Friday, June 23, 2017

Buffalo pound

Image from You Tube

Waterton Lakes Park is one of several places where wild buffalo still roam Alberta. Within a large paddock, they roam free as they did of old. Aboriginal people used the buffalo pound, a round trap, to catch these all-important animals that provided food, clothing and shelter to the people of the plains. The name of the great chief Poundmaker refers to this skill.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Golden Ears writers Open Mic -- Getting in on The ACT


Tuesday evening the Golden Ears writers hosted an open mic at ACT. Ronda Payne took pictures, while performing writers chatted at the break.

Below are some intriguing lines from the evening's performance.

First to go is the Jackie Kennedy look.

If you don't speak for yourselves, your silence will speak for you.
She's learned it from the camels, he says.
And don't go cloning the grocery boy!
Gophers whistle...before upending themselves in their holes. Bottle brush, buffalo grass, porcupine grass...
I gear down and stand on my pedals...The wheel wobbles like a loose tooth.
Stinky got loose again...Crashing through carrots, leaping over lettuce, and pooping in the peas.
When the last petal falls...Two goats live in an abandoned asylum for children.
From my roomette...I kept looking out that window until it was dark.
The clothes pretty well stand on their own.
The knife I gave my daughter is more of a talisman.

Good performance, everyone. Have a happy writing summer.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Canadian Authors ushers in summer break with open mic

Random lines heard during Wednesday evening's delightfully varied readings: 
From Bora Bora to Glacier Bay/we drank our beer/I don't care if my stomach grumbles/I don't see your name here, Herr Doktor/The feminist femme fatale is a humanitarian/living gloriously and free/a gaudily dressed woman on a horse/eyes scanning the sacred grove/I dance and my feet go into the earth/We cheer for rains of hope/Build a hoist, fix the pump, set traps/shine and fly, laugh and cry/permanently on guard against the terribleness of the unknown/God help me, I want the risk/I wanted to savour his wrongness/Choosing a barbarian woman, a campaign wife/fighter pilot father I'm pretty sure he didn't have/Regret is a good teacher/What's your view of coincidence?/Dear humans, you got it all wrong/You can go back to the time before they taught you to hate/Silence war. Sing peace.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Goodnight from London, by Jennifer Robson


Historical fiction is educational as well as entertaining, and this one excels at historical verisimilitude. Even though WWII is a period I've researched lot, there was plenty to learn from this latest novel by Jennifer Robson.

While following the ups and downs of Ruby, an American columnist on loan to a London magazine called Picture Weekly, I learned new details about daily life during the blitz and women's roles in WWII.

The author sensitively conveys the confusing cultural differences that Ruby must meet with understanding and tolerance. As the shy American orphan adapts to a new kind of life, she learns to value the courage and tenacity of her beleaguered hosts, and finds friends in whom she can confide. She also adopts a homeless cat and falls in love.

I'd heard about Morrison shelters, but Morrison sandwiches were new. I knew a fair bit about rationing, but was unaware that all restaurant meals were off-ration. It was also fascinating to learn how much time and effort famous actors and singers devoted to entertaining military personnel and others doing war work. ENSA performers included Vera Lynn, John Gielgud, Vivien Leigh and Lawrence Olivier.

Having read a great deal about SOE, I suspected long before Ruby did what her sweetheart was up to that made him so secretive.

This novel was partly inspired by the author's journalist grandmother, her historian father, and the many WWII veterans she interviewed in the course of her history studies at Oxford. Jennifer Robson has also written a fascinating trilogy of novels set in WWI. Definitely, a writer to watch.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Southbank Summer Six has commenced -- let the writing begin

Left: Surrey Poet Laureate Renee Saklikar is a writing mentor. 
Image from pulpliterature

It's Year Six for Southbank in Surrey, and we've moved from Surrey City Centre Library to the SFU University Campus. Welcome, writers and words! We prime the pump by reading.

Lewis Thomas classifies human language into four broad categories: small talk, real talk, mathematics, the universal language, and poetry.

Lisa See loves telling stories that have been "lost, forgotten and deliberately suppressed."

Betsy Warland wonders "whether there is any greater violence than story-cide."

