Thursday, 23 March 2017

A Lovely Note

Opened my email to this. How sweet.

  Dear Casey, 

  I'm going to bed with an irrepressible smile on my face,  
  because I've just read The Ziz. How wonderful your stories
  are. Thank you. 

  I hope something's bringing you such joy. 



This did, Kaitlyn. Thanks.

(She is of course referring to Finding Creatures & Other Stories.)

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Review: “Cathedral of the August Heat” by Pierre Clitandre

I have read more than sixty books about Haiti over the years—or rather, nonfiction books about, novels set in, and so on. Cathedral of the August Heat * by Pierre Clitandre is the most perplexing.

I must first say that I know little of magical realism, which I believe is the genre this book most clearly fits into. Women become pools, men cathedrals (well, each of those happens only once, but there is lots else besides). This doesn't happen on every page and when it does it is generally effective. But I can't measure its effectiveness against, say, One Hundred Years of Solitude and its ilk, which I haven't read.

I am spending so many keystrokes on the style because this book is much held by style, so much so that the content and indeed the story are sometimes obscured by it. Recall that this is written in translation—as far as I can tell, a very literate and often beautiful translation, by Bridget Jones.

The sense I have is that some of, perhaps much of the gist of the novel is, like the Kreyol language itself, not in the words so much as what images and stories they remind the reader of, and in this the English translation can't much help us. I have had times in the past when a person would speak to me in Kreyol and I understood every word that was said and had no idea of the meaning. English, at its most colourful, can do the same. All of this is to explain that although I read with care, there were often times when I had only the foggiest idea what was going on, and I don't know how much of this was the language and how much was due to the author's tendency to switch points of view without necessarily saying who we were switching into, and drifting back and forth between minor characters over much of the book—occasionally lending confusion as to whether a character was the same as another or a different one entirely.

This may have been deliberate. We do learn names, and there is one character in particular, strangely called John, rather than Jean, who is more or less the main POV character. But we miss him for ages at a time and we never really do get into his skin. Much, much is said of the collective experience of the poor, and how they are herded back and forth and brutalized by the elements and the soldier class. So it may be that Clitandre's vagueness in POV change and his distance from the heart of his characters is because they are all, to him, metaphors, folk images, elements of Vodou, reminders of history, reminders of suffering and the only way to elude it—maybe. A wiser (or more foolish) writer than myself might spend a lot of time trying to understand the position of women within the narrative, and children, and men, each separately, and a thousand other ingredients that combine in this ever-moving, elemental piece.

One last word on words. Despite her gorgeous rendering of Clitandres most brutal and sublime reveries, I can't thank Jones for choosing “a lively West Indian English” as the jargon for the people. I have spoken in English with many Haitians and they do not speak that way. It felt weirdly superimposed and hard to get used to—no less beautiful but foreign. A minor point.

So what of the story? Read it? Don't read it?

Read it. Let it wash over you just as it is, without struggling in the ways I have struggled to make it fit into the confines of a regular novel. Don't expect all the plot lines, or metaphors, more accurately, to be tied up. Don't expect to know how it ends. (Remember that Duvalier was still in power when this novel broke. Clitandre's father, by the way, was one of the many disappeared.)

Let it be a long, long poem, expressing the endless ebb and flow of suffering and beauty and brutality and hope. It is coarse, it is sometimes disgusting, it is transporting, it is tragic, it refuses to be any of the above.

Image: Credit is not given. A Haitian mural. No idea where, but Jacmel on the bus does give us a hint!

“Peace In Oneself" - Buddhists Rally Against Racism

Calligraphy by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

If you are alive, you are probably aware of the enormous pressures against refugees and other migrants in the last few years, and the increasing acts of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and racism generally. Most uncomfortably unexpected to residents of the Lower Mainland has been the distribution of KKK literature in Surrey in the last months. And with the fears or deportation running rampant in the USA, increasing numbers of people are risking winter conditions and arrest to walk across the border into Canada. I need not go on and on. You know it better than I.

