Jane Eaton Hamilton

"At the bottom of the box is hope." – Ellis Avery.

Tag: Canlit

The Hail of Fire, Maple Tree: On Friendship

image: Jane Eaton Hamilton, The hail of fire: maple tree, 2018

This was woodpeckers! Probably trying to eat the gloomy scale!

So, this thing. I was at a holiday party for a bunch of Vancouver publishers recently, and told a new writer that I had really enjoyed her book. The blood drained from her face. I am clumsy sometimes, and very shy. I thought I’d hurt her somehow until she said that not one other writer had ever mentioned her book, published, I think, a year earlier. That broke my heart. My god, Canadians, for all we say we’re friendly and welcoming, we are a shallow and parsimonious bunch.

Please, let’s support each other. Let’s be fulsome and giving in our praise.

How is it possible that this really good writer with her first really good book with good reviews had never heard from a single one of us? I’m sure many many of us read her. What is wrong with us? If that was you, it would break your fucking heart, wouldn’t it? If that was you, you’d be crushed. You might even be suicidal. Is that actually the point, that we crush each other?

I increasingly believe as I get older that the act of creating a book is akin to a secular miracle. Even when the seams show in yours (and they will), I will still consider it a remarkable achievement. It is. I mean, how do we do it, continue to do it, against the forces arrayed and pressing for our failure? I’m not talking to cis white men, here, where everything lines up to favour them (altho of course I understand there can still be considerable obstacles), because I choose not to read cis white men, for the most part, wanting to put my energy into writers I find more intriguing, but to the marginalized: POC, WOC esp, the disabled, the queer, the trans, the penurious, the traumatized. We all make breakfast. We look after kids. We go to work. We vacuum. We change beds. We deal with email and social media feeds. We pay or wish we could pay bills. We fret. We love. We worry. We grieve for our lost loved ones. We deal with addiction, or mental health issues, or cancer, or death. We take our kids and pets and selves to the doctor. Our bones ache. Our jaws ache. Our hips ache. That knee? It hurts. But still, we put words on the page. Sometimes, we hate the words we put on the page. Sometimes we love the words we put on the page. We put the words we put on the page into the world that really doesn’t care very much for 99% of us as people or authors. We speak and we say, Hey! We matter. I am here. Count me in.

What a brave and foolhardy occupation.

What older writers know is this: You will probably “fail” according to whatever your standard of that is. But failure is actually not that bad, and, in its way, is even liberating. Remember when you wrote your first book without any pressure? It’s like that again. That sophomore book production thing really sucks eggs. When you’re older, and you are already a proven mediocrity, you’re free … and you rise to surpass your own expectations.

Older writers really understand that we’re all in this together.

Sometimes young or new writers think that CanLit is a fierce competition, that they have to knock someone down a peg or two, or off their pedestal, to make room for their own work. Believe me, we published writers with multiple books don’t really need you to tell us our literary flaws; we’ve had decades to flaunt them. Guess what? You have just as many. They may be different ones, but you have them. Listen up. I’m telling you what I’ve learned, kids: I am not a perfect writer. You are not a perfect writer. But even so, there is a big enough pie if we support each other. We can remake Canlit in our image/s so that this will always be true.

And until it is, we can at least promise each other to do what’s free: and that is to offer up a compliment or three here and there, or some stars on Goodreads or Amazon. You know how long that takes? Stars with no review? Like, once you’re logged in, maybe three seconds? Or to say, “I really admired this book?” Fifteen seconds.

Here’s what I ask: Lift a writer today. I don’t care who you choose. You choose the writer you want to lift. But make it somebody who isn’t already being lifted by the system, okay? Lift Indigenous writers in 2018, or trans writers, or disabled writers. Lift only womxn authors. You choose. The fine writer Marnie Woodrow and I talked about this once for queer writers, and it never really got off the ground because of busy-ness. But maybe it still can. Maybe we could do it on the first of every month, every time we pay our rent or mortgage. Make kindness to other writers a habit.

To quote Jen Pastiloff, “don’t be an asshole” to other writers. Don’t be a literary asshole, all right?

