Jane Eaton Hamilton

"I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.” – Lillian Hellman

Tag: Claire Kudjundzic

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.

Going Santa Fe

This is a repeat post because many people have been looking up the original:

In the 90s, I wrote a long poem called Going Santa Fe.  This was a term referring to a straight woman who had become lesbian.  I entered it into a contest; it won first prize at the League of Canadian Poets Chapbook Contest judged by bill bissett (now my gay son) and was published by them as a chapbook, cover artwork by Claire Kujundzic.

Although Canada won our battle for same-sex marriage rights over ten years ago (I was a litigant in our case and we won June 2003), the US is still mired in discussions about what is still in your country, unbelievably, a contentious topic.  So I thought reprinting the poem here might be of assistance to people grappling with how to understand it:

Going Santa Fe

“The Lesbian is one of the least known members of our culture.  Less is known about her–and less accurately–than about the Newfoundland dog.”

-Sidney Abbott and Barbara Love, Sappho Was a Right-on Woman, 1972

“During the 1920s and 1930s…a woman who had switched her sexual preference was said to have ‘gone Santa Fe.’”

-Jeffrey Hogrefe, O’Keeffe, 1992

1)

When I started loving women

I thought I was falling through a roof

a tumble through shingle and beam and plaster

back into innocence

The truth is, I was nine.  The first

girl I fell for wore a yellow dress

simple as sunshine–

I didn’t need innocence at all

I never, ever had a crush

on one of my gym teachers

You want to know

my history with men?

The first boy was called Teddy

I liked him because my

best chum told me to

I took my cues where I found them

I mimicked my friends

Do:  hair, nails.  Feel: giggly

 

For me, dating men was

a lot like bowling

a pleasant diversion

I felt nothing in particular

I was blank as a bowling ball

racketing the gutter

The truth is

I was raised by heterosexual parents

a man, a woman

The truth is I

didn’t have a rocky

childhood

The truth is, heterosexuals

are some of my

best friends

2)

“Cancer

When the moon, Uranus, and Pluto

do their planetary thing

you want girls who come

like frothy milkshakes

Gay Pride weekend you will be

showing cleavage in a black jumpsuit

and tossing girls in the air

like pancakes.”

–Girlfriends magazine May/June ‘95

3)

Generally, I say, the sex is better

It’s the sex straight women

are always quoted as

saying they want

4)

“It’s just like heterosexual sex, only we don’t have to fake the orgasm.”

-Suzanne Westenhoefer, Girls Next Door, Into the Heart of Lesbian America, Lindsey van Gelder and Pamela Robin Brandt, Simon and Schuster, 1996, page 102

5)

lez be friends

6)

I was sometimes the crowbar

married women used to extricate themselves

from their husbands

For instance

there was a business meeting

at a university in the east

I took a married woman back to my room

where she drank sherry from my belly button

In the morning she thought she was leaving me

but the door she opened was into the closet

7)

Do you realize

lesbians in the closet

are hiding from

you?

8)

Heterosexual Questionnaire

What do you think caused your heterosexuality?

Most child molesters are heterosexuals.  Do you consider it safe to expose your children to heterosexuals?  To heterosexual teachers, in particular?

Is it possible that your heterosexuality steams from a neurotic fear of people of the same sex?  Perhaps you just need a positive gay experience.

-Family Values, Two Moms and Their Sons, by Phyllis Burke, Random House, 1993, page 83 (Queer Nation)

9)

Every straight friend my lover and I

confided in found it necessary

to tell at least three trusted friends

who found it news enough that they

told at least two trusted friends

who vowed to keep it

absolutely private

10)

One of my married lovers said

But couldn’t you

teach a man to touch you

the way a woman does?

Pretend that I could.

Then what?

11)

No one asks my friend Grace

when she sleeps with men

whether she hates women

12)

When I left my first lover

I was as bruised

as if I was straight–

that heartbroken

13)

“…lesbians have not, as a rule, turned to women because of a terrible experience with a man.  ‘If that’s all it took,’ goes one of stand-up comic Suzanne Westenhoefer’s classic lines, ‘there wouldn’t be any straight women left in America.’”

