LORIN MEDLEY maps George Elliott Clarke’s “Lit’ry but Bumptious” Africadia. DANIELLE CUNNINGHAM follows Douglas Gibson’s guide to editing CanLit. AARON MORIN turns the page on 25 years of bc literary magazines. COURTNEY POOLE builds buzz for “The Apiarist’s Daughter.” STEPHANIE CRAWFORD plunges beneath winter’s “Salt-white Sea.”
Sea of Serenity Ryan Peppin
Letter from the Editor it wasn’t unusual to see books read aloud to children in public; it seems a distant memory now, in an age when tablets and other devices reign supreme. This was echoed in Susan Orlean’s speech delivered in 2011 at The Power of Narrative: The Rebirth of Storytelling Conference at Boston University in which she said, “Journalism is dead. Publishing is dead. Books? Dead. Newspapers? Really dead. Magazines? Life support.” Suffice it to say comments like this, and others uttered throughout my years of study, made me question why I am pursuing a position in the field. I suppose it’s because, on closer inspection, it is clear format and story are not the same thing, and as Susan rebutted, “There’s an appetite for stories that is far greater than it’s ever been.” For 25 years, Portal has proudly fed this hunger, sharing students’ compelling stories in prose, poetry, script, and art. These pages are no exception and are intended to both nurture that appetite and satiate it. They will transport readers on physical journeys through the metropolitan and the rural, the west coast and those that border distant continents. Armchair travel will grant you a ticket to: drive the winding roads of the Qu’Appelle Valley; navigate Sacré-Coeur’s gritty urban streets; birdwatch on a frozen lake in Whitehorse; hike Annapurna without “Reservations;” or board a felucca on the Nile. You’ll fly 25 years back in time with Rue Lawson, or leap forward to a post-apocalyptic apiary with Vyn Sixty. You’ll discover George Elliott Clarke’s “Africadia,” and cross Canada on a literary adventure with Douglas Gibson, journey through the twists and turns of the magazine industry with five of its most nimble editors, and negotiate the profession with our graduates on the information highway and beyond. The virtue of storytelling is also its ability to reveal the nuances of our evolving human experience and to tackle emotionally rife subject matter—from the disorientation of enlisting in the army as a gay soldier, to the frustrating helplessness of parenting an undiagnosed autistic child, from the trials of loving a grandmother afflicted with schizophrenia, to the finely wrought tension between competitive siblings. These tales reveal a remarrying mother forced to find homes for her nine children, a couple about to plunge into relationship, a disgruntled employee exhausted by the unwanted attentions of her male customers, and a son’s visceral memories years after his father’s passing. Storytelling allows us to empathize with others and to explore sensitive aspects of our own
uring the last two decades,
lives, to foster relationships both with one another and within our communities. Interviews with Portal alumni and past contributors also make it clear that storytelling (and the arts more generally), stirs a passion that does not fade as the years pass—quite the opposite, it has only grown more fervent and found more outlets for expression. The hands-on experiences Portal provided informed many of their current roles and gave them transferrable skills to craft their work for other publications and related professions. This diverse skill set is not only true of past magazine staff; in fact, this year’s masthead boasts students with backgrounds in Media Studies, English, Philosophy, and Business so it’s no surprise Portal’s contents appeal to these interests. Yet, though our imaginations are singularly our own, we shared a collective vision for a big issue in every sense of the word. We are returning to provincial and national newsstands with memberships in Magazines bc and Magazines Canada, while simultaneously increasing our print run and page count. We have incorporated silver to signal a quarter-century anniversary and added a special four-feature centrespread to honour this milestone. To accommodate all of these innovations, we relied on funds from Portal’s herculean marketing efforts, and an extremely generous anonymous donation of $10,000. Being true to the scope of this vision also meant a facelift for the website, a complete remodel to be unveiled at the Portal launch. We recognize that developing off-the-page means of relating to our audiences year-round is one way to remain competitive while meeting the growing demand for virtual content. To this end, we are thankful to have the expertise of our talented team of Web developers and audio-visual experts who have tweeted, friended, followed, videoed, recorded, and podcast the moments that have made Portal 2016 the wild ride that resulted in what you now hold in your hands. We live in a volatile world yet, as Orlean reminds us, “In the face of all of that, no matter how dire the predictions are in the world of writing, no one ever says that stories are dead.” For 25 years, Portal has tugged on the reader’s sleeve and said, “Here’s something new, something amazing.” In today’s noisy world, that voice still breaks through. —Danielle Cunningham Managing Editor, Portal 2016
Celebrating Change and Continuity s long as there have been writing classes at Malaspina/Vancouver Island University (viu), there has been a student-produced literary magazine. Malaspina College opened in September 1969, and the first Creative Writing classes were part of the English department. The Navigator student newspaper published a Creative Writing supplement called Omniverse. In the 1970s, two former editors of Omniverse launched Island magazine, a literary magazine funded by an Opportunities for Youth grant. From the mid-70s to the early 90s, the student literary magazine was produced by a Creative Writing Club under the supervision of a volunteer instructor. The magazine took different forms and was called, at various times, the Stump, Shorelines, and the Malaspina Review. In 1991, Portal was established. This new literary magazine became an effective teaching tool for the Creative Writing department’s new Publishing courses. * When I was hired to teach Publishing in 1994, Malaspina was already celebrating 25 years of student writing. The class took that 25th anniversary milestone as the theme for our 1995 edition of Portal, which was produced in one semester by a crew 231 class and printed on campus at the print shop. At this time, viu offered only two Publishing courses. As more Publishing courses were added to the curriculum, and we began to work with a commercial printer, Portal quickly developed into a professional publication. Its student editors collaborated with Graphic Design students in an interdisciplinary project that has evolved and changed, but continues to this day. Advertising became an important source of funding, as did our Publishing students’ innovative fundraising events. On-campus bake sales and events downtown—like the Portalpalooza, annual poetry slams, and Words Outloud faculty readings—were the first of these, many morphing into new forms that continue to bring in revenues. Significant changes in printing technology also created new possibilities for Portal, but for the most part, change was driven by the classes’ desire to showcase more examples of excellent student writing, art, and photography and to raise production values. From saddle stitching to perfect binding, from black-and-white to full-colour printing, each Portal team strived to produce “the best issue ever” and worked to raise sufficient funds to do so.
My favourite metaphor for the Portal team experience is from the 2005 editorial: “This publication was produced by participatory hive mind.” The 2016 team is the latest in a long tradition that includes all the former Malaspina/ viu Creative Writing students who worked with such passion to publish student writing over the years. As the Creative Writing department’s Publishing instructor from 1994 to 2011, I am proud of my long association with Portal, and I’m pleased to see how the tradition of excellence continues under the guidance of Joy Gugeler. Congratulations to the 2016 team as you celebrate this 25th anniversary edition. *Thanks to Steve Guppy for information on literary magazines published prior to 1990.
—Rhonda Bailey Publisher, 1995-2010
The 2006 Issue Has Arrived!
© 2016 by the authors, artists, and photographers issn 1183-5214 Portal is published by students in Vancouver Island University’s Creative Writing and Journalism department. Prime words. Compelling art. Momentous beginnings. Portal is your gateway to accomplished short fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, scripts, interviews, art, and photography by viu students. Enter Portal’s literary universe and discover worlds and futures ready to unfold, language and images— provocative, passionate, or playful. What makes Portal so portentous? It is “of ourselves and our origins”—a contemporary portrait of literary talent in the making, a portable guide to the viu from here. Portal Vancouver Island University Rm 221, Bldg 345 900 Fifth St., Nanaimo, bc v9r 5s5 email@example.com mediastudies.viu.ca/portal/ twitter.com/PortalMagazine www.facebook.com/pages/Portal-Magazine Portal is printed by Marquis Imprimeur Inc., 2700 rue Rachel est, Montreal pq h2h 1s7 and has been printed on recycled paper since 1995. Portal 2016 is printed on enviro 100 satin 80 lb.
Lenses Sarah Packwood
Portal 2016 Masthead Managing Editor – Danielle Cunningham Acquisition Editor – Clarice Lundeen Fiction Editors – Ben Everett, Alim Rawji Poetry Editors – Joel A. Simmons, Spenser Smith, Kelly Whiteside Non-Fiction Editors – Danielle Cunningham, Clarice Lundeen, Robert Ferguson Book Review Editor – Ben Everett Feature Writers – Aaron Morin, Danielle Cunningham, Lorin Medley, Heather Gregory Copy Editors – Kelly Whiteside, Stephanie Crawford Art Director – Robert Ferguson Photo Editor – Bryce Gardiner Audio-Visual Editors – Bryce Gardiner, Ryan Peppin, Andrew Powell Designer – Chloe de Beeld Advertising Manager – Kelly Whiteside Fundraising & Events – Jessie Zhang, Chelsea Mark, Maya Pozzolo Launch Coordinator – Jessie Zhang Social Media Editors – Ryan Peppin, Bryce Gardiner Website Design – Aaron Morin, Andrew Powell, Daelen Berg Publisher – Joy Gugeler
Friends of Portal Array Web + Creative The Arts & Humanities Colloquium Series Brick Books Brindle and Glass Broadview Press Broken Pencil escript.ws Fiddlehead Geist Langara Journalism/Pacific Rim The Navigator Nancy PagĂŠ The Ralph Gustafson Distinguished Poets Series Rebel Mountain Press Rhonda Bailey Ronsdale Press Room sfu Masters of Publishing subTerrain ubc mfa viu Bookstore viu Centre for Experiential Learning viu Creative Writing viu Development & Alumni Office viu Graphic Design viu Liberal Studies viu
viu Media Studies viu Music viufa viusu Galaxy Bait Natalie Golbeck
Table of Contents Fiction 10 13 17 23 28 31 48 62 66
The Apiaristʼs Daughter Courtney Poole Then He Laughed Rose Willow Bread and Roses Amber Morrison Harmony Emily Reekie Monsieur Latendresse Gisèle Merlet The Deluge Jessica Key Only God Can Judge, But I Can Tr y Clarice Lundeen Reser vations (Araksana) Lori Shwydky Taking on Water Alison Burfoot
Poetry 12 15 19 27 49 50 51 58 59 70
Field Songs Spenser Smith Fall in Line Joel A. Simmons Solar Transit Hayley Rickaby Sometimes Antony Stevens You have been banned from Nanaimo's Buy, Sell, and Trade Philip Gordon Surveillance Rachel Jackson Salt-white Sea Stephanie Crawford Estuary Elegy Emily Reekie Ghazal of the Pacific Nor thwest Lorin Medley Goodnight Kelly Whiteside
Non-Fiction 20 Safe Hold Tegan Matthews 32 Drawing the Blinds Danielle Cunningham 52 George Elliott Clarke’s “Lit’ry but Bumptious” abcs Lorin Medley 60 Run, Don't Walk Jessica Key
25th Anniversary Special Features 34 Rue the Day Lorin Medley 37 Bridging Value to Belief: A Quar ter Century of bc Magazine Publishing Aaron Morin 40 As Little as Possible, as Much as Necessary: Douglas Gibson’s Guide to Editing CanLit Classics Danielle Cunningham 44 Graduate Graffiti: 25 Years of Portalers Write on our Wall Heather Gregory & Danielle Cunningham
Book Reviews 72 As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley Stephanie Crawford 73 Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick DeWitt Clarice Lundeen 74 As I Rise by Gisèle Merlet Benjamin Everett 75 In Our Own Voice Edited by Lori Shwydky Spenser Smith & Andrew Powell 76 North End Love Songs by Katherena Vermette Spenser Smith 77 Fauxcassional Poems by Daniel Scott Tysdal Joel A. Simmons
The Apiarist’s Daughter under the lid of the crate and pressed down to pry the top off, plastic joins cracking, unlike the old iron nails. The smell wasn’t sawdust and mildew, but ozone, filed metal, and the chemical scent of fresh plastic. She had been waiting for the crate to arrive for weeks, but now she could barely breathe. Vyn removed the cover completely and kicked it to the far side of her cramped workshop, then clawed at the other four sides. Inside was a large aluminum cube, sturdy but not heavy, with eight heavy latches securing a cover. She ran her hand along the length of one its sides, her touch light, reverent. The texture of the metal didn’t collect fingerprints, she noted with satisfaction. Her hand paused on the first latch, pulse stuttering in her veins, and she thought of her father. He would never have approved of this, and yet she hoped he would have been proud of her anyway. The cover was deceptively light, even lined in thick foam as it was, and hardly made a sound when she set it gingerly against the tall tool chest. Vyn took a deep breath, curled her hands around the rim, and peered inside. The interior was filled with panels of clear plastic, pocked on each side with little holes, like a honeycomb flayed open. There was something the size of her thumbnail tucked into every hole, each one reflecting thin bands of dim light. She plucked one from the case and examined it from every angle. Blue leds flickered onto its tiny screen. It was round as her fingertip and just slightly longer, textured aluminum, like tiny sharp scales, striped jonquil and jet.
yn sixty slipped a crowbar
Mecca Bryce Gardiner
It was a full-scale robotic bee, with wire-thin articulated legs that gripped skin. Rather than a pair of wings, it had a tiny drone rotor emerging from its back. It sat immobile on the end of her finger, a little robee looking at her. It was custom-made for her, optimally designed to pick up and disperse pollen among plants, each one able to hold nearly its volume in nectar. The robees couldn’t make honey, comb, or beeswax like their organic predecessors could, but there were ways around that. Vyn could render it down herself, make money on the side selling robee honey. With her little crew of 1,000 she’d have a profitable apiary in no time. She put the robee back in the case and looked at her outdated watch, its flat touchscreen scratched, but not broken. With a couple taps, she loaded the simple drone management interface. The serial code was inscribed on the inside of the box, on a metal plate screwed into the padding, and she typed it in. Vyn grinned as she stumbled out into the stark daylight to the centre of the yard, touched the start button, and waited, gaze fixed on the workshop door. At first, nothing happened, and she chewed on the inside of her lip. Then she heard it—the sound, a low chug like the distant rumble of an idling chainsaw, rising in volume until it was the drone of the neighbour’s lawnmower, then the steady hum of a blender. They began to rise from the box in a way that was familiar to her, the strange fluid coordination of a colony of bees or a flock of birds, the ebb and flow of their movements as they moved as one.
The robees flew in a sheet, making minute corrections midair to keep from colliding with one another, then slipped through the door like a great gust of wind. They circled her in a loose spiral, reaching the 15-foot boundary between her neglected shrubbery and the neighbour’s yard. A few investigated the wilted blooms left on the rhododendron. Vyn reached out and swept one out of the air in her cupped palm to see what it would do when interrupted, but she regretted it when the rotors nicked her, leaving a thin ruby slice at the base of her index finger. She hissed and let it go—the robee dropped a few inches before its rotors caught the air and it whirred away to rejoin its companions. Their sounds and movements were comforting. As a child, her father had shown her how to open bee boxes, the supers, how to remove the frames and extract the honey without disturbing them. In the spring, he’d take his colony around the countryside to farms that paid for pollination. She’d continue his tradition, touring from one sprawling corporate farm to the next, following the cheques. For the first time in her life, Vyn had managed to catch on to something at just the right time. With organic bee colonies in steep decline, and total extinction predicted within the decade, the massive privatized farms needed some other, more affordable option to grow their crops. Not too many people kept robees yet. The start-up cost was astronomical, but Vyn had scrimped and saved until she had the funds. The robees flitted around the yard in tight circles, finding nothing within the radius to have nectar worth extracting. They twirled in the air, dancing by each other in little pirouettes, awaiting direction. It had been a long time since she’d been at her father’s apiary, still longer since his bees were healthy. Even as his colonies died around him and the corpses of his bees piled at his feet, he refused to listen to her. He insisted
the artificial ones weren’t real bees, that people couldn’t cause colonies to collapse and then bridge the gap in the ecosystem with technology. Vyn had always thought his stubbornness was born of an inability to change—an old man set in his ways—and her optimism toward the technology to be embracing the future. Now, she wondered if his protest wasn’t principle. Moral. There was a certain defiance about these metal doppelgangers, their programmed dance, their fleet movement without wingbeats. Her father would’ve hated them, and he would’ve resented her for selling his apiary. After he died, weeks after the demise of his last colony, there was nothing left—empty supers, empty vats, an empty house. The money got her closer to the city, settled in her job, and padded her robee fund.
There was a certain defiance about these metal doppelgangers, their programmed dance, their fleet movement without wingbeats. She tipped her head back to the sky. Dark grey clouds were slithering in from the west, their bellies full of rain. She tapped on the face of her watch to put the robees into hibernation. All at once, they swept back toward their crate, two wide ribbons that parted around her like wings. As the robees settled into their ports, the rotors spun down to stillness and the blue lights flickered out one by one. She settled the lid back on the crate and did up the latches, then dragged a heavy paint-stained canvas sheet over it to hide it from view. Vyn rested her forearms on the edge of the crate and put her face in her hands. This was the only legacy she had to offer him. This is just how the world is now. Portal 2016
Field Songs Indium moon hangs in murk, round and jazzed, ready to burst. Outside coyotes stalk stars, frosted air nipping their fur. A blast of light floods forward, machine guts grind metal cries. Another cn train completing its prairie orbit, screeching sweet lullabies.
Then He Laughed
our orange-clad backs as we work in the potato field. Geese honk overhead, change their flight pattern, but not their direction— south—where I am going to my sister Marilyn’s farm near Avonhurst. My years of roll calls, lightsout, standing in line, and mind-numbing boredom are soon to be over, no more whistles, buzzers, and bells telling me what to do and when.
he mid-morning sun warms
A few weeks later, I’m in Warden Cunningham’s office. Metal filing cabinets stand in line along the north wall. A large window, reinforced with wire mesh, overlooks the prison exercise yard. The thick dark brown drapes are drawn. A lamp throws a circle of light onto a big oak desk. The warden sits behind it, shuffles through several files, opens one, and peers at me over his glasses. “Well, Leonard,” he says, “you’ve been here 25 years, 10 years in the prison farm program. It says you declined day parole two years ago. You declined the half-way house just last year. You seem reluctant to leave us. Tell me, are you willing to live with your sister or are you going to decline that as well?” “No Sir, I’m thankful she’ll have me,” I say, still slouching. “Well then, the report says you’ve been a diligent participant at Riverbend, taken a keen interest in farming. Let’s hope you don’t disappoint your sister.” It’s hot in the Toyota Camry. Marilyn drives the speed limit, light snow falls—she doesn’t talk. I’m swimming in memories and relieved we aren't going through Saskatoon. I don’t need to return to the scene of the crime, or the old neighbourhood. Our mother died when I was eight and Marilyn was 13. I cringe remembering my father’s beatings, how Marilyn tried Wood Meadow Spenser Smith
to protect me, but mostly couldn’t. He never hit her, but he did knock her aside. He was wailing me in the basement and she kept screaming, “Stop! Stop! You’re going to kill him! Stop or I’ll call the cops!” He shot up those stairs, knocked her down, and pulled the phone off the wall. He died in a car accident when I was in my 20s. I didn’t bother going to the funeral. Marilyn told me they buried him next to mother. That’s the way things were done. The man was an asshole all his life, and he gets buried right next to her. One night, after a part-time shift at Canada Packers, I drove past the cemetery, parked my rusted pickup, and pissed on his grave. I was 30 when I blew out the brains of Anders Preston. I never intended to kill anyone. I robbed the bank because of a drug debt. I had snorted the cocaine I was supposed to be dealing and couldn’t make up the cash. Tell that to a judge and jury and see how far you get—25 years, that’s what. I was pointing the pistol right at him and he laughed. What an idiot. What was I supposed to do? Pat him on the head, tell him he’s a good boy? I warned him about the wisecracks, two or three times—told him to shut the fuck up—and then he laughed.
I drove past the cemetery, parked my rusted pick-up, and pissed on his grave. Marilyn stuck by me through it all—the arrest, the trial, the long years in prison—and now she’s taking me to her farm. I look over at her. She gives me a quick glance, smiles, asks if I’m okay. She’s shorter than me and carries no extra weight. I notice the grey in her dark hair. Good god, she must be more than 60, but she doesn’t look it. Her husband died two years ago, and her two kids, a boy and girl, are grown and gone. They had no interest in farming. The boy went to law school and lives in Toronto, and the girl, a teacher, lives in Vancouver. Marilyn says she can use my help on the farm. She makes it sound as if I’m doing her a favour.
