Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Write ‘em faster than you can read ‘em

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The first blog I ever read was that written by a then eighteen-year-old son of a friend. It was, I confess, only three short years ago. At that time, Jason had embarked upon a round-the-world voyage for his Gap Year between high school and university. (Hey, when I graduated from a middle-class, suburban Toronto high-school in the early 1970s, no one had ever heard of a Gap Year, let alone taken one.)

Jason began his Gap Year by volunteering at Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata, and through his blog I got to know him better. I discovered a super bright, hip, tender, empathetic, admirable, and talented young man.

I discovered, too, that, in spite of my initial misgivings (I tend to go for formally structured and painstakingly researched writing), I get a kick out of reading blogs: this breezy, Heinz-57-variety, post-millennial, journalistic genre: part letter, part column, part think piece, part whatever. So much so that, when I was asked to become Open Book Toronto’s Writer in Residence for December, I said sure.

Yikes! The idea of having to post a blog four times a week actually intimidates the hell out of me. As a poet, and even as a freelance magazine writer, I am an achingly slow writer. As my buddy, the inimitable Fraser Sutherland, has commented, I excrete each word, one by one, onto the page. I envy all those confident twenty-something bloggers, with their prêt-a-porter wit and cocksure opinions, who can pontificate on any matter with quick-on-the-draw erudition. Who can “write ‘em faster than you can read ‘em.” (I shamelessly ripped off that last quote from one Al Moritz.)

Writing this blog is, for me, going to be a colossal challenge. But I took it on in the hopes that it will free me up. That come January 1st, when my Open Book residency ends, my synapses will have caught fire, and mellifluous phrases and memorable ideas will effortlessly flow from me, and I will suddenly join the ranks of the prolific.

To create my preliminary Open Book Toronto Homepage, the editors of this site asked me if I have a reader in mind when I write. I responded, “No.” To some extent, my answer was dishonest. Like many writers, I write because, deep down, at the core of my being, I long to be heard. I long to be loved. So, perhaps, I am sending off this blog to a particular reader: To Leonard Cohen, that is. In the hopes that he will read it, find me brilliant and irresistible, whisk me away, and dedicate a song to me as beautiful as “Suzanne.”. Truthfully, I’m writing this month with Jason in mind, in thanks for introducing me to the world of blogging. Hey, Jason, are you out there, someplace?


Back in the early 1970s, no one had ever heard of a Gap Year, but not because they didn't take em. I think it was just called taking a year off.

Hi Alphonse! Glad to know that some of your peers took a year off!

You have jumped off the high dive. Enjoy the swim!

Thanks a ton, Melanie. I hope I perfect my front crawl.

Congratulations on completing your first blog entry. I look forward to reading your thoughts during the rest of your month in residence.

Although I smiled with recognition about your dedication to Leonard Cohen, there is a better version of the song to add to your playlist: J.P.Ringwort and the Heartbreak of Psoriasis doing the bluegrass "Suzanne" at the Mariposa festival in the early Seventies.

Also on the same subject, Nancy White wrote a great song about Leonard on her "Momnipotent" album (which is what people did before there were blogs). The title tells the story and is short enough to fit into Twitter length limitations: "Leonard Cohen's never gonna bring my groceries in..."

A bluegrass "Suzanne"? I'd love to hear the polka version!

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.

Karen Shenfeld

Toronto poet Karen Shenfeld is the author of The Law of Return (Guernica Editions, 1999) and The Fertile Crescent (Guernica Editions, 2005). Her work has also appeared in well-known journals published in Canada, the United States, South Africa and Bangladesh. Her personal documentary, Il Giardino, The Gardens of Little Italy, was screened at the 2007 Planet in Focus Environmental Film & Video Festival.

Go to Karen Shenfeld ’s Author Page