Riding the goat with Buckrider Book’s spring lineup.
I’ll be honest with you: I wish I could avoid writing about the literary community/scene here this week. It’s been a subject we’ve given play to almost non-stop in the past month or two, for better or worse. Unfortunately (or fortunately), it would be all but impossible to avoid discussing the massive community showing at last Wednesday’s official launch for Buckrider Books, the new imprint from Hamilton’s Wolsak & Wynn.
To put it simply: it was packed. The crowd was an exercise in the “degrees of separation” rule that exemplifies Toronto’s community, with people from every echelon of production coming out to support the launch. You couldn’t turn around in the standing room-only crowd without elbowing a familiar author in the gut. Even Michael Ondaatje made an appearance, and agreed that “it was a great evening.” (That was the longest statement we could convince him to make.)
It’s not like there was any shortage of reasons for people to be there, either. For The Puritan, this was an especially exciting event, as magazine alum David James Brock (whose poem, “They Called a Boy Scout Cocksucker,” graced the pages of our Issue 17) was one of the three writers whose work was being showcased. We were also happy to be supporting Wolsak & Wynn’s senior editor, Paul Vermeersch, who is also heading up Buckrider. Friends and family of the authors, representatives from the cultural and publishing sectors there to support Wolsak & Wynn’s latest expansion, and readers of all stripes made appearances. There was even a smattering of roller derby girls in attendance, in support of D.D. Miller, who leads a (not so) secret life as online Toronto roller derby blogger The Derby Nerd.
Whether the names of the authors launching works that night were familiar or not, the imprint’s mandate is cause for excitement. When introducing the authors before they gave brief readings from their books, Paul Vermeersch expanded upon what exactly a “Buckrider” is, and what sorts of texts readers could expect from the fledgling press.
Buckrider, he explained, was drawn from the dual Dutch and Flemish heritage that he and founding W&W publisher Maria Jacobs share. The legend of de Bokkenrijders tells of bands of robbers who made pacts with the devil in order to fly through the night sky on the backs of magical goats, robbing farms and churches. In that spirit, A “Buckrider Book” is one (according to the W&W website) that is “daring in theme or style, challenge[s] established perceptions or risk[s] an outlaw sensibility. They are books that risk being misunderstood but that, to the right reader, represent the best that literature has to offer.”
If nothing else, the readings given by the three authors (all launching debut books) showcased a remarkable variety. Erina Harris led the evening with her collection of poetry, The Stag Head Spoke. Hailed by Vermeersch as “ten years in the making,” given how long he had been trying to acquire a manuscript from her, Harris’s poetry was haunting and highly refined. Drawing on the traditions of a wide variety of forms (such as the sonnet and the fairy tale) to explore rhyme in new ways, Harris has created an atmospheric set of poems, delivered in an even yet ethereal tone.
Brock, the aforementioned former Puritan contributor, is a multi-talented man. Winner of the 2011 Herman Voaden playwriting award for his play, Wet, he is also an accomplished librettist, with his operas having been produced in both North America and Europe. He’s previously published two chapbooks of poetry: Black Metal Melodies with Ferno House, and Gasmask Summer with The Emergency Response Unit. Although I’m hoping to sit down and read all three of the books from Buckrider in the near future, Brock’s Everyone is CO² was the one that resonated most deeply with me. An expert combination of smart, snappy phrasing and interesting, offbeat subject matter made his poems exciting to listen to. Brock’s work continues to mutate and evolve, comfortable spanning multiple genres and conceptual divides as he moves into his first full-length publication, with his poetry stronger, stranger, and more fearless than anything we’ve seen from him yet.
The launch’s only collection of short fiction, David Foster Wallace Ruined My Suicide, was sandwiched by the two poets, and D.D. Miller read from his story, “Son of Son of Flying Pig” (it’s a Kids in the Hall reference; I had to look it up). Toronto-centric and often incorporating Miller’s love of roller derby (the titular story’s major scene happens at the rink, and a pair of roller skates graces the cover), it was a shame to hear only an excerpt rather than the full story. Funny and well-paced, it marks a welcome addition to Toronto’s wealth of short fiction collections.
Though some of the attendees left immediately after the readings (we’re looking at you, Michael), the lineup at the bar didn’t die down until well after the official festivities had wrapped up. The authors stuck around and hashed it out with fans and family, and as things wound down, the crowd packed in a few last beers with their friends and peers.
It was a night that boded very well for the future of Buckrider, and Paul Vermeersch must be very happy. For the next Buckrider launch, he may have to find a larger auditorium, but if the next group of authors are as talented as the first batch, I’ll be in attendance there, too.