Prof spearheading Rhombus 19 aims to transcend English department’s “conservative” image

What would you call an ensemble of 13 artists that expand on traditional poetry? At the University of Ottawa, we call it Rhombus 19.

This U of O club is the brainchild of professor Robert Stacey, who is looking to unite undergrads, postgrads, and faculty members in the hopes of bringing attention to alternative types of poetry.

“The name is arbitrary because I always thought the most pretentious names involved a shape and a number,” Stacey explained. “It was something immature I decided from my undergrad.”

On Saturday, April 1, the group performed at Happy Goat Coffee Co. in Hintonburg. The show expanded from traditional poetry, giving way to performance art that emphasizes phonetic sounds and primordial vocalizations over conventional language.

In other words: sound poetry.

At the clubs’ debut performance, covers, adaptations, and original pieces were used to thoroughly amuse the crowd. Every word or noise was so well-rehearsed, yet there was still room for improv and spontaneity. According to Stacey, these pieces operated within loose frameworks for a general idea allowing for some elements of surprise.

“This group is more than just sound poetry. It’s any kind of poetry that you wouldn’t normally see. We wanted to work on collaborations that were and weren’t designed for ensemble pieces.”

Performances included a scene from Hamlet done entirely in the Klingon, an outstanding motorized razor impression, as well as a sonnet reading in English from all ages, including an interpretation 200 years from now.

As an audience member, hearing sounds in the place of words can create an instant connection to the message being conveyed.

For example, there was a piece performed by the whole cast that involved only using the sound “Oh,” which was read in a number of different ways. “Oh” may seem really straightforward until you hear how many interpretations  can be mined from it depending on the feeling. This piece had the whole audience in stitches as we were shown that a pornographic pronunciation of “Oh” is quite different from a regular “Oh.”

Because of the freedom that comes from using sounds to express an experience, humour was layered into almost every performance so perfectly. As Stacey said, “sometimes there are no words for a feeling.” Since words can be limiting, the cast made sounds available to them.

According to cast member Izzie Solis-Lozano, most of the group didn’t know what sound poetry was until joining the ensemble. She explained that there is a lot of creative freedom when you are not limited by your words, and students are able to take pieces intended for one performer and adapt it as they see fit.

More than anything, Stacey hopes that Rhombus 19 will at least provoke some kind of shift in attitude in the realm of academia.

“The group was created for two purposes,” he said. “One was to produce collegiality across different levels of the department. The second was … because the English department has a rep of doing conservative things. We bring fun, goofiness, and something avant-garde to a ‘conservative’ department.”

If students are interested in becoming part of a great collaboration, Stacey encourages them to attend the open calls that are held in the first few weeks of school in September.

The group might not be for everyone, but if you’re willing to experiment bridging literature and different visual/auditory components this might be the club for you.