–Girls Next Door, page 90

14)

My wife’s in Toronto with her Lesbian Lover,

he said.

Not immune to the power

of the phrase Lesbian Lover

I could feel myself

beginning to swell, to grow

to one hundred feet, a giantess

able to squash happy family heterosexuals

with a single footstep

15)

When I first touched

my lover

I believed I was giving

birth to myself

that sweet occasion

that celebration

Soon, I called her beloved

honey, angel, sweetheart

She was a woman

her back arching

just so

She walked Spanish banks

a serene silhouette

Our past her, the ocean

tossed and heaved her flanks

16)

I love her I love her

17)

“At one point we were facing each other.  Nic suddenly leaned over and started kissing me.  My first reaction?  It was Nicole, but it felt strange.  I thought, I don’t feel disgusted or upset, but can I really let myself enjoy this?  Am I going to be uptight?  Am I going to break away now?  And then I thought, No, I’m not going to do that.  I’m going to let my feelings lead me…see how it goes…

Nicole pulled back and looked into my eyes.  I said. “I don’t know how to do this.  I don’t know how…”

I was in a state of shock.  But the shock wasn’t strong enough to make me stop…”

-Faye D. Resnick. Nicole Brown Simpson:  The Private Diary of a Life Interrupted, 1994

18)

“The pressure to test out heterosexuality is intense, [but] ‘how will you know until you’ve tried both?’ is advice that’s rarely given to straight kids.”

-Girls Next Door, page 84

19)

When you meet gay and lesbian people:  Hints for the Heterosexual

do not run screaming from the room

if you must back away, do so slowly

do not assume they are attracted to you

do not assume they are not attracted to you

do not expect them to be as excited about meeting

a heterosexual as you may be about meeting a gay person

do not immediately start talking about your partner

to make it clear you are straight

-postcard, Dan Kaufman graphics

20)

Q:  What do lesbians do on the second date?

A:  Rent a U-Haul

-common lesbian joke

21)

Well, as long as you’re discreet

 

            What you do in the

            privacy of your bedroom

            is none of my business

            (I guess)

 

but isn’t it

I don’t know

sort of

boring?  sort of…

gross?

 

            Really, I’d be a lesbian too

            if it weren’t for Bob

 

Did you read the lesbian poem cycle

in my book?

I mean, Susie and I didn’t do anything

but I was in love with her

 

            What do you mean

            you’re not attracted to me?

22)

“Not even a good ironing can make me straight.”

-from an Elizabeth Gorelik photograph

23)

Tell us something about lesbians

We have short fingernails

24)

Why do heterosexuals

have a life

while homosexuals

only get a

lifestyle?

25)

I am a woman

I dream of tenderness in a cool morning bed

26)

Listen

Can I ask you something?

Will you open the book again

re-write the song?  Or travel

down the road you live on

slowly, inviting us along?

27)

“Hate is not a family value.”

-message on a bumper sticker

28)

make lists:

Lesbians Who Anthropomorphize Their Pets

Lesbian Coiffures

Lesbians I Love

Famous Lesbians

29)

Chastity Bono

Melissa Etheridge

Candace Gingrich

Janis Ian

kd lang

Ellen DeGeneres

Elspeth Cameron?

30)

Books by the side of a lesbian bed:

Shelter, by Jayne Anne Phillips

She’s Come Undone, by Wally Lamb

Anna Kerenina, by Leo Tolstoy

The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams

i live in music, by ntozake shange

Stones by the River, by Ursula Hegi

31)

But what do lesbians do?

32)

In a Toronto bookstore, my friend Janis and I

thumbed through the Rubyfruit catalogue of sex toys

and she said, They’re what?  I thought

they were candles.

33)

The truth is the sex involves

the usual suspects

34)

But which one of you is the man?

The truth is that is lesbian couples

both partners are women

That’s why they call us lesbians

35)

With this ring, I thee wed

(Finally)

36)

I can’t even think straight

–message on a tee shirt

37)

Is that a lesbian

or a garment bag?

38)

“Aries

Aries lesbians whoopee

at night with such force that

car alarms go off

Summer solstice brings

a girl habit you might

not be able to kick.”

