Attending The Line Has Shattered made me nostalgic for an event that happened before I was born. In 1963, UBC English professor Warren Tallman and poet Robert Creeley organized a three-week poetry course which gathered together some of the most influential American poets alive. Three weeks of poetry workshops. Canadians and Americans sitting down together to read and write and learn. Creeley, Ginsburg, Levertov, Avison, among other greats; what a course that must have been!
The Line Has Shattered commemorates this event precisely 46 years later. Sponsored by SFU’s Department of English, and chaired by professor Stephen Collis (thank you!), the room was full of poets of a certain age, as well as a smattering of younger poets who wanted to soak up the history of our poetic elders. Because there were so many poets reading, Stephen Collis kept his remarks to a minimum. While understandable—nobody can concentrate intently for as long as that would take—a handout detailing the background of each presenter would have been appreciated. Jamie Reid read first, and a line stayed with me: “The ghosts are guests.” Indeed, there were ghosts in the room, ghosts of that generous, fucked-up, hopeful, transformative era from whence these remarkable poets sprang. Judith Copithorne headed out into the audience to pass out a collage of influences to share with us and then invited Dorothy Trajilio-Rusk to read Gertrude Stein’s long poem If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso, that begins:
If I told him he would like it. Would like it if I told him.
Would he like it would Napoleon would Napoleon would would he like it.
Lionel Kearns spoke of Jerry Gilbert, who just passed away, but was part of this circle. Kearns then brought up William Carlos Williams’ dictum: “No ideas but in things,” and Robert Duncan’s reply, “But words are things,” which, Kearns said, offered him the freedom of a new way of thinking. Kearns left us with this line: “How it has been to have been a has been?” Daphne Marlatt was regretfully unable to read. Fred Wah spoke of the danger of having such masters, and how he was silenced for several years as he found his way out of their voices and into his own. George Bowering was playful and captivating, Michael Palmer stately and majestic, a mountain of a poet.
And where, dear poets, is our future groundbreaking cross-cultural poetry gathering? Which personalities will gather the writers and students together? Where will the next generation converge to mix it up, disturb, instruct, give it away, innovate, shock and delight, make it new, make it ours?
Guest blog post by Rachel Rose
Rachel Rose is an award winning Vancouver poet. Her most recent book of poetry is Notes On Arrival and Departure.