So we did it. It happened. #it. An Accord of Poets. Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Peterborough—four cities in five days, five poets in a Honda Accord (and a sixth meeting us in Peterborough). I don’t know how to wrap up what we did together. More than a year of planning went into it, and now its over. jesslyn has put some thoughts down already. Justin too.
Are you sick of hearing about it yet? This is a bit long. I’m sorry. And it still feels so preliminary.
We started in Ottawa at the Carleton Tavern, reading in the Factory Reading Series generously hosted by rob mclennan, reading to an overwhelming hometown crowd. The support Ottawa gave us (and has given us for years) makes me feel so grateful to be writing and publishing here. We’ve got a great community and I would put it up beside any in the country. My parents were there. jesslyn’s nephew helped her out on stage with some timely cries. Justin had the audience chant under one of his poems. We all ate dinner together beforehand with our partners, with surprise guests Ben Ladouceur and Scott Lemoine (marking the first time in years that Justin and Ben had been in the same room). It was a beautiful send off.
Montreal was our first day on the road. It was odd to get in the car for the first time all together, leaving Ottawa in the early afternoon and finally seeing the highway that we’d been working towards. Justin kept things moving with one ‘big track’ after another, getting us underway with some of ABBA’s “big” hits (“they didn’t really have any small hits” –Jeff). The reading went well, hosted by Bukem Reitmayer at Bar Blizzarts. We saw old friends again, met some new people, enjoyed the city. Rachael gave what would turn out to be her final reading of the tour, and killed it. She was the best on the night.
I woke up early in Montreal the next day and took a walk on my own with a coffee through the mostly-deserted streets of Thanksgiving Monday. I needed the time to myself, only a couple hours, to take stock at the midway point of proceedings. It all seemed to be ending so quickly. The others woke up, we ate a greasy breakfast at Place Milton, and headed back to Ottawa where we split up for the night.
The drive to Toronto was our longest day in the car. We left Ottawa around 9am, but broke up the drive with a stop at the Al Purdy A-Frame. Nick Thran and Sue Sinclair welcomed us for an hour, showed us around, gave us Al Purdy beer. What an amazing space. I am jealous beyond words of those who win the residencies. Sitting in Al’s chairs by the water (or at least, the kind of dirty old plastic chairs you find at cottages that you assume have been there for decades), peering into the outhouse, standing in the grass, before heading down the road to spend a few minutes at his grave. Others have mentioned it in their roundups, but there was a different quality to the quiet moments in the car after the grave. There is a lot I haven’t processed from the tour, but this will take longer than most of it I think. I’ll need to revisit his work with a bit of the A-Frame in my mind now. Our great thanks to Nick, Sue, and Jean Baird for allowing us to drop by.
We made it to Toronto with one further detour to Jeff’s childhood home in Thornhill where his delightful and generous parents, Lawrence and Gail, were hosting us for the night. The EW Reading Series was something else. Great room, great crowd, we were treated excellently by host and series-runner Jess Taylor. I don’t have enough good things to say about how well run it is. So many old friends together in one place again, and an amazing cross-section of my life: friends I met in grade five, friends from university, friends from the small press scene. It felt really good that night. Jeff and Justin performed some of their collaborations, reading different versions of the same poem simultaneously. jesslyn gave a remarkably vulnerable reading that silenced the room and spoke to the mixture of feelings that came up out of all the reunions in the room. We each read one of Rachael’s poems, driving home how great her poems are and also how nice it can feel to inhabit someone else’s words on stage, however briefly (we should do an additional bizarro reading in Ottawa after the tour where we each read someone else’s poems). The highlight for me was Jeff closing out the night by singing his Cape-Breton Ghazal, “You Are Not A Winner.” I didn’t expect it. It was so beautiful. Jeff is fearless on the mic in ways I wish I could be.