Here is one thing my Buddhist sangha has decided to do in response:

Dear Thay, dear Sangha.

It is necessary for us to cancel our sit on March 12th (second Sunday), with apologies. We will still be sitting on the fourth Sunday (the 26th) at Vancouver Status of Women.

Some of us will be taking our practice to the International Day Against Racism on March 26, in downtown Vancouver from 1pm - 4pm:

Please feel free to join us if you wish to attend as a sangha. We have taken this step in response to rising anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, and racist sentiment in the world at large. Our teacher and many of our members worldwide are or have been refugees and immigrants. We want to stand peacefully together to support our sisters and brothers who are bearing the brunt of destructive policies and behaviours.

RSVP to me and we can let you know where and when we will gather.

A lotus to each of you, Buddhas to be!


Sunday, 26 February 2017

Your Death Full of Flowers

by Wild Grace
A very special collection of poems is being released into the world, like sun-bright bees zigging off to their meadowsYour Death Full of Flowers.

Slippery Elm is editor, and he has done loving translations of each poem between English and Spanish. He and his compadres have seen the project through from idea to fruition, in each detail choosing not what is easiest, or least expensive, or quickest, but what they determined to be best, and I am eagerly awaiting my package of books. For I am one of twenty-one writers whose work is contained (oh, lucky me) in these artisanal works, each "[p]rinted and bound by a family of artesanal leather workers from Ubrique, Andalusia, Spain."

Here is what Slippery Elm says about the book on the website:

Your Death Full of Flowers
A bouquet of poems arranged and translated by Slippery Elm

The thread that ties this bouquet together is that of the story of Blodeuwedd from the Mabinogion. A woman composed of flowers, who sought to kill her husband, and was thereby transformed into an owl. Blodeuwedd meaning flower-face, and the owl said to have been called blodeuwedd in the Welsh of yore. 

Just as the wizard Gwydion gathered blossoms of broom, meadowsweet, and trefoil, the editor gathers the poems to conjure something greater, a something that then goes on to wing the poetry out into the world. A deadly and nefarious agenda in the eyes of the princes of our age, or of those who are their followers and find no love or meaning but in their expendable busts. 

In the garden of these pages we encounter the whimsy and abandon of the eccentric who goes through life, toothless and in colourful rags, giving out flowers just because. Who heard the patter of Death’s slippers by their nightstand and received him with a bouquet. Who throws flowers at grooms and graves, and awoke suddenly as the rose’s final petal fell. We encounter the lyric and litany, the poison, the perfume, the lament, the laughter, and the eschatological love poem. The flowers that open above us. 

Flowers have been plucked from a well pick’d troop of poets, poets of the other breath, of the diverse brushstroke and the obscure melody. Major figures in English, Spanish, Arabic, American, and Welsh literatures, as well as newly emerging voices. Poets both young and old, and poets dead as much as living. Poets who have proven themselves worthy of the appellation, not just through prizes, accolades or infamy but through a certain generosity of the spirit and a marked commitment to the Poetry. This almost spiritual pedigree, of wise innocence, of beatific inspiration, might be boiled down into two words, which in some ways, are each a reflection of the other. For the old: trust. For the young: bravery. 

All poems appear in English and Spanish, and one in Arabic. The two languages form a dialectic in which meaning is generated in the space between them. It is in this hermeneutic tension between the Yes and the No, at the interstice between the two different tongues, between the dead nettle and white archangel, right in the centre of the book, that the beginning of an answer is given to the riddle of all riddles. 


This book is a fairy dart tipped with a draught to re-enchant a chantless world. That the lector remember his or her mortality and live all the more fully for it. Our aim is true. We swear by all flowers.

300 exemplars

Pocket hardback bound in three shades of green leather: holm oak, mugwort, and wild ivy; and in two shades of blue leather: bavarian gentian, and belladonna berry. Stamped in gold. Magenta and cerulean endpapers. Printed and bound by a family of artisanal leather workers from Ubrique, Andalusia, Spain. As the leather work is done by hand, no two copies are exactly alike. 

