Thursday, 20 April 2017

A Stunning Photo of (Saint Francis?)


Reminds me of him, anyway, Saint Francis. Preaching to the birds. What a gorgeous shot, Raimond. Thank you for making it available on Wikimedia.

Sgraffito am Haus Schadowstraße 7, Köln-Neuehrenfeld

© Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)



Jenny Kwan Responds (Housing Crisis)


I posted Jenny Kwan's initial response to my letter about housing and poverty in Vancouver. I will add the links to that and to the original posting below. But I heard from her again today, and here is what she said:





Message body





Original post: Housing: Guess Who Pays the Price?
First response: Housing: the Responses; the Process; the Fear

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Feet in the Earth, Head in the Sky


Still Creek Community Garden 2015


I lurched home, dress drenched and sticking to my calves, groceries bundled protectively in my arms, garden paraphenalia and leftover seeds stored soaking in my pack. Stripping at the door, I emptied my pack on the floor, left the food where I dropped it, pegged the pack up on my Get Kist Here! corner-grocery door-push, hung my coat and hat to dry, and climbed into the shower to rub down my chilled torso and my beet pink legs. When I could bear the torment of my attentions no more (that skin is sensitive when parboiled by rain and friction), I rubbed down, put on two long dresses, thick-knit wrist warmers, a shawl, a cable knit sweater, and a pair of thermal socks. I couldn’t stick my socked feet into my wooly slippers, or I would have done that, too. Two prophylactic vitamin C tablets later, I put on the stove the last of my homemade black bean and barley soup (featuring hunks of my winter parsnip, still delicious and hearty despite their months under snow), and started peeling open seed packets to dry—soaked through, most of them, despite being kept in a ziploc bag and under an umbrella at the community garden through the four hours I worked there today, because the hands that kept going into them were undryable.

That done, I planted the accidentally remaining scarlet runner beans (two) in one of my balcony pots, threw my dress in a soapy sinkful of water to soak, washed my garden tools, set my muddy gardening gloves and sleeve protectors aside for later attention (triage!), cleaned the mud off my boots and left them to dry for later application of mink oil. Peeled apart the leaves of my notebook so they wouldn’t dry glued together, redid my sketch of the new plantings on a fresh piece of paper, divided my groceries into that-which-is-coming-with-me-to-Bowen-Island-tomorrow and that-which-stays-in-Vancouver-to-get-the-homefires-burning-when-I-return, boxed, bagged and put away, and at last sat down with my bowl of hot, wonderful soup.

I have not had so much fun in a coon’s age.

My limbs are trembling. I keep mistyping because my fingers are ungovernable. My back swears vengeance. My skin threatens to peel off, dessicated from the continuous rain and being plunged repeatedly into the earth. (There’s only so much you can do with your hands protected. Sooner or later, if you will pardon the expression, the gloves have got to come off.)

What did I do today to cause such heartiness in the face of apparent discomfort?

2015
I tended my gardens. I tended our garden. I met new community garden members and talked with old, learning more about them and loving them all.

This morning I finally got the home garden sprinkled with organic fertilizer before dashing with Mary to StillCreek Community Garden for our first work party of the year. I got about an hour’s work in my own beds done before the “party” started: string strung to demarcate sections, seeds swapped with Mary, lupines inspected (I fear losses), potatos and garlic babies planted, and I forget what-all-else before my maintenance crew-boss Lucia arrived and we got chatting, then Clélie, bless her, and a big hug and introductions to new folk (whose names I won’t venture at the moment), and then the gathering up of fallen cottonwood limbs, the weeding of communal beds, (the chatting, the chatting), the back groaning, the back groaning, whispered love-words to horsetail and buttercup and dandelions as I dug them up, apologies to cursing earthworms, to sadly hacked back blackberries (though I defended them, I did, against complete removal: the birds need them more than we don’t), and hot Tim’s coffee and Timbits (ahhh...), till at last I declared myself done with the work party and returned to my beds.

Then it was figuring, plotting, planting, covering, and praying. Have you ever tried to plant a garden when you are dripping wet and the deluge continues all around you? I thanked India for those nice big nasturtium seeds (heirloom Indian, apparently), and mourned the frail tiny mixed lettuces, who glued to my hands in the sprinkling and were, like the rest, unceremoniously brushed off of me and onto the earth, roughly and lightly covered over with numb fingertips, watched by crossing eyes that were barely able to make them out through my bifocals, and left to fend for themselves with only a single defunct Adobe Acrobat CD turning wistfully from a string over the kale, the leeks, the spinach, and the chard.

Those words! Delicious. My tongue tastes them as I speak; my teeth feel their texture and their crunch.

I went nuts this year, perhaps with increasing confidence, as I manage to harvest something every Gardener’s Question Time while unable to do more but watch my hardy kale die mouldering in the snow and my hardier Gladiator parsnips unmoveable in the frozen ground. (Next year, my pretties, there will be burlap around you, or at least a little cardboard, so I can wiggle out a root or two in the Dark Times.)
Katherine Laflamme, 2017.
Still Creek Community Garden Facebook page
season, perhaps with increasing recklessness as I recall the many unviable or at least violated plants that never made the light, perhaps with the sap-lust of many months listening to

Back to the words:

Chard.
Kale.
Parsnip.
Tomato.
Lettuce.
Leek.
Nasturtium.
Garlic.
Potato.
Spinach.
Beans.
Have you ever heard such beautiful words in your life?

I know, then I forget, then I remember again, that I am never happier than when I am tending a wee plant or animal, or indeed a massive plant or animal. I don’t care what kind. There is no weed, no pest to me, although I do sometimes have to negotiate, if you get my drift, and urge other pastures on my associates. But I truly love them all, and when I am able to spend time with them, joy runs through me like sap through leaves.

A few years ago my neighbour Darnelle urged me to join a community garden, which she had done and which was bringing her such happiness. I thought I didn’t feel like doing that. Too much work, too many rules, and besides, I don’t know a thing about gardening. Then Darnelle died and I kept looking at her neglected plot and I kept thinking, I wonder.

The next year I faced cancer. I spent a while dealing with that and where it was not a mortal blow, gras a Dye, it scared the pants off me. After a few months of dealing with that I had the thought that I would like to grow something more life-giving than cancer cells, so I asked for and miraculously got a place in a community garden. I was very cautious at first, shy of the people and shy in my planting, because I knew so little, and worried so much.

Is it five years later now? Something like that. And that plot, now two plots, has sustained me in many more ways than gustatorially in that time, growing in importance every year, roots growing out from it, through me, into the community that welcomed me, so that the food I get from it is not only for my body, but for my soul, not only for me as an individual, but as part of a world.

One of the first things I planted was a purple tulip given me by my friend Kathy, who died of her own cancer three years ago. I see today their leaves strong and their buds on the verge of opening. (That one tulip is now two.) And they link me back to her and all we went through, all she went through, all the people who helped, who tended our garden of the heart along the way.

Parsnips, tulips. Marigolds, “weeds”. The earthworms I had to dig up from other places and slowly introduce. The rain. The cottonwoods. The peace.

It really is a community garden. And I am so grateful I have a place in it.



2015



Images:  Casey Wolf and Katherine Laflamme

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. 

  Hugs, 

  Kaitlyn 



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: 

http://vancouver.carpediem.cd/events/2462226-international-day-against-racism-march-at-thornton-park

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!

Casey

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.

Contents

*
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
Antler
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: 

http://www.swamplanternbooks.com/books/your-death-full-of-flowers


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
softly)—
                  poetry is what

he thought, but did not say.






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


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.