Book love

My book of prose poems The things I heard about you is out with Nightwood in about a month. It’s been great to see it turn up on a few lists of anticipated titles — on this CBC fall book list, on the 49th Shelf’s Fall Poetry Preview, and in The Quill and Quire’s most anticipated poetry and graphica for 2014. The book will be available on October 10th and you can pre-order it from Amazon here. I’ll be posting the October & November readings from the book here soon.

My writing friend Marguerite Pigeon is releasing a new book of short stories Some Extremely Boring Drives with NeWest Press and I’m happy to be reading at her book launch with Meredith Quartermain. It’s a rare chance for me to read some fiction-in-progress. The launch is at the Dunlevy Snackbar on October 1st at 7:30 (433 Dunlevy St, Vancouver). If you do the Facebook thing, the event listing is here


Dear rivers

Yesterday I read at a poetry event honouring the work of Chief Dan George — the reading was part of the Salish Sea summer gathering hosted by the Tsleil Waututh nation in the Burrard Inlet, not far from where I grew up in Vancouver. The Tsleil Waututh are currently fighting Kinder Morgan’s proposed pipeline expansion in their territory.

I was asked to read some of Chief Dan George’s work and to respond in whatever way I wished. I wrote a poem, which you can read following the photographs. With the environmental disaster at Mount Polley in the news, my poem is also a response to those events.

Wil George of the Tsleil Waututh was part of the reading and reminded all of us before he read that Chief Dan George’s writings are not poems in the Western sense, but are teachings and teaching stories from the ancestors.

Before the reading, the poets were invited to paddle with the Tsleil Waututh across the Inlet to the Kinder Morgan plant as part of a ceremony that preceded the festival. As a non-Aboriginal person who is a lifelong resident of the Lower Mainland, I was honoured to be part of this canoe journey with the original keepers of the waters. For me, the invitation to speak to Chief Dan George’s words felt connected to the invitation to be part of this paddling journey. Thank you to the Tsleil Waututh for being gracious hosts and for giving me the opportunity to contribute my writing to their resistance. The ceremony carried out by a Tsleil Waututh elder during the canoe journey reminded me on the many forms that resistance takes and that these water have their own ways of healing.


photo 2

My paddle-buddy, Glen Campbell of Musqueam. Tsleil Waututh wolf on the paddle in the background.

Kinder Morgan in the background. Tsleil Waututh paddle in the foreground.

Kinder Morgan in the background. Tsleil Waututh paddle in the foreground.

Look ahead

Look ahead


Here is the poem I wrote for the event. It’s a response to Chief Dan George’s piece, ‘Words to a Grandchild.’


Dear Rivers


Dear and open misspelled rivers the very blood running

through my veins

waterways radial arteries

fresh to my small salt vessels


Dear and open misspelled rivers your laughter fills the air

Full of yellow machines rolling in your wake

In your depths the old blood has thickened

But darker grittier now, oil in my veins


Dear and open misspelled rivers I’ve swum in a few of you

Quietness and beauty, now my body rises

in my dreams trailing tailings

a bird cannon on each shoulder


Dear and open misspelled rivers according to BC laws

a natural body of water can be “impounded”

to make a tailing pond – how can the law impound

something that is always in motion? A river

cannot be impounded. So you must be choked.


Dear and open misspelled rivers I know my maps

Mining tailing pond flows into the Quesnel River which flows

into the Fraser River which has flowed my entire life

into my throat which flows into my stomach my bowels into

the Pacific which flows into the clouds

which flow into


Dear and open misspelled rivers Chief Dan George wrote

“there is good in everything” – where is the good in this

is it how a creek became a highway

is it how impounding a lake forces a reminder

is it that water always lets itself happen

is there no good in this – is the lesson that we’ve gone too far


made salmon swim out of their own skins


Dear and open misspelled rivers in 2013 at Mount Polley

406 tonnes arsenic and its compounds

177 tonnes lead and its compounds

326 tonnes nickel and its compounds

18, 413 copper and its compounds

3 tones mercury and its compounds:

Disposal only.


Dear and open misspelled rivers

English is a slippery river

A tailings pond can be a landlocked sea

A tailings pond can be a vast desert no human or animal or bird

Can walk across

A tailings pond is a world

That eats worlds


Dear and open misspelled rivers

The elder on the evening TV news tells the journalist

“it’s like a death in the family, what’s happened to the river”

behind her the water walks past

its own dead path

like a stranger to itself

the golem before the holy words

are slipped into its mouth


Dear and open misspelled rivers

How will you heal

Skin and bone

Mercury and arsenic

Fresh and salt


Dear and open misspelled rivers

What are you thirsty for

Now that your salmon

Cannot drink of you


Dear and open misspelled rivers

As Chief Dan George wrote,

“The spoken word

is not enough”


Looking forward

I was happy to see that my book, The things I heard about you, is on The Quill & Quire’s most anticipated poetry book list for this fall season. I’m looking forward to the new books by Lisa Robertson & Patrick Lane, two of my favourite writers.

