After a funeral

I could not bring myself to feel enough to cry over your ending here.

Why would I?

You have moved into your element.

Christian beliefs actualized.

A joy too big to describe.

In on the secret.

Maybe it is us you now shed tears for

in that place where

you are always dressed in red

cheeks hurt from smiling so much

celestial wings wrapping you with the love

we can only imagine, the kind

you’d sought ever since your father left and

you’d steeled yourself against

heartbreak arriving in that same way again on any chilly spring morning.

None of that earthly business left now.

No need for words where spirit plays.

Comfort before worries have a chance to surface,

making you wish you’d accepted,

unconditionally,

that of course everything was always going to be alright

In life.

In death.

Walking with ghosts and angels

Painting by Jacky Hosford

As part of LitFest New West, an exhibit is up at Anvil Centre that paired writers of short text with artists who were to interpret the short text or poem.

I was paired with Jacky Hosford, a New Westminster resident originally from the U.K. Through layers and frames she painted her interpretation of what I wrote below. I like the way she’s put the frames into the painting to hint at it being a window into the past, and into the future.

Executive Director, Arts Council New West: Stephen O Shea, Poet Aidan Chafe and LitFest Chair Janice Bannister

I had a really good time at LitFest this year. I was on the planning committee so after all those meetings since September, it was good to see what transpired in real time when the weekend finally arrived.

 

 

 

Nasreen Pejvack, J.J. Lee, and Janet Kvammen

With the kick off at the library via the PopThis!Podcast  paired with J.J. Lee through to the Read Aloud event, I felt perhaps for the first time in the five years since I’ve lived back here, the real strength of community that flourishes in New West and that gets talked about on social media by local residents.

New West residents do a good job of branding themselves, I’ll give them that, thanks to small local businesses with great social media such as Steel and Oak, 100 Braid Street studios, Banana Lab, Tenth to the Fraser and others. And I think City Council and many other residents have a really progressive approach to things.

There is a lot going on here when it comes to words and writing and the people involved. I especially loved the In Your Words event that is put together by Alan Girling and takes place at New Westminster Public Library on a monthly basis.

Kyle McKillop reads Patrick Lane

It’s really great to hear others share their favourite authors and poets, highlighting some of those authors’ books and then giving their perspective by reading the authors’ words and sharing some background about the writers’ lives. The Lit Fest version shared Evelyn Lau, Patrick Lane, Thomas Hardy and a travel writer, Jan Morris. I’d never head of Jan Morris so right after the event was over, I went upstairs and checked out one of her books. It’s called Contact: A Book of Encounters about the people who she’s had the pleasure of connecting with during travels.

And I dropped by the New West Writer’s Group Critique session which was interesting as people shared their feedback on some writing pieces.  The Read Aloud Event was great with fantastic readings by Aislinn Hunter, Nasreen Pejvack, Catherine Owen and Carleigh Baker.  And it was interesting to hear the winners of the Short Fiction contest that got sponsored by local lawyer Dale Darychuk, Q.C.

New West Writers Group and their monthly feedback sessions

Poet Kevin Spenst and Shauna Kaendo doing performance piece to his love poems at Anvil Centre.

Carleigh Baker who read from her new book Bad Endings.

Anna Camporese, playwright Elaine Avila and me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s what I wrote:

Walking with Ghosts and Angels

When you return to the small city where you were born, you can’t help but walk with ghosts and angels.

As the radius of your routes expand, you carry in memory everyone who has ever accompanied you.

Landmarked meeting places.

Dad. There. Plaid shirt and black lunch kit full of tuna fish sandwiches made dutifully by mom.

That vacant lot you weren’t supposed to set foot in as a kid and that old woman, Snookie, [was she lonely?] who lived above that garage across the street.

Backyard forts. Baseball diamonds. Lacrosse boxes. Willow trees.

First crush on lifeguard at Kiwanis pool.

Even strangers. Their faces stick.

You carry their hearts on your sleeve as if you’re leading an invisible parade.

Over there. Your grandparents’ backyard and their cement birdbath.

A purple plum tree, its marbled gifts dropped in late summer.

The cobwebbed wooden shed where your Grass is Greener Syndrome first arose as if Grass is Greener might actually be a place that you’d find if only you were better at reading maps.

Now, walking through the cemetery on the hill, you’ve left this era behind, retreated — perhaps to the 1950s — ignoring what the world has become.

Convincing yourself species aren’t disappearing and you’re not afraid of what’s coming down the pipe: oil, the Big One, and even a lack of imagination.

Not the most uplifting ending but written quickly and in line with how I’ve been feeling, about how many people the world over surely have been feeling given the state of international affairs at this point in time.

Write for 5 to win a book on writing

Hi Kids,

So four weeks of Write for 5 have now flown by.

It would be so awesome if I could motivate a few more writers anywhere in the world to participate.

