As history student, my life consists mainly of hourly lectures filled with facts and opinions. Very interesting on occasion, but the constant deadlines and bombardment of readings don’t exactly leave time to think about much else. Combined with my attempt to cram in as many experiences in Montreal as possible as a yearlong exchange student, I struggle to remember the last time I could just sit for an hour without constantly thinking about the next thing on the agenda.
Marilyn Bowering and Gerry Shikatani’s readings of their latest poetry offered me that chance. On October 25, the event was held at the Atwater Library as a part of the Atwater Poetry Project, which began in 2008, and runs from fall to spring. The Atwater Poetry Project gives Canadian poets and writers an opportunity to present their work in a formal setting, apart from the relaxed nature of the typical cafe reading. Katia Grubisic, one of the coordinators of the event, explained to The Daily in an interview how this is one of the key aims of the project. During the readings, a respectful silence from the audience pervaded at all times – the library was the perfect setting to hear a pin drop. This formality proves popular for both poet and audience alike.
For twenty minutes, each poet provided insight into significant periods of their life. Shikatani’s poems moved through his months of living at Port Stanley, Ontario, his poetry reflecting on the quotidian aspects of life. Bowering eloquently described her time in New York City, Naxos, Greece, and Vancouver Island, delving into themes of love, loss, and childhood experience. For a person who has never shown an acute interest in poetry, I was pleasantly surprised at how much their work affected me. When listening to someone’s emotional analysis of their past, you cannot help but delve into your own personal experiences.
In the past ten years, events at Atwater Library have become increasingly computer-oriented. With programming such as teaching adults to use Facebook, the literary aspect of Atwater was sidelined due to the demands of a modern technological society. The Poetry Project has sought to change this. Now in its ninth season, the series has had huge success and is growing in popularity. One of the main goals is to allow for the community to experience various poetic styles and sensibilities. However, what struck me most was the way Canada as a country was represented in the poetry. After listening to Bowering and Shikatani illustrate the long sandy beaches, the snow, and “the life waiting at the window frame,” I was left with a real longing to visit such places. Shikatani’s merging of both French and English into many of his poems reflects the uniqueness of Quebecois culture. The poems serve as a beautiful reflection of the country, something that a history textbook doesn’t really offer.
The fact that the Atwater Poetry Project has gained more Facebook likes than any previous program at the library serves as a testament to its growing popularity. With writers travelling from all over the country to read at the monthly event, the series offers a place for audiences to hear and appreciate their favourite poets and discover previously unknown work. Grubisic said the event “slows us down and makes us listen.” For a student who is relatively new to the world of poetry, the readings are a perfect opportunity to do just this.
The Atwater Poetry Project’s next event is Thursday, November 1, at 6:30 p.m. It will feature readings from the poetry finalists for the Governor General’s Literary Awards. The library is at 1200 Atwater.