In which I read, while sitting in a café, in a library and in various TTC stations. While longer volumes, like Charles Palliser’s The Quincunx and Andrew Miller’s Now We Shall Be Entirely Free, stay at home.
Charles Quimper’s In Every Wave (2017; Trans. Guil Lefebvre, 2018)
Narrated by a father whose daughter has drowned, this book carries a heavy burden in a mere 80 pages (translated from the French by Guil Lefebvre). Ink and tears, tides and fish: attention and neglect wrestle readers to the page. The segments of story are arranged without numbers, without even a sense of sequence, so that at one point it has been twelve days since she drowned and her body has not been located and later she is in her father’s arms. The paragraphs wash over readers, some lapping and some swelling. My memories are gradually fading, eroded by the steady sea breeze. It’s getting harder to keep them organized, in logical order. Inside me the tide is slowly grinding you into sand.”
Aaron Schneider’s Grass-Fed (2018)
Beginning with a brochure for BlackRock Farm, Hunting Lodge and Resort, Grass-Fed invites readers to peruse advertising copy, excerpts from fictional Ondaatje-esque novels, scripts with dramatic directions, microfictions, and character-driven vignettes with boldly drawn scenes, some seemingly written by foodies and others by Russian novelists between shooting-parties). Incisive and insightful, Aaron Schneider unwelcomes readers through scenes of slaughter and seduction, asking questions about what and how we consume, on- and off-the-page. In the end, you will either want to (a) read Tolstoy under a bear-skin rug or (b) register for vegetarian cooking classes.
Cecily Nicholson’s Wayside Sang (2018)
There are poets whose work I recommend to my fellow-prose-soaked reading friends, by saying that there is a narrative thread in their work, something for prose lovers to cling to while navigating the breathy and tentative terrain of verse: Bronwen Wallace, Olive Senior, Michael Crummey, Rishma Dunlop, and Andrea Macpherson.
There are also poets whose work I admire, because it is the sort of work that throws me off-kilter and doesn’t so much share ideas as it shares a way of approaching ideas, the sort of work which feels simultaneously distant and intimate. The first I remember is Jan Zwicky’s Songs for Relinquishing the Earth, which was first published with a plain paper-bag-brown cover, and the most recent is Cecily Nicholson’s Wayside Sang, with David Garneau’s “Interregnum” as a striking cover and black-and-white endpapers showing the Ambassador Bridge. And Wayside Sang now sports a shiny little sticker, marking it the recipient of the Governor General’s Award for Poetry.
I started to read Wayside Sang while sitting in one of the two northern-most TTC stations. It acts like a hub connecting express and municipal bus lines to the city transit system and feels more like an airport than the downtown and midtown stations. Downtown, there is barely time to sit down between two stations; up north, here, you can read a cycle of poems between stations.
Travellers using this station are covering substantial distance (my own underground trip was just over 20 kilometres long). “We are all concerned with transportation. Even as we dig, build, plant, and root, even as we shelter and grow, we have been, and continue to be, on the move.” In this city, I dig and plant and root; I have found a home here, a way of belonging. “As the years tick by, I have come to terms with non-belonging as being habitat in and of itself, and a not particularly unique one at that.”
Here, in this motionful hub, I witness the “logic of borderlands / against the myth of hybrid” and movement as we all “come through, must have come through, as we all do somehow, originating in and from multiple places”. The cacophony of it all is echoed in phrases that turn back upon themselves while simultaneously pressing outward: “rebar, bared bones in spalling infrastructure”, “navigation for vagabonds”, and “custom not customs got to or gotten through”.
Like Daphne Marlatt, Sarah de Leeuw, Brenda Shaughnessy, Canisia Lubrin, Melanie Siebert, Jordan Abel and Kevin Irie, Wayside Sang considers matters of landscape and memory, space and absence, citizenship and occupation, privilege and severance, in such a way that one’s personal search for a father intersects with the history of the automobile, in such a way that one’s memories of southwestern Ontario rural roads connect to islands and other elsewheres.
What have you been carrying in your bookbag recently?