So far I’ve mailed off four packages. Those have gone to Toronto, Uruguay, Vancouver and Atlanta, Georgia. Last week I shipped off a photographic print that I bought a few years ago that I loved but I never had anywhere to hang it. I communicated with the recipient and it seemed like last week’s writing book wasn’t the kind of book that he would probably get around to reading, so I looked around and based on his blog, I picked a photographic print for him.

Of course, I should have taken a photo of that before I sent it off to Atlanta, Georgia, but I forgot. Maybe he’ll send me a photo when it arrives and then I’ll be reminded of who the print was created by. I know it was a young photographer based in Delta, B.C.

I’ve decided that I can only send one book per person once at this point given the limited number of participants so that means your chances of getting this fantastic little book are pretty high if you’ve yet to be chosen.

This week’s book prize is called, The Situation and the Story by Vivian Gornick. And you’ll also receive the above print.

For those of you who have been playing along. You know the routine. I post 2 images at 8:00 am on Saturday morning and you have until Sunday at 11:00 pm to Write for 5. I want to experience the uniqueness of your imagination in five minutes.

On Monday, March 27, I’ll choose the small piece that spoke to me in some way.
This might be the easiest contest you’ll ever enter.

Are you in?  See you back here bright and early on Saturday, or whenever you get around to it over the weekend. Have a good one.

Understanding trauma through storytelling

photo by gayle mavor. Art by Suzanne Fulbrook.

I went to a panel at the Growing Room Festival on Saturday called “No Way out but Through: Writing about Trauma.” The panelists were: Evelyn Lau, Christine Lowther and Sonnet L’Abbe with Elee Kraljii Gardener as the moderator. 

I was invited to be one of the active listeners. I’m not sure who suggested me. Someone, I suppose, who knows that I’ve taken quite a few counselling and related courses (eight to be exact) as pre-requisites to a Masters in the past few years. Poet Jonina Kirtan was the other active listener.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, nobody needed to talk to us.

Let me rephrase that. Some women may have benefited from sharing their feelings. There were no outward signs (except coughing) to indicate that. The thing about coughing is maybe you have a cold or maybe your emotion is being manifested through coughing.  Who’s to say.

How strangely serendipitous it should be that I would find myself being invited to that event because what some of the panelists had to say set off a bit of a light bulb moment for me in understanding that some of what I’m writing about is, of course, trauma-related. And if I re-examine some of the things I’ve been writing about from that perspective, it’s much clearer to me how to focus the stories and perhaps my entire manuscript with that in the background as the “golden thread” of explanation.

Evelyn Lau spoke to how she needed to be completely in her own space, in silence, in order to have the psychological space to work through her stuff.  She spoke about forming her commitment to writing long before a commitment to people.  “When talking hasn’t worked, writing is all that’s left.” And she also reminded us that trauma can also translate, eventually, into strength.” That, I believe, for me, has absolutely been true.

As a writer, a storyteller, you have to decide who you serve. Do you serve the writing or do you serve the people around you? Christine Lowther recalled hearing that (from Evelyn Lau) and as a result, (and she’s not alone in this experience based on what I’ve heard from other writers), she’s had relatives not speak to her for periods of time because of some of the things she’s written.

I think it was Elee Kraljii who said “the closer you are to a trauma, the more catharsis feels like the impetus for the writing. Years later, however, if you are still writing about it, it can feel psychologically damaging.”  Interesting insight to mull over.

Christine Lowther has been writing/re-writing about one specific image left over from a childhood experience, approaching that trauma and having new memories surface to add new layers and different ways into the story.  

She recalled having some student say to her 20 years ago, “Well, I hope you’re not going to be writing about this 20 years from now!” And she still is.  And maybe that’s what every writer is doing. Writing about the things that were the impetus for writing in the first place, in only slightly revised ways, but with layer upon layer of new insights impacting the words on the page.

Sonnet has this incredible project where she’s using Shakespeare’s sonnets to write around and interject her own writing over top of them, layering her experience as a woman of a Guyanese, South Asian and African mixed descent over some of the most seminal works in British colonialism.  I hope I understood that correctly.

I don’t know when trauma became a commonly referred to word but it didn’t exist when I was growing up. Or if it did, the depth of understanding related to it is greater now. At least that’s how it seems to me.  After a lot of therapy, some education and my own insights, I can’t help but see how that term – trauma – gets loaded with so much misinformation and misunderstanding.

Our stories, after all, are just our stories. They don’t come with labels alerting us to the clinical box they might fit inside. We can so easily forget to recognize how the scenes we’ve been a part of in life can be defined clinically in ways that we can so easily overlook. Sometimes that acknowledgement, not just in life, but on the page, can not only lead us to be kinder to ourselves, but to a more cohesive narrative.

