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Bookshelves and a View

By Derek Beaulieu
May. 12, 2023
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I recently moved my office across campus here at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Previously tucked into a back office on upper campus in the old Laszlo Funtek Teaching Wing (LF), I am now on the 3rd floor of the Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Building (JPL), a building dedicated to media production, offices, performance spaces, and recording studios. The building is typified by white hallways, an atrium full of plants, and an amazing western view down the Bow River Valley towards British Columbia. Well lit, huge windows, and room for artwork and six bookcases. All I need.

Like many of my colleagues in this series of essays, I have my books arranged alphabetically—or, at least, roughly alphabetically—by author’s last name … with a few accommodations to practicality: books on bpNichol are shelved with his oeuvre; the Alice B. Toklas Cook Book and What is Remembered are both shelved with her partner Gertrude Stein; oversized books are all shelved together, their weight anchoring a tall bookcase which otherwise hold authors with last names from “P” to “S,” or at least 1/2 of the “Perec” titles I have down to most of the “Solie.”

The top of each shelf holds cardboard boxes with small press ephemera (sorted by author or press, from Helen Hajnocky’s ?! Press through damian lopes’ fingerprinting inkoperated), single author groupings (Stein and Nichol again) and other titles which seemed to have gathered into meaningful groupings: the Black Widow Press’ Surrealism series, a smattering of graphic novels, and 1960s counter-culture paperbacks nest together under a Barbara Caruso print, for instance.

There’s something to be said about Walter Benjamin’s idea of the aura, that emotional resonance that radiates from signed and association copies of books. The artist’s hand was here, they held, they flipped through the pages, they defaced a page with their signature, a note, a jotting—evoking their presence and the moment of contact between reader and author. As my library continues to grow, I’ve noted each signed copy with a white bookmark, poking its head up over the head of the book. The bookcases are littered with these tags recording conversations and connections.

The shelves are also populated with talismans and relics; gifts from friends, souvenirs from travels and other little items and books which rattle my memory. Over there is the key to Kurt Schwitters’ cell from his incarceration at Warth Mill, outside of Bury, UK (how that came to be in my possession is a story I can happily retell over a cup of coffee). Paint chips from Sister Corita Kent’s Rainbow Swash encased in a lucite block stands behind a small piece of rose quartz, a gift from Julia Polyck-O’Neill.

Three plastic bottles contain the alcohol, suspension, and pigment required to create International Klein Blue (IKB), purchased in Paris from the only pigment seller in the world authorized to create and sell that unique hue. Having crafted the colour with Yves Klein himself, the Adam Montmartre shop keeps the recipe under close scrutiny. It perches like bottled potential.

Small format books lean in the spare spaces. Experimental writers have swiped the forms of previous publications: David McFadden and Greg Curnoe’s Great Canadian Sonnet (1970, 1974) next to Mickey Mouse and the Lazy Daisy Mystery (1947); Danny Snelson’s Radios (2016) next to 3 titles from Hanuman Books (1990, 1990, 1992, one of them with one of those white bookmarks), and fittingly two editions of John Riddell’s Smokes, rolled to resemble packages of cigarettes next to Craig Dworkin’s Copys, housed in a matchbox.

At the edge of my desk sits another, smaller shelf, this one gathers editions of the late Tom Phillips’ A Humument, Choose Your Own Adventure books, every issue of Big Table and The City Lights Journal, a few miscellaneous issues of The Evergreen Review and City Lights Review, all guarded over by a ceramic dragon—crafted by my daughter—snuggling with his 20-sided die and a dalek (purchased in London after I defended my PhD, “Doctor Who? How do you spell that?”).

I live in a national park, there’s always the obligatory canister of bear spray.


A wooden bookshelf with four magazine file boxes on top labelled for bpNichol's works, one for "Captain George's Comic World," and one for Helen Hajnoczky's ?! Editions.
Two of Beaulieu's shelves, with a view of snow-covered mountains in the distance.
A wooden bookshelf, each of its five shelves filled with books. The vials for International Klein Blue are perched on the third shelf.
A full wall lined with four wooden bookcases of varying heights.
Beaulieu's desktop shelf, with Tom Phillips' A Humument books and other volumes, a white ceramic dragon coiled around a twenty-sided die and dalek, and a black can of bear spray.



Beaulieu, Derek. “Bookshelves and a View.” Shelf Portraits, 12 May, 2023, richlerlibrary.ca//shelf-portraits/bookshelves-and-a-view. Accessed 25 May, 2024.


Beaulieu, Derek. (2023, May 12). Bookshelves and a View. Shelf Portraits. https://richlerlibrary.ca//shelf-portraits/bookshelves-and-a-view


Beaulieu, D. “Bookshelves and a View.” Shelf Portraits, 12 May, 2023, https://richlerlibrary.ca//shelf-portraits/bookshelves-and-a-view.

Derek Beaulieu

Derek Beaulieu is the author/editor of over twenty-five collections of poetry, prose, and criticism. His most recent volume of fiction, Silence, is forthcoming from Sweden’s Timglaset Books, his most recent volume of poetry, Surface Tension, was published by Toronto’s Coach House Books. Beaulieu has won multiple local and national awards for his teaching and dedication to students, the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal for this dedication to literature, and is the only graduate from the University of Calgary’s Department of English to receive the Faculty of Arts ‘Celebrated Alumni Award.’ Beaulieu holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Roehampton University, is Banff’s Poet Laureate, and the Director of Literary Arts at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.