Since 2002, I have been touring books of poetry across this massive country. The funding is rarely more than $1000 and only for transportation. $1000 will currently get a person two to three airline tickets to central locations such as Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto. If you live on the West Coast, guaranteed it won’t get you beyond Ontario. If the East, perhaps Manitoba. Thus, West Coasters, if they tour at all, rarely end up in Halifax, St John’s, Charlottetown or even Montreal. And of course any money for buses, trains or other expenses will be up to you.There was a time when Canadian poets received larger grants, more substantial travel funds and could even head abroad to perform with support. Now, due to government cuts, creative writing programs that have spewed out far more writers than this country can handle and simply a glut of poets who write a lot more than they buy or read books of Canadian poetry, there is little funding for tours.
In 2009, I did manage to tour this country from one coast to another, West to East. Mostly, this was accomplished out of my own and my spouse’s pocket. It took five weeks. My life was never the same when I returned. Not because of touring of course, but nonetheless, it is a tremendous undertaking that I spent a year or more planning and that exacerbated already present forms of stress. After 27 dates and events, I swore never to do it again, satisfied as I was with the individual performances. Now, I find it’s hard to undertake even a meager ten date tour from Vancouver to Edmonton and thence to Toronto. The venues are fewer, less of these ever apply for additional League of Canadian Poets or Canada Council funding to assist a poet to obtain small reading fees, if one publishes more than every five years, certain venues are closed to you due to the competition and it’s difficult, ironically, to get the word out, despite all our social networking sites, as people are overwhelmed by information and are less likely to attend events and certainly, to purchase books.
This is said not to complain but to express the reality of the way it is touring a book in this country now.
So why do it? When one rarely makes a dime, has to spend an excessive amount of time setting up events, with often little support from one’s publisher due to their own strained resources, and must rely on others for food, a couch, attendance.
Well, first, I love to perform. Not because I’m a “feminist narcissist” as one reviewer hilariously called me. I never knew I could perform at all until my early twenties. And I only liked it at all when I was reciting poetry or playing music and I could transcend myself and become a channel for language and sound. I felt like I was fulfilling a pact in this way, keeping an oath. That my breath and voice gave another essential life to the poem as poetry is, after all, an oral art form. Poets are word-musicians. And why tour Canadian poetry? It brings a sense of completion to the project, honours its passage into the world and assists the publishing company to distribute, sell and bring some attention to the book. I will never feel it is enough to simply promote one’s book virtually. Or, worse, to let the work go once it is between two covers. No, touring a book is part of my duty and my joy. And it reminds me of what it is to be a Canadian poet in all of its facets. That I am of this land and I must travel it to sing.