Tag Archives: Three Blocks West of Wonderland

No Family Is An Island

Photo: Gabor Gasztonyi


Today is World Autism Awareness Day. I’m re-posting this post from Oct 24, 2011 wherein I documented our autism journey, its heart wrenching challenges. Since then our son has attended Capilano University to earn a certificate in documentary filmmaking, worked a stint at Electronic Arts and attained huge success with his RAYCEVICK YouTube channel. With half a million subscribers, he’s blowing me out of the water! More importantly, Lucas has become a fine young man and an even stronger individual.

My baby turned 17 yesterday. My baby is autistic. ASD. Aspergers. On the spectrum. Autism Spectrum Disorder, largely characterized by a withdrawn personality to varying degrees, a condition I’ve become all too familiar with, a very nuanced condition. I don’t like the term disorder. I believe there have always been autistic people, people whose neurology is wired differently, both the highly functioning and severely affected. These days it’s called “neurodiversity.”

A colicky infant, I noticed my son’s language delay around age two. I took him for a physical examination and a hearing test, both of which provided relief and positive outcomes. The next step was a visit to Sunnyhill Health Center for Children in Vancouver where he was subjected to a series of tests and evaluations by a team of pediatricians, psychiatrists, occupational therapists and social workers. Junior was diagnosed with a “moderate to severe language disorder,” which to this day bemuses me. Though late, Junior was talking, albeit not as well as his peers. Being my first and only child, I had nothing to gauge his behavior and development against. Being my son’s matrix, I didn’t detect inconsistent eye contact or social awkwardness. We were bonded, Junior affectionate.

Speech therapy was recommended and for the following seven or so years, we worked with a series of speech and language pathologists, one so horrid we turfed her after one visit. Yes, he needed to learn self-regulation but my son is a Continue reading

“Heather Haley-Poet.” How did that happen?


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 Poems Anthology. 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.
Old dog.
Spooned flies out of yogurt.
Dislodged ants from the toaster.
Entered words.
Fought for blackberries.
Free stuff.

Doctored bites.
Signed language.
Collected greens,
Heritage tomatoes.
Meme parlanced.
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.

Or, nicely.
Too late in our life spans
For anything,
Though he’s still trying
To Xerox his ass,
Moon earth.


WET RECOVERY…despite everything



Mangled post tequila,

Estrangement narcotic,

Longing, withdrawal.

Up from the basement


Pretty feet restored

I propel myself

With nothing

But will, grateful for the veil


Of mist, piano notes

Icy raindrops pelting

What’s left

Post hacking



Hacking away.


He’s not the only martyr


Dragging me down,

Blowing me up.

I will sleep with the river,

Esoteric toads,


A harridan

Sharper than thistle,


Sheltered. Cleansed.




All the pain and suffering in the world and all I want to do is nothing. With all that’s happening in my life, I am only sick of my problems—myself—so here I sit at the window trying in vain to see the forest for the trees. I know one thing. I yearn. Therefore I am?

“Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires.”-Shakespeare



Red cedar raven roost,

Feat invisible as its roots

Heavy metal imbued

Purifying groundwater.


These trees that breathe

When I am panting, sighing, wishing

I could tell you.

Swaying branches camouflage


My fatal bent, freckles, green canopy

Concealing skewed moments, missed cues,

Taint, our silence lulling as a zephyr,

Blindness sweet as sheep.



New poem. First draft. Practically a sea shanty; also brings to mind the Nick Cave song Thirsty Dog.


Towering, pensive Danny Boy.
Bloodied. Unbowed.
Lithe, simmering
Scar brandishing tomboy.

Preeminent cursers.
Junkyard dog hearts
Swapping reflections.

Kiss us. We’re, you know,
Irish. Black Irish.
Fuck yeah. We invented melancholy,
Lap up sea squalls like puddle water,

Bite tragedy’s ass. Devour angst, roll over
Despair. Brood, pour, grapple, shove
The good fight and function Godammit,
Especially when called upon.

Big, deliberate, quixotic, plodding
Through calamity. Breathing little,
We flail against ourselves,
Rail, smack, filch one another’s bones,

Laughing in the morning.
Nothing sacred,
Catholic as we may be
Do not go down. Know Hell. Knees.

Swells. Rising again and again
Through the slag, flames,
Howling, baying,
Fumes. Bellowing waves.



The challenges therein. And as I near completion, filled with doubt. Naturally. Firstly, shooting has been difficult. It’s fucken raining all the time. Started in March, figured that would be plenty of time for the May 2 deadline but at this point, my options are narrowing. I hope we have enough footage. I need to do a couple of shots over and of course, it’s pouring out. Fingers crossed. I nearly screwed up my camera shooting in the rain, trying to forge ahead. It started malfunctioning. Fortunately a friend reminded me of a trick; sealing it in a Ziploc bag with rice, which dried it nicely. I was relieved to say the least.

