(c)copyright by Stephen Gill. The article can be

reproduced or quoted  without permission if the

due credit is given, mentioning the source and

the name of the author.

 

*appeared in several publications

 

 

 

POETRY IS ALIVE IN CANADA(travelogue)

 

 

Stephen Gill

 

 

 It started with my search for bananas. Usually, I eat two to six bananas every day.  For two days since my arrival, I had not taken any. I had a craving for them but there were no grocery stores around the hotel. I wanted to see also the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library, where I was going to give my poetry performance the following evening, on the 24th of March, particularly to see if there were promotional posters for my presentation.

          At the hotel, a receptionist, apparently of Chinese origin, told me to go to the next block which was St. George's Street. When I turned to the right, I would see a weird-looking tall, tall building--- really, really weird. That was the library.

I had been sponsored by the Canada Council to present my poetry in Vancouver. It was the 23rd of March, a quiet Sunday evening. There was a pleasant change from the cold of Ontario, where the year had not packed up its snow yet.  I did not want to be late for the library. Therefore, I deferred my plan to buy bananas. Walking for a few minutes in weather when the wind was dancing her twist, I reached the library. My curiosity began to swell. I went in and out of the main entrance several times-- sat down in the open for tea and viewed the structure from top to bottom like a bridegroom who views his bride for the first time in her wedding dress. The Vancouver Public Library is a wonder in the world of poetic art that appeared to be a combination of a university, a modern library and a plaza at a seabeach.  To me, the structure was most artistically designed to meet the practical needs of casual readers as well those of book worms. 

The library is a multi-storeyed complex with a modern book store, souvenir shop and several food parlours where visitors, even on Sunday, enjoyed reading, talking and discussing over snacks and tea/coffee. Several publications, which announced day-to-day musical concerts, art exhibitions, poetry readings, talks and such happenings in the city, were displayed for free pick-up.  In one of those listings I was surprised to read an invitation by the management of a new bar to poets for conversations and readings in a friendly atmosphere. Where else one can read such announcements in Canada? I bought a few books.

          As is my habit when I visit a new library, I went to a computer inside the building to check if my books were available-- two titles were listed in the catalogue.  I made up my mind to persuade the librarian, or whoever would introduce me, to purchase the rest of my titles. After all, sharing and promotion for further sharing is the purpose of such visits.

The following evening, I was introduced to the audience by Janice Douglas, Director of Community Relations. A lively discussion about my art of writing, message and global peace shaped an exciting part of my presentation. Janice Douglas mentioned Sai Baba for the work he was doing to promote love, peace and tolerance. I added that the world needs several Sai Babas to stop the blood that is shed to appease the false gods of the fanatic beliefs of terrorists.

Among the audience were present Dr. Darshan Gill and Sadhu Binings, well-known Panjabi poets who also write in English and edit Panjabi publications. Also present was Dr. Shukrieh Ruth Merlet, a Lebanese-born writer, translator and librarian with a long list of impressive achievements. She had recently been honoured with a doctorate by the World University. Janice Douglas was kind enough to buy those of my titles that were not available in their library.

I relished every minute of the performance of my poetry about love and social concerns. The performance was an experience that will remain alive in the museum of my mind. And the sunshine of the warm ovation will continue sprinkling the fragrance of her smile over the nights of my hope.

 On my way back to the hotel, I found a corner store. The following morning, I was booked for Douglas College in New Westminster. I ate a couple of bananas, while collecting my books for the display. It was late in the night-- but I had difficulty in falling asleep. I took an aspirin which I normally do when I am at a new place, where I feel I will have hard time to get even a nap. Still sleep was far away. I suspected that the pillows were the culprits, because I use cotton for my pillows; I am allergic to foam and such synthetic fillers. I removed the cover of a pillow and put it on the cover of the other. I placed additionally a dry towel on top of that. It seemd to have worked.

          At the hotel cafeteria in the early morning, I heard a Japanese-looking waiter, discussing a play with a female guest. When she left, we talked about haiku. He told me that he was contacting publishers for two collections of his poems.  While I was leaving the cafeteria, I heard a middle-aged man commenting on The English Patient by Michael Ondatjee to the owner at the cash counter. When I told him that I knew the poet, he said that he would like to hear Michael when he reads his prose, not poetry. On the last day, I presented a copy of The Flowers of Thirst, a collection of my poems, to the waiter which he accepted with deep admiration.

