“A wounded deer leaps the highest.”-Emily Dickinson
That’s all I got. Poetry. It’s enough, it sustains me. I’m not deliberately writing about the pandemic or this past year of heartache and dread but naturally one’s preoccupations well up from the subconscious. Take good care of your good selves my pretties.
She lives well
In this below,
Sheltered in place,
Sobered by conditions,
Limbs in place,
Stirrings put to rest,
Apart and rooted at last.
Above the maelstrom
Beyond pangs, chastity,
And snares of the past;
Vying as little as necessary,
Shy in nature,
She could not attach,
Each coupling, grafting, ruined.
She had budded late
Though normally enough.
Though impaled repeatedly,
Intimacy a confabulation,
Contortionist offerings spurned,
For when she spoke
Her paramour did not hear.
When she entreated
He did not respond
With tenderness nor sustenance
But rather, grizzled calculations.
When she wept
He promptly left the building,
Rendering her mute,
All clarity in his wake.
All that past now.
She lives well
In this below,
Sheltered in place,
Sobered by conditions,
Limbs in place,
Stirrings put to rest,
Apart and rooted at last.
Our newly acquired reflex
Is to move away
The moment someone,
No time to waffle!
A novel dread of others encroaches.
I’ve often feared others
But now have more good reason.
She might be asymptomatic.
I might be asymptomatic!
We are all shady,
Behind the gaiters,
Loitering in the lobby,
Solo celebrants. Partay!
No longer an option.
I can feel him beside me
When I close my eyes,
Try to sleep at night,
Adept as he was
At removing himself,
Even as we lay together.
Desire for oblivion runs deep.
We craved solitude,
Wished to be alone
And now, utterly alone,
Masked, gloved, concealed,
How autonomy survives
A mandate to flee one another.
…say it all, and certainly better than I can in prose.
Try to spill my guts here but I’m never comfortable revealing too much. Apparently I’m a “super-social introvert.” Still I’m not used to this degree of solitude though it equates with freedom, once I tamp down the anxiety. Been writing like mad and happy to share some verse. Stay well my pretties.
UNSAVE THE DATE
Plague year pall
Over wedding season.
Perhaps temperature checks,
Accessorised, matching masks?
But who will admire her lipstick?
How will she kiss her lucky guy?
And who will smuggle in bliss?
While florists go broke,
Whiskery best man’s relieved,
Happily ensconced in his bunker.
STILL IN THE KNOW
Does the city teach
Rudiments of urban life?
The corolla, how to sport a crown?
Both must be embraced
To be assimilated, to be chic.
More difficult is learning
To accept my mother,
A Québecois oddly named Corona,
That she skidded into me
While seething squarely.
There had been glimmerings,
As when a hoodie
Becomes a hood,
A mask, camouflage,
An errant clarinet
An instrument of spite.
As when a spangled nation
Tingles or spews
With nothing in between,
Might diffused, though might enough
To take us down with them,
With their rusticated dogmata,
Joy-sticking, foot soldier jingoists.
Boots on the ground
As the coastline burns,
Orca blubber boils,
And black-lunged raptors plummet.
Messages mauled before delivery,
I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut.
She persists. Due to a reversal of fortune six years ago I had to leave my island home and return to the city. I started a business which left little time for poetry; reading or composing. Despite that and with herculean effort I’ve managed to produce a third volume of verse and today announce the launch of Skookum Raven. I am able to take joy in witnessing manuscript transformed into book, forged in the crucible of coronavirus. I am still a page baby, a re-emerging page baby. Poet.
I won’t discuss poetics-leave it to the rigour of critics-or defend the form but certainly the right to employ my voice, to claim a quality of life, as life invariably ebbs. There ain’t nobody that can sing like me. I know my purpose and it’s my way of staring down the abyss.