Secondly, no close ups! The lens is so limited, I am reduced to medium shots. Period. The damn thing goes out of focus at one foot. I wanted to isolate eyes, mouths, hands. Forget it. I tried to find found footage but matching it with ours didn’t work as my 17-year old son/editor pointed out. He’s been helping me on videopoems since age eight, but this is our first real collaboration, a challenge in and of itself but mostly highly gratifying. He kicks my butt! Will not allow shots that are too shaky or out of focus. So funny. I said, hey, I’m not trying to be Steven Spielberg. I will make choices you wouldn’t. We argue for a bit and he wins. ‘Cause he’s right. We have standards. That’s my boy. He amazes me; taught himself to edit video at age ten, began producing machinimas and has had his own YouTube channel since. He’s got a lovely podcasting set-up going too which he allows me to use sometimes. We’ve developed a system in the house so he remains undisturbed while recording. He places a funky beaded necklace—a souvenir of Hawaii—on the door handle. I’m so lucky, he’s a great kid  and he works cheap; the third major challenge, a zero budget. (I’ve spent fifty bucks on a dress and seven bucks on flowers.) We barter. I copy edit his fan fiction in return for video editing services.

Fourth; try being subject, director, stylist, costumer, make-up and hair person simultaneously. Tough. Onward and upward. Today we finish the titles and credits. I wanted to use the font on the cover of my book Three Blocks West of Wonderland, designed by Derek von Essen who kindly sent it along. Called Block, it only works on a Mac. So Junior and I delighted in finding a something similar. I knew it was reminiscent of a 50s font, reminded me of the titles from old science fiction movies, so of course we googled “50s sci fi movies” and found a great site,  Tack-O-Rama, Retro Resources for Designers.  Junior insisted on going through them all until we came upon “Jungle Fever” which seems so apropos, after working through a jungle of obstacles and setbacks.

And as we work we are developing methods, infrastructure, process. Shoot. Render. Watch and identify clips, noting the best, most viable and figure out the right place for them in the piece. I make notes on a hard copy of the poem. Then create a rough cut. Experiment. Re shoot. Refine.

Using white Christmas lights to suggest stars, constellations. Doing Orion over but Cassiopeia came out nearly perfect. Serendipity. Yes! And as I was shooting, I had to back up into a rhododendron. Ouch. I’m getting to the point where it’s hard to figure out what to change, to be objective at all. I hope to have time to post the rough cut and get a little feedback but it may be too late for that, which means I will have to trust my instincts, go for it. Deadlines are harsh but very ultimately useful. So here it be, our new videopoem, Whore In The Eddy with audio from our AURAL Heather CD of spoken word songs, Princess Nut.

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” ― Oscar Wilde



Still completely immersed in videopoem production, verging on burn out so I’m a little slow on the uptake. I should have posted this 4/20. For the record, I oppose prohibition. Any American-style War On Drugs is a farce. Christ, smoking pot is a tradition in this country. And Stephen Harper is an asshole, on the issue, along with most others. But, hey, we keep voting for him. In any case, I’m happy to report this poem has been selected for Ooligan Press‘s Pacific Poetry Project: An Anthology of Three Cities. (Seattle, Vancouver, Portland.) It’s from my collection, Three Blocks West of Wonderland.



Hookah squats on carpet, Buddha

-esque. Undulating spirals of sapphire

smoke hula up her nose. That buzz.

That buzz that slows your blood,


calls you back to bed like a lover.

Soothes your inner asshole.

B.C. bud. Best bud

in the world. Worth risking jail for.


High-resolution satellite images.

Narcs’ warrant executed Tuesday.

Grow-op raided Wednesday.

Dozens of firearms. Five thousand plants.


Big bust for a small town, says Constable Cook.

For export, for sure.

Cultivation facilities dismantled.

Straight people relieved. Green party over,

but Zoe cried. It was the best job ever!


Dope dealers pay well. Her boyfriend

sold product at school. Their responsibilities

included digging a tunnel under the border,

blaming black fingernails and muddy jeans

on dirt biking at the gravel pit.


Parents were shocked. We thought she

on Facebook, chatting. We thought he was

on the Internet, with her, boy’s father chiding,

it’s APPLEton, son, not Marijuanaton.



