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National treasures: Talonbooks' Karl & Christy Siegler

Last evening, legendary literary trailblazers and champions of poetry — as well as avant-garde fiction and non-fiction when the word, "avant-garde," meant something — Talonbooks' Karl and Christy Siegler received the kind of salute and tribute worthy of heads of state. Justifiably so. When top-notch poet Fred Wah ( Breathing My Name With a Sigh; Diamond Grill) told me he planned to attend the literary event of the decade, I asked him to give the Sieglers a message from yours truly (which he graciously did):

"With Talonbooks, one of the best poetry presses in the world — and beyond it, in fact, for that matter — the Sieglers leave a legacy that will live forever in my heart, mind and memory. The pair has every right to feel good and proud. I hope whatever Karl and Christy elect to do next, they do it with as much grace, class, impeccable taste and elegance as they brought to their ground-breaking venture. That's one terrific act to follow and I doubt anyone could. Thank you, Christy and Karl, for doing the undoable, for making this world a better place through your passion and perseverance. Your presence on the poetry scene will always be missed."

Natch, I also asked my trusty west-coast correspondents, Jean Baird and George Bowering, to send along their impressions of the evening, which (although, rumour has it, George did so under one helluva hung-over glaze) follow:

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Designated-Driver Jean Baird:

I first encountered Karl and Christy Siegler when I was publishing In 2 Print Magazine, an enterprise featuring creative work by young people aged 12 to 21 — artwork, short stories, photography, interviews, book reviews, theatre reviews and literary profiles.

For book reviews, we never assigned books to reviewers but I did attempt to create an environment where young people could select the books they wanted to assess. In short order, it occurred to me I was often telephoning Christy, asking for .pdf files of book covers because my young charges often chose Talonbooks to critique — Oh, they leaned towards David W. McFadden, bill bissett, Artie Gold, Joan McLeod, Fred Wah, Wendy Lill, Robert Kroetsch, I was passionate about the venture and the importance of encouraging and nurturing the creativity of young Canadians. Guess what? I quickly learned that my own passion was eclipsed by the Sieglers'.

After I moved to British Columbia, I had the great pleasure of getting to know Karl and Christy personally (not only as one of my husband George Bowering's publishers, but also as dear friends). What was evident last night, an evening celebrating the Sieglers and their inestimably enormous contribution to the Canadian literary scene through four decades of Talonbooks, was that the combination of highly professional publishing standards and personal friendships is second nature to this amazing pair.

Karl? Simply a consummately brilliant editor. He makes it his job to know and do the very best for each book that comes his way. Additionally? He makes it his business (and pleasure) to know as many of the authors he publishes as possible. Christy? Anyone who has ever seen a Talonbook knows her production values are always of the highest magnitude possible because she and Karl work as one hell of a terrific intermeshing heavenly team.

In the current publishing swirl, many publishers have become allergic or adverse to risk, electing to think dollars over literary value. The Sieglers, as the many speakers last night attested, are famous for taking great risks and forging new territory without ever compromising the intrinsic literary merit and artistic value of each and every project they undertake.

Christy and Karl leave Talonbooks with one of the most impressive literary backlists ever assembled in this country (and, probably without exaggeration, in the English-speaking world of arts and letters). Salut!

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One Hung-Over George Bowering:

The Sieglers ran Talonbooks for four decades, building the number-one literary press in Canada. Talonbooks has been known for taking chances. Consider, for example, their publishing of Canadian plays (including translations of "dangerous" and "envelope-pushing" Quebec ones), publishing great swathes of poetry and bringing out highly important volumes preserving the history and palaeontology of the Native populations of what is now British Columbia.

The Okanagan Valley wines flowed, as did the west-coast suds. (I should know better; but I don't care.) There was food aplenty. The hall was full of Talonbooks authors from the sixties till last night, the last night the Sieglers will be involved with this most remarkable adventure in Canadian literature and letters of cut-above quality ALWAYS.

Oh, yes, there were also the ghosts, the ghosts of those authors Talonbooks championed definitely floated among us. Twenty-seven alive-and-kicking Talonbook authors — Jamie Reid, Fred Wah, Daphne Marlatt, Beverly Simons, John MacLachlan Gray and yours truly — spoke, read and sang in honour of our royal couple. It was a singular distinction to participate in such an historic occasion.

Karl commenced the proceedings with one of his famously generous and comically hilarious speeches. The warmth and love? Simply palpable and rather heart-rending at the same time. There were no fisticuffs, no overturned and burned cars, no famous kissy-face couples; but? I know bp Nichol and Roy Kiyooka smiled upon this affair from Heaven. How do I know? I don't know. I just know they did because I heard them whispering "Hallelujahs," echoing the meanings and feelings of all in attendance.

Thank you, Christy and Karl, for a lifetime of truth, beauty and unconditional support.

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(Fedora doffs to Fred Wah, Jeanius Baird and BiGBoYo GB.)

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