Lecture for an Empty Room
Fragments of a work-in-progress;
I’ve been thinking about citizenship: mentoring, editing, publishing, hosting, reviewing, reading. The ways in which we interact. Unpaid hours and positions in often self-made small publishing ventures. Hosting book fairs and readings and launches. Attending the book fairs and readings and launches of others. Reviewing. The back-and-forth. My farming father, assisting a neighbour repair part of their fence, responding to cows newly spilled across the cornfield and along our dirt road. With my teenaged self in tow, the summer my father and the hired man baled and barned elderly widower neighbour Cameron MacGregor’s first and second cut of hay, after Cameron had become incapable of managing himself. As Monty Reid wrote in his 1986 essay “Small Town, Small World”:
Here, talk about the weather is not small talk. The person you’re with may be ploughing his wheat under the next day. Still, the weather is a mythical creature and is a clue to what I think is one of the definitive features of small-town dwellers. The weather is beyond control, it cannot be organized, yet it is a determining factor in our lives. The small townsman, in other words, believes in power but knows he does not control it. Its source is always located somewhere else. They can attempt to go there and seize it, which is why so many rural people remember John Diefenbaker with nostalgia. Or they can create a mythology out of their own powerlessness. Hence the weather.
I caught a tweet by a stranger, desperately seeking advice on how to “enter” a literary community. I offered my thoughts on the matter, which this stranger, a poet somewhere in the United Kingdom, graciously accepted. I followed them, naturally. I took it quite personally when they didn’t follow me back. To my mind, they had missed entirely the point of their query.
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