Actual Things in an Actual World
Postering for some September events
The other day was the twentieth anniversary of my picking up and moving, with my best buddies Amy and Craig, from our home city of Edmonton to the bustling metropolis of Toronto, site of all things, centre of the universe. Eagerly I came—though I still remember the manner of sob I expelled when I parted from my family, a sob that has only issued from me that one time—to see all the copious art, and to figure out how to live otherwise, to figure out how to be a writer. I lasted three years.
The third year, I accidentally won a poetry contest, held by the now defunct Edmonton (ha) literary journal Other Voices, and I knew I had to get my ass to class. I needed guidance, and to stop working jobs, but I didn’t have money to live wagelessly, though I made frequent attempts. Student loans would float me just fine. I applied to a BFA in writing at the University of Victoria as a mature student (debatable) and they let me in.
But I’ve jumped ahead. Three years prior, to facilitate my move to la Grande Fumée, I negotiated a transfer from the backpackers’ hostel I was working at in Edmonton to their branch in Toronto, like I was working at a bank or something. Then I did test-pattern temp work, the most obliterating sort of work. I bartended at the El Macambo for about 45 seconds—I made rent in one weekend—until exactly the moment after my boss told me I needed to start dressing like a beautiful flower. I worked the front desk at a housing co-op—the last and best of all those first Toronto jobs—making and then delivering the co-op newsletter, booking events in the community hall, among other not-unpleasant tasks. But prior to that, for another 45 seconds, I put up posters, defacing all the parking machines in the Town of the Hogs to make some quick-but-paltry scratch.
I was no fan of becoming encased in the wheat-paste I painted on all available and unavailable surfaces to affix one prong of someone’s marketing strategy within easy reach of a calculated sum of sidewalk eyeballs. Often those adverts were for concerts, or plays, or movies, or festivals, or some other thing-of-the-arts occurring in the city—and as I’m typing this I wonder if that 45 seconds of slathering I did up and down Queen between McCaul and Bathurst might have led some plebe to decide that that’s it, they have to move here and figure out how to do otherwise, only to then help advertise art things to the next plebe for some quick cash, and on and on.
Well this morning, I return to that sticky work with some events to share with you, particularly for those of you who, like me, find yourselves haunting the southern parts of Ontario.
First, a Brick event:
All three of these folks—Amitava Kumar, David Chariandy, and Souvankham Thammavongsa—are on the magazine’s masthead, and they will talk craft for an hour together to help celebrate 45 years of Brick magazine. Books and Bricks (and some lovely September-themed Brick accessories) will be there for sale and signing. Tickets to the event are gratis.
Which reminds me now (sorry: twenty years brings on a case of the tangents) of when I first attended the Griffin Poetry Prize readings. I won tickets off CIUT, the U of T’s campus radio station. At the time, seats at the reading were going, I think, for a whopping $7.50 apiece, but into the Isabel Bader Theatre (was that where it was before Koerner Hall?) Mark and I strode, for nothing, in our jeans and our t-shirts, sitting in the dark at the back. That was the year Anne Simpson won, which I see makes it 2004. I recall the radio show asked a skill-testing question along the lines of “Can anyone even name one single poet nominated for the Griffin prize this year?” I loved Di Brandt, and she was nominated that year. So it was Di Brandt who got us into that theatre for free, Di Brandt who facilitated that life-affirming night.
Anyhoo, on to the second poster. (Already I’d be canned for my slowness.) I’ll be at the beautiful Eden Mills outdoor writers’ festival on the afternoon of September 11:
Eden Mills was the very first place I read that wasn’t an open mic: 2009, with Nancy Jo Cullen, Ayelet Tsabari. and Shannon Maguire, as part of a showcase of the MFA students of the still-quite-new Guelph-Humber program. I remember almost nothing about it now except general feelings of conviviality and joy.
Advance tickets are twenty-five bucks and change for the whole festival, and they run a free shuttle from Guelph if you’re carless, or want to be. In addition to reading with Madhur and Tyler and Katherine, I’ll be hosting a panel that will wander around the subject of the lyrical essay, with Joshua Whitehead, Gillian Sze, and Tanis MacDonald.
And the final poster:
The pandemic has made it so that I’m still brand new in this small city, though already I’ve lived here four years. So I’m excited to finally read in the place where I also sleep, with fellow McClelland & Stewart poet and Port Perry resident, Rob Winger. Blue Heron Books is going to sell our books, and the soon-to-open local shop Take Cover Books is going introduce itself too.
The first of the above shindigs takes place in a big, big room, the second outdoors, and the third part-way outdoors, a roof and only two walls. Recordings of the first event will be available after the fact on the library’s YouTube channel and likely also as a Brick podcast. The second two are only occurring in the actual world, though there might be snippets recorded and pasted up here or there. At all three, you can buy the writers’ books and have them signed, and you can commiserate with other writerly, readerly types, try being again for a while in the same place together. This is of course not without risk, as it has ever been. I moved to the city just before SARS did. I’ll be taking all precautions, and I hope you will too.
This week I’ve been thinking about how much I needed that togetherness as a beginner writer in my twenties, needed to be out and seeing and hearing things, being simply near others doing the thing I wanted to do. And how vital that was in helping me turn from that nearness to get down to work.