Then He Laughed
We travel south until we reach the junction of Highway #2 and #16 and we turn east. “I’d forgotten about how the highways are numbered,” I say. “Didn’t need to know that in prison.” “There’s a road map in the glove compartment,” she says. We are approaching the Quill Lakes. Marilyn pulls over and stops. She reaches into the back seat for a bag of sandwiches, homemade cookies, and a big thermos of coffee. “Hungry?” “Yeah, a bit,” I say. “Aren’t you scared travelling with a convicted murderer?” “You’re my brother. Besides, you paid for what you did.” I finish my roast beef sandwich and step outside to stretch my legs. I take a leak behind the point of interest information board and light up a smoke. I didn’t think Marilyn would like me smoking in the car. I don’t smoke much anymore, pretty much quit after the prison doc said I had heart troubles. When we get going again there are fewer trees and the wind blows stronger. Marilyn turns off #16 and we travel south again on #35. The brown stubble of harvested fields dusted with snow stretches for miles and then the rolling parkland of the Qu’Appelle Valley opens up. Rugged hills and leafless poplars look like grey netting or lace. Woodland and farmland intermingle. The Qu’Appelle River winds along the valley floor, mostly frozen, but there are patches of open water. I had heard about the legends of the river and the valley from some of the First Nations inmates. They say a spirit still travels up and down it. Qu’Appelle is French for “Who is calling?” I don’t hold much store in spirits and voices. We climb up the other side of the valley and the wind picks up and snow drifts across the highway. It’s warm in the car and I start to doze. I think I see Anders Preston’s face in the swirls of snow and I wonder what he would look like now. I’m pretty much done at 55, stooped with arthritis, grey hair, and a heart condition. This is not the case for Anders Preston—he doesn’t age. He’s still the young man he was 25 years ago: lean and fit, medium height, wearing a suit and tie, reddish-brown hair, blue eyes. I didn’t know him. He was just a customer in a bank who couldn’t keep his big mouth shut.
After the Trail Clarice Lundeen
Joel A. Simmons
Fall In Line I was 16 when they dressed me in gi Joe’s brown, black, and green. C7 assault goosebump rubber= grip smooth black matte finish.
Sergeant put a bucket on my head ’n said Keep it safe boy it’s all you’ve got left.
Bayonet— killing end is deadly, six inches penetrating flesh.
Uniforms drill such profane platitudes: a do-or-die-doing attitude.
Steel stud, pin in aluminum safety / switch full auto.
Infantry, one giant throbbing dick joke and the gay kid quit for not fitting in. Portal 2016
Bread and Roses
he easiest targets are distracted and overburdened.
Ulay sat and scanned the cobblestone street for his next mark. A woman walked with a grocery bag under each arm and a baby swaddled in a blue blanket strapped to her chest. Her handbag dangled carelessly from her elbow. She was perfect. The tourism board urged travelers to guard purses, backpacks, and suitcases in the Sacré-Coeur area as a precaution; people like Ulay made a sport of thievery. There was a cold wind that day. He watched as his mark approached, bowing her head to coo at the blue blanket and adjusting it with care. Ulay smiled at her tenderness and considered other targets, but he needed the money now. He would only take what he had to—he had many debts. He rose from the bench and flicked his cigarette into the trash, pulled his cap down over his eyes, and pushed his big hands deep into his pockets. He walked with the determination of a man who was late for the afternoon train, inconspicuously fixing his eyes on the church behind the woman. The white spires seemed to caress the cloudless sky. God provides, he thought, as his shoulder connected with hers. His force was enough to turn her in the opposite direction.
Canal Ryan Drader
At the Fair Kelly Whiteside
Her bags fell to the ground and her arms instinctively clasped the precious bundle at her chest. Ulay stopped, as he always did, helping return the displaced groceries to their bags. He was a thief, but not a bad man. He tipped his cap and left wordlessly, her purse nestled discretely beneath his coat. Ulay went around the corner and stood in the shadow of the church. The handbag was almost weightless. He hoped for cash inside, but opened it to find nothing more than a price tag torn to confetti. He tossed it into a nearby dumpster and headed back to the street.
Her bags fell to the ground and her arms instinctively clasped the precious bundle at her chest. He gritted his teeth and kicked small stones all the way back to his spot on the bench. When he reached his destination, Ulay tapped his fingers anxiously. Bitterness outweighed motivation—it was too soon to seek a new target. His gaze drifted to a lump on the cobblestone, a loaf of bread, half-exposed, half-wrapped in blue. He reached for his wallet. It was gone.
Solar Transit Black birds peck at drowned worms, soggy crumbs around fern green gumboot feet. A mother in purple floral steers her futuristic stroller over rogue daffodils on concrete wastelands. Dew drops on newborn eyelashes while small hands capture filtered sunbeams. Pale cherry blossom petals float on the breeze like snowflakes, lightly coating the hoods of cars. Patrons linger in alcove shade, sun split in technicolor. Heat permeates worn flip-flops. Salty rivulets slide in sunblock pina colada tang, canvas beach bags slung over tanned shoulders. Conditioned air kisses a chilly cheek. Spindly young boys bloom with affection, the brown-eyed girl popping pink bubble gum ignorant of their admiration.
Book bags drag on sagging shoulders. Burnt leaves crunch in smoky air. Headphones blast the beats of a summer festival, a dj’s rhythmic hypnosis. A woman’s pink feather boa hangs lavishly on her coat collar, her starlit reputation tarnished—a relic in a sea of adolescents. Cold clambers through layers of infinite scarves, woolen toques. Feet march like rhythm-less soldiers, eyes sandwiched slits. Ghostly breath curls from mouths like steam, warming pale, chapped lips. Embers blaze, then die— an ash snowfall from the cigarette of a man who is coatless. His fingers fiddle with a poker chip. Light dissolves an inky blue blanket peppered with stars, daytime all too brief.
Pop Shove Sarah Packwood
Safe Hold I clung on and pressed my fingertips hard into his arms just as two middle-aged women walked past. Their faces, full of mirth and light, hardened as they looked over. The blonde, lithe in summer shorts, frowned at us. She held my gaze as she said to her friend, “Oh my god. Just spank him!” They walked on, shaking their heads, and I watched them pass, mouth agape. I’d looked at her in desperation and this was what I warranted in return? James, nearly eight, was struggling to break free of my grasp—biting, screeching, kicking, spitting. His own shorts were now nearly backwards on his little body, the plaid fabric tangled around his waist as he strained, face red and determined. He was twisting in my arms, savage punches aimed at my torso. Remembering my non-violence course, I redoubled my attempt at a proper safe hold. It was a beautiful hot day in the Nanaimo harbour and we were on the patio of a busy ice cream parlour. Patrons were avoiding our eyes now and I tearfully looked at my husband, Greg, as he slowly walked away, taking with him our four-year-old son, Dylan. I made calming noises in James’ ear, cooing and shushing as I rocked him. Suddenly he broke free, a grunt of relief escaping as he ran. His breath was ragged as he stormed the base of a zigzagging staircase. At the top was a parking lot and a busy street. Panicking, I yelled, “Stop him!” “What are you doing?” he called, shaking his head and motioning for me to capture Dylan as he too swept past me. I was panting, animated by adrenaline and fear. James screamed from the top of the winding stairs, “I’m going to jump. Don’t. Don’t!” Greg stopped in his tracks, then slowly began to advance. Stop, I think. There are so many strange steps to this
is strength shocked me.
dance, but Greg has never learned them, and will not hear me now. Oh, please stop. James looked down and in that instant I met his eyes. When he loses himself to that ancient fight-or-flight response, there is very little to be done. Something switches off behind his eyes and they go blank. Shit. I picked up Dylan, half-dragged him up the steps, heart in my throat. Even at his age, he seemed to realize the danger and he hurried as fast as his little legs would allow. When we got to the top, there were only cars, rows and rows, gleaming in the hot sun. Beyond was the street. Our own car was parked blocks away from the military ship docked in the harbour—the focus of our trip. James had chattered excitedly about it during the drive, and all along the promenade as we strolled toward the grey ship. “It’s the hmcs Brandon, Mum. It’s 55 metres long. It has three big guns, and 47 crew members.” “Wow, really? That’s—” “Yeah, and it’s going to be grey and have flags on its side. It has sonar! They built it in 1997, the year you graduated, so it’s very old.” I caught Greg’s eye and smiled. By the time we got to where it was moored, James had given us a full lesson on the ship’s crew capacity, measurements, firing abilities, weaponry on deck, where it had come from, and where it had been made. When we walked around that final corner, a sign read closed for the day, and my stomach leapt to my throat. A crewmember walked over, seeing the disappointment on the boys’ faces. I’d hoped his kindness would assuage James’ disappointment, but I knew it wouldn’t. He worked
hard to stay calm and I encouraged his deep breathing, trying to change the subject to something he loved. “Hey James, why don’t you tell your brother about the different ships in Star Wars? About the different classes, how big they are compared to the Millennium Falcon.” We stopped at a vending machine and bought a root beer for the boys to share. After James drank more than his half, he stared defiantly and I had to wrestle the can away. Dylan started to fuss. James looked toward the shops on the other side of the marina, rapid-fire sounds building slowly but incessantly as he became more stimulated. Soon, he was rocking back and forth. I took his hand and closed my eyes. He hated to be touched at a time like this, but the water shone bright all around us and he couldn’t swim. After a brief struggle, he ran the perimeter of the walkway, nearly falling into the sea in a fit of disappointment and rage. Now I walked Dylan carefully across the busy lot, fear hammering my chest. What if James jumped? What if he had run, full-steam, into the traffic? “It’s time to go now,” I said smiling. Dylan nodded at me, small brows furrowed. “It’s ok, honey,” I repeated. We found James and Greg in a flowerbed. Both had closed eyes, their breathing heavy and laboured as they clung to each other. We waited quietly until exhaustion defeated James’ anger and fear. He finally surrendered, melting into Greg’s arms as limp as the daffodils and daisies around them. Greg swept James onto his shoulders and jogged him to the car before he could bolt again.
He finally surrendered, melting into Greg’s arms as limp as the daffodils and daisies around them. James wept and apologized all the way home. Fat tears fell as he beat his head in remorse. When James was an infant he was sweet, gentle, and loving. He lay silently staring into my eyes as I nursed and rocked his small body. As he aged, his sleep became erratic, disturbed. I would pace the floor, begging him to close his eyes. Then and Now Bryce Gardiner
In preschool and playgroup he bit toys, screeched instead of spoke, and he bolted into traffic. He was kicked out of one after another. I was a young parent and many people, including family, told me I was doing it wrong. James should be introduced to more children, they said. I should be firmer when he acted out, they said. I should be less firm, more forgiving. I shouldn’t hold him so much, stay with him so often; it was unhealthy. At this point, his only diagnosis was adhd, one I felt wasn’t quite it. That label brought more strife than it was worth—six long years of files, reports, therapies, and interventions as I advocated in isolation. Everywhere we went people stared. I grew paranoid about leaving the house, fearing the shaking heads and disapproving glares of strangers when James had an episode. Meanwhile, Greg refused to believe his son was anything but “normal.” School was a nightmare. They phoned me every day before noon to pick him up. When I got there he would be in his “quiet room,” nothing in there but floor mats and my screaming son in a restraint hold. He wasn’t eligible for an aide without a designation, yet I was expected to keep him there. I will never forget the fear in his eyes, the trust I lost. I craved validation. I consulted several professionals to help me piece it together and amassed a staggering 67 pages of reports, as well as two pediatricians, three speech pathologists, one speech therapist, an occupational therapist, and a psychiatrist in the process. James was finally diagnosed with autism a month later— June 2, 2011—after six long years of tireless advocating. The psychiatrist in charge of the formal, two-day diagnostic period at the hospital was Australian, which is the sole detail I remember. He observed James over a few sessions and interviewed me alone. “You were right. James appears to have autism. I have filled out the forms. He will have access to government funding until he is 18, in the amount of ….”
My eyes closed and his voice faded away. Were these happy tears? Was the bitter, metallic taste fear? James is about to turn 13. He is the smartest person I know. Last year, when I took a university course about 1960s America, James volunteered a long, detailed history lesson on the Vietnam War, student protests, and civil rights. He knew all the dates and speeches and conveyed the hopelessness and tragedy of the conflict. “It’s about 1960s America? Oh, wow. So you’ll be learning about feminism and about the Cold War that lasted from the late 40s to the late 80s. That's when the Soviet Union collapsed and turned into Russia and some other countries, but in the 60s there was the Cuban missile crisis. That was when the Soviet Union was secretly placing nuclear missiles in Cuba. If there was ever a war, Russia would be able to strike first and strike fast ....” He is reading at university level, although he prefers non-fiction books that contain facts about his favourite video games, cats, and Star Wars. He has attended a number of my classes. He is well-liked by my professors and can’t wait to get his own degree(s). He is in a school for children with a similar profile, and is thriving among mentors and peers who understand him. James still has his moments. Last year we missed more than a month of school. This academic year, he has not missed a single day. Given his kindness, compassion, thirst for knowledge, connection, and need to help others, it’s no wonder he wants to be a police officer. It is just the three of us now; the boys see Greg a few times a month. The peace in our home is slowly returning, our rooms really are quiet, and so is my mind.
Harmony livia is parked outside her parents’ house. She waits in the Civic with the engine off until the overhead light fades and she’s sitting in darkness. She looks at the silhouette of the bottle of wine on the passenger’s seat and the soft tissue paper poking out of the gift bag on the floor. For a moment she leans her head on the rim of the steering wheel. Headlights illuminate Olivia’s dashboard and she lifts her head. She gets out of the car, retrieving the gifts from the other side. She hears the door of the second car slam shut and when she straightens, Amy is standing at her bumper, hair visibly purple even in the dark.
“Hey, little sister,” Amy says. She is empty-handed, and her arms are outstretched. Olivia walks awkwardly into the circle of Amy’s reach. “Are you ready?” Amy grimaces, but nods. A hard-shelled cello case leans against her Jeep and she picks it up. “The car’s too cold to leave it out here,” she says. “Can I give them that wine? I didn’t have time to pick up anything. I came straight from the airport.” Olivia hands over the bottle as they move up the lawn toward the house. Dad opens the door when they are a few steps away. He must have been watching. He hugs them both. Olivia first, then Amy, for longer. “I’m so glad you could both come,” he says. “Your Mom’s beside herself.” As though on cue, she appears from the dining room, four forks clutched in one hand. “Happy birthday, Mom.” Amy leans the cello against the wall next to the coat rack. “Something smells good.” Olivia shuffles, unsure what to do while waiting for her turn. Watch Your Step Chloe de Beeld
“For you,” Amy says, handing her mother the wine bottle. She blushes and hugs Amy once more. Olivia fights the urge to tell her mother she bought the wine. “Happy birthday,” she says instead. Her mother’s body is warm and smells like talcum powder. They are ushered into the dining room, overly formal. This half-hosting is what they’ve slipped into now. Candles are already burning and a homemade centrepiece of dried maple leaves is in the middle of the table. Amy lifts her eyebrows at the ornate display. “Everything’s so beautiful, Mom,” Olivia says. She sets the gift bag, containing a glass and oak decanter, on the floor next to her chair. Dad bustles in with plates of spaghetti. He pours wine into Mom’s glass, one for Amy, but neglects to fill Olivia’s glass, though she’s 25. Glasses are raised in toast. Olivia mimes tipping back her glass and they laugh indulgently. Amy frowns, staring at Olivia. She puts her glass down without drinking, twirls her nose ring. Olivia avoids her gaze; she’s been caught doing something vulgar—a dog balancing a treat on her nose.
Olivia avoids her gaze; she’s been caught doing something vulgar—a dog balancing a treat on her nose. “Dig in!” Mom says. “Amy,” Dad says, between mouthfuls, “how was the session?” Amy bobs her head up and down, swallows. “It was alright. I was only in the studio a day. The rest of the time I explored San Francisco, which was cool.” He nods, feigning understanding.
Midnight Swim Packwood 26SarahGENRE TITLE
“Now that you’re back, are you going to give the symphony another try?” Mom asks. Olivia helps herself to another serving of the pasta. “I don’t know,” Amy says. “They called the other day. I said I’d think about it. Classical’s just so contrived.” She sips her wine. “And you, Olivia? What’s new with you?” Dad says while Mom continues gazing at Amy. “Still chipping away at my thesis,” Olivia says. She laughs, though it’s not funny. “That a girl,” he says, winking. “I couldn’t eat another bite,” Mom says, plucking the napkin from her lap and tossing it onto the table. She leans back in her chair and makes a show of groaning. “That was marvelous, my love.” He smiles under his beard. “So, who’s on cleanup?” looking pointedly at Amy then Olivia. Amy chooses this moment to close her eyes, her face pained. “Ah, if only it weren’t for the jetlag,” she says weakly. Olivia sighs. “I’ll do it.” Amy’s eyes open and she grins. Her strength has miraculously returned. Olivia rises and begins gathering the plates into a stack, the cutlery piled neatly on top. She uses her back to push open the swinging door into the kitchen and begins rinsing the plates before putting them in the dishwasher. The door swings again and her mother carries in the wineglasses and soiled napkins. “Hey,” Olivia says, “no work for birthday girls. Isn’t that the rule?” Mom smiles. “Old habits die hard.” The two work quietly for a moment, Olivia fitting things into the dishwasher,
Mom soaking the pots from the stovetop before the tomato sauce has a chance to set. “Mom,” Olivia says. “I brought the wine. Amy came right from the airport, so she didn’t have time to pick up anything. I’m only telling you because it goes with my other gift.” Mom smiles. “It doesn’t matter who brought it,” she says, “but thank you all the same.” She dries her hands on the towel hanging from the oven handle and lands a kiss on Olivia’s cheek before pushing back into the dining room. While the door is open, laughter swells into the room. It ebbs when the door swings shut again, and Olivia is left holding out her sud-covered hands as though waiting for communion. Out in the garage, Amy lights a cigarette and Olivia stands with her hands in her pockets, watching Amy’s breath plume out in the cold. “I hate this place,” Amy mutters. “They always pressure me.” Olivia looks at her. “And the way they rag on you. God. Your patience astounds me.” Amy pulls on the cigarette, moving into the rhythm of her outrage. “It just bums me out, being here. Bad vibes, you know? Like they didn’t do anything, so I have to do everything.” The door to the house opens, and Dad pokes his head out. “Time for cake!” Amy rolls her eyes and drops her cigarette to the ground. Olivia lets her go first. As they take their seats at the dining table, the lights dim, Dad slowly walks the cake into the room. Olivia notices her gift has fallen onto its side, pink tissue paper spilling from it like a leak. Dad begins to sing “Happy Birthday,” and Amy sings harmony. Olivia is silent, watching her mother’s face contort with delight in the candlelight.
Sometimes, when I think I’ve forgotten, I dream my father is alive. I look at his face, blurred, empty, like a foggy Polaroid desperate for time. I dream he’s come home, ignore the faint prod, say, “Dad, we missed you at breakfast, again.” As though he was only gone an hour. As though I hadn’t woken up with soppy pillows and weighty breath. As though my mother hadn’t screamed so shrilly it fell me to my knees or made the neighbours say, “Sounds like someone dying.” So we eat a spinach lasagna, watch the evening news on Global. He hugs my sister, brother, with both arms, kisses my mother twice. I wake with a whimper, try to return to his voice —familiarity and dissonance— like a favourite song, unsure of its name. I stare up at the pale grey ceiling, sharp with baby stalactites and I say, “Father, sometimes I dream.”
Eagle Ryan Drader
Monsieur Latendresse onsieur latendresse only told his story to people he trusted. He trusted me. The last time I saw him in the seniors’ residence, he said, “My eight brothers and sisters are gone and I’m still here.” He looked up at the sky and added, almost as an afterthought, “They must have forgotten about me.” He was over 90 when he passed away. His family lived in a small village in the Gaspé region of Québec. He was born at the turn of the 20th century, a difficult time for any pioneering family. His father, a farmer, died at an early age and left his mother with nine children between one and 17. Monsieur Latendresse was the youngest. In 1967, my mother Rose, a 57-year-old widow, was a well-dressed lady, who possessed the je ne sais quoi charm so appreciated in French-Canadian women. She met Monsieur Bertrand Latendresse, a 70-year-old widower, at a party, which my aunt Désirée, playing Cupid, had organized. Rose turned out to be exactly the type of lady Monsieur Latendresse was looking for. He soon introduced her to his son and his wife, and to his six daughters and their husbands. By the end of the year, he asked Rose to share the rest of his life. Rose had received four offers of marriage that year. She had turned down a rich, older cousin of my father’s whose wife had passed away and who had no children. The cousin had begun his proposal saying, “My wife loved you like a sister. If you marry me, I will leave you all of my money.” “I don’t love him,” said Rose. Monsieur Gendron was a successful gentleman who enjoyed travelling and visiting his married children and their families. She loved Monsieur Gendron’s house and could picture herself living there, but the Gendron children gave her a chilly reception as a challenge to their inheritance, so she backed down.
