We were overwhelmed by the 'Poets Dinner' organized by Michael Harris on Saturday, December 5 1998 to celebrate the anniversary of the press and to mark the publication of the 50th title published in the Véhicule Press Signal Editions poetry series which he has edited since 1981. Many writers travelled great distances, including both coasts and California, to attend this singular event that took place at the Montreal Badminton and Squash Club.
By D.G. Jones
The celebrated poet, D.G. Jones, was asked to say grace at the Poets' Dinner. At the urging of Nancy Marrelli he provided us with the text of his speech so that we could include it here.
I speak at this point as a stand-in for Grace. She couldn't make it.
I knew her fairly well when I was younger, particularly during those years I was at boarding school, though I couldn't always keep up with her; she had a curious habit of often talking in Latin.
I can say I'm thankful, and surprised, to be here--which is owing largely to Michael Harris. And I'm surprised and thankful that Michael's here.
Perhaps I should explain.
Rather more than 25 years ago, during a poetry reading in Lennoxville, Michael went to sleep on the floor. I finally decided that this was sincerely Zen: Eat when you're hungry; sleep when you're bored. But it didn't suggest to me that Michael would ever spend his days, and his nights, shepherding other people's words into the folds of a book.
I wrote something to the effect that he looked like "the wreck of a ketch on a reef of years." Like a man who would, maybe, make love, but hadn't the energy to take off his raincoat--though he, or someone, had managed to unbutton his shirt.
La vie est dure. Surtout quand les hommes ne sont pas.
He appears to have survived the portrait. Tonight, he's looking relatively fresh--and with a pretty good press.
For that, I presume we owe a good deal to Simon Dardick. I have no dirt on Simon Dardick. So I can be cleanly thankful. (And I will assume he's an angel--until those who know him better may convince me otherwise.)
Somewhere I read that in Athens you could take a metaphor to the Parthenon. Well, I gather that's not true. A young lady who comes from Greece told me recently that, while "metaphor" may be used to refer to transport or transportation, you still need a taxi to get up the hill.
It may be true that if you're a writer a metaphor will get you to Olympus. But if you want to get to more practical places, like the Double Hook, or say Rideau Hall and the banquet for the GG Awards, you need some other form of transport--you need un vrai Véhicule. Perhaps le modèle Signal. Or is that Signal? (It's all a little strange when you're talking about a major English-language publisher.) But either way, we're back to Grace, I mean to Latin--whether chic with a French accent or more bluntly businesslike with an English guttural.
So perhaps one can also say Vehicle, which rhymes with miracle.
When I was a student at McGill. Montreal was associated with Scott, Smith, Glassco and Klein and then Page and Layton and Dudek, and was presumably the poetry capital of Canada. Yet if these poets wanted to published a book they usually had to go to Toronto, to Ryerson or Oxford, for example, or to McClelland & Stewart. And much the same could be said for writers across the country.
Well, here we are tonight, surprised. Véhicule has lasted a quarter of a century. I don't know the number of titles they now have under their belts, but I'd say it was substantial. They are now providing transport not only to writers from Montreal and the area, but also, of all things, to writers from Toronto. And they even get them to Rideau Hall--a slightly roundabout ride for Ms Stephanie Bolster, who lives in Vanier, and probably didn't expect to get to the Governor General's table by way of Montreal.
In sum, they're making a racket. They're now one of the most respectable rackets in town. I'm not sure that qualifies anyone to join the Montreal Badminton and Squash Club, but I will thank the Club for its wit and latitude in hosting such players this evening.
Let me end by saying, with what I think is a formula proper to grace, and to all those involved with Véhicule. "For what we are about to receive, let us be truly thankful."