Fred Wah Book Release Party

October 1, 2009

Last night I drove up to Vancouver to attend the Fred Wah book release party. With Fred as the night’s headliner and the emcee being George Bowering, two of the most important North American poets of a generation, I knew this would be an event well worth attending. I left Seattle early, checked into the downtown hostel and arrived WAY early, but basically had my pick of seats.


My taste in poetry comes directly out of a line that would include Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams and Charles Olson, and the TISH poets of Vancouver in the early 60’s are among the best poets to extend Olson’s projective method. In fact, in Wah’s 1980 selected poems (Loki is Buried at Smoky Creek), George Bowering’s introduction really gives you a sense of what, of Olson, was important to Wah and TISH in general:

“It is no secret that Wah derived early sensibility from Charles Olson & Ed Dorn, poets who found ineluctable relationships between a sense of place as signified, & projection of the body’s consciousness as signifier…There is nothing more exterior than writing. The moment it is done it is forever outside. There is also nothing more interior than speech, than the body’s saying. It has no meaning save when it accompanies movements inside the mouth & the ear. Speech & writing are therefore eternally separate. Yet the poet survives upon the ambition to entwine them. Thus Wah will not be caught describing nature, the act that would render the latter forever passive, without ears.

It is not hard to see that writing about a subject is a sure way to keep the subject at arm’s length, & it is not hard to see that any writing that tries to close that distance will be frustrated in the end. Yet one can minimize it & Wah, with his refusal to subject his home to description, comes closer than anyone I know, to success, to enacting an holistic image of the world…”

In Wah’s own words: “The level of meaning at the moment of writing is the important thing.”

It was Fred’s night and a night of quintessentially Canadian literature, maybe inspired by a USAmerican poet, but a poetry quintessentially Canadian and at the same time beyond borders of any kind. And though the contents of Wah’s selected poems and the introduction are at least 30 years old, it is still decades ahead of what goes for poetry here in the US of A, to the detriment of the craft and U.S. culture itself.

Wah’s book being released is entitled is a door. The Olson connection is highlighted in a poem entitled:

The public wall for a few
private souls as the poetics (Olson,
Poetry New York no. 3, 1950) spoken
by the wall though never much
heard even if you fee language
serves the you who speaks but
who is the boss of your single
intelligence and all of these questions
return dream after dream and, as
poets, we might stumble on common
readings as the line turns back
to the wall at the left
marginalization of poetry or are Perelman’s
words just another benign discursion counting
this poem also as the arbitrary
factory of public opinion churns out
survey just as those global-
local logics spin the daily papers
as “us,” we’ve become the news
of our “selves” is that your
dream of a public language?…

Wah references the journal Olson’s seminal essay was published in, as well as Olson’s notion that poetry needed to be more than the private soul at any public wall. (Does that describe what slam poetry is these days? & Olson wrote it 60 years ago!)

As most thinking USAmericans are still somewhat embarrassed we had a President like George W. Bush and perhaps are still embarrassed that the guy who was elected as a sea change continues the bulk of W’s policies, the least we could do is become aware of some of the remarkable writing from beyond our borders, even if they’re only a day trip away.

Link to Charles Olson reading a poem at the 1963 Vancouver Poetry Festival, recorded by Fred Wah:


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