Notes & Queries

CNQ 89 Montreal Issue Cover

I came across another oddity the other day: a literary review that comes out of Windsor, Ontario, called Canadian Notes & Queries. The place really has its share of surprises, and now I feel slightly bad about making friendly fun of the town back when I was talking about Wayne Grady’s novel Emancipation Day. I’ll have to go down there sometime soon and perform some acts of mea culpa, because Windsor apparently does have a lively literary scene.

What’s more, the latest C N & Q bills itself as “The Montreal Issue,” and it features a variety of off-center takes on our town. You can read Trevor Ferguson’s musings on driving a taxi in “The Mystique of the Lone Wolf Cabby.” It makes a good companion piece to Rawi Hage’s cab-driving narrator in his novel Carnival. As Ferguson points out, “A taxi driver’s opinion is no more representative or considered” than any number of rants from any number of sources. Though like many of us, Ferguson, a novelist, surrenders to the romanticism of the trade that, I suspect, he practiced at one point in his colorful past. “Our cab drivers patrol the heart of the city,” he concludes, “they do, gathering up its detritus, flotsam and wonders, much as novelists do.”

Much is rightly made of the independent bookstores Argo and The Word, where a lot of Montreal literature was either made or first read out loud (though when I did a reading at Argo for my last novel Midway, they didn’t have a single copy of the book in the store). I can’t suggest too strongly that people visit these monuments, preferably with some cash in their pockets.

Donald McGrath contributes a classic piece that revives our city’s claim to being the cultural birthplace of Canada; to do so, he conjures up the ghost of A. M. Klein and other poets (Smith, Scott, Dudek, Layton…). Personally, every time I play baseball in Jeanne Mance Park, which has been sadly postponed this year due to the inhuman weather, I always recite a few lines from Klein’s poem “The Mountain” as I look upward at the same cross he speculated about.

This issue, piloted by local novelist Marko Sijan (Mongrel, from Mansfield Books) really decided to go off the beaten track, and more power to it. There is an interview with painter Leo Plotek, with whom I used to share a branch of the TD Bank at St. Lawrence and Prince Arthur, back when artists could afford that neighborhood. And we get an inside view of poet Norm Sibum via an interview with him and his wife, visual artist Mary Harman.

The most embarrassing moment of the issue is an interview during which poet Asa Boxer and I were plied with food and drink, and then recorded. If offered the chance to do this, firmly refuse. We did what writers always do when asked to proclaim: we complained about the various institutions that don’t pay enough attention to our wondrous selves. Luckily that doesn’t last long. Soon we’re fighting amongst ourselves about the nature of Montreal, the French-English thing, the Jewish thing – you name it. At the very end, I make an impassioned plea: “Let’s stay on the topic.” But what was the topic again?

Perhaps there’s some secret connection between Windsor, Ontario and Montreal. I’ll have to investigate that possibility.

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