Where it Hurts by Paul Strickland
Where it Hurts by Paul Strickland
The launch of Dr. Sara De Leeuw’s collection of personal essays, Where It Hurts, drew considerable interest from the Prince George literary community on May 17th at Cafe Voltaire.
CNC instructor, Peter Maides emceed the event, first introducing Sara and her co-worker Dr. Margot Greenwood from UNBC. He then introduced guest readers, Betsy Trumpener, CBC Daybreak radio journalist, and Stephen Collis, professor of contemporary literature at Simon Fraser University. The poets read from their own work and then from the works of local writers, Barry McKinnon, Ken Belford and Sharon Thesen. This was out of respect for their achievements in regional literature.
Trumpener first read from a work in progress about the concept of "trauma passed down through generations." Her war poem about the vicissitudes experienced by her father while manning a bridge on the Eastern Front during the last weeks of the Second World War turned on this topic. "My dad was a child soldier," she said.
"Remember newspapers?" she continued in a light-hearted vein, introducing "Elk Canyon Bugler Seeks Reporter." The poem alludes to all the ways a small-town newspaper reporter is expected to be a journalistic jack-of-all-trades:
"You monitor police radio/ . . .
". . . Carry a pen that writes in the cold/
"In the fall you cover the vegetable competition at the fall fair . . ."
Linking the poems together as being morbid, Trumpener then read local artist, Barry McKinnon's poem, "Bushed (Lost Along the Way.)" Bushed is an early poem taken from The the, published by Coach House Press in 1980 and short listed for the Governor General’s award that year. She spoke about a “morbid” element in Prince George poetry that she and McKinnon share. She quoted Weimar-era German dramatist Bertolt Brecht: "In the dark times, will there be singing? Yes, there'll be singing about dark times."
Next to present was Collis. Though he did not elaborate, he said he was working on a memoir about Canadian poet and CBC radio broadcaster, Phyllis Webb. Her most notable piece of work was The Vision Tree for which she won the Governor General’s Award in 1982.
"I think of Prince George as a poetry place," he went on to tell the audience.
Collis then read from Northern poet, Ken Belford's most recent book, Slick Reckoning, published by Talon Books in 2016.
"Forests are alive with cover . . . ."
After reading Belford, Collis read his own poem, "Reading Wordsworth in the Tar Sands." It was based in part on his visit to the Alberta oil sands when he was part of a media team allowed into a portion of the site. The poem compares the tailing ponds at the tar sands to Wordsworth’s Grasmere in the Lakes District of North West England. "Tell me I'm preaching to the choir," he remarked:
. . . deliver a world of dead birds . . . /
" . . . vast desert of tar sands pastoral . . . . /
" . . . birdless lakes on our left/
"No, not lakes but pools of poison . . . .
Subsequently he read two poems about birds. The title of the first was "In the Heart of That Book of My Memory" which is based on a quotation from mediaeval Italian poet Dante: " . . . tree swallows and maybe an Eastern phoebe….”
The second poems was "Yes, I Do Want to Punch Fascists in the Face," which he said, was still mainly about warblers. "It's going to be all right," he commented.
After the close of his readings, he returned to the tar sands poem and noted, "There is no landscape. They removed it in its entirety.”
De Leeuw, suffering from laryngitis, did not read during the event but she recovered her voice sufficiently to introduce Dr Greenwood, an Indigenous scholar with 20 years experience in early childhood education. De Leeuw told a story about how, during the first week she worked with Greenwood as a UNBC colleague, her own best friend died and she had to ask for time off work to go to the funeral. Greenwood of course, understood much to the relief of De Leeuw. This was the beginning of a long friendship.
Greenwood then read for De Leeuw, starting with "a poem of place" based on Sharon Thesen's work: "Midden Layer -- Prince George -- Circa 1962":
"Dark out . . . White snow . . .
"All night beehive burners throw up nebulas.
"A middle-aged disc jockey plays 'Baby Love'
"A new day is dawning and she is dead."
Thesen, like McKinnon and Belford, is a local poet who has published many books and is featured in some of the major anthologies.
Trumpener then read on De Leeuw's behalf from an essay about the burning in early 2009 of the Columbus Hotel "and the racism surrounding that,” and Greenwood read piece from De Leeuw's work based on a popular Johnny Cash song, “This is Sunday Morning Coming Down.”
Greenwood and De Leeuw explained the next essay to be read, which entered the realm of "literary non-fiction" and regional legend. The story is intertwined with the Aboriginal Coyote Legend and an event that occurred in Greenwood’s life involving her son.
"Coyotes visited Thursday and Friday . . .
"A rabbit-eyed coyote at the end of the hedge . . . ./
"Sunday morning is coming, coming at the edge of this night . . . "
The Coyote Legend ended with a short reference to the “Two-Eyed Seeing,” a research method that looks at both western and aboriginal science, each being a whole eye but combined to become a binocular vision.
After the readings there was time for book-signings, interviews with the poets and conversations with friends.
Paul Strickland -- in his 28 years as full-time journalist and 6.5 years as a free-lance journalist, has worked for newspapers in Nevada, Medicine Hat and Prince George. Besides being an investigative reporter, he is a poet, a short story writer and an essayist. He currently resides in Prince George.
He has recently contributed to UNBC's Over the Edge, to CNC’s The Confluence and occasionally to the Prince George Astronomical Society's Pegasus newsletter. Paul also wrote a bi-weekly column for the P G Free Press and continues to freelance for electronic sites such as chickenbustales.com and www.dooneyscafe.com