I believe it was Indigo Bunting who introduced me to Deloney’s wonderful blog, but I’m not entirely sure. I do know that since I discovered it, I’ve been a great admirer of both his writing and his humanity, and was thrilled that he agreed to an interview.
1. I’ve just had a very odd experience. As I was trying to formulate some neat-o interview questions for you, I decided to re-read the last two years of your blog. And what I found really surprised me. Reading you day to day is a different experience from reading you all at once. I wouldn’t say you have a different voice, but I think there’s an overarching lyricism and wistfulness that can be heard more distinctly in one fell swoop. You really are quite a lovely writer.
Let’s talk about the blog itself. Your blog may be called The Danforth, but your URL calls it Dreams for Thomas Hardy, and dear Fanny’s name used to be in there somewhere as well. So that’s one thing: a focus that occasionally shifts and mutates. Even the design changes from time to time. Can you talk about that? Do you just get bored and restless? In the same vein, I need to ask you about your occasional disappearances. Posts appear, and a few of us get to read them, if we’re speedy, then they vanish forever. Or, once or twice, your entire blog has gone missing, never to return, with a new incarnation reappearing without notice some time later. My dear Deloney, do you not realize that you send your faithful readers into a tailspin? We get the DTs for you, my friend. We panic. We freak out. So what is this occasional disappearing act all about?
At one point I mistakenly thought I could write about something other than my life in this neighbourhood. “Daydreams for Thomas Hardy” was going to be something very different—more like an anthology of poems and prose-poems with no particular focus at all. Then it occurred to me that those poems and prose-poems would likely end up being about . . . my life in this neighbourhood! So, I said to myself, why not call it “The Danforth” and just get on with it. I let myself go off on tangents but everything is eventually pulled back to this street and this apartment. As for Fanny, I like the idea of her wandering in and out of my posts, just as she wanders in and out of the rooms here.
The design changes don’t have any real significance but my habit of deleting is something else. Some previous blogs have been “projects” that I can never complete, and when I’ve run out of steam . . . click, I delete! But no more. This current blog is my half-serious testament, propaganda for my (ahem) philosophy, and of course my way of meeting mad housewives. (The reason why I delete certain posts is because I have a very clear idea of the tone I want “The Danforth” to have . . . sometimes when I reread a post it seems off-key and it has to go. I don’t care if that sounds pretentious, it’s the truth!)
2. Your portrait of the Danforth is an Impressionist watercolor in words. It’s really wonderful. Of course, for the longest time I thought the Danforth was name of your apartment building; I only recently discovered that it’s both a street and a neighborhood in east Toronto, and that every year your Taste of the Danforth draws something like a million visitors every August. So what drew you to the area? Is your bookshop nearby? And where had you lived before that?
I better clear up one thing first because I think I’ve given some people the wrong impression. My bookshop was just a little east of here, right on Danforth, but I closed it a few years ago because the rent was skyrocketing. I’m still a bookdealer but it’s all online. I sell on the zillion bookselling sites on the net. It’s sort of full circle because before I opened my own shop I was dealing through mail-order catalogues for collectors, and before that I worked in an antiquarian bookshop for many years owned by someone else. I miss having my own shop, especially those Saturdays when all the twenty-something bohemians-in-training showed up, and I’m thinking of reopening elsewhere, but for the time being it’s nice not having to pay rent on two places.
I was born nearby but in the Fifties all the families were moving to the suburbs, most of which were only half-built. I have a photo of myself at maybe three with my mother. We’re standing on our front lawn overlooking field after field after field. It was far more rural than suburban back then. When I left home (with an umbrella under one arm and my mother’s “Betty Crocker Cookbook” under the other), I came back to the street I didn’t remember at all. I’ve always preferred the eastend of the city. I had a choice: it was either down by the lake (beautiful but expensive) or the Danforth. I don’t regret my choice, and besides, the lake is only a short subway and streetcar ride away. Since then, and purely by accident, a lot of my friends have moved here too. It’s a self-contained neighbourhood—everything is a stroll away, and it’s a street of patios and cafes and pubs and restaurants. And when I wake up in the morning I smell bread baking . . . what could be better than to live above a bakery?
3. Here’s another of those odd shifts that came from reading you all at once instead of piecemeal. You are inordinately well-read, as I would expect a bibliophile and bookseller to be, but I had the impression that you tend to talk more about music than you do about books. Re-reading you, I realized what a grave error that was on my part. You’ve shared many tidbits of writers who have moved you, far more than I had remembered. So here’s another two-part question: You mention Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes (The Wanderer) in your profile. Why has that been an important book for you? And you say you are an “art-punk” and live on the outskirts of the art scene, implying that art is a love second only to books and words. Is my impression correct? What is an art-punk, anyway?
If you Googled the term “art punk” you would be told that it refers to the music of two or three bands that were big in the U.K. in the late Seventies . . . but I like to stretch the term out a bit. To me, art rock or art punk is the music that grew out of the art colleges. The kids who produced the songs knew something about melody, they could write clever lyrics, and they could even play their instruments! Fans of such music may be referred to as Art Punks.
