Richard Sanger: he’s got the write stuff

By Aaron Barrie

"I’ve always believed that poetry is really for the ear, not so much for the page," said Richard Sanger, in a recent interview.

On Tuesday night, Sanger, current Writer-in-Residence for the University of Calgary’s Markin-Flanagan Distinguished Writers Programme, gave the public an opportunity to sample some of his work.

"For me, one of the problems with poetry nowadays is that people have forgotten how to take it off the page. They don’t hear it. They see it and learn to analyze it in terms of images rather than rhythm," said Sanger. This may explain why Sanger, whose earlier work consists primarily of poetry and journalism, decided to become a playwright.

From his podium in the Engineered Air Theatre in the Calgary Centre for Performing Arts, Sanger read passages from previous works, including Not Spain and Two Words For Snow, as well as from works-in-progress, such as the play Some Mother.

"Travel lightly, write in pencil, pay your fines." This aphorism is offered by Sophie, a character who makes up half of the cast of Sanger’s Not Spain. Sanger, following this advice, has spent time all over the world. He grew up in Ottawa, as well as Connecticut, Kenya and Toronto. After spending 10 years living in Europe, he returned to Canada where he continued to write (possibly in pencil) as well as teach part-time at the University of Toronto. As for paying his fines., the police department wouldn’t return my calls.

Sanger began the evening by reading several monologues from Not Spain which describes a freelance journalist’s experiences in a war-torn city.

A passage from his next play, Two Words for Snow, followed. This play is centred in the story of Robert Peary’s 1909 Expedition to the North Pole, and the events that followed. The passage Sanger read contained Peary ranting to his son about the fact that the world isn’t crediting him for his achievement.

In his opening remarks, Sanger addresses his concern that poets tend to focus on their own voices and feelings. Consequently, poetry doesn’t deal with other people. In an effort to combat this tendency, Sanger’s plays carry with them a foreign and more worldly air rather than being limited to the writer’s own realm of experience. For example, Sanger was not present in Sarajevo during its crisis, and probably didn’t have a stint as a neo-hippie in an Ashram in Toronto–which happens to be the setting for part of his work-in-progress, Some Mother.

Sanger also read passages from poetry he has written over the years. Themes varied from traditional to more risqué. From verses describing the writer’s block encountered while writing his play Unrequited Pine, to a poem called "Tea." Don’t let the innocent title fool you; "Tea" is Sanger’s own rendition of "Fucking in the Afternoon," which describes an ironic conclusion to the afternoon’s planned activity.

If you feel you’ve missed out, don’t worry, Sanger will continue to be U of C’s playwright-in-residence until next June.

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