Monsieur Cellier, a taxi driver, invited her to a dance and wined and dined her with a flair that drove my older brother nuts. “He has nothing to his name—not a dime. He’s after your money,” he warned her. But Rose, smitten with Monsieur Latendresse, said no to these three and instead accepted the hand of this gentle, handsome man. He lived in Laprairie, a small town south of Montréal, where he had come to work as a young man, where he married and raised his seven children, where they were educated and married in turn, and where his wife had died. Monsieur Latendresse was tall, strong, grey-haired, distinguished-looking, quiet, and soft-spoken. The sparkle in his eyes and his large hands, marked by many years of manual labour, were the first things you’d notice. He could balance his three-month-old great-grandson on one hand while singing “Frère Jacques”. I was impressed. My two brothers, my sister, and I were pleased that our mother had chosen Monsieur Latendresse and helped to prepare a small, dignified wedding ceremony. Both families celebrated the union of the blushing couple in a reception held in our dining room. Alain served coq-auvin on rice and fresh local asparagus on an elegantly set table. The wedding cake and champagne were served in the garden under an arbour of blooming white roses. They left for Gaspé to celebrate their union with Monsieur Latendresse’s brothers and sisters and their families, with an overnight in Québec City. Monsieur Latendresse made a reservation at Château Frontenac for their honeymoon. The room had a lovely view of the Saint Lawrence River, but had twin beds. Monsieur Latendresse, not used to such extravagant goings-on, enjoyed their return home. Rose set to work transforming his house—new wallpaper, carpets, draperies, and ... laughter.
Where have you gone? Corinna Maier
Monsieur Latendresse loved to play tricks on people and to garden—he established 36 heirloom tomato plants on the Canadian National Railway property behind his house. It had been slashed and burned and was fertile enough to produce a bumper crop. One of his sons-in-law decided to play a trick on him by writing a stern warning on letterhead from the cnr telling him that he had one week to remove all the tomato plants or he would receive a hefty fine. The official-looking missive posed a quandary for Monsieur Latendresse— either he pulled all the plants out, or he paid the fine and hoped to harvest his tomatoes before the first frost. His son-in-law listened to his lamentations and then revealed the prank. Every summer, Monsieur Latendresse and Rose visited his brothers and sisters in Gaspé. The family always fought over who would put the visitors up for two weeks. They would have to move from one house to another to satisfy everyone. A fearful competition followed. Who could supply the best dinner, the best entertainment, and the best outings? Whose jams and jellies were the most excellent? Which garden best fulfilled the requirements of the Gaspé Horticultural Society? Which quilt would be most admired by Rose? Monsieur Latendresse also loved cars, but not cucumbers, liked my homemade vegetable soup, and loved my mother. They had many good years together, my sister Suzanne, a retired nurse, and her husband Joseph driving from Chambly to Laprairie every week to supervise how Rose and Monsieur Latendresse coped with the daily demands of their household and health. And then it happened. Rose was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Monsieur Latendresse watched over her patiently and with tolerance, but he admitted to me, “Carmen, sometimes she doesn’t talk to me for weeks.” Eventually, her care too affected his mental and physical health and a family meeting was arranged. Cécile, a neighbour hired for daily visits, cleaned house, prepared meals, and did errands. Every morning when she arrived, Rose would say, “Bonjour Cécile. You’re welcome to come in and have a coffee with us, but we don’t need you today.” After coffee and conversation, Rose would have forgotten the arrangement, so Cécile would put on an apron and start her daily chores. Cécile would turn on the radio and sing along, cheering up Monsieur Latendresse with a few hours of sympathetic conversation that proved a welcome distraction.
When Monsieur Latendresse was taken to hospital after suffering a heart attack that left him debilitated, Suzanne came and stayed with Rose. If Monsieur Latendresse came back to the apartment, it would be impossible for him to take care of her. The family decided they should both move to a seniors’ residence. Rose was on the third floor, Monsieur Latendresse confined to a bed on the first. One of us took Rose down to visit him almost every day, until one day he said, “Don’t bring her down here anymore. I don’t want to see her like this. It is too sad.” She died a few months later. In those final days before Monsieur Latendresse’s death, he told me the truth about life after his father’s death. With no safety net and only a modicum of help from the Catholic church, his mother was forced to consider more practical solutions. The farm demanded more than she could do alone. A local farmer, a widower himself with nine children, approached Monsieur Latendresse’s mother and offered to marry her. “I will take you, but not your children,” he said. He didn’t explain how she came to her final decision. The following Sunday his mother got up early, dressed them in the clothes they wore to mass, and walked the main street to the village, Bertrand on her hip and Pierrette’s hand in hers. At each house she stopped and knocked, plaintively. Monsieur Latendresse continued, “I was the first one chosen. I was one. The girls went mostly to women without children; the bigger boys were needed for farm work, but the smaller ones were the last to go. By the end of the street, mother was alone. “I did not need my brother to tell me that the lady who turned her back and crossed the street every time she saw one of us was our mother. I could tell. She never talked to us after that day. She dedicated her life to the other nine children. “Most of us ended up in good homes, but not all of us. One thing we could count on was the love we had for each other. We met on the street, we saw each other at church and at school, and we played together—baseball in the summer, hockey in the winter. Later, we told each other secrets. I was the only one who moved away from our village. We gathered every summer for a family reunion.” At the end of his story, Monsieur Latendresse looked up and said, “I suppose that’s where we’ll meet.”
The Deluge he first time he kissed me I was drunk on elation, on sleep deprivation, on beer—drunk on a city so frenzied that it kept me awake enough to go for Chinese food at 4 a.m. He ordered for our party in seemingly fluent Cantonese. He told me he hadn’t bought a girl a drink in years as he handed me a beer. When he walked me home and my hand slipped into his, I joked that by elementary school rules, we were married. I stole the fuck harper pin off his hat and pinned it to the strap of my purse. After that night we fell into an uneasy truce, friends seemingly afraid to ask for more without the guise of alcohol and dim lighting. Instead, we retreated, safely, into inside jokes and Big Lebowski references. Yet when I was on the back of his motorcycle, he told me to put my hands in his pockets to keep them warm, and all I could think of was how much better they felt cradled in his that night. Who knew it would be a rainstorm at a lake that would finally tip the scales. I could joke it was straight out of The Notebook—swooning and romantic. Instead, my tent collapsed under the weight of the most rain we’d had all summer. When I crawled into his tent, again at 4 a.m., we both tasted like beer. We fell asleep wound around each other, me in a rain-drenched sweatshirt, on an air mattress built for one.
Shifting Beds Bryce Gardiner
We spent that weekend camping in a deluge with 15 friends, sharing hammocks under meagre shelter. He cooked us breakfast, and I cooked lunch, and everyone was generally too drunk to care about dinner. People called me his girl and we both pretended not to be wondering if it would extend past that last weekend of summer, the escape of being far beyond the range of cell service and real life. The two-hour drive home was punctuated only by excitement at the prospect of a hot shower, and food more than semi-cooked over damp wood. I was too cold, hungover, and exhausted to marshal the energy for any conversation beyond that. When he exited the highway in the direction of his house rather than my apartment, I didn’t question it.
We fell asleep wound around each other, me in a rain-drenched sweatshirt, on an air mattress built for one. When the doorbell rang, intrusive, we sleepily rejoiced at the Chinese food delivery. Somehow, after four days of wilderness, chow mein can only taste like civilization. That night when we fell asleep, he wrapped himself around me like a note, all folds and secrets and confessions. At 4 a.m., when I woke up, our fingers were still intertwined.
Drawing the Blinds dessert when they share the news, but when my mother told Gram she was expecting, she served up an ultimatum: “Stay on your meds if you want to be part of your granddaughter’s life.” Then again, we aren’t most families, and my Gram is anything but conventional. For years, I overlooked my mom’s concern for Gram’s mental wellness. In my childish naiveté, I refused to believe she could inhabit any role but the ones I’d assigned her: caregiver, secret-keeper, closest friend. She delighted in our weekday rituals, greeting me at primary school armed with Werther’s and other forbidden favourites. I was fond of her sandwiches, crustless and finger-shaped, and she was fond of my appetite for them. However, I didn’t live the pain of my mother’s adolescence, her uncertainty about the parent she would come home to at the end of each day. I didn’t have their relationship— hot-and-cold, praise one day, abuse the next. I wasn’t around when psychosis rendered Gram hazardous to herself and others, or when she was hospitalized. To me, Gram was the epitome of independence. She knew public transit and shortcuts home like I knew the aisles of my favourite toy store. She lived alone and she didn’t have to answer to a man.
ost mothers-to-be serve
But as I became a teenager, I noticed her drinking habit persisted despite the advice of doctors and the tension it imposed on her relationship with my mother. One argument stands out, when Mom was tired and Gram was desperate for a cold one. I was in the backseat, a 16-yearold acting as peacekeeper. There was a hitch in Gram’s voice I hadn’t heard before—she was on the verge of tears. I’d never seen her cry. It was a glimpse of the person she
Renew the Arbutus Bryce Gardiner 34 GENRE TITLE
was before I was born: easily agitated, erratic, selfish. I waited until morning to tell her she had upset me, that her drinking was out of control. I wanted her to want the best for herself, and I couldn’t see why she didn’t.
It took two more years to realize that a woman whose actions were so genuine, so deliberate, could also be mentally unstable. I was taking a first-year Psychology course and was assigned to research mental illnesses. One by one, Webmd started to reveal someone other than the person I thought I’d understood. The signs of her condition were far too close to home to be coincidence. The task of investigating a topic I'd known nothing about soon turned into something far more profound. I started critiquing her strange social behavior, her grooming habits, her six-pack-a-night habit, her eclectic meds collection (a treatment regimen of Risperdal and anti-anxiety pills) as if I were a psychiatrist; I equated Gram’s painfully slow analytical review of grocery receipts, her obsession with Lotto Max tickets, and her bouts of withdrawal from society with a condition that afflicts only 0.3-0.7% of the population. I had never questioned why she didn’t stay for dinners, never drew her blinds, never responded to evening phone calls, never allowed us into certain areas of her house that were “off-limits,” but it became impossible not to when these quirks closely aligned with Webmd’s list of symptoms. I was disoriented, disillusioned, and shaken; the mindset I’d been comfortable with for so long was now foreign. It was an epiphany that suddenly tugged at the security blanket I’d wrapped myself in for 18 years. I was dizzy, fully exposed to the ugly truths of adulthood.
Five years later, a few things have changed: she no longer drinks, she has made her entire home an “off-limits” zone, and she’s an even more avid supporter of the bc Lotto Corporation, and Gram is retired, though I can't recall a time she really worked. This means she can spend hours doting on relatives, but it also means she barely survives on pension earnings and slot machine triumphs. Though she kept her own needs simple, she spoiled her loved ones. She thrives on gift giving, and if money is tight—it is—she’d sooner walk with holes in her shoes—she does— than miss a chance to indulge others. She used to maintain a perm, her lips were stained crimson, and her eyelids sported hues of violet. Now, at 70, she walks with her shoulders stooped forward, the opposite of poised. Her trips to the salon are infrequent, her perm abandoned in favour of a low-maintenance bob. She has shied away from make-up and box dye, a testament to her age and “lack of motivation.” She sports a pilled men’s size xl Northern Reflections fleece yearround and pairs it with floods and worn-in crocs. Clothes from family are reserved for special occasions.
She thrives on gift giving, and if money is tight—it is—she’d sooner walk with holes in her shoes—she does—than miss a chance to indulge others.
She has a general disinterest in forming or maintaining relationships outside of the familial, a symptom Webmd chalks up to “withdrawal from friends and social activity.” Each year, Gram’s former high school friend, Marge, phones to wish her a happy birthday. They exchange updates about the grandchildren before Marge suggests a possible reunion, only to be dissuaded by Gram’s predictable response. Gram
laughs at hints of a romantic life, as if her odds of winning the lottery are higher. She used to challenge me to backyard soccer matches, now the two-block commute between our homes is often too far by foot. You learn to pick your battles. You stand beside her when she disputes a 50-cent charge at the drug store. You wait for her while she walks 10 paces behind to finish scratching her lottery tickets, and you dust their shavings off her coat when she’s finished. I wish I still looked forward to every phone call and shopping trip, and that I didn’t feel relieved when she says she’d rather stay home. I wish I understood why she spends more time on her penmanship than her grooming, why everything she does is an inversion. I want to protect her from the unfriendly glances of strangers, the judgmental smirks of store clerks, the impatient relatives. Most of all, I want to protect her from herself. I wish she’d resist making herself an outcast at family events, that she would wear lipstick again, that she would smile at strangers. I wish she wouldn’t stare at the ground and minimize her presence, wouldn’t wait for coupons to buy new shoes, wouldn’t be too embarrassed to be in photos, wouldn’t hold back from hugging me, would throw out her damn coat. I wish she’d let Marge in—or a man—that she’d let the daylight into her living room. Her presence in my life hinged on consistently taking her meds. My mom says I’m the reason she succumbs to a structured treatment plan for schizophrenia. Without it, she might be in assisted living, or not living at all. Sometimes the best thing you can do is hug her (even when she resists) and stand by her, even when she’s 10 steps behind.
Rue the Day
ue lawson’s (nom de plume)
first poem, age six:
On our kitchen wall there is a clock. All year long it goes tick tock. It ticks and tocks all the time and once in a while it gives a chime. There are clocks all shapes and sizes; some may give you big surprises. They used to tell time by the sun. I wonder, I wonder how that could be done. Things had been simpler then: end rhymes pleasing, bpNichol old enough to be her father, Psycho too violent for at-home viewing. Rue could fold a piece of paper in half, print her poem on the inside, Dear Grandma on the outside, then pick up a crayon and draw a clock. Clocks were simpler, too. They were round and hung on a wall. They had numbers—12 at the top and six at the bottom. They had a big hand and a little hand, like arrows. Rue could mail her poem to Granny and she would save it in her letterbox along with old Christmas cards in their original creased envelopes. Granny would dunk digestive biscuits in her tea, read The Friendship Book by Francis Gay, and wait for Rue to grow up. No matter what crisis arose—the day she left her doll out in the rain and its face dissolved, or coveted her best friend’s Bendable Barbie with the one-piece bathing suit and matching turquoise sandals—books promised adventure while asking little in return. Rue rode her banana-seat bike three blocks to Canalta Elementary School and took out all the Anne books in the school library: Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne of Windy Poplars. When Anne married Gilbert Blythe and they had Rilla, her attention waned and she switched to Nancy Drew mysteries. She read most of these, though she might have missed The Greek Symbol Mystery. Their covers outcandied conventional treats: Nancy in a riding jacket near the hollow oak; Nancy with a flashlight sneaking up the staircase; Nancy in a dinghy with the wooden lady. Rue
25th Anniversar y Special Feature
read by flashlight under the covers, Carolyn Keene and Lucy Maud her bosom friends. Even then, Rue recognized that a good story needed details. She lived with her two sisters in Fernie in an abandoned mansion complete with a pantry, gabled windows, a coal chute, and a fruit cellar. They ate Alphabets and cinnamon toast for breakfast, peanut butter or Velveeta cheese sandwiches for lunch, pork chops and Rice Krispie squares for dinner. The recipe: Crown Crunchies 2 cups Rice Krispies 1 cup Corn Flakes 1 1/2 cups peanut butter 1/4 cup vegetable oil Directions: Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix. Line an 8 1/2 x 11” pan with wax paper. Spread the mixture in the pan and refrigerate. Cut into squares before it hardens. There were five bathrooms and a separate room for the guinea pig. There was a breadbox with a painted rooster on its door, a card table for crossword puzzles, a shag carpet, a stuffed and mounted pheasant, a tangled Slinky, and records: A Taste of Honey with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality, Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, even a Herman’s Hermits 45.
Rue read by flashlight under the covers, Carolyn Keene and Lucy Maud her bosom friends. Rue could count on Sunday tv to deliver a Topo Gigio appetizer and Little Joe main course. Her younger sister created Haunted Houses in the fruit cellar. Who knew she’d grow up to entertain the troops in Bosnia? Or her older sister would run away from home at 16, yet one day be a devoted caregiver for their father with Parkinsons? Rue had braces—full elastic bands and headgear—and a framed picture of Jesus on the night table beside her bed Path of Time Bryce Gardiner
(The one where He has Breck girl hair and little sparrows at His feet.) She was the one believer on her father’s side. Granny G believed in Liberace. When his special came on tv New Year’s Eve, she would lean forward, clap her hands and say, “Well, I never!” Her neighbour’s daughter, Linda, might make a good character. She had a speech impediment and lived in the house at the end of the drive. Her parents gave her peanut butter on a spoon, which she licked off her palate to strengthen her tongue. The elegant Mrs. L, who lived in a two-storey house at the opposite end of the drive, kept chinchillas and once lit a huge fire in her garbage bin. Rue attempted to subdue her hair with Dippity-Do and a toque while, in Prague, a student set himself on fire to protest the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Rue wrote in her diary: “Sloppy Joes for supper again,” and read halfway through The Mystery of the Ski-Jump waiting for her hair to dry. One day she discovered that Carolyn Keene was not even a real person. Crushed, she wondered if she had missed a clue—what else was not real? She whipped through Brownies, ditched Girl Guides, and attempted a saintly stint with Pioneer Girls and the Mennonite Brethren church. She crashed puberty with curves, hot pants, and braces. One night she smoked six menthol cigarettes and drank half a mickey of lemon gin. Keeping up with Dylan Thomas had its pitfalls.
She bought tickets to a Deep Purple concert at the Coliseum. When she got home she wrote: Your body is a wave on the sea, her body is the shore, brittle with ruins washed up there sometime before. Your body is a wave on the sea, her body a lure on fishermen’s line floating and sinking. Eventually, the card games Rue played with Granny G —Snap! and Crazy Eights—shuffled into the pain of hearts, the cut of diamonds, the folly of clubs. She dated a poet who listened to Satie and reminisced about baseball with Bowering. They lived in his cottage with a yellowed poster of Casablanca, oil stove, and no running water. His bathtub bled rust stains and large spiders. Worse, he drank. Rue cast off the life of a Muse and collected hollow crab shells on the beach. She sat on a log by the sand cliffs and volunteered for tidal hypnosis. She started to write. Analog fled to digital, paper yielded to pixels, and one word followed another. Rue’s children read Tin Tin and Goodnight Moon and began to collect their own stories. Granny G would have loved Facebook.
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Bridging Value to Belief: A Quarter Century of
said when he began reporting on the media industry in 2005, “great big pieces of the sky began to give way. The primacy of mainstream media as the arbiter of what mattered was replaced by algorithms and the wisdom of the crowd.” The print publishing industry, having already battled for broadcast television and radio audiences, was then facing the increasing popularity of digital publishing and the Internet, which offered free and easy content online. Eyeballs and advertising budgets had shifted from the gloss of magazines to the sheen of handheld screens. In turn, many publications, from general-interest magazines to local newspapers, folded under the weight of debt and disinterest. Michal Kozlowski, the editor of Vancouver-based Geist says this competition for audiences has only accelerated, even within very targeted subject areas. “There are so many avenues for people to explore counter-culture and niche interests. To have a magazine that represents all of those interests is more difficult now than it has been before,” Kozlowksi says. “Now everyone has a magazine. Everyone has a blog, everyone is a publisher.”
avid carr of the new york times
Clay Shirky, a new media professor at New York University, diagnosed this information overload as “filter failure.” Without the guiding hands of tastemakers—those who take it upon themselves to gatekeep content—we seem doomed to “infobesity.” However, those curating online and offline content have adopted the same editorial ideal that has guided small-circulation publications for decades: publish only the best and just enough. Brian Kaufman, founder and Editor-in-Chief of Vancouver-based subTerrain says, “The role of the literary magazine (whether it’s online or in print) is the same in the Internet age as it has been in the print age, and that is to be a venue and repository of the best new writing being produced. That is the goal and many of us are trying to attain it. It’s a place where writers congregate and expose their work to an interested audience.”
