FOR YOUR DARKNESS

He stood outside my window, peeked in through a hole in the curtain. I saw his soft brown eyes, pretended to sleep. We were seven years old. He would take me by the hand and show me the frogs jumping in the creek, his secret tree house.

His dirty hands, the infectious laughter in his grin, and the way he would pronounce his L’s —long and rolling. He knew how to fix everything. Machines, broken animals: his quick fingers and furrowed brow could make anything right.

There was a darkness that grew in him. It came out in bursts of tears. Frustration. Loud punk rock. His laugh, it was gone. He would yell now. Putting a hand on his back was like touching flame, unpredictable and sure to scorch.

I was safe when I was with him. But then I wasn’t.

I was different too. Distant. Scared. He was too much for me to handle. I went to his house, we were sixteen then, and he cried into my shoulder. I patted his back and ran out of the room as fast as I could. Afraid of burn marks.

And then I left.

Do you remember that dream you had? The one where I came out of the crowd and hugged you for the rest of the night? I was what you needed. I’m sorry it was only a dream. Last New Years Eve I sat outside in the woods. My breath frosted under the clear sky and I sang to you. I prayed for you. I dropped tobacco for you. For your darkness. For us.

 

STORYTELLER

graceful,
strong lines
your hands create as they carve a story out of thin air
eyes speak of a past, deep and raw

you own this world
as words form into being
your tongue flicks over your full lips

my own pulse quickens
and a burning blush creeps
from my cheeks downwards,
you notice

our eyes meet
and your hands,
they hold me in your created universe


fran cunninghamFrancine Cunningham
is an Aboriginal writer, artist and educator. She is currently working on her second novel, collection of short stories and an adult picture book. For more information you can find her at www.francinecunningham.ca.

While echolocation takes a summer break to assemble Issue 15 and recharge our pens, we'll be featuring work on our website from a few exciting new voices!

Chelsea Eckert

MEDITATION ON KITCHEN APPLIANCES

domestic aches
in the house of ribs, under the arms,
in the bloody fridge that informs lung and limb
of their pre-determined reactions...

***

look into the night kitty-eyed. outside the trailer of the world:
the noise of the multiverse. parallels in chrome edges. the silver
of unmoving rivers. blankets that capture the same shine color

sheets: the sleek metal solitude. people over there in perfected
emotion. that reality. einstein riding out the years in a box. an
omni-president and cubed laws like numberless moths. like bar-codes

the fever licking me is one of butchered curiosity. the blender on
high. three tomatoes in the window. skyholes yawning potentialities

--

IT IS LEGAL TO OWN A SERVAL IN NORTH CAROLINA

In Chinatown the shi are curled with orgasmic ferocity
against places of importance — they weigh the world.

Your soul spots; you conjure Salvador Dali, who had
an ocelot. Exoticism twists fire, throws fireworks.

Once the serval yawned and you held his jaws open
to the party, the pad of your thumbs against his fangs.

He had ease in the diamonds of his skull. The bandying
of scents, insects in fists of wind — inconceivable.

À la inherited wedding dresses, he symbolizes wholeness.
And for whom do we pray? He grins in your Christmas card.

--

Chelsea Eckert will be attending UNC Greensboro for her MFA in creative writing in the fall of 2015. Her work has appeared or will appear in Stoneboat Literary Magazine, Dressing Room Poetry Journal, Touchstone Magazine, Jelly Bucket, 99 Pine Street, The Maynard, and Ignatian Literary Magazine.

While echolocation takes a summer break to assemble Issue 15 and recharge our pens, we'll be featuring work on our website from a few exciting new voices!

Chloe Burns

WATER CYCLE

IN YOUR FIRST LIFE you were a small blue fish the colour of the sultan's bluejade bowl he filled with the ashes that fell from his mouth (you coveted) he wrung you out every day lifted you from your pool of tranquil-city wrung you out draped you out on his white sheets in a small puddle of drying salt & your salt was worth rubies: this you remember: in your next life you were a stuffed otter in a museum display, itching & smelling like old wet cloth, the opposite of water & you stilled behind the museum glass full of schoolchildren's marbleeyes you dreamed over and over of the water you'd lost you plunged through like liquid light the plague of the scientists for whom light passed over & through their hands like wax yellow gloves: then in yr next you were slimhipped & sleek, you finally recognized yourself in the metalblue mirror you sobbed & your cheeks drew like salt curtains: you scorned artists' models and swore like a small globe of blue glass that your body would remain only your own encased & untouched porcelain: but you fell in love, and he would take off all his rings to touch you & then go out with his travelling salesman suitcase & your fingertips burned as you drew sodden sheets from waterbasins: wrung them dry & dry & dry

---

Chloe Burns has recently been published in The Casserole, Lantern Magazine, Tendril Literary Magazine, Bitterzoet and Red Kitty Magazine. She agrees with William Carlos Williams, who said: “I think all writing is a disease.”

While echolocation takes a summer break to assemble Issue 15 and recharge our pens, we'll be featuring work on our website from a few exciting new voices!

