In the Beginning Was the Crow and the Trench Coat

artwork by Graham Blair

Poet Kevin Spenst is traveling across Canada, performing his work at over 100 venues from Victoria to Ontario. He’s blogging his journey for us. Check back here Tuesdays and Thursdays for his updates and check out this map to find out where he’ll be next!


All my life I’ve been interested in making fanciful things. As a chubby little blond boy with an unpredictable streak of shyness, creating games, stories and “funny voices” was a surefire way of connecting with others that provided fulfillment and fun. Over the last ten years, I’ve been writing fiction and then more recently poetry. Community exists in so many forms in the poetry world. I thought I’d try to connect with as many people and groups as possible with a chapbook tour of the country. In order to increase my chances of meeting a myriad of people, I thought I’d make it big: a 100-venue chapbook tour of Canada. Yes, I’ve outgrown shyness.

In the beginning was a memorable phrase and that phrase grew into a poem or story, which then grew into a sequence that became a chapbook or continued growing into a hefty book. I’ve written two self-published books (micro-fiction and poetry), five chapbooks through small presses (serif of nottingham, 100 tetes press, JackPine press, Pooka press and the Alfred Gustav Press) and I have a full-length collection of poetry coming out with Anvil next year. All of these creations exist within a support system of friends, fellow writers, mentors and unsuspecting sources of inspiration (a face that stands out in a crowd, a man who threatens me with his crotch… more on that later).

In the beginning was the quick glance that caught some light and colour. The world is lousy with creation myths. A week before I started my tour, I wrote a stanza for a piece about crows:

And the Crows flew out from the branches of the Great Tree

and it was called Night until their caws that melded into

causelessness silenced and they returned to the depths

of the branches and again it was Day.

On the first day of my tour, I added a line while taking the ferry from the mainland to Vancouver Island (the waters flashing inspiration so generously) and then I finished writing “In Flew a Fable” the next day. I transcribed it from my phone into a small chapbook and then read it in front of the wooly mammoth at the BC Royal Museum:

The venue was months in the planning. It had an itinerary that I pulled up on my phone. “Judith will meet performer at security at 4:30” Sure enough, three minutes later: “Are you Kevin?” I shook her shaking hand and followed her as she walked quickly and crookedly towards the escalator. Judith explained that she’d worked sixteen hours the previous day for a rugby party. We arrived at the wooly mammoth and I asked her if she’d film me. She grabbed my phone with her shaking hand. A large family of five came in a pack of strolling and skipping legs. They were from Nanoose. “Hello, this is venue number eight in my cross-Canada chapbook tour. Here is a quick poem.” The boy (eight or nine years old) did a quick dance in front of the camera midway through the reading, but otherwise they seemed to be captivated. The two older girls were the first to start clapping at the end and their family joined in. “I like how you use words,” the mother said to me. The very large father didn’t so much as shake my hand but catch it and hold it for a couple seconds – it was as big and thick as a baseball mitt. We talked for a little while about the exhibit and then I was on my way.

I headed north along Government Street to the James Joyce Bisto where I’d planned to read some Finnegans Wake translations. (a long story shorted here:  tinyurl.com/7k6vk6z ) The bar is connected to a pool hall that was doing great business, but no one was drinking under the murals of James Joyce. I had half an hour before my scheduled reading, so I headed up towards Solstice Cafe (which I’d heard was a popular spot for readings) but on my way I stopped to listen to a busker playing with tapped up fingers on a kind of metal shield. He explained that it was a hang-drum, “hang” being Old German for “hand.” He had a very faint German accent. His smile was blissful and when a very disheveled older gentleman tried to sell him a painting, the hang-drummer offered him a cigarette. I proposed a collaboration and for the first reading of “In Flew a Fable” a middle-aged couple stopped to hear it through to the end.

“Have you two been working together long?”

Aaron and I played for about half an hour as I tried different poems and then I went back to “In Flew a Fable”. Near the end of the reading, I detected a trench coat to my left. A crotch was close to resting on my shoulder.

At the end of the poem, I stood up.

“You’re not wanted here. Get the fuck out of here. This is his corner. You’re in his space.” The trench-coated man’s hair was short and shaved to the skin on both sides. Medallions hung from his belt.

I explained that he’d agreed to me reading with him.

“His too nice to tell you the truth. Once is okay but again and again is fucking annoying.”

He had come out from the store to our left, so maybe he was some kind of riffraff mafia – he was the guy retailers relied on to shoo away unwelcomed buskers. After Mr. R.M. was convinced I wouldn’t read again, he threw some coin of uncertain denomination into Aaron’s hat and walked away.

“There are all sorts of crazies,” my new busker buddy explained while tapping on his hang-drum. “Some are harmless crazy and then others… they get right in your face and you don’t know if they’re going to try to punch you.” He continued playing with his warm smile that could sail through any rough waters.

A collaborative creation with acceptance, some tension coming from the unknown, and an appreciative audience. A perfect start to my chapbook tour.

 

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