Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Gregory Betts

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Gregory Betts is an experimental poet, editor, essayist and teacher originally from Vancouver and Toronto. He is the author of If Language (2005), Haikube (2006), as well as seven chapbooks and various bits of ephemera. From his first published poem, an anagrammatical translation of a short poem by bpNichol, to his forthcoming "plunderverse" epic The Others Raisd in Me (Pedlar Press 2009), Betts's work has consistently troubled individual authorship through such mechanisms as anagrams, collaborations, and response-text writings. His essays, poems, stories and manifestos have appeared in journals and anthologies across Canada, the United States, and four other countries. He has edited editions of poetry by W.W. E. Ross, Raymond Knister and Lawren Harris and, most recently, a critical edition of selected stories, essays and manifestos by Bertram Brooker, Canada's first avant-gardist. He is the co-editor of PRECIPICe literary magazine, and curates the Grey Borders Reading Series. He lives in St. Catharines where he teaches Canadian and Avant-Garde literature. His website is

Ten Questions with, Gregory Betts


What was your first publication and where was it published?


I thought my first publication was an anagrammatic translation of a bpNichol poem included in TTbpN2, followed by a homophonic translation of the anagrams. It turns out, though, that my English teacher in highschool submitted some of the poems I had showed him to a national anthology. My mom just recently showed me the book, literally over fifteen years later. This incident inspired another round of questions about how much I know about myself.


Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

The Wrong World: Selected Stories and Essays of Bertram Brooker

By Gregory Betts (ed.)

Bertram Brooker won the country's first Governor General's Award for literature in 1936 for his novel Think of the Earth, and his explosive, experimental paintings hang in every major gallery in the country. He was Canada's first multidisciplinary avantgardist, successfully experimenting in literature, visual arts, film, and theatre. Brooker brought all of his experimental ambitions to his short fiction and prose. The Wrong World presents a rich sampling of his prose work, much of it previously unpublished, which adds new insight into his aesthetic ambitions.

Recent Writer In Residence Posts

BookThug Fall Launch 2012


Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - 7:30pm


268 Augusta Avenue
Toronto, ON
M5T 2L9


Featuring Readings by: Michael Boughn, Victor Coleman, Chantal Neveu and Angela Carr, bill bissett and Gregory Betts, Steven Zultanski, Donato Mancini and more.

Free of Charge. Books will be for sale.


268 Augusta Avenue
Toronto, ON M5T 2L9 43° 39' 24.0048" N, 79° 24' 10.3752" W

BookTour 2010: Berkeley

The first thing I learned in the Bay area: San Jose’s airport is a long way from town. Oakland and San Fran airports are both on the train line. Note to self: avoid the labyrinth of transfers, buses, shuttles, and trains next time you fly to the Bay.

BookTour 2010: Oregon

I had a stopover in Portland, and bought a big burrito in the airport. It didn’t sit right, and by the time I got to Ashland (delivered there by the next editor of the West Wind Review Sarah Cunningham), I was shivering and nauseous. My host, the wonderful and talented K. Silem Mohammad, was kind enough to give me a pass on a late evening, though we chatted about this and that in preparation for tomorrow. I slept hard, and woke up in pain. The plan was to do a workshop at the University of Southern Oregon with his creative writing students in the morning, go for lunch, explore Ashland (the Shakespeare capital of America!), go for dinner, do the reading, stay and drink, go and drink, and conclude with a party back at Kasey’s. I didn’t even get as far as breakfast.

BookTour 2010: Vancouver

Vancouver now has direct train service from the airport to the downtown. If nothing else comes out of the Olympics, this alone justifies a lot. My generous and gracious host in the maple-spangled city was Clint Burnham, of SFU. I ate on Commercial that first night at a restaurant that boasted collecting all its groceries (which were all organic) on bicycle. Team Canada lost its hockey game, leaving the thousands of human flagpoles grumpy surly or sad. The next morning, Clint kindly walked me around his local hood, popping into small galleries, book stores, comic stores, and eateries. The sun was shining its high beams, daffodils were knee high, and cherry blossoms pinked up the sky. This is what February is supposed to be like.