Michelle Speyer

HOW TO CROSS FROM SEA TO SEA

I’m not talking about a mari usque ad mare,
Atlantic to Pacific, salt to salt.
How to learn the breadth of such scorched earth?
Supermarkets, mega-malls, half-logged forests
bookended by the weight of oceans.
Liveliness measured in tonnes of silver-
skinned salmon and crawling lobster.
Rootless millions digging for their myths.
Now and again the strike of the spade against soft gold, oil,
a gem resembling an heirloom from some old countree,
reason enough for inscribing white white pages.
Jet from Halifax to Vancouver with Air Canada, fuelled by coffee.
Wave au revoir at both terminals in English and in French.
You’ll need a second cup. Test whether the salt crust
edges will burn your lips, tongue.
Skim across the nation, look but don’t touch, don’t love, recycle
your Starbucks cups wherever you go. Enunciate
for the baristas when you speak your name,

or be quick and offer up a pseudonym (there’s no extra charge).
But caffeine dehydrates, and we all thirst.
So? Rise. On the wings of your intuition and with your untested muscles.
Follow to the place where you will soak your desiccated roots
in native water, grip packed soil. Where prayers meet a wall that admits them.
See if it remembers you. Remember
that in the desert you can grow into a tulip, tomato.
Veined and fat with fresh water. Test whether your flesh
can cool a mouth in the heat. Whether your fruit can fill a palm.
Seas to the west, east, south, heartbreaks
neither Atlantic nor Pacific.
Their salts drying bodies in the sun.
Asking if you could remember any other place.

Asking you to spell your name, asking
which fresh wave, what part of this love is terminal.

--

Michelle Speyer has omnivorous reading and writing habits. You can find some of her most recent work in echolocation and Acta Victoriana.

In this conversation hosted at Massey College on April 21, Editor-in-Chief Laura Ritland interviews Rhea Tregebov about her career as a poet, teacher of poetry and novelist of historical fiction. Rhea Tregebov is Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, where she teaches poetry, children’s literature and literary translation.

Laura Ritland: Many younger writers including myself are indebted to your support and guidance as a teacher of creative writing. You’ve worked with so many wonderful students to bring some truly beautiful books into the world. And the list of your disciples precedes your time at the Creative Writing Program at UBC … I’m just wondering how you embarked on this role of mentoring other writers, or if… you maybe were just born with an innate generosity and compassion that outstrips most mortal human beings. Were there any teachers in your own development that helped you on your own path?

Rhea Tregebov: I had both a junior high school and a high school teacher who loved literature and English – it wasn’t called Language Arts back then, it was just called English – and she really took on that mentorship role with students. I kept in touch with her well into my thirties when I was living in Toronto. But, oddly enough, some of my desire to be direct and straightforward with my students was in response to teachers in my undergrad and even grad who were very silent and very withholding within workshops – you would try to read the expression on their face to determine if they liked your work – and I felt that I really wanted to give my students as much pure information as I could. [For example,] I give a pragmatics class about what it was like to struggle as a freelance writer up to the age of 51, when I got the job at UBC.

And, you know, my students have taught me; my knowledge base has expanded enormously, particularly at UBC, which has an amazing grad and undergrad program [for Creative Writing].

I felt that my job and role as a professor, a tenure-track professor, gave me the luxury of time where I could really give them [that attention]. […] An institution that allows one to express that kind of mentorship is really huge.

I also mother anything and any person within my range. There is a term for that – it’s called mama poule – mother hen; it’s definitely the mother hen in me that made me want to connect with students.

LR: Do you think creative writing can be taught? I mean, there’s this common suspicion towards teaching any creative art, but in your classes I got the sense in you were open and pragmatic about teaching creative writing.

RT: Absolutely. We don’t question “can you teach dance,” “can you teach visual arts,” “can you teach how to make films.” You can’t implant talent in people, but you can nurture it in people. And over my career, I’ve seen many, many kinds of talents – talent for narrative, metaphor, people with high concept poems, intense thinking, and so on. It’s been rewarding to teach these talented people, but it’s also rewarding to teach students who come in a little more shaky but are so devoted to developing their craft, and work so absurdly hard. I mean, the talented students also work hard! But it’s incredible to watch people who really have something to say. To watch the students who really are driven. They have something to say that might be incredibly hard, and they are going to find a way to express that.

So I can teach them how to use the line, and I can teach them about syntax; or I can tell them about the deictics of their poem, and I can give lectures in workshop. But a part of that whole educational process is helping them understand their project: what they are trying to talk about, what they need to communicate, and how to get there.

And you can create a stimulating environment where there are many other people who are also creating work and want to talk about it. You know, this is what you are talking about at the dinner table, talking about over beer, this is what you are putting as the centrepiece of your life, rather than something in the corner or hidden away.

LR: Talking about community and having those voices of that community around you, it makes me want to ask about when you were writing your first book and living in Toronto: was there something about being in Toronto as a writing community that inspired your writing?

