Most days, I take my kids to school, and after six hours emailing at the office or puttering around the house, I pick them up, make supper, and put them to bed. Every day is great in its own way, but April 17, 2014, is not that kind of day.
I pick Kevin Spenst, my Sage Hill friend from Vancouver, up from the airport at 9:30, and become chauffeur, B&B host, tour guide, paparazzi, and co-poetry-bomber for the Winnipeg leg of his 100 stop chapbook tour of Canada.
Stop 30: Neighbourhood Bookstore and Cafe
After a rest at home and a call from CBC Montreal, we head to Wolseley, an artsy community near downtown. Poets Joanne Epp and Sally Ito meet us there. Some minestrone, my first taste of onigiri, and the fabulous coffee make a post-Saskatoon sleep-deprived Kevin “come to the surface for air.” Following a few minutes of scribbling, he rises and reads the poem he just wrote about Winnebegopeg, owner Bill beaming beside him. Kevin hands the one-poem chapbook to “the first guy who clapped” – none other than children’s author Joe McLellan.
“You could be Patrick Friesen’s body double,” says Kevin.
“What? That ugly guy? He’s old,” Joe laughs.
Stop 31: Patterson Global Food Institute
We meet fellow Alfred Gustav Press author Annie Deeley in the Exchange. We write; the gargoyle above us comes alive. Kevin delivers his just-created piece about the 1919 strike to the lone student in the Powerland lounge, then the crowd in the cafeteria below.
Stop 32: PLATFORM: Centre for Photographic + Digital Arts
The three of us walk to Artspace, where Kevin writes about Raymond Boisjoly’s Station to Station exhibit and reads for a gallery audience of one. After saying hello and goodbye to a stick-wielding Michelle Elrick, we rise to the 6th floor to see Perry and Charlene, but unfortunately, they’ve vanished out of Thin Air. On to floor two…
Stop 33: Manitoba Writer’s Guild
We meet the legendary Mora Gregg, Guild library organizer extraordinaire. Languishing behind a desk, director Carolyn Gray is resuscitated by poetry, and in return, offers us a paska (made by culinary students at Patterson), which Kevin and I will eat with our fingers in the car. As we’re leaving Artspace, Kevin and I corner Prairie Fire editor Andris Taskans, who graciously remembers publishing both of us.
Stop 34: Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art
We say goodbye to Annie for the moment, and head to an exhibit by and about Moholy-Nagy. Kevin locates curator Oliver and his photographer and reads them a piece he crafted by marrying the show’s foreign words with Twitter. My husband, Anthony Mark Schellenberg, meets us at the gallery and takes over as chief tour photographer.
For the first time today, what I see – a suspended sculpture of motorized plexiglass arrows by Winnipegger Erika Lincoln – yields a poem and the courage to perform it. Oliver calls it “polished” and urges me to email it to Erika.
Inspired by Floe 2014, Erika Lincoln
A web of ideas
suspends above our ears
which way which way
to lead or follow
spin and wait
we shed our wallets phones
and watch the snowflake turn
but not fall
all narrow ways
glitter like glass
Stop 35: Millennium Library
A small group made up of Colin Smith and some security guards enjoys a reading from Annie and Kevin’s Alfred Gustav chapbooks. Little gasps trail the raw ends of Annie’s poems about her relationship with her brother, who has cerebral palsy and autism. Kevin’s preacher voice and a wall of 2,000 card-catalogue-sized images draws our eyes to heaven.
Stop 36: McNally Robinson Booksellers
About 40 people gather in the travel alcove for an advertised reading by local poet and very nice person Ariel Gordon (whose collection Stowaways comes out May 15), myself, and Kevin. My parents, in-laws, sister-in-law, a fellow autism mom, two co-workers, my first mentor Méira Cook, and a few fellow poets are here to support me and hear nine short poems about my children’s life with autism.
As I’m introducing my last poem, “To make an Aspie” poking fun at the wild theories about what causes autism, a woman in the back row stands and calls out, “I have autism, and I want to thank you for these stories. They’re very encouraging.”
Afterward, my mom says, “You looked so natural up there,” and when someone whose most vivid memories of you involve poo or spaghetti says something like that, it means something. So many people say nice things including friends…
Anthony’s sister Luann Hiebert, whose collection What Lies Behind comes out April 23,
Melanie Dennis Unrau, my former poetry group partner and the Geez poetry editor who selected my poem “To make an Aspie” for the disabilities issue (some people get us mixed up, so this photo is proof there are truly two of us),
and a favourite poet and relative of both myself and Kevin, Sarah Klassen.
After Kevin signs chapbooks, a bunch of us move to the restaurant. A couple nearby, whom I’d seen at the back of the reading, call me over.
“We have two adult sons with autism and enjoyed your poems.”
“Thanks! How’d you hear about the reading?”
“We just happened to be walking through the bookstore because the movie we came for was sold out.”
Then the guy at the next table perks up. “You write poems? About autism? I’m a principal and my daughter here is a teacher, and we’d love to introduce our students to a poet. Do you do school visits?”
I sit down with some friends from the autism community. A teen poet with Aspergers asks me what it’s like to be a poet, a journalist. I tell her about receiving the gift of people’s stories, chipping away at them to create a sculpture.
“That’s so cool….”
Out of the corner, I see her mom smiling.
Kevin and I head home. Anthony beat us here, and after telling the respite worker what she made happen, sends her home to bed. The three of us sit down to finish Carolyn’s paska at the end of the best day.