Tag Archives: Three Blocks West of Wonderland

No Family is an Island

My baby turns 17 today. 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 Autism Spectrum Disorder, largely characterized by a withdrawn personality to varying degrees, a condition I’ve become all too familiar with, a very nuanced condition.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.

A colicky baby, 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, a rigid lot it seems, one so horrid we turfed her after a month. Yes, he needed to learn self-regulation but my son is a Continue reading

Black Hearts and Rough Cuts-“Pirate of his own Ship”

Restless! Full moon? Well, here I sit, occupying my ass, my life, my Self, entitled to that much surely, with discussions of earth shattering events and the nature of heartache, having recently survived colliding with a particularly hard, cold, black heart. I honestly believe that cleaning up one’s own back yard is the first step toward redemption, and ultimately, peace. Peace of mind? My friend Kyle observed, “The only hearts that can’t get broken are hardened ones.” Told him I didn’t find much solace in that. Then my buddy Dennis (E. Bolen) suggested that, “the hardened hearts shatter. It’s the soft heart that survives.” Yeah, but sadly, “shattered” describes perfectly how I felt. At least, I’m starting to use past tense, move forward, as everyone insists I must. Sometimes I miss the intrepid young woman who never looked back. Oy. I’m just tired of losing. Loss. Loss as motif. *sigh* If only people would do what we want. Like bendable Barbies. And Kens. But though it hurts to hope, I still hope. Bend. Accept. Guess I am soft. And curious. Aroused. Unmuzzled. Voracious.

Seque! Cohort Peter Babiak is teaching my poem Voracious to his English students at Langara College. I recorded it and emailed an MP3 which he said they listened to no less than three times. He sent  a picture of the class hard at work, pouring over the text, one girl head in hands. I felt sorry for them. Christ, I’m glad I don’t have to analyze it, and in no way feel inclined to do so, even if I had the time.

Survived Thanksgiving too. Since I must cook every day, I largely ignored the holiday as I do all holidays, or at least the seemingly mandatory rituals. I do enjoy seeing friends and family. At least people get a little time off and my friend Julie gave me some amazing homemade pumpkin pie before we sat down together to play music. We used to have a duo called Bent Tail. We will recover our originals soon, sang Down In The Willow Garden, House of the Rising Sun, tried King of the Road but the high parts were too high. I used to play it when I was busking but we’re both a little rusty. You wouldn’t think it had high parts, listening to Roger Miller’s version. Who knew? Well, I did but I forgot.

Nailing down details for Visible Verse Festival! Check it out. 36 moving treatments of literature and artists Britt Hobart and Rich Ferguson flying in from California, Alexander Jorgensen from Pennsylvania. I am excited. Several friends have bemoaned the difficulty of process, the inherent challenges of producing a videopoem. I went through a painful experience with my directorial debut, Purple Lipstick, editor absconding with the raw footage for an interminable time. Pure torture. I couldn’t even think about this episode for years, let alone write about it. But, we persist. Hope. Exorcise? Bend, surely. In any case, please find the nightmare depicted thusly:

Rough Cut

After enduring a gestation period
of eighteen months
and several bouts of incommunicado-ness
she dutifully reports to the clay eater’s

rat’s nest to defend her lump of art,
before he nibbled away all the footage.
She sings his praises, pretending
the indiscriminate cravings

and grinding teeth do not exist,
do not wear her down.
Meth-heads don’t generate, they spin
scratched vinyl, shoot blankly,

regurgitate turbulence, gnaw and brew
dandelion wine because it’s free,
free as roadside blackberries
and meadows of psilocybin.

Pirate of his own ship-
bachelor pad bouncy house,
sleeping in a pocket on the floor,
close to the cache

when he isn’t busy
snipping, sniping.
Under the red toque
a mind’s eye so muddied

it can see nothing
move.
Bloodied images, frames, shots
blur unremittingly.

Recreate. Rework. Repeat.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
With no redress, no kind release,
she seriously considers murder.

Don’t tread on me! 9/11 fallout poem

Swamped. Fighting a virus. Sick of editing but if the manuscript isn’t 100% print ready, it’s pretty darn close. So, so long slogging, hello hustling. As soon as I square away a swack of domestic duties and finish screening nearly 60 videopoems for Visible Verse Festival which happens on Friday, Nov. 4 this year. Forge. That’s what I’m doing. Well, aren’t we all? Born forgers we are, regular blacksmiths.

