Monday, November 27, 2006

Ottawa poet Riley Tench, d. November 2006

A sad email yesterday morning from Mark Frutkin:
Hi Rob,

I'm wondering if you wouldn't mind sending around an announcement on your Ottawa literary list. Not a happy one, I'm afraid. We just heard this morning that Riley Tench died yesterday of a heart attack. His wife (Wendo) called to tell us and asked that we inform the Ottawa literary community. I'm not sure how old he was (early fifties, I think), but he was a fine poet and a gentle man, as well as an old friend.

Thanks for your help.
Predominantly active as a poet and publisher throughout the 1980s, Tench [see John W. MacDonald's photo here] was part of a group of poets that included Michael Dennis [I reference same in my note on Michael here], Maggie Helwig, Dennis Tourbin and others in a scene in the early part of the decade out of Peterborough, Ontario and Trent University; in this interview, Calgary poet Richard Harrison (at Trent the same time) even cites Tench as an influence. Moving to Ottawa from Peterborough around the same time in the 1980s (roughly) as Tourbin and Dennis, Tench performed at numerous venues around town, and was both an active poet and small press publisher. From what little I'd heard of his literary activities, he was both writer and instigator (in the good way), getting others to do things that they might otherwise might not have.

I knew Riley through the ottawa international writers festival, since he was a friend of Neil Wilson's, and was hanging around for a couple of years before I even knew he had written/published. He was even starting to hang around a number of jwcurry events (including this bill bissett reading; Tench said he'd first heard bissett perform in the 1970s at Collingwood...), and was always interested, engaged and willing to be supportive, even with that trademark snarl. He hadn't produced anything publicly in years, and had a rough go of existing during the last year or so, but he and I had actually been negotiating not only bringing out a number of his previously published work, but potentially a chapbook of new material he claimed he had been working on, slowly and quietly, over the years.

I always liked seeing him. I will miss seeing him. I really should have returned his call before I left home, nearly a month ago...

Arrangements, according to Frutkin, are "this Saturday at St. Martin's Anglican Church behind Carlingwood Mall [map here]. We don't have the exact time yet, or even if it will be morning or afternoon." It would be nice, perhaps, in a week or two to hold a memorial for him somewhere in Ottawa, with some readings of his poems, I think.


The House on Big Island said...

Riley and John and I spent many a great night sharing music and talk during the summer of 1973 near Bala.

I remember Riley, his quiet but crazy sense of humour, rose hip tea and incredible all nighters, as though they were yesterday...

...held now within mine own memory my mind and heart - where they'll stay till we cross paths again.

CIAO Riley

Lesley said...


My thoughts and feelings are with you.

I was strike and sadden to learn of Riley's passing tonight.

Through the galaxy of time and space, I reach out to you in body, mind and spirit.

Trent 1976
The house we shared