This summer, the Frank theatre company has been running a series of writing workshops in downtown Vancouver for self-identified queer, trans*, Two Spirit and questioning youth. These workshops are free and open to youth at all stages of exploring their writing. This Tuesday I’m the guest artist at the weekly workshop — I’ll be talking about publishing and doing a few exercises. You can find more info about the workshops here.

And this Sunday there’s the poetry reading responding to the work of Chief Dan George — I am glad to be reading with a group of writers involved in local social justice and environmental issues. All info about that reading is here.

Reading coming up — Chief Dan George poetry series

My favourite kind of reading is when I get invited to respond to another artist’s work — it takes me out of my element. I’ll be reading soon with other poets at an event honouring the work of Chief Dan George. The event is presented by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation Sacred Trust and I’m honoured to be invited to respond & read. The other poets reading are all involved in social justice work in various capacities and Wil George, who I’ve read with before years ago at the Carnegie, is a relative of Chief Dan George. Jordan Abel is a Nisga’a artist whose book The Place of Scraps just won the BC Book Prize for Poetry. I’m looking forward to hearing all the ways these writers work with Chief Dan George’s words.

All the info is on the Facebook event here.

AUG 10, 2-5pm 
Whey-ah-Wichen/Cates Park as part of the Salish Sea Summer Gathering

The list of readers:
Wil George
Stephen Collis
Christine Leclerc
Rita Wong
Jordan Abel
Cecily Nicholson
Rachelle George
Alex Leslie
Natalie Knight
Kevin Spenst

It’s alive

And here’s the link to the listing for my second book, The things I heard about you, out this fall from Nightwood.

Many thanks to Jen Currin and Larissa Lai for the blurbs for the book — both describe the project so well, better than I could have. Both are writers I hugely admire.

“Prose poems, soundtracks, mini-fictions–the lyrical, multi-faceted pieces in The things I heard about you record the ways in which language makes and unmakes us. ‘Between a tooth and safety,’ bodies, weathers, genders inhabit and are inhabited by histories of loss, institutions of violence. These stories don’t shrink even as they grow smaller; each is distilled to a potent drop that sinks into the mind like ink into skin: ‘I, not here, write.'” 
-Jen Currin 

“To hear everything available for the hearing is still to misperceive, but to enter the condensation is to enter an entirely different world. In Alex Leslie’s brilliant new collection, The things I heard about you, melodies seem to repeat everywhere, with the slightest of variations. What is easily fixed becomes easily refused. The most succinct articulation may be the most beautiful, but what it captures of the original utterance is the palest, most ghostly glimpse of the original, and often its opposite.”
-Larissa Lai

Best Canadian Poetry + a reading

Publishing in literary journals is a long, slow process so I’m always glad when a piece makes its way into an anthology and has another life. I was really happy to learn this week that my poem ‘Vancouver for Beginners #1: Rainforest Paradise’ will be published in the 2014 edition of Best Canadian Poetry In English. The anthology will be out with Tightrope Books in Fall 2014. The anthology brings together many different styles of poetry from different regions of the country (initially I mis-typed that ‘different regions of the poetry’ which works too) and I’m honoured to be included. ‘Vancouver for Beginners #1: Rainforest Paradise’ was first published in Descant‘s Hidden Cities special issue and was nominated by the editors for this anthology. My thanks to the editors, who are generous but also sneaky because I had no idea about the nomination.

The poem is part of a long series of prose poems I’ve been working on on-and-off for two or three years now called ‘Vancouver for Beginners.’ Poems from this series have been in EVENT, Dreamland, The Capilano Review‘s experimental fiction issue and filing station‘s issue devoted to experimental writing by Canadian women. A series of prose poems is really one long poem and full of setbacks, confusions and detours — so I am grateful for this vote of confidence at this point in the process/journey/hellacious trek/”learning.” Oh god.  Best Canadian Poetry has a blog you can follow here and  they will be posting poets’ commentaries on their poems.

Things are pretty quiet for the rest of the summer. I’m working away on a story collection and looking forward to my book of poems, The things I heard about you, that’s out with Nightwood in the fall.

I have one reading in late July, at RC Weslowski’s Mashed Poetics series. It’s on July 25th at the 7 Dining Lounge, the old Kozmik Zoo. This series goes a bit outside of my comfort zone, which is why I accepted — it’s a mix of literary and spoken word artists (not that you have to be invested in that distinction!) and each artist is assigned a song from an album. This time the album is The Violent Femmes’s debut album. All the info about the event is on the Facebook page here. All are welcome.

In June I was invited by Vancouver’s KSW experimental poetry collective to present on a work of my choice. I chose Y. Madrone’s prose poem ‘Personal’ from the incredible anthology Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poeticsthe first anthology of its kind, released this year by Nightboat. I write and publish continuously and am influenced deeply by what I read, but I almost never am in the position to present an official interpretation of my influences, so this was exciting and daunting for me. I chose a piece from this anthology because I decided that the best use of my time would be to present on the work of a contemporary, who would likely have had little or no critical responses. I then learned that a poet in the audience knew Y. Madrone and I had the privilege of conveying the perceptive, warm discussion of ‘Personal’ to the poet themself. Life’s odd and wonderful little gifts — the conversations we don’t know we are part of.