Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Fraser Sutherland

Share |
At last count, Fraser Sutherland has published fifteen books: one of them short fiction, four nonfiction and ten poetry, His most recent poetry collection is The Philosophy of As If. A freelance editor, he may be the only Canadian poet who is also a lexicographer. Born and raised in Nova Scotia, he lives in Toronto.

Please send your questions and comments for Fraser to

The Proust Questionnaire, with Fraser Sutherland

Fraser Sutherland is Open Book's July 2011 Writer in Residence. In his answers to the Proust Questionnaire, Fraser tells us his greatest extravagance, his principal fault, the motto of Clan Sutherland and more.

The Proust Questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much loved game by the French author and many of his contemporaries. The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent's "true" nature.


What is your dream of happiness? None. I have an innate ability to convert any bliss to misery.

The Philosophy of As If

By Fraser Sutherland

From the publisher:

The Philosophy of As If concerns "fictions," ideas that may not correspond directly with reality but help us to interact with reality better.

Recent Writer In Residence Posts

Bookland Press Fall Book Launch: Lost Passport, Above and Below the Waterline, Puzzle of Murders


Sunday, November 6, 2011 - 2:30pm


North York Central Library - Auditorium
5120 Yonge Street
(2nd floor)
Toronto, ON
M2N 5N9


BookLand Press invites you to attend FALL 2011 BOOK LAUNCH for:

Please join us on Sunday, November 6 at 2:30 pm at North York Central Library, Library Auditorium, 2nd Floor, 5120 Yonge Street, Toronto, ON M2N 5N9.

Refreshments will be served.


North York Central Library - Auditorium
5120 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON M2N 5N9 43° 46' 14.88" N, 79° 24' 23.4" W


Speaking as someone who has no imagination, I’m always annoyed to hear people natter on about “creativity.” If you’re a writer, creativity is a given. If you’re not a writer, you natter on about it all the time. Workshops and courses are given on the “creative process,” as if creativity were like learning how to make jam or drive a car. Depending on how much they cost, they are typically attended by widget-manufacturing executives or disaffected housewives.


I just finished reading Rabindranath Maharaj‘s fresh, sad, funny novel The Amazing Absorbing Boy. The story is narrated by Samuel, a teenager who comes to Canada from Trinidad to live with his father. Some years earlier, his father had decamped to Toronto, abandoning his wife and son.

Samuel’s mother has recently died. His father has been pressured into taking him in. Now Samuel uncomfortably shares — if that’s the word — a bare, squalid Regent Park apartment. In Maharaj’s handling, what’s interesting is that, to Samuel, Toronto is just as exotic, even as bizarre, as his Trinidad village might be to a Canadian who had immigrated there. The people Samuel meets tend to be gargoyles, characters lifted straight from the comic books with which he is obsessed.


Whenever a public broadcaster, like TVO or the CBC, runs an artsy documentary or an author interview, it means that the broadcaster otherwise ignores dance, music, theatre, literature, and the visual arts.

Whenever a supermarket identifies a product as having a new price it means it is the same price it was a month ago.

Whenever a government promises to get tough on crime it means that the crime rate has gone down.

Whenever an author says a book would not have been possible without the help of a domestic partner, she means it wouldn’t have been possible without Employment Insurance.

Whenever a client says a cheque is in the mail it means the cheque has been lost in the mail.


As an inveterate sponger, I once read with admiration a magazine’s account of a professional gatecrasher in New York. The man, a consummate pro, would get up in the morning and consult a list he’d compiled of corporate and professional events happening that day. He’d shave and put on a plausible-looking business suit, then set off on a busy round of coordinated activities, steadily guzzling and munching his way through a long series of receptions and product launches — likely causing more than one promotional budget to be blown.

If this man had attempted to mooch for a living at Toronto book launches, he would have starved, or died of dehydration.


