We Went to a Death Metal Poetry Reading
Poetry is metal and metal is poetry, which is why we love “Green Eggs and Hammer Smash Face.”
Poetry is metal and metal is poetry. Death metal songs like Coffinworm’s “High on the Reek of Your Burning Remains” or Cannibal Corpse’s “I Cum Blood” drip with colourful lyrics. There are also hardcore poets, like the 19th century’s Percy Shelley, who is known for penning the apocalyptic verses of “Ozymandias.” And the time his friend allegedly ripped his heart from his flaming corpse during his funeral.
On June 29, I attended a Vertigo Series poetry event at Regina, Saskatchewan’s Crave Kitchen and Wine Bar. The Canadian Metal Gods unexpectedly gifted the evening with musical guests Flo Mounier (Cryptopsy/Digital Doomzday) and Troy Bleich (Into Eternity/Digital Doomzday/Planet Eater)
I was mostly there to support rising star poet and friend Cassidy McFadzean, who was launching a new collection of poems called Hacker Packer. Authors Barbara Kahan and Governor General’s Award‐ winning poet Lorna Crozier were also reading. Crozier is a big deal in the Canadian writing world. I’m familiar with this scene because I used to review books on TV, but I have to admit poetry readings sometimes feel like homework. As the show started, I stood at the back of the room, which was mostly filled with grey‐haired supporters.
I eyed the cheese table wondering how much I could eat before becoming a nuisance. That’s when Vertigo Series host Tara Solheim announced the musical guests. She introduced the two headbangers like they were university faculty members: “Please welcome Montreal drummer Flo Mounier of the heavy metal band Cryptopsy and Regina bassist Troy Bleich of Into Eternity and Planet Eater.” There was a smattering of applause. Two people, including me, instinctually threw up devil horns upon hearing the band names. Holy shit. I had no clue I was at death metal poetry night.
Mounier and Bleich played two numbers between readings. They kept it low key with a jazz‐fashion opener and a free‐form finale. While Bleich kicked it up with a blazing finger tapping bass ditty and Mounier occasionally broke out a tasty fill now and then, I have to say I was sad they didn’t throw in a few blast beats and brutal growls, but the crowd loved it.
After the show, I spoke with Mounier and Bleich. The two have been busy. Cryptopsy is fundraising to release The Book of Suffering EP. Meanwhile, Into Eternity signed to Kolony Records in June, and their sixth full‐length album titled Sirens comes out this fall. Planet Eater also recently released a six‐song EP in January and is planning a full‐length album.
I asked Mounier what brought him to a poetry gig in Regina. He said it was set up through friends of friends in the metal community and eventually he connected with Vertigo’s Tara Dawn Solheim. “I’m not into poetry at all,” said Mounier, “Even though tonight was awesome for me to see what it was about and hear new ideas.”
He explained the he was in town to play a show with Digital Doomzday – “one of the most brutal hip-hop groups in the world.” A new Digital Doomzday album is coming out in early September. Members include Roman Corkery (vocals), Justin Bender (guitar/vocals) and Troy Bleich (bass/voice). Bleich and Mounier met after Cryptopsy’s first Canadian tour in June, 1995. “We go back a long time,” Mounier explained, “I’m into everything. I just love playing music, playing drums and working with my friends.”
Bleich took a moment to reflect on the oddness of the poetry night, contrasting it to a Crytopsy show he saw featuring former vocalist Dan Greening a.k.a. Lord Worm. “The first time I saw Crytopsy,” Bleich said, “I was probably 15‐years‐old and Lord Worm was carried out in a coffin. He ate worms. I saw my first taste of extreme death metal. I never thought I’d be playing a wine and cheese poetry night with Flo.” Throughout the readings that night, Mounier and Bleich raised devil horns in appreciation for the authors’ darkest verses.
Here are the most metal moments and lines from the readings:
Barbara Kahan read excerpts from her father's memoir, Tending the Tree of Life, which covered topics from WWII to the benefits of LSD. Hardcore!
Cassidy McFadden read from Hacker Packer, which includes poems about animal faces being torn off on the road and lines like, “Anything can be flayed.” Dark.
Lorna Crozier closed the night with work from Small Mechanics about crows having shadows made of blood and the goddess Persephone falling in love with Hades, god of the dead. Metal! She also talked about sea lion scrotums. I don't know if those things are actually metal.
I asked Mounier and Bleich what they thought about the readings. Mounier said he enjoyed Crozier’s work. “She did a cat poem. It was a love poem? At first I thought it was going long, but then I realized she was going somewhere.” Bleich said this was his second Vertigo Series. “These poets and authors release bodies of work and put up their own money to do that. After they do their reading, they’re sitting by the merch table selling their stuff. There are so many similarities to playing music.”
A round of muddy red birthday shots came to the table for Mounier, who turned 41 that day. The two metal heads seemed to relax at not having to analyze anymore poetry. Bleich slammed his shot and laughed at the idea of opening a circle pit at poetry night. “Everyone had walkers,” he said, “Maybe we should have had a walker pit.”
Later, I caught up with British Columbia‐based Lorna Crozier to get her reaction on having two death metal evangelists throwing up horns to her work while she read. Crozier said, “I can’t think of a better compliment. I don’t think there’s anything sexier than a heavy metal drummer.” She clarified she’s been married to award‐winning poet Patrick Lane for 38 years. Mounier, not one to miss a beat, entered the room to get some equipment and spotted Crozier. The drummer walked over and planted a playful kiss on her, to which she said, “I love you! We should tour together! I’ll be your warmup act!” Mounier coolly replied, “You’d be a great addition.”
“I thought they were terrific,” Crozier said. “It doesn’t matter what the art form is, whether it’s heavy metal, hip-hop or poetry... Artists stir the human heart and body to make us sexual, vital and sad. Their music did it and I hope my poetry did it.” I asked Regina author Cassidy McFadzean if she had any favourite heavy bands. “My hometown favourite is Far From Ruin,” she said, “Didn’t they break up?”
She went on to comment about the connection she sees between her poetry and the metal genre: “(Mounier and Bleich) bring out the other side of poetry,” McFadzean laughed, “Anger. Death. Mortality.” That night, channelling the doom in the air, she read a piece called “The Avenue of Saints,” which is about roadkill. She explained the poem, saying, “The Avenue of Saints is a highway in Iowa—I went to the Iowa Writers workshop. The workshop is mostly about death and sad feelings. A lot of roadkill appears on that road... As a poet, I find that interesting.”
The Vertigo Series hosts artists working in many different genres. Organizer Tara Dawn Solheim said metal and poetry belong together. “They are highly related in essence. Both draw on words and intuition. Both deal with intricate rhythms. Both can make you feel wild or calm.”
She explained one of the goals with the series is to create a relaxed environment, where people can experience literature and take time to listen to music. I posed the possibility of getting a mosh pit going, but Solheim said Vertigo audiences aren’t ready yet. “I heard from a few people that their eyes were opened up to the world of heavy metal in a new way after the event and now they plan to go check out Flo and Troy in their own bands. They will have a chance to mosh there!” Elderly people throwing elbows in a Cryptopsy circle pit? That’s a show I don’t want to miss.
Devin Pacholik enjoys writing and worshiping Satan ‐ @DevinPatches