Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

The Fish Quill Poetry Boat Interview Series, with Linda Besner

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Launching tonight (appropriately at the Boat in Toronto) is the summer?s most unique reading series, the Fish Quill Poetry Boat Tour. The series features six Canadian poets who embark on a reading tour via (you guessed it) canoe. The tour runs from August 4-13 with various stops through southwestern Ontario following the Toronto launch.

Open Book is thrilled to be featuring interviews with several of the talented poets from the tour. Today we speak with one of the series organizers, Linda Besner, author of The Id Kid (Signal Editions). Besner has been called ?one of the funniest poets writing in this country? (The National Post).

You can also visit Open Book's event listing for the tour.

And stay tuned for more interviews with the fabulous FQPB poets!

Open Book:

Tell us why you decided to become involved with the Fish Quill Poetry Boat tour.

Linda Besner:

Fish Quill started out as a joke — Leigh Kotsilidis and I had an idea about how we would ride horses across the country giving readings, and how we would call ourselves the Royal Canadian Mounted Poets. Of course, there were a few logistical barriers to that plan — neither of us know how to ride, you have to feed horses, etc — so this existed pretty much as a fantasy. But talking about it gave us the feeling that it would be really great to do a tour using some unconventional mode of transportation. I honestly can?t remember how we hit on canoes — it just seemed like the obvious choice. I grew up in a small town on a river, and my family has a canoe, so I did canoe a lot as a teenager. We also really liked the idea of getting out of the major urban centres where tours usually go — if you live in the country or in a smaller town, you usually have to drive to a city to attend readings, so we thought it would be neat for us to bring contemporary poetry out to smaller towns instead.


What are some of the advantages and disadvantages to this unique approach to the public reading?


Oh my god, the logistics are head-spinning! From an organizational standpoint, it?s a ten-performance tour, so there?s all the venue-booking and promotion and grant-writing and scheduling to sort out, PLUS it?s a ten-day canoe trip, so all the readings have to be planned based on how far eight novice canoeists can be expected to paddle in a day and how far each venue is from the river or our campsite. Because of these constraints, we?ll be reading in some odd venues: there?s an ice-cream parlour we?ll be reading at in Cambridge, a museum in Waterloo, a park pavilion in Elora. On the other hand, this kind of eccentricity is what makes the project worth doing! I think people are really drawn to the quirkiness of the idea, so in terms of getting people out to the readings I think we?ll see lots of folks coming out who wouldn?t ordinarily think to attend a poetry reading.


What are some of your favourite memories from past readings, in this tour or others?


Tragically, after we organized the whole thing last year, a couple days before the tour started I got really ill and wasn?t able to go, which was incredibly disappointing. So I?m afraid I don?t have any memories from last year. But I think my favourite ever moment at a reading was from one I did at the Press Club this year with the Pivot reading series. Jacob McArthur Mooney was also reading, and he had just settled in at the podium when the tinkle of a vending cart bell floated in from outside. Jacob kind of gave us a ?just a second? gesture, and left the bar. He was gone for long enough that we were all sort of starting to wonder if he had been overcome with stage fright and wouldn?t be coming back, when he came through the door bearing giant pink and blue bags of cotton candy and passed it out to the audience.


What?s the best advice about public readings you have ever received?


When I was at the Banff Centre a few years ago I really enjoyed working with Colin Bernhardt, who?s there to give writers coaching on public readings. I think what I took away from those sessions was that I should really try to enter into the poem while I?m reading and not to allow myself to be distracted so that I?m just reading words off the page. I do try to feel the emotional content of a poem when I read it aloud, and I think that helps the audience to feel it too.


Tell us one or two of the best outdoors/exploration/wildlife-themed books you?ve read (we?re getting in the mood for the tour!).


One book I loved as a kid was The Swallows and the Amazons, by Arthur Ransome. It opens with a letter from the kids? father and the (to me, at eight or nine) exotic and mysterious line, ?Better drowned than duffers; if not duffers, won?t drown,? which seems like the perfect motto for this tour. I really hope none of us are duffers.


What are you most looking forward to about this year?s FQPB tour?


I think for me it?s Paddle with the Poets day. That?s something new this year — we?re inviting anyone who wants to bring down a canoe and paddle along with us to join us for the day on August 8th. There?ll be a picnic and a reading halfway through the day?s paddle. I?m really looking forward to this, because I think it?ll give us a fabulous chance to just kinda hang out with people from the area, and the reading will be really informal and friendly.

Linda Besner is originally from Wakefield, Quebec. Her poetry and reviews have appeared in The Walrus, The Malahat Review, Grain, Maisonneuve and Canadian Notes and Queries, among others. She works as a freelance radio producer, and has contributed to CBC?s Definitely Not the Opera, Outfront and The Next Chapter. Her first collection
of poetry is The Id Kid.

For more information about The Id Kid please visit the Signal/Vehicule website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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