Poetry News

Kathy Acker & the Late 1970s Toronto Art Scene

By Harriet Staff


At Canadian Art, "Kathy Acker Goes to Toronto!" Jason McBride details the "evolving, competitive, fractious Toronto art scene" of the 1970s, and Kathy Acker's visit in February 1979 to work with Rumour Publications, "a scrappy new publishing house–cum–art gallery." "The brainchild of three York University students, Judith Doyle, Fred Gaysek and Kim Todd, Rumour was a storefront space at 720 Queen Street West (now the home of the original Terroni restaurant), then a largely Polish and Ukrainian working-class neighbourhood. The space was formerly a jewellery store and still had its wooden shelving; Rumour used these to display the chapbooks they started making—prefiguring the nascent zine culture—on a leased Xerox photocopier." More on Acker's relationship with Rumour:

[Judith] Doyle was initially intimidated—while Acker had only really begun publishing, she was already an art-world star and fiercely opinionated. “She would lose patience with even the slightest bit of stupidity,” Doyle says. The two nonetheless quickly became friends. Acker stayed in Doyle’s apartment above Rumour and they often hung out on the back patio at Tiger’s Coconut Grove, a Jamaican dive in Kensington Market. Gaysek warmed to her immediately. They played chess in the kitchen of the Shaw Street Victorian he rented, talked about Zola. “She was a very honest person,” Gaysek says. “And she wasn’t going to be pushed around by anybody.”

At Rumour, Acker taught a writing workshop, or what Doyle referred to as a “clinic.” The flyer borrowed its central image from a medical textbook: a photo of two men in suits, one with a bandaged foot, the other propping him up, with the caption “Human crutch.” It promised that Acker would give “informal instruction in artistic survival,” and cover such topics as “Structure and Functions of the Body,” “Shock,” and “Insensibility.” The event cost $5, with dinner—made by Doyle and Gaysek—included. About 10 people showed up, including 18-year-old John Greyson, who had his first public art exhibition in the Rumour window (an installation featuring text and 50 red mittens that Greyson had sewn himself). Doyle remembers Acker mostly workshopping her own writing, testing it out, but Greyson recalls her also instilling in them a certain discipline: “The main thing I remember is her saying that you have to write every day. Assign yourself a number of hours or words a day. It hurts, it’s like jogging, but eventually it becomes addictive, a habit, and that’s when it kicks in. No matter how much you doubt, you have that three hours a day or 1,000 words, whichever comes first, you have that as your anchor, and it becomes your studio practice.”

Read the rest of this great piece at Canadian Art.

Image at top: Illustrations by Robert Kushner in Kathy Goes to Haiti, published by Rumour in 1978.

Originally Published: February 10th, 2017