knife|fork|book: A new haven for poetry in Kensington Market

Knife FOrk

the knife|fork|fork display at Rick’s Cafe. Photo from Instagram

“The book is the meal.”

Jeff Kirby (known as just “Kirby” to most) is seated at a small table in Rick’s Cafe. The long-running Kensington Market coffee shop is nestled on Augusta, close to Big Fat Burrito on one side and El Trompo Tacos on the other.  Kirby is gesturing to a beautifully-organized series of display shelves at the front of the cafe, all holding poetry – all kinds of poetry, much of it independently-published and Canadian. Offerings from BookThug and Coach House stand alongside titles from Metatron, and there’s a deep box filled to the brim with chapbooks from Desert Pets Press, above/ground, Anstruther Press, Vallum and more. This is knife|fork|book – Toronto’s newest poetry bookshop and community space. Like a good meal, this perfect little space draws you in, makes you warm, fills you up.

The knife|fork|book space has been in the works for a couple of years. Kirby, a poet and poetry aficionado who also worked as Project Manager for the City Park Library, put together an old oak book cart, filled it with books and started setting it up in front of Orbital Arts Gallery, with all proceeds going to the library. He got to chatting with Rick’s Cafe owner Rick Ilnycki, who was wanting to distinguish the spot from the many other similar offerings opening in the Market. “I’d been looking for a storefront, and it had to be a small one,” Kirby says. “I really wanted to tap into TO book culture and create a new destination spot.” knife|fork|book officially opened its doors last October, and since then it’s been host to daily visitors and an impressive 2017 lineup of readers as part of its regular Thursday night reading series.

Kirby acquires the stock and sells the books, and also acts as a guide to help draw in curious customers and poets: “It’s a great mix of young and old writers, new and experienced poets,” he says. A lovely man who often peppers his speech with “love,” “sweetie” and “darling”, he’s clearly in his element. “I didn’t want to go someplace else to get what I was seeking myself,” he says. “Toronto doesn’t need another used bookshop. It needs a poetry shop.” He says that he meets new poets at the shop every day, with some of them doing readings for him on the spot: “It makes me laugh,” he says. It’s particularly heartening to see such a rich selection of chapbooks (many of which keep selling out), providing an affordable way for poetry fans to sample the best and brightest new writers from across the country. “Chapbooks are the most wonderful, biggest surprise,” Kirby says.

Future plans include expanding the shelf space to an opposite wall to bring in more books, as well as an eventual writer-in-residence program and space to be built in the basement, and a space for poetry reading groups to meet. In the meantime, go see the shop for yourself, starting tonight, when Kirby himself will be reading from his new chapbook She’s Having a Doris Day. Visit the knife|fork|book website for its hours and more information. (Alison Lang)