Register Sunday | June 16 | 2019

Who Are You People and Why Don’t You Like Poetry the Rest of the Year?

The IFOA is winding down and my personal contribution has been over for about 24 hours now. I’ve met fun people, eaten some good food, and given at least two interviews in such a state of intoxication that the microphone should have been simply been pried from my hands and I should have been made to go sit in the corner.

The great takeaway from my week in the beating heart of Canadian literature is that this audience, the one that comes to the IFOA readings, is a unique and beautiful creature, distinct in genus from the one that attends other literary events throughout the city. I’ve been reading in Toronto now for a couple of years, and before that read in my other stomping grounds (St. John’s, Halifax, etc) and I’ve never come upon a room like the one I’ve spent my nights with on Queen’s Quay. They are attentive to the point of distraction—nary a cough or chair-squeak comes out of them. They do this while remaining generous in their applause, their sighs of melancholy, and especially their laughter. As a performer I’m a big fan of laughter, it’s the most honest and unfakeable of reactions. I’ve done readings before where I’ve been keenly aware of some “patron” texting away in the first row, only to have that same guy come up post-performance with an articulate and intellectual response to my poems. I like laughter because it doesn’t need to be thought up. It happens first, and you think about it later.

But that’s not what I want to share with you internet citizens today. What I have, more than anything, is a question. You people who come to the IFOA, who buy books, who treat me like more than the workaday-dude-with-a-cool-other-life that I am, are you aware that you can go see poetry any day you darn well please in this city? This city has twenty reading series, it has multiple colleges with vibrant lit. communities. It has all the creativity you’d expect from a city of 3.5 million that has historically served as (English-) Canada’s cultural capital. But the audience that attends these (usually free) readings has nothing in common with the one that sat enraptured by John Bemrose and Michael Crummey and especially Leon Rooke on Thursday night. This audience, God love them, goes to a poetry reading half for the poetry, and half for the nine or ten drinks thereafter. They like to chat it up in the background, holler requests like they’re at a Foghat concert, and generally soak up the pungent aroma of their fellow bohemians. There are very few “bohemians” at the IFOA (at least in the audience). One participant, who I can’t remember the name of, says he saw his dentist at a reading this week.

I feel a bit like an Olympic speed skater the day after the Olympics. The sun has shone on me and my kind for a couple of weeks, I’ve leached off the attention given to more famous participants (for the Olympics, Sidney Crosby, for the IFOA, Orhan Pamuk), but now I go back to my dark practice rink and focus my attentions on the time in between. The time when nobody cares about speed skating, save for my fellow speed skater and a hub of diehard fans. You want to say to those who came, heard you read, bought your book and said nice things, “You know, we do this stuff all the time, right? We don’t all go into cold storage the other 50 weeks of the year.”

So, to the attendees of this year’s festival: Thank you. You are an incredible gift of an audience. What are you doing next month? There’s all kinds of great stuff. The Harbourfront Centre itself is hosting a bunch of poets on the 18th as part of an Al Purdy tribute. You’ve got the Pivot at The Press Club. You’ve got Livewords, in mid-town. How about Free Speech, in my own neighbourhood of Parkdale? Stop by some time, whydontya? They’re often free, and you can even stay later for some drinks.

(From Vox Populism.)