-Girlfriends magazine, May/June 1995

39)

What if I fell in love with a

woman from Nashville

and Immigration wouldn’t

allow me into the US?

40)

Gayby Boom

41)

Auntie Joy’s adopting Sarah and Meghann, I said.

They’re going to be your real cousins.

What were they before? asked our niece.

Fakes?

 

42)

“My mother came out of the closet and all I got was this crummy tee shirt.”

43)

At the IVF clinic

in Vancouver, lesbians

wanting insemination

were turned away

This was called

nondiscriminatory

44)

Our favorite coffee shop

refuses to carry the local

gay newspaper because

it’s a family place

45)

“Last year we reported that Sharon Bottoms had finally gained legal custody of her young son, Tyler.  But sadly, Bottoms’ fight wasn’t over.  On April 21 a divided Virginia Court of Appeals ruled 4-3 in favor of awarding custody to Bottoms’ mother, Kay.  The majority opinion argued that Tyler could be condemned by society if raised by lesbian mothers.”

-Curve magazine, August 1995

46)

“I couldn’t help but think that she’s fifty-four years old and had been dating that woman for twelve years–isn’t that sick?” a man who killed an Oregon lesbian couple in 1995 indignantly explained to the San Francisco Examiner.  “That’s someone’s grandma, for God’s sake…Lesbo grandmas, what a thing, huh?”

-Girls Next Door, page, 14

47)

Once someone called me up

anonymously

and in the harsh voice

of an obscene caller said

Do you know you’re living

with a lesbian?

48)

Imagine love being shameful

Can you?

Imagine loving your boyfriend

and hiding it, so that you

can’t wear your wedding ring out

of the house, so that you can’t

tell the other teachers

at work, so that you have to deflect

questions about why you

aren’t married

Say

I haven’t met the right guy

Say, Yet

 

Spurn your boyfriend out loud

a few times each week:

Chris?  Oh, we’re just friends

When he goes to kiss you

on the corner, pull away

glance around furtively

deny him

for instance to your mother and father

so that, at Christmas, you go home

alone

Peel potatoes and stare

at the turkey baster, say

I’m dating someone, but he’s…

think fast, say

...already married

If somebody finds out imagine how

you could lose

your job

your housing

your life

49)

When it came time to

rent a house

my first girlfriend dressed

in sensible shoes

and a heavy iron cross

We told the landlord

she was a man

The truth is she and I

never held hands

in the town in which

we lived for five years

because what if someone

took offense and we

were two women

in a house

in the country

at night

50)

Pretend your husband

is a woman

Does anything change for you

now that you’re lesbian?

Pretend

just for the moment

that someone figures it out

say for argument’s sake

your baker, your dentist, your mother

your massage therapist

Would anything happen?

Choose just one person

say What is the worst thing I could

tell you about myself?

 

You have cancer.

Worse.

You killed someone.

Worse.

51)

Excuse me, sir, were you aware

this is the woman’s washroom?

 

Anne?  That’s a funny name

for a man

When my gal and I signed up

for dance classes, the clerk said,

Your partner’s name?

and I said, Joy

and she said, Joey?

and I said, Joy

and she said, Joe?

and I said, Joy

and she said, John?

and I said, Joy

and she frowned and wrote Jeff down

shaking her head

At class several women

refused to dance with us
52)

Imagine love being dangerous

Outside the community centre

near my home

some teenage

boys

pelted a woman

with snowballs and stones

She looked the type

Dyke, they hissed

At a Bread Garden on Denman Street

Joy and I stared at each other

stupid with love

until a man growled, Goddamned lezzies

Which one’s on top?

The truth is that we scuttled away

when he wasn’t looking

trying to fade into the storefronts

across the street

Watching our backs

yearning for the soft

insides of closets

53)

In Iran, a group of lesbians and gay men

who admitted they loved

people of their same gender

were given a choice:

stoning, or a plunge from a cliff

All ten chose to die

in flight

54)

abomination

a sin against God

sodomite

pervert

invert

 

woman with immature sexuality

(all she needs is one good…)

55)

“We don’t want [the Lesbian Camp Sisterspirit] here for the simple reason of…  It’s a known fact that all your violent crime comes from homosexuals.”

