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A Neighbourhood Walkabout

by Hannah Foulger

In the beginning, there was poetry

in the Strong Badger: coffee house.

Before we officially begin, Kevin Spenst sits amidst this flurry of excited patrons, at a corner table, writing. His pen flows up and down the page with staccato impulse. He scrawls line after line, when a thought occurs to him, and he jumps back to the first, peeling out and scratching off this new poem to set off our Poetry Walkabout. Conversation floats over top and around this new incarnation, as we wait, talking, sipping and occasionally shooting a furtive glance in the direction of our guide-poet.

He smooths out the page, satisfied, and stands to take centre stage, at the podium we imagine with our minds. This spontaneous combustion immortalizes the Strong Badger as a centre of community, with the percussive nature of the previous flurry reflected in the pace and rhythm.

Kevin here admits that this is his second poetry walkabout in Winnipeg and that his father is Mennonite born, in East Kildonan. His father’s mental illness inspired his most recent book Ignite. After committing to fifty book stops in British Columbia alone, Kevin wrote a small chapbook of lighter poems to balance the heavier ones. He shares some of these as we leave the Badger and walk down Sargent Avenue. He proclaims a poem walking backward down Sargent Avenue while we follow, half paying attention, half concerned that he may walk into traffic, a tension which only adds to his characterized performance.

Spenst does not walk into traffic. He does walk into several business and community centres, offering spontaneous poetry readings, but most turn him down. Only X-Cues acquiesces, and so, to the audience of two men and a ping pong table, he, although not about ping pong, he regrets. The corner of Sargent Avenue and Maryland Street, he shares another. Biblical inclination in this poem align with his performance, operating in alternate, one character a fire and brimstone preacher, the other a soft spoken prophet-poet, closer to Spenst himself. With spots of rain and the roar of traffic behind him, he claims no association with Moses, all traffic stops as he leads us through the water fury, unharmed, into further uncharted territory, Central Park.

Here we find two fellow two people to hear poetry. The first man a poem from our Moses, and then promptly explains back to Spenst the narrative logic. Another woman, waiting for a bus, had the last three minutes before the bus came filled with our eager faces and Spenst’s poem.

Our final stop before returning to the Badger is at the Geez magazine office, where we are hosted by editor Aiden Enns. It is a fitting place for the last poem of our Poetry Walkabout, surrounded by ten years of work into cultural resistance.

Locality, Spenst says, on the walk back, is what draws him to Geez magazine. The same desire for locality and connection is apparent not just in his work but in the way he walks the streets, offering poetry not just to us, his loyal disciples, but to anyone. It is not on indoors or the outdoors. Spenst’s poetry, as he shared it, is foot on pavement, moment to moment actuality and locality. It adheres to no divisor between the writing and the reading, the moment of truth and the making of meaning.