Many thanks to my publisher Ekstasis Editions, to friends and family for their love and encouragement. Here comes the show biz:
There are some rough and wild birds around Howe Sound — West Coast avians like the sharp-shinned hawk, the northern harrier, and the whiskey-jack. Heather Haley, an accomplished mapper of human migration, pair-bonding and predation, takes these feathered frenemies as her starting point in this assured third collection, Skookum Raven. Like her foremothers and contemporaries Gwendolyn MacEwen, Susan Musgrave and Karen Solie, Haley writes sophisticated free lyrics of a witchy feminist kind — but adds some proletarian ferocity with her bus-station grandpas and sketches of iffy guys like Ed the Fence. These are astute, austere poems which sometimes take flight into optimistic beauty — this book is “pockmarked with luck.”
“Skookum Raven is a text for the tricksters within. With spondaic pow-bams of language, these lyrics harness neologistic energies to evoke punchy lust, back alley bravado, and coastal croonings on sex, the wild, music and time.” -Catherine Owen
“Tart, taut and terse, Haley’s honed poems of lust and loss, wrath and remorse are imbued with hard-won insight and subversive wit. Her wry x-ray eye cuts to the quick in an array of deftly drawn portraits that will make you grin with recognition. Haley is a master of assonance, consonance and dissonance, intermingled with flashes of a distilled lyricism”. – Fiona Tinwei Lam
“Heather Haley’s Skookum Raven honours the west coast with brilliant side-eye observations couched in words drawn from a wide palette, from Chinook trade language to Pussy Riot. She brings us on a stroll through the village, showing the underbelly of every house and garden, then deeper into domestic disharmonies and unease in relatedness, writing sharply from a woman’s point of view. If any reader has become lulled with the beauties of west coast living, she will shake you into more fulsome awareness of the “hard blessings” shared. “No lotus-eaters we…”-Joanne Arnott
“Haley has the gift of writing to suit her subject in all its raddled variety, from wired and jarring to lyrical and tragic.”-Vancouver Sun
If you’d like a copy please visit Ekstasis Editions’ website. Also, contact Ekstasis for details or to arrange appearances, events or media opportunities. For further information: Richard Olafson or Carol Sokoloff Phone: (250) 385-3378 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Feeling embattled? Pour vous, a poem, a work-in-progress for what is there to do but document and reflect as we shelter-in-place? I lost it the other night. In the past I would have run away, though I am seriously considering moving to the Cariboo. “I hate this fucking place!” I feel so hemmed in by the constant racket of various types, the astronomical rent and cost of living. But perhaps it’s just urban life. I miss the woods. I need a vacation! The world needs a vacation. And we aren’t about to get one anytime soon. Again, hold fast my pretties. And as BC’s Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry says,” Be kind, be calm, be safe.”
We are the beleaguered,
The beleaguered are we.
Each one of us, beleaguered.
Each day, week, month, year;
Beleaguered with corona virus
Or tuberculosis or autism
Or leprosy or slipped disc
Or clubfoot or schizophrenia
Or acne or blindness
Or polio or chlamydia
Or angina or endometriosis or diabetes.
We beleaguered are beleaguered
By tornado, earthquake,
Volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, forest fires,
40 days and 40 nights of flood.
We are beleaguered by riots, misogyny, poverty,
Racism, mass shootings or unwanted pregnancy.
We are beleaguered by sugar, tobacco,
Opioids and alcohol.
Plus, whatever gets you through.
2020 requires we delegate
Weeping, triage burials,
Battle over ventilators,
Battle over battles,
Sustain and administer strength,
Swabs, masks, compassion.
Adapt or die
As Jane asks, “What else is new?”
I’m not leaving. I hope! Holding on, hanging in, so far. Esteemed filmmaker friends Charles Wilkinson and Tina Schliessler are currently working on No Fixed Address, a documentary about Vancouver’s housing crisis, though they refer to it as a “housing situation.” Call it what you will, I’m determined to remain in my beloved Vancouver, though I’m not sure how. My son and I are paying $1250. a month for a one-bedroom apartment in East Vancouver, just off Commercial Drive, reasonable apparently, though I wish I could reduce our living expenses. Even with some help and while working my ass off, we are barely scraping by. Because the cost of living is high too. If only we could quit eating. Sharing such a small space is getting old as well but at least Junior has an exit plan. I don’t.