I tell you sincerely: I love your book for being its perfectly imperfect self. I love the wild life and the heartbeat and the longing you poured into it. I wish with all my heart that it could bring you the relief  you want and crave and need … the admiration of your peers, money to pay your rent and put food on the table, the way clear to another book, prizes and awards. I wish this for you, because this is what you deserve after your efforts. I’m sorry when it doesn’t happen, when your career seems to coast even though you’ve worked like a dog.

But even if it didn’t go that well when you published, or you were a one-book wonder and Canlit’s attention wandered after that first book, we still need your talent and your skill and your vitality and your yearning and your vulnerability and your trauma and your stories and your fierce fucking fighting power.

At the same time, I wish we would stop with the cult of awards. We’ve gotten narrow and lazy, only responding to the same five or ten books in a season when there are delights galore if we look a little more widely. And a season is only a breath. Those good books are still there the next season when publishing churns out more.

 

 

Henceforth, I declare your backlash

Henceforth, I declare, and so it shall be: #UBCA #CanLit #USCongress #SupremeToad

Everytime a UBCA signatory or a CanLit gatekeeper pulls a piece of crap, or a GOP senator goes off, or the Congress or Supreme Toad issue nonsense, or damage, another womxn gets their brain-snakes (like angel wings but custom-made for banshee feminists).

“A Sexual Violence Reckoning is Coming In Publishing” Or Is It?

From Bitch Media, S E Smith’s great piece on sexual harassment and assault in CanLit. Where are we now? Where have we been? Where are we going and how will we get there?

As someone pretty much drummed out of a traditional literary career, and who (mostly) speaks their mind, I have to tell you losing hopes of getting ahead is a lot better than the alternative of shutting up. It’s a coming out, if you will. There’s great and abiding strength in it. There’s passion and direction and a waiting army of feminists who refuse to shut the fuck up about the harms that have been done to us.

Nothing will stop us.

A Sexual Violence Reckoning is Coming in Publishinghttps://www.bitchmedia.org/article/sexual-reckoning-in-publishing

An interview with poet Sandy Shreve

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Waiting for the Albatross, Sandy Shreve

An Interview with Sandy Shreve, by Jane Eaton Hamilton

J: Congratulations on your new poetry collection “Waiting for the Albatross.” The book consists of found poems from bits of your father’s diary while he was a deck hand on a freighter in 1936. What was your impetus for writing “Waiting for the Albatross?” What can you tell us about the process of bringing these poems to life and this book to print?

S: The first thing that comes to mind is that it was a very long process. I had this diary of my Dad’s and after I first read it in 1993 I knew I wanted to get it into print somehow. My first attempt was to approach a publisher with excerpts from the diary. They asked to see the whole thing, but for various personal reasons I had to set that project aside. By the time I was able to get back to it, nearly 20 years later, the publishing world had changed and interest in publishing diaries had waned. On the bright side though, by then I’d been given some photo albums of my Dad’s, and it turned out they included all his pictures from his 1936 trip.

I decided to see if I could create a dialogue between my father (who died when I was 14) and me by keeping a diary over the same five-month period as he kept his, but 75 years later. So on Feb. 11, 2011, I dove in. For a bunch of reasons the conversation I was hoping to create didn’t materialize, but I kept on with my diary anyway. Unlike my Dad, I’m not much of a diarist, but staying with it brought me closer to his stories and experiences. Each day I wrote, I also researched the references in his diary for that day in 1936: seafaring terms, shipping terms, geography, depression-era tidbits like the origins of paperbacks and stamp collecting, tourist attractions and restaurants and movies the crew went to while ashore in various ports, and so on. What I wound up with was an extensively annotated version of Dad’s diary, along with the photos from his trip. After getting feedback from a couple of friends who are also very good editors, I acknowledged that to interest a publisher in the work I would need to expand what I had into a history of the Canadian merchant marine. But much as I enjoy reading non-fiction, it isn’t a genre I want to write. Another editor and friend suggested using the material to develop a young adult novel about a teen stumbling across the diary and, in reading it, coming to terms with her father’s death. I love that idea and were I a novelist I would no doubt give it a go. In the end I decided that what I had done was something that would interest my family, so I added various anecdotes and photos from Dad’s life after 1936, printed it up and sent it out to them.

