Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Roger Farr Brings Some Anarchy

By Andrew Kurjata

The CNC Caledonia Readings Series/UNBC Just West of Unruly reading series kicked off its 2008 season on February 28 when Vancouver poet Roger Farr gave a reading in Dr. Rob Budde’s Introduction to Canadian Literature class at UNBC.
Farr, an English professor at Capilano College, read from his SURPLUS series, a collection of poems “trying to document the effects of the current social and economic order,” primarily neoliberalism and global capitalism. The poems are ostensibly written in a “more or less” sonnet format. Though there is little internal rhyming, Farr tried to stick to conventional 14 lines, 10 syllables, and problem resolution in his writing, though he admits it breaks down towards the end.
He cited Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky as a primary inspiration for his work. Burtynsky, said Farr, was a pioneer in documenting the effects of industrialism on the environment and humans, often capturing beauty in scenes of great destruction. A similar theme could be heard in Farr’s reading, which conjured up images of parking lots, box stores, and poverty in a provocative and poetic manner.
During the question and answer period that followed, the discussion turned towards the motivation behind Farr’s writing style. He said that he was attracted to the sonnet format in part because it was “very colonial,” and interjecting it with political, almost Marxist language, was a way of undermining its authority. He also spoke about the difficulties of criticizing the capitalist system while operating within it. “Poetry is the only way I know of dealing with it,” he said.
One of the more interesting points of the discussion came when Farr talked about the forces of climate change and what it means for modern civilization. He said that while in the past left-leaning thinkers would look towards various social groups and movements as potential forces for overturning the exploitive capitalist system, he’s beginning to think it may be an environmental disaster that spurs on the change.
Despite the seriousness of the issues discussed, there was a fair amount of humour involved. When asked about the cover of his book, which depicts a sinking ship, he related a story in which someone in his office the same thing. “I told her it represented the sinking of civilization,” he laughed, “that doesn’t make good office chat.”
The lecture series continues this semester with David Wah appearing at UNBC and CNC on March 11, and Rita Wong coming on March 31.

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