It’s Okay To Laugh (for Steve Sauve)

Posted: April 8, 2010 in Poetry, Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Last night was a productive Ingredients workshop. Tonight is the Bill Brown 1-2-3 Slam. I think I will slam.

CONTEXT: January, 2009

In a previous post I said I would write about Steve Sauve later. The time is now.

Steve means a lot of things to a lot of people, but since this is my blog, let me tell you about my history with him.

In January, 2006 I went to my first poetry slam (or poetry show of any type). The show just happened to be one of those ‘accidently-seminal’ moments. Not only was it the first show I attended, it was also the first show Nadine Thornhill attended. It was the first performenace for Nathanael Larochette. It was the first performance of Mosha Folger. It was hosted by John Akpata. The slam was won by eventual Capital Slam 2006 Champion, Jim Thomas.

And the scorekeeper was Steve Sauve.

You may think it odd that my memories of my first slam would hold a special place for the scorekeeper, and you would be right. It was only in retrospect that I remembered that he was there (John Akpata introduced him as ‘dope poet’, Steve Sauve). The real awareness came when I bought the CD, Live at Capital Slam 2005 on my way out of the venue.

I listened to the CD and couldn’t stop laughing at Steve’s three part ‘Analogies’ poems. (“So Sisyphus goes into a Tim Horton’s”… is enough to get me laughing now.)

If you ever see a copy of my chapbook you will see a dedication to the three people who, due to their work and presence, turned me into a poet. The names listed are John, Kevin and Steve. John Akpata, Kevin Matthews, and Steve Sauve.

I am happy to say that he went from being ‘merely’ an inspiration and became an actual friend. The energy he brought to any room was palpable. I don’t think it is only my hindsight reflection that tells me he was someone who carried the memory of sadness, but truly seemed to have found his place and valued it even more due to the sadness he had left behind.

That was confirmed at his memorial, but more on that later.

In addition to whatever hardships he had faced growing up, Steve had faced some very serious health issues. He had an infection that had gone to his heart that culminated in open heart surgery.

Steve looked death in the face and laughed.

His view of the world after that was… different. In Steve’s words, he preferred to ‘treat every day as if it were his first’.

In the fall of 2008 he was invited to feature at the ‘Geek Slam’ held by the Vancouver Poetry Slam folks. He was looking forward to it very much. He had drifted away from poetry, as he concentrated on his return to school, and he was excited to get back to it.

Then he got sick again.

It wasn’t too serious then, but due to his track record, the doctors took no chances. The trip was off while he had to take a heavy round of antibiotics.

Obviously he was disappointed but he swore his return to poetry was legit, and not derailed by this set-back.

In December, Faye went to visit her family for the holidays. When she returned she discovered Steve, unconscious on the floor of his apartment. The infection had returned and this time it had gone to his brain.

There was a slam on January 2nd where we raised money to help Steve out, but we were also somewhat relieved due to the relatively good news. They had operated and things were looking better. He was awake and talking. He actually asked Faye to pass on a messge to everyone at Capital Slam. (The message? “I just farted.” That was Steve.)

Things did not stay good for long.

Faye’s friend Amazon contacted us on Faye’s behalf, telling us that if we wanted to say goodbye, we should come down that day.

We helped spread the word and poets converged on the hospital.

Steve was in a coma and it was only machines that were keeping him alive.

The people lining the halls reminded me of how important Steve was to all of us, both individually and as a community.

I got a chance to spend a bit of time with Steve alone, but I’ll leave what I said between me and him.

He died that night, leaving behind both a gaping hole torn through the very essence of our world… and an enduring legacy of what he meant to all of us.

I (along with others) swore that he would never be forgotten. We wouldn’t allow it.

The next day I was invited to go on the CBC to talk about Steve. It was a great honour to share thoughts about my friend.

