The Poetic is Political
Last Monday, December 14th, I attended a virtual protest on Zoom to speak out against the recommendation of the Community Services Committee in Fredericton to removed pre-meeting poetry readings by Poet Laureate Jenna Lyn Albert at Fredericton City Council. This movement was proposed with very little warning and without informing Albert of the change to her position at all. This protest ran from 5:30 pm-7:00 pm and was recorded and sent along to the city council members, as the motion was to be voted on that night at the council meeting at 7:30 pm. The protest was organized by Albert alongside poets Emma Rhodes and Spencer Folkins, who both hold BA's from St. Thomas University, and have poetry published in several literary magazines across Atlantic Canada. Rhodes and Folkins were both in my Poetry workshop course at St. Thomas last year. Their works are brilliant, and they are both very passionate about their craft, so their support of this protest was no surprise to me.
Rhodes and Folkins opened the meeting by explaining why we were gathered; to fight against the silencing of Albert’s readings before City Council. The Poet Laureate represents the people in our city. The reason that the change to her position was supposed to be because the pay for the Poet Laureate position was not sufficient to cover these readings before the City Council, and that other poets capable of holding the Poet Laureate position may not wish to read in front of City Council. I feel that there are easy solutions to these supposed problems. Either pay Albert more or make these readings optional. There is no need to cut them altogether. But all of us gathered understood the true reason behind these excuses. Albert has faced controversy this year with the poems she has selected to read before the council. One poem, “Those Who Need to Hear This Won’t Listen” by Conyer Clayton, an Ontario poet, was about the experience of having an abortion.
This poem was read by Albert in wake of Clinic 554 in Fredericton facing closure due to pressure from the Provincial government. The Higgs administration refuses to fund privatized abortion access, and so the Clinic’s medical providers paid for abortions out of pocket. While this is honourable, it doesn’t make for good revenue, and the clinic was forced to close this past fall. Clinic 554 was the only clinic in the province with private abortion access that also provided routine health care to LGBTQ+ individuals and many others. Albert reading this poem to the council spoke to the issues that so many Frederictonians and New Brunswickers were facing at the time and are still dealing with the consequences of now. However, councilor Dan Keenan claimed, “I’m terribly concerned that we are now politicizing our poems.” Myself and many of us gathered to protest this motion found this claim to be laughable. This was especially demonstrated when former Poet Laureate of Halifax, El Jones read a poem she wrote for this protest which poked fun at this claim, as she pointed out the long political history of art and poetry being written and read for Monarchs of the past. Sara Nason, another St. Thomas University graduate, read their poem “An Apolitical Poem for City Council’s Delicacies”, and Rhodes read her poem “John Locke in Practice”, speaking to the mismatch between what we learn in University, and being unable to apply it in real life and practice due to the silencing from our local government.
Several community poets, such as Rhodes, Jennifer Houle, Jean-Phillips Raiche, and Thandiwe McCarthy read pieces speaking to the matter at hand. As well, several Poet Laureates such as tIan LeTourneau; the inaugural Poet Laureate of Fredericton, Shoshanna Wingate, Poet Laureate of Sackville, NB; Kayla Geitzler, Moncton’s inaugural Anglophone poet Laureate; El Jones, former Poet Laureate of Halifax, and Nisha Patel, Poet Laureate of Edmonton, Alberta, all read poems speaking to the matter. Jamie Kitts, former Managing Editor of the ACPA, and Rebecca Salazar, Fredericton poet, both spoke to the matter in different forms. Salazar read a Twitter thread she wrote about the topic, and Kitts among many of the poets in attendance read their letter to the City Council, and also shared their personal feelings on the matter, which was incredibly powerful. Especially important was Conyer Clayton’s attendance, as she read the poem that stirred up this controversy in the first place. Albert offered her closing remarks and thanks for those in attendance, and Folkins encouraged everyone to go watch the city council meeting live stream at 7:30 pm to see how it all unfolded.
I think that this protest, alongside all of us sending letters and emails to city councilors was able to accomplish something at least, as I received an email the next morning informing me that the motion had been tabled until the new year. Although they neither apologized nor ruled to allow Albert to continue this part of her position, we achieved a small victory. We have to remember that art is and has always been political. Art makes a statement, and art is a way of expressing the ways that we are personally impacted by the decisions of those in power, such as Conyer’s poem. I wish to thank Albert, Rhodes, and Folkins for organizing this protest, and all those who spoke or just attended for their role in continuing to fight for the freedom of artistic expression here in Fredericton.
