A Darling Canadian Poetry Night

By barb janes

Who could resist an invitation to a place called The Darling Bar? Who could resist a cross-pollination of the theatre, literature and poetry communities in Winnipeg? Theatre Projects Manitoba in partnership with ContemporaryVerse 2 hosted a brilliant salon on January 9. 

The Darling Bar (171 McDermot Ave in Winnipeg’s Exchange District) had a warm welcoming vibe on the chilly night of January 9, as a who’s who of the city’s creatives gathered. Theatre Projects Manitoba’s upcoming show, in partnership with the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, is David Yee’s among men, a poetic and charged portrait of male friendship (Milton Acorn and Al Purdy) in uncertain times, and a story of how Canadian literature was changed forever. This production marks the Theatre Projects Manitoba’s first co-production with RMTC in its 33 year history. For tickets and more information.

As the crowd gathered (standing room only!), there was time for a bespoke cocktail and some yummy hors d’oeuvres, and a chance to check out Adam Parboosingh’s among men set using VR, as well as to step downstairs to see what visual artist Jo Korving (with support from Arts Junktion) was offering participants.

The crowd was clearly there to hear the poets: Julian Day, Jacquie Loewen, Erin McGregor, Yelani Peiris and Spenser Smith.

Julian Day, poet and software developer, read two pieces, strongly noting that “It gets better is only true for some,” a poignant reminder of how many disappointments and patches of loneliness we face in a connected world.

Jacquie Loewen’s background as a theatre artist stood her in good stead in this, her first poetry reading. Embracing the challenge of form, she offered a new sonnet: “poets take the world in by a breath,” was the phrase that captured me. She described a writing exercise created when she found an inscription in a dusty copy of Dostoevsky’s The Possessed, and gave a group the task of imagining who gave the book to whom and to write a poem about that. Her own poem imagined the book being given by Gabriel to Satan, with the gorgeous line, “the love in the heart leaked out through the pen.” Loewen recommends Stephen Frye’s The Ode Less Travelled for those writers wishing to expand their range.

Erin McGregor rose to the challenge offered by Theatre Projects Manitoba to consider writing a new poem on masculinity and intimacy. Her new piece wryly noted, “I’ve never been let into that club house…a man’s callouses scraping against the world.”

Yelani Peiris, upping the cool factor of the evening by being the only poet to read off her phone, opened with her poem, Kingfisher, which starts with a kiss from that bird and ends mysteriously, erotically, with “a blue feather on my tongue.”

Spenser Smith recently launched his first book of poetry. A brief relief from hunger focusses on addiction and masculinity, and Spencer’s first offering was on the relationship with his dad, a man seemingly as macho as a monkey wrench, a “builder of sons” who would “know the difference between rare and medium-rare.” The poem laments and celebrates: “I’m thirty and can’t change a tire. I’m thirty, and survived because you are a sturdy structure.” Intrigued? Spenser’s book is being launched at Artspace (4th Floor Board Room) by the Guild on April 14 from 2:00 – 3:30.

Contemporary Verse 2 and Theatre Projects Manitoba built a sturdy structure in their Canadian Poetry Night. I asked TPM’s artistic director, Suzie Martin, if we are seeing a new era of collaboration and support among theatre companies in Winnipeg. She replied, “I love that you’re noticing this shift from competition to collaboration—I can’t speak for anyone else but certainly TPM is embracing that ethos and we are moving forward under the belief that we are stronger and better and more resilient together.”  Against the stereotype of the solitary writer/creator, Suzie Martin says this about among men: “One thing I love about among men is that it looks at two poets who write on their own and are in theory in competition with each other, but the play finds them at this moment when they are living and working together to build a cabin and in so doing are also offering each other real creative criticism—they make each other’s work better by the time they spend in close relationship with each other.  They push each other to become more honest and more brave in their art. This to me is the best of collaboration and the best of friendship!”

Here’s hoping for more of these close relationships. Theatre Projects Manitoba, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre and Contemporary Verse 2 have set the stage for further creativity. Pick up your pencils. Begin.

Skip to content