Join the Tightrope team for the launch of Best Canadian Essays 2018, edited by Mark Kingwell and Christopher Doda.
Thursday, October 11, 6:30-8:30pm, 77 Carlton Street Event Centre, Toronto.
Join the Tightrope team for the launch of Best Canadian Essays 2018, edited by Mark Kingwell and Christopher Doda.
Thursday, October 11, 6:30-8:30pm, 77 Carlton Street Event Centre, Toronto.
Pub Date: Fall 2018
Featuring trusted series editor Christopher Doda and acclaimed guest editor Mark Kingwell, this tenth installment of Canada’s annual volume of essays showcases diverse nonfiction writing from across the country. Culled from leading Canadian magazines and journals, Best Canadian Essays 2018 contains award-winning and award-nominated nonfiction articles that are topical and engaging and have their finger on the pulse of our contemporary psyches.
Contributors: Peter Babiak, Rob Benvie, Daniel Glassman, Annabel Howard, Michelle Kaeser, Emily M. Keeler, Stephen Marche, Omar Mouallem, Brett Popplewell, Andrew Potter, Kevin Shaw, Richard Teleky, Clive Thompson, Conan Tobias, Meeka Walsh, Samra Zafar, Jan Zwicky
“Fascinating, provocative, sobering and painful… an abundance of artfully expressed ideas” —Toronto Star
Christopher Doda is a poet, editor, and critic living in Toronto. He is the author of three books of poetry, Among Ruins, Aesthetics Lesson, and Glutton for Punishment: Hard Core Glosas. His award-winning nonfiction has appeared in journals across Canada and he was on the editorial board of Exile Editions for over ten years.
Mark Kingwell is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto and a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine, and has written for publications ranging from Adbusters and the New York Times to the Journal of Philosophy and Auto Racing Digest. Among his books of political and cultural theory are the national bestsellers Better Living, The World We Want, and Concrete Reveries. His most recent book is Fail Better: Why Baseball Matters.
Date: September 20, 2018, 6:30pm-8:30pm
Where: 77 Carlton Street Event Centre, Toronto
Rebecca Higgins’s characters do weird things in their attempts to negotiate the world. They steal books and hide in bathrooms and treat grocery receipts like tarot cards. They may want solitude, even escape, but they don’t want to be invisible. They move between isolation and connection—on the internet, at uncomfortable parties, in a tent after Hurricane Katrina. These stories are about friendship and loneliness and the awkward, fumbling ways we try to love each other. We lie and leave things out, so often torn between hiding ourselves and needing to be seen.
“The stories in The Colours of Birds display their verve right from their opening sentences. They are playful and sympathetic, particularly to oddballs, and ultimately to all of us scrambling to navigate the surprising, mystifying business of being human.” —Catherine Bush, author of The Rules of Engagement and Accusation
“Rebecca Higgins’ debut collection of stories is bold, enchanting, and highly original. A wonderful, delightful read.” —Helen Humphreys, author of The Evening Chorus and Afterimage
“In The Colours of Birds, disillusioned Internet daters, heartbroken book thieves, lonely grocery receipt collectors, and lovesick builders of gingerbread houses take turns searching for meaning, fumbling for connection, and clinging to hope that something better is just around the corner. This is a charming, unsettling, and splendid debut.” —Jessica Westhead, author of Things Not to Do and And Also Sharks
“Cunning portraits of the lives around us” —Sarah Murdoch, Toronto Star
Rebecca Higgins has lived and worked in Ireland, Honduras, and Brazil. She has a background in social work and has worked in mental health education since 2011. Her short stories have appeared in such publications as the Toronto Star and the Antigonish Review. She lives in Toronto.
In You and Me, Belonging, Aaron Kreuter explores our contemporary world with insight, originality, and empathy. The stories in this debut collection are brimming with characters striving to fit in, to find their place in the world, to belong. A Jewish waitress has an affair with a Palestinian chef. A one-percenter self-destructs when he becomes obsessed with mastering the guitar. A university student stoned in Amsterdam hallucinates about Anne Frank on Birthright Israel. In the closing novella, a vanful of young women follows a fictional jam band across America, steeping in counterculture, music, and the ups and downs of the road. The collection is satiric and emotional, angry and hopeful, passionate and surprising. Like a wedding speech gone off the rails, like the best improvised music, You and and Me, Belonging takes readers to some unexpected places.