The art world? Well, in the Eighties I worked in an antiquarian bookshop that specialized in rare, out-of-print art books. It was a hang-out for artists, agents, art critics, gallery owners, etc. That’s my only connection to the art world. For the record, I like old woodblock prints.
Le Grand Meaulnes. I saw the film (directed by one Jean-Gabriel Albicocco in 1967) long before I read the book. For reasons I can’t comprehend, critics tend to think that adolescence, and in particular the experience of first love, isn’t a proper subject for serious literature. Balderdash! And among other things, this book is also a masterpiece of rural writing. (In his novel, Alain-Fournier regards the state of being in love as a Place—that’s why I prefer the alternate English title: The Lost Domain.)
4. I love the tender way you talk about your friends. Your young friend who was so badly mistreated. Your old friends Dodie and Day. Mademoiselle Vague. Bun. Kirby and Nicola, and the late Gus. The amazing Fanny. And I love the way you talk about food and laughter and music, or sitting on park benches, or listening to the sounds of the rain or the laughter from the street below, or watching a cat in a shaft of sunlight. It’s enough to make a body swoon. I know for certain that several of your faithful readers do just that from time to time, and it’s not because they’ve had too much of your good wine. So how do you do that? How do you make us swoon so effortlessly?
You and your flattery. But thanks.
The simple answer, and I’m not being coy about this, is that I don’t write about ideas at all! Or very rarely. When something I write pleases me it’s because I’ve been loyal to “the poetry of the senses.” It’s something we all share. It’s the sensual life, almost an animal appreciation of being alive at all. But our appreciation is an intellectual thing, and it depends on how alert and sensitive we are to the poetry of these fleeting things. I’m not a cheerleader for Optimism. I’m as aware as anyone of how physical pain or some tormenting anxiety can beat us down and make the smallest enjoyments impossible. It’s a matter of endurance as well as enjoyment. And friendship strengthens us all.
5. I’d love to know more about your family. In fact, I’d like as much of a bio as you might be willing to divulge. But part of me doesn’t want to ask in case you are loath to share with such specificity. The Internet is an incalculable blessing, but I think this whole self-revelatory thing we do when we write needs a protective cloak from time to time. A touch of anonymity is not only comfortable (perhaps even advised), but it may also give us a certain freedom. Maybe we can speak more truthfully, or more fully, when people don’t have all our vital details. That still doesn’t keep me from being curious, however . . . !
Scarborough was a largely working-class suburb of Toronto, and that’s where I grew up. I was an only child but only in name. When I was still a toddler my mother started babysitting the baby across the street. This was Sandy, and she was there, five days a week except for holidays, until she was thirteen. In other words, I had a sister . . . sort of. And my mother was the designated babysitter for all the kids in the neighbourhood when I was growing up. During the Great Depression my father and his friends really were those guys who hopped freight trains back and forth across Canada looking for work. Then the war. When my father got back from overseas . . . and how ironic . . . he got a job with the railway. My childhood was by no means unhappy . . . the fears and humiliations are common to all of us. We pull through. I loved playing street-hockey all six months of the Canadian winter, and I loved playing pinball in the bowling alley. I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and grew bangs. I did my spacing-out in high school as many of us did. I fell in love most desperately at fifteen. When I think of university I think of the library window looking over the park in October. It was more than just a park, really. It was the woodlands, almost a forest, and I was so happy and comfortable sitting there, surrounded by books. All that was missing was the glass of wine.
6. You seem to pooh-pooh the notion that you’re interested in philosophy, and you’ve said that religion gives you a knot in your stomach (I’m probably misquoting you here). Yet I experience you as being profoundly philosophical, in both the technical and the casual sense. Spiritual, even. How do you grapple with, for lack of a better term, the Great Mystery? Besides inviting impossible angels in for a taste of your spaghetti sauce, of course.
It’s the Celtic in my background that prevents me from leaving the supernatural and the spiritual entirely behind! I remember myself very well at twelve or thirteen devouring books about ghosts, witches, ritual magic, flying saucers, you name it. A little later religion kicked in: books about Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism . . . I collected “ism’s” like baseball cards. Did I come to any conclusions? No, not at all!
Maybe it’s time for me to insert a favourite quotation. It’s Stephen Fry talking about what it was he learned from reading P.G. Wodehouse: “It is enough to be benign, to be gentle, to be funny, to be kind.”
7. You wrote that you had never heard Billie Holiday’s version of “Willow Weep for Me.” You can listen to it here. And I can’t even think of a question to ask about it. Maybe you can come up with both a question and an answer?
Alas, the song won’t play because the service isn’t available outside the U.S.! I’m sure I’ll hear it someday. . . . [I’m sending him an MP3 of the song by email. —Ed.]
So, what does this beautiful song bring to mind? That’s easy. When I was young, my bedroom window overlooked our neighbour’s willow tree. I watched it in all weathers, all year round. I don’t know this for a certainty, but I bet I even prayed to it.