New Star Blogs

From the Gare centrale to the Pacific Central: Toots on the shortlist for Vancouver and QWF prizes


Cana­di­an pub­lish­ing is not known for its chore­og­ra­phy. How­ev­er, fes­ti­vals and launch­es do often try their best to not step on each other’s toes dur­ing the fren­zy of each sea­son. So Erin Moure’s recent pres­ence in bi-coastal short­lists for region­al awards seems overt­ly quixot­ic. As pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed on these pages, Moure’s 2017 non fic­tion book Sit­ting Shi­va on Minto Avenue, by Toots got a QWF nom­i­na­tion. And we got all excit­ed about that.

Well, fast-for­ward less than a month and it’s hap­pened again. This time, here in British Colum­bia of all places! We feel torn in excite­ment in two direc­tions, and the author her­self couldn’t be more pleased.

Sit­ting Shi­va is the sto­ry of a man with­out pub­lic record, or at least, by today’s “Google Search” stan­dards, a civic phan­tom. Moure, the acclaimed award-win­ning poet and trans­la­tor, a ver­i­fied Can­Lit icon, only slight­ly demys­ti­fies the almost Holy act of cre­at­ing this book in but a week.

The text was cleaned up some, copy­edit­ed, some new­ly remem­bered things were added, and I added the research his­to­ry at the end. It turns out — I should have known but I didn’t till lat­er — that the mem­o­ries of a lit­tle man actu­al­ly hold the his­to­ry of cities, Van­cou­ver and Mon­tre­al, and of peo­ples, and of colo­nial­ism and its gen­er­a­tional trau­mas, and of a class of peo­ple that always got the short end of the stick in every­thing but that still had dreams and loves and joys and per­cep­tions and striv­ings and appre­ci­a­tion for life and respect for oth­ers. I learned so much from that lit­tle man.”

It’s a note­wor­thy occur­rence, we think, for a BC pub­lish­er to have book by a Mon­tre­al author (who lived 11 years in Van­cou­ver from 1974–1985) to get nom­i­nat­ed in both cities of the book’s ori­gin. Moure is appre­cia­tive of the recog­ni­tion. She’s clear­ly proud. To use a worn out word from the cur­rent zeit­geist, the hap­pen­stance of Toots sto­ry becom­ing a full-fledged and now dou­ble-award nom­i­nat­ed book seems almost ran­dom — slight­ly larg­er than a mere writ­ing exer­cise one morn­ing. Moure only slight­ly dwells on the books ori­gin and rather pri­vate ini­tial recep­tion. “Peo­ple who have since read that book say they learn some­thing about why I am the way I am too from that book. They see it. Maybe the book thinks like my brain does.”

The vic­tor will be announced at a pub­lic cer­e­mo­ny at the VPL on Decem­ber 8th. 

Bonus fun. Here is a link which is men­tioned at the end of Moure’s book. The author says Paul looked like Dean Mar­tin on a cer­tain album cov­er. Also, the NFB film Pier­rot à Mon­tréal which the book speaks of, as Paul was most like the guy who puts up the num­bers in the dance con­test.

Sit­ting Shi­va on Minto Avenue is a book of sor­row that bears com­par­i­son to the great ones, among them Didion’s The Year of Mag­i­cal Think­ing, White’s Once and Future King, Milton’s “Lyci­das,” and, recent­ly, a slim but not slight vol­ume of poet­ry, City Poems, by foren­sic reporter Joe Fior­i­to, who mourns The Invis­i­ble Ones.” The Mala­hat Review

A brief excerpt:

Before I’d met him and before he’d had a steady job at CN as a wait­er then stew­ard, he’d had unem­ployed peri­ods of bad alcoholism,and he had sto­ries of the pros­ti­tutes and police, and of police mis­treat­ment of the poor and intox­i­cat­ed. Of being in the drunk tank and the police hos­ing them down because one per­son was shout­ing, and the impos­si­bil­i­ty of fight­ing against the force of water, being pushed across the floor by it. Then let out, lat­er, into the icy cold, with wet clothes.

Sit­ting Shi­va on Minto Avenue, by Toots is the sto­ry of a man who had no obit­u­ary and no funer­al and who would have left no trace if it weren’t for the woman he’d called Toots, who took every­thing she remem­bered of him and — for sev­en days — wrote it down.   Erín Moure, a poet who once lived in Van­cou­ver, begins this “work of the imag­i­na­tion” (“minto,” in Gali­cian, means “I’m lying”) with a quote from Judith But­ler about those per­sons who have “come to belong to the ungriev­able,” though there may be some that grieve them.  In record­ing the tale of the lit­tle man, through mem­o­ries and Google search­es, the book gives a glimpse into an entire era of urban Cana­da, from Vancouver’s Down­town East­side and Main Street and Chi­na­town to a long-ago Mon­tre­al between the Great Depres­sion and Expo ’67.

Read a review of this book on rob mclennan’s blog.
Read a review of this book from The Mala­hat Review

Sit­ting Shi­va on Minto Avenue, by Toots
Erin Moure
160 pages, 6×9 inch­es
Price: $21 CAD · $19 USD
ISBN: 9781554201419