I love this neighbourhood. It’s where I launched as an artist, sharing a funky, rambling house with band mate and Zellots drummer Conny Nowe near 34th and Victoria. $400. a month bought us a yard, driveway, fireplace, kitchen, dining room, pantry and four bedrooms. The scene of many festivities, we converted the basement into a rehearsal space. My boy was born in another funky East Van pad near 1st and Victoria 22 years ago. I’ve lived in this city most of my adult life, resent the fact that I might be forced out. The property management company that runs my building insists that tenants sign a new lease each year wherein they raise the rent to whatever amount they like. At the rate of $50. per lease renewal I won’t be able to afford to stay. I’d like to settle, focus on work and writing but will need to move again in the not-too-distant future.
Many friends have already left, for the suburbs or even the prairies, especially if they want to own a home. I could go back to the suburbs-grew up in Cloverdale-but I’d be going back. I need to be near the ocean, the wild and fantastic ocean. Perhaps I could move to Horseshoe Bay, or Lions Bay, clean houses in West Van and North Van. But, of course, finding anything cheaper will be a major challenge, perhaps impossible.
We shall see. There’s always a trade-off. Can’t have it all, etc. “Things could be worse.” Sure I’ve endured tough times, times when I had no place to live or enough food to eat but I’ve always responded with, “Why can’t things be better?”
I am trapped but cannot stay. Can I? It’s a huge dilemma. I know I’m not alone and Vancouver is just the latest city to be affected. The problem is global in scale. No solace in that, nor solution. Which obviously, is what I need. Gawd help us all. Maybe none of it matters. These are the end times, I am told, and if so constitute a whole other can o’ worms/blog entry.
Working on the Zellots record with Jason Flower of Supreme Echo I’ve had to consider time’s inexorable march, how it treads upon our minds and bodies until nothing of us remains. Also, the folly of youth, the hubris of youth. We were so cavalier about the demo tape we were making, about the band we’d created and the songs we’d composed, cavalier to the point of losing the master and most cassette copies. Oh, and breaking up. We didn’t-perhaps couldn’t-appreciate what we had. The late Peter Draper did a stellar job, recording we fools in the basement of our house/rehearsal space near the corner of 34th and Victoria. I can’t recall where or how he mixed it but lucky for us Peter was a very talented guy. Also fortunately, Jason Flower is a hardcore music nerd, driven in fact to seeking us out and resurrecting our group despite scant traces of its existence. I get the impression it’s like a treasure hunt for Jason. In that spirit and though likely a long shot, we’re going to try to track down a copy of the Lenore Herb video for the launch party. No date yet but the new master is currently in the Czech Republic being pressed. I’m as excited as a teenager about to play her first gig!
In 2012 I had finally acquired both an agent and a publisher. Woo hoo! Both shall remain nameless because both turned out to be pretty much useless. The agent seemed to think my novel, The Town Slut’s Daughter belonged in the young adult genre and spent a year barking up the wrong trees while the publisher, in the throes of much upheaval, jerked me around. Apparently they didn’t go under after all, but oh well. In frustration and desperate for deliverance-after many long years of writing the damn thing-I decided to take the dreaded Amazon/Kindle route and set up Howe Sound Publishing, with the guidance of dear friend, historical novelist Carol Cram.
As a single working mother I have precious little time for book promotion but my girl is doing okay, consistently awarded 5 star reviews and in the top 13% of the contemporary urban fiction category. Neither have I had time to calculate exactly how many copies have sold; several hundred at least. I’ve made a few bucks and the whole experience is pretty much what I expected. It is what it is, as they say. Despite the challenges I am relieved The Town Slut’s Daughter is no longer languishing on my hard drive, that she’s been launched into the world. Also, DIY is very fitting, having come up with punk rock, the original independents. Well, in recent times; Proust, Beatrix Potter and James Joyce were but a few of the authors who also did it their way.
I’m no expert in the vagaries of self-publishing, can only speak from my experience but on Saturday I will be participating in the inaugural Indie Author Day at the Vancouver Public Library, to hawk some wares and talk with readers. Perhaps I will see you there.
