Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015


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By Melanie Janisse

I feel the slipping away of true artisan values. The other day I went through Chinatown looking for old-style painted lanterns and silk robes. My eyes were hit with quickly made and mass-produced items in shop after shop. I spent a few extra minutes in the Bonsai store and left with a hand-painted piggy bank that I rescued from a sea of items cheap and dirty.

I have a friend here in Toronto who makes beautiful bags out of recycled Obi, and she was kind enough to procure for me a tiny stream of old Haiori. I just love the careful stitches and the hand painting and dying of each piece, done with precision and skill and patience. I also cherish the Tibetan boots I own and remember chatting with the Tibet Shop owner who explained patiently to me that the Tibetans no longer make them, due to a dwindling population who is interested in the work and skill that they take. I guess the Tibetan people have enough on their mind with their displacement.

Right now I am staring at a silk kimono that I have hanging on the back of my door. I am thinking of how much discipline it takes to truly make an item as perfect and as beautiful as this. One has to have stability of culture, home and inner life as distinct structures that lead us into focused practice in order to regularly sit with the discipline of precise making. Much like the effect of the political instability in Tibet on Tibetans, the recent Tsunami and ensuing distress in Japan affects life there down to every stitch in this kimono, and I feel a little heart sick at this trickle down. I know that historical and cultural strongholds and objects dear were lost along with too many lives and homes and hopes.


Sometimes the world really falls apart. It just does. From that, we are left with what is. During the Tsunami in Japan, a friend and I sat transfixed to a YouTube video of an entire town slowly beginning to fill up with water. Once the water got momentum, we witnessed entire buildings coming loose from the ground. First the shanties of the poor, but eventually the more sturdily built dwellings began to sway into the rhythm of the water.

While watching the video, I was filled with a sickening feeling as I experienced a collision of the beautiful and the horrible, not to mention the deep undoing of a place old and highly structured. Near the end of the video, I thought of Marshall Mcluhan and his discourse on the helplessness the individual feels in the global village of world media. I was left with an odd voyeuristic feeling and a sadness that grew large and uncomfortable.

I feel in these moments that we must do something, regardless of its scope. But what? Shortly after watching the video, Sachiko Murakami approached me to take part in a Renga for Japan. She asked 27 poets to take part in the traditional and collective poetry form. It seems small, a couple of lines (syllable count 7/7), but I suppose that each stitch on a kimono does too. Each brush of dye must sometimes feel so meaningless. But if it isn’t for these little parts that we play, we have no roots, no individual stake in the larger whole. The buildings of our soul, our community just start to float away and we are faced with the question, "Will we bother to rebuild and if we do, what will we build out of?" The few lines I penned felt like one stitch and kept me from nothingness.

A Renga in 27 parts

by (in order of appearance)

Sachiko Murakami, Melanie Janisse, Nathanie G Moore, Jacob McArthur Mooney, Dani Couture, Paul Vermeersch, Mat Laporte, Angela Hibbs,
Jim Johnstone, Shannon Maguire, Adam Seelig, Liz Howard, a.rawlings, Jenny Sampirisi, Natalie Walschots, Carey Toane, Jay MillAr, Aaron Tucker, Jeff Latosik, Aisha Sasha John, Moez Surani, Leigh Nash, Meaghan Strimas, Michael Knox, Elisabeth de Mariaffi, Stuart Ross and Larissa Lai

Another lozenge,
steam-breath prayer for the last thaw –
then check, ok-a-lee –

another steam another
air frost tongue to creator

these tears like talcum
are whipping from wind and rain
I hold these terrors

light, and light's supervision.
On TV: everyone waddles.

Mud and what's not mud
is smoking, still spring creeps in
one petal, another, more.

A leaf shakes, and another
This time, it's only the wind

the surge of leafless
March, of secluded trunks, sleep
pressed rough and noon-glazed

spring descends. Finds us yoked to
what we own and do not own:

tremors, mortar re-
positioned on touch, recast
as a folded page –

ebullient syllables
sobered by earth-line's disrupt

links we have and have
to say hello is human
pollen carrying waves,

fracture along immersed light
cloud cover and love of hope

clover, slobbered, mud
molten, birdsong, pollen, sprung
arch, of Mrch, pressed Mar

winged crocus say on say on
Ochre shore, swan states, lily

tongue cleaves soft palate
as planet shifts, a sharp breath
carries word, green leaves

and what’s left of the morning.
What sounds remain, shallow shores

wish against the rock
peopled by plants and creatures
fingering limbo

in that peopled space cities
bloom fingers leaves tethered fields

and the city in
the city crumbles into
growth, which shrinks, which lifts

as spring is possible, as
forward is not beyond but

So new endeavors arise
by the watered fields

despite memory's acute
weight, or broken bloodfeathers

or, despite fallout,
called in from play at the first
sign of rain. Alight

these human shivers global
like our planet, like our them.

Pretend spring. Island fog
drops shady down: crocus, cherry
blossom, heavy snow.

The tidewaters sleep. Silent
hanami picnic. Still air.

Still there, tectonic
body breathes human love, our
weather’s intention —


The Emergency Response Unit is producing the broadside and it will be available for sale starting May 4th. All proceeds will go to Second Harvest Japan.

Toronto To Japan

Do you have a suggestion for a topic for Melanie for a future column? Send an email to with the subject line "Melanie Janisse."

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.

Photos by Melanie Janisse.

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