Well, I met with my legion of adoring librarian fans (made it out with most of my clothes not torn off, but barely) on Friday and then attended a couple IFOA events on Saturday. Great shows, both.
First, the Paul Quarrington tribute event, which was so packed with celebrities that it made me reflect on whether I could even get my family to show up at such an event for me. My conclusion: unlikely. The place was name-drop central: Roddy Doyle, Margaret Atwood, Paul Gross, Dave Bidini and the Rheostatics, Alistair MacLeod, Nino Ricci, David Bezmozgis, etc., virtually every big-time editor and publisher of note in the Toronto area, and a bunch of film/tv types. And those who weren’t on stage were in the audience. I know it sounds corny, but there was definitely a lot of love in the room. Srsly. I almost wiped my eyes at one point and I barely know Paul. It was more about the assembled communicating an incredible flow of celebration and joy at his having been than anything to do with death. Lovely all around.
That night I lined up with the pleebs to see Margaret Atwood and my friend Paul Durcan read. Atwood read from her new book and even sang a “hymn” to close out the piece, surprising everyone but herself. I’ve never heard her voice so modulated! And she CAN carry a tune. It was fun, to say the very least.
Durcan walked out on stage, an elder statesman of Irish verse, opened his book and read. Not a word that wasn’t poetry except “Thank you” at the end. Besides being a poet of great talent and importance, he’s also an incredible reader. Back and forth between the highbrow serious and chattily humorous, he seemed to have no trouble navigating a range of poetic and dramatic forms. I know him as a humble, generous man, but it was something else to see him dramatically transformed by his own poetry into a thundering powerhouse. What amazed me afterward were the line ups for signings. At first the Atwood line dwarfed the Durcan line. It reminded me of the time I read with Steven Heighton and Anne Marie MacDonald. (I sat between them after the reading to sign books and their two lines stretched away and around a corner while mine was done after one or two signatures. It was like sitting in a tunnel for the rest of the afternoon. Even MacDonald and Heighton noticed and started chatting with me to distract from the situation. Finally Dave O’Meara and a couple other people came over and stood in front of me to chat so it didn’t look so bad. Brutal.) Everyone there already had her book and were immediately in line to get it signed. I was getting ready to go buy another one of his books to get it signed and start the line, but slowly, as people made their way to the book table and back, Durcan’s line grew and grew until it rivaled a good portion of Atwood’s. That’s not bad for a poet in Canada. People had obviously been taken with the reading and realized through the power of his delivery that they would be missing something special if they didn’t buy the book. Well done!
After the reading I retired to the bar with some friends, and later to the IFOA “Hospitality Suite”, which some people call the “Hostility Suite”, but which I call the “OMG Free Whiskey Suite”.Â There I chatted with all manner of people more famous than I and generally tried not to make a fool of myself. (I know..) The next morning I flew out of the Island Airport and bumped into Graham Gibson. I tried to hide my hangover from him, but I don’t think I was entirely successful.
Now I’m sick. F’n booze and its immune system-deperssing properties and f’n flights filled with hacking wheezebag passengers. I’m kind of hoping it’s Swine Flu so I can just get the damn thing over with. I’ll let you know in a few days.