From the start of that prose project, I had the idea that it would be fun to open each chapter with a found poem I’d write using words and phrases from that section of Dad’s diary. At first my attempts were dire failures. When I told a friend I was abandoning the idea, her instant response was to urge me to keep at it. The next day I decided to give it one more try, came up with a new approach, and to my surprise the poems began to flow. In a few weeks I had 11 poems I could use as chapter headings so I included them in what I gave my family. I thought that was the end of it … but a few months later more poems came knocking at my door. By the time I finished writing those I had another 11. So I made a little chapbook for friends and family who’d supported me in various ways while I struggled with this project. I thought that was definitely the end of it… until some months later I found myself writing yet more poems. So I put those and the earlier ones together with my favourite photos from Dad’s trip, several prose vignettes taken word for word from his diary, and all the relevant annotations I’d done for the prose project – and sent the whole thing off to Randal Macnair at Oolichan. That was a stroke of luck, actually, as he’d told me when I met him at Word on the Street in Vancouver (now called Word Vancouver) that he was interested in publishing books combining poems and photographs and invited me to send him mine. He accepted the manuscript and a couple of years later – his press turned it into a beautiful book.

J: As a poet, you’ve been associated with the labour movement; you edited “Working for a Living”, a special double-issue of Room of One’s Own in 1988; can you tell us how this interest in labour is elucidated in your poetry?

S: In the early 1970s I closely followed what was then the new work-writing movement. Tom Wayman, Helen Potrebenko and others were big influences. A few years later when I decided to give my own writing some serious attention, the first-person world of work and union issues were the subject matter that got me started. Later on, I edited “Working for a Living” (the special issue of Room you mentioned) because I wanted to give more space to women’s work.

When my first book came out a couple of years later, about one-third of the poems had to do with clerical / secretarial work. That theme carried over to a number of poems in my next book, but after that I didn’t return to work-writing until “Waiting for the Albatross”. So in my own writing I’ve gone from contemporary & primarily female workplaces to a 1936 working environment that was entirely male. In both cases the jobs I’ve written about are at or near the bottom of the hierarchy they are part of. As such, the work and those who do it are usually underappreciated, even demeaned. I wanted to show what it’s like to be the people doing the work under those conditions.

J: You are the author of 4 previous collections. In them, we see a slow easing into form; what snagged your interest about form poetry?

S: In the late 1980s, when I was in the Vancouver Industrial Writers Union, Kirsten Emmott brought a pantoum she’d written to one of our meetings. That was my introduction to a whole new world of forms. Until then, I was aware of English and Italian sonnets, stanza poems, haiku… but not a lot else. (Like most people I was familiar with a few poems written in other forms but I’d never given a thought to what those forms were. I’m thinking, for example, of John McCrae’s rondeau, “In Flanders Fields” and Dylan Thomas’ villanelle, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”.) A couple of years later, I ran across a palindrome by Gudrun Wight in a chapbook published by some Pender Island poets. What hooked me in both these forms was their use of repetition – it became a fascinating and challenging device for my poetry toolbox. So I started looking for more forms featuring repetition. I found lots – triolets, sestinas, sonnet coronas, terzanelles…

This latest book is written almost entirely in forms that feature repetition. I did that intentionally, letting the various forms act as a kind of metaphor for the repetitive routines that dominate life on a freighter.

J: Your second book, Bewildered Rituals, with a Claire Kujundzic cover, was followed by Belonging and Suddenly, So Much. How did each title deepen your poetic experience?

S: I’m not entirely sure anything I might say about this could accurately track what happened, and when, in this regard. So much seems to percolate away somewhere in the subconscious. Certainly with each book I’ve learned more of the craft – discovering various poetic devices and how they work so I can better use them, tweak them, even ignore them. My early poems were often anecdotal and focused on stories whereas later on I became more interested in, as Emily Dickinson would say, writing things “slant”; not to be obscure, but to allow for more ambiguity – which I think is one way we can approach complexity. I talked a bit about this process with respect to my poem “Crows” in a guest blog [insert link: http://ooligan.pdx.edu/sandy-shreve-guest-poet-post/%5D a few years ago. When I wrote that poem (which is in Suddenly, So Much) and, earlier, my poem “Leaving” (in Belonging) I quite consciously made a shift away from direct story and toward suggestion. With both, I began to figure out how to move past anecdote and into something perhaps a bit deeper. Which is not to say I never wrote another anecdotal poem – just that I learned how to do more than that. I think – hope – this kind of learning must be an ongoing process. In large part it’s what keeps writing interesting and challenging for me.

What hasn’t changed a lot for me is subject matter. Whether I’m writing about the historical or the contemporary, I continue to be interested in the everyday, the lives led by so-called ordinary people. And small-p politics: matters of ethics and justice. And nature – always, nature.

J: You started BC’s Poetry in Transit program in the 90s, a program that has made many poets and transit riders very happy. It’s a wonderful legacy that’s been recognized recently with a location on Alan Twigg’s Literary Map of BC [insert link: http://www.literarymapofbc.ca/]. What can you tell us about this project?

S: First of all, I’m deeply honoured and pleased about being included on that map. And I am especially proud that – unlike most (maybe all) other similar programs, BC’s is province-wide, rather than limited to just one major urban area. I’m also proud that ours has continued for so long. Really there are two reasons for its longevity. First is its popularity. People still come up and thank me for it – and not just the poets. People who use transit love to have something of substance to read instead of ads. There are lots of stories people tell about finding and reading the poems. One of my all-time favourites is a comment from a woman who said she knows a poem she saw on the bus by heart because she “wrote it down and memorized every word of it.” Another is one about two people who met by discussing one of the poems on a bus… and wound up marrying.

Equally important is the role of the co-sponsors. From the beginning, Margaret Reynolds brought the Association of BC Book Publishers on board (pardon the pun…) as a co-sponsor. And after the first three years when I decided it was time to pass the torch, Margaret and the other staff at the association enthusiastically took over administration of the project and have kept it going all these years. And of course we wouldn’t have the program at all without the ongoing support from BC Transit and Translink. I’d love it if more people would take a moment to let them all know how much having the poems on transit means to them. I think that is key to ensuring the program keeps going.

Anyone who’d like more information about the origins of and responses to Poetry in Transit can check out Fiona Lam’s 2010 article on it in The Tyee – recently re-published on the Brick Books Celebration of Canadian Poetry page (scroll down to #65). [insert link: http://www.brickbooks.ca/category/news/celebrate-canadian-poetry/%5D

J: You are the editor, with poet Kate Braid, of In Fine Form: The Canadian Book of Form Poetry. When you started to explore form poetry for this book, were you surprised by what you found? Is form poetry alive and well in Canada?

S: I wasn’t at all surprised that we found a great many very good form poems from the 1800s and early- to mid-1900s. Or even that a lot of contemporary Canadian poets were still including some form poems in their books. But I was surprised by the large number we received in response to our very limited call for submissions for the first edition. And I was pleasantly surprised by how creatively all Canadian poets – historically and today – approach traditional forms. Most are playful and willing to experiment with the rules to come up with wonderful variations.

Kate and I have just finished a second edition under a slightly revised title: In Fine Form – A Contemporary Look at Canadian Form Poetry. It’s due out this fall with Caitlin Press [insert link: http://caitlin-press.com/]. We’d both been gathering form poems for the past decade and by the time we were ready to start work on this edition we had plenty. Enough that we didn’t put out a call for submissions this time around (though for some new sections, like spoken word, we did ask key people in the field to point us toward poets and poems we should consider). So I’d say form continues to be alive and well in this country.

We’re very excited about this new edition. As I said, it includes a section on spoken word, but there are other new sections, too – found poetry, prose poems, pas de deux and doublets… And this time around we even have a couple of children’s poems. We’ve also added poets and poems to bring the anthology up to date. But as always with anthologies, limited space meant we had to make a lot of painful decisions. We had to take out some of the poems that were in the first edition to make room for the new ones. And we had far more excellent new poems than we could possibly add in. Making these kinds of choices is always really hard.

J: I was thinking recently of Sex, Death and Madness, the group you and I founded with Kate Braid in the early 90s. We had a unique focus, in that instead of workshopping, we only discussed problems, issues and successes within our artistic communities, one month discussing, say, jealousy, and another our artistic legacies. Can you tell readers about this group? Who were the group members?

