Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Exploring Words and Finding Memories

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Lake Waskesiu


So I’ve tackled two out of three of the books recommended to me by Joanne Saul, Samara Walbohm and Kyle Buckley at the Type five-year celebration. I couldn’t help myself and cracked into Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids to start. As I sat in Kensington Market in my little shop Pineapple, looking out into the kaleidoscope of sixties-inspired fashions peppering each and every front yard of the old Victorian-houses-cum-clothing shops, I was transported to another time — a time when a New Jersey kid from humble beginnings could make it in the Big Apple as a homeless girl, striking up conversations with hippie men and knowing all of the bakeries and restaurants that give away food at the end of the day.

I thought so much of Patti — living with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe at the Chelsea Hotel and helping him make necklaces and wearing old Persian artifacts and Victorian dresses — as I wove my way through Yorkville to visit with a friend at her gem shop on Scollard Street. I was going there to go through a small travel-worn shipping container of Rajasthan and middle-eastern artifacts that she had collected during her travels. As each item came out of the tin — still with desert dust on it — I couldn’t help but have a head full of visions of the Chelsea and the boroughs of New York — not to mention Yorkville circa 1969 — dancing through my head.

And then there is love. Most beautifully represented by a Persian necklace that Mapplethorpe bought at Brentano’s while a young Patti Smith minded the shop. She was very sad to see it go and made him promise that she would be the only girl he would ever give it to. That necklace was passed between the two during the entire duration of their love affair, friendship and the ups and downs of their rise to fame. It was passed on through Robert’s coming out onto the gay scene and was finally treasured by Patti Smith after Mapplethorpe’s death from AIDS in 1989.

I have been thinking a lot about love. I have looked around at my married friends, some very disillusioned by the pressures of everyday life. I have considered my collection of love stores that have come and gone over the years and I have wondered. What if the true nature of love is shifting? Like the Persian necklace, is love a connection that is willing to change and to endure? Can we accept that everything changes and that it is possible to love throughout, so long as we let go of our preoccupation with the endurance of a singular trajectory? I was drawn to the story of Patti and Robert in that they chose to love despite the ebb and flow of their lives, sexuality and changing times. To me, this is a beautiful thing.


Cesar Aria’s The Literary Conference came next. I picked it up and was immediately thrust into an inconceivable world where ancient riddles are solved, treasures are found and silkworms get cloned and super-sized.

What strikes me the most about Aria’s novel is the seamlessness between the believable narrative and the surreal narrative as they interweave with each other. I am for a moment simply at a literary conference and am transported in the next paragraph into the science fiction of replicating living things, and each reality somehow seems to blend easily with the other. This short work bends the mind prismatically, allowing the reader an opportunity to question what narrative looks like when it is predictable by witnessing it when it is not. I found myself more than once hooking into the predictable narrative of the story only to be taken in yet another far-fetched direction as I turned the page. I love it when predictability is challenged.


I leave you readers to your summer. May it include much outdoor fun, times away, cottages and whatever else it is that relaxes us hard-working city dwellers. I myself am wandering the boreal forest near Lake Waskesiu, reading the books penned by Grey Owl and Anaherio about their life in the Canadian wilderness.

After straying from my usual Canadian content, it is nice to read collections of writing so deeply Canadian. I am reminded of the experience of my early 20s, when I picked up The Journals of Suzanna Moodie for the first time. Grey Owl and Anaherio’s words take me back in my imagination to the same woods of Moodie, the same wild and untamed time that the early white settlers were confronted with upon hitting Canadian land. It is always a treat when you are physically standing in the location of the book you are reading, and I have spent many mornings at Lake Waskesiu, letting my eyes rest over the tiny island off of the shore that the Cree believed was haunted and letting my mind skip over a couple of lakes to where the famed beaver colony of Grey Owl and Anaherio found its final home in Prince Albert National park.

I wish you a summer of reading, exploring words and finding memories. I myself have a rather large stack of books I plan to visit throughout the silent summer nights, the beaches and the train trips that pepper my next couple of months. À bientôt!

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.

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