The English and Drama Student Society’s Poetry Gala was a spectacle on something of a different level compared to previous years. Last year’s announcement of the winners and their readings, for example, took place in the Faculty Club for the benefit of the few who attended. It was lovely, but low-key. This year, they booked the Blind Duck.

It was fun, but there was something vaudevillian about it—I hardly noticed some of the poetry among all the raffling, enjoyable halal lasagna, dance music, cheesecake, karaoke, beer cups filled with iced tea, and breakdancing. To be fair, right off the bat I should have gathered from the cover charge that I would find people in suits sitting at red tablecloths when I walked in. Basically, the event got classy.

The banter of hosts Mike Dopsa and Carter Ried Kniffen wasn’t awe-inspiring, but it wasn’t entirely awkward either. It was entertaining enough to support the three-hour runtime if you also had friends to talk to and/or got a second slice of cheesecake. That’s three hours plus the open dance floor that the pub became afterwards.  There was also the raffle dilemma. Ticket 80 won, and then when nobody answered, ticket 124 was called. Then the holder of ticket 80 materialized, but “Too late,” declared the winner of ticket 124. Oh well—the proceeds went to Big Brothers Big Sisters, who are, of course, the real winners anyway.

So what was the poetry like? That’s the reason we were all there, right? Well, EDSS can be commended for allowing plenty of shortlisted contestants to read. If you don’t win, an audience respectfully quiet (perhaps owing to the garlic bread in their mouths) is actually a pretty good door prize. “Hands” by Aliza Khalid was breathtakingly beautiful. There were a few spoken word pieces, too, including one about the illegality of our occupation of Afghanistan, but somehow that particular form has lost its lustre for me. Sorry, fellow poets, it’s no reflection on you.

What can I say? There was music (I heard people around me praising Edna Bovas’ original piano songs as they nibbled on feta cheese), there was laughter, there was dancing. Even UTM Rhythm put in an appearance. There were sad reminders that the acoustics in the Blind Duck are abysmal for every application except dance music. And there was the announcement of the winners, whose means of selection I’ve always found a bit hit-or-miss—it’s based on Facebook likes.

These lucky three were Nancy Savio’s “A Part of Me” in third, a pretty good poem by Sara Peters called “A Visit to Ms. Landon” in second with an impressively sustained length, and the unfortunately vacuous “She” by Nicole Yiu in first. All of these can be read, along with the others on the shortlist, on the EDSS @ UTM Facebook group’s page.

Also, I was given the illustrious Ms. Valeria Ryrak’s poems “Downtown” and “Schooling” to read in her absence. In my humble opinion, the winners could’ve slid over to make a bit of room for her. But you shouldn’t take me too seriously. For all you know I could just be rooting for her because she’s a friend.

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