Although I am not entirely a newcomer to PARC, it was as one newly admitted to the complexity of the centre’s culture that I attend the launch of Lets Face It! Writing and Artwork from the Parkdale Activity Center, the most recent publication to emerge from the literary and artistic traditions which, I learn, have become entrenched at PARC. What might my life look like now, I wonder as I enter, passing the bank of books with their hopeful titular injunction, if I had known eight years ago that people were gathering a few dozen feet away from my residence to create stories and poems, records of their experiences?
The stage for the event is crafted as a central circle, fringed on one side by a string of drummers, beating as if to call the muses on. As the room, indirectly and yet warmly lit, fills with people, their feet take up the music of the drums, and the circle is populated by swaying arms and hips, clapping hands, heads bobbing back and forth. The dancing subsides as the musicians begin to pack up their things and preparations are made for the main event; the circle becomes a ringed wheel of spectator -participants, who voice their appreciation of each performance enthusiastically.
Introductions are given, including an explanation by Hume Cronyn, co-editor of and contributor to Let’s Face It, of the history of PARC’s literary culture, the growth and development of the Writing Group, Poetry Nite and the talents which that event had encouraged. And then the poets, who, both as poets and as individuals, are an array of unique energies; men and women, younger and older; some who prefer to declaim their poetry in short phrases, whether slow or staccato; others who seek a longer, or more prosaic, line.
The event proceeds in tripartite fashion, as the poems are read out in three groups that seem almost thematic, perhaps in reference to the arrangement of the book itself. As each poet rises to introduce themselves, they provide us with bits of personal history and information about their careers as writers and their involvement with PARC. During the first set, Renata Edan invokes the literary tradition in “Dancing Man”, a poem about writer’s block and the inhibition of the creative energies that such an ailment inflicts; Brenda Swainson maintains the literary allusion with “Character Sketch”, while moving the discourse along with her imagistic phrases, neatly measured, to notions of love, acceptance, and the empowering depiction of women. In “Flash of Light, then Dark”, more free-form and anecdotal than the others, although no less poetic, Ann Lapenna raises the issues of child abuse and neglect, and the social problems of isolation and mental illness that such abuse can engender.
During the first break I meet a man and woman outside. They tell me about the writing group, the music group, the art group. The woman is a musician; she tells me that the music group is ready to record a CD. I exult in this popular movement of creative energies, for in it I find hope for the future of this city, so transformed of late by the forces of expansion.
The poems of the second set are a juxtaposition of social commentary with naturalistic imagery. John Rogers elects to read not from his contributions to Lets Face It, but rather his folk-song-like “Christmas is All Year Round”, in which he examines the social paradox of the “christmas spirit”, contrasting its promotion of humanist ideals with the popular attitudes towards giving, acceptance and tolerance that prevail at other times of the year; his tone is wry, and joking at times, prompting appreciative outbursts of laughter from the audience. In “Native Prayer”, an elegiac record of the iniquities inflicted on native populations in this country by church and state, Alice Rogers mourns the destruction of native culture, the loss of language, land and knowledge. Almost as a hopeful counterpoint to this lamentation, Guy Ewing‘s “Mohawk Creation Story” employs a beautiful image of the world as a woman falling from the sky, her descent arrested by the intervention of geese; Ewing’s metaphor is framed in economically worded phrases, their loveliness enhanced by the spare precision of his language. With “Summertime”, Ramona Mack explores the connection between people and the natural world which sustains us; adept at constructing impressionistic metaphors, she evokes for us the richness of nature, the beauty inherent in its aspects, and our exultation in its abundance. In a return to social themes, Chris Beyers, co-editor of Lets Face It, reads Jason P. Perosa’s “Mental Illness and Emotional Turmoil: My Journey”, a personal examination of the difficulties and discrimination the author, as a person dealing with mental illness, faced while trying to make his way in society; tragically, we are told that Mr. Perosa’s journey ended in suicide, a sad reality which underscores the message of his contribution.
The second intermission is heralded by the sounds of the Lemon Bucket Klezmer Orchestra, as it wends its way down the central staircase. They play a few tunes that provoke an enthusiastic response from the audience, and there are spontaneous outbreaks of dancing here and there.
The third and final set begins with a arrangement of poems disparate in form but connected in theme; together, they comprise a poetic triptych representing various aspects of woman(hood). The free-form, staccato bursts of Sheila Stewart‘s “Parental Guidance” convey a woman, a mother wracked with concern for the welfare of her children amid the chaos of the modern world. The vivid imagery of Michelle Caron’s poem “the River” alludes to the enduring connection between woman and earth and to the use of one as a symbol for the other. Kathy Essery‘s “Kathalene, A Passive Irish Name”, richly expressed, invokes woman’s duality of power, her feeling heart coupled with her strength and endurance. Presented together, these three poems afford us a valuable insight into the ways in which women’s experiences, as well as their perceptions of themselves and their gender, differ.
The next three poems of the third set also form a stylistically divergent group. To great applause, Heinz Klein recites for us an expanded version of his poem “Put a Candle in your Heart”, ballad-like in its metrical structure, a keening record of the homeless experience and a personal appeal for love and acceptance, as well as a defiant proclamation that he, the poet, shall not yield to the encroaching disenfranchisement associated with homelessness, for he is “nameless, homeless, but…free”. No less appreciated, and by no means less powerful, is Graeme T. K. Lawson’s “love is a slow train”; the potency of its effect resides in rival forces, the brevity of its structure and the lush abundance of Lawson’s metaphors. Next, the taut wording of Jessica Bonney’s “Early Childhood Thoughts” communicates the tension and confusion of life with a parent who is afflicted by a debilitating form of mental illness, an experience to which I can relate.
The event ends on a lighter note, with Terence Eustace Williams’ reading of “Christmas Tails”, the sweet and funny story of a somewhat unorthodox Christmas celebration. The last poem to be presented is “Jigsaw”, by Bobbie Nawegahbow, who died recently; the poem is a paean to the ecumenical composition and resilient spirit of the PARC community, and its reading serves as an apt conclusion to the evening, tying all the different elements of the event together and reminding us why we are all here.
Robyn is a volunteer with PARC with a passion for linguistics. She was touched by the poems while she came to help in this event.