Monday, May 29, 2017

Gently to Nagasaki by Joy Kogawa: Memoir, history and philosophy in one

Gently to Nagasaki is much more than a memoir of Canada's wisest elder. This book is an education in the ambiguity, and ultimately unknowability of the suffering and deception that lie hidden in history. Canada's first woman senator, Cairene Wilson, was complicit in mistreating fellow citizens of Japanese descent. The art of the beloved Dr. Seuss included propaganda cartoons portraying Japanese Americans as sub-human monsters.

Chinese American historian Iris Chang documented the atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in The Rape of Nanking, then committed suicide before reaching forty. The Anglican church took over Japanese properties after the Canadian government interned its nisei parishioners. Though Japanese speakers were needed in wartime Burma, the Canadian government sidelined the pleas of its British allies to recruit such Canadians for the cause.

After the war, properties stripped from Japanese Canadians as "enemy aliens" were given to Canadian vets. Yet a Japanese Canadian veteran who volunteered for the British army when the Canadian forces refused to admit him tried and failed to get back his confiscated home.

A scholar as well as a poet and activist, Joy Kogawa has long pursued unpalatable truths, opening herself to an unblinking awareness of terrible human history. She decries the deluded nationalism that taught the Japanese to obey their emperor as a god. She visits museums of remembrance, and quotes authors as diverse as Simone Weil and Dag Hammarksjold. She studies the history of the peace-loving Okinawans, and the hidden Christians of Nagasaki, who got the brunt of the atomic bomb not because they were the intended target, but because the weather didn't cooperate, The bomb was heavy, and too much circling would burn the fuel that would be needed to return the bomber to base.

As she tried to make sense of the rags and tatters of the dark history she was uncovering about her nations, Joy Kogawa had to face some disturbing family history. She needed to confront the fact that her father was a pedophile who abused young boys. This was a double betrayal for an Anglican priest. Yet he also helped his community tremendously through terrible times. In the face of rage and vilification, his daughter was divided by painful and conflicting loyalties.

She would never give up loving her father. She also loved both her countries, in spite of all the water under the bridge. Thirty years ago, the Canadian government apologized for its treatment of Japanese Canadians. Today, communities of victims compete and clamour over whose wartime suffering was greatest. Out of love for Japan, Kogawa hopes that nation's people will "forthrightly acknowledge the facts of their country's past, and shameful denial will be swept away."

This genre-defying memoir, filled with history, philosophy and sociological analysis, has much to offer. Listening to Joy Kogawa's impressive talk at the recent CNFC conference at Green College, I knew I had to read her memoir. I found solace in such wisdom as this: "Throughout the world, histories suppressed enable crimes to repeat. Victims and victimizers trade places unawares." To be aware and to witness is to be open to the possibility of healing.

After a lifetime of seeking after truth, this wise elder has completed her journey. Trust has opened a space for this questing seeker, allowing her to lead the reader to the place of peace she has found at last. As the thoughtful commentator Douglas Todd says in the cover blurb, the book "reveals how, in the midst of betrayal, there is still a place for trust."

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Lisa See: teller of stories "lost, forgotten and deliberately suppressed"

Image from voa news

Last month, Lisa See was a guest of Hal Wake at Incite, at the VPL. Before the event, I read Shanghai Girls. It had been sitting on my shelf since a writer friend recommended it a couple of years ago.

The story of the two sisters is a gripping tale of family, war, emigration, identity and the search for belonging.

From their privileged life of modernity, wealth and modeling as "beautiful girls," for hand painted ads for products from batteries to bicycles, Pearl and May are cast suddenly into poverty and war. In spite of her bound feet, their mother helps them escape from Shanghai.

Unfortunately, their plan to escape the marriages their father has arranged to save himself from the gang that demands he make good for his vast gambling debts does not work out. Instead of running away to Hong Kong, they escape to America to join their husbands in Los Angeles. Due to the strict screening of immigration, they are delayed on an island with other immigrants for many months, and enter the United States with a shared secret they'll have to protect for years to come.

In LA, as in China, nothing is as it seems. All is shift and change, and life becomes a long and often weary process of adaptation. When the moment of greatest crisis arises, it seems as if Pearl and May have hidden the truth of their history in vain.