Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

BookTour 2010: Windsor

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I hopped into a cab at the train station in Windsor, which sits beside the impressive – or should I say intoxicating? – Hiram Walker complex. Unlike Toronto's distillery, this one still makes things other than real-estate speculative market value. As we drove, the cabbie turned right around in his seat and asked, “Are you here for the Auto Show?”
“No,” I said. “I’m here for Windsor.”
“If you are going to Detroit, you should take the tunnel and not the bridge. It is much faster.”
“I’m not planning on going to Detroit, I’m going be here in Windsor the whole time.”
“It’s much safer in Detroit than people say, but if you want to see white people you have to avoid the downtown.”
At this point, we turned a corner and the Detroit skyline opened up to our right across the half-frozen river. I could tell the cabbie was excited. He pointed out a building somewhere in the forest and eagerly noted, “That’s where the Auto Show is being held.... right now! You don’t enter from this side, though. You have to walk around all the way to the front, which is on the other side.”
I thanked him for all the useful information. I couldn’t resist asking him if anything was happening in Windsor. “Probably,” he answered abstractly.
That first night, Susan Holbrook and Karl Jirgens took me out for dinner. After a lifetime hearing negative things about Windsor, I have to confess to being shocked to find it far more interesting than I imagined. It is much bigger than St. Catharines, and has a more mature urban feel. More restaurants, more bars, more retail neighbourhoods; more people. In terms of literature, it punches over its weight too: two small presses, two literary magazines, and a great book fair. Susan and Karl are 2/5s of the creative writing program at UoW, with Marty Gervais, Louis Cabri, and Nicole Markotic rounding out the bill. When Susan dropped me off at my hotel, I have to confess to being surprised to feel so impressed with it all. I suppose I've become a bit of a small town kid again after just four years in the Cat.
I poked my head into the hotel bar and was surprised again to see a throng of acolytes surrounding Don Cherry and Bobby Orr. They were in town to organize a Top Prospects game featuring the best of Canadian junior players (none of whom were old enough to join Don and Bob in the bar). I thought of my cabbie and smiled. The two sat beside me the next morning at breakfast, in modest suits, looking a little green. I probably should have, but I didn’t bother them with stories of contemporary Canadian hockey art.
Workshopped appropriative writing with Susan’s class at 10. The class was packed with a few folks from other classes and even one professor sitting in. They were smart and engaged and took to stealing like a thief on a Viking ship. Plunder on!
The reading after lunch, to an even bigger crowd, was marked by an excellent round of questions about plunderverse, about 20th century poetics, and the mathematics of my poetry. One student asked me how I would “read” the progressive vowel charts in TORIM – to which we all laughed. The bookstore seemed to sell a lot of books (I sold one). Feeling absurdly over-feted, I bid adieu to my excellent host Susan, and was whisked off by Karl for a quick emergency pint at the Dominion.
One last adventure before the train home: I asked my second Windsor cabbie to take me to “the last pint before the train station.” Without a single mention of Detroit, he dropped me off at a military-friendly saloon around the corner. I set up and tried to log on to whatever internet signal might be in the area. A friendly walrus-type man from the bar came over to help get me set up, going so far as to give me his email and password to get me logged in. We ended up chatting for a good half an hour. He told an amazing story about the Salt Lake City Men’s Hockey final at the Olympics. I, slightly embarrassed, pulled out TORIM and showed him my “loonie” poem. He took the book from my hand, and read it, read it again, and read it a third time. He turned and looked at me with a funny expression and said, “Who did you say the author was again?” He closed the book and practised reciting the poem aloud two or three times, and then turned to me and said, “That’s fucking great. I want this. I want this poem on parchment on my wall.” The walls of the pub were filled with Canadian military photographs and memorabilia. I grabbed a card from the waitress before I left, and love the idea of sending them a broadside some day. Who knows?

21/22 January 2010

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.

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Gregory Betts

Gregory Betts is an experimental poet, editor, essayist and teacher. He is the author of If Language (BookThug, 2005), Haikube (BookThug, 2006) and The Others Raisd in Me (Pedlar Press, 2009). He has edited editions of poetry by W.W. E. Ross, Raymond Knister and Lawren Harris. His latest book is The Wrong World: Selected Stories and Essays of Bertram Brooker (University of Ottawa Press 2009).

Go to Gregory Betts’s Author Page