Sign-off for Summer 2020
So, last summer, I was pretty sure that that would be the last time I would be managing editor for this website. I was absolutely sure. But then again, I was also sure that COVID-19 would never make it to Canada, never mind Fredericton, New Brunswick. So, what we've learned during this whole venture is that I am often wrong and you should never listen to me.
No but really, thank you so much for having me for the last two years. This really has been a transformative work experience and I value every opportunity I've been given here. As I sign-off for the last time here, I'd like to acknowledge everyone whose work helped build this website while I was here.
First of all, thank you to my predecessors Kathleen Pond and Katlin Copeland, former managing editors of the Atlantic Canadian Poets' Archive and Poetic Places Fredericton, respectively. They both made it as painless as possible for me to take over their roles and further develop their projects.
Thank you to all of the poets who've donated their work to us over the last two years: Tadhg Saxa Cooper, Jacob McArthur Mooney, Margo Wheaton, Grace Butler Difalco, and Cyril Welch on behalf of Liliane Welch. I would personally like to give special thanks to Agnes Walsh, Jenna Lyn Albert, and Ross Leckie for granting permissions to poems for entries and analyses that I wrote and co-wrote. But also, thank you to all the essayists who contributed their analyses. Since we don't have a page dedicated to the contributing writers, I'll be linking all their names to the pieces they wrote: Dana P. MacDonald, Sara Nason, Kathleen Pond, Erica Marrison, Neomi Iancu Haliva, Gillian Little, Caelin Sullivan, Claude Chartier, and Charlotte Simmons.
Thank you to all the student poets who agreed to interviews and to donate some of their work: Sara Nason, Lexi McCormack, Heather Clark, Charlotte Simmons, Eddie Dust, and Tyler Haché. If you'd like to read those interviews and their poetry, or any of the other blog entries since I've been here, all of my blog posts can be found between the June 2018 and August 2020 tabs on the blog archives to the right of this post.
Finally, thank you to my boss, Kathleen McConnell, and to you, who've read the pieces we've published here.
Be seeing you,
If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino (translated by William Weaver)
Jane, Unlimited by Kristine Cashore
First recommended and loaned to me by my boss Kathy when I started working for her in 2018, I then picked up my own copies of these books.
Going Around with Bachelors by Agnes Walsh
I co-wrote an analysis with Dana P. MacDonald based on a poem in this book.
You Can't Stay Here by Jasmina Odor
One Year Later by RM Vaughan
These two launched their books together at the Fredericton Public Library in 2018.
Rising by Al Cusack
Goodbye Horses by Nathaniel G. Moore
Little Wild by Curtis LeBlanc
This Will Be Good by Mallory Tater
Four texts on sale from performers at a book launch I went to at The Abbey in Fredericton, 2018.
Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
Eye Level by Jenny Xie
Recommended to me by Heather Clark in our interview, as part of a series of interviews in 2019.
Recommended to me by Charlotte Simmons in our interview.
Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky (translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky)
Lunch Poems by Frank O'Hara
Recommended to me by Eddie Dust in our interview.
Earthly Pages by Don Domanski (edited by Brian Bartlett)
Recommended to me by Tyler Haché in our interview.
Bec & Call by Jenna Lyn Albert
I wrote an analysis based on a poem in this book.
Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody
Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo
Attack of the Copula Spiders by Douglas Glover
A Passion for Narrative by Jack Hodgins
Write Moves: A Creative Writing Guide and Anthology by Nancy Pagh
The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler
Bagombo Snuff Box by Kurt Vonnegut
I picked up all these books as part of Kathy's Wording Around with Prose webinars.
Drumbeats by Kevin J. Anderson and Neil Peart
A gift from my boss Kathy. I'm a huge Rush fan!
Gravity's Plumb Line by Ross Leckie
I co-wrote an analysis with Claude Chartier and Charlotte Simmons based on a poem in this book.
As part of ACPA creator Kathy Mac's "Wording Around with Prose" webinars, ACPA managing editor Jamie Kitts responds to their chosen text for lesson 2.1: Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo. This blogpost covers Chapter 10: "Writing the Wounded Body," and the Epilogue, "From Silence to Testimony."