440 pages. 65 poems by 21 poets.


Elf Shot
Blooms Cast Upon a Tomb
Flowers of Flight
Flowers of God Making
‘Where the Bee Sucks there Suck I’
Women of Gardens and Gore
Your Final Roses


The poets:

Adler Frischauer
Casey June Wolf 
David ap Gwilym
Elena Botica
Emilio Montaño
Erynn Rowan Laurie
Giles Watson
Ian Kappos
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
MAAM (Maria de los Angeles Argote Molina)
Mahmoud Darwish
Mike Mahoney
Nicolas Ramajo Chiacchio
P. Sufenas Virius Lupus
Robert Graves
Ruby Sara
Scott Ramsay
Slippery Elm
Steven Posch
Tanya Fader
Victor Anderson

Your Death Full of Flowers can be ordered here:

Thursday, 16 February 2017

“What He Thought" by Heather McHugh

What He Thought

by Heather McHugh
for Fabbio Doplicher
We were supposed to do a job in Italy
and, full of our feeling for
ourselves (our sense of being
Poets from America) we went
from Rome to Fano, met
the mayor, mulled
a couple matters over (what's
a cheap date, they asked us; what's
flat drink). Among Italian literati

we could recognize our counterparts:
the academic, the apologist,
the arrogant, the amorous,
the brazen and the glib—and there was one

administrator (the conservative), in suit
of regulation gray, who like a good tour guide
with measured pace and uninflected tone narrated
sights and histories the hired van hauled us past.
Of all, he was the most politic and least poetic,
so it seemed. Our last few days in Rome
(when all but three of the New World Bards had flown)
I found a book of poems this
unprepossessing one had written: it was there
in the pensione room (a room he'd recommended)
where it must have been abandoned by
the German visitor (was there a bus of them?)
to whom he had inscribed and dated it a month before.
I couldn't read Italian, either, so I put the book
back into the wardrobe's dark. We last Americans

were due to leave tomorrow. For our parting evening then
our host chose something in a family restaurant, and there
we sat and chatted, sat and chewed,
till, sensible it was our last
big chance to be poetic, make
our mark, one of us asked
                                             "What's poetry?"
Is it the fruits and vegetables and
marketplace of Campo dei Fiori, or
the statue there?" Because I was

the glib one, I identified the answer
instantly, I didn't have to think—"The truth
is both, it's both," I blurted out. But that
was easy. That was easiest to say. What followed
taught me something about difficulty,
for our underestimated host spoke out,
all of a sudden, with a rising passion, and he said:

The statue represents Giordano Bruno,
brought to be burned in the public square
because of his offense against
authority, which is to say
the Church. His crime was his belief
the universe does not revolve around
the human being: God is no
fixed point or central government, but rather is
poured in waves through all things. All things
move. "If God is not the soul itself, He is
the soul of the soul of the world." Such was
his heresy. The day they brought him
forth to die, they feared he might
incite the crowd (the man was famous
for his eloquence). And so his captors
placed upon his face
an iron mask, in which

he could not speak. That's
how they burned him. That is how
he died: without a word, in front
of everyone.
                     And poetry—
                                        (we'd all
put down our forks by now, to listen to
the man in gray; he went on
                  poetry is what

he thought, but did not say.

Heather McHugh, "What He Thought", from Hinge & Sign: Poems 1968-1993 © 1994 by Heather McHugh.

Image: Photo by David Oliver (2006). Close-up of the statue of Giordano Bruno at the Campo de' Fiori, Rome. Photo heavily over-exposed. (The statue is dark.) Public domain through Wikimedia Commons. 

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Hope of Letting Go

Hope of Letting Go

23August 2016
3rd Day on Retreat
(This note was written shortly after learning my home was to be torn down, devastating information when added to the enormous waitlists and largely poor quality of subsidized housing in Vancouver today. I was shocked to be losing the friends and community I have cultivated, in addition to losing, if I end up in miniscule housing or on the street, everything I have slowly acquired to turn my single room into a place of welcome and comfort. But I was on retreat. I had a chance and support to look at things in a different way.)

