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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Toronto Public Spaces in Creative Writing

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One of the ways we interact with public spaces is through their representation in media like film, photography, and literature. It might be the perspective we achieve from seeing a familiar place reflected through someone else’s eyes, and it might be the pride we feel from seeing our public spaces writ large, but there’s something satisfying about the moment something distinctively Toronto dips into a story or picture.

Diaspora Dialogues, a charitable society that “supports the creation and presentation of new fiction, poetry and drama that reflect the complexity of the city back to Torontonians through the eyes of its richly diverse communities,” is releasing a new anthology this Saturday, June 9th, entitled TOK 2. The book contains writing set in and concerned with Toronto, and is the second in an annual anthology of “stories and poems that bring to life, sometimes overtly and sometimes obliquely, the taste and smell, sights and sounds, of a complex urban environment.”

I took part in the Diaspora Dialogues mentorship program last year, and have three poems in the new book. In the time I’ve been following Waterfront issues for Spacing I’ve spent a great deal of time looking at planning, environmental, and sustainability issues, but emotional ties play a strong role in why I think the Waterfront is such an important public space in the city. In an act of shameless self-promotion, I’ve reproduced at the bottom of this post one of my poems from the anthology, set on Toronto’s Waterfront.

The Diaspora Dialogues website has more information about the book launch (and the preceding celebrations), but here are the pertinent details:

ARTofLUSH + TOK Book 2 launch and party
Saturday, June 9, 2007:

12—3pm: ARTofLUSH
3:30—6:00pm: TOK 2 launch and party
Harbourfront Centre, Queen’s Quay West


january — ward’s island beach

yes, this places still exists in winter,
although reduced ferry service and
a wind that rattles the bones
of the skeletal trees lining the beach
certainly make it less accessible.

and the sand is coarse and hard —
the weight of too many ghosts
has compressed it and the ice has cooled
summer’s too-hot-to-stand-in dreams.

but the pole we took turns throwing
stones at still stretches from the sand
and the spot we drifted to about twenty metres out
still glistens from the sun
and the memory of that moment.

if i close my ears and pull my toque over my eyes
i can see us running around me:
i’m wearing my red bathing suit,
you’re half-wearing your birthday suit
and we’re smiling and running,
kicking sand in the face of my future self.

your friends are with us, too:
e.e., theodore and the polish
woman whose name we could never pronounce,
though she pronounced ours just fine.

i’d take their books from
the pocket where i’ve kept them,
but it’s too cold to turn the pages
and, anyway, they’re somewhat
surly in cooler weather.

still, their muffled speech somehow makes
its way to my ears, and while the air freezes some words,
most of them are clear if i listen just right, and put their verse
in your voice.

you might ask me (and in fairness)
how these words could be true if
the other ones, the ones i dare
not repeat, implicitly pursue.

and your friends and our ghosts
will freeze and cock their heads,
waiting for the answer that’s brought
me this far, to this perfect beach
iced over in the dead of winter:

“i’m in the wrong place at the wrong
time. i follow the timing of the ferries, i set
my watch by the boatman, not he
by mine. it’s that intersection of sand
and water, where the grains of me
are pulled into the infinite of you. it’s these
ghosts that rattle on my flesh, it’s their
smiles, incapable yet full of foreknowledge.
it’s me missing that pole with the first
few throws, not expecting the
‘ding!’ of solemn, perfect connection.
it’s the wall of words i throw up to
deflect something we both know. it’s
skipping stones on the surface over
the abyss of us, but not following them below.
it’s hoping some place in the sand that marks where we sat
remembers the shape of our bodies even if they never go back.”

“it’s none of those things,”
you say, and your hands slide
the toque from my head
and a rare winter heat wave
ripples across the island
where in our moments most
isolated and free
we imagined a future without this winter,
this forgotten, frozen beach
occupied only by me.


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