The UKing’s Literary Society (KLS) held its first Live Poets! reading of the academic year on October 14, the fifth event in the series to date. Live Poets! began in 2019 with the aim of bringing Canadian poets to share their work with the KLS and the wider King’s community. Conducted over Zoom, the reading united Halifax-based poet and Dalhousie Department of English, and Gender and Women’s Studies faculty, Dr. Asha Jeffers, with Toronto-based poet Irfan Ali. The poets presented to an online audience that numbered over 30 people, including students, couples who watched together on the sofa, and numerous attentive viewers whose faces (and frequently, bookshelves) were illuminated by the cool glow of a computer screen. Notably, a small contingent of toddlers and pets was also in attendance.
Hosted by KLS President and third-year student Lucy Boyd, the evening began with a land acknowledgment recognizing King’s presence in Mi’kmaki, as well as the host’s own presence in Algonquin and Anishinaabe Territory. Boyd’s introduction also referenced the fact that this was the society’s inaugural event as the UKing’s Literary Society. Formerly known as the Haliburton Society, the name change reflects a long process of research and a published paper that examined namesake Thomas Chandler Haliburton. The process culminated in a vote among members and, in a statement released in August of this year, the KLS explained how its investigation led members to conclude that Haliburton is now an “inappropriate figurehead” for the group, in light of the views he held on women, African Nova Scotians, and the Mi’kmaq Nation. The new name has been chosen to better reflect what the society describes as its “aim toward clarity, diversity, and inclusion.”
Reading first, Jeffers began by introducing a series of travel poems that she has been developing for over a year and a half, and acknowledged the irony of writing about travel during a pandemic that has seen worldwide borders close. Jeffers’ writing is punctuated by moments of irony, humour, and the sensibility of a true flaneur: as she noted at one point in the evening, if you’re someone who enjoys watching other people, you can “mind somebody’s business” anywhere in the world. Within the theme of travel, subjects ranged from a tongue-in-cheek survey of capital cities and their defining attribute to another poem that mused on the existence of doppelgangers, and how it feels to encounter them in foreign lands. While Jeffers’ work as a poet remains distinct from her academic research, she noted that both focus on subjects of interest to her, namely “movement, recognition and misrecognition.”
Irfan Ali presented a selection of works from his 2020 book Accretion, a work that uses the 12th century love story of Layla and Majnun, by Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi as a “framing device” to examine the conventions of love stories. In particular, Ali wishes to draw out “the […] lurking violence” that frequently factors into these narratives. While discussing the poems Ali openly questioned his own susceptibility to such narratives, and shared insights into his personal experience that were mixed with self-deprecating humour.
Explaining that he holds a longstanding fondness for elephants, Ali read one love poem where the body of an elephant becomes a scaffold on which a lover models his ambitions to protect his loved one. Judging himself against this model, he regretfully sees his shortcomings. During the Q&A that followed the reading, one attendee asked how Ali had managed to write a work that was so awkward but still so beautiful.
Dr. Asha Jeffers’ poetry is currently featured on Halifax Transit buses as part of the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia Poetry in Motion program.
Accretion, by Irfan Ali, may be purchased online or in person from the King’s Co-op Bookstore.
The next Live Poets! will take place on Thursday, November 12 at 8p.m. Find out more on the event page.