Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

rodfrasers's blog

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.

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