Author | Photo Ralph Kolewe

15 Minutes with Margaret Christakos

Margaret Christakos is an award-winning Toronto poet. For most of the last 20 years she has lived in Little Italy off College Street. Five of her nine poetry collections have been published by Coach House Books, including her most recent Multitudes (2013). Currently she teaches creative writing at OCAD University and at U of T’s School of Continuing Studies, where for six years she ran “Influency: A Toronto Poetry Salon.”

What spaces in Toronto do you find inspiring?

I like long bike rides in the city to gather in thousands of little scenes and ideas. You have to be razor-alert, or else you’ll get sideswiped, so I find that freaked-out state of mind makes everything glisten. I love the AGO, and the experimental music scene happening at places like Array Space and the gorgeous Music Gallery. Long conversations with writer friends in bars like Il Gatto Nero or Sotto Voce always refuel my creative hope. Every now and again I go have a clandestine coffee and pie at Athens on the Danforth, where I used to write in the late 80’s.

What aisle do you spend the most time in at the grocery store?

It’s weird how much time I spend looking at meat. You know when you feel the cold meat through the plastic to see if it’s tender? That’s a notable chunk of every grocery store visit. Other than that, I could seriously live in a fruit and vegetable shop. The colours! The shapes! They intoxicate me.

Which virtue do you try to cultivate within yourself?

Optimism.

The receipts in your wallet would indicate what?

I’m an under-remunerated writer, so honestly, there are very few receipts in my wallet. I buy food for the family and try to go to one or two movies or music shows a month. Almost everything else I do is in the gift economy: poetry readings, social media, walking, biking, browsing. There’s an amazing range of free culture in Toronto.

If you could reinvent your career and be something totally different, what would that be?

I’d prefer to start that question with a “when” since we can all reinvent ourselves at any point. Over this past year I have become an avid cell phone photographer, and I plan to make this my next public vocation.

When you dream about travel, what place in the world comes to mind?

I was able to spend a month in Greece a couple of years ago, and although I should fan out to exploring many new sites, I really just want to go hang out in Delphi again, with many more autumns in my grandmother’s seaside village.

What makes you happy?

I love public gatherings that place experimental poetry and social inquiry at the core. Recently I hosted Rachel Zolf’s book launch for her work on settler colonialism — it was an incredible, transformative event. Along with my children’s frequent insights, such events make me the most buoyant and intellectually awake.

What makes you cringe?

The number of times I can talk myself out of finding the perfect yoga class. That number is getting ridiculous.

What quality do you loathe most in others?

Not wishing to embark on difficult thinking. Let’s call it the “gravy train” dodge. I cannot understand people who refuse to admit how complex experience is, how layered and diverse desire is, how tumultuous feeling our way through reality is.

What, in your opinion, is overrated?

Owning a car. Bicycle cops. Riot gear.

How do you feel about life at this moment?

Well, I am in my early fifties and newly divorced, broke, and a little bit wobbly in the mornings. I have three stunningly humane children and the very great pleasure to be surrounded by marvellous civically engaged artists and thinkers in a gorgeous city where more and more people seem to be acknowledging that social welfare for the many is more important than wealth for the few. Sometimes I get to work with younger writers as a mentor and am continually caught offguard by how grounded, worldly and empathetic these younger creative makers are, how bullshit-free they are, and how they are deeply excited about living and working with people who are different from themselves.

What quality do you value most in a lover?

Pun-capacity, first, and very good kissing. Both involve articulate tongue action.

What is your favourite thing to do on a Saturday?

Growing up in Sudbury, you went to the mall on Saturdays. I always feel a psychic itch to do that, and then most times I don’t do that at all, unless my daughter will let me hang with her. I try to go for a park walk, that’s a favourite Saturday thing, or look at vintage stuff and get some hot grilled pupusas in Kensington. Wander about, basically.

What is your comfort food?

Cooking itself is comfort to me. When in doubt, cook for twenty. I like party cooking where you have to make eight things simultaneously and the kitchen is just plattered with foodstuffs.

What word holds deep meaning for you?

I have never been good at the “pick one” idea. Maybe it’s growing up with three siblings, or having three offspring, or teaching groups, or loving the entire alphabet like a colour wheel. Words swerve to more words, and that has saved my brainheart on many a dark night.

 

15 minutes gets up-close-and-personal with compelling personalities and people to watch in Toronto.

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