Field Trip: knife | fork | book in Toronto's Kensington Market

October 3, 2017 by Lauren Perruzza

Toronto's poetry community found a home in knife | fork | book, a poetry-only takeover of the front of a cafe in the city's vibrant Kensington Market neighbourhood. But when the cafe's owners sold the property, k | f | b's Jeff Kirby (known to everyone 'round here as Kirby) had to do his own home-finding. We talk about what's in store for this year's events, what makes poetry so exciting in 2017, and if he'll miss the smoothie blender in the new spot (spoiler alert: he won't).

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It's hard to believe that knife | fork | book is only a year old; in that short time, it's become a mainstay of poetry readings and launches, a destination for poetry pilgrims to Toronto, and a knockout space in which to browse books and chapbooks. If that weren't enough, founder and dutiful shopkeeper Kirby launched k | f | b's own chapbook press, with titles so far from Jonathan Garfinkel, Dale Smith, and Kirby himself.



Window shelves looking out onto Augusta Avenue.



The k | f | b chapbook cart.


With a weekly reading series featuring local and visiting poets and the latest releases sharing space with old favourites and handmade chapbooks; k | f | b is a place where poetry is beloved. Inspire your own visit with our interview with Kirby, below.


All Lit Up: What was the impetus for starting knife | fork | book? What makes your store unique?

knife | fork | book: knife | fork | book has but one aim, to champion poets, and publishers of poetry. And, we’re Canada’s only physical poetry-­only bookshop.


ALU: When you opened, how did you envision knife | fork | book fitting in with the eclectic Kensington Market community? Did it work out the way you expected?

k | f | b: Writing and poetry thrives in Kensington. There’s that great writer’s group out of Hibiscus, and the Poetry Jazz place, and the Supermarket, and a poet on her typewriter, and musicians, and dancers, and flavours, and meats. People go to Kensington for a good time. That often centers around, draws in, creatives. So central, in every way, to the city.

Our time at Rick’s [Cafe] put us on the map. The location, timing, space, window, traffic, everything was just right. Easy. And, once we got things up and moving, the momentum created was phenomenal. Poets made us their spot, their home. We continue to return the gratitude ten­fold.

When fellow shop owners heard of Rick’s being sold, they so wanted to see us stay in Kensington. It’s a lovely surprise that we have, just across the street.



k | f | b shelving setups at Rick's Cafe (left) and the new space in The Dark Side Studio (right).


ALU: What are some surprising things about bookselling? About selling poetry, specifically?

k | f | b: I’m a big fan of ‘intending the new,’ and ‘practicing the non­habitual.’ Approaching sixty, I’m pretty much in a constant state of wonderment and surprise. I don’t know what’s going to happen, and my first response to the new is, “What would make this possible?” followed by “What would make this easier and more pleasurable?”

People mistake me for an optimist. I’m not. I’m a humourist. If it’s void of humour, make another choice. I used to be dead serious in my twenties. Not as much fun. When my belly’s giggling and amused, that’s a good direction to go in.

As a librarian I learned that every ‘genre/subject’ has its loyal bunch. So true of those devoted to poetry. We’re blessed with an enormously engaged reading culture throughout Canada and in particular Toronto. And poets here needed some loving and recognition. Who doesn’t? And a place that champions, displays, promotes, and sells, their work. The biggest surprise was just how quickly/readily k | f | b became the go­-to place that it is for poetry, here and worldwide.


ALU: KFB has an exceptional reading series, as well as some very interesting one-­off events (we're thinking of when Moez Surani read Operations on the eve of the Trump Inauguration). How do these events come about and how are they received?

k | f | b: I’m continuously amazed just how organically everything continues to come into place for us. Often, I simply move with the momentum. Again, my background as a gay activist connected to so many vital movements, including reading, I tend to pay attention to movement itself. Steer clear of any ‘k­-holes’ or dead space. You’re either moving [breathing] or you’re dead.

Poetry is an event. Poetry read aloud is a vital, courageous, extraordinary act. It’s my refresh button. Sustenance. What keeps us here. Pockets of vibrant, responsive, living communities in support of one another. Challenging, raising the bar. Hearing what we haven’t, repeatedly the same, repeatedly new. To etch out identities and form. Find resonance and dischord. Celebrate differences. Exercise clean anger. Get messy. Weep with those who weep. Rejoice with those who rejoice.

k | f | b is the setting, the stage, where that occurs several times weekly. If poetry doesn’t move, what good is it?

And poets seek to read here, because, where there’s movement, it’s a happening.

I must also add that, we’re first and foremost, a bookshop. We’re an artistic/social enterprise, and we’re here to sell poetry in print. We don’t have an ‘open mic.’ We do not feature poets who are unpublished. Plenty of other venues offer such opportunities. I’m a bookseller.

I don’t think I answered your exact question. That’s okay. Over 170 poets read at k | f | b our first year. And the line­-up for our first anniversary weekend bash in our new digs is nothing shy of ‘momentous.’



A well-lit (key) reading table in the shop.


ALU: How will your new space differ from your original digs in Rick's Cafe?

k | f | b: 1500 square feet of beautiful hardwood floor with two exceptional reading areas for larger, (but not less intimate), readings, backed with a four­speaker pristine sound system to hear every word, minus the blender making smoothies.

Artist, dancer, Audra Simmons is the force behind The Dark Side Studio where new movement thrives. Simply put, it is a jawdropping creative space to be cherished (shoes must be removed upon entrance). And we have a beautiful nook by the windows at the front of the studio, with more than ample room to grow and continue to flourish.

Please consider contributing to our IndieGOGO campaign. Yes, we’ve moved, we’re ‘successful,’ and now we’re creating new ways to become more ‘sustainable.’

Surprise! Year 2! Here we go!



Kirby in the mirror of the new k | f | b. 


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Thanks so much to Jeff Kirby of knife | fork | book for answering our questions and for permission to use his gorgeous photos. If you're in Toronto, check out k | f | b for yourself at The Dark Side Studio, 244 Augusta Avenue, Second Floor (walk-up above Bunner’s Bakery), Tuesday-Saturday 1-5:30pm. For more ALU Field Trips, click here.


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