The online-only Five Dials is distributed by Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin, and is circulated via their website and as an email attachment sent monthly to a mailing list. Its Editor-in-Chief, Vancouver Island’s own Craig Taylor, once stapled together his own zines before mailing them to subscribers; now, he pushes a literary magazine to inboxes around the world from New York. “We’ve benefited from the Web and free distribution, and tried to couple that with a downloadable pdf, maintaining a handle on the design of the magazine, and making it into a discrete piece of writing so that, like more conventional magazines, it had issues—it wasn’t just an unending blog,” Taylor says. The publishing industry has been beleagured by issues other than those related to the advent of the Internet, and digital publishing technologies have been a boon as much as a disruption for many small-circulation publications. Though the viability of some large publications has waned, niche-interest periodicals like literary magazines are still finding good stories and dedicated readers while building a compelling bridge between them. Kaufman says it took him some time to find subTerrain’s identity, and in retrospect he would have told himself to “Get the pieces in place to put your magazine out there in a significant way right out of the gate. If I could do it all again, I’d give a lot of thought to what it is I want to do and who I want to reach. National in scope? Niche market? Specialized, small, target audience? Etcetera.” Some literary magazines, like Five Dials, are attached to parent companies and can rely on excerpts, interviews, and side projects from their associated authors to supplement commissioned work or unsolicited submissions, while still being independent enough to avoid what Taylor calls the “stink of marketing.” “We’ve always thought of Hamish Hamilton as more of a record label; if you like one of our writers, you might also
Bridging Value to Belief
like another. There’s a shared taste and the magazine is a way of expanding that taste,” Taylor says. “We also publish unpublished authors and authors publishing work with other houses, so it did become a proper magazine—it’s not just a catalogue or a marketing tool.” Others, like The Malahat Review, nearly half a century old and associated with the University of Victoria, prides itself on a long-standing reputation for excellence. Institutional prestige may be derided as a quaint echo of the past, but The Malahat’s editor, John Barton, sees the magazine’s profile as a win-win for new writers. “Literary magazines are incubators for future talent, places where emerging writers test their work, gain their footing. That’s their real purpose. We are here to link readers with writers and to support the growth of creative works. I always think of the line by the bc poet Phyllis Webb, ‘Our job is to bridge a value to belief.’ We are here to say we value what you do so you can believe in yourself as a writer and take that confidence and accomplish great things.” For Kaufman, finding that future talent for subTerrain requires increasing stamina and commitment to its unique criteria: “The quality of submissions has remained fairly constant over the years, which is to say we receive a lot of submissions, and use about two percent. We have recently gone to accepting submissions online, which has increased our numbers exponentially; writers are less discriminating. It is a lot easier to click, because there is no real cost involved. On the other hand, maybe there are just more and more writers seeking publication.”
Without the guiding hands of tastemakers—those who take it upon themselves to gatekeep content—we seem doomed to “infobesity.” There may be more writers, more places to get published, and lower barriers of entry to those places, but getting true recognition from the more elite publications will likely take more reading and not necessarily more writing. These days, getting published can be as simple as setting up a WordPress blog in five minutes, but attention and mentorship is still difficult to find.
However, for writers, differentiating themselves in front of editors mining the blogosphere for literary gold is only part of the equation. “You can always tell someone’s a reader if they say what they’ve liked, what they haven’t. That’s the first thing I look for, some kind of engagement, and I know many editors feel similarly,” says Taylor. “Read
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the magazine, tell the commissioning editor where the piece would fit, why it’s good for this magazine—do the work for them. That gets great results and it demonstrates you have real knowledge of who you’re dealing with. Engagement is always better.” Yet, these terms of engagement have changed as well. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have galvanized massive communities and have meant literary magazines can reach their audiences one reader at a time. Advertisers who supported large-circulation general interest magazines may have opted to reach audiences online directly rather than in pricey print pages, but they weren’t typically the sort to advertise in literary magazines anyway. Book publishers, bookstores, festivals, and writing programs did, and still do, due to these quarterlies’ long shelf life and targeted demographic. Likewise, social media has not generated new sources of advertising income for most literary magazines, as it is still quite challenging to consistently tap into lucrative hyperlocal markets online. “For the literaries, I daresay, it’s the same as ever,” explains Chris Chambers, Accounts Manager at Magazines Canada, “just trying to make enough money to pay the printer and to keep the small core of impassioned folks putting it all together happy enough to continue.” Small or regional publications thrive on dedicated audiences and literature and art-specific or local print advertising. However, by incorporating social media outreach into their marketing efforts, magazines can now reach readers and authors at a low cost, both nationally and internationally, rather than spending money on direct mail and mailing lists as they once did. Those savings can stretch even tiny budgets that little bit further. “Social media means we can reach our audiences in ways we could never on our own,” says Barton, “because we would never have had the financial resources to mount a traditional marketing campaign. It has completely facilitated that.” Social media platforms offer cheap or free means to get the word out, so the demand for skilled communicators and content creators who do that well is rising. Engaging individuals, and driving subscriptions, is not as simple as making a Facebook page or retweeting print content. Kaufman concurs, but doesn’t eschew the old in favour of the new; he does both: “Much of our outreach these days is via social media, though we still do ad swaps with other magazines—both print and online—and we still use postcards and posters to reach writers and readers, especially those who may have never heard of us.”
Reaching new audiences is key to bumping up circulation, so you might think competition among literary publications would be intense, but, according to Kozlowski, they have more typically cooperated. “We’re not really competing with other publications. In fact, we should probably be working more collaboratively to market ourselves to each other’s audiences—our ‘competition’ is actually our biggest resource and support.” For Taylor, online engagement is just the beginning of community building: digital communication is essential not only to distributing Five Dials, but also as a source of new material and talent between issues. “It’s not just using the technology to publicize, or social media to connect with people, technology builds an ongoing design and writing community because this is about having a constant conversation,” Taylor says. The conversation happens online and off, and today’s literaries choose to be in both places, the majority still opting for paper despite the choice, a preference “print fetishists” are thrilled to applaud. “I think there will always be people interested in a traditional publishing format,” says Kozlowski, “I think the kind of people we’re dealing with want to buy magazines and are happy to support independent publishing.” Taylor agrees. “It just means that the people who are still involved are here for a reason, which is good. A lot of the population would rather be doing something else, and what’s left are intelligent, passionate, appreciative people, and there are quite a lot of them.” Whether a publication is digital or physical, passion plays a major role in any successful literary magazine. Many at the helm of these publications got their start as writers who wanted to see more of what they liked published.
Barton often reminds his staff to return to their first principles: “Have expectations and decide what you can’t do. Don’t deplete yourself. Don’t forget why you’re doing it: you’re doing it because you love writing.”
A lot of the population would rather be doing something else and what’s left are intelligent, passionate, appreciative people, and there are quite a lot of them. Kaufman does it because he loves writing, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t see the value in practical advice: “I wish someone had told me before I embarked on this career: ‘I hope you have deep pockets and you can function on very little sleep!’ I wish someone had made me think about a business plan, about capital, financing, and where the money was going to come from. I waded into this quite naively. Would I have listened to sage advice? Probably not. Youthful vigour and determination are great things; you can go a long way on sheer tenacity.” Though technology has changed the publishing industry drastically, the heart of publishing is still that fierce determination to ignite discourse between reader and writer and this passion has only grown in fervour as those in the industry have transitioned from the age of print to the digital era. “It’s the same project that it has been for the past 25 years, which is trying to figure out how to pay writers and how to get them audiences,” Kozlowski says, “The Internet makes it easier to find them audiences, but still the struggle is to find a way to pay people to write, which is really the most important thing as far as we’re concerned: making sure there is a writing culture in this country."
As Little as Possible, as Much as Necessary: Douglas Gibson’s Guide to Editing CanLit Classics
ranks from Trainee Editor to Managing Editor, to Editorial Director, and finally Publisher and President. He worked at both Doubleday and Macmillan of Canada and McClelland & Stewart (m&s), starting his own publishing imprint at the latter called Douglas Gibson Books. Gibson worked with some of Canada’s most distinguished authors: Alice Munro, Alistair MacLeod, Barry Broadfoot, Pierre Trudeau, W.O. Mitchell, Mavis Gallant, and Robertson Davies to name a few.
ouglas gibson rose through the
Gibson sought promising talent from around the country, often by networking with editors at small newspapers and magazines. His unusually active role behind-the-scenes teased full-length manuscripts from authors, shaping many prize-winning Canadian titles along the way. His stories of these years comprise his 2015 ecw Press title, Across Canada by Story (a sequel to Stories about Storytellers, 2011), and have led to the cross-Canada tour in which he entertained over a thousand people in 100+ presentations across all 10 provinces with his oneman show. In these lively performances, the animated Scotsman illustrated how magnificent (and, at times, turbulent), the author/editor relationship could be. Now 72 and (unconvincingly) retired, Gibson still directs readers to new writers and works of literature while sharing his passion for the trade by advising aspiring editors. With such a remarkable portfolio, he is an ideal mentor, and he is gracious enough to share this wisdom with those interested in pursuing a career in Canada.
“I speak often to audiences that include young, emerging writers and they ask me the secret of good writing. They’re so eager to hear helpful advice. The simple truth is, to be a good writer you have to construct a first sentence that grabs the reader’s attention. And a second sentence that keeps it. And a third one, and a fourth, all the way through to the end of the book.” What does he advise for aspiring editors? Read on and let Gibson’s expertise inspire you to reach similar success. Know Your Role and Value If an editor sees the need for wide-ranging significant revisions, these should be discussed before the publishing contract is signed to avoid conflict later. There is no hard-and-fast number of revisions an editor should make, though if it’s more than a quarter of the book, signing it might have been premature. “The book is the author’s and changes you are suggesting are merely that—suggestions. If the author considers them, and resists them, that’s the way it is. Nobody has won or lost there. I say that’s fine. Don’t keep score,” he urges. An editor should only be seriously concerned if legal matters are at stake, given that contracts protect publishers from the obligation to print material that might get them hauled into court. “Deep matters of legal propriety concerning race or libel might lead to a breakup between the author and the publisher,” says Gibson. At a recent Future of Publishing conference, he spoke on the value of editors: “Of course, your great weapon is to say to writers, ‘Come with us and we'll make you a better
writer because our professional editors will edit your book.’ But how are we handling this challenge? By firing our editors? Reducing time to work on manuscripts? These are your chief weapons against self-publishing.” When editors are let go due to the current economics of the business, the publisher is rendering these same services to the competition; their former assets often become freelance editors hired by self-published authors. Understand the Demands of Format The editorial distinctions between newspapers, magazines, short stories, and novels are simply matters of scale. An editor assesses a novel’s overall architecture, but, “With stories, it is a challenge coming up with the perfect order or sequence that starts high, then maintains variety in tone and content throughout, before ending on another high note. People who have never edited a collection of short stories probably haven’t given a lot of thought to the importance of order, but really they should.” Gibson’s attention to this kind of detail is indicative of his love of the format. He urged Alice Munro to continue writing short stories when the world demanded novels, “a revolutionary idea at the time,” Munro said. While editing Barry Broadfoot’s Ten Lost Years, Gibson found that, “When selecting his individual interviews, compiling each chapter was much like arranging a collection of short stories. You start by getting the tone right, continue with the right flow, and collect information in the correct chronology.” A combination of gut instinct, editorial intelligence, and reasoning is called for. Gibson’s chief suggestion for book editing is to “do as little as possible, but as much as necessary.” He reminds young editors that the profession doesn’t depend on “piece-work pay,” meaning the pay rate is not determined by the number of marks on the page. The rule was especially applicable while editing “one of the most precise authors ever”—Alistair MacLeod: “Whole pages would fly by without a mark from my editorial pencil. If somebody is writing perfect prose, there’s no need to do anything. If anyone said, ‘You’re being lazy here,’ I'd say, ‘Read it. It’s Alistair MacLeod.’”
Preserve the Author’s Voice “A good editor is able to recognize a departure from the author’s voice and say, ‘No, that’s not you.’ He becomes very skilled at recognizing the music of an author’s style and knowing when she has gone off tune.” When an editor enters a book, he adopts the cadences of the author’s voice: “You come to the manuscript and enjoy the rhythm of Alice Munro or Robertson Davies. You aren’t professionally involved yet, you’re just enjoying being part of the author’s world.” This is where the editor absorbs or recognizes an author’s stylistic trademarks, while avoiding the insertion of his own. “You shouldn’t rewrite the book in the way you would write it if you were an author. It isn’t your book.” If something is unclear, a query may be necessary, but the author’s intent must remain intact. If an editor has partnered with an author before, “The editorial process is going to go much faster,” said Gibson. He recalls editing W.O. Mitchell’s short story collection, According to Jake and the Kid, and the impressive speed with which they ordered it: “We set aside a whole afternoon in his hotel room in Toronto, and yet, when we got together to arrange these 17 short stories, it was only 20 minutes.” That said, though it helps with efficiency, “Familiarity can certainly lead to slight carelessness, and an editor should constantly be on guard against this,” Gibson cautions. Embrace the Art of Multi-tasking Editing is a time-consuming task, but the daily demand of this fast-paced profession requires efficiency to deal with the quantity of submissions and the quality of output when it comes to putting pencil to paper. “What you have to understand is that it’s never a ‘clean desk’ job. You’ll never be able to walk away from it at the end of the day and say, ‘There, everything is done. Nothing else remains.’ You will always be working against the clock. There will always be other things demanding your attention. You will never, essentially, have a clean desk. This reassures some, but frightens others. It’s just the way it is. You handle it the best you can, but it’s part of
Driftwood Jessie Zhang
As Little as Possible, as Much as Necessary
the publishing condition. Time management is key.” Even after being promoted to Publisher at m&s, Gibson kept his hand in editing. “I was determined to keep working with authors with whom I’d established a good relationship. Buying that time often meant sacrificing very many weekends and evenings.” Wear Your Marketing Hat “To be a marketing person at all times, the editor should always be on the lookout for a great title,” said Gibson, speaking from experience. He recalls reading Munro’s longest story, originally, “To the Danish Islands,” one for which he felt a stronger title was needed. Eventually, he found her “three dying words” appearing at the end of the story: “Too much happiness.” This was the perfect title for the story and the collection. “That’s the sort of thing an editor is looking for.” Today’s emphasis on marketing in-house is due largely to more precise digital information about book sales at each retail outlet. Now the number of copies sold is a greater indicator of success than a good review—the primary gauge of success when Gibson started his career. The number of copies sold is recorded by geographical location and can determine decisions to accept or reject regional titles. “A sales manager now has a much bigger say about whether the house takes a new book or not. Hard data can dictate whether a book gets signed, but too much information can also be damaging to an author’s cause,” Gibson says. Gibson’s enthusiasm for the craft of editing hasn’t wavered despite a 40-year career in the industry. He still delights in sharing his wisdom with future editors, and now he’s enjoying the editorial process as an author himself. His love of editing and writing are complementary passions, rather than competing ones. He says his books and stage presentations are based on the same principle. They celebrate writers, and tempt the reader to take a look at their titles. “I’m still directing people to great books and great authors,” Gibson says. “There is a great pleasure in being an editor and seeing a book take flight. There is a different pleasure in being the creator—writing a book, seeing it take shape, leave the mast, and fly off to reach great heights. I’m delighted to experience the creator’s thrill of coming up with something and seeing it flop out of the nest and fly away. The joy associated with it has been a surprise.”
Guidance Ryan Peppin 44
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Across Canada by Story Douglas Gibson ECW, 2015 325 Pages ISBN 978-1-77041-253-8 $22.95 Reviewed by Danielle Cunningham Douglas Gibson crossed “no man’s land” and entered authors’ territory when he wrote his first book, Stories About Storytellers in 2011. The memoir is a fond remembrance of interactions with some of Canada’s elite “literati” and political figures, including Alice Munro, Alistair MacLeod, Hugh MacLennan, W.O. Mitchell, Barry Broadfoot, Mavis Gallant, Pierre Trudeau, and several others. Gibson calls it “a cheerful personal memoir of working with 20 famous Canadian authors, some of whom are still with us.” Gibson’s 2015 title, Across Canada by Story invites readers on a coastto-coast journey following the
Scotsman as he tours the nation with a stage show telling more tales of his publishing career and the relationships that kept him in the business for the better part of half a century. Often witty, at times tender, and always amusing, the memoir paints a portrait of the country and of another round-up of literary geniuses who inhabit(ed) it, namely Robertson Davies, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Terry Fallis, Myrna Kostash, Trevor Herriot, and others, with accompanying illustrations by Anthony Jenkins. Gibson ushers readers into the world of publishing and editing celebrity authors, while revealing their quirks, talents, interests, secrets, and mannerisms. Readers are acquainted with Hugh MacLennan’s speculated daughter, Alice Munro’s ancestry, and the sizeable (Alistair) MacLeod clan. Across Canada by Story recounts some of Gibson’s greatest personal triumphs and follies, from sharing the stage with Miriam Toews, Richard Scrimger, Terry Fallis, and David Carpenter, to roaming around onstage with accidentally unzipped pants, to rejecting Wayne Johnston’s Colony of Unrequited Dreams. Gibson’s stories about coaxing manuscripts from Canadian authors are impressive indications of his influence. Munro writes a letter of appreciation to Gibson for encouraging her to continue writing short stories, and for promoting them as major fiction. Gibson continues to praise and admire authors like Munro while “shamelessly” promoting their titles in his own writing. His legendary stage presence radiates on the page as well, proving he is capable of appealing to audiences in both environments. Gibson’s wit, sincerity, and eloquence-traits that earn him instant rapport with the reader-makes them feel they are
gossiping with an old friend returned from life on the road. Gibson speaks affectionately of his final words with Alistair MacLeod before his passing, bringing tears to the eyes of readers and stage show spectators: “When the time came, my friend and I shook hands left-handed, and his handshake was significantly long and strong, his brown-eyed gaze direct and meaningful. At this moment of dumbstruck high emotion, I remembered the MacLeod family motto above the piano at his home. ‘Hold fast,’ I blurted out.” Gibson absorbs the landscape, culture, and history of each province he visits, while treating readers to some amusing rendezvous with authors and other locals along the way: He rediscovers James Houston’s riverside distractions in Haida Gwaii; appreciates the wine his wife, Jane, is partial to in Prince Edward County; munches succulent peaches and apricots on the Sunshine Coast; daydreams in the Nova Scotia sunshine; goes bird-watching with Trevor Herriot near Regina on Last Mountain Lake; visits Anne of Green Gables sites in pei; and avoids any menacing Grizzly charges with Andy Russell in Alberta. The raconteur’s extensive knowledge of Canadian history is evident, more than justifying his nomination for the Lela Common Award for Canadian History in 2012. “This book of mine, I hope, will give you some sense of the importance, and the literary magic, of our geography,” he says. Gibson is a literary cartographer and craftsman who “weaves his dreams from coast to coast.”
Researched by Heather Gregory & Danielle Cunningham
Graduate Graffiti: 25 Years of Portalers Write on our Wall
n honour of 25 years of production, the 2016 Portal team decided to track down former contributors and magazine staff and see where they were and how this seminal experience informed their careers to date, proving once and for all that a ba could lead to both creative fulfillment and gainful employment.
We’ve tried to track down nearly 700 Portalers online or through social media and, perhaps unsurprisingly, many from the first decade of Portal’s history were preWeb, had too common a name to distinguish, or had defunct Hotmail accounts that returned our inquiries with a bounce. Sadly, this has meant that our attempt to have a more balanced representation of candidates has left something to be desired, but we have made valuable contacts and vow to keep looking for our 30th anniversary. The nearly 30 we did reach out to, however, had plenty to say, the pithiest quotes appearing here as a testament to their insight and candor. Many commented on the “in-the-trenches” atmosphere the course inspired, rolling up shirtsleeves to find the heart of every story, the perfect image to complement it, and the ideal order in which to showcase the best of the best. Necessity was indeed the mother of invention. Still others fondly remembered the camaraderie, and how many minds further enriched the experience of applying theoretical ideas in a mock work environment. Rehearsing a variety of roles, learning from mistakes, and flexing editorial muscles complemented the mentorship from peers and professors. For some, Portal thickened fragile writerly skin and honed editing skills so they could meet higher personal and professional standards. Still others acquired the sales and marketing savvy to pitch and sell as well as craft and tell. We hope the words below transport you through a portal to the past where the magazine’s greatest viu ambassadors proudly take their stories across Canada and around the world. Read the writing on the wall.
