Guest Post - A Farewell Handshake

Phil Jagger, photo by Randall Edwards

Oh, that tremble of the fingers! I know it well. You can control your voice, almost, but the tremor of the page of poetry as you lift it to read aloud is a dead give-away. This is something new, something you are offering to the world, and you are afraid the world will turn it down flat.

Doing a first-ever poetry reading can be like having your central nervous system ripped out. So, to the half-dozen brave souls who put their words out for the very first time at L’Espresso Café yesterday – congratulations. It will never be quite that bad again.

They ranged from 18-year-old Matti to 60-year-old Kelly. They brought rhyming couplets or free verse, love poems or political comment. Some will go on to write and perform at the highest level. (I think of seeing Ahmed Knowmadic give his very first reading at the Edmonton Poetry Festival five years ago or so. This year he was a star at our Laugh Lines event and the assured, witty host of the Slam Finals.) Others will simply go on writing a modest poem every few months, and feel they need to share their words every now and then.

The Café Readings are the traditional wind-up afternoon for the Edmonton Poetry Festival. In some ways, it’s my favourite event. Partly because the pressure of thirty other events is off – no more rushing around with posters and books to sell and venue boxes. Partly because I know I can go home, have a glass of wine and sleep.

But mostly, because of the voices. Twenty people read at L’Espresso yesterday afternoon. There were another forty at the other two venues. They included accomplished poets who have published in literary magazines or books and given many readings. And they included the the newbies, the ones still struggling to dig their way through the enormous clichéd overburden of human emotion to the word-ore of poem.

Over and over through this past week, our event hosts reminded audiences of one of the festival’s core values: to affirm poetry’s diversity and bring together different genres, ages, cultures, levels of experience. We had put together the 2014 program to reflect that huge range – from spoken word hijinks to cerebral lectures, from page to stage and back again. The Café Readings are our final gesture to the diversity within our local community.

“Come on out,” we say to younger and older. “Give it a try. Don’t worry if your hands shake the first time.”

See you next year.

Alice Major
April, 2014

Alice Major was Edmonton’s first Poet Laureate, serving from 2005 – 2007. She is currently the president of The Edmonton Poetry Festival Society.