Name: Melanie Janisse
Hometown: Windsor, Ontario
Current City: Windsor/Toronto Ontario
What does poetry mean to you?
One time, now quite a number of years ago, I met Nicky Drumbolis at the bar of my old café Zoots. As our talk opened up, this topic opened up. What does poetry mean? We talked of the poem as a strange beaconing system. A map of signs and symbols that points towards the evidence of a realm different than here. A border to another country. A secret handshake from others that wanders off somewheres else. Poems are what is left. The husks and shells of some sort of rabbit run that is traversed. They seem to be like kneading bread these days. Or sometimes like forming muddy wet clay. My poems, that is. Others poems feel like roadmaps into some conceptual sphere, experience, ‘mark’ (a term my friend Stephen Pender uses to describe significant impressions). They are an invitation to try and meet there, in another’s rabbit hole, for a little while. Some make it easy to join, others guard their terrain with obstacles, but nonetheless, the poem is a way in to a way of seeing that is not my own, and not usually linear or necessarily straightforward. Poetry will upset my foundations and have me out visiting other brains. Some of the experiences match up with my worldview and some do not, but the overall experiences is a willingness to enter the poem, any poem and take the chance that there is something there to visit with that is extraordinary.
Favorite Poem/Why do I like the poem?
Lately, I have been returning to this particular Robert Creeley poem. It is an encomium dedicated to poet Eddie Linden—an Irish born poet who founded the acclaimed poetry magazine Aquarius. I became interested in the idea of the encomium—a poetic form of praise—after having a huge falling out with a friend last winter. It was a classic bus throwing under moment—one that happens all of the time in the world of art and poetry. I was made fun of for claiming the identity of a poet, in front of a table full of visiting poets.
‘Are you a poet?’
‘Yes I am.’
‘I thought your were trying to be a painter these days.’
After this experience, I spent a bunch of weeks at my place on Ward Island, reeling. I had on my mind ideas of jealousy, insecurity, mean spiritedness. I had the task of trying to find a remedy for careerism, shade throwing and the way women just love to put each other back in a place of repression. The standards to which we hold ourselves up to and the force with which we will tear down another who commits to raising awareness and self-esteem within themselves. This poem to Lindon rang like a balm through that period of time. Such a simple and kind gift of friendship between two poets. A regard. It became the rallying point for my project the Poets Series. This poem was beginning research for an extended exploration into the consideration of others—a suspended meditation on the value of their contributions to poetry. What started out as a little bit of a fuck you to the person who humiliated me became a growing willingness to spend the time knowing someone, to utilize the form of encomium as an act of rebellion and redemption.
The introduction to the actual poem is of interest to me, first off, as Creeley asks his audience who has heard of Eddie Lindon. One can tell there is a show of one hand, as Creeley laughs and says ‘that makes two of us’. He goes on to speak of Lindon as a fine poet, a political radical in the Catholic Workers Protest Movement and claims that ‘no one has worked harder for a piece of his world’. I find this such a tender moment in the recording, I suppose because these are the moments where Creeley reaches past his own huge success as a poet and takes the time to give Lindon the brightness of the moment.
Within the poem itself Creeley nimbly lays out the contradictions of Linden—his fragilities and humanness are not swept under the rug in some anthemic epitaph to his good qualities, such as his activism. Creeley loves equally the nature of his drunkenness and that he is at the same time Catholic, queer, and a poet. All things are presented and examined, in such a way that the love and regard manifest within the reading and the words take the time to find all of the impressions of Linden available, the time to unearth the moment in the traffic, the offering of someone else’s cigarettes. The time is taken to paint the picture, so to speak.
In some ways, this poem to Linden created a revolution of thought within myself. Over time, my refusal to allow a certain kind of treatment in my life manifested into a refusal to engage in this kind of behaviour of my own. Over time, new friends appeared, friends who were graceful, kind and secure. There was a giant shift in the quality of my friendships and my thoughts and focus turned towards locations of new opportunity, new experiences. It’s been my reality these days to work kindly with others, to feel a part of a larger conversation of art and poetry. That came with the territory of the encomium. I have learned that no good can come out of shaming another poet or artist. It is always better to lift, to move over for a little while and let others have a moment of light. We all look for light and hope in others’ consideration. These days I can sniff out those who operate deeply within the paradigm of self-hatred/gatekeeping, and I can see how fiercely some guard the achievements they have by way of making sure that anyone threatening is given little voice or opportunity. It’s all so boring. I am finding that making my way towards marks of kindness paves the way just as well. Truly. Thanks Robert Creeley and Eddie Linden for the lesson of the year.