“You and Me, Belonging is a dazzling debut. Sexy, biting, and sharp. Kreuter’s prose is swift and clean. These stories are slyly funny while delivering a sucker punch to the heart. They are full of adventures and dashed dreams, art, sex, desire, and brawn. Brilliant.” —Lisa Moore, author of Caught
“In You and Me, Belonging, Aaron Kreuter captures our universal quest for belonging and meaning with great compassion and nuance. Told from a range of viewpoints, and spanning continents and decades, these beautifully conceived stories are at once boldly political and fiercely personal, and explore what it means to be young, Jewish, and North American in a messy, complex, and conflicted world.” —Ayelet Tsabari, author of The Best Place on Earth
“In writing that crackles and smoulders and leaves you checking your pants for burn holes, Aaron Kreuter maps the veinwork of the Jewish Toronto experience. Swill a bottle of honey, get haunted by Anne Frank, ride a waterslide into the unknown. On the surface, these are stories about suburbs and movie theatres, jam bands and A/V kingpins—beneath it all there’s a riptide of hectic passion and desperate intimacy. You and Me, Belonging steals beauty from wreckage, stashes love in all the right places.” —David Huebert, author of Peninsula Sinking
“Aaron Kreuter’s new collection is fresh and exciting. His enthusiasm for his characters and their stories draws the reader in and beckons continuation page after page. His descriptions are colorful; his dialogue is realistic. Kreuter really captures the whole jamband scene—our feelings, our joys, and our difficulties.” —Christy Articola, editor and publisher, Surrender to the Flow
“Outstanding debut collection of short stories. Kreuter quickly and powerfully establishes character, motivation and obstacle and draws the reader in towards the struggles of the respective protagonists… definitely one to read.” —Mira Sucharov, Canadian Jewish News
“Vivid stories full of various places and experiences that rise up off the page and touch ever so gently, the reader’s heart and mind.”—The Miramichi Reader
Aaron Kreuter writes poetry and fiction. He is the author of the poetry collection Arguments for Lawn Chairs. His work has appeared in various anthologies, magazines, and journals, including Best Canadian Poetry, Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Anthology, the Puritan, Grain Magazine, and the Temz Review. You and Me, Belonging is his first book of fiction. He lives in Toronto.
Pub date: Fall 2018
Tread and Other Stories is a moving, unsettling, and ferociously humane collection of short fiction. The characters are achingly real: the moments at once gut-wrenchingly singular and utterly recognizable. There’s a satisfying range here—from a female prison guard with a yen for bad boys to a lost young man who finds common ground with the French artist René Magritte. Dempster deftly explores the distortions that often accompany our closest relationships, and yet his gaze is always compassionate, never critical. He has created a series of intimacies, each built to make us feel things that we usually only allow ourselves to feel when we’re at our boldest: the desire to pinch the world and have the world pinch us back.
“Barry Dempster writes stories of the everyday that are not everyday stories. They release depth charges of feeling, unease, and strangeness too powerful for that. They take us to places we’ve known but never so vividly.” —Greg Hollingshead, author of Act Normal and Bedlam
“These marvellous stories by Barry Dempster are all about love—the striving for it, the rejection of it, and the unexpected collisions with it. These characters find love difficult. They don’t know the language; the survival skills they were taught as children fail them as adults; they want love but only on their terms. Dempster’s characters are often seemingly hapless, sometimes funny, bursting with baggage and startling moments of awareness. Always, they are heartbreaking in their resiliency and in their push for joy. Dempster knows how to write about the human heart, flawed and hopeful as it is.” —Leslie Greentree, author of A Minor Planet for You: and Other Stories
“Dempster’s stories do what all good short fiction should: give us characters who live and breathe and themes that braid themselves effortlessly around a memorable premise.” —Mark Sampson, Quill & Quire
Barry Dempster, twice nominated for the Governor-General’s Award, is the author of sixteen poetry collections, two novels, and two previous books of stories. His poetry collection The Burning Alphabet won the Chalmers Award for Poetry in 2005. In 2014, he was nominated for the Trillium Award for his novel The Outside World.
Pub date: Fall 2018
The 2018 edition of Canada’s go-to yearly anthology, guest edited by Hoa Nguyen, ushers readers into the heart of the vibrant Canadian poetry scene. The Best Canadian Poetry Series annually features the fifty finest Canadian poems published in periodicals during the previous year. A must-read for anyone with a stake in contemporary Canadian literature, or with curiosity about poetry and its engagement with the world today.
View the names of the fifty 2018 poets at the Best Canadian Poetry site.
“Born of the electricity of thinking and reversing thoughts without fear, yet also born of the dread and wonder of contemporary existence, our current poetry represents a tattered, ragged, brilliant idea of the sublime.” —Molly Peacock, The Best of the Best Canadian Poetry in English
“An eclectic and diverse collection of Canadian poetry… a wonderful addition to anyone’s bookshelf.” —The Toronto Quarterly
“A collection as complex and satisfying as a symphony.” —Publishers Weekly
About the Editors
Guest Editor Hoa Nguyen was born in the Mekong Delta, raised in the Washington, DC area, and lives in Toronto. From Wave Books, her poetry collections include As Long As Trees Last, Red Juice: Poems 1998-2008, and Violet Energy Ingots, nominated for a 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize. She teaches poetics at Ryerson University, for Miami University’s low residency MFA program, for the Milton Avery School for Fine Arts at Bard College, and in a long-running, private workshop.
Advisory Editor Amanda Jernigan is the author of three collections of poetry—Groundwork, All the Daylight Hours, and Years, Months, and Days—and of the chapbook The Temple. Her poems have appeared in journals in Canada and abroad, including Poetry, PN Review, the Walrus and the Nation; they have also been set to music, most recently by American composer Zachary Wadsworth. She is an essayist and editor as well as a poet, and has written for the stage.
Series Editor Anita Lahey is the author of The Mystery Shopping Cart: Essays on Poetry and Culture (Palimpsest Press, 2013) and of two Véhicule Press poetry collections: Out to Dry in Cape Breton (2006) and Spinning Side Kick (2011). The former was shortlisted for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry and the Ottawa Book Award. Anita is also a journalist and a former editor of Arc Poetry Magazine, and posts on her blog, “Henrietta & Me.”
