Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Remembering My Poetic and Not-So Poetic Day Jobs (Part One)

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Remembering My Poetic and Not-So Poetic Day Jobs (Part One)

Poet Sina Queyras, whose latest book Expressway was shortlisted for the Governor General's Award, has been talking to poets about their day jobs over at Harriet, the official blog of the Poetry Foundation. Specifically, she's talking with poets who don't have academic or teaching jobs. Since I teach at Sheridan College, I wouldn't qualify for Queyras' investigation, but it has given me the idea of looking back on my other day jobs and seeing how they may have affected my writing.

OCCUPATION: Warehouse worker
WHEN: For two months when I was fourteen, seasonal Christmas labour
LOCATION: Canadian Tire
EFFECT ON MY WRITING: I'm not sure spending two months shelving sporting goods in a dark and dusty warehouse, dizzy with fumes from the cleaning product aisle, did much for the development of my writing, though it did teach me to gird myself against the glib, fake smiles of corporate Human Resources robots. Perhaps that contributed to my aversion to corporate employment and my desire to seek out a life in the arts. Now that I think back on it, I'm almost sure of it.

OCCUPATION: Cook
WHEN: Various times between the ages of 16 to 23
LOCATION: Various locations, usually pizzerias and Italian family restaurants
EFFECT ON MY WRITING: There is a poem in my first book called "The Cook Comes Home for Love" which was inspired by these jobs, particularly the need to have a shower after a long shift covered in flour and olive oil.

OCCUPATION: Merry-go-round operator and paddle-boat dock hand
WHEN: One lovely summer during my undergrad
LOCATION: Springbank Park in London, Ontario
EFFECT ON MY WRITING: It was while I was doing this job, I think, that I realized I had officially become an adult. One day, a young woman who was just a few years older than me, told her three-year-old son to "give the ticket to the man." I was "the man." It was the first time in my life that I remember anyone calling me a "man" and not a "guy" or a "dude" or a "boy." Aside from that, I think a few months of watching small children ride a merry-go-round, and watching young lovers take out paddle-boats on the Thames, made me more alert to the lyrical possibilities of everyday situations. At least, I like to think that it did.

OCCUPATION: Lecturer
WHEN: 1997
LOCATION: The English Language Teachers Training College of Slupsk, Poland
EFFECT ON MY WRITING: Okay, so this is another teaching job and should be disqualified from this list, but I mention it because I think it had a profound effect on my writing. I was 23 years old, and still unsure whether painting or poetry was my true calling. After a year in Poland, I had completed only three paintings but written over a hundred pages of poetry. Not long after, I abandoned painting and committed myself to pursuits literary.

OCCUPATION: Map folder (no, really!)
WHEN: 1998 to 2001
LOCATION: Toronto
EFFECT ON MY WRITING: This was simply the worst job I've ever had. The corporation I worked for was automating all of Ontario's land records. For three years I folded highway plans, subdivision plans, and maps of easements, encroachments, etc. This was the very definition of mindless, soul-sucking labour. My first book came out during this time, and I was writing my second. My smarmy, condescending manager and the just-shoot-me corporate culture team-building exercises gave me the desire to pursue a "vie poetique" but not the means. It was a dark time. Then, one day, I opened my mail and found that I had received a grant to complete a writing project. Finally, a way out! I quit my job the next morning!

Stay tuned for part two when I enter the publishing and bookselling trade. It could get JUICY!!!

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.

Paul Vermeersch

Paul Vermeersch is the author of The Reinvention of the Human Hand (McClelland & Stewart, 2010) and three other collections of poetry. He is also the editor of The I.V. Lounge Reader and The Al Purdy A-frame Anthology.

Go to Paul Vermeersch’s Author Page