What does it mean to return? It means to start anew. To rethink the thing (life, poetry). There are bald eagles on top of towering trees (also bald) so it should be possible. Water, blossoms (gradually). Light in horizontal slats into a cavern of a room, white-walled, artless. A peninsula and a rock that howls (Musqueam), et des falaises qui s’éffritent.
These are the harmonics of a lieu, a place of thought and laughter that I shared with a hundred others studying to make their disciplines anew or digging them deeper, wider. I lived for three months in this expansiveness of place, in its ethics of thinking and respect and kindness.
I was in Green College at UBC as writer-in-residence. A Greenie. With three projects of my own — The Elements, a book of poems; along with two translations for 2016; Flesh of Leviathan, a translation of Chus Pato in need of meticulous revision for publication, and My Dinosaur, a fresh translation of young Quebec poet François Turcot’s third book. I did need quiet in which to work.
Aware, in the midst of it all, that I was returning to Vancouver where I had lived for a decade thirty years ago. One month now, for every ten years away. What would Vancouver mean to me?
Turned out I did my work; I relished the companionship of the Greenies, our conversations of curtain-wall glass and contradiction, of tautology at breakfast, lab problems at dinner, and the pondering of all the possible varieties of writing and speech at all meals, and in between. I met writers from Green College and beyond, in the Piano Lounge of Graham House around a huge coffee table; I travelled to many of the small cafés on campus for consultations, and even headed downtown to talk to those who could not reach UBC. I wrote, walked down and up the 400 steps to Tower or Wreck Beach, rode a Green College Bike Share fixie into the woods of Pacific Spirit Park, and stayed still to watch the light between the slats of the window blinds render my space in horizontal strokes mixed with the green outside.
One of my jobs at Green, in return, was to organize three events in the College Speakers Series. The Public and Resistant Form brought three speakers each to three colloquia that looked at the public vis-à-vis three touchstones that meet publics: poetry as resistant form with Stephen Collis, Rita Wong and actress Sandra Ferens; translation as resistant form with Uljana Wolf, Roman Ivashkiv and artist Allyson Clay; history as resistant form with Jordan Abel, Wayde Compton and Rhea Tregebov. The audiences (from Green, UBC, Vancouver) bustled, and discussions were amazing. New thinking emerged in the room from the words of the speakers, and from the spaces opened to participants by their differences. I felt each time that people were thinking newly in the space. The room itself was thinking us, and we vibrated long after. Audience was audible, auditory (and full of amazing poets).
Each weekend, I did trek away from trees and eagles, away from my work bench in the Botanical Gardens beneath the summer magnolia (the only one not yet in bloom), to boisterous and generous dinners cooked by poets, artists, critics, and practical jokers. And at times I slipped during the week for movies or for quiet coffees in Elysium with poet folks to puzzle this and that.
Just before I left, thanks to Green College, about 70 people joined to welcome a new book (is it a book? I still puzzle at its hybridities in this culture, hybridities here which are just normal in the east of Europe and the west of Asia where the book was seeded), Kapusta.
Result? It turned out that my time in Vancouver could not be measured against any prior time I had spent there. None of my molecules were the same, are the same. What I encountered was new thinking on many counts, new strivings. A new and vital presence of aboriginal thinking—in politics, histories, languages and forms of speaking, writing, thinking—on its own terms was one. As in Edmonton the year before. I hope it can keep rising and imbue more thinkings on and off the campus, and that these campuses where so many marvellous people are at work may serve as hub and spill. We need this, all of us.
The sun doesn’t only set in the West, I figure. It dawns there too.
Kapusta, Erín’s latest book, is available here.