S: This seems like a question I should be putting to you, since, as I recall, you were the one with idea for the group. I remember we were at a Polestar Press party in the very early 90s. I think that’s where we first met, isn’t it? Anyway, we were talking about this and that, and then you said you wished there were someplace where women artists could talk about being artists. Not to workshop what they were doing, but to support each other in doing it. Kate joined our discussion at some point and said Claire Kujundzic knew a lot about co-counselling, that maybe it would be useful to look into that. So Kate got some information about it and the three of us went to a session run by a woman whose name I forget. But after, when we went for tea to debrief, it turned out it wasn’t quite what any of us wanted. Except it gave us some of the listening tools that we brought to the group we wound up forming. I wrote a brief history about us for ABC BookWorld [insert link: http://www.abcbookworld.com/view_essay.php?id=101%5D which talks about this in more detail.

At first there were just five members – we three along with Claire and Christine Hayvice. Together we decided to invite more women, so very soon Cynthia Flood, Joy Kogawa and Sheila Norgate joined us. Later on, Carmen Rodriguez, Margaret Hollingsworth, Bonnie Klein and Thuong Vuong-Riddick joined the group; then after that, Kath Curran and Tana Runyan.

Was it Joy who came up with our name? It seems to me she was the one who, at the end of one particularly free-wheeling discussion, commented that we’d covered it all: sex, death and madness. We’d been thinking for awhile that we wanted to give our group a name. After that comment, someone – I can’t recall who, can you? – suggested that’s what we should call ourselves. Everyone laughed; then we looked around at each other and I think we all thought, well, why not? So we did.

NB: I remember someone said it at Sheila Norgate’s studio on the corner of Abbott and Pender—and it may well have been Joy. I don’t remember who suggested taking it up, though. A photo collage that I made for Joy at that time is now hanging at Historic Kogawa House, so SDM lingers on with a photo on Kate’s back steps in Burnaby. –Jane Eaton Hamilton

 

Sandy Shreve

More of the Just

 

The mother who comforts the tearful child who bloodied her son’s nose.

The estranged friends who get over it.

The citizens of warring countries who refuse to take up arms.

 

The flash mob dancers.

The driver who screeches to a halt in the crosswalk and blanches.

The estranged friend who calls first and the one who gladly answers.

 

The teenager who shovels her elderly neighbour’s driveway, anonymously.

The publisher who chooses not to sell to the chains.

The driver who apologizes to the children he just missed.

 

The ham radio operator who keeps the Morse Code alive.

The husband who reads poetry to his ailing wife.

The publisher who sells, instead, to the staff and the staff, who form a co-op.

 

The sand artists.

The ones who walk down city streets smiling at strangers.

The husband who doesn’t get the poems, but reads them anyway, beautifully.

 

The father who teaches the winter sky to his neighbour’s kids.

The mother who comforts her bloodied son without laying blame.

The ones who stop and talk with street people.

The citizens of countries at war who march arm in arm for peace.

 

after Steven Heighton’s “Some Other Just Ones” and Jorge Luis Borge’s “The Just”

A note about “More of the Just”

 

Steven Heighton issued a challenge of sorts to poets at a Vancouver reading in February 2011. He was promoting his two latest books – Every Lost Country (a novel) and Patient Frame (poetry). Introducing “Some Other Just Ones”, he explained that it was his response to Jorge Luis Borges’ poem “The Just”, in which Borges portrays a few ordinary people doing ordinary things and ends with the line “These people, without knowing it, are saving the world” (Heighton’s translation). Heighton casually remarked that he assumed all poets would probably want to add to what Borges started. When I got home that night, I re-read both poems and began to think about how I might contribute to the conversation.

Both Borges and Heighton wrote list poems, so I wanted to do the same – but rather than use free verse as they did, I decided on a terzanelle. Using (and slightly tweaking) the line repetition feature of this form, I could introduce some characters in one stanza, then revisit them later. Other characters would be interspersed throughout, appearing just once in the unrepeated lines. My hope is that the form helps create a sense of movement, an ongoing goodness.

Publication Day!

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Always an exciting day for a writer–publication day when we first see our new book! WEEKEND is out! I’m so happy to be launching at Historic Joy Kogawa House, where I’ll be writer-in-residence, on June 6. My special guest is author Anne Fleming and, yes, their new poetry book POEMW and their banjo, which I hear will be plunking out some campfire songs. Sharpen your marshmallow sticks, kids. Price of admission is a ghost story. Here’s hoping somebody will tell one about the ghosts of frogs we pithed in high school!

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