May 10, 2018, 6:30-8:30pm
77 Carlton Street Event Centre
77 Carlton St, Toronto, ON M5B 2J7
Pub date: Spring 2018
No Line in Time transits between the mechanisms that “emptied” the geography of a prairie childhood and privileged adult learning and travel. It questions what lay under the feet taking possession and leads to medieval Spain, to Aragon launching Columbus. Greckol moves from historilessness to the timeliness of “now:” great- granddaughter of Eastern Europe learning her place winding flashes of medieval poetry, slight sketches of philosopher-soldiers, and faint tableaus, in disjunctive blurts and lyric flights threading an iterating unstable self, preoccupied with the blanks and fissures in her learning.
“If Al-Andalus was a utopia where Muslims, Christians, and Jews seemed to tolerate one another for a while, Alberta is another kind of no place where denial blanks six centuries of forgetting not secret just blank conquest plowing land fouled by elders falling through now-time breaking bodies histories lastitudes SE25-55-14-W4. Rhythm is how blank silence breaks in No Line in Time, Greckol’s dense furrowed sentiences unsettlearning contquested terrains leaving blood shit fruit silk scream storm debris material unworked power flowering through progress’s cracks. Read No Line in Time for bodies marked in time not blank but filled with her;our cacophonous surround of the now.” —Rachel Zolf, author of Janey’s Arcadia
“Sonja Greckol conveys a sharp sense of the missing as diasporas migrate, settle, and unsettle across continents inflicting and carrying trauma, creating hybrids and erasing genetic lines. Varied stanza sizes in tight blocks of text establish rhythms and train the reader how to be in the poem. Swarmed with associations—rich cross-referencing and pollinating—each stanza is like a text book. A reader may lose purchase in difficult poems but be filled by the atmosphere of the poem.” —Michael Redhill, author of Bellevue Square
Sonja Ruth Greckol was moved to write poetry when Mike Harris was elected to a second term. Now she finds herself muttering nasty limericks which, alas, are unpublishable. She has taught college and university, studied order and disorder in jokes, done human rights and gender-based research, organizational consulting, and local activism.
Sue Bracken often finds the bizarre and the beautiful in what she sees. When Centipedes Dream, her debut book of poems, is a collection of these sightings. It ranges from the familial love in a small blue bracelet, the roar surrounding the loss of a sibling, the balletic thoughts of a homeless woman in a Toronto shelter, to a decadent night at the Gladstone Hotel. Her work brims with both joy and sorrow, but mostly astonishment at all these moments.
“Sue Bracken’s poems riff with grit, wit, and grace. A debut collection that hums with ‘beautiful god sparkle.’” —Laura Lush, author of Carapace and Swing Beam
“With the flick of a mer-woman’s tale, Sue Bracken’s first collection of poems is both muscular and full of grace. A ‘cool pool of wonder’ that one feels compelled to dive into and that reminds us of our aqueous origins. At turns playful and elegiac but always brave, these poems shimmer on the page.” — Jane Byers, author of Acquired Community and Steeling Effects
“When Centipedes Dream is, at turns, sweetly playful, joyous, empathic, and above all, infectiously in love with language. Such odd and lovely creatures populate Sue Bracken’s protean mind; such perfectly expressed, lyrical, love. A book to dream with.” —Lynn Crosbie, author of The Corpses of the Future and Where Did You Sleep Last Night
“Plays with meanings … words come apart … poems ‘telescope and reverse’ in ‘zen infused’ language … colours ‘reverberate’ … the psychomachia of light and dark” —Anne Burke, poets.ca
Sue Bracken lives in Toronto in a house ruled by artists and animals. This is her debut collection of poetry.
Pub date: Spring 2018
destination out is a dark collection of poetry in three parts. The book tells of leavings: from family, countries of origin, legacies based on truth and rumour in small communities back home, and what happens after. Some poems depict artists full of so much that they reached beyond their bodies’ borders and ended up spread out on a table for final reckoning, or venturing into mad houses and brothels and gutters in wet snow. The collection also reveals elders, mystics, lovers, and seers who glimpsed shades of light and reached out to them, falling into the inexpressible and the unknown.
