Thanks to the vision of author Martha Baillie and her good friend Roscoe Handford, who is the Wychwood Barns market manager, and the support of the OAC Arts Investment project, market-goers came upon a literary table where, next to potatoes and organic crackers, fiction and poetry were for sale. It seemed a simple thing, to offer a weekly space for literary producers to sell their wares directly to the consumer. But it was far from simple.
Poet Jacob Mooney mildly decried the initiative in a [now defunct blog] post last February. I stood behind various Pedlar Press titles, listening to exclamations of delight and to questions about these unknown writers, through twenty or so Saturdays, and now, at its conclusion, I know that Jacob was wrong to criticize the venture. There are reasons why market-goers have never before heard of masterful poets Souvankham Thammavongsa and Joanne Page and Sandra Ridely, for example, reasons having to do with system-and-money-and-convention-making. Our airwaves and other media are jammed almost exclusively with talk about the Top Ten Canadian Writers, and the other 99% are rarely if ever discussed. Literature, and our vision of literature, gets pummelled, ploughed under, by the slogans uttered by tricksters who dominate the commercial stages.
I’ll never be able to thank Martha and Roscoe enough for this experience, one that has redeemed my faith in the Pedlar Press audience. I champion difficult work and serious reading: serious reading is not for everyone, I know, and our culture does not promote independent thinking. To come to market once is luck. To come again and again is an act of the imagination. At the conclusion of the venture there are at least fifty new devotees to Canadian literature and its producers, and if I had not sold one book, still, the conversations at the table would have more than redeemed the initiative. Debunking myths, passing on information, nurturing fragile seeds of imagination in novice writers, building community: these are the acts in a publisher’s ground work, which, while hidden, or devalued, certainly misunderstood, are essential.
Literary publishers make effort to celebrate the human beings who come to investigate poetry and literary fiction. Instead of bemoaning the small numbers or the soft bookstore sales, one tries in all humility to stand behind authors and their excellent works, displayed in this case at a farmers’ market on a 3 foot-by-three foot table, conversing quietly with the curious about the goodness of literature. There is no doubt in my mind that I must continue to develop pop-up initiatives across Canada, coming and going, leaving behind only that most delicate of traces : living nourishment.
Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
I come, my sweet,
to sing to you!
My heart rouses
thinking to bring you news
that concerns you
and concerns many men. Look at
what passes for the new.
You will not find it there but in
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.
– William Carlos Williams