25th Anniversar y Special Feature
“It was the very first issue, so there was a fair amount of excitement and trepidation.” —Jeff Virtanen (1991), Par 4 dj Services “We were so desperate for some pictures, we scanned our own hands with the hand-held scanner. It turned out, so we put it in there.” —Trisha Marshall Volmer (1995/6), Web & Print Publication Designer at Snip & Stitch “Being published in Portal and having a degree in the arts reinforced my desire to pursue more writing, which I did, by doing my mfa in Creative Writing at ubc as well as getting into freelancing and then working for a newspaper.” —Michael Kissinger (1998), Editor at The Vancouver Courier “I consider the Portal experience a highlight of my university years. Working through content and design decisions with a diverse team brought both challenges and rewards, which most certainly prepared me for managing and writing specialty documents for publication and the Web and as a technical writer. A well-rounded education combined with practical work experience is still a recipe for empowerment and employment. I remember many late nights, sitting around in one or another's living rooms, hammering out edits, sharing lots of laughs and arguing, arguing, arguing! By the time our launch rolled around, poetry and stories were read brilliantly, and the beauty of the magazine lay completed before us and all was forgiven. Isn’t that just the way it goes?” —Catherine Cairns (2000), Owner-Manager at Documentation & Editorial Services “My arts degree from viu shaped and focused the direction of my life. I worked at The Navigator for two years as an editor, then got work as a freelance writer. Those skills led me to a non-profit group writing grant proposals and promotional material, which in turn led me to employment at viu as a writer/photographer. Now that I work as a videographer and social media coordinator, I use the storytelling and narrative skills I developed throughout my degree and after to shape the videos I At the Fair Kelly Whiteside
make. An Arts degree opens up a lot of doors because it makes you highly adaptable in the workplace, which is extremely valuable for employers.” —John Gardiner (2001) Videographer/Photographer/Social Media Coordinator, viu Strategic Marketing Office “Portal meant a lot to me, and it’s an experience I continue to treasure. It was unique working with 20 other people, and to require a consensus on everything. The ‘victories’ may have been a little harder won, but the camaraderie of being a team was extremely rewarding, and the result was a magazine that every single one of us was invested and involved in, not to mention incredibly proud of.” —Alisha Sester Beauregard (2003), ceo at Starlight Music and Editor at Stop ubc Animal Research “Editing Portal and being published in it were formative experiences. As an editor, I experienced the horrors and joys inherent in working with writers; as a writer, I experienced the horrors and joys inherent in working with editors. These experiences have continued into my current work: whether when I was writing my poetry collection Kingdom or copy editing another writer’s work, I put to use the knowledge I learned in the Portal classroom. Portal earned its name.” —Elizabeth Ross (2007); Instructor at Ontario College of Art and Design, in Best Canadian Poetry 2013, long-listed for the cbc poetry prize “Being on the Portal team ignited a love of storytelling. After graduating from viu, I started working in the communications field, a job that often requires translating complicated (and often dry!) legislation into plain English. Storytelling lets me get my point across while engaging and educating my audience.” —Melaina Haas (2007), Marketing Communications Coordinator, Consumer Protection bc “Of all the courses I took, Portal has probably helped me the most with marketing. I do a lot of proofing and editing, coordinating with designers and programmers, and managing different project stages and deadlines. Portal was my first hands-on experience with a lot of that. I would do it again in a heartbeat, even with all the late nights and deadlines.” —Brenna Collicutt (2008), Marketing Specialist and Account Manager at Better Mousetrap Marketing “The classes I took at viu were extremely important to what I do now with students to develop written skills that enable them to find a better place in the viciously competitive academic and professional environment they live in. Writing as a form of creative recreation has few equals. Getting published is more and more difficult, however, so the Internet allows us a place to show our
25th Anniversar y Special Feature
work to the world and gives us the satisfaction of ‘getting it out there.’” —Roy Tyndall (2008), Instructor efl classes at Apollo English in Danang, Vietnam “Getting published in Portal was a great confidence booster for me. It helped me understand the publishing process and allowed me to dream of possibilities. I’ve had about 15 short stories and poems published since Portal.” —Jenny Fjellgaard (2008), Writer “I am working independently as a comic book creator, with a grant from the Saskatchewan Arts Board. With my background in illustration and animation, I found comic book scriptwriting a natural fit.” —Tonia Laird (2010), Narrative Designer and Illustrator for Silicon Sisters and BioWare video game companies, Freelancer “Portal was one of my first experiences doing public relations and communications, which prepared me for similar activities in the film and television world, especially as I produce my own work and think about ways to attract an audience in the digital landscape,” —Rachelle Stein-Wotten (2011), Vancouver Film School Sketch Comedy “I perform all levels of editing, maintain client and contributor relations, and produce content for the Web.” —Jessica Skelton (2011), Assistant Editor at inclean magazine, Sydney, Australia “As a writer, Portal gave me invaluable insight. A whole lot of passion, careful consideration, deliberation, and some good old blood, sweat, and tears goes into creating a polished publication, and it’s a process writers should be aware of when making their submissions. It’s easy as a writer or an artist to think that all art must stem from a single creative vision or trained hand, but that’s rarely true.” —Liz Laidlaw (2011/12), Editorial Assistant for viu's Health & Human Services, Trades and Applied Technology and cupe, and attends sfu Writer’s Studio “It’s true that there aren’t many jobs as artists, but only if you define artist as someone who puts pretty things in galleries or on multiplex screens. Artists work for every company with Instagram or Twitter; artists find creative solutions in marketing, journalism, business, and politics. Artists are fun to talk to at parties and invent the most exciting first dates. Artists are researchers who think outside the box and the managers who keep office work from being Office Space. Being well-read, well-watched, and creative can’t guarantee a six-figure salary, but it makes people happy. Never take happiness for granted.” —Mathew Snowie (2012/13), Videographer for the Liberal Party of Canada
Heather Gregory & Danielle Cunningham
“Pour everything you’ve got into it and glean, glean, glean from the brilliant minds at your disposal. Learning to harness and express opinions, thoughts, and ideas through various artistic media and genres enables free and independent thinking that leads to unique solutions. Portal magazine encourages its crew to strive for excellence and maintain the high quality reached by past students, plus Joy is a jewel.” —Samantha Ainsworth (2013), Editorial Board, The Malahat Review “Making decisions as a group definitely helped me understand the intricacies of working with fellow creatives to produce a product reflective of all participants and that all of us were proud of.”—Mike Calvert (2013), sfu’s Master of Publishing, taing a third-year magazine publishing course, and starting Vortext Press. “Our department has a small team, so I wear a lot of different hats—copy writer, researcher, digital marketer, blogger and so on. My job involves several online platforms that didn’t exist when I was studying, and I know people who studied very practical fields only to find that when they graduated there was no work. Many of us end up in careers that have little to do with our degrees, but it’s the fundamental skills like research, critical thinking, communication, and the ability to learn that allow us to adapt. The job market is so uncertain, and technology is changing every field so rapidly, that having a stereotypically practical degree doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a steady income—and certainly doesn’t guarantee you happiness.” —Lua Boschman (2013), Production Assistant at Omnifilm Entertainment Ltd. “One of my most useful experiences was selling ads when I was in Portal. I knew it was necessary, but it didn’t seem like something I would need to actually learn. Fast forward a few years, and it’s a big part of my job.” —Shaleeta Harper (2013), Co-founder of text magazine, Executive Director of the Federation of bc Writers. “Arguments intended to steer students away from the arts always mention the economy, stability, and practicality. However, creativity can be a person’s greatest asset (as is the case in many lucrative start-up companies who prize buzzwords like “lateral thinking”), so studying the arts is more important than ever. Stability and creativity are not mutually exclusive. An Arts student can shape our society and culture in impressive ways. Novelists and filmmakers mirror our values, and show us how we can change. Poets and musicians give us necessary relief by naming experiences we might keep bottled. Painters and photographers shed light. Artists perform an important service and contribute to the health of our society.” —Délani Valin (2013), Freelance Writer
“I relied heavily on my Portal experiences when starting my own press, and when designing my first anthology. Experiential learning is so much more effective than theory/textbook.” —Lori Shwydyky (2014), Founder Rebel Mountain Press, Publisher of In Our Own Voice. “Joy Gugeler is a great reason to get involved with Portal because she really cares about the project and the students.” —Trevor Cooper (2014), Freelance Illustrator for PenguinRandom, Illustrator for Susan Juby’s The Truth Commission “Since graduation, I’ve been fortunate to have found full-time work that is never boring: writing and editing articles for trade magazines, coordinating an author tour for Canadian Children’s Book Week, and working as a promotional writer on a marketing team.” —Kimberley Kemmer (2014), Copyright Clearance Assistant at University of Alberta Copyright Office “Do what makes you happy. Your happiness is worth more than any pay cheque.” —Jessica Reid (2014), Owner Bunderfost Photography and Design “My year at Portal magazine gave me the knowledge and confidence to pursue a career as a writer. I gained behindthe-scenes insight into editorial planning, marketing, and copy editing a literary magazine. The opportunity to network with other writers and publishing professionals made a big impact on me. In particular, Portal publisher Joy Gugeler’s mentorship has been invaluable in helping me launch my career as a professional writer.” — Jennifer Cox (2015), Promotional Writer for North Island College Marketing Department “If you're no good going in, that’s okay; you’re there to learn, and you'll get better if you are focused and driven.” —Reese Patterson (2015), ui Designer at Eventbase “There were a few memorable temper tantrums, but I can now remember them fondly as an example of the passion that people had for the magazine.” —Sarah Corsie (2015), Masters of Publishing at sfu “The editing process was grueling and down to the wire; we weren’t finished until the final second. In poetry editing, every character and line break matters. The poem became something we were both proud of. She memorized it for the launch, and every time she reads it I mouth it along with her, shivering.” —Antony Stevens (2015), Founder Clip Through video gaming site
Only God Can Judge, But I Can Try
hate working here. they make me wear an apron with “Hello, my name is—” written across the front, so men can pretend to care what my name is and proceed to stare at my chest while they “struggle” to make out what it says. They always lean in close and say, “I forgot my glasses.” They always say stupid shit like that, and they always look up at me and smile while they're down there.
This guy has tiny brown irises, not deep brown, not chocolate brown, not warm brown, but the kind of blech brown that women always buy coloured contacts to cover. I can’t imagine anything more repellent than his thin, crusty lips near me. He straightens. I’m taller than he is. He steps toward me. Jesus, I should be allowed to strangle close-talkers. “Do you know anything about paint?” he asks. He’s one of those assholes who tries to maintain constant, non-blinking eye contact while having a conversation. I step back. I don’t work in the paint section; I just wanted to talk to, “Hello, my name is—Shaun.” He clasps his hands behind his back, leans forward, balancing on his toes like a ballerina. He has a trickle of dried snot trailing from his cavernous, right nostril to his moustache. Little, dried flakes are clinging to the hairs, trying to detach and flutter away like snowflakes. I read somewhere that dust is mostly made up of dead skin cells. How many pieces of human are floating around in the air? Sometimes I dwell on these unpleasant thoughts.
There’s a new guy at work. His name is Wayne. Wayne always wears shorts, even in the winter. His muscular calves and wide shoulders tell me he’s an athlete. He also makes a point to tell me he’s an athlete. He plays college
baseball. I tell him I hate baseball and that he should play hockey instead. In 25 years, Wayne’s going to be one of those middleaged, fat guys who won’t stop talking about the glory days. He’ll tell the same story about the time he caught the ball in the last minutes of the championship game and the crowd went nuts. He’ll skip the part about not going pro. His muscles are already turning to fat. I bet he’s going to die from a heart-related illness.
On the way home from work I stare at this guy on the bus. He wears those stupid khaki pants that bag out, while simultaneously being pulled tight around the crotch when he sits, making a grotesque balloon animal of his genitals. I always see dads wearing these kinds of pants, paunchy dads who say girls shouldn’t wear tights in public. He has a pleasant resting face—the corners of his mouth turn up the tiniest bit for no damn reason.
He steps toward me. Jesus, I should be allowed to strangle close-talkers. He’s wearing those white, athletic shoes that do up with velcro—where can you even buy those god-awful things? Black socks, showing off a generous strip of hairy mancalf. He has a bright red backpack sitting on the seat next to him, as if he’s preparing for his first day of pre-school, a kid who wears a T-shirt with a dinosaur on it. This guy’s shirt has no prehistoric beasts; it’s a golf shirt, with aquacoloured stripes snaking around his potbelly. This is the most unsexy man I’ve ever seen. The bus hits a bump. He reaches out to keep his prized backpack from sliding off the seat. I notice he’s wearing a wedding ring. I laugh. Thank god this man has someone.
You have been banned from Nanaimo Buy, Sell, and Trade I drew lines on all the veins in my arm, but no one wants to see them. I replaced my teeth with broken glass shaped like tiny lions. My mouth is a hopeless quasar fumble-filled with blank pages spit up into ash and sprinkled over a slurpee. Friendship is now a 20-cent text message, a trip down the block you took in the rain past the people from the seniorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s home smoking at the picnic table, waiting to catch fire. July got put on the bbq, the sky throwing up creamsicle-coloured apocalypse.
Lights Ryan Drader Portal 2016
Surveillance Standing on a frozen lake in Whitehorse watching birds flock to the other end of a telescope. Kicking Kodiaks into icy air pockets, peering as each speciesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; sandpiper, snipe, trumpeter swanâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; is caught in the quiet awe nestled beneath a chilly sun. Some brought their dogs to paw the crusty ice, tongues lolling as nosy ornithologists flock too for the best view.
Long Lake Chloe de Beeld 52 GENRE TITLE
Salt-white Sea Dig through shatterglass snow that spills over your mittens like fractured pearls. Unbury the maze imagined when your mother zipped and wrapped and sent you out to play in the backyard salt-white sea. Dig by light that glimmers glacier blue through sandpaper rind. Break clear under shadows of long-needled pine and frosted spiderweb bones. Rest the moment on root-twisted ice, shake loose snow-clumped braids, turn back into the tunnels, and dig again.
George Elliott Clarke’s “Lit’ry but Bumptious” ABCs:
The Gustafson Distinguished Poet on Africadia, Black Orality, and Canticles
George Elliott Clarke about the principles of poetry in his 2006 collection, Black. He goes on to say, “When you think of my ink,/or meditate on a page,/pay attention to the blackness,/its rich darkness.” Clarke is Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate, a playwright, literary critic, and viu’s 2015 Gustafson Distinguished Poet. Clarke was on campus for class visits and a student event in mid-October to inspire and educate, off campus at The Corner Lounge to jazz and infuse, and then delivered an astonishing public lecture, On Entering the Echo Chamber of Epic: My “Canticles” vs Pound’s Cantos. Somewhere between, he managed to pen two new poems (see below) and sit down for an interview.
it'ry but bumptious,” writes
You coined the term “Africadian” in 1991 to identify the Black culture of Atlantic Canada. Has your relationship to the word changed since then? It’s become stronger. Those of us whose roots go back 200-300 years have historically been identified as Black or Coloured or Negro. I think 50 years ago when these terms were being used, it was understood that 99 percent of the time you were talking about people who had landed there. They didn’t arrive as settlers; they were deliberately plunked down on bad land by British forces. That’s no longer an easy assumption to make because now African Nova Scotians come from Africa, the West Indies, North and South America, and they have a right to say, “We’re African Nova Scotian, too.” I welcome that, and them, but their history is not the same as ours, those who descend from the Loyalists, slavery, the refugees, the struggle against segregation, the struggle for equality and justice. All of which still goes on— including struggles that have benefitted other people of African heritage who have immigrated to Nova Scotia. I could not, cannot, will not ever, deny other Blacks the right to an African Nova
Scotian identity, however, “African-Nova Scotian” no longer covers us with historical roots, for the term is too easily available to others, and rightly so. I’ve thought for 25 years that we needed to have a specific term; “Africadia” is a combination of the word “Africa” and “Cadie.” “Cadie” is a Micmaw term and it means “abounding in,” so one way to understand the term is that it means “a place abounding in Africans.” I’m also very pleased that a few scholars of Africadian heritage, and also newer immigrant scholars, agree that Africadians need to have our own distinct nomenclature, and I’d add to that a flag and an anthem, please. lm:
Can you explain what you mean by African diasporic literature?
There’s a diaspora out of Africa, primarily as a result of the slave trade, to Brazil and the West Indies and “the new world,” and our various hybrid European-African tongues—English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch—all end up eventually evolving literatures. These are based on the European inheritance plus an oral, grammatical, African base, which was never entirely annihilated. It persists in the very particular grammatical constructions in Haitian Creole, Jamaican patois, “nation language,” all over the Black world with an emphasis also on music, rhythm, and musicality. That’s what the term “African diasporic literature” is supposed to encompass.
You have been influenced by oral traditions as well as classical English literature. Can you speak to the inherent tensions between them and how they inform your poetry?
As soon as you say “I’m going to be a writer,” and you’re a person of African heritage, that guarantees you’re going to have a tension-filled relationship to your inherited European tongue.
I was being guided by the audience, constructively: “This is what we expect to hear. If you want to be a poet and you want to stand in front of us, these are the kinds of things we expect to hear from you. We don’t want to hear the stuff we would hear if we were going to a university classroom.” The great African-American scholar Cornel West said, given the poverty and powerlessness of Black diasporic communities, there were three areas where they could actually impose their own standards of criticism: the church, music and song, and sports. I went before my community and began to read in the way I had been taught in university—very plain, monotone—which was the way I thought you were supposed to read poetry. Well, that did not suit their standards of recitation from church, where you want to feel you’re being uplifted, entertained, instructed, inspired, moved. If you don’t get that, you have to change this preacher up, because he’s no good. The language I had grown up with, which scholars dub “African-Nova Scotian Vernacular English,” to my ears sounded Shakespearean, Miltonic, like the poetry of the Romantics, and the Renaissance, and metaphysical writers. I began to realize I had a great treasury of language to work with as a poet from my own community and that I should start trying to do that.
Whether you’re talking about Bahia in Brazil, about Trenchtown in Jamaica, rural Trinidad and Tobago, or south central la, Harlem, Detroit, or Chicago, you’re going to speak that Europeanderived tongue differently and that means, if you choose to write primarily in its cadences and registers, you’re going to lose some part of a primarily Black readership or audience. If you emphasize Black orality, then you run the risk of being unread, or misread, or misunderstood by a larger White audience or readership. Can you bring them together? Or you might decide you don’t need to, you don’t care, and that’s an absolutely appropriate response, too. Some writers want to be read primarily by Black readers, or they may prefer to have a mass White readership. They may see themselves as writers, period. On the other hand, you can write completely in standard English and still be able to address a mixed readership. There’s a lot of complexity. lm:
Take me back to April 1986, the Rebecca Cohen Auditorium at Dalhousie. Your first collection, Saltwater Spirituals, had been out for three years and you were invited to perform at a fundraiser for the Black Cultural Centre. In other interviews, you’ve described the audience’s initially negative response to your reading. How did you turn it around and respond to the audience’s call rather than its criticism?
I thought, “Well, I’m a poet. I’ve done all the things you’re supposed to do in creative writing— won a prize, published a book. How heartbreaking it was at that moment to realize, after all my preparation, here were people from my Black community telling me I’m no good. It was very traumatic. I knew that people who had gone on the stage ahead of me and after me were greeted with rapture. I was the token poet on the program and I was the one getting all the abuse from the audience, so of course I felt awful. I had written a piece called “Love Letter for an African Woman,” so I read that and as the audience began to understand I was praising Black women, everybody got quiet because I was talking about the women in the audience: mothers, sisters, daughters, members of the church, the ladies auxiliary. It was, as undergrads like to say today, “relatable.” They started to shout, “Testify! Amen! ok! That’s right, you’re home now! All right, that’s the way!”
In the preface to Blue, you say, “I craved to draft lyrics that would pour out—Pentecostal fire—pell mell, scorching, bright, loud: a poetics of arson.” Is that what it takes to turn the concept of the “other” on its head?
I didn’t write these poems for shock value, although, particularly in the case of Blue, I was writing from a real sense of personal liberation and freedom. I could actually say things; it was okay to ramble and amble. I was trying to explore different registers of speech and to go as far as I wanted to go without worrying about censoring or censorship.
