Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Old Places, Hemingway's Feet

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I have taken to the streets of our fair town with images of boxing gloves, the old oak trees in High Park and book covers swimming through my brain. Images unrelated except that they all have to do with books, writers and Toronto. I have been combing the streets and buildings of this city like a detective looking for clues. I have asked for clues from friends and have gotten pieces of advice like go to Grossman’s and find the garbage with edges of glitter, speak with Thompson Highway, look in the old buildings on Yonge Street that make no sense against the high rises. I have found Painted Tongue, and in my story he is Cree, and beautiful. But most important, he knows the streets real good and functions like a guide along the narrow path of derelict buildings on main arteries and strange early-sixties lobbies in high rises. He knows what to show me to give me joy.

We have taken to galloping around like two teenagers, having found ourselves tossed together in transition, having a sensitivity to our urban surroundings that finds us constantly looking around, questioning what kind of city this is, what it can be and what is it currently. The other day we were walking up Spadina and Painted Tongue points to the backpacker’s hostel at the corner of King. "Did you know that Hemingway lived there?" I didn’t even know that Hemingway lived in Toronto and had always assumed that his famous fight with Callaghan was in France or wherever else — somewhere more glamorous to be certain. Well PT was wrong about Hemingway and the hostel (although Cohen was known to stay there on occasion) but did live in Toronto for a year in order for his wife to have access to our doctors for her pregnancy, all the while typing away on stories for the Toronto Star. He wrote about Santa Claus and the plight of the oaks in High Park. He walked around these streets. Ever cool. I hope he had a pint at Grossman’s back then, or a simple breakfast at the Stem if it was around then.


I am endlessly looking at book covers because I am designing a cover for two small series for a Canadian press. I am fascinated with kerning and white space. With basket-weave paper stocks and good fonts. I swoon over talented illustrators. I am finding books so very sexy these days. Between roaming the streets looking for Hemingway and having my nose between the sheaves, I am finding spring, well, springy. It is amazing to me how we must collaborate to make literature come to print. There are a million tiny negotiations between people for permissions and pictures and the way that the words fall and organize themselves on a page.

There are the hopes and the constraints that forge a book into print.

I have appealed to my friend Rina for thoughts on fonts and called on my favorite illustrator Kristi-ly Green for drawings of hair picks and seahorses. I dream in pictures that other people’s poems give to me. I am grateful for being another pair of hands making a book come to life.


I am trying not to give up on Toronto. Painted Tongue helped me to see some of its odd, often quaint corners. When in doubt, I wander over to the furthest reaches of Queen Street West and climb up the old marble stairs of my most secret and profound literary friend. He is a talented bookbinder, and I have memories of him roaming around John King Books in Detroit in white gloves, giving new life to aging books. Never a visit goes by without him passing me a book and quietly saying "Read it." I never hesitate. Not once. This time, I sit across from his place at Cowbell with Annie Ernaux and Simple Passion, eating a decadent roast. What a sexy and impossibly tiny book. I’ll leave you with a small excerpt and a promise that I will visit my bookbinder more often in order to unearth this city’s printed artifacts.

He left France and went back to is own country six months ago. I shall probably never see him again. At first, when I woke up at two in the morning, I didn’t care whether I lived or died…I tried desperately to find things to do, so as not to remain idle. For that same reason I made efforts to dress and make up properly, and to wear contact lenses instead of my spectacles, although this required considerable courage. I couldn’t watch television or leaf through magazines; all the advertisements, whether they are for perfume or microwaves, show the same thing: a woman waiting for a man. I averted my gaze when I walked past shops selling lingerie.

I have to admit, Painted Tongue is gone, and I cannot help but pine for him a little bit. I feel a bit like the character in Simple Passion, but alas, it is good for me to be the one staying for a change. I curl my fingers around Indesign files, I move my feet mindfully through our fair city looking to unearth a book, a treasure, a character. I mix muffins and steam little artifacts of clothing. Lately I am reading Ibi Kaslik’s Angel Riots and wondering if Montreal is as decadent as it used to be, if I have retired from the rock and roll lifestyle for good and if I can read all the books that I want to this Spring.

So, au revoir mes copains, and happy poetry month. I look forward to talking about Rengas in my next column — Rengas for Japan. Meet me here again for that.

Do you have 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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