Ivy: Hors des sentiers battus

 

In our town, it’s the impresarios that assure the continued survival of poetry as a performance medium. They are the tireless workers who find the venues, who publicize the events, who flatter (or rebuild) the overbearing egos of the poets and who cajole, seduce and beg a reluctant public to show up to the events.
 
In Montreal there have been some greats; the legendary Jake Brown who sat in the front row of every show bobbing his shaved head to the ragged beats, the dapper Todd Swift who went on to become a poet of renown across the pond, Lee Gotham with his handlebar mustache and his choppers, Mitsiko Miller who brought the French and English scenes together, and the late Janou St. Denis who kept the flame alive in church basements, community centres, and deserted cafes throughout the long dark winters of the 70s and 80s.
 
Ivy, aka Ivan Bielinski, is one of these fervent evangelicals, a current mainstay of the Quebec slam scene. Each week, he brings the message of slam to the denizens of the Plateau and half-a-dozen other communities in Quebec. His latest album, his third, Hors des sentiers battus (loosely translated as Off the beaten tracks) has just come out on the Productions de l’onde label.
 
It’s a strong work, with 12 of Ivy’s impeccable readings accompanied by the rich musical arrangements of Philippe Brault. Like the work of Tanya Evanson or Ian Ferrier, Ivy has made great efforts to meld his texts with an engaging popular music, and with Philippe Brault, Ivy has found a strong partner. Brault and the ten musicians that perform on the disc, give it a production value on par with that of the best of Quebec's popular singer-songwriters.
 
The poems on the disc speak to several themes, sometimes topical, like ‘Apocalypso’, whose subject is advancing climate change. Ivy underlines the idiocy of societal inaction faced with this catastrophe in the making. Others are personal, like ‘Merci’, a beautiful paean to love (with a capital M), made all the stronger by the choral arrangements of Brault.
 
Throughout the works on the disc, Ivy is preoccupied with the state of the French language in Quebec. He struggles with the question of his duty and his role as francophone poet to keep the language vital in a culture overwhelmed by the presence of English. In ‘Tibet’ he makes an oblique comparison between the national struggles of Tibet and Cuba to the relative inaction of Quebec nationalists. But as a son of an immigrant, Ivy is also aware of the dangers of a linguistically dogmatic or racially-based definition of Quebec nationalism. As he says in his poem ‘Au loto de l’univers’: “Le français c’est dans le sang / mélé / pas dans sa purété.”
 
Though Ivy’s name is English, he is working to reposition and revitalize the role of Quebec artists within the nationalist debate. As Canada drifts further and further away, enthralled by its new mantras of war and oil, what Ivy and others like him have to say will become increasingly important for Quebecers, who are searching for ways to define and realize a Quebec national project.
 
Next time you’re in Montreal, visit the slam that he presides over at O Patros Vys, 356 Mont-Royal east. For details click here.
 
To hear tracks from Hors des sentiers battus click here.