Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015


Spring in Elsinore

In the beginning of Spring I often think of the very beginning of Hamlet:

SCENE I. Elsinore. A platform before the castle.

FRANCISCO at his post. Enter to him BERNARDO

Who's there?

Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself.

Thinking (again and more) with M. NourbeSe Philip's Zong!

In returning to thinking about Zong!, I’m also returning to the idea of neuro-plasticity, the forming and deforming inscriptions experience leaves on the brain. When reading Zong! or when listening to it being performed, something perceptible happens in my body, a vibration, an inhabitation, a resonance, each of which is deeply material. If events and experiences are transcribed in the brain and have the capacity to alter or reframe the inscriptions that have preceded them in an individual brain and also, by extension, in several brains in a community that experience together, how might Zong! quite literally influence our neurology? How might this crucial work be engaged in an affective labor that returns to the slaves their voices through the circuitry of our brains?

Thinking with M. NourbeSe Philip's Zong!

I thought today I’d write about a text that beautifully, painfully, brilliantly performs some of the affective and political work that I’ve been writing about in past posts: M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong! Zong! is a listening text; it draws on and intervenes in the legal history of 142 African slaves who, in 1781, were thrown overboard the ship Zong so that the ships owners’ could collect insurance money for their loss. Relying on the language of the legal decision "Gregory vs. Gibson," Philip reimagines history by listening for and to the voices drowned within its violence.

Revision and Sedgwick and Surprise

In my head my posts this month were going to unfold more linearly than they seem currently to be doing. I imagined each post, in advance of writing it (and an advance of writing any of the posts) as a short section in a longer essay. But, as almost always, the plan alters ever so slightly, then ever so completely . . . Each of these posts remains (in my head at least) a continuation of what precedes it and is to-be-continued, each is part of what I now think of note-taking towards an essay, and/but the essay keeps altering as I write—


Parenthetical: On Neural Transformation:

(One of the things I’ve been reading about recently and am deeply engaged with is the idea of neuroplasticity. The internal reality formed by neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain to alter in response to external and internal experience—is not only a mental phenomenon but also a somatic one. The traces in the brain left by experience are associated with particular somatic states, some positive, some negative, some an ambivalent combination of both. Plasticity demonstrates that experience leaves a trace on and influences neuronal networks, modifying the way information is transferred through the brain and body. Experience thus leaves a trace that alters the givens or modifications that have preceded it: this the principle of neuroplasticity.

Bodies Called Forth and Bodies Calling

Part of the reason I’ve decided to write about bodies this month is because I’ve been reading and talking so much about them—in newspapers, online, in books, and with friends and family. The transformations of bodies, the inescapable signifying of different kinds of bodies, the ways those significations might alter, have all been part of these readings and conversations.

Chapter 1: Beginning (Again)

It’s strange to think of a formal beginning in the midst of the continuous alterations—some barely perceptible, some profound—that seem always to unfold at this time of year and in the midst of alterations particular to this unfolding year. In Toronto, the hide-and-go-seek appearing and disappearing of Spring, the feel of the thawing ground yielding against my boots, sap running through the trees, the end of one strike and the possibility of new strikes, book season.

Prologue: Context: Sugaring

Today, the sap is running. It has been, on and off, for the last two weeks. I’ve spent as much of that time as possible a couple hours north of Toronto with family and friends tapping trees, carrying sap, cutting firewood, stoking fires, boiling sap into syrup, and finally bottling it. This is anything but a professional operation. The pleasure began on a Thursday when we bricked the evaporator, also called an “arch,” a “fire box,” an “oven,” and which I, for unconscious reasons, cannot help but call “the kiln”: think of an oil drum cut in half and flipped on its long side. Think of fire bricks, of scoring them with a diamond blade and tapping them apart with a wedge, of fitting them, puzzle style, along the sides of the barrel, and then mortaring them into place.

Ekphrasis Strikes Again!

The Guinness Book of Records probably doesn't have a category for it, but a group of writers and artists in Toronto has likely set a record for the longest-running, largest-scale collaboration anywhere between writers and visual artists. This eighth annual National Poetry Month exhibition and reading on April 26 features visual art by studio members of the Women's Art Association of Canada and associated poems by the Long Dash group. Some poems are responses to paintings or photographs; others share a common set of images or emotions. Similarly, some of the visual art is created, or altered, in response to poems.

Writers' Groups I Have Known: Part III, The Everything Else

To finish up my month here as Open Book's WIR, I'm giving thanks and paying tribute to the writers' groups I've been fortunate enough to be a part of.


There are two more group who I owe a great credit to: one that helped me figure out that short fiction was definitely not for me, and one that has helped me to establish my voice as a writer for kids and teens.

That first distinction sounds like a negative, but it really wasn't. The Flaky Lushes were a group of mostly poets who gave me my first notes on what would become my first book, When We Were Good. We were known for being stragglers, and were all working on vastly different pieces, but the summer we spent meeting regularly was a really special one.

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