By barb janes

This is the last time, I promise. Maybe you’ve heard those words, heard them with hope, heard them with cynicism. Maybe you’ve spoken those words aloud, or in your head full of self-recrimination, meaning it, knowing you are lying. These prose words spoken and heard by many, were turned into poetry by Spenser Smith.

A glorious spring afternoon found twenty-some folks gathered in Art Space in Winnipeg’s Exchange to listen to well-chosen words at a poetry reading featuring Spenser Smith’s A Brief Relief From Hunger, ably supported by two other poets, Sarah Ens and Hannah Green.

The event opened with the thoughtful and thought-provoking Manitoba Writers Guild land acknowledgement, a content warning, and the offer of quiet space outside the room for those who might need it, and the commitment that someone would check on you if you were that person in need. I appreciate the care on offer.

Sarah Ens opened with “The Sacredness of Sleepovers,” producing some giggles and fond memories at her mention of “candy-fuzzed tongues.” Another offering, “Orbit,” captured adolescent angst and wisdom with the phrase “we diagnosed each other astrologically.” A third poem, from Flyway, explored the complexity of Ens’ heritage: “the fleeing, farming Mennonites” who escaped one Empire only to participate in the colonization of this country.

Imagine watching the same horror movie every night, was Hannah Green’s hook of an opener from her collection, Xanax Cowboy. With edgy energy, Hannah’s readings provided an appetizer for Spenser’s addiction-themed poems. Who but one who knows This is the last time, I promise could acknowledge “my ribs stick our like rows of excuses”? And wisely reading a room full of readers, Hannah read, “I think about becoming a Heather O’Neil character.” 

Two themes spiralled through Spenser Smith’s offerings: toxic masculinity and addiction. “‘Men’ is both a single word and a thousand cultures,” he states in “Hundreds of Men: A Case Study.” Several poems in A Brief Relief are assembled from Facebook comments: “Crime rate is dropping like junkies. Love it” and “ban the [naloxone] kits let mother nature take its course”. Another poem in the collection, “Comment Section” repeats the word “comment” in a long, overwhelming column, ensuring we know the source of those cruel comments. Reflecting on those who offer unconditional love, “Daydreaming” offers: “Some of us have grandmas who drop ice cubes in our soup. Some of us live with burned tongues….Let me be a man who cools to that which is too hot to slurp.” 

“Write about what matters most,” was Spenser’s response during the Q&A. The Manitoba Writers Guild launch events expose us to what matters most, not only in the offerings of featured writers, but in the care the Guild uses to shape these events. While the content of the poems at this event was provocative and daring, all three poets were young and White – and, as far as I could tell, the audience, while of various ages, was entirely White. I look forward to the day when a more diverse mix of writers and a more diverse audience is found at Guild events.

Skip to content