Thursday, February 22, 2007

Anne Caston

Despite a head cold (me) and a sprained ankle (Rachel) we hobbled and clogged out into the almost-freezing Vancouver almost-dark last night to see six poets reading at the Vancouver Public Library. It was great to see our old friend Stephanie Bolster read, as well as my new friend Elise Partridge. I also enjoyed Rachel Rose's poems; I wasn't much familiar with her stuff beforehand, but I bought one of her books on the strength of one poem in particular. There was an hilarious interlude when Rhea Tregebov, in the middle of reading a very serious poem, was interrupted by a baby burping loudly and failed to keep reading several times because she kept bursting into uncontrollable laughter. The reading was a "cross-border pollination," featuring both Canadian and American readers. Camille Dungy was the first American reader, and there was some good stuff in her poems. But the highlight of the soirée, appropriately saved for last (at which point the staff of the VPL was making everyone feel most unwelcome because we threatened to cut into their Miller-time), was another American poet named Anne Caston.

I have to say, I don't keep up much with new American poetry, although I've enjoyed work by Thomas Lynch, especially, and Martin Espada. Our hyper-protectionist official culture doesn't help American poets any when it comes to getting exposure this side of the border. So Anne Caston was a complete surprise. She read very dark poems, from her 1997 book Flying Out with the Wounded (which sounds like a horribly poetic title, I know, but when you find out she used to be a nurse, the wank factor of that last word evaporates) and from a forthcoming book. The poems were near-morbid and flirted dangerously with sentimentality, but the risks she took paid off; she left more than one member of the audience agape.

This reading put a new set of shoes on a favourite hobbyhorse of mine: writers should do something with their lives that is not related to writing. Talent alone is rarely enough to bridge the gap from decent writing to ohmygodthatwasgood. Rachel Rose's best poem last night was about her past work as a phlebotomist and Caston's was directly informed by her nursing career. Things happened in these poems; people lived and died in them. The more contemplatively lyrical stuff was pretty darn pale--pretty safe--by comparison.

A few links to Caston on the web:

American Life in Poetry

Two poems

These aren't as good as a couple of the new pieces she read last night, but it gives an idea of what she's about. You can also "look through the book" at the Amazon link above.

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