Gawd. Lived here for nearly a year and the building across the street is still being built. Wish we could move. In any case, got my CV updated with the help of Tanya Van of Dollymomma Designs. I’m fortunate to have such kind and talented friends. It looks good and we got ‘er down to one page. Might as well apply for that treehouse-in-Switzerland residency. Dreaming is free after all.
“Honesty is not synonymous with truth.”-Vera Parmiga, The Departed
This book took a long time to write and the road to publication, arduous. I can’t recall exactly when I started but my son was around 6 or 7 and he is now 20. If I hadn’t been homeschooling a child with special needs, no doubt it would have taken less time but I often got discouraged and shelved it for years at a time. Finally in 2010 I went to Sage Hill Writing Experience to be mentored by award winning playwright and novelist Terry Jordan. I completed the manuscript. Then spent a couple of years, or wasted a couple of years, dealing with an agent who seemed to think the story was YA, and a publishing company in utter tumult until finally I got fed up and in punk fashion, went DIY. In feminist fashion, I will not be denied, set up Howe Sound Publishing and released The Town Slut’s Daughter on Amazon.
Seems to be a dirty word these days but this dialogue is an example of some of the book’s feminist ideals:
Fiona threw down three tickets to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre emblazoned with Hit Someone You Love.
“Great!” said Rita. “What’s with all the misogyny? I thought the scene was supposed to be so egalitarian.” She grabbed the kettle. “Well, I suppose it is if you happen to be young, white and male.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t go.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t. Who is Transformer Productions, anyway?”
“I don’t know. Never heard of them. But it’s a great bill. Rabid, Pointed Sticks, SubHumans, K-Tels.” Angus was a hero for digging up a new venue, O’Hara’s, a derelict nightclub on the pier at the foot of Main. Fiona’s dad remembered it from when he was a young buck roaming the streets. “I wanna go. We gotta see the K-Tels.”
“Okay. Okay. We’re doing our bit to fight sexism, right? We play electric guitars.”
Rock-including punk rock- is a boys club.
A lot of the discussion around my book concerns whether it’s autobiographical or not, which I find irritating. Isn’t that inferring that I’m not capable of using my imagination? To invent? Well, writing is vexing on many levels but I don’t understand all this post modern fuss over genre. As hot as memoir is, I didn’t write a memoir because honestly, my life is not that exciting. And I maintain there is more truth in fiction. It grants one freedom. Maybe I’m a coward, for I do hide behind fiction, wear it like a veil, but it is also liberating. Though the The Town Slut’s Daughter is based on my life experiences-which grants it authenticity-the majority of the story is feigned. I can say unequivocally that I am not Fiona and Fiona is not I. (I fear she is smarter than I am. ) If you want reality, read my blog, One Life, at heatherhaley.com wherein I stated, “Our hunger for realism, hence the reality show phenomenon, and rise of the documentary fuel such expectations, pressure, to write a memoir. I never doubted my instincts, knew I was framing narrative within a novel. Works for me. Autobiographical novel also seems a contradiction in terms. Truth is relative and “honesty is not synonymous with truth.” Let the critics and pundits postulate ad nauseum, I need to focus on process.
I’ve taken an approach similar to EL Doctorow in Ragtime by blending real people and events with characters and things I’ve made up. As I told writer friend Justine Brown the other day, I chose to keep many of the band names because it would be difficult to conjure up better ones. DOA, Dead Kennedys, Dishrags, Subhumans, Devices, Rabid, Pointed Sticks, Young Canadians, and the Zellots, which was my first and all-female group-are portrayed along with various real life events. This scene is based upon the first time the Clash played Vancouver, at the Commodore. I idolized them and so did most of my punk rock comrades. We were thrilled to say the least. By the way, though the novel is in third person, we often we hear directly from Fiona, eves dropping in on her thoughts and feelings in first person. From part one-Girls With Guitars-it could have been titled Punk Rockers in Love. Not!