I have been calm. I have meditated, prostrated, chanted, and prayed on a nearby forested hill. I have reviewed my Brigit poems and found wisdom in some (and lousy writing in some others). I have received listening and a reminder of non-attachment and the need for an energetic and clear-thinking ally to help me find housing. I have taken a risk and opened up in prayer circle and when all left I have sobbed until I could chant and then chanted until I could carry on and then walked out. I have fallen asleep fifty times but not allowed myself to nap.

Today I have slept anxiously, woken at 6:30 with the start of a cold, and forced myself to stay in bed and rest. I have risen deflated and anxious, looking for the friends I made here, not finding them, recollecting the countless times I had entered into a three-way friendship only to become the one and they the two. I have reminded myself of the old hurts that make that seem unfortunate. Reminded myself that I have chosen a deep, reflective retreat. They have chosen a restful, playful, adventurous one. No surprise I am left behind. Nor would I have wanted to go. How many opportunities do I have for real contemplation?

More important is how I meet this housing—catastrophe, it feels like, but I am reminded of the true devastation people face in the Sudan, Nigeria, Aleppo, and I know that this is merely frightening for me. No one is dropping bombs on my home. No one is torturing me. I do not have to flee with only my life.

My zen books and the dharma talks remind me of the comfort of my ancestors, the link to them when I walk mindfully for my father, for my mother, even if they never had the opportunity in their own lives to take a mindful step. The dharma speaks of suffering, how it arises from the desire to be an individual, and that we have choices (as I knew yesterday but was forgetting today) in how we face it and how we remove those obstacles of craving. (Not easily done, but worth a shot.)

I spent an hour in meditation on that very idea yesterday—each piece of furniture I feel I can’t happily relinquish—the hutch my mum and I refinished, the wardrobe I bought with Eileen, the bed I was given at eighteen by one of the few people who were really thinking about me then. I put my thoughts on each piece of furniture and what it means for me, what memories, what love it attaches to, what age-old hope for calm and security. And saying to it, yes, I can live without you. I am grateful to you, but I can say goodbye.

It loosened the ties but didn’t break them. It gave me some breathing room.

I had a thought a few minutes ago, in the midst of depression at losing my precious, stable, beautiful, peaceful home—thirty years it took to create this!—and after reading once again, “craving to be an individual” and “how we face our suffering”. The thought was: maybe this is the best time in my life for me to move. Sooner, and I would have been paralyzed with grief and fear. Much later and I would be too old to take as much advantage of it. If I am going to face my fear of such drastic liberation, perhaps the perfect time is now.

This of course does not end my suffering around it, or secure me good housing, or guarantee anything. But that luscious, tempting fruit: the chance to slice away the fear that makes me cling so hard to my securities and comforts, the craving to be this particular person who I see and story-tell in this particular way, that is a tantalizing one. Normally, it is not tantalizing enough to cut the strings. But now, when I have no choice, if I am not too quickly saved, if I must lose all? Then maybe. Maybe there is hope of letting go.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Disability Pensions in BC - Lest We Forget

More than 160 organizations write to Premier Christy Clark opposing changes to bus passes for people with disabilities

Image from Article in Georgia Strait

In the overwhelming climate of fear that I have moved into since the reality of the low-income housing market has hit me full in the face, one thing I have left unsaid is what it means to actually be on a provincial disability pension in BC. Below my essay on that topic is an article on the latest "improvement" to the BC disability pension called "BC Liberals’disability double-dealing is disappointing". Those who know whereof I speak may wish to skip my offering and go straight to Kirk LaPointe's.

When I first won my tribunal and was awarded BC GAIN for Handicapped, as it was then called, I was walking on air. (Of course they said no when I first applied and I had to find an advocate to fight for me--something not so easy these days as advocates are absolutely swamped with requests.) I felt a freedom I had never felt before. The visions of ending up on the streets if my rent climbed any higher now receded as with the tide. I had enough. Enough for rent, enough for food, enough for what I needed, if not enough to go out to restaurants and live the high life. But enough, and I was deliriously happy.