You’re going to deliver a lecture on Entering the Echo Chamber of Epic: My “Canticles” vs. Pound’s Cantos, and introduce your epic poem, “Canticles,” which echoes slave and imperialist debates from Cleopatra to Celan. You’ll also invoke contemporary poets Derek Walcott and NourbeSe Philip, who introduce harmonious, multiple, and
George Elliott Clarke’s “Lit’ry but Bumptious” ABCs
multicultural voices in their revisions of Pound’s controversial masterpiece. What can we expect? gec:
Book ii is about rewriting scriptures from an Africentric perspective, related to how Black populations inside and outside slavery received Hebrew and Greek scripture. It was read differently, or heard differently, so that the stories of Moses, and David and Goliath, the captivity of the Israelites in Egypt, became extremely important for African diasporic populations. The stories of Christ and the Apostles also got overheard and certain doctrines got emphasized. Other faith traditions might have something interesting to reinvigorate. I even want to rewrite parts of the Book of Mormon! It’s only poetry— don’t get upset! I’m not making any claims! Book iii is the most provincial, deliberately, because it’s going to be about the creation of the African Baptist church in the mid-19th century and that’s my “Paradiso.” I expect to have all three books out by 2021.
I’m going to talk about Pound’s prescriptions for the epic in terms of his own work, the Cantos, and then I’m going to segue into Derek Walcott’s response to Pound, but also the response to the entire British and American canon. I’ll also speak briefly about NourbeSe Philip and her epic poem, “Zong,” from 2007. It’s 180 pages, but you have to read that book over a couple of days because of its split up, splintered words. She constructed it over years very, very carefully to force us to do the same kind of work Africans had to do aboard slave ships to try to understand what the Portuguese, Dutch, English, French, and Spanish were saying to them. Their process of putting together a pidgin tongue in order to communicate essentials—health and hunger and thirst and pain—was a matter of violence being done to them and to the language itself. Her work is daunting, challenging, beautiful, haunting, and absolutely instructive for anybody who wants to try to write an epic in Canadian English now.
It was, as undergrads like to say today, “relatable.”
I hear you’re working on a novel about Charles Spurgeon Fletcher, a Black janitor who comes from racist rural Nova Scotia and ends up at Harvard to develop the atomic bomb. Describe a typical day and the other books you’re working on at the moment.
I made a New Year’s resolution in January 2011 to leave Canada every month. And I’ve kept it. I make sure I get a lot of writing done in those moments. For anything really concentrated, I need to be away and clear my mind. All my projects are staggered; it looks like I’m prolific, but everything has taken some time. I have a book of poetry coming out next month from Exile Editions, Extra Illicit Sonnets. There’s a novel coming out in February from HarperCollins called The Motorcyclist. I should have another book of poetry published April 2016, Gold, from Gaspereau Press.
Others are writing a lot too. Creative Writing schools seem to be bursting with new students. What drives this trend despite ongoing hard economic times for writers?
Creative Writing programs as a way of improving or creating novelists, screenwriters, playwrights, songwriters, and poets make perfect sense in the Canadian context, because this is a society that has always valued, even more than the us, the idea of the approved academic, the approved creative writer, the scholarly-stamped creative person.
I feel more instructed by, and in conversation with, Pound than with these other great poets. I’m revisiting his idea of history, trying to manifest it in a series of dramatic monologues by various historical actors, and some imaginary characters. They’re speaking to each other in favour of—or disgust with—aspects of slavery and colonialism, from the Roman Empire to the Second World War.
How long have you been working on Canticles?
I started the project in the beautiful spice island of Zanzibar in February 2008. I realized at the very moment I began it was going to have three books, following Dante. The first book I call The Book of Origins and it’s essentially debates about slavery, imperialism, and the image of the Black in the West. The first book will be published by Guernica in November 2016. I’m hurriedly trying to shape this manuscript, which is going to be 400-500 pages.
Our poetic culture is not one that has tended to value the Walt Whitman, but rather the T.S. Eliot, the Ezra Pound. English Canada has an elitist tradition when it comes to creativity. We’re only populist when it comes to hockey and Tim Horton’s. When it comes to creativity, we like the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Because of our elite predilections in culture, we expect our poets to have degrees. I don’t frown upon that because we have gotten great poets and artists through our academic orientation. English-Canadian poets are the very best in the world because we have that elitist orientation. It also means we have a split between spoken word poets, performance poets, and more academically oriented poets. One reaction of English Canada to the populism of the United States has been to say, “We have to be as good as Shakespeare, as good as Tennyson, in order to be considered fine poets.” Creative Writing schools become part of that process. Almost any writer we want to talk about in English Canada is going to come through an academic process, as opposed to throwing down her tools. English-Canadian poets tend not to be mystical; they tend to be intellectual because to be mystical almost always means that you are self-taught, you’re an autodidact. lm:
For aspiring poets, those are quite different streams. Is it a matter of listening to your own soul? How do you decide which direction to go in? Is it a personal decision? Is it something that calls you? Ultimately, it comes down to you being the kind of poet you need to be and finding, exercising, and speaking that voice, no matter what. If you happen to go through university and get trained as a lawyer or doctor or English professor, fine. It doesn’t mean you can’t be a poet too; it just means you have to be aware of the constraints that education might impose. Be open to the opportunities education can give, exposure to other kinds of writers and texts that really speak to what kind of poet you want to be. There are as many paths to poetry as there are poets. Figure out which one you need to walk and walk it with gusto, never looking back, letting the muse direct you wherever you go.
Bibliography Poetry Saltwater Spirituals and Deeper Blues (1983) Lush Dreams, Blue Exile (1994) Gold Indigoes (2000) Whylah Falls (2001) Execution Poems (2001) Blue (2001) Illuminated Verses (2005) Black (2006) Blues and Bliss (2008) I & I (2009) Red (2011) Traverse (2014) Extra Illicit Sonnets (2015) Gold (2016)
Fiction George and Rue (2005) The Motorcyclist (2016)
Plays Whylah Falls: The Play (1999) Testifyin’ (2000) Beatrice Chancy (1999) Québécité (2003) Trudeau (2007)
Libretti “Beatrice Chancy” (1998) “Québécité” (2002) “Trudeau” (2006)
Screenplays One Heart Broken Into Song (1999) Beatrice Chancy: The Opera (2001)
George Elliott Clarke
Paradise by Harriet Tubman i. May God dispatch the shrewdest Sadist to Hell— Every bullwhip villain and every lily-dainty belle.
Amorous eats amid glamorous beds, The flood of dark wine poured from hogs’ heads,
Take Dixiecrat and autocrat, that miserable Mass— Make em suffer insufferable Hostilities.
Fine poultry, fresh-killed, yielding chunks and sharp Mouthfuls, and deep handfuls of small-fry carp,
Lavish on em taxonomies of pains: No economical hurts. Nay! Bash out their brains!
And unexpected Treasure of creamy desserts, The pleasure of sugar that sweetens all hurts,
ii. The ex-slaves who nipped North were impatient Travellers, wanting to breathe freely and clear vacant
And uncompromising whitewash that is milk, What soothes the belly like swallowed silk.
Lands, to snatch at light and brave Arctic cold, And busy themselves, turning wheat into gold,
iv. Now we pass a chilly phase, facing subtle Foes, who seek our Liberty to scuttle,
Where honey-fond bees graze flowers in ballet, And seas debouche sweet drink, quenching each valley.
And chafing for our re-enslavement or decease— These Ku Klux Kleptocrats, such red-handed sleaze,
iii. Let freemen roam about—in place—like branches Or roots, til harvest crops cascade in avalanches.
The Bible Belt murderers, the edgy Klan, Who drag black saints to white-hood Execution.
Our vulgar Apocalypse must be our Harvest: Gilt-laden vines, plated ham for breakfast, Copper-green buds upon delicious fields— The pine cathedrals that baptism yields,
Dixie’s shoddy elites reconstruct Corruption As statesmen-like Bloodshed, the mob’s disruption Of Law. But if our Happiness should multiply, We nullify their Crimes, annihilate their Ecstasy. [Tallinn (Estonia) 28 mai mmxiv]
Burst Spenser Smith 58 Poetr y
George Elliott Clarke
Salutations to General Moses No shotgun clamps her down. In stratospheric darkness, wispy light, she, bundling us all like some virtuoso violinist, scaling through notes, she directs, leads us, with unstilting Bravado, to bring us out the wilderness— slave farms, ungovernable pastures— to Liberty. We run, lured by the North Star, but armed with a single pistol (hers), as she filters us, ghostly, through millions of pines, phantasmal as a swamp’s will-o-wisp. Reputedly good-fisted and handy with guns, she’s neither punch-drunk nor trigger-happy, but will do violence, impersonally. We’re chafing to be off. We almost pray to Zeus, god of fugitives, to show us a land of flowing wine, flowing milk. [Banff (Alberta) 7 avril mmxiv]
Estuary Elegy When the storm comes wailing into harbour here’s what’s left below footfall thunder, occultural cloud: an alliterate girl, grubbing for words in the mud. No sails furl on jaundiced sky, no shutters to shiver behind, no willows’ reeling boughs when the storm comes wailing into harbour. Landlocked sailors listen, restless, to her wind-soaked cries. What’s left of her earth-slick fingers churn and hunt the ground, an alliterate girl, grubbing for words in the mud. Fury-maddened palms move earth to mouth, devouring finds and lighted bolts cast lines to vowels’ unburial mound when the storm comes wailing into harbour. Deep unease in sidelong glances from fishermen to fisherwives making arbitrary trips to open windows, hoping she will drown, an alliterate girl, grubbing for words in the mud. In time they surrender, with crooked fingers, to the evil eye, turn back to mending nets like preparatory shrouds, for when the storm comes wailing into harbour, for an alliterate girl, grubbing for words in the mud.
Ghazal of the Pacific Northwest There’s something queer about mother since baby died— one face looks out, the other in, rocked in song. Threadbare in the pale throat of summer, she bends; the last seedhead yields to rain song. In the playground, apples caramelize where they fall; a girl kicks one while others sing the skipping song. Hearts bruise like apples, the sweetest juices retreat to the core. Mothers ache for that song. Remove string-wrapped burlap from Spanish broom and toss it aside, let leafless racemes break into song. Run! Past the ferns and bronze-tipped Rodgersia. Surprise a huckleberry bush, raise a scree of eagle song. Who divided the sea and called it sky—was Raven the culprit? Now look—released from our clamshells to rake firesong. Relax! Our skulls will be stitched and soaked; the sutures can weave a basket for the keenest break-outs of song. The moon-held water sings us closer. Do you hear it? An unmistakable medley, maker of song.
Skywash Spenser Smith Portal 2016 61
Run, Don't Walk beautiful girl galloping on a majestic-looking steed bareback on a beach, wind blowing in her hair. She may be wearing jean cutoffs and a bikini top, a flowered sundress hiked up around her thighs, bare legs tucked in cowboy boots. As an avid horseback rider for 18 years, I can tell you those pictures aren’t telling the full story. That is not fun. Horsehair chafes, and bouncing with improper support can really hurt. I felt similarly misled when re-reading a book about a tribe of ultra marathoners who foolishly persuaded me
I could find joy in running. I have to give Christopher McDougall credit, the guy really knows how to inspire. He’s why I found myself downloading a “Couch to 5k” app on my iPhone one morning, disregarding the head cold I had been fighting. The basic concept of c25k programs is to encourage non-runners to start out slowly and safely, advocating a warm up and cool down, as well as stretching. You can choose to run for speed or for distance, but you generally start at an easy pace. For years, good friends had tried with little success to convince me to join them in training for a 10k and halfmarathons. I occasionally ran with them if a beer was
promised afterward. I stubbornly insisted I was good at running, that I just don’t like to do it. Or that’s what I said rather than admitting my shortcomings. At 5’3”, the majority of my height is owed to my torso, so when I run it’s less gazelle and more corgi. Also, I’ve always been fairly competitive, so spending time doing things that I’m not particularly good at has never held much appeal. But of course, it was not always been this way. Five years ago, I discovered a mass on my neck, located between my internal and external carotid artery. The surgery it required removed some of my lymph nodes, and threatened the function of my tongue and lips, leaving me on bed rest for four months. I was unable to exercise, or do anything particularly stimulating, so I spent the majority of my time watching tv and eating. I gained 15 pounds and an inescapable feeling of claustrophobia. All I wanted to do was stretch my legs. To prove I was more than capable of knocking this off the “I Dare You” list, I did some hamstring stretches, and a half-hearted (almost) toe touch, and declared myself ready to conquer Day One. The plan was a five-minute warm up, followed by running for one minute, walking for one and a half. Repeat six times, followed by an additional five minutes of cool down. I had this. I hiked up the mountain almost every day with my dogs, running on a fairly level surface couldn’t be that hard. My problem with it had always been that it was boring, but successfully completing the route proposed by the app was a new goal.
At 5’3”, the majority of my height is owed to my torso, so when I run it’s less gazelle and more corgi. I have been accused of romanticizing the past. The ex-boyfriend who screamed at me for dirty dishtowels I swore treated me like a princess. The house, ahem, trailer with the yellow interior and a mouse problem I overlooked in favour of its spacious backyard. I knew running made my lungs feel like I had chain-smoked an entire pack of Belmonts, but had euphemistically upgraded this to boring.
Upon the Fall Bryce Gardiner
It was a beautiful morning in idyllic Coombs. The end of my street turned to gravel and led up to the base of the mountain, so I had approximately five kilometres of quiet country road at my disposal. Birds were chirping, hazy clouds teased the sun. I glanced at the timer ticking down the end of my five-minute warm-up and turned up the volume on my headphones. Lana Del Rey wasn’t really getting my blood pumping: five, four, three, two, one. I sprang into a run, counting telephone poles as I passed them, mossy markers of goals accomplished. The first minute passed almost too quickly; I was just starting to find my stride. Still, I obediently fell into a walk. The next circuit was even better. I was concentrating on not running pigeon-toed, and was too distracted to stare balefully at the timer on my phone. One more round like that and I started feeling cocky. Even though I hadn’t run for more than the length of a beach volleyball court in well over a year, I was far beyond the first week’s suggested pacing. After my next walking break, I would have to bump it up a notch. I had been involved in basketball when I was younger, but much of the running only involved short sprints. Even when I went out with my marathon-training friends, we did more walking (and talking) than serious running. I remembered all the times I’d managed to jog for 10 minutes straight, and conveniently forgot all the times I’d collapsed in a sweaty heap on my front lawn. The app gave an encouraging nudge to start running again and I decided to run the remaining eight minutes, pacing myself. The first two minutes were easy. Smooth as butter. Minute three took an awfully long time. At minute four I started sucking wind. I was inhaling shards of glass. Minute five and six had me making a mental checklist of the symptoms of a heart attack. I don’t really remember minute seven. At minute eight, I puked. I stumbled a few more feet and sat down on the grass at the side of the road, my head between my knees. The world was spinning. My neighbour’s German shepherds were barking territorially. They were mocking me, but I couldn’t run if they somehow figured out how to jump the fence. I’m not sure how long I sat there contemplating my idiocy. The timer on the app had long since run out.
Reservations (Araksana) ameer paused and stepped to the side of the dusty, stone trail just north of Pokhara on the Annapurna circuit, and gestured with his hand to the bickering couple behind him to do the same. To the right, a bridge spanning a narrow river fluttered with colourful prayer flags. “Why are we stopping?” asked Rachel and Justin in unison. In spite of the exertion of the last five hours, Rachel’s make-up was still perfect. Justin lifted his redand-white Canada baseball cap to smooth back shoulderlength blonde hair. The two trekkers, both under 30, looked more suited to a red carpet runway than the mystical Himalayan trails. “To let him pass.” Sameer pointed to the man who ambled from the mouth of the bridge, his body bent double by the weight of three rectangular slabs of stone on his back. He looked broken, but pressed on steadily. They had three hours to ascend to base camp. Tomorrow, Sameer would lead them on a five-day descent to Pokhara. Sameer’s wife, Shanti, had pleaded with him not to make this trip. A devout Buddhist, Shanti had consulted a respected lama to bless their unborn child, and the guru had mentioned her husband and a malevolent mountain. Shanti had come from an illiterate family of seven, working tiered fields of rice set on steep hills, while Sameer had studied economics on scholarship at Kathmandu College, so he didn’t believe in such things. They had met when Sameer still had dreams of buying his own taxicab and had driven tourists to the nearby ancient city of Bhaktapur. Shanti was selling clay pots and ceramic figurines in Pottery Square, and Sameer was struck by her simple beauty. “You didn’t answer my question,” Rachel said to Justin with crossed arms, ignoring the Nepalese man that lumbered past them. At an elevation of 3700 metres, the landscape and
temperature had changed along with their altitude. The dense bamboo and rhododendron jungles gave way to dry, scrubby grass that clung to the hard terrain in clumps, and poked yellow blades through crevices in rock. It was colder than before, but Sameer was sweating. The last hour of steep climbing was hard and his thighs ached from the weight of the two green packs secured horizontally to his back. He had told the couple to pack no more than 15kgs each, but he could tell they weighed much more. “What question?” Justin reached for the bottle of purified water attached to his small daypack. Rachel furrowed her brow. “Do you, or do you not, want to get married in France?” “I don’t know.” Justin sucked on the mouth-tube of his bottle. “I was thinking something tropical.” Rachel huffed. “We’d have my boss’ French villa. Free!” Justin shrugged and rifled through his pack. “Hey, do you have any of those dried cheese sticks left?” Sameer sat heavily on a stone ledge at the side of the trail. The straps of the packs dug into his shoulders, but they would be too difficult to remove. It was hard work leading trekkers through the Himalayas, but it was better—and more profitable—than driving taxi back in Kathmandu where his family lived. There, the pollution fouled up his lungs and choked him. “Shall we stop here for a break?” Sameer was tired and his dry tongue clung to the roof of his mouth. “For a minute,” Rachel said. “I want to reach base camp. I’m sick of this!” Sameer reached for his water bottle on a strap on his hip. The container was old, the plastic scratched and filmy, the Prayer Flags Lori Shwydky
water inside poured from a rusty hose at the last teahouse. Justin had removed his sunglasses and trail mix from his daypack and rummaged through the rest. “Seriously, do you have the dried cheese?” “No.” Rachel rolled her eyes. “Don’t tell me you lost it, too.” “No I didn’t lose it. I thought you had it.” Sameer fumbled his bottle when he unscrewed the lid, and some water splashed onto Justin’s pack. “Dude,” Justin said. “You soaked my bag.” Sameer brushed away the water drops beading on the nylon material. “Sorry.” He took a long, greedy pull of water, then swirled the little that remained. “We’re almost at mbc,” Sameer said. “We’ll stop there briefly for some tea and to refill our water bottles. From there it is only another two hours to base camp.
“What’s mbc?” Rachel curled her top lip and squinted. “Macchapuchhre Base Camp. It’s the last stop before the final climb to abc.” “Let me guess … more stairs,” Justin said. Sameer wobbled his head—the traditional Nepali gesture for “yes.” “We climb 2324 steps today.” Rachel groaned. “Don’t worry, maybe 500 left.” Sameer smiled and ran a hand through his thick, dark hair. A few snowflakes drifted lazily through the air and Sameer could feel wet crystals on his forehead. Bells jingled behind him. A Nepalese farmer, his brown face deeply etched from years lived in the harsh mountain climate, led four yaks around the bend. They carried large white bags of rice, flats of soda pop, and Everest brand beer strapped to the sides of their furry backs.
“Namaste.” Sameer pressed his palms together and nodded to the farmer. “How far are you going today, my friend?” he said in Nepalese. “I think we stop at mbc,” the man answered and held up a palm. “It’s starting to snow.” Sameer waved as they ambled past. “Shouldn’t we be going?” Justin had put on a toque and was zipping his down jacket. Earlier he’d bragged about how he’d argued with a storeowner in Kathmandu over the price, so that the jacket had cost next to nothing. “Yes, of course.” Sameer leaned forward to position the cargo on his back. He stood, then winced when a strap bit into the tender spot on his hip where a welt had formed. Later, he’d rub the salve his wife had prepared onto it. He missed Shanti. She worked at a tourist laundry in Pokhara, and was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with their first child. When she couldn’t convince him to stay home, Shanti had given him a small figurine of Ganesh for good luck.
Though he was skeptical of the powers of this “lord of good fortune and annihilator of vanity,” he touched the elephant-headed god in his pocket and sent her a prayer. “Ew!” Rachel dodged a steaming mound of yak dung. “Look at the size of that thing.” The couple seemed impatient following Sameer at his slower pace, so he let them pass. Normally, he led the way, but the trail was clearly marked, and it was only a short distance to the teahouse. He heard their squabbling, even after he lost sight of them. “Namaste.” Sameer greeted passing trekkers coming down, an Asian couple and their guide. The woman hobbled in sandals, several bulbous toes swathed in soiled white tape. The crowds had thinned, as most hiked only to the lower plateau, Poon Hill, to photograph the sunkissed, snowy Himalayan peaks. When Sameer arrived at the teahouse, Rachel and Justin were seated at a table awaiting their tea. Justin stood and helped him unclip his load. Without the heavy weight, Sameer floated to the kitchen to order masala tea. “Are your clients staying here tonight?” asked the teahouse owner, Lokresh, when his wife handed Sameer his tea.