Week 3: Write for 5 right now

photo by gayle mavor

photo from Creative Commons CC0-public domain

If it’s Saturday morning, it must be time to Write for 5. Or not! This is Week 3 of doing this and I’ve so enjoyed reading the writing of those writers who have taken the time out of their hectic schedules to sit themselves down and courageously face the blank page and screen.

If you’ve participated before, you know the routine.  If not, here are the guidelines:

·         I post a photo (or two) here at 8am on Saturday morning.

·         You look at the photo(s) above this blog post.

·         You take as much time as you need up to Sunday at 9pm

·         When you’re ready to write, set the timer for five minutes.

·         When you’re done, you post your results in the comments.

·         Do I ever look at what I’ve written and change a few words, and fix it slightly? Of course. I wouldn’t want you to put up what you don’t feel comfortable sharing. But perfection is not the goal. Heck, it’s not even possible. Five minutes. That goes FAST. But that’s the challenge and for me, that’s the fun.

·         Form is open: poetry, CNF, Flash fiction. You decide.

·         After it’s over, on the following Monday, I’ll let you know whose writing touched me in that moment in some way. Usually, it’s in a way that I’m not always able to define as to why. Then, I choose a book for that writer from one of my books and mail it to them. It’s an awesome way to cull my books, and to give someone a nice surprise.

Good luck. Give it a try!

PS: I probably won’t be posting my own response until Sunday morning. No time this Saturday. Very thankful for the scheduling feature in WordPress.

The poetry of mac and cheese

from Food Babbles blog: http://foodbabbles.com/jarlsberg-macaroni-cheese/

Up at the ungodly hour of 5am on Sunday morning, I began reading the food issue of Room magazine, savouring the blissful silence at that time of darkness, and I suddenly got this craving for the perfect Mac and Cheese recipe (which I don’t have) because I almost never eat it.  Then after reading some great pieces in this food-focused issue 40.1 (Psych Ward Grub by Lucas Crawford, Snap Dragon by Sylvia Symons, Your Body the Fire by Rachel Jansen), I felt the urge to write a poem.  It left me wondering what the perfect macaroni and cheese recipe might actually be. I found one at the bottom, after my poem, but no guarantees it’s the ultimate.

Mac and cheese love

If it’s going to snow in Vancouver in March (for God’s sake)

I need to find a perfect macaroni and cheese recipe,

buttery smooth and steaming into existence a non-existent family.

Don’t forget the wieners.

Call forth childhood

when we’d eat them handed to us

by a fat man behind the meat counter,

blood specked phonetics on his white apron.

We’d pop the wieners round, packed firmness

chewy and fun inside our mouths,

my brother and I grossing each other out,

we’d open wide

revealing the gnarly, half-chewed mystery bits

when our mother wasn’t looking.

 

This time, maybe I’ll use white cheese, not cheddar

Snow Geese, not crows

clouds, not cream,

hold the gull droppings,

oregano as evergreens

parmesan, not pigeon

and finish with a delicate, breadcrumb topping,

like brown birds dotting a frozen lake from a distance.

 

I’m thinking now back to the time I made my version from memory

for you (lacking)

and you were mad

because (I now realize), you were actually hungry, the

way most of us never are any more (in the West)

for a good

meal, (with meat),

subtle flavours requiring conversation to identify,

the kind of dishes you’d always concoct for my visits

on your two-burner hot plate,

you, Jamie Oliver, you.

Nothing like what I had plated, something

to turn your nose up at

as if my making such a thing,

(suburban, mundane, less-than),

meant I didn’t love you the way

you’d imagined I did.

 

And with that, it may (not really) have been worth getting up at 5 am yesterday.

Check out this blog for their recommendations for making amazing homemade mac and cheese or if you’re holding out on me, and you already have the very best mac and cheese recipe, tell me what I have to do to receive it from you, point me in the right direction.

May your week be full of culinary surprises (in a good way)!

Writing for 5: Week two writing prompt. Join in!

photo by Renaud Camus, Creative Commons, click image for details

Thank you so much for dropping by,

Welcome to Write for 5 week two. This is how it works. I post an image and we write for five minutes and then post our results in the comments up to 9pm on Sunday.

I decided to stick with just one image this week (above), not three like last week.

Take as long as you like to look at the bed above with that beautiful light on the pillows. When you’re ready to write, start your timer.

We have up until 9pm on Sunday, Mar. 5, to post what we’ve come up with but go ahead and post whenever you feel like it.

Our writing can take any form: poetry, creative nonfiction, flash fiction, experimental or erasure poetry, dialogue or whatever you like. Go for it.

If you have any questions, I’m going to be away from the computer most of the day but I’ll get back to you on Sunday morning. Let me know if you have any technical issues with posting.

I am so looking forward to reading what you come up with so don’t be shy.

And as I said yesterday, someone will get a book sent to them from me with a personal note for participating.

Thanks for playing. I hope you enjoy it!