Chinese-food addicts like me will know the queasiness that, when you enter a Chinese restaurant, has nothing to do with food and everything to do with language. Splayed across the walls are sheets of vividly coloured paper crowded with big black characters. You know they’re naming the dishes being offered. Now, these dishes could be identical to the ones numbered in the English menu you’re holding in your hands. But the feeling that grows in the pit of your stomach is the fear that they could be more authentic, tastier, much, much better. And you can’t do anything about it: you neither read nor speak Chinese, and you’re too embarrassed to admit it.

Random Conundrums

At intervals, tiny random enigmas beset me. They are riddles that cannot be solved, questions that cannot be answered, incidents so inexplicable and yet so self-contained that they resist being transformed into fiction or poems. Here are a few.


I was walking up the street when a man in a dark baseball cap, loose striped black-and-white shirt, and baggy yellow trousers passed me on a red scooter, calling back in a thick Jamaican accent, “Get be-hin’ me, Sa-tan.”

Did he really think I was the Devil?


I saw a poster on a bus shelter advertising a fitness centre. It showed a picture of a small forlorn boy, captioned: Does my mom know the fitness centre has an Ikey defibrillator?


I have fond memories of the International Festival of Authors’ hospitality suite. In the days when I was acquainted with it, the suite was at the top of a tower in the Harbour Castle Hilton, now named the Westin Harbour Castle. Once you knew how to get there, it was a wonderful place to freeload, at only minimum risk of being bounced as a gatecrasher.


Every time I catch, more or less by accident, the TV news, weather, and sports I realize anew that the whole performance is as stylized as a Noh play.

In this drama, the anchors swap old-fashioned conceptions of gender. The woman takes on a man’s gruffness; the man, a woman’s tenderness. Yet the co-anchors are not quite girlfriend and boyfriend, much less man and wife, but are old friends fondly familiar with each other’s foibles.

Both anchors are affected by bipolar disorder. They are grim-faced at bad news (house fire, highway pile-up, corner-store shoot-up, little girl lost), or beam at good news (awards gala, lotto big winner, movie star in town, little girl found unharmed.) Generally, there is more bad news than good news, but the pair always finds time to tease each other.


Every poem implies two creative acts: one by the poet, one by the reader. Put another way, the poet performs one creative act; the reader, many.

Plentiful examples can be found on Reely's Poetry Blog and Reely's Audio Poems, also findable as Reely's Poetry Pages. They are owned by Valerie Smith, a New Jerseyan who lives in Houston, Texas and has a day job in a law office.

I hope the above clues will allow you to find Reely’s. No doubt to the inconvenience of some, I vowed to myself not to supply links in my own blogs. I’m vain enough to want people to concentrate on my words, and not go haring off in all directions. Indispensable as the Web may be, it is a kind of flypaper that creates its own flies.


Dr. Ernest Jones (1879-1958) lived in Toronto between 1908 and 1912. An exceptionally randy Welshman, he spent much of his professional life as Sigmund Freud’s all-purpose attack dog, organizational drummer, heretic hunter, and hagiographer.

Jones came to Toronto trailing clouds, though not of glory. In London, a physician of precocious ability, he had been accused of sexually assaulting two mentally handicapped girls, and of talking dirty to a physically handicapped girl, who he had examined without permission. He was acquitted of the first charge, but the second one sent him packing.

Editing the Editors

The novelist Russell Smith, normally insightful in his Globe and Mail columns, lurched into illogic in February when he decried the use of freelance editors. I’m sure that Smith would concede that trade publishers employ fewer editors than they used to. In fact, literary agents have largely replaced acquisitions editors among large publishers as the gatekeepers who decide what deserves to be published. So what are the poor writers who want or need editing to do? Hope an agent will do it? Rely on the opinions of friends, or of people sitting around in a writers’ group? Or edit themselves?



Some years ago I was browsing in The Word Bookshop in Montreal when I noticed that one of the shop’s typically impecunious customers looked very unhappy. His distress didn’t seem to stem from anything concerning books. When he left, I asked the proprietor, Adrian King-Edwards, what the trouble was.

“He’s in bad shape,” King-Edwards said, “they turned his home into a fire exit.”

Having a home turn into a fire exit likely has befallen more than one writer, though in Toronto the home would likely have become a parking garage stall.


If you use Facebook, and I suppose you do, you are likely familiar with an impertinent little feature it shoves in your face. Near your incoming messages will be the presumptuous statement, “People You May Know” next to a couple of names and pictures. Below is the injunction, “Add Friend.” You should be aware that sooner or later the name and picture of your worst blood enemy will pop up in that space — the very person you would least like to have as a friend, even in Facebook’s warped definition of the word.

It will be a mystery how Facebook came up with the name of that person: you haven’t uttered or written his or her detested name in years. Did Facebook use cybernetic ESP, or a more conventional method like wiretapping?

Toronto's Wellbeing


There’s a new urban website called Wellbeing Toronto. Since Toronto’s wellbeing is always uppermost in my mind, I went to take a look.

For openers, the site brags, “Wellbeing Toronto is a new web-based measurement and visualization tool that helps evaluate community wellbeing across the city's 140 neighbourhoods. Wellbeing Toronto allows you to select, combine and weight the significance of a number of indicators that monitor neighbourhood wellness. The results appear instantly on easy to read maps, tables and graphs.”

Subjects of Biography


Brian Busby’s A Gentleman of Pleasure: One Life of John Glassco, Poet, Memoirist, Translator, and Pornographer, was published in March. It’s probably the best literary biography ever to appear in Canada. It’s been reviewed by Philip Marchand in the National Post, but at this writing no review has appeared in the Star or the Globe and Mail.

Words & Music


I used to scoff when songwriters like Bob Dylan and John Lennon were described as poets. When the lyrics of even their most famous songs went on the page, they seemed to me thin, ragged, and diffuse. Great phrases, even lines, got lost in windy rhetoric. Of course, I remembered songs that indubitably were poems: some of the English border ballads; Robert Burns’s “Ae Fond Kiss, And Then We Sever”; Hank Williams’s “May You Never Be Alone,” with its wonderful opening line, “Like a bird that’s lost its mate in flight.” But even in cases like these, I couldn’t be sure I wasn’t remembering the music as much as the words. Then I finally twigged: yes, the lyrics of popular songs can be poems, but to make them complete poems they require the tunes that go with them.

"The Tastebuds of Critics"


Most people read restaurant reviews solely to find a place where they can get a good meal. That’s just as well, because if they paid attention to the critic’s writing style it would permanently put them off their feed.

To adapt a phrase coined by Henry Fowler, the great writer on English usage, restaurant critics are prone to the inelegant variation. A reviewer I follow (names are withheld to protect the guilty) indulges in the fake idiomatic, using words unknown in ordinary speech, like “‘shrooms” and “‘za.”

Do you like ‘shrooms on your ‘za?

Open Mikes


For the benefit of those who have wandered in from a far planet or a near sheep pasture, “open mike” is short for open microphone. “Mike” is usually, annoyingly, and unphonetically spelled “mic.” What is the worry? That “mike” will be confused with someone named Mike?

An open mike, or mic, is the part of public poetry readings that comes after the main readers have performed. The unheard, untried, untested, unpublished, or otherwise unheralded are given a chance to briskly read their poems for, say, three minutes each. Ten readers add up to 30 minutes that, for some in the audience, seem much longer. The commencement of an open mike typically inaugurates a stampede for the exits.



To find out, write “Yes” or “No” at the end of each statement.

1. You had an unhappy childhood.
2. You are a member of an oppressed minority.
3. At social gatherings, or in the middle of a conversation, you break off to stare vacantly at the vanishing point, making your friends think you have succumbed to catalepsy.
4. Everything you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch turns to words in your head.
5. Your usual reaction at reading something is, “I can write better than that idiot.”
6. At unpredictable moments, you scribble down something on a piece of scrap paper or the back of your hand. It is not a reminder to pick up milk.
7. You would push your grandmother in front of a streetcar if it could get you published.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Recent Comments on Fraser Sutherland’s Blog