Does he do this she wondered? Conjure up last night, the things we did, feel an after-shudder? Waiting to see Emmett Hayes, was . . . agony! Fiona couldn’t eat. Think straight. Gawd I hate this! Half an hour late. Again. She diddled her guitar, scanned a book, traipsed back and forth to the fridge, swinging wildly between anger and anxiety. Why doesn’t he call? That dink! She could have gone with Rita and Shannon. She could have spent her hard earned cash on something besides a new silk bra and panties. That bastard. Then, still cursing, Fiona heard his obnoxious Porsche engine out front and relief coursed through her limbs. She barely resisted the urge to run to the car.
“Sorry I’m late,” he mouthed, the Clash’s I Fought the Law blasting from his Blaupaunkts. “Did you hear? The Clash came out and played soccer with us!”
“Yeah! Who won?”
“They did, of course. My shins are covered in bruises.”
Emmett yarded on the gears pinball wizard style. Soon they were pelted with fat raindrops. He pulled over immediately to put the top up. They cruised the block repeatedly in search of the safest parking spot for his precious steed of steel. At last they entered the fading art deco grandeur of the Commodore Ballroom, Emmett waving tickets at the doorman, breezing by security like a diplomat. Christ. He must have been left under a cabbage by mistake.Emmett surveyed the room, refusing Fiona’s hand.
“Fuck! Look at all the poseurs.”
Fiona spied Dennis across the room, stomach tilting at the reproach in his face. A young woman in a booth flanking the stage sat sneering.
“Emmett, who’s that girl glaring at us?”
He ignored the question, wandered off, Fiona following.
The Clash had an excellent DJ spinning a killer mix of ska, punk, reggae and dub. Fiona waved to Shannon and friends. The place was jammed with every die-hard in the city, slam dancing on its famous ballroom floor, originally designed to make any clodhopper hoof it like Fred Astaire. The Commodore had character all right and it was the perfect size. Fiona hated arena shows. The Dishrags opened. It was inspiring to watch fellow females wailing on guitar. They finished with a blazing rendition of London’s Burning. Next up, Bo Diddley. Emmett said the Clash brought the old guy along as a way to pay homage to one of rock and roll’s originators. Fiona shrugged.
“I’m too young for nostalgia.”
Unfortunately, the Powder Blues were his pickup band, old fart-guitar god wannabes and though playing with a legend, forced everyone to sit through a long, boring wank session.
“Fuck this. I wanna see the Clash!” Fiona was not alone in her sentiments.
Shannon walked over and pulled her aside. “See that girl? That’s Electra. One of Emmett’s girlfriends. He told her he was bringing her tonight.”
“Electra! Sounds like an Italian scooter.”
“She’s weird. Really mad, says she’s gonna beat the crap out of you.”
Laughing, they walked over to Emmett. He lowered his drink, deigned to look at them, insisting he hadn’t invited anyone but Fiona. Clouds of tension were gathering on the dance floor as well, burly security guards manning the barriers. Finally, the Clash emerged, a tidal wave of bodies surging forward, the band opening with I’m So Bored With the U.S.A, Emmett off the hook. For now.
Beer. You only rent it. Fiona ran to the bathroom between songs, in and out of a stall quickly. Electra appeared, strutted over and squinted up into Fiona’s face like a Pekinese.
“Hey bitch! Keep your paws off Emmett or I will kill you.”
Looking around, Fiona laughed. “Where’s the hidden camera? Hey, Eeeelectraaaa. I think you’d better stay away from Emmett.”
“Wanna fight about it?”
“Hah! I could squish you like a bug. Fuck off! This ain’t junior high, you know.”
What Electra lacked in size, she made up for in attitude, fueled by four-inch stilettos, garters, fishnets, black leather mini skirt, all of which had nothing to do with punk and everything to do with Emmett.
Electra spit at her. Missing her target—Fiona’s face—the gob splatted onto her clavicle. Fiona looked down. Nearly blind with fury, she handily hoisted Electra up by the lapels. Shannon barged in. Fiona slammed Electra into the wall, back of her head banging the paper towel dispenser. Electra yelped.
“You bitch. You fucking whore!”
Shannon grabbed Fiona by the arm. They walked out dogged by the undaunted Lilliputian. Fiona barreled over to Emmett.
“What were you thinking?”
“I told you! I didn’t ask her. She just assumed.”
Wee Electra was at the bar again, glowering.