BookTour 2010: Banff/In(ter)ventions

Conferences are typically uneven events, pulling together disparate voices from disparate sensibilities. Conversely, the conference I was heading to at Banff (back to Banff, I should add, after two weeks down in Pincher Creek) seemed intentionally geared towards attracting a rather narrow band of participants. The title of the event was, vaguely, In(ter)ventions: Literary Practice at the Edge. It was inevitable that participants would be compelled to deconstruct such an opaque name, and I think various parts of the phrase came up half a dozen times. Perhaps because I was distracted for being filled with my Southern Alberta sojourn, I didn’t expect that my conference would actually began on the shuttle out.

BookTour 2010: Calgary

The bus arrived late, but I was able to grab a cab right away. The address for the reading was buried in my duffle. I told the driver I was going to Pages in Kensington, on Kensington I thought. He knew the place, and set off. After a moment, he looked back at me and noted that the store was probably closed.

“I’m going to an event there this evening.”
“A book launch?” he asked.
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Is it your book launch?”
“As a matter of fact, yes it is.”
“Are you a poet?”
“Yes, actually.”
“Okay, finish this: ‘Turning and turning in widening gyre.’”
“Ha, ‘The falcon cannot hear the falconer.’”

BookTour 2010: Edmonton

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.

BookTour 2010: Kingston

Driving through Toronto early Sunday morning, I hit no traffic which left me with an abundance of time. I got off the highway at Brighton and carried on Highway 2 the rest of the way. You notice a switch at Belleville as the towns get filled with limestone. Around I guess Shannonville you start seeing rock groupings in the farmer’s fields – as if the shield itself were emerging from beneath the earth to protect itself from us. Lots of military, of course, and one heartfelt handmade sign in front of a barely better than derelict building saying "Haiti needs our help -- give what you can."

BookTour 2010: Windsor

I hopped into a cab at the train station in Windsor, which sits beside the impressive – or should I say intoxicating? – Hiram Walker complex. Unlike Toronto's distillery, this one still makes things other than real-estate speculative market value. As we drove, the cabbie turned right around in his seat and asked, “Are you here for the Auto Show?”
“No,” I said. “I’m here for Windsor.”
“If you are going to Detroit, you should take the tunnel and not the bridge. It is much faster.”
“I’m not planning on going to Detroit, I’m going be here in Windsor the whole time.”
“It’s much safer in Detroit than people say, but if you want to see white people you have to avoid the downtown.”

Bertram Brooker -- Avant-Garde Writer

One Man's Guide to the upcoming Scream Literary Festival

The summer season is upon us, and one of the dreams the slow moon brings is the Scream Literary Festival. For seventeen years now, the poets have taken over venues around the city for up to a week and more, events that gradually escalate to the main stage marquee evening at High Park. Did you know that it was once illegal for poets to read poetry in Toronto Parks?


Bertram Brooker, Avant-Garde Painter

From the Vaults of Failure: A Canadian Film in Toronto

For a generous span of time, Canada's official cultural policy for cinema was ripe for economic exploitation -- provided the film in question failed. Failure, intentional failure, became a perverse goal for investors who would claim their investments as tax write-offs, receive generous cultural grants, and walk away with untaxed income at the end of the year. It was an unfortunate side-product of a genuine attempt by the government to take the idea of Canadian nationality seriously. We've since given up on that.

Here's a CBC documentary on the era. Lots of sleazy folks in there.

