Dave Bidini On The Invention Of Olympic Poetry

Shelf Esteem is a weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler. This week’s shelf belongs to Dave Bidini, the musician and writer whose most recent book, Keon and Me, hit shelves just last month. Bidini lives in Toronto with his family, and we spent a long time in his kitchen, drinking coffee and talking about small-town Canada, medium-sized city Canada, and Torontonian Canada. When we moved into his lemony living room, where he keeps some of his books, Bidini sat on the back of his couch.

This was my grandma’s house. The last of the old people, like the 70 year olds next door, Gino remembers me when I was a little boy. They’re hanging on. My wife was telling me how when we first moved in here, the neighbours weren’t really sure what I do. Because I don’t “go to work.” I think some of the neighbours thought I was on disability or something, and then Gino saw me on TV. He was like, “Oh, okay!” And then his son, who is kind of urbane, explained my work to him. Later, we were having a problem in the front garden, digging up some roots. Gino—he’s a strong old Italian guy—comes over with a pickaxe, and he’s digging the roots out, hacking at them with this pickaxe. And he’s sweating through his undershirt. And he says to me, he says “When you write a book, you kill me. When I do this, I kill you.” We’re killing each other. It’s hilarious.

I used to have an office on the second floor. That was 13 years ago. Now we have kids, and the lion’s share of the books are in the basement. We planned on renovating, but we only just got a light down there. So for now I have a records/CDs/books shelf in the living room.

So she ended up going to Vancouver, and any time a Canadian athlete would win a medal, they would have a little ceremony and the Canadian enclave—I think it’s called Athlete’s House?—anyway, they’d have their medals, the head of the committee would introduce them, and then Priscilia would read a poem. She says that the curlers would parade her out of the room on their shoulders, and people would weep while she read. So she got to go to London and do it again. I think all her books are delicious.

She just asked, and the Olympic Committee said, “We need a poet! We have massage therapists, everyone else. We need a poet!”

Shelf Esteem runs every Tuesday.