The Trillium Book Award for Poetry, according to Karen Solie, who won in 2010 for her collection Pigeon, gives poets something to “hang on to and remember, when in the throes of all that self doubt.” The Ontario Media Development Corporation created the annual award specifically for new and emerging poets ten years ago. Last week in Toronto, the Trillium Winner Author Readings reiterated the province’s appreciation for its literary artists.
People started trickling in to the Gladstone Hotel’s ballroom after 6 pm; soon, the place was bustling with past winners and their fans, friends, family, and publishers. Inside, bordered by exposed brick walls and velvet drapery, winning poets Jeramy Dodds (Crabwise to the Hounds, 2008), Maureen Scott Harris (Drowning Lessons, 2004), Jeff Latosik (Tiny, Frantic, Stronger, 2010), Adam Sol (Crowd of Sounds, 2003), and Solie (Pigeon, 2009) read excerpts from their award-winning books, as well as new poetry.
The audience responded with laughter and the occasional gasp to Dodds’ animated readings from Crabwise and his upcoming God’s Girl (scheduled for release next year). One of his selections involved a time-traveling dwarf who courts a minor, to the chagrin of her father; in another, about a planned escape to Scotland’s Hawthornden Castle in case riots break out here, Dodds described leaving behind the “mass of counterfeit Canadian Tire [money]” lining his closet floor.
Harris, next onstage, commented on the Trillium Award as a form of validation. She acknowledged all that winning it had enabled her to do, such as flying to Tasmania. (Winners receive $10,000; another $2,000 goes to their publishers.) “I don’t know a writer who isn’t deeply uncertain about their work and their ability at some level,” she remarked. “You work away and wonder whether your work means something to someone because it means so much to you. So to get an award like that says, ‘Yeah, other people think this work has meaning.’” She then read pieces from Drowning Lessons and a few new poems, including an astoundingly gripping one about bull kelp.
Latosik, casual and ostensibly at ease, read from his collection Tiny, Frantic, Stronger before engaging the crowd with some poems from his current project: one about a man found frozen in the snow, another balancing the science and mystique of the phenomenon of raining fish and frogs. Latosik’s work has a strong educational bent; rapt attention stretched to the bar at the back of the room.
Next, Solie read selections from Pigeon, as well as some new poetry in which she infused prairie towns and domestic concerns with a mythic timelessness and universality — i.e., she shared an anecdote about the superfluous use of perch in small-town cooking.
Finally, Sol, in from Barrie where he lives and teaches, clowned about with the microphone before getting serious with some poems from Crowd of Sounds. He recounted a death in the film industry, then spoke about American politics – commenting that his focus on film, politics, and dwarves mirrored the work of Latosik and Dodds. Although a native to Connecticut, Sol has a special investment to Ontario: “I’ve lived here for fifteen years and it’s an adopted home.” Even better, his son Eli was born within a day of his receiving the Trillium Award.
After the readings, an adoring crowd gathered around the poets bearing wine, beer, and fruit. Chairs were flung to the fringe and the winners navigated the middle, signing books and reacquainting themselves with their peers.
The Trillium Winner Author Readings return to the Gladstone Hotel’s ballroom on Wednesday, May 2 at 7 pm. Authors Mark Frutkin, Thomas King, Alistair MacLeod, Rabindranath Maharaj, and Pasha Malla will take the stage.
Joseph MacKinnon is a digital intern at The Walrus.