Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Making the Leap from Page to Stage

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Making the Leap from Page to Stage

It is arguable that our modern-day Elizabethan court is the coffeehouse stage, and our new veneration for the Tudor monarchy has switched to the necessity of a political mind and a fearlessness on the part of many poets to question the impact of "those on top". The intensity of our time is something we can no longer express in ornamental language; prose is still for many poets a weapon of choice, and while the beauty of language is still experimented with and valued in poetic works, it's more pc to be cool in the urban sense of the word than to go around spewing aristocratic notions of life, love, and loyalty.

Still, the present affects the past; where we are going serves as a template for where we think we've been – and it's a big leap that the poetry world has taken in the last few decades, from the outright contemporizing of traditional plays/literary works to the proliferation of vast types of media that make us, now, see the origins of the oral tradition (poet + lyre) as truly medieval. It seems as though the plight of the poet is to keep a certain tradition alive in a hopelessly/breathlessly progressing modern culture; but what kind of culture is this? How can we embrace the arts aside the technology and its disengaging effects? How can we honour the tradition of poetry in a way that also ensures our work is relevant, conscious, and indeed engaged with our world? That's where the marvel of spoken word poetry comes in: the explosion of tradition, a language broken and remade/remixed so that it steers inwards but projects itself out.

I've been thinking often about taking the leap from page to stage: whether it's necessary, what makes the leap successful, what the deep and significant difference is between a poem meant to be read vs. meant to be heard. A poem itself contains a field of variables, ambiguities, subjectivities, things wholly non-delineable and hardly definable. The amalgamation of tradition + experimentation that has moved poetry from the page to the stage is a movement representative of this process, having ebbed and flowed with new media.

Poetry has made itself over many times, most strongly during the 1940s and 50s, in which poetry and performance become a response to the sterility of traditional literary conventions and the mindlessness of war and industrialism. Poetry became a language to be listened to not only in the salons and galleries, but on the streets and in front of authorities. And so while the content of the poems and format of the poems diversified, so too did audiences. I think also of dub poetry, which, though having originated in Jamaica in the 1970s, is now "happening" all over the world.

The future of language is happening before our eyes, I think. As we open books we open a new vision of our literary world. As we read them aloud, the visions take shape. Our age of vers libre has continued in a different form, it seems; our Rimbauds led to our Ginsbergs who led to our Levines and so forth. The act of performance adds a new and exciting dimension to the experience of verbosity, and in fact borrows from old(e) ideals of writing as a form of human sympathy. The spoken word is an interesting transaction of feelings and sentiments, and one that brings about a new immediacy of language and reality in which we can wholly dissolve ourselves and our senses in its variable dance.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Adebe D.A.

Adebe D.A. is a writer whose words travel between Toronto and New York. She recently completed her MA at York University, where she also served as Assistant Editor for the arts and literary journal, Existere. Her debut poetry collection, Ex Nihilo, was published this year by Frontenac House, and subsequently longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize, the world’s largest prize for writers under 30.

Go to Adebe D.A.’s Author Page