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Poetry, Northern/Southern Border, part II

By Hoa Nguyen

In which I write about three newly minted poetry series that take place along the border between Canada and the U.S.A. Earlier, I spoke of a pop-up series in Detroit. Here’s the second dispatch featuring a born-in-2014 series that takes place in Toronto.

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The Series

Coven kicked off in the middle of a polar vortex. It was an insane -21 C / -5 F outside, but inside Toronto’s lesbian bar The Henhouse, it was HOT: poetry, music, tarot, and dancing.

Now entering its sixth month, Coven features poetry, fiction, graphic novels, and something in between poetry, performance, & music (those that were there for the song styling of Tranny Rap Bitch Jade know what I mean). One evening included an academic paper on mock Afghan villages at Canadian Forces Base Wainwright. In her talk, Dr. Natalie Alvarez examined the encounters between Afghans populating these bases’ mock villages and soldiers, and how the affective entrainment of soldiers potentially works against the “Cultural Intelligence” these encounters are ostensibly designed to foster.

There’s always a tarot reader (I have been one on three occasions), DJ disc spinning, dishing, and certain merriment.

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The Seed

A couple of years ago, Alex and Damian got to talking about how great it would be to have a reading night that focused primarily and unapologetically on women’s work. I asked Alex about the start of Coven and she replied,

We liked the idea of it being earthy and female empowered with incantation style stuff and signifiers that had implications of witchcraft (both appropriated and serious). ‘Vibes’ are taken seriously at Coven. Damian and I are both very serious about the transformational/ ritualistic power of words and myths and wanted to create a space where this was treated with due reverence and also levity (like the rope light circle that people read in). I am very taken away by poetry, graphic novels, and performance and loved the idea of being able to showcase underrepresented and also super gifted female artists and have the opportunity to speak with them in relation to their work. I would be lying if I didn’t say I also do it to rub shoulders with women I admire deeply. So there’s that too, which is maybe the lesbian version of grindr or a bathhouse.


The Hosts

In addition to hosting, poet Damian Rogers (see her fantastic book Paper Radio) reads from new work at each Coven, recently airing some devastatingly brilliant villanelles as well as poems made up of notes and lists written by her mother who suffers from early-onset dementia. For one Coven, Damian wore a luminous floor-length evening gown and a crown made out of pipe cleaners—she looked like a lyric High Priestess. Yes, Coven makes room for fashion, glamour, transmissions, and complications.

For one Coven, founder and theatre creator Alex Tigchelaar reprised a talk she gave at the Art Gallery of Ontario on the convergence between Francis Bacon and Henry Moore, the purposing of holes, and the moral theatre of borders (this being the occasion of the opening of the “Terror and Beauty” exhibition). She has interviewed artists as part of the Coven proceedings and opened the circle with convocation to the dead. You really must check Alex’s brilliance and read an interview of her politically charged art cabaret troupe Operation Snatch; there’s also a series of essays on her theatre company in the current issue of Canadian Theatre Review.

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Some More Highlights

Coven was the site of two book launches, Diane Obomsawin’s graphic novel On Loving Women (J’aime les Filles) and Amanda Taylor (Mandy Goodhandy)’s graphic novella “Little Annie Tranny,” illustrated by Canadian playwright John Herbert.

And more poets: Kathryn Mockler read from her book The Saddest Place on Earth and screened a portion of her comedic short Skinheads. I read from a linked series of poems—a meditation on a decade in Vietnam that I began at the Millay Colony. Some of these appear in the Vancouver literary journal EVENT; more are forthcoming in University of Arizona Tucson’s Sonora Review. Author of the collection The Shining Material, Aisha Sasha John read selected works but not before pouring a drink for the ancestors—this rhymed in a delicious way with how, each time, our hosts convened a circle for the ancestors inside of a (whimsical, LED-light lit) literal circle to pay respect to the departed by intoning their names (H.D., Helen Adam, Amiri Baraka, Maxine Kumin).

Canon Cook has been on deck to DJ from her transferred-to-laptop record collection. When she asked Alex, “Is the winner of the all-female barbershop quartet championship of 1959 something that might interest your audience?” Alex replied, “UM OBVIOUSLY.”

In Coven, mixing is important; music is important—as are interesting or new connections, magic, the body, and dynamic moving. And so keeping in their tradition in ending with music or, as the hosts say, “To raise it up and dance it out,” I ask that you check out this Soundcloud link to AroarA, a fabulous Montreal duo that brilliantly set Alice Notley’s In the Pines to music.

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Posted in Featured Blogger on Thursday, May 15th, 2014 by Hoa Nguyen.