We now return to …

Friend Poems, softcover, 110 pages, published by Agony Klub and PS Vancouver

As of last summer, it had been 35 years since I last wrote a poem.

Then Casey Wei contacted me and asked me to contribute to a new project she had conceived for her Agony Klub label (besides music, AK publishes books and zines). She had some unexpected money to work with, and had the idea of asking people to write poems as if they were only sharing the poetry with friends. The result is this book, Friend Poems, featuring poetry by Colin Osler, Kay Higgins, Tiziana La Melia, Steffanie Ling, and Casey Wei.

I have been thinking a lot since last March about how the circumstances around the pandemic have changed some of my perceptions of the divisions between public and private. Those of us who are working from home have opened our homes, to some degree, to people who wouldn’t normally be visiting our domestic spaces. Sometimes a Zoom meeting — especially one between only two people — can suddenly feel unexpectedly intimate. Aspects of our domestic lives, like partners, children, pets, noises of neighbours, items that we wish weren’t accidentally in the background, can all suddenly intrude upon our “public” lives in a disembodied space.

The pandemic measures have also, for some, spurred reflections on things forgotten or neglected. That has been true for me. More than one person in my life has heard me talk about my teens and early twenties during the past year, and in particular about Cris who I knew from a drop-in writers’ group in the 1970s, and who I completely lost track of after the last time we saw each other in 1982.

It was difficult, in a way that really did my head in at first, to write this long poem, which is still a work in progress, with only the first five sections published in the book. For starters, I tried to “reinvent myself” several times in my teens and twenties, and a bit in my thirties as well, disavowing and cutting off the histories of what went before, breaking friendships, putting the artifacts of past work in the trash, once or twice throwing out most of my clothes, adopting new codes, all in the service of trying to escape some facts about myself that I wasn’t prepared to confront yet. Thinking and writing through this was something I had barely done, and certainly not in a public way. More complicated still, the years I knew Cris span my adolescence and young adulthood, years which are fraught for almost everyone because of the many and diverse problems of discovering sexuality, establishing social identities, and striving for personal autonomy. Puberty is often an emotional flashpoint for trans people, and for those of us who went through it closeted and (justifiably) fearful, it is a painful memory.

One of the reasons I stopped writing poetry in the 1980s was my discontent with the limitations of autobiographical poetry. There was tons of it in the 1970s in magazines, at open-mic nights, and in writers’ groups like the one I went to, and much of it depended on the assertion by the author that their life, their loves, their disappointments, and so on were profound and compelling. which was seldom the case. However, autobiography was also what I wrote or tried to write. Where I diverged from the autobiographical (or more often fake-autobiographical) through accident or difficulty, I may have produced some better poetry. But when I attended the New Poetics Colloquium in 1985, I was introduced a world beyond self-centred dudes whining in verse about ex-girlfriends. It was fascinating and invigorating, but also showed me how ill-equipped I was to write poetry. By then I had moved from writing through music to art school, and I was looking for something to do beyond words printed on a page, and had already made a handful of artists’ books.

For all of that, I have written, and am continuing to write, an autobiographical narrative poem. It’s a difficult thing to do well, not least because I am trying to be honest about events and feelings that I did my best not to acknowledge for most of my life, and because I am mindful of the fake sentimentality that bourgeois culture overlays on cultural expression, and how this overlay insidiously repeats and propagates itself on everything until it appears natural and inevitable. The poem is not finished yet, but an early version of its early parts are now out there.

You can purchase the resulting book from the AK site, or from the co-publisher, Publication Studio Vancouver (which happens to be my press, operated also by the brilliant Kathy Slade).

3 thoughts on “We now return to …

  1. hokay, this is fun, finding you here after all these years with an opportunity to yack at/with you again.
    autobiographical anything can be tedious as fuck & i’m (only somewhat) ashamed of having participated is such inadvertent narcissism in most of my early poetry. the break with linearity into concrete/visual/sound/etcetralinear forms of poetry stuffed that “i” into the rumbleseat & slammed it shut but i noticed something intriguing when i began a huge manuscript of poetry(+) relating to my bindlestff activities, which very firmly lodged that “i” back up front: the difference seems to’ve been one of intentionality versus inadvertency; the “i” became an objective subject i was observing externally – a locus of event – instead of being a subjective response TO those events.
    somehow, those later works seem to transcend the merely personal &, in the process, become even moreso.
    ‘course, that’s mayve just my subjective opinion…?

    1. Hey, lovely to hear from you, and always nice to know that you exist in the world! Thanks for the corrections. I have some books I would like to send you, I’ll try to send you a message privately

  2. yes, please do – both send a message (i assume my E-mail address is visible to you) & books (i’ll send you my street address when i hear from you).
    [o & please pardon the few typos i missed in these 2 notes]
    i’ve tried contacting you a buncha times as i’ve found possible addresses but dunno what æther those notes got sent into. it was Brian Cullen that finally got me on track.
    do write as voluminously as you’d like. it’s been a long time & i’d be glad to trade biotrajectories.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *