is experiencing.”

Tom Cull, also participating, is excited to participate because of this unique format.

“I think it is going to be a lot of fun. I think it will be moving, challenging, prickly and a bit tickly,” Cull says. “This event doesn’t simply present four separate readers but seeks to create a kind of organic unity among readers, audience members and words. I hope to come away feeling energized, full of ideas, and heartened by the experience of good poetic group hug.”

Another unique feature of PoetryLab is the incorporation of Twitter. While not a traditional poetic medium, the aim of Twitter is for participants — both poets and audience — to react and interact as the performance unravels.

“We will have the live feed going during the event,” Glennie explains. “And poets will even have a chance to respond to the tweets. As the event goes on Tweets will have an opportunity to respond to each other, so any sort of response audience members might have, any impressions, or maybe their own [poetry] can be tweeted.”

The addition of Twitter changes the dynamic of the performance and lends to new realms currently being established between literature and poetry and technology. Some might say poetry is a dying art, but Glennie does not feel the same.

“I think that as our culture becomes more and more obsessed with short digestible poetic-like statements, there is an opportunity for it to experience a resurgence if it’s able to couple with technology in the right way. Tweets for example, being these very short statements, are supposed to be very impactful, much like poetry. If the 800-page novel can exist today, I think poetry can too,” Glennie laughs.

Beckett also speaks to poetic tradition.

“Poetry is a really fluid genre, but the form of poetry readings has always been quite standard. PoetryLab allows for the act of transmission to be as varied and experimental as the form itself,” he says.

PoetryLab will take place on November 19 at 7:30 p.m. in Conron Hall (University College Rm. 224)