Had an interesting exchange with a friend who was reluctant to remove a photo of moi from a Facebook album, which led to a discussion about FB photo posting etiquette. She suggested that the protocol was to tag only the pics that the subject liked. I said protocol schmotocal, friends remove pics that friends aren’t comfortable with. Common courtesy, common sense. To me. But then I’m media hack from way back and make no apologies for it. Fundamental in this age of Facebook and social media. I realize absolute control is impossible but it’s my right to have input over the end result of our collaboration (mine and a photographer’s, which I always discuss ahead of a shoot) and the distribution of said images. But that’s just me. I think the real issue is integrity. Trust. Mutual respect between artist and subject. Artists are not gods, above or beyond their subjects. But it’s a slippery slope indeed because what we do is vital and the truth must come out. I think of Lincoln Clarkes and those incendiary photos he took of drug addicted women in the downtown Eastside, and Diane Arbus, both whom I believe always asked permission. It also happens to be the way to a better photograph. I’m also suspicious of a lot of *documentary* films. We all know how easy it is to skew facts with editing, etc. Which makes me think of the Strickland character in Robert Stone’s novel, Outerbridge Reach, a true opportunist/artist, some would say sociopath. But if you pose for a photo, presumably you are taking a bit of a risk, she said. I said, I try not to presume anything. Posing does not necessarily equate with permission. License.

And here’s my other 9/11 poem. Or perhaps it’s more about the fallout.

SECHELT

It’s so lovely here. Burdock wafting, whooshing.
Sleek cyclist slows for no man, woman or child.
Kamikaze starlings chase off rivals reflected in glass.
Springtime. Neo-hippie chicks and plump lesbians.
Round, orange buoys in the cove. Boatload of mental
cases on an outing covert as a DARPA project.
A prattling punk rocker can’t conquer fear
but can contain it, her sunbathing Labrador
sleeping through everything. Loudspeaker honks.
“This sale is an extravaganza! Prawns. Maple syrup.
Smoked salmon. ALL on special!”
A longwinded lute maker. Old world restaurant,
pickle juice in the potato salad,
bird lover training orphaned fledglings.
Florida flight schools, Atta and eighteen others.
Big clue, red flag, CIA too bullish to see.
Why take flying lessons only to play
hooky on Descent & Landing day?

It’s lovely here. I have nothing to complain about
except, some people complain too much.
My new friend Sophie, whining
about the pub’s crappy coasters, catching a nasty cold
from a cabbie in Reno, the jerk she moved here to marry,
a lazy fisherman, busy cutting the head off her mettle.
She grows defensive as a row of swaying cypress trees
when I offer suggestions. I retire to the gazebo,
hear a train and some blues huffing across the water.
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee?

I wake to news of coffin-sized cells. Torture.
An American Extraordinary Rendition Unit
nabbing suspected terrorists for one-way flights
to top-secret sites around the globe. For questioning.
I am informed there are no railroad tracks near Sechelt.
Those rhythms must have come from machinery
at the cement quarry on the other side of the inlet.

My cranium feels like a washbowl.
Mascara brush too fat,
like trying to apply a bumblebee
to my eyelashes.
Oh, I have nothing to complain about.
It’s lovely here.

“That in black ink my love may still shine bright.”


VORACIOUS

A kiss.
Coral. Incandescent.
We wanted a kiss.
We wanted a moment
of, no one knows us.
In a hovel or the firs
we wanted a moment
of, no one watching.
We wanted a ride,
the roiling innards.
We wanted a night.
One night, to escape
the ether, the library,
all that shushing.
We wanted more
than one season
of abundance.

He has entered text
red as a target,
invited a stoning,
but, we are very bear.
Mewling accomplice
pawing at the door,
I track charred meat
from bower to suite.

From a fly coastal trip
drenched in dark highway,
through a fuming winter
of snarling heat,
to blasted spring robins
and lilacs blaring perfume
we have muzzled nothing,
growling in the gut wicked
as songs loud as our heads,
deafening aches
silent as screen voices
deep at night.

Smoked out,
files burned,
anointed with ash,
we are fallout.
Ruthless particulars
roaming summer,
lapping up
bare mounds
and berries,
moving and moved
by shattered outcrops,
words of praise
and generous mouths.

Incensed at the sun’s insolence . . .

DAWNING CONSCIOUSNESS

She wakes grimly febrile,
desperately nostalgic
for dawdling in ditches
of tadpoles,
wagering glass
marbles in snow lanes,
sewing mini skirts
for her Barbie,
mashed potatoes,
fried baloney,
the gag reflex.

She shuts her eyes,
snubbing the town’s lens
zooming in on her culpability,
incensed at the sun’s insolence,
rising despite collisions,
the most recent death toll.

She groans, engulfed in tokens
of admirers, embattled by,
dreading the delirium of desire,
one resolutely phlegmatic
as the other effuses, plummets.
No incidental leaf
but a loose lunatic rook
lit mate old school canon
raining down like a medicine ball.

Men ostensibly,
on, off or side tracked
interpersonals interpenetrating
fictions, demands, tousles
delightfully incessant.

No accident this transport back
to forsaken tracks,
giant drainpipe beneath.
I engineered it.
I, of humble origin,
melancholy disposition
provide stimulation,
provoke the atmosphere,
orchestrate the robberies.

I, in the cliché of a crisp white shirt
and black hat
inflict pain, increase pressure,
draw hostility, reel in crisis
commonly referred to
as authentic experience.
I dare to sprawl,
invite expansion
as vital to my vitals
as blood on needlework.

THE LAST PING

This poem reminds me of the Ben Folds/Joe Jackson/William Shatner piece, Common People. “Dance, drink, screw, ‘cos there’s nothin’ else to do!” Sometimes with fatal consequences.

The Last Ping

After the girl is gone,
long gone, out of character,
statistical, presumed dead,
the verifying department
hops to it, sniffs out
the revelers,
especially the life of the party,
his liquid engine of beer,
anyone with information,
to confirm names and addresses,
substantiate stories.
They watch your gestures.
Read your face.

Description: Hair Blonde,
Eye Color Blue, Height 5′ 1″,
Weight 101 lbs, phoenix tattoo
ascending from the right hip.
Bright, unintentional dropout,
inadvertently delinquent.
Boyfriend person of interest
according to the RCMP.
Always. He passes the flyer.
Her cell phone may be dead too,
last ping traced—pinpointed in fact—
to here. Right here.
Her last known location.
Right where we’re standing.
This town. Your pretty little town.

Fucken eh.
Check your property,
your shallow ditches,
So petite, she takes up little space
in one’s psyche,
turkey vultures leading us
not to her
body but to a deer carcass.
She was last seen
wearing a blue ski jacket,
white blouse, black jeans.
Parents pray
to repair the squabbles. Home.
Local kids clam up,
weighting the secret with smoke.

A teenaged girl can forget
she’s graduated
the fenced-in yards of childhood
to this vast plain
where condoms provide safety,
sympathy muttered. Crocodile.
She forgot
townies find transcendence in fury,
one vaguely recalling
Eminem shouts,
a catfight in the backyard.
She looked kinda posh,
smashed herd fumbling,
fawning, smooshing,
pushing, over, under.
Dancing, sending her sailing.

From your incurable optimist, dare I say, utopian?

Sadly, my dear friend Ann Haskell died Oct. 22 after a two-year battle with ovarian cancer. Assimilation of such facts of life is difficult without the means to attend the memorial. She was my ex-mother-in-law though I remained a great admirer and missed her terribly-almost as much as her youngest son Peter-after we split up. As a young woman I was in awe of her. Quietly strong, kind, intelligent, beautiful, a scholar, single mother and professor of literature at SUNY-Buffalo when we met, Ann and I thankfully reconnected and started corresponding a few years back, along with middle son Mark and her daughter—my surrogate little sister—Gretl, who reassured me, “Mom knew you were thinking of her.” Mark let all her loved ones know Ann died as she wanted, peacefully, surrounded by her beloved family and felines, no doubt with characteristic grace and dignity. Here is part of her obituary. As I told Gretl, I don’t possess words enough to describe her accomplishments.

Ann S. Haskell Obituary – 1/7/29 – 10/22/10     Ann was born in Washington, DC, in 1929 and grew up in Arlington, VA. While raising three children on her own, she was among the first women to graduate from Clemson University and was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Graduate Fellowship. She received her Doctorate with honors from the University of Pennsylvania in 1964. She went on to teach at the English Department of the State University of New York at Buffalo, specializing in Chaucer and Medieval Life and Literature and in Children’s Literature, for thirty-seven years. She was a mentor and advisor to hundreds of students whose lives and careers she enriched with her generosity and scholarship. Her many academic publications include the books, “Essays on Chaucer’s Saints” and  “A Middle English Anthology,” which has been in print since 1969. Ann wrote Op-Ed columns, personal essays, and articles on food and numerous other subjects for publications such as the Smithsonian, the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun and New York Times. She maintained a home in Provence in Southern France for forty years and she and her husband taught a program abroad on the Culture of Provence.

*sigh* Sure do hope I get to see Gretl and Mark again soon.

So, back to the grind . . . I’ve been trying to recall a time when I didn’t have a laptop handy 24 hours a day. How did I survive? Still in the throes of Visible Verse festival programming, production and promotion, literary scene pal Rob Taylor kindly blogging about it at Spread It Like a Roll of Nickels. I will be presenting a couple of videopoems–a preview–at Sean Cranbury’s Real Vancouver Writers Series, Nov. 17. I bought a Continue reading

Three Blocks West of Wonderland review

Review of Three Blocks West of Wonderland by Poetry Is Dead Magazine Editor-In-Chief Daniel Zomparelli.

“The modern poet must deal with our technological/consumer-driven/corporate reality and attempt to find a small space of peace in this world. In Three Blocks West of Wonderland, Heather Susan Haley explores the beauty of nature through a grounded lens without ever ignoring the implications of consumerism and corporatization.

Haley’s narrative-driven lyrical poems are emotionally raw and go down like a shot of whiskey. They are filled with complicated dichotomies of nature versus humanity. The best example of this appears in “Appleton,” my favourite poem in the collection. The poem sets up a pot-smoking high, only to pull back and discuss the implications of the marijuana industry and all of the sticky legalities and the gang involvement. Haley has no trouble finding the beauty of life, just as she has no trouble pointing out the ugly truth.

Every poem in Three Blocks West of Wonderland features humour, anger, passion, love, inquisition and a kick-in-the-pants tone. The only hesitation I had with the book was that the narrative line didn’t connect strongly from poem to poem. It might come from reading too many conceptual poetry books, but I like my narrative poetry collections to keep the story going throughout. As a result, this book is best read at a casual pace or, more specifically, this whiskey-slinging, pickle juice-in-the-potato salad, roadkill, I-5 book of poetry is best read with a cool mug of lager. It’ll put some hair on those balls … or grow you a set, for that matter.” Hmm, I will have to take that as a compliment, for it must be the opposite of emasculate. That’s me, the elevate-or, the ball builder, the booster. “Exuberance is beauty,” after all, according to William Blake.

Holding onto summer . . .

. . . and not very successfully for it’s still flying by. Just walked the hounds, trying to get my energy up. I feel like I ran a marathon, muscles sore, achy. My bitch Brinda is eating dirt as I drain the hot tub, neighbourhood junkos and towhees using the run-off as a birdbath. Flighty, ring-necked pigeons fight over the sunflower seeds, their cries reminiscent of elephant calls. There was a haze over the Lower Mainland and the Fraser Valley from the forest fire smoke drifting down from the Interior, but it’s cleared up. We didn’t notice it much over here, another perk of island life.

I’m working it, working on the novel. Post Sage-Hill, feeling like I’ve been back a long time but actually still struggling to re-enter. Such a rarefied atmosphere and I didn’t realize it there and then. Slowly, I am starting to get some serious work done, some editing accomplished. I’ve felt ambiguous about the title, The Town Slut’s Daughter. I realize it makes the book a hard sell and several people have asked if I’m married to it. I keep coming to the same conclusion, Continue reading

“The Siren of Howe Sound” guest speaker @ the Shebeen Club

I’m blushing. . . . Hope to see you there.  🙂

The announcement-invitation from Raincoaster Media:

“Who: The Shebeen Club and the Siren of Howe Sound, Heather Haley
What: A night of multimedia delights celebrating the recent publication of Three Blocks West of Wonderland. Go here for more information on the Shebeen Club.
When: Monday, August 16, from 7pm-9pm
Where: The Shebeen, behind the Irish Heather, 212 Carrall Street

Join us as we celebrate the release of Heather Haley’s latest book of poetry, Three Blocks West of Wonderland. Heather is both the digital and actual troubadour of the West Coast, from Bowen Island to Venice Beach, and for the first time she’ll be bringing her multimedia performance experience to the Shebeen Club. There will be poetry. There will be prose. There will be beauty. There may be song. And there WILL be videopoems, a dynamic genre that seems to have sprung fully formed from the forehead of the Siren of Howe Sound herself.

We’re very proud to help celebrate a pivotal local literatus’s latest launch! And that’s my allotment of “L’s” for the week right there. As always, $20 buys you dinner and a drink and some of the finest literary company this city has to offer. Click here to RSVP on Facebook.