A major windstorm and ensuing power outages have put me behind schedule and I’m still recovering from, and cleaning up after Saturday’s festivities, a tribute to Irving Layton as part of nationwide and international centenary celebrations. We celebrated my birthday as well, still substantially less than 100 years ago, and it was quite the bacchanalia, entirely fitting we all agreed. I made cassoulet, Thesa (Pakarnyk) brought butter chicken and Kyle (Hawke) brought a huge, fantastic pumpkin cake in the shape of a book, left page with Layton’s The Improved Binoculars painted upon maple icing, the right with the title poem from my book, Three Blocks West of Wonderland. I can’t stop eating the damn thing! I must stop eating the damn thing!

And I must confess it was for sentimental reasons that I hosted the event. Or perhaps pure nostalgia. As a teenager, Irving Layton was one of the poets who inspired me to write and then I met his son Max one summer while hitchhiking all over BC with my best friend Cathy. We were so resourceful, I swear I left with $50 and returned with $50. And I can’t believe we did that. Survived! Ah, the resiliency of youth, and if I believed in the supernatural, I’d swear that we’re blessed with guardian angels.

So the two of us wound up in Campbell River once. I recall meeting a crew of boisterous loggers in the bar. Are they called crews? Anyway, the lot of them snuck us into camp and brought us heaping plates of steak and potatoes. We were always hungry. A handsome, talented  young man appeared and serenaded us on guitar. A romantic figure, Max Layton grew up surrounded by artists and poets including Leonard Cohen, who gave him guitar lessons in exchange for one of his mother Betty Sutherland’s paintings. I never saw him again but thanks to social networking, Max and I reconnected. When he told me about the centenary, I was happy to participate, to gather with friends on Bowen Island, across Canada and around the world paying homage to an icon of Canadian literature.

Irving Layton may have been a bohemian, an advocate of sexual freedom, but let’s face it, the guy haboured a very bad attitude toward women. But, all grown up now I’m able to separate the man from the work, the poet from politics. I love his way with words, his lust for life. As with many other male writers–Henry Miller only one of my guilty pleasures—I must pacify my inner feminist for I am a sucker for language, its power. And obviously I’m a sucker for silver-tongued devils and troubadours.

I read from the same book I had back in high school, Periods of the Moon.  I am no less passionate about poetry and Cathy is still my best friend. Some things endure, the important things, like love and literature.

A lively group from various backgrounds, we featured a mix of Bowen Island and Vancouver poets and writers. Dennis E. Bolen is primarily a novelist but writing his autobiography in verse. He observed that he couldn’t lift the cake, so read what is perhaps Layton’s most famous work, The Improved Binoculars in his inimitable way and then If I Lie Still.

Bowen Island poet Lisa Shatsky’s first collection Do Not Call Me By My Name on Black Moss Press came out last year. She shared how Al Purdy introduced her to Layton’s work after meeting him in Montreal at the age of 18, having snuck into a bar. She pondered over Layton’s depictions of women, decided to find a poem that she actually liked and then write one in response. There was a lot of banter between audience and poet at this shindig; Julie (Vik) asked her how long it took to find one. Lisa said Berry Picking jumped out at her and read it beautifully. Her Letter to Irving Layton succinctly addressed his misogyny. Women as “muse and executioner at the same time . . . You must have longed to be delicate in another’s hand” and imagined meeting him at an outdoor café. She nailed it.

Sylvia Taylor, author of the forthcoming Fisher Queen and ever the teacher brought handouts featuring fifteen of Irving’s pithiest quotes and read Layton’s The Wave. Resplendent in fuscia pink leather Barbie driving gloves that surely would have driven Irving wild, Sylvia said,  “To commemorate how he equally adored and despised women.”

In a powerful voice, theatre director Don MacLean delivered one of Layton’s most searing and disparaging-of-poetry-and-poets poems, Whom I Write For.

My friend Thesa Pakarnyk hitchhiked from the ferry to my house with her friend Sabrina Prada (resourceful and independent) read a lovely Thesa poem, African Violets and then in stark contrast, O Jerusalem and Dialogue, both about Layton’s perspective on Christians and Jesus, (sent to her by Max Layton. Again, resourceful girl.) Thesa, a whirling dervish of talent, whose professional work includes animation and music, is currently putting together a live poetry/singing/performance jazz group. I’ll stick out my thumb for that show for sure.

Lastly, and by no means leastly, my dear friend, former band mate and fellow book lover, singer-songwriter extraordinaire Julie Vik surprised us with a reading and related how, like Lisa, she had been turned onto Layton by Al Purdy, who had come to her high school. She delivered On Obsession with aplomb, from a Layton collection she’d had since her teen years.

Then we ate cake! Amongst other things. A fantastic night. A night to remember. A la vida! Long live verse. And versifyers!