“In destination out, charles smith reveals an exacting poetic clarity for the intensity of the moment, and a fine poetic ear for the lyrical. His lines, ‘you wove your experience / as at a loom / the yarn threaded theory / clothed spirit,’ might well be a statement of his own poetics. These poems journey with certainty across the solid ground of smith’s poignant yearning to know his father and his namesake brother who died just before smith’s birth; his celebration of the brilliance of US jazz artists against the racism meted out to them; and his horror at the violent and harrowing attacks on an ancient culture.” —Maureen Hynes, author of The Poison Colour
“The poems in destination out compel you to dive deep into shadows, witness the beauty there, while admiring the magnificence of nature.” —Dane Swan, author of A Mingus Lullaby
“smith takes the reader on a lyrical, poetic hang-time experience roller coasting through the vastly deep infinite skies between childhood adventures, an estranged father, and a wayward young man’s rebirth, redemption, and adult-awakened confidence rooted in jumping, life-breathing jazz. This is more than imitation ragtime wolverine blues. These poems are tight, meticulously crafted, syncopated, and always invoking meaningful light. destination out is a true revelation and a must read!” —Michael Fraser, author of To Greet Yourself Arriving
“charles c. smith’s poetry is about walking ‘out of circumstance’ by people who know ‘first-hand / all the patterns of the darkness.’ It has the urgency of breath and the beauty of blood. The speaker in these poems recounts the journey of his family through time in a voice ‘deep as death.’ Smith’s poetic language is a fractured mirror held up to stories, defying the limits of observation.” —Bänoo Zan, author of Songs of Exile
“charles c. smith is a true poet: not only an artisan of rhythm and words, but a conjurer of the quiet voices who reside in liminal space. We hear in his works the pain of injustice and loss, the tragedies of the marginalized and near-forgotten, and the hope of redeeming history. Smith jars the reader out of the comfort zones of the warm and familiar and into the places that disquiet our hearts and minds. destination out is a brave work.” —Dr. Georgia Wilder, lecturer/writing instructor, New College, University of Toronto
charles c. smith is a poet, playwright and essayist who has written and edited twelve books. He studied poetry and drama with William Packard, editor of the New York Quarterly Magazine, at New York University and Herbert Berghof Studios. He also studied drama at the Frank Silvera Writers’ Workshop in Harlem. He won second prize for his play Last Days for the Desperate from Black Theatre Canada, has edited three collections of poetry, has four published books of poetry, and his poetry has appeared in numerous journals and magazines.
Join authors Danila Botha, Andrew Daley, Priya Ramsingh and Richard Rosenbaum for a special evening celebrating fiction writing. Wednesday, April 11, 6pm, Ben McNally Books, 366 Bay Street, Toronto.
Join Tightrope Books and IFOA in celebration of the release of George Elliott Clarke’s Locating Home: The First African-Canadian Novel and Verse Collections. To Greet Yourself Arriving author Michael Fraser will be a special guest reader. This special event is part of IFOA’s Toronto Lit Up series.
January 19, 6:00pm, Ben McNally Books, 366 Bay Street, Toronto.
Pub date: Winter 2018
“The project of properly constituting an African/Black Canadian literature is one that entails mining archives…”
In this unique literary collection, George Elliott Clarke — the pioneering scholar of African-Canadian literature — anthologizes the field’s first collections of poetry and the first novel. Clarke’s powerful introduction illuminates the historical, cultural, and political significance of these groundbreaking works for contemporary readers of Black Canadian authors.
About the editor: The 4th Poet Laureate of Toronto (2012-15) and 7th Parliamentary Poet Laureate (2016-17), George Elliott Clarke is a revered artist in song, drama, fiction, screenplay, essays, and poetry. Now teaching African-Canadian literature at the University of Toronto, Clarke has taught at Duke, McGill, the University of British Columbia, and Harvard. He holds eight honorary doctorates, plus appointments to the Order of Nova Scotia and the Order of Canada. His recognitions include the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellows Prize, the Governor-General’s Award for Poetry, the National Magazine Gold Award for Poetry, the Premiul Poesis (Romania), the Dartmouth Book Award for Fiction, the Eric Hoffer Book Award for Poetry (US), and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award. Clarke’s work is the subject of Africadian Atlantic: Essays on George Elliott Clarke (2012), edited by Joseph Pivato.
You’re 384, 403 kilometres away, but it still seems like I could reach out and grab you. Since I’m in rotation around you, you’re always visible up there in the sky. You wobble a little but never actually set, so I can look up and see you whenever I want.
How are you feeling? You’re looking good. You’re looking pretty.
Shine a light out your window at night, and it takes about a second and a half to reach me here. Our exploration vehicle took four days. It will take that same 1.5-ish seconds for this message to reach you when I press send. I don’t know exactly when I’m coming back. I’m not totally sure that I am coming back.
Because our station is atop the rim of this crater at the north pole—since that’s where the water is—it’s permanent daytime here. The sky’s always black because there’s no atmosphere, but the station lives in a peak of eternal light. We have to sleep in rooms without windows. Or at least I do.
Where I’m sitting writing this, I like to call it the garden. That drives the actual astronauts crazy because it’s more like a farm or a greenhouse, and a couple of them just call it by its module number (one zero zero one). But they’re engineers and scientists. Technical types. Even the people who work here in the garden are botanists and entomologists. I’m the only liberal arts grad in the whole place. How about that: December Tenth, MFA—first civilian woman on the moon. Anyway, it reminds me of the garden behind Jamie Oakener’s mum’s house, with the kale and the tomatoes and the turnips and everything . . . and the bees, always with the bees. So I call it the garden, even though really it isn’t.
What Jamie’s mum’s garden didn’t have that this one does is the continual vacuum cleaner sound of the atmosphere generators and the endless grey expanse of completely desolate wasteland just on the other side of the fence.
Just like at Jamie’s mum’s, I like to sit here and drink coffee and write. Not the good coffee that Jamie would make us in the morning. Terrible coffee, thin, instant coffee, but coffee. Here I am, sitting, drinking coffee on the moon. That still gets me. I miss orange juice—the powdered crap that passes for orange juice around here tastes more like coffee than the coffee does—but the orange grove won’t be harvestable for years yet.
