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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Glen Downie Did Not Have a Minor Role in "Reservoir Dogs"

I must admit, when Glen Downie began his Thin Air reading on Thursday, September 22, I momentarily thought I was listening to "K-Billy's Super Sounds of the Seventies."

Downie's voice was uncannily similar to that of the deadpan radio DJ from Reservoir Dogs, voiced by Steven Wright.  Did anyone else get that?  Just me?  Okay then.

Not Glen Downie.
Not Steven Wright.

Downie's gravelly voice became a powerful instrument for poems from his recent collection, Local News.  His pain and disappointment were palpable in works about failing neighbourhood shops, dusty attics, and old dogs.

Glen Downie's Local News.
I've been to poetry readings before and am generally underwhelmed by the reader's interpretation of their own work. Too often, readers try to jazz up their poems by shrieking or whining into the microphone. Such theatrics were not necessary for Downie.

Poems are short bursts of creativity, but for me they often lack the narrative interest of prose. If there's no discernible story going on in a poem, I get bored fast. Downie's poems painted vivid, juxtaposing scenes of decay and gentrification. He didn't need to shout or thrash his arms wildly to tell his story. The deep timbre of his voice was a perfect backdrop for sadness, confusion, and occasionally, hope.

 Glen Downie believed in his poetry, and he got a room full of college students with short attention spans to believe in it too.

His poems were the embodiment of "Show, Don't Tell."  He described a mom and pop store whose storefronts hadn't been painted in decades, where the spiders lazily spinning their webs were the only signs of activity. Instead of saying "The store was depressing and no one had been there in years," Downie's imagery lets readers draw their own conclusions.

Downie lamented the changing face of his Toronto neighbourhood, where he suspected corporate giants such as Starbucks and Home Depot would soon replace the old shops. He seemed stuck, trapped between the old ways and the new.

Stuck in the middle.  It's a weird place to be.

You didn't think I'd be able to tie the Reservoir Dogs reference back in there, did you? Well, I did. In a really lame way, but I did.