I had never read in Barrie before. I had certainly never performed in a clothing & knick-knacks store prior to May 3rd. But every tour, I try to add a new town, a different type of venue to my set of performative experiences. On the GO Train, crammed in with my luggage, I was met by Bruce Meyer’s wife, Kerry, who schlepped me and my bag still loaded with books to the venue, Imago, a quirky store run by the ebullient owner, Sandra Roberts, a place full of vintage clothes, copies of her high-fashion magazine, Pie, and even plastic penguins sporting bow ties. Surprisingly to me, there were maybe 10 people there, nibbling on the crackers and cheese, sipping wine and chatting animatedly. Bruce read first in his affable, elaborating way, engaging the group admirably and when I read, I definitely felt an intense level of attention and interest, some eyes brimming as they listened. Having a greater intimacy with the book by this point, I ended up extending my reading and selecting poems in the moment, rather than just sticking to my list. A rare Q & A period followed, a few book sales (I even traded a copy of Designated Mourner for a sweet hoodie!), conversations, photos and yummy sushi afterward with Bruce’s warm family prior to a night at the noisy but comfy Travelodge.
Hamilton is always lovely in its own way, even when I am fraught with grim, as happened the day of my reading. The evening prior, my host, the thoughtfully gentle Ellen Jaffe, had picked me up from the train station, and had held a dinner for me at her cottage-style home, of veggie ragout with rice, salads, buns and mince squares, of joyous conversation about vocations with guests from the poet Dave Haskins to a ballet promoter, a radio personality and even a ukelele musician. Guitar strumming on the record player. The orange cat Buffy slithering around the legs nestled beneath the round table. Despite these delights, I had a hard time sleeping and woke gloomy as sometimes occurs when I am far from my own routines. After a yoghurt and bun, I tried to stomp out my sorrows down Locke Street and it worked, through wine at a pizza place, through the windy sunshine and through the purchase of a a novel about the architect Frank Lloyd Wright and a silly kids’ book called Crabby Crab I bought after a conversation with the proprietor at Epic Books.
A meeting with my publisher Noelle Allen at Wolsak & Wynn about the next book also helped and then the crowd of 40 plus began to spill into Homegrown Hamilton for the lineup of five writers, including Susan McCaslin, Don McKay and Lisa Moore, and I focused on preparing for my recitation, asking, as I always do, to “transcend myself for art.” Due to the length of the event (I read second), I stuck to five poems and they seemed to flow smoothly, although the introduction by a host who called my book “Elegies” instead of its actual title and who decided to announce I was an art model, made me initially awkward. I also find I actually prefer singing the opening Lung poem without a mic as then I can utilize my own breath space to greater advantage. Tonight, my voice feels like it is cracking and straining a little though I oddly, at the end, get more compliments about my singing than prior. Listening to the other readers was an immense joy and having conversations with book buyers afterwards, including Lisa Moore who bought me a wine, and seeing a homeless man put what small coin he had into the donation jar before stumbling out on his rag-wrapped feet into the dark.
I should have learned by now that high expectations for any place are rarely wise as often large crowds and generous book buyers are a fluke or a trick of timing, never to be anticipated. Sometimes it is the small towns that offer immensity and the large cities that seem skimpy. In this case, I arrived in Ottawa a week following Versefest, right after April poetry month, and perhaps not an auspicious moment to be launching a book. Plus, this book contains material all don’t want to expose themselves to. And so on and so forth. At any rate, I was thrilled to be staying with Rod and Liz again, in their colourful home, complete with the pleasures of Rod’s lemon cake and conversation and Liz’s paintings and the chance to head to yoga class with her. I also slept, which always improves my spirits.
Yes, the audience was a little lacking at the Ottawa Art gallery for whatever reason. But it was hosted admirably by Max Middle, Jill Battson’s poems were a dastardly blast, and I had the chance to recite some pieces I hadn’t yet tried out including the one about why I would/wouldn’t try crack, nearly one of the most difficult poems in the book for me to read without screaming. And there were reactions: “gut wrenching,” “moving,” “beautiful delivery.” Plus this was the only funded reading on the tour, both travel and the event itself, an absolute life-saver that way. Warren sent gorgeous flowers from Chilliwack. Photos and video were shot; posters given. Then chips and wine enjoyed afterwards at the British-style hotel pub. There are never total loss readings on tour anymore. Were there ever? Not if the mind’s adventuring realm remains open.