-Jones County deputy sheriff Myron Holified, Mobile Register, Mississippi, Feb. 27/94

The women

found a dead puppy

dressed in menstrual pads

spilled over their mailbox

56)

In Oregon, they narrowly averted

a plebiscite against us.  In Colorado, they

passed a law against us.  In Ontario, they voted

against our equality

57)

“In its 1989 ‘Gay in America’ report, the San Francisco Examiner calculated the cost to a hypothetical employee of its own who was in a legally unrecognized gay relationship, and compared the costs facing a legally married straight employee.  Both staffers were fifty years old, and both earned $40,000 a year.  In total, the report found that partners of gay Examiner employees who had worked for ten years would receive $55, 890 less in benefits than straight employees’ legally married spouses, and, if they outlived their gay partners by ten years, would lose $8000 in pension payments.”

-Girls Next Door

58)

Sometimes I long to

feel exotic and

dangerous, but

what always strikes me

is that I am as

ordinary as pie

that bland

As a lesbian

I brush my teeth

twice a day

As a lesbian

I clean my kitchen floor

once a week

As a lesbian

I pay my VISA bill

once a month

boring as soap

59)

My mother made me a lesbian

If I give her the wool

will she make me one too?

60)

Differences between you and me:

You are five foot six

I am five foot three

You have green eyes

I have blue eyes

You are thirty-four

I am forty-one

You live on Gladstone

I live on Arbutus

I don’t get a kinked neck

kissing my partner

61)

You committed a homosexual act.

 

I did not.

Elton John is a homosexual act.

62)

 

Tell me something about lesbians

We are famous for potlucks

Tell me something real

I am trying to tell you

she and I are the same thing

I am trying

to tell you I am a woman

she is a woman

the same thing

as you, just

two people uniting

netting love from the

marine heavens

We comfort each other

when the sky churns like a cauldron

grey foam

Wouldn’t you wish this pleasure

on anyone?

63)

The truth is I grew the

tub of nodding sunflowers

And the bowl of chicken

on the harvest table?  I cooked

it.  And the quilt you lie on?  I sewed it

And the book in your hands?  I wrote it

And the baby’s cheek?  I kissed it

Going Santa Fe

In the 90s, I wrote a long poem called Going Santa Fe.  This was a term referring to a straight woman who had become lesbian.  I entered it into a contest; it won first prize at the League of Canadian Poets Chapbook Contest judged by bill bissett (who later became my “gay son”) and was published by them as a chapbook, cover artwork by Claire Kujundzic.

Although Canada won our battle for same-sex marriage rights over ten years ago (I was a litigant in our case and we won June 2003), the US is still mired in discussions about what is still in your country, unbelievably, a contentious topic.  So I thought reprinting the poem here might be of assistance to people grappling with how to understand it:

Going Santa Fe

“The Lesbian is one of the least known members of our culture.  Less is known about her–and less accurately–than about the Newfoundland dog.”

-Sidney Abbott and Barbara Love, Sappho Was a Right-on Woman, 1972

“During the 1920s and 1930s…a woman who had switched her sexual preference was said to have ‘gone Santa Fe.’”

-Jeffrey Hogrefe, O’Keeffe, 1992

1)

When I started loving women

I thought I was falling through a roof

a tumble through shingle and beam and plaster

back into innocence

The truth is, I was nine.  The first

girl I fell for wore a yellow dress

simple as sunshine–

I didn’t need innocence at all

I never, ever had a crush

on one of my gym teachers

You want to know

my history with men?

The first boy was called Teddy

I liked him because my

best chum told me to

I took my cues where I found them

I mimicked my friends

Do:  hair, nails.  Feel: giggly

 

For me, dating men was

a lot like bowling

a pleasant diversion

I felt nothing in particular

I was blank as a bowling ball

racketing the gutter

The truth is

I was raised by heterosexual parents

a man, a woman

The truth is I

didn’t have a rocky

childhood

The truth is, heterosexuals

are some of my

best friends

2)

Cancer

When the moon, Uranus, and Pluto

do their planetary thing

you want girls who come

like frothy milkshakes

Gay Pride weekend you will be

showing cleavage in a black jumpsuit

and tossing girls in the air

like pancakes.”

