James Dewar, Host of Hot-Sauced Words

James Dewar, host of Hot-Sauced Words

Publicity Agent Tracy Kyncl reports on the ongoing poetry series Hot-Sauced Words, based on her experience there last week in Toronto.

Every month, a dedicated troupe of writers, from the experienced to the aspiring, congregate at the Black Swan Tavern for an evening as exciting as its name suggests. Hot-Sauced Words isn’t your run-of-the-mill poetry series. Host James Dewar does not treat the poet as an insular guest star amongst strangers; rather, the monthly readings are more like a night out with friends where the focus is on creativity and the beer-drinking comes second. The evening begins with an open mic session and the August 15 first-timer.

Mike Howard read a hilarious tribute to the 2003 Blackout and Jeff Cottrill performed a vivid collage of conspiracy theory facebook rants. It wasn’t so much the substance of the poets’ work, however, that made this portion of the night enjoyable but the “Give Me a Line” segment following each reader. Every table has index cards and pens and the audience is encouraged to write down its favourite lines and shout them out after each poet finishes reading. Both the writer and listener have a chance to reflect on what really worked in that poem and why, and to take advantage of workshop strategies in a reading series structure. If that isn’t fun enough, James creates a “Poetry Themed Challenge” every month to motivate spontaneous creativity. Everyone in the audience is given the chance to write a poem before he or she leaves and perform it for a cash prize. This month’s theme was “being in the right place at the right time” and yielded very comical and tragically beautiful reflections on fighting the clock and what it means to be lucky.

James’ creative production strategies transform your typical weeknight reading into an experience where you learn about, and take part in, the process of becoming a skilled poet. Hot-Sauced Words reminds us that one can become a better writer by reading to an audience; one can become a better writer by listening carefully; and one can become part of a tightly-knit literary community just by leaving the house and grabbing a beer at the local.

Hot-Sauced Words Host

Co-host of Hot-Sauced Words, Sue Reynolds.

If amateur acts aren’t your thing though, do not fret. This week at the Black Swan Tavern, Hot-Sauced Words saw the poetical talents of feature writers Sue Reynolds and Jacob Scheier, and on September 19 Susie Berg will launch her collection How to Get Over Yourself (Piquant Press). Sue Reynolds read first, and her credentials are certainly impressive. She has won awards for her writing, for her volunteerism, and her aptitude for psychology. Not to mention the fact that she teaches writing workshops for criminalized women. Sue’s relationship with poetry is intimate and procedural, even therapeutic. Her beautiful narrative poems relay personal stories about her ailing father (“The Engineer Goes Out”), what it’s like to let go of your children as they charge head first into adulthood (“Empty Nester”), and the complexities of a failed marriage (“Black Diamond Run”). My favourite piece was “Hunger,” a poem about what emotional emptiness feels, smells, and tastes like.

ECW Press poet and 2008 Governor General’s Award Winner Jacob Scheier was also astounding, and although I was not familiar with his work before, there was no doubt in my mind after hearing him read that I had to take his latest collection, Letter from Brooklyn, home with me. Jacob is also a teacher and understands the importance of writing communities in unpacking the complexity in which art dictates how we experience key events and moments in our lives. He shared a very cheeky poem, “The Broken Heart is a Cliché” about his time leading a creative writing class that the audience absolutely adored. He and his students can’t seem to come to terms with the fact that heartbreak is a cliché, and they struggle to find the right words to express this archaic emotion, as it has now become. I’m sure any author who’s tried to write about love has thrown down the pen a few times in anger, fuming at his or her preposterous analogies, stomach queasy from fluffy imagery.

One could describe Jacob as a very clever and honest poet with a bleeding heart and sharp sense of humour. Many of his pieces, such as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “North America,” poke at the ribs of contemporary culture, and other more sombre poems, like “1989,” reveal flickers of loss, grief, and regret, giving Jacob’s writing a very personal quality as he works through his memories. “My Mother Dies in Reverse,” from his latest collection, is an intensely powerful piece inspired by Robert Priest’s Reading the Bible Backwards. While it seems as though Jacob’s life has been colourful, torrential, and unique, it’s not difficult to relate to his poems, or to hear an echo of one’s own miseries and disappointments. His style is fluid and clean, but teeming with emotion, so it’s no surprise that his first collection was received so warmly. Jacob will teach a Writing About Grief Workshop from September 11 until November 20, 2013 and it is definitely worth the money for any burgeoning writers who hope to find a creative and productive outlet and be led by an astoundingly talented and friendly Toronto poet.

Hot-Sauced Words

Jacob Scheier, recipient of the Governor General’s Award in 2008.

During the intermission, James Dewar talked a bit about the commonly-held perception of Toronto as a particularly friendly city for poets and literary-minded people. James and the Inkslingers family have played a large part in building that community, from hosting reading series to running creative workshops. I caught up with another familiar face last week, Puritan alumna Aisha Sasha John, after her reading at ArtBar and asked her a few questions. Here’s what she had to say about her craft:

TK: Your work appeared in The Puritan’s 14th issue. Two summers later, how has your writing changed? And what can you tell me about your latest project THOU?

ASJ: I hope it’s more comfortable with itself. I think it knows itself as performance more clearly and is having more fun and giving less of a shit and so it’s more powerful. I am still (writing) THOU, so it’s hard to talk about it as an object; basically I’m looking at what it means to say “you;” also it is a book of molting and also it contains prayers of exaltation.

TK: The host introduced you as a writer and a dancer, and you mentioned dance a few times in your poems. Do those forms influence one another in your creative projects? Why are dance and poetry your particular vocations?

ASJ: “Why” is a question for God. I’ve said before that poetry and dance are the same thing for me, but that’s not true—dance is more elemental. Beneath poetry is dance – dance is the purist expression of my aesthetic. I use language in dance, obviously, but I’m not limited to known vocabularies as a dance improviser in the same way I’m limited to English (well …) as a poet.

TK: You also mentioned Toronto in your poetry. What’s it like being a writer in Toronto? What do you enjoy about participating in reading series in the city?

ASJ: I’ve only really been a writer in Toronto so I can’t speak of it as if I’ve known anything else. Getting a chance to read, no matter how it goes, is important, necessary, a blessing, because for me the poem is an uttered thing, so it’s all just a score otherwise. If I don’t get to read, I don’t get to be a poet, sort of.

One Comment

Brent Stait

I will have to drop by one of the Hot-Sauced Words meetings to check it out. Sounds like a fun event!

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