Daniel Kincade Renton grips a drink
Daniel Kincade Renton is an emerging poet and academic living in Toronto, Ontario, originally from New Brunswick. His poems have been featured in CV2, The Fiddlehead, and Prism, while his poem, “Love After the Pepsi Generation Ad” can be read over at Hazlitt, with still more work forthcoming from The Malahat Review. On June 20, 2014, I was able to catch Daniel read as part of the Argo Reading Series in Montreal, where he read a set of poems, most memorably, a villanelle about watching his mother’s descent into illness. This fall, he will be releasing a chapbook with Frog Hollow Press.
While Daniel draws a great deal of inspiration from personal experience, he also uses the work of other writers as a catalyst, such as in “Everyday Adjustments.” Originally published in Prism and excerpted below, the poem was based on a few lines from Hamlet:
“There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow.
If it be, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will
be now. If it be not now, yet it will come. ”
When a sparrow smacks the window, she takes a vow of
silence and I take a fast but soon I break my fast. Reluctant
to correct this, she buys more organics and we eat another
rich, raw meal—five-year-old gouda, tapenade, blueberry
nectar. In this house, we don’t sacrifice the Teflon with steel.
Our choicest cuts are lexical. No one suffers déjà vu by passing
by an oily sink. Effervescence echoes up a plastic bottle. It’s
a wonder we fear the world’s best water. The fridge drones
like a sandstone beach.
— From “Everyday Adjustments” by Daniel Kincade Renton
Aside from Daniel’s impressive poetic work, he is actively engaged in the Toronto community and has guest-curated Readings at the Common this past winter. I asked Daniel about some of his community experiences, which have spanned the country, coast to coast.
Daniel Kincade Renton: I lived in Vancouver for a short while and spent two years studying creative writing in Nanaimo, British Columbia, where I did my first public readings. I can’t claim to have been widely immersed in these communities but I found the West Coast to contain an abundance of spoken word and slam poetry. That sort of scene has never interested me very much, but it does offer inclusiveness, which is important for beginning writers.
The Maritimes is curiously both segregated and tight-knit at the same time. New Brunswick, P.E.I., and Nova Scotia don’t boast a large geographic area or population, so you get fewer people dispersed through many small communities. This results in a strong sense of community based on geographic and even vocational ties among its writers—writers who don’t often interact in person. It also makes for very intense and intimate literary festivals.
Despite efforts to overcome the gap, Montreal remains divided by Anglophone and Francophone communities. These poetic traditions are dissimilar in ways that go beyond the superficialities of language and have much to offer each other, so it is good to see events where both groups come together. The Québécois culture that invigorates the city certainly plays a role in Montreal Anglo writing.
There are probably segregated writing communities in Toronto as well, but I don’t notice the strong divisions. I expect that this is because there are so many talented poets writing in English attending and organizing so many exceptional events that I find less need to venture beyond my own comfort zone. Despite their cold reputation, Toronto poets are exceptionally warm and welcoming.
Jess Taylor: As well as being a poet who consistently publishes, you are currently completing your PhD in Philosophy at York University. You also hold an MA in Creative Writing from UNB and two BAs. How does being part of a university program (either creative or academic) embrace or alternatively reject ideas of community space?
Daniel Kincade Renton: A strong writing community is probably the most valuable thing that a creative writing academic program has to offer. To some extent, the creative writing workshop course is an intensified substitute for anyone who has yet to build a strong network of fellow writers they can trust to edit their work. But writing degrees end, and one hopes to find their own personal connections outside of these institutions.
One of the benefits of editing with friends is being able to break the rules. Academic programs teach you those rules, and they can introduce you to some of the people that might later form part of your own network of editors, but they aren’t the only way to build a community. In Toronto, there are many reading events full of poets who are eager to talk about poetry. Writing residencies, like the Banff Writer’s Studio, arouse an intoxicating amount of poetic camaraderie. I wish I could say that I met all of my writer friends in original ways like hitchhiking or lobster fishing, but I haven’t. How does one build a writing community? Drink with poets? Fall in love with them? Go to school with them? All of the usual ways, I suppose. The numbers increase exponentially.
JT: You recently guest hosted and curated Readings at the Common. How did you come to be involved with the series? How did you find your experience being the curator of a community event rather than a participant (a reader at an event, an attendee at an event, etc)?
Daniel Kincade Renton: This is a good example of how inviting I’ve found Toronto. I met the organizer and host of Readings at the Common, Jessica Moore, through a mutual friend and got invited to read. The location and atmosphere of the series was so charming that I was quickly smitten with the whole thing. I started attending regularly, which meant that Jessica and I soon became friends. I don’t remember the circumstances that led to the first time I hosted, but eventually Jessica wasn’t available and offered not only to let me host but also organize the readers. I had great fun getting to show off the talents of writers I enjoy. I think I hosted three other events before I was lucky enough to be asked to take over through the winter season while Jessica was away in France for a writing residency.
My motivation each month was to ask writers to participate whose work I enjoy, and so I was able to organize events based on writing I wanted to hear performed. Everyone who participated seemed to enjoy the events, and were always pleasant to work with and happy to be invited. I’d like to host more events in the future, since there are many other authors I’d like to book.
The now sadly on hiatus Fish Quill Poetry Boat.
JT: What sorts of projects or involvement do you see currently lacking in the Toronto community? Is there a way for us to make community involvement more enjoyable for its participants?
Daniel Kincade Renton: I’m not sure what projects need to come to the city but I know that we need to rethink how we foster developments in the arts. I’ve recently become discouraged with the way funds are allocated to support such projects. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to participate in The Fish Quill Poetry Boat, where poets canoed from town to town in Ontario bringing poetry to communities and interacting with their writers. It was one of the most innovative writing events in the country (or anywhere else). The two women who created and organized the annual event spent months of their own time each year making this possible, and managed to garner the support of a local outfitter, as well as campgrounds, reading venues and several small presses. Unfortunately, while the event did garner some funding, it wasn’t enough to cover their administrative efforts—an event of this nature takes a lot of time and resources to organize. The result is that these women have exhausted their ability to support this amazing event and we may now lose it, unless someone new takes up the reigns as organizers. But this will involve a continued effort to re-engineer a rigid funding structure. This kind of a system defeats its own purpose because it doesn’t allow for innovation. I don’t mean to chastise the funding that we do have—it is an immense asset to our local artistic health, which is so important to our sense of identity as Torontonians and humans. But we should rethink how bureaucratically we grant these funds because without a support system that accommodates for change, our arts in Ontario can only become clichéd and derivative.