Soon after I made plans to go to Victoria, BC, for the launch of the Poems from Planet Earth anthology (see this post), I found out the launch of another anthology was happening the next day in Vancouver at the downtown library. Getting a one-way ticket on the Victoria Clipper from Seattle, traveling light, getting a ride (thanks Yvonne, Rupert) I could catch the reading and get an Amtrak home Saturday night. (That I missed the train and had to take a Bolt Bus back is another story.)
The Central Vancouver Library on Georgia Street reminds me of the downtown Seattle Library in that it is a statement about the commitment to reading and literacy. Both of these buildings are impressive. The statement being made is that literacy is something that Cascadians take very seriously and libraries and independent bookstores are part of that cultural ecosystem in this part of the world. The building the Central Vancouver Library is in takes up a whole city block and, according to Wikipedia, is: “surrounded by a free-standing, elliptical, colonnaded wall featuring reading and study areas that are accessed by bridges spanning skylit light wells.” Oh, and you can get a fine soy matcha latte there as well.
The anthology is called Force Field and is the first anthology featuring women poets of British Columbia in 34 years. I was looking forward to seeing friends, making new ones and doing some outreach for the Cascadia Poetry Festival. I also went with the notion that Robert Duncan clarified for me when I read his words about specific groups of writers. I saw this written in Lisa Jarnot’s long awaited Duncan biography: “The Ambassador from Venus.” Duncan said:
I would have questions about any of the new minority movements simply because it seems to me that the whole issue of our time is that we barely… hold on to … writing as human beings, which is the hardest thing of all to do. To write as a woman or to write as a man or to write as a black or to write as a gay poet is absolutely minor compared with ‘how do we hold this new human consciousness.
Duncan was an outspokenly Gay poet, but that did not define him. He was reaching for something deeper than that and was not interested in careerism. (My friend Amalio would say “positioning.”) Duncan was not a positioner, but interested in as deep a gesture as he could muster. This notion resonates with me quite deeply and I have rarely used my personal situation as the son of a Cuban immigrant and single parent to open doors for me. I can think of two occasions when that came into play directly. So, I attended the reading with this feeling in the back of my mind.
And I am well familiar with the gender inequity in publishing. The VIDA Project makes clear that, as far as writing, publishing and any rewards there may be for this work (small as they may be) publishing is still a man’s world and it feels like we should have solved this by now. Easy for me to say, I know, but I am not exactly raking in the writing dough, grants, publications, tenured jobs, &c. Going was my attempt to open myself to new women writers whose work I may not have been familiar with and to know more deeply the work of my friends. There is a sad state of affairs between poets of Seattle and Vancouver, as the border has only gotten more difficult since 911, and I see few poets making the effort to connect with neighbor poets in the bioregion. This is part of the reason I created the Cascadia Poetry Festival and why I try to get to BC as often as I can. Not easy with no funds and a one year old daughter.
I found a seat in the back row before all the seats were taken and not long before folks were actually turned away! There were some real heavyweight poets in attendance: Daphne Marlatt, Judith Copithorne and Meredith Quartermain, along with friends Heather Haley, Catherine Owen, Ursula Vaira, Yvonne Blomer and Heidi Greco.
I am mostly going to let the audio speak for itself, which I have posted in hunks below. I hope to interview Mona Fertig and have offered her a reading in Seattle to promote the book. If you’d like to help, ping me. But three quick notions from the reading.
1) I was impressed by the feeling of sisterhood at the event. It was warm, friendly and supportive, a true celebration of writing and the time went quickly. Perhaps keeping each writer’s time to a minimum helped, but I was engaged the whole time.
2) I was expecting strong work from Daphne Marlatt and Judith Copithorne and was not disappointed. Their comfort on the mic is likely a by-product of doing this for decades. And perhaps I am drawn to older poets, as I seek wisdom from the poetry I read, or listen to, but Copithorne’s poem (To The Midnight Copy House) demonstrated humor, wit, myth, surprise and a slashing political sensibility that did not devolve into preaching, or a use of speech in an attempt to persuade. Marlatt’s excerpt from Between Brush Strokes evoked Italy, a sense of that noble human desire (to which Duncan alluded) and the gravitas of the “soul’s journey.” I was not prepared for the visceral and blunt work of 1st Nation (Tootinaowaziibeeng) poet Sandra Lynn Lynxleg and her poem “Neesh.”
3) In the end, it was a friend who provided the most moving moment of the afternoon for me. Catherine Owen went right up to the mic, made very little introduction and read her poem of grief. Perhaps elegies are also one of my weak spots, but so be it. I want intelligence in a poem, I want novelty, but I want to feel. Feeling is human and when you can combine those three things like Catherine Owen did with such grace, you know you’re onto something rare.
In her introduction, quoting editor Susan Musgrave’s introduction to the anthology, publisher Mona Fertig said: “One of the many definitions of force field is a special charm, aura, or spirit that can influence anyone in its presence.” I am grateful to have this book, to have had this glimpse of some of BC’s best poets and to bring the audio to you here.
1) Welcome/Introductory Remarks by librarian Caroline Crowe and Force Field publisher Mona Fertig.