Joy Kogawa House Reflections: Part 1

I was at the Joy Kogawa House as the Writer-in-Residence in the last week of September.

It was surprisingly busy, despite the fact that the LiterASIAN festival finally ended on September 23rd. The (Un)framed exhibition on Asian Canadian magazines that I helped to curate was given another week's extension and it was wonderful to get the chance to listen and talk to so many writers, poets, and playwrights including Madeleine Thien and Jovanni Sy. It was also the official book launch of Vincent Ternida's The Seven Muses of Harry Salcedo, with its book launch party at Nusa Coffee still two weeks away from now. It also gave me a behind-the-scenes look at a literary festival and the amount of work and effort that went into making it a success.

Following this I spent a week outlining my next manuscript. It will be set in Vancouver in the early 1980s, and has no obvious antagonists or major plot developments., right before two events at Word Vancouver: a conversation with Todd Wong on Ricepaper's publishing journey at the VPL and a panel on publishing with Vincent and Cynda Yeasting. However, it will be a challenge to write and I hope that it will turn out well when I make my return to the house in November.

Part of the time there was spent writing a blog post for the house, which was inspired by Joy Kogawa's attempt to reconcile the two sides of her father, Leanne Dunic's first book of lyric prose, and a trip to the Rockies at the end of summer:

At the end of August, I went on a road trip that carved its way across the province. We took the road through Merritt and Kamloops up to Valemount, before cutting south using the Icefields Parkway and looping back through BC. In the mountains where the sun set early, and ice glimmered on summits, while we were wrapped in jackets with the heater turned on. Quite often the highway was so quiet and clear that you could stop and walk to the middle, the road so straight and level that you could see the oncoming lights of the cars in the far distance as katabatic winds gusted. I was shivering long before we reached the marker at the Athabasca Glacier with the year of my birth. In the years since the glacier had receded several hundred metres, melting off and feeding the gushing river that wound its way north, away from the Continental Divide and towards the Arctic Ocean. There was something sad and majestic about being there and I wanted nothing more than to return to the certainty of the car. 
Our path was long, inadvertently tracing the railway beds gouged out by and those Gold Mountain men who had built tracks through the Kicking Horse Pass to the last spike at Craigellachie. We skirted the rugged ground of the Kootenays, where many camps were set up during the evacuation. In this emptiness it was to forget that the camps existed, dotted deep in the Interior and along the Fraser Canyon, since so little trace remained. We drove past the sites of various traumas casually in the car, turning the music up high to help pass the hours. Past the railways that took many lives in a grandiose nation-building enterprise and would later displace families, dispersing them into the prairies and to Ontario and beyond. 
We played a selection of songs to keep us awake as darkness flooded in. Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are was one of them. It was melancholy, dramatic, and full of reflections on the past. 
Four years ago, I wound up east of the Rockies needing a change of scenery and a new sense of direction. I looked at my options and chose Edmonton—it was as far from the coast as I could get, briefly escaping the web of cross-connections that I wanted to escape from. I tried my best to stay out of Vancouver during this time, making a series of decisions that took me to the Okanagan Valley and eventually Jiangsu Province in China, but permanent wanderlust/escapism was not for me and I quickly found myself drawn back to familiarity with its complications and contradictions. There was no permanent escape from it. I learned the same lesson that Joy Kogawa did: Reconciliation was difficult, but important. 
Image sourced from CWILL BC.

Comments