Girlfriends magazine May/June ‘95

3)

Generally, I say, the sex is better

It’s the sex straight women

are always quoted as

saying they want

4)

“It’s just like heterosexual sex, only we don’t have to fake the orgasm.”

-Suzanne Westenhoefer, Girls Next Door, Into the Heart of Lesbian America, Lindsey van Gelder and Pamela Robin Brandt, Simon and Schuster, 1996, page 102

5)

lez be friends

6)

I was sometimes the crowbar

married women used to extricate themselves

from their husbands

For instance

there was a business meeting

at a university in the east

I took a married woman back to my room

where she drank sherry from my belly button

In the morning she thought she was leaving me

but the door she opened was into the closet

7)

Do you realize

lesbians in the closet

are hiding from

you?

8)

 

Heterosexual Questionnaire

What do you think caused your heterosexuality?

Most child molesters are heterosexuals.  Do you consider it safe to expose your children to heterosexuals?  To heterosexual teachers, in particular?

Is it possible that your heterosexuality steams from a neurotic fear of people of the same sex?  Perhaps you just need a positive gay experience.

Family Values, Two Moms and Their Sons, by Phyllis Burke, Random House, 1993, page 83 (Queer Nation)

9)

Every straight friend my lover and I

confided in found it necessary

to tell at least three trusted friends

who found it news enough that they

told at least two trusted friends

who vowed to keep it

absolutely private

10)

One of my married lovers said

But couldn’t you

teach a man to touch you

the way a woman does?

Pretend that I could.

Then what?

11)

No one asks my friend Grace

when she sleeps with men

whether she hates women

12)

When I left my first lover

I was as bruised

as if I was straight–

that heartbroken

13)

“…lesbians have not, as a rule, turned to women because of a terrible experience with a man.  ‘If that’s all it took,’ goes one of stand-up comic Suzanne Westenhoefer’s classic lines, ‘there wouldn’t be any straight women left in America.’”

Girls Next Door, page 90

14)

My wife’s in Toronto with her Lesbian Lover,

he said.

Not immune to the power

of the phrase Lesbian Lover

I could feel myself

beginning to swell, to grow

to one hundred feet, a giantess

able to squash happy family heterosexuals

with a single footstep

15)

When I first touched

my lover

I believed I was giving

birth to myself

that sweet occasion

that celebration

Soon, I called her beloved

honey, angel, sweetheart

She was a woman

her back arching

just so

She walked Spanish banks

a serene silhouette

Our past her, the ocean

tossed and heaved her flanks

16)

I love her I love her

17)

“At one point we were facing each other.  Nic suddenly leaned over and started kissing me.  My first reaction?  It was Nicole, but it felt strange.  I thought, I don’t feel disgusted or upset, but can I really let myself enjoy this?  Am I going to be uptight?  Am I going to break away now?  And then I thought, No, I’m not going to do that.  I’m going to let my feelings lead me…see how it goes…

Nicole pulled back and looked into my eyes.  I said. “I don’t know how to do this.  I don’t know how…”

I was in a state of shock.  But the shock wasn’t strong enough to make me stop…”

-Faye D. Resnick. Nicole Brown Simpson:  The Private Diary of a Life Interrupted, 1994

18)

“The pressure to test out heterosexuality is intense, [but] ‘how will you know until you’ve tried both?’ is advice that’s rarely given to straight kids.”

Girls Next Door, page 84

19)

When you meet gay and lesbian people:  Hints for the Heterosexual

 

do not run screaming from the room

if you must back away, do so slowly

do not assume they are attracted to you

do not assume they are not attracted to you

do not expect them to be as excited about meeting

a heterosexual as you may be about meeting a gay person

do not immediately start talking about your partner

to make it clear you are straight

-postcard, Dan Kaufman graphics

20)

Q:  What do lesbians do on the second date?

A:  Rent a U-Haul

-common lesbian joke

21)

Well, as long as you’re discreet

 

            What you do in the

            privacy of your bedroom

            is none of my business

            (I guess)

 

but isn’t it

I don’t know

sort of

boring?  sort of…

gross?

