Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Spring, and all

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Spring, and all

By rob mclennan

I know the heaviest snow-
falls have been March’s. Nine-
teen thirty-six saw single-file
foot traffic down
Yonge Street.
          Margaret Avison, “Architecture,” Listening: last poems (2009)

The end of March, as spring returns, finally, to Ontario. The lies that they tell us, old temperature tales that seem so outdated as to suddenly falsify. We no longer trust it, snow we used to have, they would say, up to here. The first March in memory that snow hasn’t touched ground in Ottawa, with records going back but a year before the birth of my mother, 1939. Toronto was less record-breaking, but not by much (and apparently, mid-March ice-pellets in Ottawa don’t count).

Deceptive March, doing not what it should. At the ides I turn forty, and Lainna weekends with me in the capital, a packed birthday party not a block from where I born, half my life back in this city, and nearly, this neighbourhood. We dress up, for friends and the tavern, I in black blazer, tan chinos, and she in black cocktail dress, highlighting silver, radiant with sparkles in her eyes. We celebrate spring and good friends, and both times the cab comes too late.

In the beginning was the word.
Not here. Not this place. This city.
Whether Pike, Toronto (once known as York, and earlier,
    likely, named, unpronounceably/Native, and, before that,
            presumably, something, equally, Lethean)
Or an other.
            Stan Rogal, “Yonder,” Sweet Betsy from Pike (1992)

Lainna presents a paper on Toronto poets Margaret Christakos and Suzanne Zelazo at a conference at Ryerson, with Zelazo in happy attendance. Zelazo’s sole poetry collection, Parlance (2003), an elegy to her late mother while writing out Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse (1927); Zelazo writing Woolf during the same period her then-partner Stephen Cain wrote his piece referencing a lighthouse in Torontology (2001). Does one lighthouse have anything to do with the other?

The tongue chases a blond memory. Only
the distance that’s well the samplings the
touch. Repeat the optics tinged with.
Blows the rhythm graft the system open
                      and whistling.
            Suzanne Zelazo, Parlance

It is spring, and the distance of work on both ends is a chasm of distance; we’ve barely seen each other in weeks, as her school term intensifies, works towards endings. Buried in work, is it better or worse to be setting temperature records? Between layers of shed clothes, the doom of global warming certainly sets.

the writers are so serious you’d think they run the country
the artists are so serious you’d think they run the city
everyone so serious you’d think they run & hid here
I know more people here than anywhere else, not counting Vancouver
      as usual
as fast as Asparagus in April
my scruffier-than-thou attitude this year
the lushes are still hanging the visionaries
loose as a Calgary gypsy in Toronto traffic
I brought the winter back to the best April snow in 139 years
      & nobody wants it
as the cabby said, ‘People work like hell here, can’t stop, then on
      weekends a couple of drinks & blotto!’
          Gerry Gilbert, “Toronto poems is,” Moby Jane (1987)

The end of March into the beginnings of April, and with April, the arrival of the new spring books and book launches; the days of strollers and bicycles and rollerblades, of fragrant air and long walks along dusty sidewalks. Twenty-six degrees, increasingly humid, an Easter weekend as Lainna marks papers adrift on her balcony. The air so thick, it requires the rain to diffuse it.

It’s so easy to write of away or a home, but how to write of a becoming? Here I do neither, managing both, writing my slow way into the new city, this Toronto. Lainna does the same, at school, writing Christakos and Zelazo as her major research paper for her Masters, “Canadian Experimental Writing and Feminist Poetics.” Writing her way into a poetry, the writing of a fraction of city. One step at a time. A fragment of Christakos’s “Compared to Poetry” from What Stirs (2008):

Impaired, compared to poetry’s precision. Leave side door unlocked – neighbourhood’s safety net secures us. Threaded air in lousy AM music fibrous. Fibrillating heart antic for a latte, you know? Everything human simmers with a caffeine stench, blooming up.

***

Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of some twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, his most recent titles are the poetry collections gifts (Talonbooks), a compact of words (Salmon Poetry, Ireland), kate street (Moira), wild horses (University of Alberta Press) and a second novel, missing persons (The Mercury Press). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Jennifer Mulligan), The Garneau Review, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater. He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com. He will be spending much of the next year in Toronto.

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