Event recap: Occult Poetics -- a reading with Ariana Reines, CA Conrad, and Jessica Bebenek

Last Saturday, we were thrilled to co-present a poetry reading as part of the Occult Poetics Symposium hosted by Concordia University's Center for Expanded Poetics, featuring the phenomenal talents of Ariana Reines, CA Conrad, and Jessica Bebenek.

By the time CEP Director Nathan Brown introduced the night's proceedings, we had a completely packed house, full capacity! Brown spoke a bit about his first encounters with the work of CA Conrad and Ariana Reines and how he found, in both, a mode of engaging the world politically (facing outward) while speaking from a place of (inward-facing) tenderness, with a parallel flair for mixing high and low references, deep seriousness with raw humour.

Sandra Huber, our host for the evening, introduced our first reader, Jessica Bebenek: a "beautiful person and a beautiful soul."

Bebenek read from a work in progress entitled "I am a woman giving birth to myself," which, like the readers to follow, renovated the notion of confessional poetry with equal parts violence and vulnerability. "I have scared young men, I presume," she noted. Her poem also offered a brief discussion of healthy digestive habits, which she followed up with: "this is not a metaphor/a poem is just a good place to put your convictions." Initially, Jessica had planned to show images with her reading -- we apologize once again for our faulty projector!

Next up, CA Conrad saluted Montreal, his "February city," before announcing that he wasn't going to take up a lot of time telling us about the rituals that he had used to write his poems. (Thankfully, he changed his mind shortly thereafter). One, for example, involved going to Emily Dickinson's old house and rubbing dirt from her yard all over his body. Another involved making the Biblical book of Romans (infamous to LGBTQ folks for being used to condemn homosexuality) into an anal suppository. He also discussed his poems based on psychic communication with dogs and his love of Marfa, Texas. He was just generally amazing. Most memorable line, maybe: "Jesus didn't need balance/He had nails."

And then Ariana Reines took to the stage. Initially, we had planned to launch her latest poetry collection, A Sand Book, at this event, but it wasn't ready in time. Reines started off her reading by offering an explanation, which included an intensely personal account of a mystical experience she had in Haiti (which I won't recount here). Essentially, she told us, A Sand Book is about religious experiences and comprises things she's had to keep to herself, that she still processing, and isn't quite ready to let out into the world yet. It was also begun, she said, after Hurricane Sandy and has to do with representing both ecological and spiritual trauma in contemporary America.

Then, with characteristic irreverence, Reines followed up these intimate confidences by declaring that she would read some "Bad Daddy" poems written after the election. In what followed, she mixed up jeggings ("they happened, we were there") and a Safeway in Sedona with Mallarm√©, whose "kitschy excess of nothingness," she is is convinced, is bad on purpose. Her epic closing poem, "Open Fifths," was a staggering tour-de-force that left the whole room reeling. What can we say? We await A Sand Book with bated breath.

Thanks again to all the poets, the organizers, the CEP, and everyone (so many of you) who came out and made this event a huge success!

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