Poetry for an Audience
- Shane .L. Koyczan (Author)
Visiting Hours. Mother Press Media (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by T.L. Cowan
Visiting Hours is the first full-length collection from internationally-admired performance poet, Shane .L. Koyczan. Since winning the Individual Championship at the National Poetry Slam in 2000, Koyczan’s reputation as a charismatic performer has allowed him to maintain a busy touring schedule. His performance credits include opening for Ani DiFranco, Spearhead, and Saul Williams. Like Williams, Tracie Morris, Maggie Estep, and others who have come up through the slam scene, Koyczan is a poetry rock star. Audiences around the world line up to buy personal copies of Visiting Hours (which includes a five-track CD); the book thus functions, in part, as a piece of memorabilia.
Formally, each poem in Visiting Hours is similar. Beginning with a capital letter, and rushing toward a period at the end, the majority of these poems are Slam-length (taking about three minutes to read at lightning speed). They have a spoken cadence, which, despite unstandardized line lengths and apparently idiosyncratic line breaks, falls easily into a sing-song metre that trips off the tongue. Like many performance poets, Koyzcan’s attention to assonance and consonance is remarkable, and, when considered as a collection of sounds, these poems are impressive.
I find extensive thematic repetition, as well, in these pages. The “Skin” series (comprised of three poems) is characteristic of the many enthusiastic erotic/ love poems that read as impressive chains of touching, and sometimes naughty, one-liners. Two of his non-sex poems, “Visiting Hours” and “Restaurant,” are narrative pieces that, like a good pop song, have the power to make audience members cry. Given prolonged consideration on the page, however—again like most pop songs—I find them wordy and melodramatic. “Move Pen Move,” the final poem of both the book and the accompanying CD, is a dirge which brings to mind W.H. Auden’s “Stop All The Clocks.” Certainly, Auden’s brevity and formal discipline concentrate the impact of his lines, but the passionate recklessness of Koyczan’s style reflects, I think, the desperate experience of dealing with the loss of a loved one. This is the strongest, and the most careful and conscientious piece in the book. I look forward to seeing Koyzcan give the same attention to poems on a broader range of topics.
Reviewing a book like Visiting Hours, one must avoid the stage/page turf war so invariably re-initiated whenever spoken word performance/poetry is discussed in relation to other poetry. Koyczan’s poems are powerful because they are hyperbolic, unabashedly sentimental, and humanist; formally, they reproduce the heightened emotional state of an evangelical preacher and the quick wit of a stand-up comic. Like most popular poetry, this work aestheticizes everyday experience, giving audiences and readers a language with which to imagine their own thoughts and lives as extraordinary. It strikes me that this is the task Koyczan’s poetry sets for itself and, therefore, this is the criterion by which it should be evaluated.
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Books reviewed: Chameleon Hours by Elise Partridge, O Cadoiro by Erín Moure, Sentenced to Light by Fred Wah, and Domain by Barbara Nickel
- Folle jeunesse by Cyril Schreiber
Books reviewed: ne pas humecter by Charles Drouin, Offrandes de la jouissance by Marylène Bertrand, and Orpailleur de bisous by Laurent Poliquin
- Three Backwards Glances by Paul Milton
Books reviewed: Road Dancers by Alden A. Nowlan, Selected Poems: 1977-1997 by Patrick Lane, and To Paris Never Again: New Poems by Al Purdy
- The Use of Beauty by Wilhelm Emilsson
Books reviewed: A Different Silence: Selected Poems by árni Ibsen
MLA: Cowan, T.L.. Poetry for an Audience. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #193 (Summer 2007), Canada Reads. (pg. 138 - 139)
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