Last week I met Crad Kilodney for the first time. Now, I can’t say that I’m a fan of what he writes, since I’ve never read any of his books, but I’ve always admired his method of distribution. He’s been self-publishing and selling books on the streets of Toronto since 1978, trying his hardest to make our streets a little more interesting. Others have sold books on the streets as well but Crad has earned a special notoriety for his undying perseverance. I was happy to see him because I had heard that he’d quit. But there he was standing on Yonge street, south of Bloor, with a sign around his neck: “LITERATURE FOR MINDLESS BLOBS”. He didn’t look too happy, so I approached him as cheerfully as possible and said, “Hi, Crad. How are you doing?” Without turning his head, he shifted his eyes to meet mine and muttered, “are you the man they’ve sent to assas-sinate me?
A week later, I was standing in front of Longhouse Bookshop with my book hanging from my neck. Above it was a yellow sign that read, in purple crayon, “POETRY FOR PEOPLE WHO HATE POETRY”. In my hand was a stack of leaflets to hand out to anybody who would condescend to talk to me. It was 6:30 p.m. so I figured that anybody who was wanting to go to Longhouse [a now defunct Can-lit bookstore — ed.] would see that it was closed and I’d get them.
This didn’t happen. What did happen was that most people walked by and didn’t even turn their head to look at me. Many people did read my sign, but most of them ended up with expressions of either confusion or derision on their faces. The people who walked by and simply gave a smile or laugh were the best. I didn’t get any money out of them but I got an occasional burst of moral support, and the knowledge that at least some people could still be shocked into laughter.
The first person to stop was a woman on roller blades. I handed her a leaflet and she read it straight through. Looking at my sign, she said, “You know, I really hate poetry. I mean I hate all kinds of poetry. Even this. I’m sorry. I’d like to buy your book, but I completely hate poetry.” She seemed genuinely disappointed that she couldn’t buy my book because of her irrational prejudice against poetry. I told her that it was okay — “Don’t let it bother you” — and that she could keep the leaflet. She was a little perplexed by this, answering, “Well, I don’t want it. I’ll leave it in the video store.” I thanked her and she rolled away.
After another 15 minutes of looking at my watch two noveau punks stopped. They seemed kind of interested and flipped through a copy of my book.”Do you write poetry?” I asked the shorter guy. “Yeah, I write poetry. But it’s weird. Like, really weird. Weirder than this. Like, nobody understands it because you can’t understand it, you know? Like, I wrote this one poem and, whatever you think it’s about, that’s what it’s about.” He didn’t buy my book, either. I guess it was too accessible for him.
After this, a bearded man sat down ten feet to my left and began playing the violin. I couldn’t tell if it was gypsy music or modern classical, but I didn’t care because it was beautiful. This is when it began to rain. Which was also beautiful, because it was falling in a series of infrequent quiet splashes and worked as a perfect complement to the music, and my plight. It was so romantic. I looked up at the sky and saw a limp Canadian flag drooping above me, and I thought, Wow, that’ll be a great metaphor for my story, once I write it.
It stopped raining as suddenly and as subtly as it had started, and a man with long blonde hair and glasses stopped to ask me, “What have you got?” I pulled out my book, and before I could say, “Three dollars,” he was reaching for his wallet. He sat down in the doorway of Longhouse and began reading my book from cover to cover.
Today I stood on Queen Street West. I figured it would be a good location because everyone there is just aching for a chance to show how interesting they are and what could be more interesting than buying poetry on the street? Apparently, just about everything. I stood in front of Pages Books and watched people walk by, people who were too wrapped up in trying to appear aloof to notice I was there. One man stopped, looked at me and began to walk over. He pushed me aside with an “Excuse me” and headed to the Pages’ window display to see what books they were pushing. I looked around and figured I had a bad location. Every 20 feet there were t-shirt vendors, jewellery vendors, or a guy with a green mohawk and an Exploited t-shirt selling his presence and attitude. Admittedly, I ignore all of this when I walk down Queen West, so why shouldn’t other people ignore me, too? I figured, at first, that I had something unique to offer, but at that point I wasn’t too sure. And I was getting terribly annoyed by the people walking by wearing their trendy “Word on the Street” t-shirts who refused to notice…well, the word on the street. Thirsty and discouraged, I headed off to find a beer and a place to sit down and write this.
I wish I had something to say that would wrap all of this up, but I don’t. I’ll go back out to sell books on the street soon, but I can’t really explain why. I just happen to think that Toronto needs more of this sort of behavior. If there is any truth to the rumour that Crad is going to give up soon, then I can only hope that others join me in taking his place. It’s just such a useless and absurd thing to do that there’s something aesthetic about doing it.
An account of the author’s descent into poetry prostitution