Writer in Residence


By Barry Dempster

I keep a list of things I think I want to write about. Back when the list was a more manageable size, I’d tackle my ideas at enough of a distance for me to have processed the simple stuff, the details, and to be ready to make new discoveries. But as ideas are known to do, they began to multiply. It could be years before I actually get to an idea. Writing a poem about Lou Reed’s death, for example, might have to wait so long that, for a moment, I’m liable to forget, not Lou Reed, of course, but the connection to him that I’d wanted to explore when I first wrote down the idea.

To tell the truth, I think that I have more ideas now than I have time to write them. What a dizzying thought that so many of my ideas will outlive me. Should this change my behaviour? Skip ahead or throw the entire pile into the air and choose the fourth one on the page that lands second from the top? Or should I just get rid of my list entirely, spend the rest of my days idea-less? I finally decide to set some rigorous boundaries, only keep track of ideas that seem brilliant, impossible to resist.

It’s weird how many of the ideas don’t mean a thing to me once I’ve caught up with them. If crows could only talk, is one example. But crows can talk, I say from this particular vantage point. Though once upon a time I obviously felt the need for a crow to learn my language. Perhaps my hearing has been damaged by too much listening? Have I lost the ability to differentiate between caws?

The jackpot of getting on with it is another. What? The face of forgetfulness. Huh? Broken smoke alarm. The mysteries accumulate. Writing these ideas down has somehow killed them. My sense of wonder has an expiry date. I don’t dare add to this list, although Not letting the dead die and The secret business of keeping secrets had both resulted in poems that brought me some satisfaction. Perfect timing. Right place, right me.

Speaking of timing, the Richmond Hill Public Library’s 10th annual Poetry Gala is this coming Saturday, April 19th from 1 pm to 4 pm. The line-up includes Kimmy Beach, myself, Jeramy Dodds, Elizabeth Greene, Anne Shin and Paul Vermeersch. It’s always one of the best poetry events of the year. The Library is on the southwest corner of Yonge Street and Major Mackenzie. Buses going north leave Finch Station every fifteen minutes. And for those of you with wheels, there is ample parking. Please come if you can. Hope to see you there.

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: Toronto.

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.

Barry Dempster, twice nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award, is the author of fourteen poetry collections, two novels, The Ascension of Jesse Rapture and The Outside World, two volumes of short stories and a children’s book. His collection The Burning Alphabet won the Canadian Authors’ Association Chalmers Award for Poetry in 2005. In 2010, he was a finalist for the Ontario Premiers Award for Excellence in the Arts. He is also Acquisitions Editor for Brick Books.

For more information about Invisible Dogs please visit the Bricks Books website.