“No. They have reservations at abc.” Sameer never needed a reservation, he just squeezed into an empty tool shed with the other sherpas. “You may want to change their mind.” Lokresh pointed to the window. “It’s snowing and I have a bad feeling about it.” “I don’t understand.” Rachel finished her chai tea and shoved her mug to the side. “What are you suggesting?” “There is much snow falling and I don’t think it will stop soon.” Sameer clenched his jaw. “I think we should spend the night here, at mbc.” “What?” Justin’s nostrils flared. “No! The whole point of this trip is to get to Annapurna Base Camp. That’s what we paid you for.” Rachel clicked her tongue and huffed. “We wanted to see the sunrise tomorrow from base camp.” “We may still be able to. If the weather cooperates, we can hike up early tomorrow morning.” “At four in the morning?” Rachel scowled. It was true, they would have to leave that early, but Sameer stayed silent. “Besides, we have a plane to catch in six days,” Justin said. “We don’t have time to dick around.” He glanced at the other two tables of trekkers. “Do they even have room for us here?” This teahouse was much smaller than other accommodations along the trail, with only two guestrooms. “Well, that’s the thing.” Sameer bit his lip. “They are full. But the owner says he will bring in a bed and you could sleep in the corridor by the store. Free of charge, of course.” Sameer would have to sleep with the goats in the shed outside. “Are you kidding me? Justin and I will not sleep in some filthy hallway where they sell cigarettes.” “I’m afraid we don’t have much choice.” Sameer glanced outside. “This weather doesn’t leave us many options.” Justin’s face relaxed. “Sam, it’s okay. We have a winter condo in Whistler. We know our way around snow.” He turned to look at Rachel and they both nodded. “We’ll keep going today.” The Blinded Observer Chloe de Beeld
Sameer rubbed at the pinch in the back of his neck. “I advise against that.” “Relax dude. We ski at least six months a year. We know what we’re doing.” Gusts of wind whipped snow into his face. Sameer tried once more to convince the couple to turn back, but they waved him away. He trudged on. An hour later they were in a white-out. Sameer could only see a few feet ahead. The flakes scratched his retinas. Sameer blinked rapidly. He was so fatigued he could barely take another step.
Relax dude. We ski at least six months a year. We know what we’re doing. “I knew I shouldn’t have listened to you!” Rachel’s voice cracked. “I’m freezing … and I’m scared. People die in storms like this.” “This is my fault?” “You always convince me to do things I don’t want to do!” “Oh really? And who convinced who to get married?” “What are you saying?” “I’m saying it wasn’t my idea!” Rachel tore off a glove and hurled it at Justin. Sameer’s whole body ached. He wanted to lie down in the snow and rest, but knew if he did that, he would die. His legs trembled from the weight of the packs. He took off a wool mitt and reached into his pocket for the elephant god. Sameer prayed until his fingers grew warm. He thought of Shanti and their unborn child. He hadn’t chanted since he was a boy. “Om mani padme hum,” he began, and as he grew louder, the couple grew silent. “Om mani padme hum.” Sameer straightened against the load on his back. He could barely make out his footprints in the snow. “Follow. We go back.” Sameer lowered his head against the storm and re-traced his steps, each as broad as an elephant’s marching him homeward.
Taking on Water e were careful not to step into the chaos of Luxor’s oncoming traffic. A line of horse-drawn buggies took tourists from their hotels to the market, or along the corniche that skirted the Nile. The drivers didn’t seem to care about pedestrians; they were impatient and eager to reach their destinations. My wife clung to her Fodor’s guidebook, nurturing it as a mother does a newborn. She tugged on my arm and pointed at a coffee shop. “I’d kill for a café mocha,” she said.
The place was quiet, in stark contrast to the noise and bustle of the street. Some locals sat at a table in the back corner playing backgammon and drinking tea. On the wall above them was a large banner of Che Guevara. There was a revolutionary spirit in the country that culminated, a few years back, with street riots and political protests leading to many deaths. There was a travel advisory warning in place for a time, but the Canadian government’s website now stated the area was reasonably safe. We approached the counter. “Do you have any café mocha?” Carolyn said, placing her hand in front of her face to mimic the action of drinking. She often did this when talking to people who didn’t speak the same language. In Greece, last summer she gave a vendor the okay sign with her right hand and he walked away from us in disgust. We later learned it suggested he was a homosexual. “Turkish coffee,” the man said. “You want?” “Yes, two please.” She said, making the peace sign. We sat down and he followed, filling our cups from a small copper pot with a wooden handle. He wore a gallabiyah, the traditional style of Egyptian dress for men, a long, loose robe that reached almost to the floor. Carolyn stared at her coffee. “It’s a bit strong,” she said. “Maybe you should’ve ordered tea.” I replied. 68
She opened up the guidebook and skimmed through its worn pages. “I want to go on a Nile cruise just like Agatha Christie,” Carolyn said. “It says here we can stay in the ‘Agatha Christie’ suite—it has beautiful rooms just like a fourstar hotel and it stops at all the major archeological sites.” “That’s a bit bourgeois, don’t you think?” I said, taking a sip of my coffee. She was right; it was too strong. “Well, I like to be comfortable.” She leaned back in her chair and closed the guidebook. “I wish you’d left that damned book back at the hotel,” I said. “I’m tired of it dictating what we do all day.” I reached over and touched her hand. “Let’s just wing it today.”
Along the corniche, several felucca boats were moored to the shore, their tall masts angled in the sky like battle swords at the ready. In front of the boats, a few local men negotiated with a group of tourists. One of them was waving his arms around and pointing enthusiastically upstream. Nearby, his spindly-legged assistant watched his every move. The older man, dressed in a weathered, grey gallabiya was large and stout like an ancient sycamore tree. The boy, in his westernstyle clothing, was more of a seedling. I stopped when we reached them and stood beside the other tourists who looked as though they wanted to get away from the man’s pleading, aggressive sales pitch. Carolyn stood behind me with her arms folded across her chest. The old man shifted his interest to us and the others were able to escape. “I am Ammon,” he said. “Is very nice day today. You would like to have trip on my felucca boat.” The tone of his voice made it sound like a command instead of a question. I thought about his offer and before I could reply, he spoke again. “I will make you very good deal today.” Summer Dusk Joel A. Simmons
Taking On Water
“How much?” I said, glancing over at Carolyn to see her reaction. “I told you already that I want to go on the Steam Ship Sudan,” she said sternly. Ammon interrupted. “Madam, this ship left yesterday and will not be back for many days.” “Well then, how about a trip to Banana Island?” she said, pointing to a picture in her guidebook. After agreeing to 50 Egyptian pounds, we boarded the boat. Carolyn took off her sandals and grasped them tightly in her hand while the boy tried to pull her up. I gave her a shove from behind and we laughed as she stumbled onboard. Ammon prepared to get underway. “Mohamed,” he called out. The boy was halfway up the mast unfurling the sail. They spoke to each other in Arabic, the old man shouting directions and the boy answering back. We made ourselves comfortable on the narrow cushioned berth. “I had the strangest dream last night,” I told Carolyn. She played with her sandals, dangling them from her toes and then carelessly letting them fall to the deck. “What was it about?” “Sobek, the crocodile god, was chasing me.” “Really?” “Yeah, it must have been that statue we saw at the museum yesterday. It’s coming to get me,” I joked. Ammon sat down, took hold of the tiller arm and looked at Carolyn’s shoes on the deck. “This is bad luck,” he said, reaching down to flip the sandals so that they faced upward. There was barely a breath of wind and the felucca crept slowly along the surface of the water. Fortunately, the current helped to move us along. “There is crocodile at Banana Island,” said Ammon. “He has very big teeth.” He made a snapping motion with his hand. Mohamed’s eyes were wide. “This crocodile is not just in the cage. I heard that he is in the Nile swimming free and he is eating cats and birds.” Ammon shook his head. “There are no crocodiles in the river. This is only the foolish talk of boys. There is only caged one.” “Maybe he will eat me—haram, haram,” said Mohamed. 70
Ammon stood up and the boy ran to the front of the boat. Carolyn looked hesitant for a moment and then she hung her head over the side of the boat. Her body heaved as she added her breakfast to the already polluted waters of the Nile. She took a wet wipe out of her bag, rubbed it over her face and hands. “Are you okay?” I asked. “Yeah,” she said. “It’s nothing, really.” When we arrived, Ammon and Mohamed maneuvered the boat into a space alongside several others at Banana Island. A man with a fishing rod was on the roof of the tourist boat beside us. We agreed to meet back at the felucca in one hour and set off to explore the sights. A narrow path led us through the leafy green foliage. Bunches of bananas clung to the trunks of trees. We held hands. “You sure you’re okay?” I said.
There are no crocodiles in the river. This is only the foolish talk of boys. “Yeah, I’m fine. I told you already.” “Well, it can’t have been the wine last night; you barely touched yours. I ended up drinking the whole bottle.” We came to a circular stone enclosure with iron bars above it; an Egyptian family gathered at the edge and peered down at something. The father picked up his smallest child so that she could see what was below. “John, do you remember that night we booked our flights to Cairo?” “How could I forget? I think I still have the hangover.” We stopped walking when we reached the enclosure that housed the captive crocodile. It was about three metres long with yellow eyes, a narrow snout and pointy teeth that zigzagged haphazardly along the edge of its jawline. It was perched on a small island of grass, not much bigger than its body. Tiny fish schooled together in the few inches of murky water that remained in the moat surrounding the creature. Carolyn nervously eyed the little girl who squirmed about in her father’s arms. Then she turned to face me. “I don’t think we were very careful that night, at least not as careful as we should have been.”
Taking On Water
“What do you mean?” I wiped the sweat from my brow with the sleeve of my t-shirt. “I didn’t want to say anything and ruin our trip,” she said looking away. A young Nubian boy poked the crocodile’s mouth with a long stick, a burlap bag tied to its end. The croc opened its mouth feebly. The family chattered in Arabic and the little boy, standing at his father’s side, clapped and became excited by the spectacle. “What are you trying to tell me, Carolyn?” The Nubian boy kept poking the crocodile with the stick and it kept opening its mouth. He was tormenting the poor creature. “I think we should pick up a home pregnancy test. Do they even sell those here?” I was shocked. “Yes,” I said, “I’m sure they probably do.” Less than a half hour had passed, but we headed back to find Ammon and Mohamed. When we arrived, they were having fish for lunch. We didn’t want to disturb them, so we lingered on the banks of the river where a young woman sold souvenirs. She had small black statues of Sobek. Ammon saw us and insisted we come onboard the felucca for tea. When he saw the trinket I’d bought, he smiled and told me about its meaning. Apparently, Sobek was a symbol of virility and power. As we pulled away from Banana Island, I saw the young Nubian boy standing kneedeep in the river, pissing. He smiled and waved. Carolyn turned her head to face the other side of the river. Ammon and Mohammed were so busy getting the boat underway they didn’t even notice him. I waved back at the boy and watched him wade into the Nile up to his waist to wash in the shallow water. The felucca moved slowly away and he became a speck in the distance. The afternoon sun beat down on the water’s surface, creating star-like reflections that shimmered with uncertainty. As I gazed off into the distance toward the Valley of the Kings, I noticed something floating in the river; it was travelling with the current back toward Banana Island. It looked like a log at first, but soon I realized it was Mohamed’s “mythical” crocodile, its olive-green scales visible just above the water line, its long tail wiggling from side to side.
Sky in the Water Joel A. Simmons
Under winking stars we dance with waves that kiss our toes and whisper lullabies to dreaming drunkards.
Chasing the Stars Chloe de Beeld 72
As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust Alan Bradley Delacor te Press, 2015 384 pages ISBN: 978-0345539939 $19.95 Reviewed by Stephanie Crawford “If you’re anything like me, you adore rot,” says 11-year-old Flavia in the opening lines of As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust. For readers new to Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mysteries (of which this is the seventh), this is an excellent introduction to the lead character and the tone. Flavia de Luce is an aspiring chemist with a particular interest in poisons and the amateur sleuth’s typical
tendency to find herself mixed up in an all sorts of delightfully improbable murder and mayhem. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust whisks an unwilling Flavia from the familiar environs of Buckshaw to a girls’ boarding school in Toronto, where she is joined by a new cast of supporting characters. Readers will be introduced to: Flavia’s favourite teacher, Mrs. Bannerman, who has been acquitted of a murder she is widely assumed to have committed; Miss Fawlthorne, the volatile and enigmatic headmistress; and an assortment of schoolgirls, each of whom is motivated by her own fears and ambitions. This is possibly the book’s most significant weakness, however, because—while each new character is unique, lively, and interesting—there simply isn’t room for all these new characters to develop as fully as they deserve. They lack emotional depth in comparison to characters from earlier books in the series. While Chimney is certainly not crippled by this, it is somewhat lessened. The central mystery of As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust concerns the long-dead body of a young woman found burned in a chimney not long after Flavia’s arrival at the boarding school, a discovery which Flavia describes as a “gift.” In her strange new home, Flavia is unsure of the motives of others, and aware that any of her newly-acquired friends and mentors could be a murderer. In the moments following the initial discovery of a body in her unlit bedroom in the middle of the night,
after a long, exhausting journey, and with no one and nothing familiar at hand, Flavia’s first reaction is scientific curiosity: “Of the four of us, only the corpse and I were calm. I could hardly wait to have the electric lights switched on so that I could have a good gander.” Bradley’s latest novel is, as always, free of unnecessary and tedious sentimentality, and while Flavia is an unreliable narrator who feels more than she would like to admit, she is still a refreshingly cold-blooded and pragmatic sleuth who is more intrigued by the physical indignities of death than repelled. That said, Flavia’s morbid sense of humour and her fascination with death and poisons are balanced by moments of startling self-awareness and empathy. While clever, the final solution to the mystery lacks the moment of startling revelation that readers expect from a cozy amateur-sleuth, however, Flavia’s investigations and misadventures are entertaining enough to satisfy and engage, and the novel does not truly suffer. Despite its few minor weaknesses, readers should find As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust to be a suspenseful and thoroughly enjoyable read, and a solid addition to the series.
Undermajordomo Minor Patrick DeWitt House of Anansi, 2015 337 pages ISBN 978-1-77089-414-3 $32.00 Reviewed by Clarice Lundeen In Undermajordomo Minor, Patrick DeWitt tackles writing a Grimmesque fairytale in the same way he approached writing a western in The Brothers Sisters—entirely in his own unusual, oddball, and ridiculously compelling style. Lucian "Lucy" Minor, 17, is the unlikely protagonist who leaves his parents’ home in Bury, where he has grown up feeling unwanted. He sets off on a train to his new job at the mysterious Van Aux castle, where the story takes place in an unspecified past, in an unnamed country, but that resembles Austria or Germany.
There, Lucy is introduced to his superior—the secretive Mr. Olderglough, who muses, “I find the constant upkeep of one’s body woefully fatiguing, don’t you?” There’s also Agnes, the sensitive cook of minimal skill. Lucy is also plagued by a mysterious midnight lurker outside his room. In the village, he meets Klara the Beguiler, described as “very pretty indeed,” the daughter of the town thief, and involved with the leader of the local militia, Adolphus. He falls in love with her, but this isn’t his only flaw. Lucy is a coward, who, when jilted, defames his enemies with rumours and plots murder. Undermajordomo Minor offers up many questions: Where is the Baroness Von Aux? Who are Adolphus and his militia fighting? Why do so many people fall down the Very Large Hole? Many questions are never answered, as if DeWitt is purposefully keeping his readers off-guard and unbalanced, much like his characters. DeWitt's third novel is brimming with a cast of zany characters, bizarre plot twists, and one of the most uncomfortable sex scenes ever read, all written in charming, genrebending prose. The characters have a choppy, jerking way of conversing that evokes a Wes Anderson film. For example, here is Mr. Olderglough giving instructions to Lucy: “Now, might I ask what you know of haggling?” “I know of its existence.” “But have you yourself haggled?”
“No, sir.” “They will name a high price, but you must not pay this price,” Mr. Olderglough explained. “No.” “You must pay a lower price.” “This is haggling.” “Just so. And now. What of meat.” “Meat, sir.” “Have you bought it?” “I’ve never, no.” “You will want to keep a sharp eye on the wily butcher.” “Is he wily, sir?” “Is he wily! He will sell you gristle with a smile on his face, then sing a carefree tune all the way home.” “I’ll watch him closely, sir.” “If you bring gristle to Agnes, it will be unpleasant for you.” “I will not do it.” “All is right with the world, then.” There are sentences so delightful the reader can’t help but smile, followed by scenes that will shock and dismay: “He did what with that salami?” DeWitt is adventurous; he ignores many literary conventions, bending rules and preferring to create something truly original. Whether this comes across as forced or staged, or weirdly hilarious and compulsively readable, is a matter of personal taste. This is not for readers who want to fully understand every nuance of character, or what motivates them. DeWitt's sparse writing style and deliberate avoidance of the particulars creates a story that is partfairytale, part-folktale. But, whatever it is, it refuses a moral of the story.
As I Rise Gisèle Merlet Island Blue, 2015 169 pages ISBN: 978-0-9949110-0-1 $10.00 Reviewed by Benjamin Everett As I Rise is a collection of linked short stories that follows the lives of Carmen, a French-Canadian Métis girl in Montréal, and Alain, a boy from Beaufort-en-Vallée, France from the late 1930s to present day. Debut author Gisèle Merlet draws on experiences from her life with her husband, Jean, to portray roseate and commiserative tales of love, loss, betrayal, and survival. Carmen’s story begins when she is enrolled in a Catholic convent school where she must endure the strict reign of her black-cloaked teachers, and suppress her proclivity for adventure. However, repression stirs defiance and Carmen has her
fair taste of it before she graduates: running in the stairwells, stealing books from the library, all in an attempt to forestall the school’s stranglehold on her. An incipient relationship with a boy named Roger invokes the scrutiny of her parents who try to interfere, yet ultimately condone, a marriage. Carmen, finally free of outside influences, has temporarily bright hopes for the future. She soon finds, however, that her illusory independence bears its own shackles—a vestigial marriage that operates on antiquated social norms and the oppression of a distant husband with a violent predisposition. She looks for an escape, and finds it in Alain. Seasonal work at a ski resort in Mont-Tremblant, a mountain town in the Laurentians, brings Carmen and Alain together. Carmen rediscovers love and herself, one flirtatious croissant and coffee at a time, but the work is temporary and she returns to family in Montréal. Their relationship seems destined to end, but in an act of chivalry, Alain appears at her doorstep in Montréal, belongings stuffed into the backseat of his Volkswagen. Before emigrating to Canada on the brink of the 1940s, Alain had witnessed the Second World War’s assault on Europe. His best friend, Paul—Saul to those closest to him— was Jewish. Part two of the book explores the boys’ relationship as it evolves, as they mature, as they’re separated. Merlet acutely captures the lament of a family broken, of loved ones lost in battle. But even in war, there were miracles. The boys were reunited, and using the treasure hidden in the basement of Paul’s old house in Beaufort-en-
Vallée, they set out for new lives: Paul in Israel, Alain in Canada. Part three of the book denotes the new-found life of Carmen and Alain as they move to Vancouver Island to open a French restaurant. They face the tribulations of family life: a child impeded by dyslexia, daughters estranged by over 4,000 kilometres of mountains and plains. The struggle to survive is replaced by the struggle to fit in as Carmen and Alain try to adapt to life on the island and find success for their business in a city that initially resists their food, culture, and language. The couples’ adventures are not constrained to the island, however. A pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and exploits across Mexico, Honduras, Belize, Columbia, and Guatemala for their export business, take us into the final pages of Merlet’s remarkable work. Merlet, winner of viu’s 2014 Bill Juby Award, paints a vivid portrait of 75 years of life in these locales. She perseveres through trials and triumphs. English and French are expertly intertwined to give the title a distinctive French-Canadian flare. Constant shifts in perspective also arrest the reader’s attention. Each mesmerizing story will inspire you to rise to meet the challenge of obstacles in your own life, reach for those you love, or an enthralling blend of both.
