Author Tags: Poetry
George Sipos was born in Budapest and raised in London, Ontario. For more than 25 years he was the leading bookseller in Prince George where he operated Mosquito Books while also teaching at the local college. He left the book trade in 2005 to become manager of the Prince George Symphony. That year he also released his first book of poetry, Anything But The Moon (Goose Lane Editions, 2005), nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Prize. He subsequently took a job as executive director of ArtSpring, a performing arts centre on Salt Spring Island, and released his second collection, The Glassblowers (Goose Lane, 2009) as well as The Geography of Arrival (Gaspereau, 2010).
In The Geography of Arrival, George Sipos revisits the city of London, Ontario, where his family settled after immigrating to Canada from Hungary in 1957. It was shortlisted for the 2011 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction. Divided into short chapters, each related to a different local landmark, the book depicts the world through the eyes of a boy getting the hang of North American culture, and of an adolescent finding his way in the larger world. This book was tentatively entitled London Landmarks.
Moving chronologically, Sipos traces his interior, personal geography across the particular landscape of 1960s' London. After his family settles in a downtown apartment, there is the baffling discovery of a plastic hockey-player figurine in the cereal box and the theories he and his father develop to explain it. Sipos shares his fear of opening his eyes underwater at swimming lessons, his first subway ride on a trip to Toronto, and his early love of public speaking, fencing and choral singing. He tries to live-trap a rabbit in the park, recalls the year the fall-out shelter stole the show from the All-Electric Dream Home at the exhibition, and savours the joy of public skating at the outdoor rink on Elliott Street. In one of the book’s most absorbing passages, a teenaged Sipos guides his stage-frightened priest through the first service after the changes to the Mass brought about by the Second Vatican Council.
“A few years ago,” says Sipos, “someone I knew moved to London, Ontario, the place where I had grown up in the late 50s and early 60s. She was totally new to the city and I set out to write her a series of letters describing certain streets and buildings and neighbourhoods as I remembered them, knowing of course that this was bound to be a false guide to anything that might still be there. The wrecker’s ball (or memory, which is much the same thing) had
probably assured that whatever I wrote would
be more fictitious than not. As it turned out, our correspondence didn’t get very far, but by then the project of writing about certain landmarks was started in my mind. Over the next several years I came back to this unreliable geography and continued to write what ultimately became a nominal guide book. What it’s a guide to is not so clear. The London of the mid-twentieth century? Maybe. A particular protagonist’s coming of age? Maybe. An album of snapshots of how a person grows into a mental and aesthetic and even scientific self? Perhaps.”
Anything But The Moon (Goose Lane Editions, 2005) 0-86492-427-5
The Glassblowers (Goose Lane, 2009)
The Geography of Arrival (Gaspereau, 2010) $25.95 9781554470808
Anything but the Moon (Goose Lane $17.95)
Friends who are authors in the northern B.C. literary scene told George Sipos the greatest excitement for any new author is having that first book arrive at your door, holding it for the first time. He’s not so sure about that.
Recently a box arrived at the Sipos home in Prince George after dark, brought by a dedicated delivery man who’d found no one at Sipos’ address during the day and had retraced his steps later that evening, with his wife and children in tow. “It was certainly an auspicious moment,” says Sipos. “But it wasn’t an ecstatic, erotic epiphany.” That’s partly because George Sipos, a former bookseller who was no stranger to the feel of a new book, had worked closely with an editor and poet, Sue Sinclair, in the preceding months to whip Anything but the Moon (Goose Lane $17.95) into shape. For Sipos, the wonderfully philosophical discussions on the placement of a comma during the six months he and Sinclair had pored over the manuscript—“a long, protracted, interesting, pleasure”—was more fulfilling.
That editorial exercise culminated in a trip to Toronto where Sipos sat “eyeball to eyeball” with Sinclair, a fellow poet he had met at the Banff Writing Studio. Months later Sipos got an email from the publisher with suggestions for cover artwork. There was another prolonged period until the proofs came in the mail, accompanied by some terse instructions to get them back promptly. “Getting published is great,” he laughs. “Don’t get me wrong.” But for Sipos getting there was more than half the fun.
After moving to Prince George in 1979, George Sipos and his wife Bridget soon realized they were bringing back hundreds of dollars worth of books whenever they went to Vancouver. Coles and Woodward’s had the only book outlets in town so Sipos began selling books from his home. In the late 1980s, he borrowed $1,000 from a friend and opened a storefront location named Mosquito Books. The bookstore soon became a major focus for literary activity in central B.C., hosting literary readings that included visits by renowned dissident Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko and novelist Timothy Findlay. Sipos fondly remembers the caravan of fans led by booksellers David and Janet Walford from Mountain Eagle Books in Smithers who trooped four hours down Highway 16 with banners waving, “Timothy Findlay or Bust.” Meanwhile the poets he encountered over the years—such as Patrick Friesen, Don McKay and Jan Zwicky—encouraged him to take up his own pen. Sipos, a former English teacher, had dabbled in writing since his teen years, but with a business and a family, he had let that part of his life slide. His most productive period occurred in 2001 when he attended the Banff Writers’ Studio, a retreat less like the proverbial cabin in the woods and more like a stay at a five-star hotel. That removal of other responsibilities allowed Sipos to seriously entertain the notion of authordom. Many of the poems in Anything but the Moon are concerned with memory and how this changes the past. All are rooted in the landscapes and experiences of the north. “By God, there’s a lot of weather in them,” he laughs. He describes his own work as mostly lyrical, as opposed to post-modern “mucking about with language.”
Currently Sipos is editing the work of a fellow poet, Gillian Wigmore, a younger writer from Vanderhoof whose first book will be Home When it Moves You (Creekstone $20). Donna Kane of Dawson Creek will be handmaking each of the 100 copies using golden-coloured papyrus and indigo tissue paper to echo Wigmore’s poems set among the lakes and rivers of northern B.C.
As one door closes, another opens. On December 31, 2004, Sipos closed Mosquito Books after 19 years. It was a hard thing to do, he says, but it was a response to getting older and the difficulties of selling books in Canada. He laments the recent closure of other great independent bookstores, such as Vancouver’s Women in Print, Granville Books and Merlin Books in Kamloops. “We were there, we were small, we were brilliant and now we are gone,” he says in his irreverent style. Sipos is moving on, but he’ll remain within the arts community.
Anything but the Moon 0-86492-427-5;
Home When it Moves You 0-9684043-7-5
--Review By Heather Ramsay writes from Queen Charlotte City.
[BCBW 2005] "Poetry"