Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

BookTour 2010: Berkeley

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The first thing I learned in the Bay area: San Jose’s airport is a long way from town. Oakland and San Fran airports are both on the train line. Note to self: avoid the labyrinth of transfers, buses, shuttles, and trains next time you fly to the Bay.

I still hadn’t eaten since Portland when I arrived in the hold of my host David Buuck in the late afternoon. We chatted for a while, but took the occasion to hit Telegraph Street in Berkeley. Our first stop was Moe’s bookstore – an amazing site for Language poetry, I discovered. Consequently, I bought too many books. We browsed the strip, and paused in a bistro for some fantastic avocado sandwiches. Student culture, with its soft countercultural impulse was everywhere abundant. Homeless hippies also lined the streets, selling doses and other mind warps all with their customary surplus of odours.

We were running a bit late, so we dashed home, ate our food, and set out on foot for host David Brazil and Sara Larsen’s home. We passed the divide between Oakland and Berkeley, marked by giant sculptures that read on either side of the boundary, “There” and “Here” – a reference to Gertrude Stein’s famous remark about Oakland.

After reading at the Vancouver Event, it was a welcome relief to discover that the intended venue was to be a living room. There were approximately 20 people there, filling the house, all of whom were younger than I. Overlapping bodies slouched or draped themselves haphazardly over the floor, going this way or that. It was casual right up until I was about to start, when a recording device was plucked down at ear level, on a shelf about a foot from my face. They seemed to have a lot of fun with the reading, though, and it became a very interactive affair. Lots of heckling, humour, and dialogue from the floor throughout my performance. I even sold a few books, despite having been told that it “wasn’t that kind of crowd.” There was another reader on the bill: Erin Morrill. She, it turned out, was an MFA student working with Lisa Robertson. She did an excellent job reading from a multifarious long poem.

David and Sara publish a bi-weekly poetry zine called Try Magazine, reminiscent of the early TISH newsletters. They gave me a pile of copies, including the latest with work of my own. Another anecdote worth passing along – two young bucks came up to me afterwards to talk about the reading. They weren’t poets or literary people, they said, but they loved the reading and wanted to buy my book. They added that the book was intended for a special library they were developing in honour of their good friend who committed suicide the month before. Mine was to be the first book in the library not from their friend’s original book collection: they thought he would have loved the book, so it belonged. That was humbling.

Around midnight, the sandwich I had eaten earlier woke up with a grumble, and we snuck away before the week-night party had diminished. I slept that night on a futon on David Buuck’s living room floor. He has two big dogs, and the blanket and pillow he gave me were both stuffed with down feathers. I have lived my life with intense allergies to both down and dogs, but tonight I was simply too tired to voice any protest. Oddly, mercifully, I had no allergic reaction. I kind of think my body might have been too tired to muster up the energy for a reaction, but the science behind that might not be sound. David was kind enough to drive me to the train, and I disembarked after just a whirlwind stop.

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.

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