25th Trillium Award

How to Do It in a Canoe: The Fish Quill Poetry Boat Series, with Darryl Whetter

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Darryl Whetter

It's the most unique and all-Canadian reading tour ever undertaken: the Fish Quill Poetry Boat, now in its third year, is set to launch five poets and a musician in canoes down the Grand River for ten days of poetry, performance and adventure. These fearless writers — Moez Surani, Kevin McPherson Eckhoff, Leigh Kotsilidis, Linda Besner and Darryl Whetter — are quick with a pen and even quicker with a paddle, and they know (or will soon find out) how to get things done in a canoe.

The Fish Quill Poetry Boat launched their ten-day tour with a performance at Toronto's TRANZAC Club on August 9th. Accompanied by musician Jack Marks, the Fish Quill Poets will read at the Elora Farmer's Market at noon on August 11th, followed by stops in West Montrose, West Bridgeport, Cambridge, Paris, Brantford and Six Nation's Chiefswood National Historic Site. Visit our Events page for more details about these readings.

Before launching into the water for ten days of canoeing, Darryl Whetter tells Open Book why this is the perfect time for him to break from his writing regimen and become a performance decathlete.

Darryl is the author of the recently released poetry collection Origins (Palimpsest Press, 2012), as well as the story collection A Sharp Tooth in the Fur (Goose Lane Editions, 2003) and the novel The Push & the Pull (Goose Lane Editions, 2008). A Sharp Tooth in the Fur was named to The Globe and Mail’s Top 100 Books of 2003. He has published poems and stories in Canada’s best journals — including Descant, The Fiddlehead and Arc, — more than 40 times. His reviews have appeared in venues such as The Toronto Star, The National Post, The Globe and Mail and the national CBC Radio program Talking Books. Darryl holds a PhD in English and currently teaches at Université Sainte-Anne.

How to Think in a Canoe

I’ve been asked if I can type on a laptop, write poetry, or, even more implausibly, edit a manuscript in a canoe. I can’t. For a start, I’ll be paddling, and that takes two hands and an equal distribution of labour. I have zero interest in being another self-spoiled artist demanding special allowances from others while I do my work.

More than the physical demands of self-propulsion and a lack of sustained concentration prevent me from writing while paddling. In a canoe, I’ll also have someone constantly two feet away. My fellow poet-canoeists and I will spend HOURS together in the cramped space of a canoe while we paddle day after day. I love the solitude of writing in part because when writing I am not a fixed and finite being. Writing, I am a parliament, a pageant, my own casting call. For this fluidity, I need to be alone, in the quiet, with my hands and mind free.

Hopefully, though, the Fish Quill Poetry Tour will give me two crucial writing opportunities. Over our ten days, I’ll read from my latest book (Origins) more repeatedly and frequently than I’ve read from either of my previous two books. On the water, we may confine ourselves to paddling and swimming, but with ten readings (in a row!) we will all be performance decathletes. I’m grateful for this chance to hear and feel how these poems are textured by our constant change of community, venue, weather, exhaustion and filth.

The biggest writing possibility the Tour will afford me is time to think. I should arrive between two very different drafts of two very different books. I seem poised to just finish a rough first draft of one novel before I arrive. Additionally, a few phrases and ideas are starting to draw themselves together for another novel. Depending on the time of (academic) year, I write for two to four hours, five days a week. Consequently, I normally loathe travel. Time away from writing sentences and paragraphs is usually time away from life. The only time I like to be away from daily writing is at a liminal moment exactly like this: I’ve got one novel in rough draft that needs attention in four dozen ways and another at that daunting, glorious, heel-nipping stage of conception. Paddling, my mind will wander. I just have to follow along.


Read about last year's Fish Quill Tour on our Literary Landmarks page.

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