#WOTSauthorchat with Adrian De Leon

This is a simplified transcript of our twitter chat with author Adrian De Leon on April 18th, 2019, edited for blog readability. To interact with the twitter version instead, click here:
WOTS: Welcome to our April #WOTSauthorchat with @aadeleon! We’ll be discussing Adrian’s poetic meditations on the city’s east end structured by Toronto’s fabled transit system titled Rouge published by Mawenzi House. Great to be chatting with you, Adrian!

ADL: Hi from (gasp) LA! Can’t wait to chat!

WOTS: Ooh, hello there in sunny LA – let’s bring you home for a moment with this first question: The TTC subway line serves as the spine of your collection, what’s your personal relationship with the transit system like?

ADL: If the #TTC subway was a spine, I was definitely an invertebrate for most of my #Toronto life. Even til my mid-20s, riding the train inspired some kind of wonder and novelty, but also anger. Why did Tdot get this but not so many other folks who need it? From Scarborough, most talk about riding the train was some cartographic fantasy. Fancy maps and promised access to places and people that never came, and if it were to, would never be in tune with our needs. I mean, think Toronto and DoFo today. Agh.

WOTS: It’s a frustrating issue, and that certainly comes through in the book. A majority of these poems were written in, or after visiting, every station on the TTC lines – can you tell a story about one of these experiences?

ADL: LOL sure. Since y’all retweeted Dundas West – I took my little brother along for a stretch of the writing, and I had a few notes on Dundas West, but nothing gelled. The train came and he ran inside, and I nearly missed following him in, so I ran and pried the door open like Hercules. And yelled out some profanities while the TTC second operator yelled at me. Talk about an “aha” moment.

WOTS: Flashbacks to all the times I have almost gotten caught in the subway doors, haha. A host of poetic forms are represented in this collection – how did you choose to embody stations the way you did?

ADL: Mostly out of whimsy. I’m a weird dude & think visually and sonically before writing the words down. But part of the beauty of transit writing is that infrastructure itself is form, as is built environment. Take, for instance, Castle Frank and Broadview. The viaduct as form, but also the experience of getting signal and sending that text as form, too. Otherwise, I’m a sucker for more ‘traditional’ forms like the sonnet or blank verse.I think ephemeral experience and mundane spaces deserve all that audacious beatification, too. A sonnet about turnstiles (Bessarion), blank verse about IKEA meatballs (Leslie).

WOTS: We love your whimsical process! In interviews you often mention and credit other Scarborough creatives who have paved the way – who inspired you to write this collection?

ADL: Off the bat, my day ones: Natasha Ramoutar (@spondeee), Tea Mutonji (@teamutonji), Leanne Toshiko Simpson (@leannetoshiko), Oubah Osman (@oubahosman), Chelsea LaVecchia (@ChelseaLaVecch), [and] my mentor Daniel Tysdal (@dstiz). Next, the folks who continue to make it possible with their constellation of stories: Carrianne Leung (@kayee13), Catherine Hernandez (@theloudlady), [and] David Chariandy. Local sounds by APB (@apbworldwide) and others, the emcee voices of high school years.

But most importantly, everyone in Scarborough is an inspirational creative. There isn’t some random out-of-nowhere Renaissance. We’ve always been telling our stories in many languages, in every commute, at every plaza takeout, at home and under bridges.

WOTS: Absolutely – just because there’s an increase in attention doesn’t mean this is a new phenomenon! Bringing us to Q5: Scarborough is a cultural hub that more people in the city are starting to recognize. How do you see your work fitting into this narrative?

ADL: First off, on brand, writing this underground in a subway (while someone rants about lack of subways behind me)!

I refuse that narrative. I wrote, and write, for a community that knows we’ve always been poppin, with narratives in the plural.Generally, I find the narrative (which, indeed, pervades) weird, because there’s already been so much. It’s just now that folks elsewhere are paying attention.

(Seriously, the dude behind me ranting about lack of transit is amazing and fated.)

WOTS: Exactly, folks outside Scarborough are just now discovering what’s been there all along… better late than never? Re: man on transit with you – WOW, what a coincidence!

What’s your favourite poem to read aloud?

ADL: That’s a tough one! I love Castle Frank to Broadview, because I read *with* an audience. It takes several people to read it, and ideally, at least five.

WOTS: SO. COOL. When not working on a site-specific project, where is your favourite place to write?

ADL: No lie, on transit, lol. I’ve written a bunch of my next collection on subways and buses, and I’ve written academic articles and a dissertation on trains. Best way for me to think in tandem with strangers. (Also, just got to where I was commuting to today.)

WOTS: Haha, consistent! Can you give us a hint on what this second transit-incubated collection will look like?

ADL: Sure! It’s named after a word in various Philippine languages that simultaneously means an outrigger boat and the basic unit of social life. I write about what it means to make kinship across different spaces on lands not our own. Mixes four languages, too!

WOTS: This sounds incredible, we can’t wait! Bringing it full circle with our final question – in your expert opinion, which TTC station has the best patties?

ADL: Warden Station. No debate, no question. That @blogTO debacle was stupid and frivolous — also, secretly their hot counter with different chicken dishes is amazing, and their sausage rolls WITH FULL SIZE SAUSAGES.

WOTS: There we have it folks, only the truth from Adrian De Leon! Thanks for chatting with us Adrian, and all the best in your work in LA!

ADL: Thanks! Y’all are the best.

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