Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

elate spirit and deflate ego

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elate spirit and deflate ego

I am obsessed with used bookstores. I can be a bit of what a friend of mine would call a "nostalgia fetishist" and I don't really see the point in fighting it. It's not that I'm caught up in the myth of the perfect past — times have always been a mix of crummy and wonderful and I imagine it will always be this way — it's just that I am so in love with the uncovered artifact. This has a lot to do with why I also love shopping in thrift stores and buying vintage clothes — there's something deeply satisfying about being the one who discovers a gem adrift in a sea of crap and saves it from oblivion. I once found a signed, first edition copy of Canadian poet Daryl Hine's The Wooden Horse for a couple bucks at Goodwill. (I unwisely sent it to a poet I admired who loved Hine's work. It had the coolest cover too.)

Toronto is blessed with some great used bookstores. My favourite is The Monkey's Paw on Dundas. It's impossible for me to walk in there without buying something I suddenly know I can't live without. For this reason, I avoid going in there when I am broke. You can check out the electronic window display on the website:

I also love Frantic City (né Babel Books) on Ossington (near Argyle, north of Queen), because the owner Tim Hanna stocks great records as well as a good selection of poetry books. I bought a really weirdly packaged lecture by Ram Dass from 1969 or 1970 there that had been pressed onto a series of vinyl records with hand-drawn labels at some ashram out in Vancouver that probably no longer exists. He gets a lot of good garage and punk too. (Plus the Golden Turtle next door serves a great vegan pho.)

One of my current obsessions is this book I bought in a great used bookstore in Halifax last year (I forget the name of the store, but I always go when I'm there visiting my in-laws) called The Land on the Tip of a Hair. It's an anthology of poems selected and carved into wood by the artist Wang Hui-Ming from 1972. It includes poems by Linda Pastan, Charles Simic, William Stafford, James Tate, and Tomas Tranströmer, among others. It's a beautiful object — I love the yellowing paper and the the strong black and red type — and it's so interesting to read the poems with the line breaks blown out. The act of deciphering the text in the wood block–designs forces you to read more slowly and the images open up in a new way. It creates this new white space around the poem in the mind while it compresses the poem visually.

I'd include some of the poems here, but I don't know what the copyright situation would be. I scanned the cover, which I will attach. I also wanted to include the author/artist's statement (also carved in wood; even the copyright page is carved in wood), but I can't seem to attach more than one image per post. In his preface, Hui-Ming writes [I will type it in as it appears, but it's more powerful when read in woodcut form]:

"To All the Poets in This Book: Every word you say in these poems gives me intense pleasure in reading carving and seeing it come into print every space between words, where you do not speak, gives me a delicious pause, however momentary, to chew and to savor your art in shaping these poems. They evoke emotion, stir imagination, elate spirit and deflate ego. They make me laugh and cry, sad and mad; sometimes, they even give me strange feelings which I can not put into words. For all these, I say may your voices be heard long and far."

I Googled Hui-Ming for the first time just now and see that he's done other books, including ones that are currently available on Amazon (specifically, a series of woodcuts accompanying a collection of Robert Bly poems called Jumping Out of Bed). I found an exhibit catalog online that says he died a few years ago at the age of 84. While I'm inspired to go find more of his work, I don't think anything else will be as special as this old book I found randomly in a dusty shop corner while on vacation. I'm sad that I can't write to thank him, but I'm grateful that his love and passion for poetry survives. May his voice be heard long and far.

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.

Damian Rogers

Damian Rogers lives in Toronto. Paper Radio (ECW Press) is her first book.

Go to Damian Rogers’s Author Page