Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Revolving City: 51 Poems and the Stories Behind Them, eds. Wayde Compton & Renée Sarojini Saklikar

At the Lunch Poems reading series we have featured up to twenty poets a year since 2012. (Though at the time of publication our Lunch Poems series continues, this anthology could only include poets who read for us in 2012-14.) Some of the poets are local and some from afar, some with their first manuscript or debut book in hand and others who have written dozens of books, some lyrical, some experimental, and none of them fitting easily into any simple category. Each poem presented here is followed by the poet’s discussion of its creation. Our goal has always been to be aesthetically ecumenical: to feature poets who are pursuing form from a variety of positions, concerns, and cultural perspectives. (Wayde Compton, “Introductions”)

The poets in this collection take us both inward, into the private joys and hurts of the individual and the family, and outward into a world of conflict and connection, a nexus of locations: past, present, the future. In concept and form, these poems investigate belonging/not belonging, and in so doing, pinpoint markers for our greatest challenge: how to live without destroying ourselves or this planet, all this taken on within the realm of that endless field, a page of words. (Renée Sarojini Saklikar, “Introductions”)

The new anthology The Revolving City: 51 Poems and the Stories Behind Them, eds. Wayde Compton & Renée Sarojini Saklikar (Vancouver BC: Anvil Press/Simon Fraser University, 2015) is an intriguing array of work by predominantly western poets, all of whom have performed as part of the Simon Fraser University Lunch Poems reading series. Each contribution includes a poem as well as a short statement on the piece by the author, allowing an illumination into an element of the composition process, ranging from the structural to the biographical to the incidental. As Daniela Elza writes on her poem “getting the story/line in order”:

This poem is an excerpt from a longer sequence written to the photography exhibit Story/Line by Larry Wolfson, displayed by the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery in Vancouver (December, 2013). The four fragments here incorporate a number of the images from the exhibit. When I walked into the gallery I was doggedly followed by the grief of a separation. I was coming to the realization that my efforts to keep my family together were to no avail. I was trying to make sense of what was happening to me. The images apprehended me, leapt at me, and in that moment became vehicles for loss. They helped crystallize the conflicted feelings about where, and what, is home. For years I heard what my mind had to say, those were default thoughts of the day. Now, I wanted to learn what the heart thought. It was circling in these sensations like a puppy looking for a place to lie down. It was happy to locate itself in these images. They became containers. I kept filling them. The initial piece was written on the spot, followed by a week of intense editing. One row of words, one row of tears. Reading it in public a week later in the gallery for the art and poetry event was terrifying. Writing, for me, has always helped me make better and more compassionate sense. More importantly, it helps me reimagine new possibilities.

The anthology includes poems and corresponding statements by Jordan Abel, Joanne Arnott, Elizabeth Bachinsky, Dennis E. Bolen, George Bowering, Tim Bowling, Colin Browne, Stephen Collis, Wayde Compton, Peter Culley, Jen Currin, Phinder Dulai, Daniela Elza, Mercedes Eng, Maxine Gadd, Heidi Greco, Heather Haley, Ray Hsu, Aislinn Hunter, Mariner Janes, Reg Johanson, Wanda John-Kehewin, Rahat Kurd, Sonnet L’Abbé, Fiona Tinwei Lam, Evelyn Lau, Christine Leclerc, Donato Mancini, Daphne Marlatt, Susan McCaslin, Kim Minkus, Cecily Nicholson, Billeh Nickerson, Juliane Okot Bitek, Catherine Owen, Miranda Pearson, Meredith Quartermain, Jamie Reid, Rachel Rose, Renée Sarojini Saklikar, Jordan Scott, Sandy Shreve, George Stanley, Rob Taylor, Jacqueline Turner, Fred Wah, Betsy Warland, Calvin Wharton, Rita Wong, Changming Yuan, and Daniel Zomparelli. Of course, the appearances of both Peter Culley and Jamie Reid, poets who died this year, are bittersweet, but admirers of the poets and their works are allowed one more glance into their composition. Culley’s statement, for his “Five North Vancouver Trees,” originally composed for the “Moodyville” issue of The Capilano Review [see my review of such here], includes: “Coming into North Vancouver to attend an opening at Presentation House Gallery I got on the wrong blue bus and instead of travelling ten minutes from Park Royal to the gallery the bus kept going uphill for a long, dreamlike time, and the thick hedges and dim lights of those misty upper reaches stuck in my mind. North Vancouver had always been a mysterious, dark place to me, and the poem works if it gets some of that over, folding into the larger narratives of Hammertown without too much strain.”

The collection is intriguing in how the various statements by a group of poets that wouldn’t have much in common, but for a varying gradient of geography, begin to coalesce, overlap and echo each other. The styles and poetics might differ, but the insights and conversations have much in common, and provide valuable insights. As Jen Currin writes on her poem “The Oceans”:

This poem was written not long after Fukushima. I was thinking a lot about the people in Japan and the oceans, about radiation—how radiation knows no borders. I was thinking about communities, relationships, neighbourhoods; experiments in kindness and unkindness; about the effects of radiation on bodies, plants, water. I was thinking about English as a sort of radiation, its role in pushing forward a global capitalist ideology, and how the speaker of the poem, a teacher of English, is complicit in this, yet at the same time wishes to make connections with her students that are not based on this ideology. I was thinking of how students teach teachers, a common theme in the book School, which this poem is taken from.

The cities are Vancouver and Tokyo, but really—all cities where people struggle to live connected lives.

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