We rode the subway back to Thornhill together, had a terrifying cab ride to Jeff’s house, and stayed up until 3am talking and playing with Jeff’s childhood toys. We were given a perfect breakfast of fresh bagels and lox by Jeff’s parents in the morning before hitting the road for Peterborough. It was bittersweet at this point. Rachael was no longer in the Accord, and we knew that the final reading lay ahead. We went to some bookstores (and did alright: a first of the British edition of Margaret Avison’s Winter Sun, as well as a McFadden and a Brossard), spent an hour at the free Peterborough zoo, had a great final meal of the tour together, hung out at a café that Justin used to go to in high school, signed books for each other, felt sad, talked about what had happened over the last few days, what would happen that night. David Emery joined us, which was fitting. I’ve missed hearing his poems, and he was the first of our group to be involved with In/Words. It was only right that he was there on the final night. Thanks so much for reading with us! And thanks also for these amazing photos of us you took before the tour.
The Peterborough crowd was great. There were Millions and Maxfields in the room. Jeff read an amazing new google-erasure-list poem that I won’t spoil, but man oh man it’s great. jesslyn read from her handwritten notebook after we managed to leave the last of her chapbooks at the venue in Toronto, and even that seemed right. Justin was wonderful and nervous and excited. He set up the Peterborough venue, St. Veronus, which was beautiful, and was reading in front of his parents for the first time I believe. I read that poem I wrote with Stuart Ross because I was feeling nostalgic and it has those associations for me.
The show ended. We sold and signed books. And then began the sad process of saying our goodbyes. We were leaving Justin and David in Peterborough. Rachael was already gone. Only Jeff, jesslyn, and I got back in the Accord for the final trek to Ottawa. There was lots of hugging.
Highway 7 was great on the drive. Unsurprisingly, very little traffic between 11:00pm and 2:30am. We saw a wolf, maybe two. There were a surprising number of frogs crossing the road. The music was turned down to the lowest volume it had been at all tour (though turned up for the big tracks of course, don’t worry Justin). We talked a bit more about what had happened, but also about a hundred other things. It was wonderful. We dropped jesslyn first. I got out second. Jeff had to drive the final few kilometres of the tour himself.
There are a lot of thank you’s we need to make. Our hosts and venues (rob and the Factory Series, Bukem, Jess and the EW Series, Nick and Sue at the A-Frame, the fine people at St. Veronus), the crowds that came to listen, old friends that made the effort and new friends that did so even though they didn’t know us yet, our families (over the tour I met Jeff’s parents, Justin’s parents and sister, jesslyn’s dad and other family members, and we saw new parts of everyone’s childhood), the Blackman’s for welcoming us into their home, all the people that kindly promoted the tour and interviewed us in the build up, the relatively event-free highway driving, the service stations, the weather.
Most importantly, our partners need more thanks than this meagre blog post can offer. Jenn, Kate, Jamie, Jon—thank you! This was an insane thing to do over Thanksgiving, and you put up with an awful lot of tour meetings and discussions for more than a year just to have us disappear for five days. Lots of poems were read in your honour, and you were there in the Accord the same as any of us (well, not in the bodily sense…). The tour doesn’t happen without your support, and neither do the poems. We love you and need you and thank you.
I don’t know how to thank jesslyn, Justin, Rachael, and Jeff. I felt so close to you already, but it is definitely different now. I’m so grateful that I got to do this with you all. I was the negative voice throughout the planning, saying no when everyone else was saying yes, but you all generously kept me around. I know more about you all than I did before, and you know more about me. Publishing chapbooks by each of you over the last five years through Apt. 9 is something I am unbelievably proud of, and now to be next to you all in Five (and to have been on stage with you) fills be with so much gratitude and pride. The best part of it all was getting to listen to you night after night. I love your poems. I love you.
I haven’t been able to speak, quite literally, since getting home. I did my voice in (#tourplague Jenn says; most of us came home sick one way or another). That seems appropriate since I don’t know how to sum any of it up. Love and gratitude. That’s all.
[Five is for sale online now]