 

            Really, I’d be a lesbian too

            if it weren’t for Bob

 

Did you read the lesbian poem cycle

in my book?

I mean, Susie and I didn’t do anything

but I was in love with her

 

            What do you mean

            you’re not attracted to me?

22)

“Not even a good ironing can make me straight.”

-from an Elizabeth Gorelik photograph

23)

Tell us something about lesbians

We have short fingernails

24)

Why do heterosexuals

have a life

while homosexuals

only get a

lifestyle?

25)

I am a woman

I dream of tenderness in a cool morning bed

26)

Listen

Can I ask you something?

Will you open the book again

re-write the song?  Or travel

down the road you live on

slowly, inviting us along?

27)

“Hate is not a family value.”

-message on a bumper sticker

28)

make lists:

Lesbians Who Anthropomorphize Their Pets

 

Lesbian Coiffures

 

Lesbians I Love

 

Famous Lesbians

29)

Chastity Bono

Melissa Etheridge

Candace Gingrich

Janis Ian

kd lang

Ellen DeGeneres

Elspeth Cameron?

30)

Books by the side of a lesbian bed:

Shelter, by Jayne Anne Phillips

She’s Come Undone, by Wally Lamb

Anna Kerenina, by Leo Tolstoy

The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams

i live in music, by ntozake shange

Stones by the River, by Ursula Hegi

31)

But what do lesbians do?

32)

In a Toronto bookstore, my friend Janis and I

thumbed through the Rubyfruit catalogue of sex toys

and she said, They’re what?  I thought

they were candles.

33)

The truth is the sex involves

the usual suspects

34)

But which one of you is the man?

The truth is that is lesbian couples

both partners are women

That’s why they call us lesbians

35)

With this ring, I thee wed

(Finally)

36)

I can’t even think straight

–message on a tee shirt

37)

Is that a lesbian

or a garment bag?

38)

Aries

Aries lesbians whoopee

at night with such force that

car alarms go off

Summer solstice brings

a girl habit you might

not be able to kick.”

Girlfriends magazine, May/June 1995

39)

What if I fell in love with a

woman from Nashville

and Immigration wouldn’t

allow me into the US?

40)

Gayby Boom

41)

Auntie Joy’s adopting Sarah and Meghann, I said.

They’re going to be your real cousins.

What were they before? asked our niece.

Fakes?

 

42)

“My mother came out of the closet and all I got was this crummy tee shirt.”

43)

At the IVF clinic

in Vancouver, lesbians

wanting insemination

were turned away

This was called

nondiscriminatory

44)

Our favorite coffee shop

refuses to carry the local

gay newspaper because

it’s a family place

45)

“Last year we reported that Sharon Bottoms had finally gained legal custody of her young son, Tyler.  But sadly, Bottoms’ fight wasn’t over.  On April 21 a divided Virginia Court of Appeals ruled 4-3 in favor of awarding custody to Bottoms’ mother, Kay.  The majority opinion argued that Tyler could be condemned by society if raised by lesbian mothers.”

Curve magazine, August 1995

46)

“I couldn’t help but think that she’s fifty-four years old and had been dating that woman for twelve years–isn’t that sick?” a man who killed an Oregon lesbian couple in 1995 indignantly explained to the San Francisco Examiner.  “That’s someone’s grandma, for God’s sake…Lesbo grandmas, what a thing, huh?”

Girls Next Door, page, 14

47)

Once someone called me up

anonymously

and in the harsh voice

of an obscene caller said

Do you know you’re living

with a lesbian?

48)

Imagine love being shameful

Can you?

Imagine loving your boyfriend

and hiding it, so that you

can’t wear your wedding ring out

of the house, so that you can’t

tell the other teachers

at work, so that you have to deflect

questions about why you

aren’t married

Say

I haven’t met the right guy

Say, Yet

 

Spurn your boyfriend out loud

a few times each week:

Chris?  Oh, we’re just friends

When he goes to kiss you

on the corner, pull away

glance around furtively

deny him

for instance to your mother and father

so that, at Christmas, you go home

alone

Peel potatoes and stare

at the turkey baster, say

I’m dating someone, but he’s…

think fast, say

...already married

If somebody finds out imagine how

you could lose

your job

your housing

your life

49)

When it came time to

rent a house

my first girlfriend dressed

in sensible shoes

and a heavy iron cross

We told the landlord

she was a man

The truth is she and I

never held hands

in the town in which

we lived for five years

because what if someone

took offense and we

were two women

in a house

in the country

at night

50)

Pretend your husband

is a woman

Does anything change for you

now that you’re lesbian?

