An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Toronto


Even cigarette butts are artfully placed in Hamilton
Even cigarette butts are artfully placed in Hamilton

Cobourg to Hamilton via Toronto. It was like strolling along a bird-chirped path in the woods into a tsunami of concrete, cars and people treading water. I stepped off the Via train into Union Station, the busiest hub of transportation in Canada with 200,000 people scurrying through on a daily basis. What’s more, the station was undergoing renovations. As I walked along the platform, the wheels on my luggage wobbled over temporarily placed panels of wood. Above, there was more falsework, temporary structures set up as the roof is being replaced. My imagination works best in calm environments where I have time to draw out ideas. Union Station was the perfect storm of a challenge.

After I took the stairs down to a central waiting area, I opened my laptop and typed for half an hour. I wrote out quick descriptions of all the people that passed. (A variation on George Perec’s “An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris”).


A shoulder bag tilts her gait to one side.

Chapeaud chap chewing.

Purse and a handbag pulling her down.

Teenage sister holds her teenage sister’s arm.

Dark sunglasses and a rolled up newspaper.

Colorful woman in floral dress bares upper teeth.

Straw from drink close to her mouth.

Second time I’ve seen his greasy eyes.

Her heels clop.

Skater bobs head in time with music.

Heels clip in another direction.

Smiling man with no bags walks with a unique posture.

Neck sticks out.

Tall man with a blue scarf.

Pink shirt.

Head moving just a little forward and back.

He glides out of the pack.

Older hipster’s hands in his jacket pockets.

Hand flops atop her pink bag.

Cluster moves up to 8-9.

Prickly moustache and a pink-striped tie.

Construction worker rolls bike by its seat.

Clips and clops.

Man balding behind a calm demeanor.

Here comes Sting again.

Tall man whose legs take slightly roundabout routes to get into each step.

Squinting bland business man.

Bouncy young man in black.

She clicks more on her left heel.

His stylish shoes bang out a racket, demanding to be noticed.


For half an hour the world was writable, manageable. On the Go-train to Hamilton, I withdrew into music – Mogwai’s “Yes, I am a long way from home.” There was the chance to do a pop-up reading, but I couldn’t bring myself to stand up and read. My imagination was still trying to catch up with the sensory overload of Toronto.

Hamilton was the perfect antidote to my overwhelmed senses. James Street North has a budding arts scene with a population of young people eager for random craziness. The highlights were the Mulberry Street Coffee house (“How do you spell your name?”), Homegrown Hamilton, (“How much do your chapbooks cost?), and Mixed Media. (“You’re lucky that poem wasn’t any longer.”) Under the influence of that powerhouse of creative wondrousness Gary Barwin, I’d written poems to be performed in different ways depending on the roll of dice. Yes, some versions were more demanding to listen to than others, but everyone was good-natured about the experiment.

The day ended with a reading organized by Gary Barwin at Epic Books (venue #72). I read with Amy Kenny and Benny Langedyk (whose names sound like a poem when placed side by side). Amy’s beautiful lyricism centered around northern places in Canada contrasted nicely with Benny’s wordplay and imagistic jumps. Afterwards, we went for drinks with a number of local writers.

Hamilton was a perfect place for my imagination to make itself at home.


   Next week I’ll be reading at the Art Bar, the Pivot reading series and the Toronto Zine Library as well as at the Grey Border Reading Series on Friday. Come out if you can!

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