Well, we're at the end. I have mixed feelings about this book. While I found the first few chapters to be really useful in a skill-building sense, everything past that point felt either unhelpful or needlessly complex. Which is too bad because I think there are some very strong points to this book.
I think if it could have kept pushing readers to develop skills in one area it would have felt more helpful. But as it stands I felt like I was getting a whole semester of a great creative writing course squished into 10 chapters in a really uneven way. Chapters 1-4 feel like they could be classes 1-4, and as such feel like they're building in an appropriate way. The writing exercises in those chapters all fit neatly into the 20-minute journaling exercise and really made that standard exercise feel unique and guided. But then everything after that feels like either a set of classes cut short or several classes condensed into one chapter. The last section in particular, Chapters 9-10, feel like the whole final month of a semester squished into 50 pages. They're not particularly satisfying to read, even though the ideas are very compelling. If nothing else, nearly every chapter gave me something to think about and sent me in a direction I was happy to think in.
But as you can tell, since there's no mention of it so far, Chapter 10 is the only one I couldn't connect to. It asks questions of the body that I can't relate to right now. Chapters 9 and 10 are about the same length and focus on the mind and body, respectively, and I have so much more to think about about thinking than I do my body (which is probably its own interesting consideration but for now I'm drawing a big blank).
Honestly, my biggest complaint is DeSalvo's writing. Not that I'm one to talk, but the quality of the prose is not that high. DeSalvo often summarizes and quotes other writers, including some of her former students, and never fail every time I think, Could I just read that book instead? I only bring it up because of all the books on writing I've read, this is easily the least engaging as a reading experience. But as a thinking experience, as a practical experience, I got more than a few neat ideas and some good writing practice to keep up with.
Overall I do recommend the book, but I especially recommend the Epilogue to any writers currently in a workshop or workshop-style class. I spoke with a friend a while back about how critique works and how much we dislike the lack of empathy a workshop group may engender. And I don't say that as though I haven't played a part in that. When I was doing my Concentration in Creative Writing, I earned a reputation for being a very harsh critic, but paradoxically also a very close and personal confidant for more than a few people as a deeply caring empath. I am nothing if not relentlessly passionate for my friends and their work but I also do not hold back on my thoughts about their work. I've spoken with a few people about this and I've never gotten a consensus about whether I need an attitude adjustment, but I've felt for the last little while that I absolutely do. So, I recommend the Epilogue to Writing as a Way of Healing because it touches on how to be an effective and helpful reader/listener, because God could I have used that a while ago and I'm sure someone else could use it now.
As part of ACPA creator Kathy Mac's "Wording Around with Prose" webinars, ACPA managing editor Jamie Kitts responds to their chosen text for lesson 2.1: Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo. This blogpost covers Chapter 9: "Writing the Wounded Psyche."
So, I know I said at the end of the last blogpost that, due to the heavy nature of that chapter's content and the direction it took me in, that I would keep those thoughts private. I still don't intend to tell you what those thoughts were. But today's chapter also takes readers into some heavy places and I can't just keep saying "Come back tomorrow when the content won't be heavy." Instead I'll try to hold to that (flawed and ultimately hurtful) writing maxim to make the personal impersonal.
Early in chapter 9, DeSalvo speaks about Alice Walker and Walker's reasons for writing. Walker's work is all in service of avoiding self-destruction and passing those coping skills to readers through her fiction. This rings true very particularly with myself and many writers in my circle; so many of us write in order to make sense of trauma in some form or another.
Several of us are managing a lot of anger right now. I live in the Canadian Province of New Brunswick (as opposed to New Brunswick, New Jersey, which I just learned is a real place). I know more people angry at our Premier than I do otherwise. I myself have been very vocal about my feelings. I scared someone pretty badly with some of the things I've had on my mind because I in turn am terrified by the direction things are going in. But also, I know my views and fears are not only matched, but some friends have even stronger views. So, if you think I'm scary, you should meet the rest of the heathens.
But even with all that righteous energy it can be easy to lose sight of another goal: to break this perfect circle and stop perpetuating the same hurt that got us here in the first place. I lost sight of this today and last week. That person I scared was someone I care about very much. We've made up and made good on what happened. But what I thought I was hearing was not actually what they were saying. I thought I was hearing someone turn on me; they thought I was in a crisis and a danger to myself, to say the least. Turns out we were both very wrong about what we were saying to each other.
