14 May 2016

The Sparrow takes flight

This past Thursday, I launched my new poetry book in Toronto. A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent was issued under Wolsak and Wynn's A Buckrider Book imprint, Paul Vermeersch's baby. It was a real nice event, at the Monarch Tavern, and I was so pleased with my launch company: first-time author Kilby Smith-McGregor with her excellent collection Kids in Triage, and Susan Perly, with her second and very edgy novel, Death Valley. They both gave compelling readings and I'm looking forward to digging into their books.

I arrived early at the Monarch and began picketing my own reading (as you can see in Kathryn Mockler's photo, above). I mean, I claim to be this weirdo poet burrowing around in the underground, and here I am presenting an easy-to-read, mainstream collection of family-friendly verse. Despicable! I decided I would stand outside the bar and picket until my reading inside was over. Then I might go in and grab a drink.

Reportedly, one couple left the event early, while I was still out there, and the man said to the woman, "I remember when that guy stood out on Yonge Street selling his books with a sign like that around his neck." And it's true. I was totally comfortable standing there in public holding a sign across my chest. It was like coming home.

But, realizing that protest just doesn't change the world, I gave up after about 45 minutes and went inside. The room was packed. I was immediately asked to sign some books. (In fact, some people had come outside while I was picketing, and asked me to sign my book out there.) I saw lots of friends and lots of acquaintances and lots of strangers. A ton of writers I admire. I was constantly being mistaken for Rod McKuen and Hugh Prather. Oscar Williams, who died in 1964, was tucked into one corner, scowling in my direction, because he doesn't come off too well in my new poem "And Oscar Williams Walks In." Tough luck, Oscar. Go chew on your bow tie.

So then the readings happened. Paul introduced me and people booed me and chanted, "Sell-out!" It was exhilarating. Paul said that I was a sell-out, and thus I had, for the first time, written something everyone would like. Don't remember his exact words but they were insulting in their praise. I was very anxious about the reading, because I had built up expectations and could so easily fail. But about halfway through the ten-minute reading, I realized it was going really well. (See photo by Wolsak and Wynn's Ashley Hisson above.) There was an audible gasp at the end of one of my poems, at a place where I certainly didn't expect a gasp. It was a line about the veins running through my tailor-grandfather's being threads. And soon the reading was over and I took refuge on the closest empty stool I could find. And immediately people were lining up for signatures in my new book. This had never happened before.

In fact, I was so taken unawares that I forgot to make the "edit" I'd made on the books I signed before the reading. If you have a copy of the book, please turn it to the back cover. In the second line of Nick Thran's review excerpt, delete "however" and insert an ellipsis. This was the only disagreement I had with my publisher, which says a lot about Wolsak and Wynn. Small stuff, but I'm a copy editor, so that "however" drives me nuts.

I had a personal record on Thursday when it comes to sales numbers at a launch. Just shy of 50 Sparrows were sold. (Well, really just shy of 150, because I bought 100 copies myself.) I'm hoping this book does some good things for me. I'm getting old. I've been at this racket for over forty years. I would like some new opportunities. Which is why I consciously made a book that consists entirely of one vein — or thread — of my writing: accessible, sorta "normal" poems. I had the glorious experience of doing an entirely in-your-face book, A Hamburger in a Gallery, last year. So now there's this.

A young woman who'd taken a poetry workshop with me in January came up to get her book signed. She was delighted that in one of the poems I read, I named several streets from the neighbourhood where her dad grew up. She asked me to inscribe the book to her dad and wondered if I knew him, since we'd be about the same age. I recognized the last name and asked if he had a brother named Alex. He did! I went to elementary school with the woman's uncle, it turned out. A fellow denizen of Bathurst Manor! I asked her to give him my regards.

The book's in flight. We'll see where it lands.

Over and out.


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