“Get lost, you skanky broad!” Emmett hollered at her.
Snotty pose pierced like a balloon, Electra flumped away, people laughing in her wake.
“God Emmett you’re an asshole!”
“Hey, I brought you. What do you care?”
“I care because it’s the same way you treat me. Like shit!”
“Fuck this!” He walked away in a huff.
Fuck this all right! Fighting tears, determined to revel in this night to remember, Fiona formed two fists and shoved her way through the crowd, jabbing, elbowing, bashing. She glanced back. Emmett gone. Naturally. Though the faces on the floor were familiar, the horde formed one huge alien, reeking of stewed leather and body heat, Clash so loud they cloaked the clamor of thumping heart, roaring blood. Fiona was rammed. Hard. She heard the wind go out of her lungs, body boxed about as if by bulls. She slipped, nearly going down, floored by the vision of her fractured skull ground into the boards by dozens of tightly laced combat boots.I am too black in the heart to fall! She carved a line out of the crush to the foot of the stage, stared up at Simonon. He was perfect—angled cheekbones, mouth gaping open like a Lego-focused kid, long, lean muscles. An art student apparently, before hitching up with the Clash, couldn’t play a note till Mick Jones taught him. Like John Lennon. Must be a British thing, that link between art school and rock. So why did I let Trent talk me out of art school? Oh my God. Simonon! He’s looking right at me! Got a girlfriend, according to Shannon, some tart who writes for NME. Strummer strained against his Telly, snaking the mike stand with his body. Tossing his guitar onto his back, he leaned over the crowd, ranting, railing.Loose-kneed Mick Jones was running, leaping, boinging all over the stage, carving out notes with an axe, his golden Gibson Les Paul. Goofy booster Dennis vaulted onto the stage during Career Opportunities, ricocheting off amps and various Clash members, security goons giving Keystone Cops chase. Strummer even let Dennis commandeer the mike and bray out the chorus with him, Fiona feeling a twinge of envy.
Certainly I didn’t plan to become a poet. I didn’t grow up thinking, when I grow up I’m going to be a poet. But in essence, it is who I am. I wasn’t exposed to literature. My father read Popular Mechanics and my mother, True Confessions. Though, being an Irish queen of blarney, Corona could spin a mean yarn.
I didn’t get a degree. I dropped out of university and ran away to join the punk rock circus; sang, wrote songs and poetry which I performed in coffee houses and nightclubs. When I returned to Canada, in a fluky way, published my first collection, Sideways, with Anvil Press. Three Blocks West of Wonderland came out with Ekstasis Editions in 2009 so I’m not exactly prolific, though never cease writing. In a haphazard way, I’m becoming “widely anthologized;” Verse Map of Vancouver (Anvil), Rocksalt: An Anthology of Contemporary BC Poetry (Mother Tongue Publishing), Alive at the Center (Ooligan Press), FORCE Field: 77 Women Poets of British Columbia (Mother Tongue Publishing), The Wild Weathers; a gathering of love poems (Caitlin Press), The SpokenWord WorkBook (Banff Centre Press), Where the Nights are Twice as Long: Love Letters of Canadian Poets (Goose Lane Editions), The Other 23 1/2 Hours, What Your MFA Didn’t Teach You (Wolsak & Wynn), and the forthcoming Simon Fraser University’s Lunch PoemsAnthology. Is my approach irresponsible or irreverent? Due to a bad attitude perhaps and Sideways might be entirely appropriate.
I’ve worked in many genres; journalism/reviewer, non-fiction/blog, prose/novel and written several screenplays. I always go back to poetry. Or, come back to poetry.
Recently I completed a rough draft of my latest manuscript, Detective Work. Why? It’s in me, verse. And I have no idea how it got there.
Fed a germ.
Spooned flies out of yogurt.
Dislodged ants from the toaster.
Fought for blackberries.
Registered my feelings.
Last house on Husband Rd.
Prolific bamboo décor.
You can sit in a resin chair
Forever, white ones
Especially war strong.
Too late in the week now
To do anything nice.
Too late in our life spans
Though he’s still trying
To Xerox his ass,