Peter Jickling’s book Downtown Flirt sits in the sun on the bar at Woodcutter’s Blanket on Feb. 20. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Yukon poet channels his downtown flirt

“There’s something to be said for getting out of your comfort zone.”

“The elevator pitch, I guess, would be ‘rube from the Yukon goes to Toronto and tries to figure out how to live in the city,’” Peter Jickling says, looking down at his drink as he puts the thought together.

Sitting along the rail at Whitehorse cocktail bar Woodcutter’s Blanket, Jickling is looking calm and reflective, drinking what he always drinks when he comes here, a can of Pilsner (full disclosure: this reporter knows what Jickling always drinks because she also works at Woodcutter’s). Jickling will be holding a book launch at the bar on Feb. 26, for the release of his first collection of poetry Downtown Flirt, just released by indie publisher Guernica Editions.

Downtown Flirt came about out of a simple desire for Jickling; a change of scenery. In October 2016, Jickling packed his bags and caught a plane to Toronto, where he began living out of sublets for six months, mostly in the west end of the city.

“I went to Toronto with the idea of writing but I wasn’t sure yet what I was going to write,” Jickling says. “I felt I needed a change of scenery to jiggle things, creatively.”

“There’s something to be said for getting out of your comfort zone.”

Once in Toronto, Jickling “made a pact” with himself to write 12 poems a month, he says. He had told a lot of people he was leaving to write, and “would have felt like an idiot if (he) came back empty handed.” The added pressure of this expectation from others — and himself — was helpful as a motivator to actually get the hard, first draft work stuff done, he says.

“Sometimes (the poems) would come easily and I’d write two a day, other times I wouldn’t write one for three or four days,” he says, adding that when this would happen, the pressure would kind of “backup” and then he’d write and get on track. When they wouldn’t come he would find himself looking around at situations and places, looking for poems in things, but he also had “a lot of two-poem days,” he says.

The book — which contains 61 poems, most of which are written in the first person — is broken into three sections, based on when they were written during Jickling’s stay in Toronto; fall, winter and “nearly” spring. He describes the poems as very “place-based” and “action-oriented.”

Most of the poems are “funny” Jickling says, although there are a few that are sad, and a few that are “hopefully funny and sad at the same time.”

“I had moments of loneliness (in Toronto) and that’s certainly in there… my inclination is to lean towards humour…. That’s just kind of the way I’m built,” he notes.

About “95 per cent” of the writing was done while he was in Toronto, as well as much of the editing. Jickling describes his editing process as being like “fractions in math class.”

“You have three over nine and you have to reduce to one over three… it’s about distilling (the poem). Reducing it to its core I guess,” he says.

How the book itself came to be published is a bit serendipitous.

“I got to Toronto and I started writing poems and going to open mike things and one day I sat next to this girl who was in the process of getting a book published with Guernica Press,” he says. That girl’s editor was Elana Wolff.

“The name just kind of stuck in my mind and I didn’t think much of it. Then at one of these open mikes they were giving away a few free books as a door prize…. And I got it and it was published by Guernica. I looked on the inside and it said ‘edited by Elana Wolff.’ I’m not a hugely superstitious guy but it seemed like a good sign, right? So I found her email address online and I sent her what I had at the time. She was really encouraging and she encouraged me to send a manuscript.”

“Six months later, I got an email, and an attachment and it was a book contract.”

Jickling is already working on another book of poems, which he is about “half to two thirds” of the way through. He is also the authour of the play Syphilis: A Love Story, produced in 2011.

The book launch for Downtown Flirt runs from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Woodcutter’s Blanket, with a short reading from the book by Jickling starting at 8 p.m.

Contact Lori Fox at lori.fox@yukon-news.com

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