In Our Own Voice: An Anthology of Creative Fiction by Vancouver Island Young Writers Edited by Lori Shwydky Rebel Mountain Press, 2015 144 pages ISBN-10: 0994730209 $10.00 Reviewed by Spenser Smith and Andrew Powell In Our Own Voice is an anthology of teen fiction from young people 13-18 across Vancouver Island that champions the creative work of a generation too often underestimated by their elders. This was viu Creative Writing student Lori Shwydky’s intent in founding Rebel Mountain Press in Nanoose and publishing her first title. The anthology’s first story, “Sunday Morning” by Morgan Cross, recounts a nostalgic family pancake breakfast only to reveal in a final
twist that its creator, the matriarch of the family, has died and left her daughter to mourn more than this shared symbolic ritual. Cross won first prize in the Grade 11-12 category and says her experience with Shwydky has been immensely rewarding. “Lori has been a great mentor over the last few months. She helped me through the editing process and gave me the chance to read and have my work publicly known. She has been a very important person in my life.” “Out of The Frying Pan, Onto the Internet” by Josie Patterson deals with sex education and reveals how hard it is to talk about what is often considered taboo or inappropriate. The story explores nascent sexual identity using modern technology and unreliable online advice to navigate these rough waters. The anthology provides a platform for future scribes to build a portfolio of published work before they enter university. Each story differs in tone, theme, and style. It also shows their depth, maturity, and desire to tell stories with heavier content. “I’ve always thought of myself as a little bit of a rebel,” says Shwydky, a fourth-year Creative Writing student at viu, and maybe her contributors share this defiant streak. Hence the namesake Rebel Mountain Press. It takes a certain kind of person to start a publishing company in an industry accused of being on its last legs, a risk-taker who cares about books and the magical portals they open. Shwydky, at 53, is passionate: “I think I’ve always dreamed of having a publishing company. I love the whole book world, the idea of being part of it. It was always something I wanted to do,” she says.
Shwydky’s pipedream became a reality when she launched a contest in high schools soliciting submissions for cash prizes paid out of Shwydky’s own pocket. Revenue from sales have paid for the printing costs. The theme for the contest was “Issues Facing Teens,” and covered a range of topics from identity and gender and sexual orientation to relationships, body image, stress, and environmental sustainability. Five of its contributors—Morgan Cross, Lucy Dabbs, Andrew Jutte, Holly Moonen, and Ashianna Ralynn—read their work at Word Vancouver, a one-day literary festival held annually at the vpl main branch the last Sunday in September. Ralynn, who won for her work “On Survival,” says the experience has been dreamlike. “When I found out I won, I was astonished. I had never won anything before, and never dreamed I would be published and get to speak in front of so many people, especially at an event like Word Vancouver.” In Our Own Voice is available in high school libraries in Nanaimo, Comox, and Courtenay, and in the viu and Vancouver Island Regional Libraries. The first printing of 100 books has sold out. Rebel Mountain Press has been a success, though Shwydky has learned many lessons in the long hours editing, typesetting, designing, and organizing marketing events. “It has been a lot more work than I anticipated,” she says. Shwydky is the right person for the job. It’s a very ambitious and brave act in 2015 to start a press, but it’s also what the industry needs—a new vanguard of publishers with new business models and economies of scale that can spot talent and audiences and put them together. All hail the new generation.
In Katherena Vermette’s North End Love Songs, the north end of Winnipeg is a rough, prairie neighborhood wrapped in elms where young girls are fragile birds and where police yawn at the possibility of dead Aboriginal men. Vermette offers more than just a glimpse into life in the north end— she offers a living, breathing chunk of it carved out of those same elms. North End Love Songs is divided into three sections. The first section, Poised for Flight, uses sparse language to sketch images of the neighbourhood’s young, vulnerable girls as different species of birds. “sparrow” describes a girl who is supplied a bottle of vodka by her cousin with whom she eventually has sex.
North End Love Songs Katherena Vermette The Muses Company, 2012 108 pages ISBN 978-1897289761 $15.95 Reviewed by Spenser Smith
sparrow so small bones can break with the gentlest touch. The poem ends with the cousin telling her: don’t worry your mom’s really your aunty so there’s no real blood between us. The second section, Nortendluvsong, revolves around the physical construct of the north end. In “family,” Vermette likens her relatives to trees. elms around us like aunties uncles cousins all different but with the same skin. The elms witness the injustices that occur to the neighbourhood’s residents while their twisted limbs provide refuge from rain, wind, and the sun.
The poems in the third section, November, remember the death of Vermette’s brother, Donovan, who went missing during a cold November night. His disappearance received little attention by police and media because of his Aboriginal status. His body was eventually found in Red River. “Picture” shows us Vermette’s family reacting to the newspaper article. the headline reads: Native Man Missing After Binge she cuts it out folds it into two puts it in a photo album she thinks he would like that they called him a Man. In “guy,” possibly the most poignant poem in the collection, the speaker’s house is so close to her neighbour’s that she can hear his father beat him. Guy shows up to school and lies to his classmates about the bruises and “tells everyone how he got jumped.” The speaker “just nods/like everyone else.” The speaker is willing to hide Guy’s secret and grant him leniency. North End Love Songs won the 2013 Governor General Award for Poetry and Vermette was viu’s Gustafson Distinguished Poetry Chair in 2014. Her short, skinny, and accessible poems only take one reading to tug at the heart. North End Love Songs is quite minimalist in its championing of a neighbourhood too often written off by local and national media for its crime and poverty. This collection provides us with what the media doesn’t: the stories and faces behind the headlines.
Fauxcassional Poems Daniel Scott Tysdal icehouse poetr y, 2015 97 pages ISBN 978-0-86492-872-6 $19.95 Reviewed by Joel A. Simmons Daniel Tysdal's farce-history, Fauxcassional Poems, is a compelling look at events that never transpired. For example, T.S. Eliot writing a sixth canto for The Waste Land in order to sabotage the poem’s world-conquering power. Naturally, this happens hundreds of years after the Iroquois discover Europe. In 2009, pastors are enlightened by the true meaning of the Holy Bible: love. Regardless of the version of history you’ve bought into, this exploration will illuminate the error of your ways. The book is divided into three eras, each of which demarcates early history (0—1945), modern history
(1946—2000), and the current era from 2001 until the end of time. This structural choice has no bearing on the poems, and is arbitrary at best. It does, however, establish a historical textbook quality that supports the theme and atmosphere of the book. The first poem in the collection is a direct allusion to Plato's “Allegory of the Cave” and is ironically titled, “Last Poem.” The last poem in the book is also titled “Last Poem” and speaks to the repetitious nature of history. This recognition of history’s cyclical nature gives credence to the farcical elements of the events portrayed and warns that these poems may one day become history. Unfortunately, the canonical tone of the book presents each poem as having been authored by a different person of influence. In this way, Tysdal's strong voice undermines this aspect of the book’s structural design, and creates a dissonance between the book’s context and actual text. This tension distracts from poems that are intellectually pleasing and enjoyable, rather than merely satirical. If Tysdal had mimicked other artists, this book of poetry would have been stronger for it. While his line breaks and enjambment are often masterful, they detract from poems like “Tell Me How.” Buddy Holly tends to break his lines once, mid-sentence, for instance in his song, “Everyday”: Goin’ faster than a rollercoaster. Love like yours will Surely come my way.
airplane’s aisle, his explanation for flight. Perhaps the error is in assuming that Tysdal’s version of Buddy Holly is the same as our version. However, by removing the similarities, it becomes difficult to accept Tysdal’s attributions to other artists, such as John Lennon and Nicolas Cage. That said, “Sonnet 155” and “Revolution (Tweetych)” play well with style and format. The sonnet sticks to its traditional 14-line structure and “Revolution” explores the Twitterverse as a natural breeding ground for poetic tweets. Some poems, like “The Hand of Faith,” are given to us in cantos, while “Horrorism” looks like a typographer’s nightmare, with lines and stanzas seemingly dumped onto the page. These varying formats lend to the broad history they pretend to represent. In a version of history where “We think of the walls as stitches/in a blown apart body,” extending the Berlin Wall doesn't seem ridiculous. At its heart, Fauxcassional Poems questions our hold on reality. It asks us to consider what we know, and what we believe we know. In short, Fauxcassional Poems is enjoyable for it’s absurd irrelevancy, and the variation in Tysdal’s work will surely provide every reader with something memorable. History will never be the same.
Tysdal, on the other hand, breaks Buddy Holly’s lines three times: “It’s magic!” squeals the boy across the
Contributor Bios Natasha Baronas has a ba in Sociology from the University of Winnipeg. She is returning as a Love of Learning student taking Creative Writing and Visual Arts courses. Her photographs appear in Dogs in Canada, the bc Sheep Federation N'Ewes periodical, and Kuvasz Club of Canada Echoes newsletter. This is her first publication in Portal. Alison Burfoot is in her fourth year of studies at viu, pursuing a ba in Creative Writing. She has a background in Visual Arts and in the past has studied at Sheridan College and George Brown in Toronto. She worked as a newsletter editor for Oceanside Community Arts Council in Parksville, bc and, since returning to studies in 2011, she has received numerous bursaries and an award from Oceanside Women’s Business Network. Her short story “Taking on Water” was written in a Directed Study with Robert Hilles. Stephanie Crawford is a Creative Writing major at viu with a focus on fiction and poetry. “Under the Dark” and “Chilkoot Trail: Mile 16.5” were published in Portal 2015. She is a copyeditor and book reviewer for Portal 2016. Danielle Cunningham is in her final year of study at viu, pursuing a ba in Business and Journalism with a focus on Marketing and Publishing. She was Business and Advertising Manager of Portal 2015 and is the Managing Editor of Portal 2016 with additional roles as Feature Writer, Non-Fiction Editor and book reviewer. She was Marketing Manager for the Gustafson Lecture Series in 2015. She is a member of the Business Students’ Association Executive and its Director of Communications and coordinated the 2015 Vancouver Island Leadership Conference (vilc) in October 2015. In her role as a Marketing Intern at Community Futures in 2015, she wrote 10 client testimonials for Web and social media. Chloe de Beeld is a fourth-year Graphic Design student at viu. She designed Gisèle’s Merlet’s collection of linked short stories As I Rise. She has published a photo and designed the cover of Portal 2015, and has several of her works appear in this issue, for which she is the Designer. In 2014, she placed second in the Crime Stoppers poster contest and was a finalist in the viu Theatre Department’s Man of la Mancha poster design contest. She has received tuition scholarships as well as the Pacific Horizons Scholarship. Ryan Drader is a Media Studies student at viu with a focus on film and photography. This is his first publication. Benjamin Everett is in the fourth year of his ba at viu, with a major in Creative Writing and a minor in Philosophy. In 2015, he received the Myrtle Bergren Creative Writing Award for Scriptwriting. He is the Book Review and Fiction Editor for Portal 2016. Bryce Gardiner is working towards a ba in Media Studies at viu with a focus on photography and videography. He has created multiple short films as well as audio and photography projects, and is currently working on a documentary short film. He has several photos in this issue. He is the Photo Editor and a member of the Social Media team for Portal 2016. Natalie Golbeck graduated with a ba from viu in 2015 with a major in Creative Writing and a minor in English. She is currently enrolled in viu’s Post-Baccalaureate Secondary Education program. She published photography and art in Portal 2014 when she was Publicity Manager, and the following year was Social Media, Fundraising, and Events Coordinator.
Philip Gordon is a fourth-year student of Creative Writing at viu, an editor of the literary magazine text, and a reader for pank. His work has been published in Vallum, The Puritan, The yolo Pages, theNewerYork, (parenthetical), and others. His work “Noise” and “How to Write a Poem for a Girl You Like” were published in Portal 2014. He can be found at <twitter.com/greymusic> and <grey-music.tumblr.com>. Heather Gregory is a fourth-year student completing a ba with a major in Creative Writing and a minor in Philosophy. She was Portal 2015’s Book Review and Acquisitions Editor, and in 2014 was Managing Editor and Fiction Editor. Her short story “About Me” and a review of Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth appeared in Portal 2014. She worked as an Editorial Assistant on the Dennis Lee and Michael Crummey titles for The Ralph Gustafson Distinguished Poets Lecture Series, has been the School Liaison for Nanaimo Children’s BookFest, and in 2014 won the Jason Mayes Memorial Scholarship. Rachel Jackson is a third-year student at viu where she is pursuing a ba in History and Creative Writing. Her poem “Texts I Sent My Mum” was published in (parenthetical). Jessica Key is a fourth-year Creative Writing major at viu working on a minor in Journalism. She was Portal 2015’s Managing Editor and has previously been Senior Non-Fiction Editor and Feature Writer, as well as serving on the Board of Directors for The Navigator. She was an Editorial Assistant on The Ralph Gustafson Distinguished Poets Lecture Series, consulting on the Dennis Lee and Michael Crummey editions. She published “Snakes and Ladders” in Portal 2014 and “Reduce and Serve” in Portal 2015 as well as articles in Incline, viu’s online news magazine. Her story “Layers” won third prize in the viu True Story Slam in 2014. Clarice Lundeen is a fourth-year Creative Writing student at viu and a Non-Fiction Editor and Acquisitions Editor for Portal 2016. This is her first publication. Corinna Maier is a third-year Graphic Design student at viu. Her piece “Life Line” was published in Portal 2014. She has received scholarships from viu and the Promotional Products Industry in Canada. Three of her photographs are displayed in viu’s Arts & Humanities student lounge. Tegan Matthews is a fourth-year English major with a minor in Creative Writing. She is currently the student representative and research assistant for the English department at viu, and was elected to sit on Faculty Council for the 2015-16 academic year. She has won three bursaries and hopes to go on to graduate school when she finishes her Bachelor of Arts next year. Lorin Medley is a fourth-year viu Creative Writing major. Published works include “I am Blackbird” and “There are Many Words for Maple” in Portal 2015; “Origami” in Portal 2014; “Unspooled” and “Sacred Bells Susurrus” in Portal 2013; “Bonding,” “Irene Gone,” “Coho,” and “Pink Lady” in The Island Word 2009; and “On Valentine's Day, where does your heart lie?” in Comox Valley Record 2007. Her short story “Oh, Lamb” won first prize in the 2014 Islands Short Fiction Contest. She has attended writing workshops with Harold Rhenisch and Jack Hodgins; studied fiction with Anne Ireland, Kathy Page, and Steve Guppy; pursued poetry with Marilyn Bowering and Robert Hilles; and co-edited Dennis Lee's title in The Ralph Gustafson Distinguished Poets Lecture Series. Gisèle Merlet is a senior student at viu who graduated in 2005 with a Liberal Studies degree. In 2015 she published an autobiographical collection of 15 short stories called As I Rise. “Ultreïa,”“Only Angels Roamed,” and “Rare Species” were published in Portal in 2012, 2013, and 2015 respectively. She won third place in the Nanaimo Arts Council short story contest for “The Leather Pouch” in 2012. She received the Bill Juby Award in 2013.
Aaron Morin is a digital media expert working in Nanaimo, bc and in the final year of a ba in Media Studies and Journalism. He designs, codes, films, acts, edits, and produces content online. He is a Feature Writer and the Web Editor for Portal 2016. Amber Morrison is working on her ba with a major in Visual Art and a minor in Creative Writing. She has had work displayed in The View Gallery and the Nanaimo Arts Council. She also won awards in Upper Level Art History (2014) and in Painting (2013). Sarah Packwood is a first-year ba student at viu hoping to minor in Journalism. Her photos and writing have been featured in multiple issues of The Mind’s Eye and on her pop culture blog, <intoitmedia.com>, for which she also hosts a radio show on chly. Ryan Peppin is in his fourth year at viu working towards a ba in Media Studies. He has an honours diploma in Graphic Design & New Media Production and is currently working as a Student Videographer with viu Communications. He has worked on two short films. “The Quantum Mask,” which he co-created with fellow Portal team member Andrew Powell, was submitted to the 2016 Vancouver Island Short Film Festival. This year he is an Audio-Visual and Social Media Editor. Courtney Poole is a third-year ba student majoring in Creative Writing with a minor in Psychology, but she previously studied Biology at uvic. ”With His Ship” was published in Portal 2015. Andrew Powell is a fourth-year Media Studies student at viu focusing on Web development, video production, and making short documentaries and films, one of which was entered into the 2016 Vancouver Island Short Film Festival. He is also a junior Web developer at Array Web & Creative, a marketing and creative agency in Nanaimo. He is a Web and Audio-Visual Editor, as well as a book reviewer for Portal 2016. Emily Reekie is a third-year Creative Writing student. She previously attended York University and won third prize in The Flying Walrus’s flash fiction contest for the 2012 winter edition. Her story “Like a Storm” was published in Portal 2015. Hayley Rickaby is a fourth-year Creative Writing student at viu. Her short story “A Walk in the Park” was published in Portal 2014, and “Tthunu silu” in Portal 2015. Her poem “Helen” was published by Silver Birch Press in 2014, and her non-fiction piece about the Vancouver Island Self-Publishing Conference was published on the Federation of bc Writers Website in 2015. She currently works as a news columnist for the online publication The Hero Journal. After she completes her ba in Creative Writing she plans to enroll in viu’s Education Assistant program. Lori Shwydky studied Environmental Sciences at Langara College, and Video and Integrated Media at Emily Carr, and will graduate with a ba in Creative Writing from viu this year. She published the short story “Cherry Pie” in the 1998 Arsenal Pulp Press anthology, Hot & Bothered: Short Fiction of Lesbian Desire, a poem “The Statement” in Critical Perspectives on Accounting, and a book review of Philip Roy’s Seas of South Africa in Portal 2014. She received a 2014 Meadowlark Award and in 2015 launched Rebel Mountain Press publishing In Our Own Voice.
Dancing Clouds Natasha Baronas
Joel A. Simmons is a fourth-year Creative Writing student at viu and a Poetry Editor and book reviewer for Portal 2016. He is Writer on Staff for the Canadian Body Painting Festival Society. Spenser Smith is a poet, photographer, and journalist studying Creative Writing and Journalism toward a ba at viu. He is a contributor to The Navigator, and <clipthrough. com>, and his work has been published in text, and sky magazine. His photo “Sun Hall” was published in Portal 2015. He is a Poetry Editor, book reviewer, and photographer for Portal 2016. Visit his blog at <spensersmith.com>. Antony Stevens is in his fifth and final year studying Creative Writing at viu. He has been a recipient of the Pat Bevan and Kevin Roberts scholarships in poetry, and the Barry Broadfoot Scholarship in journalism and creative non-fiction. He is an alumni of both Portal and The Navigator, and has publishing credits with the National Post and Canada.com. He is currently Editor-in-Chief of his own online videogame site <clipthrough.com.> Kelly Whiteside is a fourth-year student at viu with a major in Creative Writing who writes a viu-related column for The Navigator, where she works as Production Manager. She is the Creative Writing student representative at viu, and was previously a writer for Nanaimo Business News. Her poem “Fragile” was published in Portal 2014, and a photo, as well as her poem “Passive Aggressive Poetry” were published in Portal 2015. This is her second year working with the Portal team as Advertising Manager, Poetry Editor, and copy editor. Rose Willow has a history degree from the University of Waterloo and is working on a second degree in Creative Writing at viu. Her short stories and poetry have been published in The Society 2013 and 2014, The Write Stuff 2014, and Spring. She has also written for Horticultural Magazine and Senior Lifetimes, where she won first prize for the short story contest. She also won first prize for fiction, and second and third prize for poetry, in the Tisdale Writers Group Inc. in 2013 and 2014. She has attended workshops by Myrna Kostash, Tom Wyman, Harold Rhenisch, and Sue Wheeler. Her poem “Shucking” was published in Portal 2015. Jessie Zhang is a third-year Creative Writing student at viu working toward a career as digital storyteller. She has participated in the True Story Slam 2014 and is a viu Student Ambassador for 2015-2016. She is the Vice-President of Toastmasters on the Hill and is the Launch Coordinator for Portal 2016 while assisting with fundraising, advertising, events, and marketing.
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Sometimes economic hardship interferes with a student’s ability to focus on their studies, but with the help of VIU’s generous donors many of us are able to overcome these struggles. I was extremely grateful to receive the Stan & May Radzik Bursary of $2,000. The funds helped to take some of the pressure off and I was able to significantly improve my grades over the spring and summer semesters.
From a grateful student, Alison Burfoot
The Stan & May Radzik bursaries were established by a gift in their will. The fund will continue to support students like Alison in perpetuity.
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CONTRIBUTORS Natasha Baronas
Chloe de Beeld
Joel A. Simmons
Cover Design by Chloe de Beeld Photograph by Spenser Smith