Later we put together a tribute show where a lot of us did covers of our favourite Steve poems. Despite suffering from the lingering effects of pneumonia, I performed ‘Evil Twin’. We played tracks from the Live at Capital Slam 2008 CD that Steve had done as bookends to the show. Kevin lead us all in a rendition of Warren Zevon’s ‘Don’t Let Us Get Sick’. It was all very moving.

(An aside here… the show ran a little long. I went to Lance, who was the guy in charge of the Mercury Lounge at that moment as Sara was unable to stay, and apologized for running long. I told him we would wrap up as soon as we could – which would have meant cutting the song at a minimum – but Lance would have none of it. “This is too important.” I love the folks at the Merc.)

The real highlight of the show occured when one of Steve’s friends from when he was growing up told us about what Steve was like when he was younger and how much the poetry community in Ottawa meant to him. That place he found that let him put the sadness behind him? That place was us.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the room, I think.

I wrote this poem for Steve. I wanted to write something funny, because that is what he would have preferred. I just couldn’t do it.

This isn’t the last poem that included something for Steve in it.

I have never shared this poem before now.


    It’s Okay To Laugh (for Steve Sauve)

The world is a serious place.
You can’t avoid serious news
Telling us about wars and injustices
At home and abroad.
The world is a serious place.
We are taught to fear –
Once it was the Russians
As we were told we were
Mere moments from
A complete nuclear armageddon.
Later we were taught that
It was an environmental disaster
Or maybe terrorism
That was the real threat.
The world is a serious place.
Logic tells us that we live
In a society of cause and effect
And success comes from hard work.
Each life step leads to another
Until you achieve your goals
On a never-ending mobius strip
Of disappointing achievement
And illusory endpoints.
There is no room
For frivilous pursuits
And extraneous frippery.

The world is a serious place
Until someone reminds you
That it’s okay to laugh.

This is no time for follishness,
I hear.
The economy is spiralling so badly
The conservatives have turned into
Baby birds, looking for the next
Regurgitated, worm-laden, bailout.

It’s okay to laugh,
But this is no time to be
As one of the worst war criminals
Of our time
Retires to his ranch in Texas.

It’s okay to laugh…
How? When we feel the Gaza pain
And wonder how an entire nation
Can forget that they were
Once on the other side.

It’s hard to laugh, but it is okay.
Prisons filled with those
Who need treatment, not trials
As they are punished for choosing
The non-officially sanctioned
Mind-altering drug of choice.

The world is a serious place
And how can you laugh
When you watch some
Who could teach Hippocrates
A little something about
‘First, do no harm’
Fall to something so random…
So capricious, armitrary,

The world is a serious place
But it’s still okay to laugh.

It is the only thing that keeps
The scales tipping to oblivion.

It’s okay to laugh.

In fact, it is pretty much


I could write and write and write about Steve, but I am having trouble keeping my cheeks dry, so that’s it for today.

Listen to a Steve Sauve poem, if you have one.

  1. nadinethornhill says:

    I preface this comment with an apology- an apology for being both maudlin and saccharine.

    After reading this post and this poem, I suspect I will always see Steve’s spirit in your poetry. I’m so grateful that people like Steve touch people like you the way he did. I’m so happy we happened to go to that first slam and happier still that you found a calling there. I think it’s wonderful that Steve was a voice in that calling. I love Steve. I love you, too.

  2. Tammy MacKenzie says:

    I never knew Steve, but I wish I had.
    You are right, it’s OK to laugh, and for the sake of sanity it IS pretty much mandatory.
    And we need more people to remind us of that, to make us laugh.
    Laughter is the ultimate bane of evil and misery!
    Those who inspire others are the ultimate foil to giving up and giving in.

    I can’t compare you to Steve, Rusty, because I did not know him, but the feel of him that I have from others is that he would be most appreciative of those he has inspired paying it forward.
    And you do.
    I would say that YOU are MY Steve. 😉

  3. […] proud of… but I hadn’t performed. Basically, the content combined with the death of a good friend and great poet made the poem feel like I was talking about something that I […]

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