25th Trillium Award

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

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Moez Surani

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 have read in Elora, West Montrose and West Bridgeport. Tonight, they are reading at Gallery on the Grand in Kitchener, and their next reading will be at Cambridge’s O’Keefe Cottage Cafe & Ice Cream Parlour on August 15th, followed by stops in Paris, Brantford and Six Nation's Chiefswood National Historic Site. Visit our Events page for more details about these readings.

Today Moez Surani, author of the recently released Floating Life (Wolsak & Wynn), gives us a glimpse of life in the canoe, where there is no such thing as "my balloon" or "your balloon": only "our balloon."

Moez is a poet, reviewer and short fiction author. His writing has been included in numerous anthologies and literary journals, including The Literary Review of Canada and The Walrus. He has attended writing residencies in Finland, Latvia and Switzerland, and his writing has won the Chalmers Arts Fellowship, the Kingston Literary Award and the Antigonish Review’s Great Blue Heron Poetry Contest. His first collection, Reticent Bodies (Wolsak & Wynn, 2009), was described as "that rare book that has the power to be a lynchpin, a hinge in the history of Canadian poetry.” Moez lives in Toronto.

The Peril and Ectasy of Inflating a Rubber Balloon While on a Swiftly Moving Canoe

1. No evading it: it begins with conception.

2. For years the sum of your life is family, friends, your culture and circumstance.

3.Then one day you are out at sea. You are in a boat. Let’s say, for example, that it is a canoe. All your horizons are water, so your whole existence at this point is blue.

4. While seated in this comfortable canoe, in the midst of this peaceful lake, go through everything you have until you find the rubber balloon.

5. It needn’t be your balloon. Once on a canoe, notions of personal property fade to a joyous communalism. There are only balloons. Only in the most jejune and disastrous of canoe trips can there be such notions as “my balloon” and “your balloon.” Much more common and widespread is “our balloon.”

6. Find our balloon. It exists somewhere on the canoe.

7. Once you have inflated it, resist the temptation to bat the thing around in the air.

8. The canoe cuts across a lake. You smile in the wind. You laugh at the speed and grace of it. Your existence is adventure, thrill, pleasure, risk.

9. At this point, your entire life is those with you on the canoe, those in any surrounding canoes, the water, sky, elements, oars and the balloon.

10. Balloons have neither fathers nor mothers.

11. The balloon escapes your hands. Perhaps you clutched it too tightly. Perhaps you were distracted. Perhaps it was the temptation of playing with it.

12. Canoes are capable of wondrous speeds. Despite this the wake is gentle. The split water joins behind you with no memory of your violence. Your craft knifes through the lake.

13. It is late in the day now: twilight. The last hour of colour. After this, it is silhouettes, shadow, conjecture and moonlight.

14. You reach for your escaping balloon, straining your arm and back.

15. Falling out of the canoe is inevitable. When you resurface and gasp for air, and the canoe is coasting along without you, the laws of common property lift away. It is now your balloon.

16. Chase after your balloon. It rises above the lake.

17. You swim.

18. At this point your world is trace colour, the immense lake, the swirling fish, your solitude and the balloon.

19. Occasionally, you speculate. Was falling out of the canoe a decision? Could it have been otherwise? You theorize about accidents, fate, destiny and character and though you feel things strongly you come to no sure conclusion. Was boat life not fulfilling, adventurous, and also strangely passive?

20. Swimming becomes so regular that it can hardly define your existence. With the disappearance of “swimmer,” “lake” becomes needless and flutters away too.

21. Your world: you, balloon.

22. You pursue the balloon in all tempers. You must have it.

23. Express yourself simply enough, it seems, and symbols abound.

24. The miracle: the deux ex machina that splashes like construction equipment into this lake. In the darkness you hear other absorbed swimmers pursuing other alluring balloons. What ensues is kinship, solidarity, rivalry and friendship. Your balloon gets insulted.

25. The balloon is so ineffable, unburdened and responsive to every gust that it is at the border between the real and the unreal. You swim across the lake in the darkness. Even without much light and vision, you can sense your balloon.

26. Something happens. I won't evade it: you die. Drowning, accident, murder, fate or disease.

27. Earth covers you.

28. Those with cognizance of you summarize your life and rationalize your actions. Certainty abounds. It is anything but silence. It is cross-speaking and clamour.

29. “Balloon-chaser!” “Idealist!” “Contrarion!” “Swimmer!”

30. At different times I have thought life was about letting go, holding on, being good, being materially ascetic or being indulgent and tasting, taking, lavishing and enjoying. I have thought life is about plunging deep within then that it is going far beyond, and then that it is leaving behind philosophies and concepts and perceiving purely, without logic, thought or systems, so there is no coherence, just confusion and infinity.

31. You die covered in blemishes (scars, wrinkles, mistakes, self-reproach, lies, wrongs, inauthenticity), but the balloon lofts and exists.

32. The flesh and mentalities of these other swimmers also earn these blemishes. As do those on the many coasting and convivial canoes. These blemishes are, it seems to you, as inherent to flesh as hope, humour and endeavour.

33. The world, in sum, life, is filled with sins and balloons.


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

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