RT: I really love Toronto. It was really hard to leave. I came here when I was 25 out of grad school and I found this really intense community when I was here, and you would go to every reading, the Harbourfront readings and the World Poetry Festival. It’s a place that really cares about the arts and culture. I don’t feel the same way about Vancouver, which is not to say that there aren’t spectacular writers there, but you don’t feel the structural support there. There’s no equivalent to the Toronto Arts Council there. When I was a freelance writer here in Toronto, I could apply to the Toronto Arts Council, the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts. It was very, very competitive but the little bits helped. Every time I got a grant, I could take three or four months to write.

LR: So, shifting gears a little bit: Your first novel, The Knife Sharpener’s Bell traces the story of a young girl, Annette Gershon, and her family trying to escape the depression of 1930s Winnipeg by moving back to the parents’ homeland of the Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. It’s a meticulously researched novel, an historical novel inspired, as you said, by your grandparents’ attempted immigration from Winnipeg to Russia in the 1930s. What are some of the challenges and joys involved in writing about history or remembering history?

RT: It [my grandparents’ story] was a very seductive story. My maternal grandfather, who had come to Winnipeg from Czarist Russia, had attempted to take his family "back" to the Soviet Union in 1935, but they had no status as citizens and so were refused permission to emigrate. And so my mother wasn’t taken at the age of ten to Odessa and subjected to the horrors of the second world war. It stunned me. I knew my grandfather really well, and I wondered why anyone could be so foolish. He wasn’t a foolish man; he didn’t have a great deal of education, but he was a thoughtful and intelligent man.

I started writing the novel about ten years after the fall of the Soviet Union, and you start wondering about origins and alternate fates. I also grew up in the North End of Winnipeg among other kids, many of whose parents had been through the war and their lives were much, much tougher than mine. It was a striving to understand what had happened. It was that curiosity – partly a curiosity about how individual lives can be impacted by these large structures like wars and political upheaval. What would happen if you were ten years old and you were taken out of Winnipeg and plunked into Odessa under a Stalinist regime? It was a curiosity about the counterfactual, what had happened and also what hadn’t happened. All those other what-ifs. […]

In terms of constructing a past that I didn’t experience, I was aware and had watched friends that had taken on historical projects that you can do the research instead of writing the book! I knew next to nothing about that period of time. As a kid, my image of Soviets were these immovable, faceless, impassive, nonhuman people. But all I had to do was imagine very real people – like my grandparents, transplanted into that scenario. I also did very surgically precise research on that time period. […] I went looking for primary sources, or as close to primary as I could, so I could try to imagine what it would be like to be a left-wing idealist person who didn’t know what was coming [for the Soviet Union]. Your information back then was propaganda instead of objective facts, and you wanted to see this interesting social experiment. I read a memoir by a British teacher who had gone to teach English there and they said “they have these fascinating things called purges, where they get together and criticize each other, and I find it very healthy. These purges are so interesting and valuable!” [Laughter] So, it was very, very exciting to read and experience that period. […]

LR: In your work, I often see this deep need to connect with people who have suffered in the past or people who undergo very difficult, violent experiences. And these are very difficult, dark historical times you are exploring. Do you think there’s some kind of responsibility to write about the past and remember that kind of historical trauma and suffering?

RT: I think there is, Laura. I mean, there were sections in this book and the new one that were extremely difficult to write. Very hard. It feels like a responsibility. But like what one of the characters in the new book says – I’m also interested in human goodness, I’m interested in human happiness. If you’re interested in that, you need to look at the sources that impeded goodness and impeded happiness.

I went to a panel at the Writers Festival in Vancouver, where one of the panellists said that they feel a moral obligation towards optimism because, if you don’t, you don’t force yourself to look for solutions to existing problems, you just throw up your hands and give up. And so, with that feeling of responsibility to look at these very difficult human acts, it’s in the hopes of understanding them better.

LR: I’m wondering if, having written these books, do you feel that sense of optimism or understanding?

RT: I hope so. I hope the books have written me, as much as I have written the books. I certainly feel that about The Knife Sharpener’s Bell. I feel a different person than when I had started that book. Some of the things about my character [Annette] were wish-fulfillment: my character has much more agency and autonomy about her life that my mom did at that period. Some of it is wish-fulfillment, but you also feel those things, writing about it.

Rhea-Tregebov-portrait (666x800)Rhea Tregebov is the author of poetry, fiction and children’s picture books. She has also edited a number of anthologies. She is Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, where she teaches poetry, children’s literature and literary translation. Her work has received a number of literary awards, including the J. I. Segal Award for fiction, the Pat Lowther Award, the Prairie Schooner Readers’ Choice Award, and the Malahat Review Long Poem Award.

Laura Ritland’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Branch Magazine, The Maynard, laura photoQwerty, CV2, The Malahat Review, The Hart House Review, and Popshot Magazine. She is the recipient of the 2014 Malahat Review’s Far Horizons Award for Poetry and the current Editor in Chief of echolocation magazine.