Pretend

just for the moment

that someone figures it out

say for argument’s sake

your baker, your dentist, your mother

your massage therapist

Would anything happen?

Choose just one person

say What is the worst thing I could

tell you about myself?

 

You have cancer.

Worse.

You killed someone.

Worse.

51)

Excuse me, sir, were you aware

this is the woman’s washroom?

 

Anne?  That’s a funny name

for a man

When my gal and I signed up

for dance classes, the clerk said,

Your partner’s name?

and I said, Joy

and she said, Joey?

and I said, Joy

and she said, Joe?

and I said, Joy

and she said, John?

and I said, Joy

and she frowned and wrote Jeff down

shaking her head

At class several women

refused to dance with us
52)

Imagine love being dangerous

Outside the community centre

near my home

some teenage

boys

pelted a woman

with snowballs and stones

She looked the type

Dyke, they hissed

At a Bread Garden on Denman Street

Joy and I stared at each other

stupid with love

until a man growled, Goddamned lezzies

Which one’s on top?

The truth is that we scuttled away

when he wasn’t looking

trying to fade into the storefronts

across the street

Watching our backs

yearning for the soft

insides of closets

53)

In Iran, a group of lesbians and gay men

who admitted they loved

people of their same gender

were given a choice:

stoning, or a plunge from a cliff

All ten chose to die

in flight

54)

abomination

a sin against God

sodomite

pervert

invert

 

woman with immature sexuality

(all she needs is one good…)

55)

“We don’t want [the Lesbian Camp Sisterspirit] here for the simple reason of…  It’s a known fact that all your violent crime comes from homosexuals.”

-Jones County deputy sheriff Myron Holified, Mobile Register, Mississippi, Feb. 27/94

The women

found a dead puppy

dressed in menstrual pads

spilled over their mailbox

56)

In Oregon, they narrowly averted

a plebiscite against us.  In Colorado, they

passed a law against us.  In Ontario, they voted

against our equality

57)

“In its 1989 ‘Gay in America’ report, the San Francisco Examiner calculated the cost to a hypothetical employee of its own who was in a legally unrecognized gay relationship, and compared the costs facing a legally married straight employee.  Both staffers were fifty years old, and both earned $40,000 a year.  In total, the report found that partners of gay Examiner employees who had worked for ten years would receive $55, 890 less in benefits than straight employees’ legally married spouses, and, if they outlived their gay partners by ten years, would lose $8000 in pension payments.”

Girls Next Door

58)

Sometimes I long to

feel exotic and

dangerous, but

what always strikes me

is that I am as

ordinary as pie

that bland

As a lesbian

I brush my teeth

twice a day

As a lesbian

I clean my kitchen floor

once a week

As a lesbian

I pay my VISA bill

once a month

boring as soap

59)

My mother made me a lesbian

If I give her the wool

will she make me one too?

60)

Differences between you and me:

You are five foot six

I am five foot three

You have green eyes

I have blue eyes

You are thirty-four

I am forty-one

You live on Gladstone

I live on Arbutus

I don’t get a kinked neck

kissing my partner

61)

You committed a homosexual act.

 

I did not.

Elton John is a homosexual act.

62)

 

Tell me something about lesbians

We are famous for potlucks

Tell me something real

I am trying to tell you

she and I are the same thing

I am trying

to tell you I am a woman

she is a woman

the same thing

as you, just

two people uniting

netting love from the

marine heavens

We comfort each other

when the sky churns like a cauldron

grey foam

Wouldn’t you wish this pleasure

on anyone?

63)

The truth is I grew the

tub of nodding sunflowers

And the bowl of chicken

on the harvest table?  I cooked

it.  And the quilt you lie on?  I sewed it

And the book in your hands?  I wrote it

And the baby’s cheek?  I kissed it

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