Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cobourg Poetry Workshop Ignores Cobourg & Vic Hall

The 150th Anniversary of Victoria Hall came and went.

The poetry performance in the Old Bailey Courtroom also came and went.

There were two sessions of readings performed by Cobourg Poet Laureate emeritus, Eric Winter, and newly appointed Cobourg Poet Laureate, Jill Battson, and Port Hope resident, Patrick Gray, author of a single book of poetry, The Grace of Light, which is a limited edition.

It was an event organized and set up by the Cobourg Poetry Workshop (CPW), largely to promote and proselytize itself and its members. That it had anything to do with Cobourg, or anything to do with Victoria Hall, was almost beside the point.

The poets chose to recite British poets, American poets, and a few Canadian poets. The only link the poems had to Cobourg/Victoria Hall was that they were written during the lifespan of Victoria Hall. How easy and lazy is that! Cobourgers would be correct to think they had been short-changed.

Why was a Port Hope resident engaged to commemorate a Cobourg event? Does Cobourg not have enough poets of its own? It is understandable that the new Poet Laureate, Jill Battson, who was never a resident of Cobourg until 6 months ago, would be ignorant of Cobourg’s literary heritage, indeed, ignorant of the heritage of Victoria Hall.

It’s not difficult to find the names of Cobourg’s poets of yore who wrote and published during the 150 years of Victoria Hall’s existence. Thomas Page, the cultured editor of the Newcastle Farmer in the later half of the 1840s, blessed Cobourg with two daughters who came to prominence as poets.

Elizabeth Agnes Page, published 36 poems in a 1850 book, Wild Notes from the Back Woods, with ironic parallels to another local poet, Susanna Moodie who had written, Roughing It In the Bush, which went on to inspire renown poet Margaret Atwood. Her sister, Rhoda Anne Page was well known for her poem,

Voices From The Woods
Oh! many a voice from the sequester'd wood
May whisper to the soul in thoughtful mood,
Wisdom that comes from Heaven.

Frederick Preston Rubidge (1806-98), one of Cobourg's earliest poets, was also a producer and actor. He was noted for the sonnet:

River Otonabee
Stream of the wilderness, at whose far source
The fierce wolf lappeth, or awaits its spoil;
Through ages rolling thy ignoble course,
But now to flow with corn, with wine, and oil.

Carrie Munson Hoople was another Cobourg poet, who had published ‘Along the Way With Pen and Pencil’, New York, 1909. She was also renowned locally for her incisive parodies.

Other poets that graced Cobourg include Stanley Howell, an insurance broker at the turn of the century who cleverly combined business and poetry, and Dorothy Herriman and Virna (Stanton) Sheard.

Let us not forget that one of Canada`s renown poets, Archibald Lampman (1861-99) was educated at Gores Landing, Cobourg Collegiate and Trinity School, Port Hope.

Cobourg also had poets during the twentieth century and they can be found published in the Cobourg Sentinel Star, especially during the era when Foster Meharry Russell was publisher and editor, as well as a poet and anthologist.

Long before the CPW existed, poetry thrived in Cobourg – for five years during the late 1960s, young Cobourg poets published the anthology, Refraction, containing poems written by individuals who eventually became prominent in the town.

Although Cobourg has a rich heritage of poetry and poets, it is virtually unknown by the Cobourg Poetry Workshop, but then again, most of the self-declared poets of that group have shallow roots in Cobourg.

The Town of Cobourg asserts that the duty of the Poet Laureate is to act “as a literary ambassador for the Town of Cobourg”.

Take a look at the video above and you will see that Glenda Jackson, a member of the CPW, was proselytizing as a literary ambassador for the group, not the Town of Cobourg.

Everywhere they appear, members of the CPW boast that they are a MAJOR VENUE for poetry in Canada. It is sure that CPW are a known and welcome node for poetry in Canada, but the self-aggrandizement is a bit over the top, especially in light of the fact that they have made negligible inroads in the very community they take their name from: COBOURG.

A greet and meet of area authors was held a few weeks back in Grafton. The result was that almost twice as many authors showed up for their kudos as people who attended to meet them.

Now we have the 150th Anniversary, and the CPW failed to arouse any interest amongst the general population of Cobourg for this singular event. I was not just any anniversary, but the 150th. Such an event will not occur for another 50 years. What a pity it was squandered by poets too lazy and unconcerned to learn anything about Cobourg’s poetry legacy or the context of Victoria Hall’s legacy.

It appears that the CPW is dominated by the Better Poems and Garden set who have no other purpose than the aggrandizement of their paying members. However, I do want to thank the group for their monthly poetry readings, which includes a feature poet from outside the workshop. These ‘real’ poets are all too often friends, acquaintances or colleagues I have known for years in the poetry circles and triangles of Canada. It is a treat to have them visit my home town and sometimes drop over to my home.