What is love?- Love is a bearded lady and a bug-eyed epileptic Chihuahua named Oliver. These kinds of eclectic themes and eccentric images kept a packed house enthralled last Thursday at the "Lovers and Others" poetry reading at Cafe Sarajevo. The evening was organized by Montreal poet Ilona Martonfi Di Sclafani, and featured the talents of ten Montreal based poets, among them Stephen Morrissey, Carolyn Zonailo and Pasqual Delgado.
This is the third consecutive year that Martonfi Di Sclafani has been organizing the readings, which have also been held at the Yellow Door and the Artoteque. The first meeting took place in 1990, while Martonfi Di Sclafani was taking courses at Concordia University.
"I started off in Human Relations, at Concordia and then I chose a creative writing course for one my electives. Writing and expression are passions that I discovered about ten years ago and they became stronger and stronger." Since then, the frequency of the meetings has increased, averaging two or three meetings per month. "I enjoy networking and community building among poets, writers and people who love creative writing. It does require a lot of patience, energy and thought," she says.
Love and relationships were the central themes of most of the readings, yet each reading revealed different nuances. Intermingled with blushingly accurate depictions of lovemaking were some delightfully humorous pieces. "The At Home Spider" by Susan Gilles evoked ripples of laughter in the audience as did the debut of "Oliver the bug eyed epileptic, corner spraying Chihuahua" by Michael Harris.
The Bearded Lady returned to a more amorous tone as it depicted the relationship between two circus-show spectacles-a bearded woman and an alligator skinned man. Ian Ferrier addressed love in the era of AIDS. Some pieces such as Michael Harris' "Turning Out the Light", and Jennifer Boires' "Cherry Blossoms" brought topics ranging from death to motherhood to the forefront. At the show Di Sclafani's works touch on themes of divorce and childhood with her poems: "To My Husband", "My Clobbering Feet" and "On the Ridge."
The thematic variety reflects Martonfi Di Sclafani's open-minded approach to the gatherings, " I didn't want to have a narrow-minded vision ... I wanted to attract all of Montreal."
In discussing the process of writing there was a consensus among the poets interviewed that writing poetry does not follow a cut and dry formula as discussed by Delgado. "I need to be possessed by inspiration. You have to open yourself to the revelation. To me there is a definite distinction between poetry and prose. Poetry is sacramental . . . it writes itself," Zonailo agrees. "My inspiration lies in the fact that my poems come to me . . . they arrive. I just listen and receive them - but I don't think all writers write that way." Her husband, Stephen Morrissey, notes, "the material chooses you . . . there's not a lot of choice." Martonfi Di Sclafani suggests, "when people are hurting they write the best, the intellect and the emotions need to get involved to write a good piece." The creative process is one that perpetually challenges writers, amateurs and professionals alike. Morrissey explains, "it's life long work. You try to avoid what is fashionable and write about what is true to your own self... you can't do better than that. It's between you and your writing... listening to your inner voice and personal vision of the work."
In the dimly lit, intimate atmosphere of the Cafe Sarajevo, Delgado began warming up the listeners with his humorous "Don't bring God into this." The cozy ambiance of Cafe Sarajevo was a great venue for the descriptive voices of the poets who sent images of dewy of bodies, nimble legged spiders and bearded women hovering into the audience. Out of a chilly October night came a comfortable, warmth that made it apparent that this was an evening worth repeating.
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