copyright 1999 Mark Bellis
TORONTO FEB 17, 1997 - In a funky little gym over Dundas , two men go eyeball to eyeball in the ring before they square off for a duel. The guy with the red beard and coke bottle thick lenses in his glasses has at least a hundred pounds on the contender, a wiry-framed surrealist. Nevertheless, the judges award the underdog the round, making a fan, her caffeine-glazed eyes blazing, scream "The fix is in!"
"You get two passive-aggressive males in the ring, it's going to get ugly" says Peter Rintoul, the heavyweight author of "Porno, Junk Food and Rock" who couldn't connect with a poem about disgusting objects he found on the TTC from his latest book "Black Box".
Steve Venright of Torpor Vigil Industries, himself a veteran organizer of poetry readings, won the round by leading with his essay on dream interpretation: "To find yourself eating liquorice in a telephone booth while an Amazonian Shaman in a bowler hat waits outside usually means that you will receive by mail a special introductory offer from a health club franchise", which got boffo laughs from the audience of about 50 which sat on the floor, between the punching bags, of The Bloor Street Boxing Gym, which despite it's name is at 2295 Dundas West.
Self described "spoken word activist" Jill Battson said she began organizing "Fightin' Words", the reading series, held every third Monday at the gym, after she watched the Tyson-Holyfield fight. "I wanted to put on a whole line of readings" and was looking for a new way to present poetry. She came up with having two poets swapping words in three round bouts in the ring of the gym, owned by Paul Ryan, a three-time Golden Gloves of Canada winner, and also a poet, who has one of his own poems spray painted on the brick wall behind the ring:
"My demons are tireless - I'll fight them forever / With no promise of Victory/For to give into them/for one instant/is to guarantee defeat". "Every fighter in the ring is fighting himself" Ryan explains, his hands taped up after teaching boxing, mostly to women who were still exercising on the floor as the poets began to arrive in the evening, "You have to defeat the demon of fear"
Ryan's pet bulldog Matilda works the crowd during the readings, snuffling up to people and gurgling and drooling loudly like a stopped-up radiator when they scratch her back, until Ryan grabs her and uses her as a pillow on a couch in the corner.
bill bissett, R.M. Vaughan, Jake Brown and Julie Crysler rounded off the card for the evening. Brown, a Montreal writer who is bringing Yawp!, a spoken word cabaret to the Rivoli on March 1st, did a reading partly in Finnish where he flung his six foot plus frame twice from the ropes to the mat.