My Lunch with Ben and David - Guest Blog

Horizons - The 2017 Edmonton Poetry Festival

This is a guest blog post by Jannie Edwards.

I had the opportunity to have lunch with two poets, both featured in the 2017 Edmonton Poetry Festival’s Clouds on the Horizon- Query?, an event that asks, “How can queer people use poetry to respond to current events while continuing to celebrate the beauty, diversity and resilience of the LGBTQ community?”

There are exactly 40 years between the two men – David Oberholtzer is 69 and Ben Ladouceur 29 – so when David came out in his 40s in the late 1980s, Ben was just getting born. The shifting zeitgeists of this 40 year generation gap offered us much to explore in their lives and art.

David is a classically trained musician, a teenage piano and organ prodigy, and music continues to dominate his creative life. As a young man, he was not pulled to write poetry – not until as a high school IB English teacher, when his search for poems to teach particular poetic concepts failed, he wrote illustrative poems himself, but presented them to the class under “poncey” pseudonyms like Hubert Ponsonby-Smythe. Throughout his long, award-winning teaching career, David neither hid nor broadcast his sexual orientation.

In contrast, Ben attended an Ottawa arts school in a literary arts stream, and wrote poetry and plays throughout junior and senior high school. One of three boys called Ben in his class, he was known as “Gay Ben.” In university, Ben became more serious about writing poetry, and his first collection, Otter, won the League of Canadian Poets Gerald Lampert Award for the best debut collection of 2016.

Responding to the question of how their poetry takes up the challenges of gay experience, both David and Ben talked about their pull to explore past lives. David has poems about composer Benjamin Britten and writer E.M. Forster. In Ben’s collection, Otter, a WW1 soldier convalescing on leave from the front overhears the homophobic rants of an Australian soldier whose accent confuses fags as fogs: “Fogs suddenly descended and it was/ Ypres again.” In “Pollen,” the voice is a young gay man in 1922 Paris, dismissive of “a man named Oscar Wildebeest” whom he calls hideous and whose charisma with “svelte and nubile gentry” he finds unfathomable.

Do you write in a male voice? Ben asked of David. Both poets agreed that when they write about love and sex, their voice is unmistakably male. Ben’s straight friend, on the other hand, writes polished, lapidary love poems to his girlfriend in a more neutral, androgynous voice. As the afternoon unfolded, our conversation spooled out, exploring much more than can be chronicled here. A memorable, enlightening encounter.

Ben and David are performing at Clouds on the Horizon – Query?. The event takes place on Saturday April 22, 2017, 6:00pm, at Latitude 53, 10248 – 106 Street Edmonton.

Jannie Edwards is Vice-President of the Edmonton Poetry Festival Society. She lives in Edmonton.