Those fears of ending up on the streets have slowly, slowly returned. And now with my home under direct threat, they are as roaring monsters from the deep, and I am very afraid.


A number of years ago myself and a throng of others living on BC disability benefits were forced to apply for the federal equivalent. Not invited, but forced, with unknown men (and women?)--not doctors, or counsellors, or someone you might, might, be inclined to trust, but some sort of case workers, I suppose, coming into our homes, asking highly personal questions, and listening as we with anxiety and distress described all the worst and most private elements of our lives that led to our being disabled, and of course, the dirty details of the disabilities themselves. The moment we got CPP the province tried to force us to to give them the backpay we received. We didn't have to, legally, they were careful to say, but we really did owe it to them, since they had so kindly cared for us all that time.

Luckily, despite my tendency to feel guilt and do what I am compelled to do by people who seem stronger or scarier than me, I had an interviewer who shook his head in silent disagreement with the policy he was forced to follow, and I took courage and kept my tiny refund for myself.

From that moment on, whenever the federal government gave an increase to my pension, the province happily trimmed it away, so that to my eyes there was never any more money, even though rent, food, and all the necessities were flying higher and higher in price. I am told we had a slight actual increase nine years ago but honestly, it was not felt by me.

Now, these are all just numbers, and hard to imagine into a way of life. Sure, $900, that's not much, but it's not bad, is it? Then think, imagine yourself living on this amount: How much do I pay in rent? How much is the least I can imagine paying in rent without moving into a complete dive? For that matter, how much are complete dives going for these days? Could I afford one on $900 a month?  (Hint: "Even the “last resort” type of rental units — the SROs found in the Downtown Eastside known for their poor conditions and cramped spaces — are now costing an average of $482 to rent. And prices continue to rise." Click the link for the full story.)

And then there's food, transportation, the many things you seem increasingly to need at the drugstore as you age or get sick that are not covered by medical or dental insurance. And could I ever buy a birthday present, let alone Christmas presents, or go out with friends without someone else having to pay my way--could I ever visit Mum in Nova Scotia, or take a course, or... Just think. $900 a month, round about. And you will see why we grocery shop once a month and then try to cupboard cruise the rest of the weeks, why we eat too much bread and not enough eggs or fish, why our community garden plot is so incredibly important to us, if we are lucky enough to have one (which I am, and which most aren't), and why we get so completely freaked out when we think of rent increases, renevictions, and losing our homes without finding another.

I am not the only person whose guts are being eaten alive by this.


If you are unfamiliar with renevictions, pleasure yourself with this little data from the government website:
Use the unit for another purposeThe buyer can serve the tenant a Two Month Notice to End Tenancy after the title of the property has been transferred and all required permits and approvals are in place when the buyer intends to:
  • Demolish the rental unit or do major repairs or renovations that require the building or rental unit be empty
  • Convert the rental unit to a strata property unit, a non-profit co-operative or society, or a not-for-profit housing co-operative under the Cooperative Association Act
  • Convert the rental unit to non-residential use, such as a shop
  • Convert the rental unit into a caretaker’s unit

Into this painful mix the BC Liberals have quietly slipped in a new increase to benefit those who are suffering most in the current high stakes housing markets--why, the landlords, of course. Lookie here:

The maximum allowable rent increase for residential tenancies is 2.9% in 2016 and 3.7% in 2017. There are additional rent increase allowances for manufactured home park tenancies.

My god. As if we are not suffering enough. And it is, of course, yet worse for those on the basic rate, and for many the homeless and working poor. It is like we are sliding off a cliff, or being trapped in third class on the Titanic. But before I panic any further, here's a--

Fun Game! You, too, can find out how much your rent may increase the next time your landlord gets an itch up her nose. Go to the cheery Rent Increase Calculator to find out!

Fun Sidetreat! Christy Clark earlier said we should raise the rates for people on disability "if we could afford it", linking that largesse to the natural gas development she has been pushing to all who will hear. Read that story here.


