Andrew Burton, Al Rempel Reading/Spoken Word By Paul Strickland

Andrew Burton, Al Rempel Reading/Spoken Word By Paul Strickland


Aging and reflection at mid-life and approaching age inform the poetry of Andrew Burton and Al Rempel as read to about 35 listeners at a recent Spoken Word event at Café Voltaire in Prince George.

Andrew Burton has been writing poetry since he won CBC’s Post Card Award in the 1980s. The spark from getting that award encouraged him to continue writing. He has written short stories and many theatre plays, some of which have received international awards. Recently Burton was long-listed for the BC Poetry Prize. 

During Spoken Word, Andrew started out reading “Edge” from his new chapbook, Daymares: A selection of original poetry (Prince George: Street Spirits, 2018):


                                The edge of madness shimmers just out of reach . . . 


                                The is of things melts away

                                Flowing into streams of consciousness  .  . .


                                Reality is calling to balance out the cost

                                Reality takes the bus riding the schedule into 

                                A well-timed sunset

                                Yeah reality keeps the lights on for ya

                                But out here

                                Out here where the edge is

                                Crashing lead breaks of possibility

                                Always waiting in the wings are building

                                Moving ever closer to the tune

                                Of what great art a life might be.


“I spent a fair amount of time living on the street in Winnipeg . . . many years ago,” Burton told the audience.


Next, he read  “Blue Monday,” about a chance sexual encounter in an old Chevy:

                                Footprints on the window

                                That show when winter comes

                                Heartbeats slow

                                Limbs untwine

                                Eyes no longer meet  . . . 


“This is one I read frequently at poetry readings based on experiences years ago,” he said.


Burton subsequently read a poem evocative of a well-worn small town and country community halls, “One More Time”:


                                A rock show in the middle of nowhere

                                That salt-lake town in North Saskatchewan

                                In a crumbling shamble of ancient paint

                                Sustained by roller derby

                                Weekend socials

                                Open bar weddings

                                The call of some loyal order or other

                                Hanging on long past its prime . . . 


                                Big jazz, bluegrass, country, rock, soul, gospel

                                Layered into the wood

                                Stiff in the drapery

                                Deep in that old chipped paint .  .  .  .


Burton read more poems from an earlier poetry collection, Storm Seasons, Hitch-hiking to the Coast.” The starting point for the trip in Winnipeg.


Prince George poet, Erin Bauman, emcee for the event, and read one of her own poems, “Break-Up with a Cigarette,” which compared trying to quit smoking with a half-hearted effort to break up with a difficult boyfriend.


Then Al Rempel approached the stage to read from his recently published poetry collection, Undiscovered Country: new poems (Salt Spring Island, B.C.: Mother Tongue Publishing Limited, 2018. “It’s a book about being at the far side of 40,” he said.


Rempel makes his eating-money teaching high school but spends a huge amount of time writing and publishing books of poetry, some of which have been included in anthologies and other published in prestigious literary magazines.


At Spoken Word he began by reading a four-poem sequence, “Once around the Sun”:


                                We practice a low-grade form of divination: look at the trees,

                                look to the sky—what’s left, mostly,

                                is what we can see—

                                a lesson in absences, this winter,

                                both parents gone,

                                yet I think I have aged well

                                until I see the sun in the stairwell after days of cloud

                                its rhombic patch of light marching down the steps ahead of me .  .   .  .


Prince George weather and geography play a key role in the poem sequence:

                                Thunderclouds form all around

                                the rim of the bowl; we look up

                                at the clouds rising higher & higher,

                                and at the trees in the wind moving

                                against the moving clouds

                                and lose our grip on this world .  .  .  .


“Labour Day Weekend” associates the approach of fall with Death:


                                Fall is here in the forest, has stored

                                every possible colour the summer sun has been.

                                Remember? Feet dunked in the water

                               off the dock, a canoe in the distance,

                                some hollering? plum juice.  .  .  .


                                the small green birds are circling

                                in the aspen.

                                What has this to do

                                With my sorrow? how she slipped away

                                it seems, one gentle sigh

                                after another

                                how she accepted the earth


“The Shape of Care” also addresses the seasons in the North:


                                winter is outside.

                                there is treachery in the weather .  .  .  .


                                the last of the starlings

                                are tittering in the mountain ash, a wet smell,

                                first snow on juniper   .  .  .  

                                have all the pumpkins been smashed

                                by the compost bin? the rotting zucchinis, the must

                                of moldy pears lingers .  .  .  .


Rempel deals with loss in his short poem, “Near the Top,” as perceived in the Northern B.C. landscape:


                                Your grief is so close

                                under the skin, I can smell it  .  .  .  .


                                here we sit—

                                an hour spent on an outcrop


                                noting nothing much, but clouds

                                unhurried in the west


                                and how small 

                                the place we left, down below.


Providing background, Rempel said, “I grew up near Arnold, outside Abbotsford.” He read a little while longer, and then Bauman returned to the microphone to read her poem, “Standing Rock,” about the protest against pipeline development near Standing Rock, North Dakota.


 “We really need to think about responsible land use,”  she commented.


 Hannah Ryser read three of her poems: “Meeting with the Therapist,” “A Vampire at the Supermarket” (“He always works the night shift.”), and “Three Chalkboards.”


Bauman then read “Carp or Crap,” which plays on the adage about dating in hopes of finding a true partner,  “There’s always more fish left in the seas.” Bauman suggests the seas, as a metaphor for the range of dating prospects, are depleted and now offer only carp, other trash fish and offal.


Burton came back to read some of his more recent poems, including “The Way It Was.” He returned to Daymares to read “Café Society,” which he said was written in Café Voltaire:


                                It’s Sunday afternoon

                                The tables fill up fast

                                The smell of brewing coffee

                                And the scones that Sylvie bakes  

                                Bring them around again 

                                The seniors claim the windows

                                And the hipsters own the wall

                                With the after church militia 

                                On the side  .  .  .


                                It’s Sunday at the bookstore

                                And the crowd will rise and fall

                                To make or build connections

                                To talk or laugh or smile

                                To be where they belong again .  .  .  .


Rempel returned at the request of audience members to read more. He chose “Slapdash & Lopsided” from Undiscovered Country, about a night scene:


                                I’m going to follow you drunken moon all night long with one eye closed

                                Over street posts & apartment blocks & treetops

                                And through tattered leaves   .  .  .  


                                .  .  .  follow with my one eye closed tight against a paper-bag sky

                                and a good part of sorrow

                                until you fall off the table like a wayward marble

                                or until the fog rolls in and drowns you .  .  .  .


Bauman concluded that evening Dec. 20th with her poems “Buying In,” about how consumer culture is spread to other countries, and “Just Another Four-Letter Word,” concerning misunderstandings about relationships and gender roles.


Author Bio

Paul Strickland


Paul, in his 28 years as a full-time journalist and 6.5 years as a freelance journalist, Paul has worked for newspapers in Nevada, Medicine Hat, and Prince George. Besides being an investigative reporter, he is a poet, a short story writer, and an essayist. He presently resides in Prince George and haunts all the literary scenes that appear in town.