A Norwegian Theory of CanLit

I did a reading last night in Oslo with two Norwegian poets. I don’t speak Norwegian which meant that I could not follow the themes, images, and semantic content and organization of the poems. They were quiet and intense readers though and I felt free to enjoy the cadence of the Scandinavian language, the lifts and lilts that shaped the works. I allowed myself the illusion of listening to sound poetry – and there were enough unique vowels and letters to sustain the phantasy (Norwegian has 29 letters in their alphabet, for instance). Sarah Selmer read from her book brytningsanomaliene which combines the medical discourse of vision science with more poetic tropes of vision, identity, and landscape.

NEW Issues of OEI Reviewed

I received issues 28, 29, 30, 31, and 32 of OEI today, a genuine smörgåsbord of contemporary Scandinavian writing. OEI is one of the world's leading experimental magazines, and these two volumes (a triple issue, and a double issue) represent a diverse summary of writing activity now.

Stockholm versus Canada's America

There are few urban jewels as carefully or exquisitely wrought as Stockholm, a city of sharp and precise angles. Its streets don’t curve or sweep or swoon like Paris streets, they cut and jut unbending with sheer flat cliffs of stuccoed apartments. They hit the rivers and canals with a wall of grace, working with nature but not sacrificing anything to the wild lunge of instinct or passion. Obsessively tidy, one can feel the order of the country’s Christian theocracy in the architecture. Every detail – the height, the colour, the cupola, the turrets, the elegance of each doorway, the curlicue of each iron grid – has the hint of a symbol. Combined, these symbols evoke the feeling of a united society, blond-haired, blue eyed, educated, devote.

The Messy Garden of Contemporary Poetics

Contemporary classification of poetry is a bit of a mess. For the next few days, I will be staying in an apartment across from the Linnaeus Gardens, the birthplace of the 18th century classification system we still use. You know, the kingdom, phylum, class, order, and on system we use to organize the things in the world. Though ‘science,’ the original system was deeply embedded within the values of the period and place in which it developed. It was extremely hierarchical, deeply patriarchal, and, as it would turn out, inevitably imperialistic. Linnaeus’ Garden was, perhaps predictably, intended to replicate the Garden of Eden.

Jon Paul Fiorentino's stripmalling

All Avant-Gardes Fail

Jamie Reid has a great lead-in quote on the front door of an amazing new website on Vancouver Art in the Sixties. The quote (or does one call it an epigraph, which, at one time was limited to inscription?) reads:

"I didn't have a way of working the language of politics into the language of poetry."

So who was Bertram Brooker?

I keep calling him Canada's first avant-gardist, but what does that mean? In a series of sketches, I'd like to offer an introduction to Brooker and his revolutionary writing. He was Canada's first Futurist, flirted with Vorticism, dabbled in Cubism, and fashioned his own breed of Ultimatism. He did all of that before the First World War -- in Neepawa, Manitoba.

The sketches will be organized by vocation, starting with journalism.

Hockey Poetry: Randall Maggs, Terry Sawchuk, and Others

In light of the playoffs tonight, and the ongoing possibility of Ontario getting a third hockey team, it seems apropos to turn a little attention to Canada's favourite game run by Americans. It seems natural, given the interest in the game that Canadian artists would be turning their attention to the game. Leading the charge is Randall Maggs, whose book of hockey poems, Night Work: the Sawchuk Poems (published by Brick), is doing well and apparently keeping him very busy.

In case you missed it...

A collection of links in the news or new or close to now...


What? A Canadian avant-garde? Is that not an oxymoron? Certainly, the answer depends on who you ask -- and, perhaps more importantly, how hard you are willing to work to find an answer. No matter what definition you follow, though, and in a future post I may float a few current theories, Canadian artists have reached the avant-garde and even led the odd advance.

Over the next month, I have a few goals for this space: first-off, to introduce Bertram Brooker, ostensibly Canada's first avant-gardist; second, to highlight some contemporary work and discuss it in relation to various ideas of avant-gardism (ie. can a nature poem be avant-garde?); and third, to create a forum to discuss general ideas, events, and writings.

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.

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