Writer in Residence

A Poetry Bookshop in Toronto

By Kate Sutherland


An exciting thing happened in Toronto while I was away. Jeff Kirby opened a poetry bookshop, knife|fork|book, in Rick’s Café in Kensington Market. Having missed the October 6th grand opening, I raced over immediately upon return from my travels to check it out, and what a glorious place it is.

You might think that a bookstore inside a café would just be a small selection of books tucked away in the back. Absolutely not. There’s a generous selection of books, visible from outside through the front windows to entice passers-by like me who can’t see a bookcase without wanting to stop and browse its contents. The focus is on poetry and small press books which fit together hand in glove given that most of the best poetry is published by small presses. All of the Canadian stalwarts are present, along with some offerings from U.S. small presses that one rarely comes across in Canadian bookstores. The thing that made me especially giddy was the number of chapbooks not just present but beautifully displayed.

It’s a cozy spot in which to read and sip a hot beverage, but it looks to be an excellent social space as well. I gather that it was full to bursting with an appreciative crowd listening to Marnie Woodrow read on opening night. And there are events scheduled nearly every week for the rest of the year, including the launch of Hoa Nguyen’s latest poetry collection, Violet Energy Ingots, this Thursday evening.

I left with an armload of books. And also with some questions which Jeff Kirby graciously answered in a subsequent email exchange:

KS: The outlook for the bookselling trade seems very positive at the moment, but poetry has always been a tough sell. Why did you choose poetry as a focus for your new bookshop?

KFB: Quite honestly Kate, it’s about time, don’t cha think? We live in the largest city in Canada—a hugely engaged book culture, rich, both now and historically, with pockets of poets and lovers/readers of poetry—I mean, do I really have to go to another city to find such a place? This is the shop I would travel to go to (and have). And it’s right here in bustlin’ Kensington Market.

KS: Why a mix of new and used books?

KFB: The greatest compliment is always when a reader/book lover comes across that unexpected ‘find,’ often a used/out of print title (I had that moment recently with Dennis Cooper’s first collection, “Idols”). And, then there’s the new title that’s “no where to be found,” but here. And beautiful chapbooks, rarely carried, let alone displayed. I’ve always enjoyed a good mix, don’t you? With price points for any reader/collector.

KS: I note that, unlike most bookstores, chapbooks have pride of place on your shelves. What prompted that choice?

KFB: Because they’re so pretty and I love them. Chapbooks are such a discovery for most, because they’re often only to be found online, and not seen and held. They can be such treasures. And one of the best reasons why there will always be books in print.

KS: You’ve set up shop in the convivial atmosphere of a café, and I see on your website that you’ve got lots of events planned. Do you have ideas about the role of bookstores in literary communities that have shaped your plans for knife|fork|book?

Local bookshops are true signs of ‘good health’ in any community. (Who wouldn’t want to live near a poetry bookshop? With great coffee?) I’m a big fan of championing poets, new, challenging, those we emulate/aspire to. How terrific to have a venue to showcase, introduce, and nurture each other.

KS: Does knife|fork|book keep the same hours as the café in which it’s located? When can people visit?

Yes, we keep the same hours as Rick’s, and we’re open later Friday and Saturday Nights until 9PM. And I’m personally at the shop Wednesday through Sundays. Come. Introduce yourself. Enjoy.

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.

Kate Sutherland was born in Scotland, grew up in Saskatchewan, and now lives in Toronto, where she is a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School. She is the author of two collections of short stories: Summer Reading (winner of a Saskatchewan Book Award for Best First Book) and All In Together GirlsHow to Draw a Rhinoceros is Sutherland’s first collection of poems.

You can reach Kate throughout the month of October at writer@open-book.ca