After having tea and two bananas, I reached Douglas College two hours before the time of my presentation. It was raining. I felt under the influence of the allergy that made me feel uncomfortable. I did not want to appear before the audience with a running nose. I wished to have a couple of aspirins, but I had left them in my room. I did not want to buy another packet to save money, though I had enough from the sale of the books autographed the night before at the Vancouver Public Library, where a friendly audience had bought nearly all of them.  Yet, I  wanted to be careful to have more money because of my belief, based on my performance and book store visit, that Vancouver was an ideal place for poets to purchase books.

Normally, I do not take anything before a talk or reading, except tea and one or two bananas if I am very hungry.  The fast starts from the morning and ends after my presentation. That morning, due to my allergy, I craved something to eat. I went into the cafeteria where I picked up tea and a muffin and carried them on a tray to a corner seat. Feeling better, I began to scribble about my experiences of the night before. Students and a few other persons, who looked like professors, once in a while threw their glances at me.

I went to the library and checked a computer to find my titles. The library had two prose titles, but no collection of my poems. I went to the librarian-- she was not there. I left a note with a request to order my books if possible.

The reading went very well. The audience, mostly students, were polite and quiet. Some of the questions they asked were really intelligent. One question that came up in both the gatherings was the reasons behind my writing for love and peace.

I told them that the key to the answer was perhaps in the locker of my childhood when I saw Hindus and Moslems killing one another for the God whom noone has seen. I have heard the cries of the innocents and seen dead bodies rotting on the street. Those scenes of senselessness---the scenes of the cruelty that seeks oasis in human blood--- are hidden in the every cave of my every breath.

   At Douglas College, I met Mary Burns, a famous author of several books; Bonnie Bauder, assistant editor of Event, a prestigious Canadian literary journal; and Howard Eaton, another writer. To me, the Department of English seemed to be run by writers. I suggested to them to keep me in mind for any writer-in-residence position.

I have been reading Event, a magazine of unique individuality, for years. It was an opportunity to have a few minutes with Bonnie Bauder, its assistant editor. She was energetic, kind, and friendly. We talked about the obstacles in the way of married writers. We shared the view that writers are already married--- married to their art.   At the same time, they have responsibilities towards their children to make them grow into good citizens. In order to be more attentive to writing, they can cut down the time they spend on watching tv and socializing. To be in touch with people, they can use the telephone-- an excellent way to reduce boredom as well. She encouraged me to submit poems to be considered for her publication.

I had  to  wait  outside  because  it  was  raining.  To take advantage of the situation, I phoned Dr. Shukrieh Ruth Merlet. She suggested that I see Mr. Aziz Khaki before I leave the city. She also suggested to me to meet Mr. Ned Bejjany, a Lebanese writer who publishes Mawaheb, meaning talent, a literary magazine in English, French and Arabic from Mississauga, Ontario.  

In the evening, I spent some time with Mr. Aziz Khaki at his office, exchanging our thinking about how to bring about global peace. I brought his attention to the activities of fanatics and terrorists. I also brought his attention to the blasphemy law of Pakistan. He supported the view that the Moslem religion is based on peace and preaches tolerance. I added that what he and similar organizations were doing were to be admired, though these were bandage treatments. These efforts build temporary dams to check the flow of the flood. The real culprit was the flood. Something needs to be done to stop the flood. If we want to build a world of peace and understanding, the work will have to be done from the cradle. Aristotle said that the mother's lap is the first school for children. Cosmopolitanism and tolerance for world peace has to be taught and promoted from the very first day of the child's life and to be continued in schools and colleges and wherever possible.

 Mr. Khaki, a man of engaging personality, knew how to express himself. He is the president of The Committee for Racial Justice, and edits two newsletters, titled Reaching Out, and Interfaith Voice. He is a Moslem from Africa. He has authored a few books on racial justice and is involved with several peace organizations.  Appreciating the work he was doing, I offered my help in any way as a writer and poet. He planned to organize a seminar or a conference of poets for peace. We parted agreeing to keep in close touch.

Based on my stay of three nights, I may say that Vancouver is a clean city of green trees, flowers and water fountains. It is a city where poetry is vibrant even in the bars and restaurants. I would compare the literary life of Vancouver to the one in Calcutta, India, where creators of every age and area like to discuss different forms of art in tea and coffee houses. A visit to Vancouver, particularly to the main branch of the Public Library, is enough to convince me that poetry is not breathing her last in Canada.

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