Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

BookTour 2010: Edmonton

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Arrived in Edmonton from Toronto and got whisked away to an evening of Thai Food and Celtic music by Erin Frith, my sister-in-law and very gracious and generous hostess. I got my first glance at the infamous Whyte Avenue, which seemed to be oddly dotted with car dealerships and slick modern cafes. Also on Whyte – after checking a few of my favourite wines, I noted that the prices were marked up $5-10 per bottle versus Ontario. Alas, someone should tell McGuinty that there might yet be some advantages to publicly owned enterprises.

I walked to the university the next morning, glad for winter boots and garb. U of A is enormous, a small city, much like York. I had intended to poke my head into the archives (to set up a future research trip, if possible), but it turns out the archives was not on campus.
“Can I walk there?”
“Oh no, it’s far too far to walk.”
“Can I take a bus?”
“Oh no, the buses don’t really go to that part of town.” And upon seeing me warming up for one last question, she answered in anticipation, “And a taxi would cost you a whole lot of money. A whole lot.” I didn’t dare ask how much exactly was a whole lot, warned by her foreboding tone. So so much for the archives.

I found a couple Wilfred Watson books that we don’t have back home and spent the morning reading, writing, and otherwise engaged. I went to lunch with Paul Hjartarson who was keen to talk on Wilfred Watson, Sheila Watson, and Marshall McLuhan and a string of interesting local activities related to them. We were eating, he told me, at the preferred venue for the Olive Reading series – started by Adam Dickinson and Andy Weaver when they were in town – where the delightful Jordan Scott is to read next week.

The reading took place in the English Department. A nice healthy crowd of people from the university and beyond sat in a circle around an off-centred podium. I read a variety of things, which seemed well received, then Re:Sounding poet Douglas Barbour read a series of poems that he doubled into homolinguistic translations by isolating the words on the margins (a technique he developed with Steven Scobie). He closed with an excellent bit of sound poetry borrowed from an American author. I was inclined to yell for “More!” but missed my chance. I was delighted to find that a number of books sold too, and happily with no bookstore to compete.

The reading was organized by Christine Stewart, the excellent KSW-affiliated author and scholar. Her class had been studying various constraint, appropriative, and conceptual writings and were perfectly primed for the workshop that followed. Asked to bring a poem that “had influenced” them in their choice to become writers, one student brought the alphabet song. The students were instructed to create plunderverse poems by deleting words and letters from their chosen texts. I joked that his task would be harder than most. His plunderpoem, however, was “A B C S / now I know my ABCs.” A number of the others were also inspired.

New friend Jenna Butler, Doug, Christine, and I ambled off for a post-event pint at a local watering hole (that happens to have excellent portobello burgers), which was the perfect cap to an excellent day. On my Whyte walk home, or amble with perhaps a hint of stagger, no less than three different groups of guys turned on me with a touch of threat: Are you following us? What are you looking at? Hey, fag. The situations were easily diffused, but I was certainly pleased to arrive home at Erin’s. I can’t remember the last time anything like any of those moments has happened to me. We watched a weird comedy that made Philadelphia look racist, drinking excellent if overpriced wine.

At the bus depot the next morning, I had another tense Edmonton run-in: the grey hounded agent noted my two bags and said I had to pay an extra $10. Sure, no problem. She said it had to be cash, when I pulled out my debit card. As I was also going to buying a ticket from Calgary to Banff, and I had no cash on me, I asked if the machines were down or if it was only the baggage fee that was cash. Perhaps she misunderstood me, but she immediately launched into a tirade about being “unnecessarily hassled” by customers like me. I kind of stood there in silence, feeling the space-time continuum shiver around me. I took my time and asked carefully, “Um, can you tell me how much a ticket from Calgary to Banff costs so I can get it from the ATM?” Obviously, naturally, inevitably, she started calling me names. Oh, Greyhound! You old dog. Barring the three agros and the greyhound grump, though, everyone else I met in Edmonton was astonishingly kind and generous.

The bus to Calgary was actually swift, safe, and entertaining. Two women sat behind me en route home after an extended vacation. They spent the trip describing in turn their favourite porn channels and their favourite movies. They were obviously excited to be returning to their loved ones. I did not sell any books on the bus, and found myself enormously distracted from my book.

2-4 February

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Gregory Betts

Gregory Betts is an experimental poet, editor, essayist and teacher. He is the author of If Language (BookThug, 2005), Haikube (BookThug, 2006) and The Others Raisd in Me (Pedlar Press, 2009). He has edited editions of poetry by W.W. E. Ross, Raymond Knister and Lawren Harris. His latest book is The Wrong World: Selected Stories and Essays of Bertram Brooker (University of Ottawa Press 2009).

Go to Gregory Betts’s Author Page