Sad to hear, via Rob Budde’s facebook page yesterday, that Prince George, British Columbia poet Ken Belford has died, after an extended battle with cancer. Some would suggest that Ken wasn’t a prolific poet, but he was one with a sense, it would seem, of the long game, and he had a considerable break between the publication of his first two collections—Fireweed (Talonbooks, 1967) and The Post Electric Caveman (Very Stone House, 1970)—to his return to publishing in 2000 with Pathways into the Mountains (Caitlin), a book followed by an array of books and chapbooks: Ecologue (Harbour Publishing, 2005), When Snakes Awaken (Nomados, 2006), Lan(d)guage (Caitlin, 2008), Decompositions (Talonbooks, 2010), Internodes (Talonbooks, 2013) and Slick Reckoning (Talonbooks, 2016). Not that he was completely silent during that period, either, publishing occasional small chapbooks such as Sign Language (1976) and Holding Land (1981), both through Barry McKinnon’s Gorse Press.
As part of an author biography on the Caitlin Press website reads: “Born to a farming family near DeBolt, Alberta, Belford grew up in East Vancouver. In the late 1960s, he moved to the Hazelton area of Northwest BC, where he homesteaded with his wife and daughter. Together they operated a soft paths eco tourism business in the remote, unroaded Nass River headwaters at Damdochax Lake. Remarried, he now lives in Prince George, BC, with his partner Si, and continues to blend the borders of poetics.” Part of his author biography via the Talonbooks website, more up-to-date, provides further details, writing: “For more than thirty years, he, along with his wife and daughter, operated a non-consumptive enterprise in the unroaded mountains at the vicinity of the headwaters of the Nass and Skeena Rivers.” It continues, writing:
The “self-educated lan(d)guage” poet has said that living for decades in the “back country” has afforded him a unique relationship to language that rejects the colonial impulse to write about nature, but speaks from the regions of the other.
We might have caught onto each other’s radar through my early interactions with Barry McKinnon, Talonbooks or even Rob Budde, who relocated to Prince George from Winnipeg back in 2000, around the time that Belford was returning to trade publishing. One thing I always enjoyed was the array of chapbooks he would self-publish under the “off-set house” imprint, something that began during the early years of his resurgence. Occasionally a new envelope of his chapbooks would arrive in my mailbox, most of which I tried to review. I got the sense that his work was a life-long accumulation of short, self-contained, often untitled lyrics on his particular north, ecological concerns and about how one lives in the world as a human being, and one who works to respect the land, the people and the space in which he lives. I would be curious to see if, as Budde’s facebook post suggested, a final collection of new poems was in the works, and even if there might be a selected or a collected to appear at some point, to show the concerns and structures that so obviously ran throughout his work. I would also be fascinated to see a full list of what he self-published, and a quick scan through my archive shows chapbooks including: sequences (series 1) (2003), crosscuts (series 2) (2003), fragments (series 3) (2003), transverse (series 4) (2003) and seens (2008). I’m sure there were others.
He was always very generous me during our interactions, whether the years he spent as an above/ground press subscriber (he offered that once he read the chapbooks, he made a point of passing them onto younger writers in his vicinity), and the few times we’d actually met in person, including a couple of readings I did in Prince George (including one with Stephen Brockwell), and a visit he did to Ottawa, during a few days he was in town for the sake of a conference at Carleton University, when I hosted him as part of a group reading via The Factory Reading Series. He seemed very aware of being a writer outside of the university system, and complained heavily that a room full of poets who teach in universities, some of whom expected me to run an event for them when they came through town, should be more appreciative of my efforts on their behalf. “And they can afford it!” he gruffed. “You shouldn’t be doing this work for free.” And he pushed $120 into my hand when the rest of the room wasn’t looking.