for: the true . . WORDSMITHS.

when people die, it’s like a little fire goes out . . .
I hadn’t spoken to Peter van Toorn, ever since I left Montreal for NYC, in 1981,
just over 40 years ago, by now – but still, I was shocked, and so saddened by his passing.

“There’s a silence, and there’s silence. And then there’s a stillness to hold it all without noise.
Enough! The crazy fingers of the wind just hit the roof and raise the red roof tiles . . . ”
~ PETER VAN TOORN, ‘Mountain Easter’, in ‘Mountain Tea’, pg. 78.

at the ubiquitous Greek diner,
in the Mt. Royal / St. Laurent section of Montreal, ca. mid-to-late, 1970s.
yeah, he was a little bit older – than me / but we both came from recent immigrant English-speaking families.
PHOTO: Collection Nancy Smith

I knew him very well during the period when he wrote what was to be – his last published book / a great work, a collection with the depth of, of . . knock-knock-on-that mountain, solid-as-rock & wide as the sky, almost sing-songs / original poems, & which also included some absolutely brilliant translations / of other poets’ classic, historic poems, the book titled . . . ‘MOUNTAIN TEA’.

I painted the watercolor, that was printed in gray-scale, which graced the cover of the original first edition. as well I contributed the cover art for a few other books – he put out – with various collaborators, all under the creative whirlwind of Vehicule Press / then an Indie artist / writer start-up, in Montreal, and which has gone to become almost an institutional powerhouse, that it is – today.

to be an English poet in Montreal, especially in the French language rights era of the 1970s,
was to be a unique & stubbornly contrarian voice . . .
a collective subconscious cultural landmark, a cry, a burning vision, a voice, which not only embraced the poetic whole of Montreal, but which would also not be – denied.
down with DNA – up with poetic truths.

PETER, still relatively un-sung in the Canadian mainstream media / in only the way a country like Canada can treat it’s best / don’t get me started / was the leader of the English talent pack, and will be – forever.
A brilliant, brilliant poet, who preferred to look inwards, and knock, knock out those poems – working, and re-working them, for years, really, until they sung like tapped glass, or spun copper – sturdy as the old metal typewriters, on which he tapped, tapped them out – til they were rendered with pure hardcore perfection, and, . . . meaning, like a wondrous pebble – skipping across the cold, cold surface, of a blue, blue . . . lake.
see: PETER VAN TOORN (1944 – Oct 6, 2021) – Wiki

see: History of VEHICULE PRESS

PETER VAN TOORN, ‘MOUNTAIN TEA & Other Poems’, the first edition / with my watercolor, reproduced in gray-scale, on the cover.
published by McClelland and Stewart, Toronto. 1984.
Cover illustration: Watercolour by NANCY SMITH, photographed in black & white by G. SZILASI.

Peter wanted a tea pot, but one that was rural, a peasant utility – in a campfire metal, but that still spoke “Chinese” (!!), and, was designed to .. pour widely, as diverse as the ground the poems, yet elegant with homespun, heartfelt generosity. the original watercolor is all rendered in earthy tones of dark greens 7 ddeep blues, with a hint of turquoise, and jade. It’s night time, it’s time to pour a warm cup of tea, on a circular woven folk art mat, flecked with ‘listening’, and spin some tuneful, poetic thoughts – up, into the night sky.

“I can tell fresh milk from fresh flies,
I can tell nice ties from nice guys,
I can tell good from bad weather,
I can tell apples by their blush,
I can tell trees from their green gear,
I can tell who’s broke from who’s flush,
I can tell hefty, from handy, I can tell nothing about me . . ”
– the first verse from PETER VAN TOORN, ‘Mountain Dragon’, translated from VILLON,
‘MOUNTAIN TEA’, pg 81.

IF, you know anything about me – you know, there I go.

he also inscribed a good-bye gift, a vintage hardcover book on Mexican Folk Art / published 1966 (!!),
to me, just before I departed for the unknowns – of NYC.

“for Nancy
Give that cotton canvas one of your snazzy swats and get on the map with both Emily’s (Carr & Dickinson) as a first-rate fire-head – and man snucklers tuck their tongues in !
Peter / Mar 20, 1981”.
quite the send-off.
and, like a Mayan sacrifice, off to the to challenge the harsh gods, of NYC – I went.

after writing this about me,
in a poem that was indeed published – in ‘Mountain Tea’:

‘Mountain Cameo’ – for Nancy Smith

“How to show this fresh lie to her –
I’ve licked its wet fur clean,
fed it cream of dream,
heard its vowels puu,
but if the smell of my hands is on it
she’ll bite its head off.”
~PETER VAN TOORN, last verse of ‘Mountain Cameo’,
in ‘Mountain Tea’, pg 95.

‘THE INSECURITY of ART’, Essays on Poetics /
Vehicule Press, Montreal, 1982.
Published with the assistance of the Canada Council.
Cover artwork by NANCY SMITH.
Cover graphics by JW STEWART
Book Design by SIMON DARDICK.

I remember, clear as crystal, how absolutely stunning it was. to see . . my watercolor,
published full-page, and in . . . full color !!
thank you, so much: to the book’s prescient designer . . SIMON DARDICK / Vehicule Press.

one of Peter’s essays was: ‘Kosher Carp on the Nuclear Harp’ (!!), pg. 138.
which began thus:

“There is no shock in the acknowledgement: poets have chucked their fountain pens. Gone
the goose quill which once gave them wings on paper.”

and, so from the painter / a sable-tailed . . a watercolor brush spun out, a top . .
a tea cup.