AroarA w/ Christine McNair, Mark Goldstein and the Dreamachine Exhibit

Niagara Artists Center, St Paul Street
St Catharines, Ontario
April 26th, 2013.

Hosts Eric Schmaltz and Craig Dodman closed a proud chapter in the Grey Borders Reading Series with a stacked bill that brought poetry, music and a Dreamachine (!!) to downtown St Catharines. Narrowly making it to the event on time, I was feeling less than prepared, having loaned my camera and succumbing to anxiety as soon as I stepped inside. (It happens, and explains in part why I didn't hurry to tidy up and post this recap a month sooner... Apologies.)

The evening commenced with Christine McNair, who was reading from her recent BookThug collection Conflict. I’m always in awe of McNair’s delivery, the way her tone and diction protect words that might otherwise sound like fragile leaps in composition. Such is the case in “Risk Assessment”, where McNair places more emphasis on the feeling of words than linear narrative. That solemn clarity underlines the title of her book by grouping ideas like white blood cells around a theme like the damaging of vital organs, or insistently repeating a word that roots itself in unresolved emotion. Elsewhere, during “Problem With Orchids”, the analysis of a flower seems to embody a rush of causes for irreconcilable relationship breakdown, with McNair choosing tributaries of action – domestic abuse, unkept promises – over cautious deliberation. Hearing McNair read provides an entirely unique perspective to poems one might respond differently to on paper. I strongly recommend experiencing them both ways.

Mark Goldstein read new, so far unpublished work; some “last poems” on decaying health but mostly writing about the “form of forms” - creation, surrogacy and birth. In “Separation”, Goldstein counted one-thousand-and-one through one-thousand-and-four, creating a verbal heartbeat and the potential for some hiccup or defect. Along with new beginnings came adopted legal phrases (i.e. “fake forgery of unrelated family”) that attached themselves to what Goldstein referred to as “a family of problems”. Yet his ruminations on personal bonds, often whispered to great effect during key phrases, superseded obligatory rites of passage and made for a greatly satisfying listen.

While many spent intermission indulging in extra drinks and conversation, I opted to check out Johnny Smoke’s Dreamachine exhibit. Under a red tent decorated with a Persian rug and sham pillows sat a spinning cylinder containing light. I closed my eyes and let its light cross my eyelids like flickering frames of an old film. I encountered no hallucinations, no transcendence. However the warm hues gradually turned green, then blue, and the frames seemed to slow each time my mind began to drift. My anxiety appreciated the time-out.

The exhibit not only added a curious element to intermission, it provided ideal mood lighting for AroarA; the husband and wife duo of Andrew Whiteman (of Broken Social Scene, Apostle of Hustle) and Ariel Engle (Moufette). Given the group’s lyrical preoccupation with Alice Notley’s In the Pines, I anticipated a more cerebral performance than anything tunefully engaging. I anticipated wrong. Having approached their set as a curious why-not, I found myself increasingly aware that I was two yard-sticks away from an amazing merger of poetry and raw musicianship. Whiteman’s showmanship was on full evangelical display and Engle’s voice, rich with soul, pulled emotion from repeated phrases over slow atmospherics and bluesy guitar licks. Their hypnotic grooves and dual vocal harmonies were consistently jaw-dropping.

As madly as I’d raced the clock to attend the final Grey Borders Reading Series event, I left to host a last-minute family function at home. But not before stopping by the merch table and collecting some must-haves... Can’t say I’ve ever left a poetry reading with a CD in hand but AroarA clearly set out to re-write some rules that evening. Congratulations to Grey Borders Reading Series on a stellar season.


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