by WJ Hull
In spite of constant gusts of wind, ominous clouds that blotted the sun with promise of rain, and an earlier tornado watch declared for the region, spirits were high at the McPhearson Lounge on the outskirts of the University of Windsor campus as it filled to capacity to celebrate the launch of John B. Lee’s newest anthology of poetry, “The Place That We Keep After Leaving”.
The celebration of John B. Lee’s newest work began with poet Carlinda D’Alimonte taking the podium, reciting work from both her first book of poetry, “Now That We Know Who We Are”, and a new piece for an anthology that she is currently in negotiations over publishing, reminding the local poetry community of her status as a promising new author. She was followed by charismatic poet and friend of John’s, Marilyn Gear Pilling, reading pieces both old and new, nostalgic and humorous.
Giving the audience a break from poetry, nationally renowned author Eugene McNamera took to the podium with the slow, steady surety that inevitably encompasses a seasoned artist, delivering to us a moving excerpt from one of his momentous works of prose before working his way into an unpublished poem. Next on the bill was poet Mary Ann Mulhern, who has recently launched her tremendously important work “When Angels Weep”, a powerful book of poems that explores sexual abuse in the Catholic church and its effects on the children involved.
Returning the mood to one of jovial celebration was Michael Schatte, a frighteningly skilled musician who blasted the crowd to awed silence with his passionate renditions of some of the most complex ‘folksy’ songs I’ve ever heard. Midway through his set, he even broke out a mandolin, and his set was ended with uproarious applause. He informed us of an upcoming performance at the Chatham Cultural Centre on May 23rd for what’s known locally as ‘the guitar summit‘.
Finally, it was time for the headline act. John B. Lee’s charisma shone through as he opened with an anecdote: Jimi Hendrix and The Who were backstage arguing over who should go last. Neither wanted to follow the other act, and finally Hendrix warned, ‘If I go last, I’m going to pull out all the stops.’ John then joked about doing as Hendrix did, but he had no guitar to burn.
One of the poets in the crowd then volunteered Michael’s guitar.
John’s reading was just as entertaining as his preamble. With excerpts from his book both beautiful and humorous—often both, as is the case with the poem “What Rhymes with Duck” and “Catching Blue Frogs”, as well as selected readings from some of his numerous other anthologies.
Finally, it was revealed that the book of poetry was actually edited and produced by a practicum course taught at the university, under the guidance of Black Moss Press editor-in-chief Marty Gervais, and the students directly involved in the editing, layout, production, publicity—every facet except for the writing itself—were named one-by-one and thanked for their contributions.
The atmosphere remained warm and inviting throughout, the audience insisting upon applauding between John’s poems, and when all was said and done, a good number of people eagerly jumped in-line to purchase his anthology—even more waiting to have their books signed. The launch for “The Places We Keep After Leaving” was, indeed, tremendously successful, and a treat to have witnessed.