An acute, whispery voice comes from behind me saying, “Don’t move. Don’t freak out, but there’s a bee on you.”
Always with the bees.
With a complaisant wave, Dr. Keats shoos away the bee from my shoulder. It alights and lands again on a nearby cucumber vine. Smiling, I turn to Dr. Keats as he stands beside me at the edge of the garden, the transparent barrier that encloses the station just inches in front of us.
I say, “Thanks, Jon.”
The “there’s a bee on you” thing is somewhere between an inside joke and a religious ritual at this point. Since I spend so much time in the garden, and since Dr. Keats is the head apiologist on the station, we see each other fairly often, and there is usually a bee on at least one of us. The fat, fuzzy bumblebees used here for pollination in the garden are really chill and non-aggressive, but you still need to take an allergy test before leaving Earth to make sure you won’t die of anaphylactic shock, just in case you do something stupid and get yourself stung.
“Good morning, December,” Dr. Keats says. “How are you doing?”
“Pretty good,” I say. “Working on my post to send back to Earth.” I gesture toward the blue globe in the black sky, as if I’m concerned he won’t know what planet I mean.
“Cool,” Dr. Keats says.
He’s a small, grey, friendly man from California. Most of the station’s occupants are American. Some are Canadian, like me, and there’s also a handful of Russians. Some people from India, some from England. Ireland, Israel. Everyone gets along except during the World Cup.
He says, “Well, don’t let me disturb you.”
“Please,” I say, grabbing the cuff of his white button-down—some people here wear their filmy aluminum-cotton space suits at practically all times, but Dr. Keats, like me, prefers casual dress even when he’s on duty. I say, “Disturb me.” I pull him down, and he sits beside me on the bench that’s like a metal grate bent into a pair of right angles. Does that image even make sense?
“Having trouble writing?” Dr. Keats asks me.
I nod. “I don’t think it’s going to turn out very well. What am I doing here, Jon? I’m just some girl with a creative writing degree and one shitty novel. What was I thinking?”
Dr. Keats hasn’t shaved for a few days; white coruscations of hair sit in the pores of his cheeks. “You’re thirty years old,” he says, smiling. “You’re hardly a girl. And I’m certain that you wouldn’t have been selected if you weren’t up to the task.”
He’s too kind to me.
“What was I thinking?” I say again.
“I don’t know,” says Dr. Keats. “What were you thinking?”
What I was thinking was this: I was about to finish school with the most nugatory degree I could conceive of. I had a not-as-good-as-I’d-hoped short novel coming out with an indie press that was one step up from the Xerox machine at the 7-11 down the street. I was unemployed and probably unemployable. I was single and probably un-de-singleable, and going to the moon was the one thing I’d wanted most since looking up at the sky at night as a child and seeing it there, resting matte gold on the horizon or suspended burnished silver at its zenith
So what do you do when the big news is that they’re looking for professional writers to live on the new lunar station and file regular reports, to chronicle the majestic adventure of humanity’s first permanent space colony, to write a record to live for the ages? You polish your CV, one-inch your margins, and you apply for that motherfucker.
You don’t actually expect to be chosen. You don’t expect to . . . to have to leave everything behind.
Jamie Oakener was the only person to show up at my first reading, and even that was just a coincidence.
The two-by-five foot foamcore reproduction of my book’s cover—its title, The Thermodynamics of Love (holy Lord, what was I thinking?), in round, red sans serifs over a picture of some girl much prettier than me looking all heartbroken—is 100 percent of the publisher’s marketing budget for the season, and it leans against the front of the little table where I sit, hiding my Levi’s legs and the fifty copies of my book that I brought with me from home, and it’s the first time in my life that I feel like I might have been too optimistic.
Around two dozen chairs stare me down in the bookstore with a collective ass population of precisely zero. It’s twenty minutes past when I’m supposed to start reading, but I’ll be damned if I read to no one. Instead I brandish my best passive-aggressive smile at the customers who walk past while avoiding my eyes, a better advertisement for my dentist than for my publisher or myself probably.
this girl—all skinny arms and legs, hair a cascade of dark coffee curls, in a blue dress with white polka dots, a string of imitation pearls around her neck—appears, comes straight toward me, and sits down in the front row. Looking just like she walked out of a speakeasy circa 1922. Looking just like she’s there on purpose.
And Dear Earth, is she ever pretty.
And I say hi and she says hi. And I say, “Do you want to get a cup of coffee?” And she says, “Aren’t you going to read?” And I give the empty-but-for-her chairs a declarative look and I say, “It doesn’t seem like it.”
“Did you actually come here to hear me read?”
And she says, all bashful, “No. You just looked so sad and cute.”
So my sad, cute heart does a flip in her direction, and I say again, “Let’s get some coffee.”
We have the first conversation I have with everybody, which is about my name: how my parents’ surname was Tenth, so when I was born on the tenth of December, they thought they’d be all clever and call me December Tenth. I tell this story a lot.
But she does something unexpected. She says, “I have a weird name too!”
“Jamie Oakener?” She’s already told me. “What’s so weird about that?”
She smiles like a conspiracy.
“Jamie comes from Jameson’s, which is what my parents were drinking when I was conceived.”
I laugh. “Gross!”
