As this is my 8th cross-Canada book tour, I have a growing network of people who tend to be regularly present, as hosts, as friends and as audience members. In Cobourg, it has been, for several tours now, writer Linda Hutsell-Manning and her husband James Manning, a couple who put most youth to shame with their relentless involvements in the arts, marathons, gardening and even running a B & B. As usual
I felt instantly comfortable in their home, settling down to a lunch of squash soup and stories, after a three hour trip on the train from Ottawa where I had enjoyed a lengthy chat with a German lady named Brigitte. Even though she misunderstood my pronunciation of “elegies” as “allergies,” she still ended up buying a signed copy of the book, seemingly thrilled to meet a “real author” while returning from a week of taking care of her grandchildren. All afternoon I relished the quiet surroundings of their frog pond before my Grief Forms workshop, one of the few attended by a man, a gathering full of colourful, laughing, challenge-taking Cobourgians who make the evening sweet.
The next day, I try to prepare my reading by the pond, reciting Circular again, the madrigal, wondering if I should add it, when a hawk swirls about my head. Some kind of affirmation. I do. Then I write a poem that begins, “You wish you could sink/under the muck/and re-invent yourself/like the frogs do every winter.” 7 p.m. The 66 Meet on King Street is packed as usual with the CPW writers, all sipping tea or wine, listening to the mellifluous opening guitarist. Introduced generously by Allison, when it is my turn to read between two engaging locals, I feel confident, strong. My voice seems richer tonight, resonant and I am able to actually deliver humorous anecdotes between the darkness without sensing I am diminishing the latter by resorting to the former. The flow feels organic, despite or perhaps because of the clapping that happens between every piece. I am able to gather myself, breathe, be human. The audience is wholly present, possibly as many of them have experienced loss before. The compliments burst out after and one woman is ebullient, overwhelmingly generous, deciding to not only buy my latest but also the four other titles I have with me. This is a rare occasion. Salmon steaks were had prior; later, its dessert wine before the fire and much animated conversation with my hosts. They are even driving me to St Catharines the next day on their way to visit friends. I always feel so fortunate here.
St Catharines has always been an erratic place for me, sometimes I read to full rooms, at times to no one than the other poets, or in a back yard rather than at a reading series. This time, I arrive too early to head to my host, Greg Betts’ home, and so I plonk myself down at The Works burger joint with all my luggage. I eat a Goat Cheese Chicken wrap (the man beside me is ordering the “Born to Brie Wild” burger), drink a cider and eavesdrop on conversations for a few hours. I go to the used bookstore and buy Sven BIrkets essays, Maxine Kumin poems. Then I head to Matay, the artsty coffee house, to eat cookies with an Americano, read and eventually, change into my recitation gown (I call it my Super Hero of Grief Costume) and walk down to The Office where the other performers and I will dine with the hosts. As I stride down King street, a Native woman sitting outside a bar drawls, “Hot Stuff,” at me. Ah well, you have to take what you can get as a poet 🙂 Within minutes, it begins to pour heavily but I get to the restaurant intact, all eventually showing up for soup and fries and conversation about art, what else?
is well-attended but a complete demographic contrast to Cobourg. There, most were over 50. Here, the majority are under 30. I don’t know if that makes a difference in the response to my mortality-based content or the fact that I just can’t get into delivering light repartee tonight. Several of the other readers are highly dramatic and/or funny in a pop-sensibility way and this perhaps accounts for my need to distance myself from that urge, to be accessible or to even connect. At any rate, I recite the pieces without the mic (which is broken), on one side of the podium, fortunately having turned down pages of the book, rather than relying on a list of planned pieces. I feel very serious and this is ok. Though I know it may mean fewer book sales (it does, though who can really measure this in the end), and that I may diminish the audience’s ability to relate to me. A silence does appear to gather around me later. Though it could have nothing to do with me. Reading poems can make one self conscious of reaction, hopefully not ever during the event, but sometimes, given human frailty, after. I did appreciate the support of Adam Dickinson (his noting that the poems never tip into the sentimental) and Priscilla Brettt. And of course, Greg’s magnanimous couch, a game of Sorry with Jasper, his genius three year old, and all the ragged pancakes I and the mesmeric Sandra Ridley could manage in the morning before I grabbed my bus and train to Kingston.