It may be hard to believe, but Chewbacca isn’t a good fit for all parties (especially not literary ones).
While the early winter season can be slow for readings and launches there are still a few publishers and publications confident enough in their readership to invite patrons to celebrate with them during even the most freezing conditions. On January 23rd, 2014 I attended the launch of Descant’s 163rd issue : The Brink and the Break. The event was held at Charlie’s Gallery with an ample-sized list of readers for the evening, including Lori Vos, Cathy Petch, Rocco de Giacomo, Sharon Overend, John Ryan Scrivener, and George Elliott Clarke (who unfortunately did not end up reading).
The night got off to a solid start in a comfortable setting, complete with crystal chandeliers, sushi appetizers, and light lounge EDM. Considering the weather, the turnout was very good, and many continued to trickle in over the course of the night. Descant also held a raffle with prizes from various local theatre companies, magazines, as well as a prize pack from Grow & Grow, run by Puritan blogger Jessica Bebenek.
The first reader of the night, Cathy Petch, shared her poem published in Descant entitled “My First Boyfriend,” a very dark piece about a boy who “was lost to be found.” Petch writes, “Before you killed someone, your mouth full of shy, you handed me a beaded bracelet.” Despite her boyfriend’s seemingly violent disposition, the narrator nonetheless finds moments of tenderness. Next she read a poem called “Tanlines” from her collection Late Night Knife Fights, published by Lyrical Myrical Press. This poem, and “Phone Etiquette for the Medical Secretary,” demonstrate Petch’s ability to “poeticize” the mundane and grotesque. Lines such as “A blanched bird skull you peed on by mistake” and the ending of “Phone Etiquette,” which reads, “poised in horror at all that has fallen out of you,” were very humorous and slightly shocking lines that fit well with her eccentric style. Petch’s final piece, a love poem to Chewbacca, followed a brief demonstration of her saw-playing. The poem was very light-hearted, provocative, and punchy. Erotic jokes and plays on words such as, “Would you make me wear a mohair onesie?” “will you chew my bacca?”, and “I want to twist and grind you until we become dreadlocked,” were stand-out moments of the reading, even inspiring a man at the bar to expel his own Wookie cries (some in the middle of stanzas).
Rocco de Giacomo was my other favourite reader of the evening. I have written about his poetry for the Town Crier before and while I was expecting work similar to his “pornography centos” I was pleasantly surprised by the emotional intensity of his first poem, “Natural Selection,” published in Descant 163. “At 4 a.m. the slightly open bedroom door is a question,” and from there on the narrator describes, in brief detail, his horrific dreams about smoking crack and his psyche’s attempt to imagine what it’s like to be stabbed. “Good men sleep deeply and never dream” and de Giacomo’s poem certainly pivots on the dangerous corners of the human mind. Rocco’s third poem, inspired by his love-hate relationship with The Huffington Post, was a return to the cento form. The piece was made up from Huffington Post’s “click-bait” that fascinates de Giacomo on Twitter. The news outlet has a tendency to post shocking headlines to “bait” readers into following their links. Highlights of the cento include, “Hungry Indict Nazis for War Crimes after Violent Weekend,” “11 Photos that Prove Math is Really Really Hard,” “Carribean-style Kimye may have Named Baby ‘Camo North West’,” and finally, “Amazing Fortune Cookie Predicts Pup’s Adorable Future.”
After Rocco’s reading, the launch party slowed its festive momentum. The promised twenty-minute intermission inexplicably turned into a forty-five minute intermission. While the break was much needed after being bombarded by in-coming guests unwilling to move away from the door (I was seated next to the frosty threshold), the delay was unnecessary. Unfortunately, the event’s organizers hardly had a chance to redeem themselves since one of the readers (the aforementioned Wookie caller) was very inebriated during his set. While alcohol-induced mishaps happen to everyone, the awkward and stumbling reading was exacerbated by a slow start, halted by comments on guests’ physical appearances.
Despite the fizzling finish, Cathy Petch and Rocco de Giacomo certainly stood out as Canadian poets to watch this year. If you didn’t know, Descant’s issues alternate between theme-driven selections and miscellaneous issues. In the case of their miscellaneous Brink and the Break issue, the selected poems directed the theme and #163 will provide interesting meditations on the many endings, beginnings, breaks, and “near-breaks” in life.