Reading coming up — Vancouver poetry showcase

I’m reading again soon. The event is the Literary Press Group’s Vancouver showcase for poetry month. The lineup is pretty amazing — I’m excited to read andrea bennett’s first book Canoodlers out from Nightwood soon, I’ve heard great things about Jennica Harper’s book What It Feels Like For a Girl, and I’m a longtime admirer of John Barton’s writing. I’ll be reading some new work.

The Literary Press Group is running poetry showcases in other cities across Canada throughout April, with independent publishers from all over the country participating.

Here’re the event details:

April 28th, 7 PM

Cottage Bistro (4470 Main Street)

Readers:

Alex Leslie

Jennica Harper

John Barton

Dennis Bolen

Sarah de Leeuw

Lawrence Feuchtwanger

andrea bennett

Jacqueline Turner

All are welcome!

Robert Kroetsch shortlist

This week I was thrilled to find out that my poetry manuscript, The Things I Heard About You, is on the shortlist for the Robert Kroetsch award for innovative poetry, judged by Ken Babstock. There are four manuscripts on the shortlist and the winning book will be published by the Snare imprint of Invisible Publishing in Toronto. I’m an admirer of both Robert Kroetsch’s and Ken Babstock’s work — I love Kroetsch’s long poem Field Notes and am glad I saw him read years ago at UBC.

My congratulations to the other three nominees, Jennifer Zilm, Michael Chaulk and Jeremy Stewart.  You can read a little bit more about the award here.

Reading coming up

On February 14th I’ll be performing as part of a team reading in support of west coast based Queer literary journal Plenitude, edited by Andrea Routley. Plenitude has published my work a number of times and I’m excited to support their ongoing work. The event is $10 at the door, which includes a subscription to Plenitude.

The lineup is excellent: Amber Dawn, author of the incredible memoir How Poetry Saved My Life, Lydia Kwa, author of numerous books including the recent collection sinuous, Leah Horlick, author of Riot Lung and co-founder of the Vancouver Queer reading series Litany, Brett Josef Grubisic, Emilia Nielsen, author of the recent collection Surge Narrows, which I’ve only heard glowing things about, myself, and Plenitude founder and editor Andrea Routley herself promoting her new book Jane and the Whales. Carrelin Brooks will MC.

The event is at Cafe Deux Soleils on Commercial Drive. Doors at 8:30, readings at 9. RSVP to the Facebook event here.

There will also be a raffle (prizes include my book!) to support the Missing Women’s Memorial March, which takes place every year on February 14th to recognize violence against women in the Downtown Eastside and honour the lives of women who have been murdered or gone missing in the DTES. The march begins at Main & Hastings at noon and all are welcome. You can read more about the event here.

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For Rob.

I mostly use this blog only to post about my writing: readings at local series, published stories in literary journals and reviews of my work. I haven’t written very much about the other side of my writing life. For the past several years I ran writing workshops in many spaces in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and downtown core. The people in my workshops were usually dealing with homelessness and other manifestations of systemic poverty. I ran hundreds and hundreds of these workshops. They became part of my life. Something I loved about the workshops was meeting the other writers who ran them. These people always had their own reasons for doing this work. We all had our own reasons. It wasn’t something I asked about very much, because I try to respect privacy and you probably have a pretty personal reason to go into tough spaces and ask people to write poems. One of the other workshop facilitators I knew was Rob, who took his own life last weekend.

There’s a tendency in our society to not go out of our way to hear stories that make us feel uncomfortable. To not go into spaces that are unfamiliar to us and just…listen. And withhold judgment again and again and again, until it’s a new kind of muscle. I witnessed innumerable stories during workshops that I likely would never have heard otherwise. When I heard that Rob was gone, I thought, fuck, the world has lost someone who knew how to listen. Rob was a writer, so we belonged to same tribe of sorts. We exchanged opinions about university programs and presses. He was hesitant and my impulse was always to push him harder. Send your manuscript out!, I told him, again and again. I offered connections, encouragement, things I try to give to people when I can. I don’t want to think about his book.

I wanted to write this post because suicide creates a silence around the person who died. This is so sad to me because I knew Rob to be someone who helped other people with their silence. Making a space for writing and reflection in an environment where people deal on a daily basis with violence and poverty is a way of fighting silence.

My life has been touched by suicide before. It is impossible to speak for another person. Speculation feels disrespectful, the wrong story to speak. But I would like to say that I knew Rob to be a kind person who knew how to be quiet and listen to other people’s stories and hold them delicately. I have found this to be a very rare skill in other people. We never discussed why we wrote or why we ran workshops, but I felt a common understanding with Rob of the importance of expression and the importance of respecting other people. I was excited when I heard he had started running workshops because I felt like he got it. Whenever I ran into him and we talked about how things were going, he had a quiet excitement, a deep sense of hesitation, an eagerness to talk. That’s what I want to remember.

It’s very surreal now to think that I won’t see Rob again. Just around, at readings, stuff with friends, regular stuff. We are/were (sorry I’m having mortality verb tense issues here) both shy people and our conversations would usually happen in sections, picked up and dropped off at various times. Anyone who isn’t an extrovert will understand this. It’s like running laps.

One of the last long conversations I had with him was about the problem of depression and isolation in our society. Someone we both knew had passed away a couple weeks before. We talked about how it’s important to reach out and how there are very strict unspoken rules in our society about communication. Who you can talk to and when and how real you can be. Who you can be with people. Who you can be with people who want to hear you. I think this is the closest we ever got to talking about why we ran workshops with people who are routinely robbed of voice, ignored. If a person doesn’t say what’s in them to say, it dies.

I felt that we both knew this. I saw him again a bunch of times after that, but we didn’t continue that conversation. I wish we had. Conversations have a time and a place. That death had opened something for us, about the importance of reaching.

We saw each other after that in public places — streets, reading — where people don’t know how to talk to each other, where there is no space for quiet voices, but I am learning to listen harder.

Goodbye Rob.

Tikkun olam.

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New work in EVENT and ‘Friend. Follow. Text.’

The new issue of EVENT has just been released and I have a couple prose poems in the issue, alongside work by writers such as George Bowering, Gregory Betts and S. Kennedy Sobol. The issue’s full line-up is here.

I posted a while ago about the anthology Friend. Follow. Text. edited by Shawn Syms. My story ‘People Who Are Michael’ is in the book and my copy arrived a few days ago. I’m pretty sure this is the first anthology in Canada to focus on short fiction that explores issues of online identity, social networking and stories structured by the language of Twitter, Facebook, etc. You can read a bit about the book here. You can buy a copy directly here.