One Last Dead Poets Reading Series Update

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, as of this month I am retiring as a coordinator of the Dead Poets Reading Series, which I helped "resurrect" in 2011 after founder David Zieroth had folded it following a three-year run on the North Shore.

One of my duties with the DPRS was to design and maintain the website, which I did for the final time a couple days ago. I'm going to miss updating a few of those pages, as they gave me a lot of joy. I wanted to take a minute to share a bit of that joy with you.


The first page is the "List of Poets Read" since the series' inception, which is now up to 207 poets (228 readings, which include some repeats). And yet we've barely gotten started. A fun game is to read through the list and find who's not on it - there are some surprises!

I love, especially, reading through and remembering the poets whose work I first encountered through the series who have gone on to have a significant impact on my own writing. That list starts with John Newlove, who I'd barely heard of when David Zieroth read him at the first DPRS in 2007. It goes on to include Mahmoud Darwish, Jim Harrison, Randall Jarrell, Audre Lorde, C.K. Williams and many more.

I also think about the poets I was lucky enough to be able to present as part of the series: Al Purdy, Larry Levis, Jack Gilbert, Don Coles and, in a shorter reading, C.P. Cavafy (a few others, like Kofi Awoonor, Elizabeth Bishop, Elise Partridge, and Muriel Rukeyser I happily deferred to other readers - though now a part of me wishes I'd been more selfish!).

The May 2012 DPRS readers: Lilija Valis (Hanshan),
Chris Gilpin (David Lerner), Catherine Owen (Loren Eiseley),
Rob Taylor (Larry Levis), Evelyn Lau (John Updike)
I've shared abridged versions of my talks on two of those poets - Jack Gilbert and Don Coles - on this site. I remember, too, reading a quote from Larry Levis about every poem being the same poem, and moving from that to discuss how Levis' poetry always seemed to be building on the same handful of themes and moments, turning them over and over until he produced "Winter Stars," which to me is his (and, well, just about anyone's) finest poem . I said how that seems like a more-than-valid way to build a literary career, like a gyre - circling and circling, moving in on your one subject. I remember saying all that and then seeing Catherine Owen, another of the readers that day, nod in agreement, and something that should have been obvious clicked in me - that I had been doing, and should continue to do, the same in my own writing. That was back in 2012, and my fairly obsessive poems and books on family (my father, my mother, my wife, my son) have followed over the years.


Another page I'll miss updating is the "Photos" page, not because the photos are thrilling (Are poetry reading photos ever thrilling? I was never willing to humiliate the poets enough to find out if they could be...) but because they capture so many of the Vancouver (and visiting) poets who I care deeply about, and the important moments when we came together.

Here are a few of my favourites:

This is from our May 2015 reading, where Heidi Greco (in blue) read Lorraine Vernon. The folks surrounding her are Lorraine's family. Lorraine died in 2004 and her writing has gone underappreciated since. That day both Lorraine and her poetry were celebrated as they should be.

This one is from our March 2015 reading when - stars aligning as they sometimes do - we had four poets in town who are all primarily known for living elsewhere (and have since returned to said places): Karen Solie (Toronto/Saskatchewan), Sarah de Leeuw (Prince George), Alice Major (Edmonton) and Ngwatilo Mawiyoo (Nairobi).

As an unfunded series in which no money changes hands (not since we moved to the VPL and stopped having to pay rent, at least), it's always been tough for us to get non-Vancouver poets into our lineups. It has happened a few other times, though: Yvonne Blomer, Kim Fu, Nora Gould, Carol Glasser Langille, Rhona McAdam and - just this November - Amanda Jernigan have all paid us out-of-town visits.

When I look at this photos I think about how lucky we were to get those four poets in one room - something that's very unlikely to happen again - and all the warm, good thought that that particular combination generated on that singular afternoon. I also like to think about the good warmth of that Vancouver room traveling out with them across the country/world.

Two more photos: the first one is from our September 2012 reading. Three of these poets (Jamie Reid, E.D. Blodgett and Elise Partridge), who took time out of their busy lives to celebrate other poets, have since died themselves (the other two, Christopher Levenson and Elena Johnson are - I'm happy to report - alive and well!).

The second is from our September 2017 reading - five years and one day later - when Jamie and Elise's poetry was read by Wayde Compton and Barbara Nickel, respectively (recently deceased BC poet Peter Culley was also read that day, by Weldon Hunter). At our November 2018 reading Heidi Greco read a poem by E.D. Blodgett, who only recently passed away.

That repeating cycle, of honouring and being honoured, seems to me to be at the heart of poetic practice, and of this series. We read, we write, we celebrate, we forget, we discover, we return.

The series serves many (many!) purposes, and remembering Vancouver poets is only one of them (another - an education in poetry - was what drew me in in the first place). But giving our community a space in which to collectively remember, to honour and be honoured, has certainly meant the most to me.


My last link, truth be told, is very tedious to update (formatting those damn photos!) and I won't miss having to do so, but now that it's done I find myself particularly fond of it nonetheless: the "Meet the Organizing Team" page.

I've loved so dearly working with the co-coordinators I've had, especially Christopher Levenson and Diane Tucker, who did the "reviving" with back in 2011. And the new team! Wow! Joanne Arnott, Jane Munro, Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Kevin Spenst, Diane Tucker, Isabella Wang - what a group! They are going to do great things.


It's quite possible the amount I blog about DPRS events will decline in the future - cutting back on side projects so I can write a little more (i.e. at all) was the point of this - but who knows. Regardless, if you aren't already connected up with the DPRS' social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram), or on their mailing list (you can sign up by entering your email in the text box at the bottom of the homepage), you should get connected ASAP.

And then come out and celebrate the world's poetry (which is also ours) and our own poetry (which is also the world's), alive and dead and alive once more.

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