Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Coach House Spring Launch and Rope Letters

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By Melanie Janisse

Continued from Anansi and Coach House Spring Books.


"Language disappears into the body"

There is a dancing waiter taking our order. He is a symphony of break beats, poutine, orders and overalls. Dining with kevin mcpherson eckhoff is a vanishing conversation. The p of my poutine has fallen off my fork. It swims in between us on the counter while the jolly Lakeview waiter raps us a soup, a sauce, a row of peeled potatoes. Words come up for air like small guppy mouths in a pond. Words loose themselves from knotted tongues. My conversation with eckhoff didn’t even happen, I swear, but if it did, here are the questions I would ask:

MJ: How do you feel about light sabers?

kme: Light sabers are fucking unreal, until they slap you in the eye. Then they’re fucking real. But this doesn’t precisely get at your question, does it? I mean, how do I FEEL about light sabers? Melancholy.

MJ: If you could tell me one thing in sign language, what would it be?

kme: Not to sound braggy, but I can gesture you more than one thing in American Sign Language. If I had to choose one thing, though, it might be “Watch my hands!”

MJ: Do you think the sound of poems enters us through the ears, or the eyes? Explain.

kme: Sound CAN enter through the eyes, and sound CAN definitely enter through the ears. Yet, when experiencing a poem, we can clench our eyes, mouths and fists and ignore the nose, but ears don’t have such an easy kill switch. Furthermoreover, perhaps bone conductivity also unstoppably high-fives the external auditory meatus, tympanic membrane, hammer-anvil-stirrup, eustachian tube and cochlea? And if we’re silent reading on an island, well then, the sounds of poems enter through our everywhere-hairs.

MJ: Why do you think someone decided to invent alphabet soup?

kme: Nobody invented alphabet soup, while alphabet soup invented nobody.

After this fictitious interview, I begin to be unsure of how to use language. It warps in the floodlights that we stand under, it bends with cunning ferocity with every French fry. I am not sitting across from a man who relies on shorthand, so who really cares?

(Dear kevin: I am a Capricorn, who expresses)


a/ I walk into the Coach House book launch and the first thing I see is a starburst mirror. I know I am in the right place.

b/ A sprightly bearded man marches straight towards where I am standing. We speak of printing presses and peer into his iPhone at art installations.

c/ I notice eckhoff skulking around the book table and wave. I missed his reading.

d/ Rachel Zolf overhears me telling a story using many f-words. She tells me she likes a girl who says the f-word so much and with such oomph. From that moment forward, each time I pass her, I shoot her the finger. I think I have made a new friend.

e/ I watch Kyle Buckley and kevin face off with each other using rubber chickens and light sabers.

f/ I have a fabulous conversation about poetry with the bouncer on the way out of Revival. It stands as the only conversation I have had about poetry for the entire evening.


My heart is tattooed with your words, dear poets. I’m not sure I would know what to do if I were deprived of your hands, palms, breath and sleights. Two old friends from Detroit show up at Zoots unannounced. One I have known since grade two, and the other taught me the tricks of light that make Detroit, well, Detroit. Their bodies are filled with ink, hieroglyphs constructed of their own private language. They have come up here to visit a tattoo artist in order to reconfigure this language, to edit out a painful story, to replace old contracts with new ones. Specifically, a small tattoo of wire hangers is being replaced with a sterling thimble. Heartbreak morphing into protection.

I ask my friend a bit about her tattoos and this is what she wrote:

The right side of my body is dedicated to beneficence and the left side to malevolence, everything in between is combination of both. Here is malevolence:
I was having nightmares that my little studio would come to life. Things got bigger and started to come after me. The main Judy came to life and was crying about being bound in fabric. The scissors became larger than life and started to cut the fabric that was swirling around me, trying to take me under. The giant needle was working with the swirling fabric and was trying to sew me into the folds of the fabric. Pattern pieces were growing and were starting to cover the walls in my dream. The other smaller Judies started rolling around on their own looking for the main Judy to try to save it from the perils of fashion. My dream would get completely crazed and I would wake up in an absolute panic. Funny thing, after the tattoo was complete the nightmare has not returned.....fingers crossed.

I love the change in paradigm that comes with this tattoo cover-up. From the sharp metal of the hangers (an all that brings to mind) to the protective shield of sterling silver over the soft flesh of fingers. I went along to Archive Tattoo Studio — a shop that just relocated to the same strip of Dundas West as Zoots. While the thimble was materializing on her soft skin between thumb and index finger, I read Rhapsodomancy in the waiting area. Right there and then, I came across the disappearing rope letters. They danced across the page capturing my very heart. They spoke to me regarding temporality, shifting plates of semiotics, the disappearance of structure, consistency and formalism. They fit in perfectly with my open-ended life, the mystery of the next day and the next. I am reminded of shape shifting, rope tricks and freedom from constraint.

I have never gotten a tattoo. I have resisted the urge to adorn my body in hieroglyphs, wounds, distinct moments of desire, meaningfulness and drunken mistakes. This time, I do not know what has come over me. I am in love with these letters and their possibility of never existing in the first place. So, thanks eckhoff for putting me under the needle. Thankfully, the words are temporary, or at least infer that, so I am not too afraid of my decision. It is only conceptually permanent.

Melanie Janisse is a native of Windsor, Ontario where she retains memories of old docks jutting out into the Detroit River and the smell of hops. Melanie began her education by leaving home early and wandering around the abandoned houses of inner city Detroit, and then the intense forests of the Canadian West Coast. Formally she holds degrees form Concordia University in Communications and Literature and from Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Photography. Melanie has resided in Toronto for the past nine years, keeping active as a visual artist, poet, designer and shop owner. Her work has appeared in Luft Gallery, Common Ground Gallery, Artcite Gallery, Dojo Magazine, Pontiac Quarterly, The Scream Literary Festival, The Southernmost Review, The Northernmost Review and The Windsor Review. Her first poetry book Orioles in the Oranges (Guernica Editions) tells the tale of on old Metis legend, allowing it to dovetail with Detroit's gritty modernity in an unforgettable series of prose poems. Melanie is happy to be a part of Open Book: Toronto ruminating about books and book-like things around Toronto.

Click on any image to start the slideshow of photos by Melanie Janisse

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