Local Poets Hit the Road in International Tour

After a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, a group of five young Canadian poets are on the road. The Worst Case Ontario poetry reading tour kicked off on August 21 in Toronto, Ontario. The poets are scheduled to visit nine North American cities in as many days. OLM sat down with JM Francheteau, an Ottawa-based poet touring with the group. We discussed the challenges poets face, the Kickstarter drive, smelling salts and the advantages of spoken-word poetry readings.

Francheteau reading at a poetry event.

Tell me about yourself.

I am JM Francheteau. I write mostly poetry of a lyric, narrative bent. My background is rural (Harrow, ON), and my first influences tended to be writers who could write in a way that revealed the complexities beneath the blunt speech. That was what writers like Robert Kroetsch and John Newlove did for me.

I’ve been writing seriously for about two and a half years, though there were bursts of activity before that. I started a bit late in that regard. I’ve published a pair of chapbooks, most recently kids with Dalton Derkson’s Hurtin’ Crüe Press (which is publishing our tour chapbook, incidentally). A fair amount of my writing has come out in zines; I co-create a zine called Nightshift with my girlfriend Abigail Kashul, and organize an event called the Ottawa Zine Off!. I’ve also published in various Canadian lit journals.

Where are the other Worst Case Ontario poets from?

Jessica Bebenek grew up in Barrie, ON and has lived in Toronto for a number of years. I don’t know if she was writing and doing insane things to her hair before she got there, but it’s what she does now, plus a small press op called Grow & Grow. She’s actually moving to Montreal to do an MFA at Concordia in September, so we’re catching her just before she’d be disqualified from a tour with “Ontario” in the name.

JC Bouchard’s from Elliot Lake, ON, a mining town between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie that was gutted by the closure of its uranium mines in the late ‘80s. He’s lived in Ottawa at times, and now calls Toronto home.

Dalton Derkson hails from Mortlach, SK, a village of about 300 in the south of the province. Per Wikipedia nothing appears to have happened of interest there since 1910ish, though I hear they’ve got some mean fiddlers.

Julie Mannell is from Fonthill, ON which Wikipedia says is known for its “fruit orchards, nature trails, and neighborly attitude” but which Julie usually sees more as a rotted out pit beneath a thin crust of southern Ontarian quaintness.

How did this group first form?

Dalton and JC had some beers and dreamt it up. JC’s a well-traveled man and Dalton comes from a hardcore punk ethos, where unsigned bands make it by touring themselves into the ground. A number of our Ottawa friends recently went on a mini-tour of their respective hometowns, and I think that example was also fresh in their minds. They asked the other three of us individually and we were all excited about the idea.

Whose idea was it to create the Kickstarter?

Full credit can be given to Julie.

We were prepared to do this tour at a substantial loss, but Julie quite wisely reasoned that there would be some interest in seeing a tour like ours happen, and that people in our communities are generally willing to support one another’s endeavours.

What was the general reaction as the money started rolling in?

Gratitude, indigestion, research into tax law, cursing at the exchange rate.

WCO 3How will the Kickstarter money be used?

It will cover the rental of a full-size sedan, gas, lodgings in cities where we aren’t enjoying the hospitality of the venues, energy drinks and smelling salts (for Dalton, who is the only one on the tour with a driver’s license). We’re also using it to cover incidentals like food and trying to put aside enough for any emergencies that should/will arise.

What are the benefits of poetry readings? Disadvantages?

A great poetry reading does things to time. It lets you hear the music that is latent in the printed word. It reveals the living thing in the writer’s mouth. And perhaps it makes you want to do that thing, poetry, if it calls to you, more directly than any other form of artistic exhibition. Which is one possible explanation for why most poetry readings are delivered to an audience of poets.

Is there a common thread in the group’s work or personalities that make the group work so well?

The thing is, we don’t know how well the group will work. That adds an element of risk, which is exciting.  We share elements in common, particularly in terms of our vocation and demographics (age, race, language), and most of us grew up outside of major urban centres, but our personalities and writing styles are diverse. I will say that all of us gravitate towards potentially uncomfortable subject matter in our writing. I see intensity in each poet’s work.

There has been bonding throughout the planning stages, and friction too. We won’t know until we’ve done a few shows how well our performing styles sync up, but everyone on this tour is serious about their craft and is going to throw themselves into the experience.

Where in North America will the Worst Case Ontario crew be visiting?

Toronto at the White House Studio Project on August 21; a doubleheader on the 22nd in St. Catharines with the Grey Borders reading series and our own gig in Welland that evening with some local musicians; Pittsburgh on the 23rd at a backyard gig at a joint called Cyberpunk Apocalypse; Berl’s Poetry Bookshop in Brooklyn on the 25th; Trident Booksellers in Boston on the 26th; potentially a date in Massachusetts or Vermont on the 27th if we can swing one; a house reading in Montreal on the 28th; and finally a wrap-up show with the new Hussy series here in Ottawa in the basement of Black Squirrel Books on the 29th.

You can find more information on Worst Case Ontario’s tumblr page and Twitter page.

Interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.