Emotions! They happen, among other places, in poetry. Or, they are witnessed there, caused there, repressed there, and so on. Sometimes after doing a highly personal reading, audience members will kindly ask or exclaim about the challenges of sharing such texts with seeming strangers. I’m never quite sure what to say, though I do sometimes think to myself that the emotions I have when reading a piece are not at all in the same category as the emotions that one may put into writing a piece.
In Edmonton, I apparently had to prove myself wrong on this point.
Allow me to share some background first. It was a very special night and homecoming for me, having lived in Edmonton off and on from 2006–2013. My partner (and fellow poet) Carmen Ellison acted as supreme event manager. She nabbed the amazing Latitude 53 for us as a venue. She created a snack spread inspired by Sideshow Concessions: pink circus popcorn mixed with white-cheddar cheese-corn and caramel corn (henceforth known as Edmonton Mix, which is way better than Chicago Mix). We missed the bank’s closing time by one minute, but Carmen valiantly ran into The Bay and got proper float change from the Chanel teller. (Okay, I’m guessing on the Chanel part, but I know that we both gravitate to free Chanel spritzes-on-paper when cutting through our local Bay on the way to the train.)
It was also a special night because my friends Ali Blythe and Cato Taylor were also reading. Ali and I were at the Banff Centre together in 2012 and I hadn’t seen him since. Cato was just one week away from her PhD defense, wherein the one and only Judith Butler was on her examining committee. I remain honoured that these two were a part of the evening, and remain inspired by the example of their writing.
My dear friends were in the audience, and at least two former paramours. (In an unlikely but amazing twist, those two categories even overlap in this case.)
Okay, back to emotions. When we were in high school, my sister Jen and I coined something called “turtle voice.” It’s that weird throaty, phlegmy, forced sound one makes when trying to talk despite holding back tears. I don’t know why, but it struck us, at the time, as the type of voice a turtle would have if it could talk.
Everything went swimmingly and I could not have been happier. A tiny hint of baby turtle voice erupted when I tried to thank Carmen at the beginning of the night, but I’d pulled it together!
But then, during my last poem of the night (we each did two short sets), a whole horde of turtles marched out of my heart and straight up into my voicebox! I was reading a long poem about my late father. I looked up at the crowd to try to compose myself—oops, wrong decision. I saw so many of my dear folks there and something in me just let a huge dam break way. In many ways, publishing this book has felt just like that—letting a huge build-up of thoughts finally burst out.
I made it through the poem, but not without much snuffling, sniffling, and tears, to arrive at a very special experience in the end. Which, when I think about it, sums up my life in Edmonton as a whole.