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Sunday, 22 May 2011

PurdyFest #4 (2010): Ted Plantos Fest

(Aug. 1, 2010)
Here is a hasty review of Purdy Country LitFest #4 written as a media release:

Events began early when Ottawa poet Jim Larwill arrived on Wednesday, July 28, and set up camp at ZenRiver Gardens. The following day 4 poets, Katharine, Simon, Melanie and Chris, made the pilgrimage to the 'teaching rocks' at Petroglyphs Provincial Park for spiritual inspiration for the festival. All four were profoundly affected by the visit.

On Friday evening the campers at ZenRiver were joined by about 20 friends for the annual potluck supper - the large chocolate cake read "PurdyFest #4". Marmora guitarist and singer Morley Ellis entertained the diners until WILBER WALNUT made a sudden appearance in Jim Larwill's poetic one-act play, which is the closest I can come to describing this jaw-dropping humourous performance piece.

On Saturday over 35 poets gathered in the William Shannon Room of the Mamora library building to celebrate the life of Toronto poet Ted Plantos, who died in 2001 at the age of 58. Most of those in attendance had been mentored by Ted in one of his many poetic activities, including his hosting of  the seminal Parliament Street Library Series and the publishing of Cross-Canada Writer's Quarterly, Canada's third largest distribution literary magazine.

It was the brainchld of Kent Bowman, Mick Burrs, and Allan Briesmaster to toast Ted Plantos at this year's Poetic Symposium. Julie McNeill MCed the event, and author and academic Terry Barker led the discussions with the presentation of his paper "Placing Ted Plantos" (the introduciton is included at the end of this email).

Mick Burrs then made an impassioned statement that Ted Plantos should be better honoured for his poetry, poetics and large personal contribution to the tradition of a Canadian People's Poetry by the academic establishment. Mick said Plantos is often grossly misplaced as a 'minor poet' by academia, if he is mentioned at all. A CD of Ted reading his most popular poems was then played, and the audience listened once again to Ted's incredible baritone readings.

Julie then invited each person present to tell a brief anecdote about their association with Ted. The memories were funny, inventive and bittersweet as the audience came to fully appreciate Plantos' legacy and the role he had played in the development of so many poets present. Ted's widow, May, drove from Toronto to hear the gathering's praise, and she was moved to tell how she and Ted met while both were working at the Parliament Street Library in Toronto.

An article by Susuan Ioannou, Ted's assistant editor at Writer's Quarterly, was among the remembrances:

"My Bay Street niece once asked if Ted Plantos wore tweeds, smoked a pipe, and spoke with a British accent between sips of sherry. I smiled as a picture of the much hardier editor/publisher I knew came to mind, of Ted after the first summer issue of the magazine had rolled off the press. In his usual rumpled T-shirt and jeans, he could be seen trudging the shady streets between the nearby printer and his home, then several days later puffing to several postboxes, one arm laden with thick brown envelopes, the other dragging behind him bundle-buggy loads of magazines to mail - That is, until the afternoon a small dog clamped its teeth on his pant leg, and despite frantic kicks, swinging, and muttering, wouldn't let go. After that, Ted got friends to drive him, or splurged on a taxi."       

After everyone in the room had had a chance to remember Ted, comments were made by the few who hadn't known Ted personally, of what a loss theirs was that they hadn't known this great poet. We left the room saddened at missing Ted Plantos in person, but unified in the literary camaraderie which was always Ted's generous gift at poetry gatherings.

At 4 pm Morley Ellis and Kent Bowman began gathering a crowd of over 50 Celebrate Marmora visitors on the islet in the middle of the Marmora Dam. They alternated singing and playing their guitars, and soft musical shades of Woodstock and the 1960s swept round the island with the Crowe River current.

Host Chris Faiers gave a brief introduction to the poetry reading, and Allan Briesmaster introduced the four poets who were launching poetry collections: Kent Bowman, RD Roy, Katharine Beeman, and Anna Plesums. The attentive crowd applauded constantly, and a large black raven perched across the river and added occasional noisy commentary.

Poets then read in a round robin set: Pearl Pirie (Ottawa), Jeff Seffinga and semi-professional kickboxer OmahaRisinG (Hamilton), Theodore, the steward of Snowlion Buddhist Centre in Toronto, Jim and Alastair Larwill (Ottawa), Stella Ducker, Carol Malyon and Julie McNeill (Toronto), Marie Wilkins and John Hamley (Marmora), and many poets whose names I don't know or can't remember (apologies), but everyone gave inspired, funny and political insights into their own and all our lives. The readings continued into the near dusk, when the crowd began drifting off for Shakespeare in the Park, or beer, or a quiet walk by the river. We were especially honoured to have an icon of Canadian literature among the audience, Jim Christy, who has bought a farm in the area with his wife.

Thus ended the formal parts of PurdyFest #4, but as I write this late Sunday afternoon, campers are still poeticizing by the banks of the Upper Moira River at ZenRiver Gardens. If you missed Purdy Country LitFests #1, 2, 3 and 4, the profound success and enjoyment of this year's LitFest guarantees you will have the chance to correct this lost opportunity next year.

to quote Kent Bowman: 'May the Fest be with you'

peace & poetry power!
Chris Faiers
host, Purdy Country LitFests


Conrad DiDiodato said...

Awesome tribute to Ted Plantos, Chris! I wish someone would put together a Collected Works edition. It would be a national treasure!

But not to be noticed by academics should be every poet's goal: the disdain or silence of the PhDs should be worn like a badge of honour.

Chris Faiers/cricket said...

thanks Conrad : )

Somewhere in the ether (or in Heaven or Brahma or Poetry Valhalla) Ted is pleased at being so warmly remembered last summer. I'm positive some of his poetry has already joined the English language poetic canon with the likes of Ted's favourites among the Lake District Romantics and the major Canadian People's Poets like Milt & Big Al.

Your comment about being ignored by the academic community is interesting, something I've often speculated on myself, tho never in print so far as I remember.

My favourite Canadian poets are almost exclusively non-academics. Acorn and Purdy (and Ted) were all proudly self-educated autodidacts. I believe the living CanPoet who most exemplifies this trad of People's Poetry is bill bissett, another self-taught poet.

All these poets have thoroughly educated themselves in the traditions and techniques of English language poetry, but the fact that all of them are self-taught gives rise to the suspicion that there is something bordering on the destructive regarding too much academic association. My friend jonbaku and I have discussed this seeming contradiction many times.

Jonbaku (who has a PhD) has toiled in the minefields of several of Canada's most prestigious universities, and these mostly negative experiences in academica have caused him to now believe that academia is stultifiying and even counter creative to many of the arts.

I've always found it ironic that profs (and yes, librarians) make their livings off the work of those often more talented - the creators of art, rather than these johnny-come-later interpreters, deconstructors and of course arbiters.

But these two solitudes need each other - the academy for its very fodder, and the 'true' or 'real' poets for the exposure and canonization - immortality - I suspect all poets wish for.

To be painfully honest, many of the arts are hot house labours of love, with woefully small audiences. Poetry, or at least good poetry of the caliber of these Canuck People's Poets, would likely fade from public awareness were it not for academia.

And so the dance continues between the academics and the 'Wild Ones', the true poets ...

Conrad, this has been an interesting start to a possibly ongoing dialogue about the interaction between academia and poetry. Thank you for broaching this topic.

peace & poetry power!

AnnaYin said...

Great. I will come to meet new friends and poets.