However, there is some truth here that I wasn't totally ready to cede earlier. DeSalvo brings up the poet Jane Redmont and her life-lessons following psychiatric treatment: "the way oppression breeds depression... go beyond the biochemical and the intrapsychic, even beyond the family system, to the larger structure and events that shape our lives" (qtd. in DeSalvo). I'm normally very aware of my mental illness and health challenges. Actually, I requested my boss to let me start this work term in late June because I'd just started a new medication near the end of May and I knew it would affect my performance. But I always underestimate the environmental factors. Because it's true, my mental health is not well, and I suspect the same of several friends, especially those invested in seeing Clinic 554 stay open in Fredericton. Just like the weather climate affects our bodies, the political climate affects our minds.
As part of ACPA creator Kathy Mac's "Wording Around with Prose" webinars, ACPA managing editor Jamie Kitts responds to their chosen text for lesson 2.1: Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo. This blogpost covers Chapter 8: "Stages of the Process, Stages of Growth II."
While I was reading this chapter I realized that I'm basically reading the book version of a show called The Midnight Gospel. It's only eight episodes long, but each episode is a conversation with a person about how they learned to embrace the traumas that rocked their lives and turn them into the points from which they begin to heal. It's also a completely mind-bending animated series so, if cartoons and weird images aren't your thing or you don't want to pay for Netflix, the source material for that show is a podcast called The Duncan Trussell Family Hour. Give either of these a shot if, like me, you're trying to get to a spot where you can let go of some stuff that's weighing you down.
Also there's a recipe for biscotti in this chapter and here's how that turned out.
That's it, that's the post. Sorry. This was an emotionally heavy chapter and I think that material needs to stay with me for now. See you next time.
As part of ACPA creator Kathy Mac's "Wording Around with Prose" webinars, ACPA managing editor Jamie Kitts responds to their chosen text for lesson 2.1: Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo. This blogpost covers Chapter 7: "Stages of the Process, Stages of Growth I."
I'm drawn to a particular passage in DeSalvo's book today about how we spend our time, and about what the day means as an example of the life. Thoreau speaks of this, and as DeSalvo points out, so does May Sarton. So, here's a little bit about how I spend my day and what I like to think about.
I love video games. I often like to acclimate to new games by thinking about how it feels to move, because games are ultimately about negotiating a space. I like to think about how it feels to move. The physical controller in your hand does not change often, so we take for granted how different it feels to move in each game, even though the physical device is a static object. But you know intuitively that there's a difference. Even if you can't explain it, you can feel it.
I ask myself, How does it feel to move? How does it feel to extend your will in this new world? Is the lightning in your hand unwieldy? Are those legs taking you where you think you should be? How does it feel to be? What is stillness? Is it agitation? Is it padding? Is it tense? What do you want? Does an arrow or a waypoint trace your trajectory, or does the world beckon you without objective? Are you confined in this body, in its world?
How does it feel to breathe in this body?
I think, probably, everyone who reads this has no idea what I'm talking about because this is a poetry website and I doubt the crossover audience between poetry and video games is high (although, hey, here I am). But I hope you can appreciate what I'm trying to get across: each game feels unique, and we map ourselves unto our avatars imperfectly. Maybe this would explain it: think about the little stick you push to move your character around as a metaphor. You push up to move them up, but you aren't mimicking walking. You have to take the mental leap to understand that pushing the stick up means moving forward. Like writing, whether we enjoy a game comes down to how well we can abandon ourselves.
We project into media, even if aware of the medium. At some point that boundary loses its immediacy as a mediator and instead becomes you. How you move through a world is also how that world moves you. We feel these things intuitively, manifesting as physical, emotional, or intellectual sensations, and we can train ourselves to better understand movement as we feel it. We feel these things because we can make those jumps without consciously trying to. We feel these things because on some level we know they should be.
But to move someone else somewhere else, to see something not really in front of you but to feel the emotional turmoil of someone's demise and success, to move and be moved without leaving physical safety: that's more than desire, more than a "wound of reality."
These are not ghosts in our hands. As much as they are someone else's dreams, they are not the sole architects of this connection. The audience is no mere spectator when their actions are the player's. We become in this channel, if only for a moment, the realization of another possibility. If cinema is a haunting from our idealized alternatives, if film can only inflict and not receive, then games are a communion.
I've been thinking a lot lately about whether video games are a spiritual experience, in as much as any text can be transformative.
Anyway, that's what I do with my days, what I think about.
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