And suddenly, in this election year, the BC Liberals have decided to pretend to be magnanimous to disabled people at last, in a stunning piece of sleight of hand that may have escaped your notice. I leave it to Kirk LaPointe of Business Vancouver to spell it out for you.

Now, when you read Kirk's story below, bear in mind that these are the words the BC Liberals used in announcing the "increase" (and a few other goodies like penalizing us less for having money in the bank):

VICTORIA - B.C.'s most vulnerable families are getting a helping hand thanks to income and disability assistance changes that take effect today. The changes, announced in June as part of the Families First Agenda, are designed to help vulnerable individuals and families attain better financial outcomes, assist people with disabilities to lead more independent lives, and help people capable of work avoid the cycle of income-assistance dependence.


By Kirk LaPointe | June 3, 2016, 9 a.m.

In politics, there is a time to admit a mistake before it is too costly. Then there is a time when it is just too late.

Let’s assume in this case we haven’t crossed the line – that we can make one last plea for decency and sanity before the point of no return.

In last February’s provincial budget, someone came up with a bright idea and someone came up with a few horrible ideas for people with disabilities.

The bright idea wasn’t even really that bright. It was overdue and not terribly generous; a $77 monthly increase starting this fall in their $906.42 benefits, the first increase in nine years.

Just for a moment, wherever you are reading this right now, think of that.

Let it settle in.

Nine years.

Almost all of those years involve economic growth in our province under Liberal stewardship, and yet no one at the cabinet table was successful in pushing the finance minister or the premier to increase the meagre support for those who face daily challenges beyond what most of us can comprehend.

Still, to be somewhat fair for a moment, better late than never.

Still, let’s end that fair moment right here, because the bright ideas – if you can call them that – ceased there.

There are 20,000 people who receive a $66 transportation subsidy. They’ll lose that. Their net gain is $11 monthly.

There are 35,000 who get a transit pass for $45 annually. They will now start paying $52 monthly for that pass.

Their net gain is seemingly $25 a month.

But wait. There’s also a lovely administration fee of $45 annually, taking their increase down to $21.25.

All told, the net transportation saving for the provincial treasury of these one-hand-giveth, one-hand-taketh-away activities: a whopping $3 million. For that princely sum, the Liberals risk the further alienation of those with disabilities and their families, for starters. As an able-bodied voter/supporter, I’m astonished and disappointed, too.

There is no small irony that this budgetary lunacy comes when we are at last developing some economic and social sophistication about the untapped potential workforce of people with disabilities.

Organizations like the Vancouver-based Open Door Group have helped firms identify, recruit and retain such talent.

There is no small hypocrisy that the province boasted that this budget – in the context of the best-performing economy in the country – held out more to those most vulnerable. Bringing the rate up to, say, Alberta’s would have cost the province about $30 million, a fraction of the $100 million prosperity fund the government created on budget day.

And there is even no small inconsistency, given that progress in recent years on this front has permitted easier access to support and better terms of eligibility. It’s as if the right hand doesn’t realize what the left hand has been doing.

In mid-May, Disability Alliance BC asked Premier Christy Clark to leave the transportation programs in place as the province raises the disability assistance rates. While the alliance has unsuccessfully fought for a more formidable rate – say, $1,200 a month, in line with what other provinces provide – it didn’t expect it would also have to double down and fight to keep the transport subsidies.

So far from Victoria, a response of radio silence.

By the way, most insulting in this: the absurd assertion that these measures provide choice, that now someone with a disability can choose to keep a few dollars or take the bus pass. I somehow doubt the public relations geniuses who sat in a room and conjured that talking point earn $906.42 a month.

Here we are in early June, and OK, let’s agree a mistake can be remedied by the October due date and perhaps forgotten by election time next May.

Wait too long, though, and it smacks of cynical pre-election posturing.

Has it come to that? Is this really the best we can do? •

Kirk LaPointe is Business in Vancouver’s vice-president of audience and business development.