“It gets better. I have middle names. My mum’s maiden name was Parker, right, and my dad’s grandmother’s name was Dorothy. Making me—”
“Jamie Dorothy Parker Oakener!” I shout, delighted, informing the whole café, but I don’t even care.
“December Tenth,” she giggles. “Use your indoor voice!”
The first time I come over it’s raining, and in the morning we sit in the garden drinking coffee and reading the brand new IKEA catalogue to each other and gently waving away the bees that try to land on us because we’re so bright and sweet together they mistake us for flowers.
The station’s electricity is generated in two ways. The first is solar. Because there’s no atmosphere beyond our metal-and-plexiglass enclosure, there’s nothing to dilute the sun’s energy as it reaches the craggy grey surface, so the solar collectors work at almost 100 percent efficiency.
The other way is hydrogen fuel, which we get from mining the ice. Every day a dozen robots roll down into the polar crater below us and come back a few hours later hauling big pyramids of dirty ice. From the area above the vehicle storage unit—the garage, where I am now—you can see them. Robots like a baby elephant crawled inside R2-D2 and had a baby with a Zamboni. Robots crawling up the side of the crater like Sisyphus.
This is how we get our oxygen, too. By a process of electrolysis, the water-ice is split into hydrogen and oxygen: the hydrogen goes into the fuel cells, and the oxygen goes to the generators to produce breathable air. The sighs of the station’s 108 personnel make their way to the garden for the plants. The rest of the water is treated and mineralized and fluorinated and made potable for us and for the plants, and our waste water is recycled.
The gravity . . . I haven’t got even the fuzziest idea about how the gravity works.
In the station, Captain Wallace is in charge. Captain Wallace looks just like an astronaut from a 1950s science-fiction movie: a crew-cut black like oil, eyes blue as Earth and always looking into the distance at something you can’t see, like cats do. He’s thirty centimetres bigger than me in every direction, and he wears his US Air Force uniform every day, with the silver double-bars of his rank pinned to his lapel. Anytime he’s not talking to you, he absently worries the wide gold band around the hairy knuckle of his left ring finger. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t realize that he does this. But it makes him seem human to the rest of the crew, rather than like the intimidating, unrelatable archetype he’d otherwise be.
Okay, he is still kind of intimidating.
I say, “Good afternoon, Captain.” You have to call him Captain. You do not call him Dave. You especially don’t do your best HAL 9000 impression when he’s around.
“Good afternoon, Ms. Tenth,” he says, and even though I’ve just walked up out of nowhere, he does not startle, and he doesn’t turn to look at me, just continues watching, through the window of the garage, the barren crater as the robots return with our water and power and air for the next week. He says, “I read your last transmission to Earth.”
Of course he did. Part of his job is reading everything I write and approving or rejecting each post before dispatching it. This is still a military mission, technically, and we can’t have me giving away any secrets. Captain Wallace knows all about embedded journalists and their loose lips; he was in the war.
“Did you like it?” I ask.
“It was very . . . ” His Bruce Campbell chin rises up almost imperceptibly. “Personal.”
“Is that bad?”
“No,” he says. “No.” Out there, the little robots drag their frozen cargo back home, dutiful as ants. Out there, the robots don’t remember. Out there, the robots don’t dream.
For most of my life on Earth, I felt safe. Safe like a prison is safe. Earth has everything you need to be alive: air, water, food. It’s all just there. But the same gravity that keeps the atmosphere from floating away also keeps you rooted to the spot. You look up at the sky at night and what you see is possibility. What you see is freedom. What you see is everything else. I always thought that if I went to the moon, I would feel what I never felt down on the planet where I was born. And wouldn’t you know it, Earth—I was right.
Here I do feel free. Free, and constantly afraid. This place is hostile. If you want to eat, if you want to breathe, you have to come prepared with the products of thousands of years of human civilization strapped to your back. The moon is a blank white page on which we’re still scrawling the very first sentences, and we can write anything we can imagine On Earth you could always get hit by a bus or eaten by a crocodile—there’s never any guarantees, but on the moon you might wake up with a chest full of emptiness and die of suffocation one morning because some asteroid looked at your bedroom the wrong way.
Point being, you think you have to choose. You think it’s either safety and confinement, or freedom and fear. You think it can only ever be one way or the other.
Dear Earth, let me count the ways.
The way we have the same arms. The way her socks never match. The way she calls people by their full name. The way the sound of hers, her name, liquefies my heart still. The way she shakes her hair. The way she draws dinosaurs. The way her red nail polish is always perfectly chipped. The way that she’s better than me at everything, and the way that makes me feel not envious but proud. The way she’ll smile kindly and call you a doofus only when she’s really, really mad at you.
Captain Wallace’s arms fall back down to his sides, then his hands join behind his back. He looks like he’s seen things you people wouldn’t believe, like he’s thinking deep thoughts, like he’s about to say something profound. He kind of always looks like that.
What he says is “Ms. Tenth.” What he says is “Being apart from someone, even being half a million miles away, shouldn’t make you feel so all alone. It should make you feel blessed to live in a universe so kind that it contains a person so special, a person worth missing like that.”
Out there, the north stretches across empty space. Out there, the Earth hangs suspended on nothing. Out there in the sky, looking so small and so close that I could reach out and grab it, is everywhere I have ever been.
