Hugh Garner People's Prose Award!
People's Poet, Editor, Writer, Literary Entrepreneur
and now first recipient of the
Hugh Garner People's Prose Award!
Tuesday, September 19. 2001, at the Imperial
Library Pub on Dundas Street in Toronto, about sixty of us gathered
to celebrate the launch of Ted Plantos' new book of short stories,
The Shanghai Noodle Killing.
Knowing I was to introduce Ted, two weeks beforehand I interviewed
him. Although we've been friends for more than twenty years, I
learned just how remarkable he really is and how far back his
literary career goes. In the weeks leading up the launch, I mulled
that the man who had made possible so many prizes and publications
to celebrate writers, himself had not been recognized. That and
the fact it's always bothered me there is no equivalent in prose
to the Milton Acorn's People Poetry Prize presented to
Milton in Grossman's Tavern in 1970 by a group of writers after
he didn't win the Governor General's Award that year.
So I phoned around with an idea and from there grew the Hugh Garner
People's Prose Award to honour a working class writer who like
Ted was raised in Cabbagetown. So, on Tuesday, September 19, Carol
Malyon, a Toronto writer and I presented Ted with a plaque that
read: Ted Plantos is the first recipient of the Hugh Garner People's
Prose Award In Recognition of his Outstanding Contribution as
an Editor and Writer who is not afraid to call a spade a shovel.
Eschewing the usual medal and cheque - the awards committee was
broke. And thinking medallions pretentious for a working class
writer anyway, Rosemary Stewart presented him instead with a shovel,
festively painted gold to mark the occasion.
The Hugh Garner Award committee thanks Ted for all his fine work
and his efforts over the years on behalf of writers. We hope that
the award will live on to recognize the voices of working class
prose writers in the way the People's Poetry Prize has poets.
We're also wracking our brains to find a woman writer of the same
period so we can affix her name to the award so it is gender inclusive,
recognizing the work of women writers. If you wish to help out
in any way, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
My introduction to Ted that night follows and I'm sure you'll
see why our committee thought it time he was recognized. And it
is by no means a comprehensive list of his accomplishments. There's
much more and Ted tells me he's working on an autobiography.
Born in Cabbagetown on Christmas Eve 1943, Ted Plantos was a blue
baby whose grandmother revived him, in an act that not only gave
him life, but probably determined the life he was to lead, especially
if we believe what poet Denise Levertov says, that to muse is
to stand with open mouth and inspiration is to breathe.
Ted credits his love of language to a mother who from birth sang
to him, and he likely had no choice but to become a poet after
joining in the bustle of a large extended working class family
of aunts, uncles and cousins, all living together under one roof
in Cabbagetown where singing, storytelling, and music were a way
of life. He grew up in largely Protestant old Cabbagetown now
the site of the Regent Park housing projects, attending school
in Catholic Corktown, the ruling parish of St. Paul's where he
never really learned to fight, instead making friends with those
who could help him. This affability and resourcefulness have served
Leaving school at the end of Grade ten, Ted worked factory and
warehouse jobs, as did some of his family before him, and for
a time he sold magazines, clothing, and refrigerators but always
he read, from Bertrand Russell to John Steinbeck and other, becoming
more socially and politically conscious in the process. And social
and political generosity are what mark his work even today.
Ted tells of the influence of Sadie Jordan, a librarian at the
Parliament Street Library, where E.J.Pratt once read and where
Ted met Tom Arnett who taught him the craft of writing. Arnett
also introduced Ted to poet Gwendolyn MacEwan, about whom he says,
"I thought I was meeting a goddess with those lovely Egyptian
eyes." He tells of going to the Bohemian Embassy, located in an
old warehouse at Yonge and Wellesley and up a set of creaky stairs
to hear the young Margaret Atwood and others.
Ted later started the Cross Canada Writers' Workshop and its newsletter
which I subscribed to in Calgary and we began corresponding. When
I moved to Toronto he offered me a job on the fledgling Writers'
Quarterly first as a reviewer and then as an editor. To the loose
group of working class writers I know across the country, Ted
is known for his generosity of spirit and intellect. He was formative
in the development of many literary careers including mine. I've
never known Ted to come to a reading without pamphlets or coupons
for his latest project. It may have always been so, for he told
me of selling poetry broadsheets in his youth, in Allan Gardens.
Ted's publications include eleven books of poetry, and his characteristic
passion, spirituality, lyricism and whimsy were evident from the
beginning. His self-published 1972, The Seasons Are My Sacraments,
and in the same year, She Wore a Streetcar to the Wedding, published
by Hans Jewinski's Missing Link Press, his 1974, Vigil, published
by Piccadilly Press, in 1976 Light on My Shoulder, by Fred Cogswell's
In 1978, Steel Rail Press, a collective that included Robin Matthews
and Milton Acorn who was instrumental in the publication of The
Universe Ends at Sherbourne and Queen, which became an underground
hit selling an amazing 3000 copies. Steel Rail later published
This TavernHas No Symmetry. His powerful collection of First
World War poems, Passchendale, appeared with Black Moss Press
in 1984, followed by Dogs Know About Parades in 1989, Mosquito
Nirvana, in 1991, and in 1993, Wolsak and Wynn brought out his
children's poems, At Home on Earth, followed by his New and Selected
Poems - Daybreak's Long Waking in 1997, again by Black Moss.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it is an impressive
body of work by a writer who has given so much to others, and
as he modestly told me on the phone the other night, because so
many have given so much to him.
Tonight we are here to celebrate the birth of a new book, The
Shanghai Noodle Killing, which brings a mystique of the streets
to life. Ted Plantos creates a kind of literature verite with
a cast of likeable schemers, dreamer, lovers and beautiful losers.
These include an ex-boxer from the "hood", the Pigeon Man, an
Elvis impersonator, bookers and gamblers, hookers and johns, roomers
and street-wise kids walking mean streets scheming and dreaming
in their search for he big score. Sometimes they win, sometimes
they lose. But always Ted Plantos shows his generous touch in
these stories set between art and life. People's poetry in prose.
I know you will enjoy it.
But first before we hear from Ted, on behalf of my fellow writers,
I'm going to ask him to stand up and receive by way of a thank
you, a plaque that will be read to you by Carol Malyon.
Author's note: Ted passed away mere months after receiving this
award. It was the last time I saw him alive. Ted's wife, May,
tells me, he treasured that shovel and the memories of that night.
Ted, we'll miss you.
Toronto, April 14, 2002