Standing just behind him, I look at Captain Wallace’s hands, holding each other behind his back. He never looks at me, but he unclasps his hands, takes the gold ring on his left hand between two fingers on his right, and turns it round and round like the orbit of the moon.
Jamie Oakener came with me to Florida, where the space ships depart, to see me off. It was hot in Orlando. Or it might have been the coldest day in a century, I don’t really remember. I think it was raining, though, or snowing maybe, because I do recall that our faces were wet.
We stood close, and she said, “Don’t go.”
And I said, “Come with me.”
“Come with me.”
I looked into her eyes, but I couldn’t see a fucking thing.
And she looked into my eyes, and she smiled so kindly, and she said, “You doofus.”
Join Tightrope Books and Editors Marina Nemat and Christopher Doda for the launch of Best Canadian Essays 2017. Readings by anthology contributors, including Matt Cahill, Leonarda Carranza, Larissa Diakiw, Suanne Kelman, Lauren McKeon, Richard Teleky.
November 16, 2017, 6pm, Ben McNally Books, 366 Bay Street, Toronto.
Tuesday, October 10, 6:30pm (readings begin at 6:50pm) Supermarket Restaurant, 268 Augusta, Toronto.
September 21, 7pm. 445 King Street, Fredericton NB.
Pub date: Fall 2017
Sara Ramnarine is just starting out her career in Toronto, a city that is touted as one of the most cosmopolitan in the world with its motto, “Diversity is our Strength.” As a smart, driven, educated, contemporary woman, Sara assumes her rise up the corporate ladder will be seamless. But she soon discovers that the workplace is full of pitfalls and obstructions, including discrimination and racism. Eventually, Sara is forced to make a critical decision that affects her career and state of mind, risking her reputation for years to come.
“Priya Ramsingh’s Brown Girl in the Room is a nuanced and insightful account of what it means to be a first generation Canadian woman within a ruthless corporate environment. Fearless and direct, Ramsingh presents her protagonist, Sara, as well as her friends and colleagues with an equal mix of compassion and critique, exposing racism, misogyny, and all of their consequences. An engaging and powerful debut.” —Danila Botha, author of For All the Men (and Some of the Women) I’ve Known and Too Much on the Inside
“A storyline that isn’t discussed in popular modern fiction but needs to be told“—Goodreads
“When a book is able to make you reflect on your own life experiences and reminds you of some of the issues that still exist to this day, you know it is extremely well written!—Goodreads
“Ramsingh creates a mostly believable, true-to-life workplace filled with conflicting egos and low-key racism that’s as damaging as anything overt. The book’s message is strong… a worthwhile story”—Publishers Weekly
“Office politics steeped in rivalry and racism.”—Toronto Star
“A crucial addition to Canadian diasporic literature… In an era where representation matters, Brown Girl in the Room is definitely the first novel I have read that has connected so deeply to my own reality.” —Amrita Kumar-Ratta, Brown Girl Magazine
“This story will serve as a point of affirmation… Brown Girl in the Room gives me hope”—Harsha Nahata, Brown Girl Magazine
“Brown Girl in the Room is an all too realistic and relatable story of being a woman of colour and building your career… Ramsingh does a great job of depicting the insidiously subtle form racism can take in the professional world.”—Literary Treats
Since she was acclaimed by her Grade Five teacher for story writing skills, Priya Ramsingh has recognized her calling as a writer. An English graduate from Carleton University, Priya spent twenty-two years in communications, with nine as a freelance writer. Brown Girl in the Room is her first novel.
Enjoy an illuminating hour of readings about the dark with two local to Kingston authors: A Moose in the Dark author Heather (H.W.) Browne and Fernanda Ponte. The Seniors Centre, 56 Francis Street, Kingston ON. August 24 at 1 pm. $5 per member. More details here.
Pub date: Fall 2017
Pub date: Fall 2017
The Best of the Best Canadian Poetry in English takes the pulse of Canadian poetry with ninety superb poems that have excelled—twice—at the test of “the best.” With poems chosen from the first nine volumes of this landmark series, this special tenth-anniversary edition highlights a vibrant variety of subjects from romance and family to ecology and the economy—not to mention blizzards and bears. Ranging from iconic poets Michael Ondaatje, Anne Carson, George Elliott Clarke, and P.K. Page to notable upstarts, the anthology includes an index for readers, notes from the poets, an illuminating analysis of Canadian poetics by series editor Molly Peacock, and provocative excerpts from past introductions by guest editors Stephanie Bolster, A.F. Moritz, Lorna Crozier, Priscila Uppal, Carmine Starnino, Sue Goyette, Sonnet L’Abbé, Jacob McArthur Mooney, and Helen Humphreys.
For a full list of The Best of the Best Canadian Poetry contributors, visit the Best Canadian Poetry Series site.
“A collection as complex and satisfying as a symphony.” —Publishers Weekly
“A great jumping-off point for readers who might be interested in Canadian poetry but are unsure about where to start.”—Emma Healey, Globe and Mail
“Bits of eternity, arranged alphabetically.”—Merilyn Simonds, Kingston Whig-Standard
“Canada’s most eloquent, profound, humorous and meditative writers, ranging from the seasoned and well known to the new and upcoming.” —Eric Schmaltz, Broken Pencil
“The Best Canadian Poetry series offers an annual sampling of voices and experiences—a little slice of Canadiana that may be appreciated beyond borders as well.” —Lori A. May, Examiner.com
“Buy it, or borrow it, but do read it.”—Paul Tyler, Arc Poetry Magazine
Anita Lahey is a poet, journalist, reviewer, and essayist. She is the author of The Mystery Shopping Cart: Essays on Poetry and Culture (Palimpsest Press, 2013) and of two Véhicule Press poetry collections: Out to Dry in Cape Breton (2006) and Spinning Side Kick (2011). The former was shortlisted for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry and the Ottawa Book Award. Anita is a former editor of Arc Poetry Magazine, and posts occasionally on her blog, “Henrietta & Me: People and other wonders found in books.”
Molly Peacock is a widely anthologized poet and writer. Her seventh volume of poetry is The Analyst, poems about psychoanalysis, poetry, and painting, from Biblioasis. Her recent book of tiny tales is Alphabetique: 26 Characteristic Fictions, with illustrations by Kara Kosaka; she is also the author of a biography, The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work at 72, and a memoir, Paradise, Piece by Piece, all from McClelland & Stewart.
Pub date: Fall 2017
“Fascinating, provocative, sobering and painful… Besides exposing readers to an abundance of artfully expressed ideas, this collection’s appeal comes in two further forms. Its essays offer an intimate form of education, and, better, help give what might seem like overwhelming complexity a reassuringly compassionate and relatable face.”—Brett Josef Grubisic, Toronto Star
Contributors: Peter Babiak, Deni Ellis Béchard, Matt Cahill, Jane Campbell, Leonarda Carranza, Francine Cunningham, Larissa Diakiw, Alicia Elliott, Suanne Kelman, John Lorinc, Lauren McKeon, Susan Peters, Russell Smith, Joanna Streetly, Richard Teleky, Jane Edey Wood.
Christopher Doda is a poet, editor and critic living in Toronto. He is the author of three books of poetry, Among Ruins, Aesthetics Lesson, and Glutton for Punishment: Hard Core Glosas. His award-winning non-fiction has appeared in journals across Canada and he was on the editorial board of Exile Editions for over ten years.
Marina Nemat was born in 1965 in Tehran, Iran. After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, she was arrested at the age of sixteen and spent more than two years in Evin, a political prison in Tehran, where she was tortured and came very close to execution. She came to Canada in 1991 and has called it home ever since. Her memoir of her life in Iran, Prisoner of Tehran, first published in 2007, was an international bestseller. In 2007, Marina received the inaugural Human Dignity Award from the European Parliament, and in 2008, she received the prestigious Grinzane Prize in Italy. In 2008/2009, she was an Aurea Fellow at University of Toronto’s Massey College, where she wrote her second book, After Tehran: A Life Reclaimed, which was published by Penguin Canada in 2010.
A guest post by Luka Pajkovic
Ron Charach is a practicing psychiatrist and author based in Toronto, Ontario. He writes poetry, with ten published collections, and is a Canadian letter-writer, with his work often published in The Toronto Star, The National Post, and The Globe and Mail, as well as American venues such as The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Atlantic.
I recently had the chance to sit down and talk with Ron about his first novel, cabana the big, which was published through Tightrope Books last year.
You can read the first part of our discussion here.
LUKA: Was there any specific inspiration that led you to cabana the big?
RON: I’ve always been fascinated by just how easily power gets abused and how easily it can get used to do the most awful things. I’m also interested in this whole notion of being co-opted, why do we ride with the eight? There are many reasons, and they’re explored in this book.
But it is hard to know exactly what got you started.
I was also curious about the stylistic choices in cabana, notably dropping quotations around dialogue. What led you to these decisions?
I like to keep the reader off-balance a little bit, and dropping quotation marks always manages to do that, it’s always a little more challenging to read. I don’t like everything to be cut and dry, because sometimes it’s not really clear who said what. I try not to make it impossible, but cabana is a challenging read, it’s a literary book. cabana seems like it’s having lots of fun, and not taking things seriously, but it is.
cabana is also described as a cautionary tale, is there something specific it’s warning us about, or strictly the gun obsession?
A move towards gun obsession is really a move towards masculinity obsession, obsession with maleness, and determination to use it to dominate the world and rape it of all its beauty and resources. And not caring about the consequences.
In big ned’s dream about the young girl, he is fully made of metal, then he becomes flesh again except for his dick, which stays metal. I saw this as being his gun; they are literally one and the same for him.
And is that crude? I don’t think so, take Kim Jong Un, he’s a porn addict, and his biggest joy is having those missiles, long phallic things with so much power, paraded by. He could majorly fuck up the world, and so can Trump.
What I’m saying with cabana is let’s drop the gloves, this man they’ve elected is a crude man, so it’s time to get crude. It’s time to realize that unless people stand up to him all the time, constantly, he’s going to drag everyone down to his level.
Do you have any advice for any budding poets or fiction writers?
I would say develop an ear for dialogue, listen to people talk. I would say have a day job. I believe it becomes a self-contained little world if all you’re doing is talking to the same students who are reading the same stuff.
The other thing is, recognize that if you come up with something totally new, people are going to revile it. So don’t worry about it. It may even mean you’re onto something.
You can find cabana the big here.