Print Edition: July 16, 2014
Standing on the shoreline of Harrison Lake — toes in the water, staring out at the mountains — is a great way to spend a summer day, especially when there is a promise of poetry in the evening.
Unlike the beach, Harrison Community Hall was well air-conditioned. As attendants gathered and seated themselves on cool plastic chairs, host Cheryl Isaac opened the event with an introduction of the writers and this year’s theme: in honour of UFV’s 40th anniversary, the Lit Café featured works written by UFV students and staff.
UFV professor Andrea MacPherson set the tone of the evening with pieces from her recently published poetry collection Ellipses. It’s one thing to read poetry silently on a patio with a cup of tea, and another thing entirely to hear it read aloud by the writer.
The first poem, “Unclaimed,” claimed our attention immediately. The words flowed together like trails of thought, forcing nostalgia to boil up out of the cracks our memory, even though those memories did not belong to us.
Michelle Rickaby, who works in UFV’s international education and upgrading departments, read from her personal essay “My Symbol of Hope,” in which she told us how she was diagnosed with cancer in the 1980s. She said, “It felt as if my skin was crawling with bugs… I knew then I had Hodgkin’s — cancer of the lymphatic system.”
Her struggle, though, was not just surviving. Once she had survived cancer, she still struggled with something that had settled deeper in her than cancer ever could.
“Yes, I had beaten cancer,” she explained, “but why’d I survived and my brother didn’t?”
As she stepped away from the podium to applause, student Katie Stobbart stepped up to it with her poetry. The unintentional theme of memory had played through each of the writers so far, and Stobbart continued it on.
“I’m taking some advice from my teachers to be brave and read something new,” she said, opening with a poem titled “Shoestrings.”
After a break filled with improvised jazz from Jared Burrows (guitar), Rob Kholer (bass), and Clyde Reed (bass), UFV’s former writer-in-residence Daniela Elza joined the band in a mixed poetry-music performance with pieces from her collection the weight of dew.
Elza noted the band sometimes accompanies her on readings and improvises as she reads: “I’m, most of the time, surprised by what happens.”
Her piece “Snowflake” suggested a sense of nostalgia again, like MacPherson’s reading, and added to the theme of memory that ran through the evening.
UFV professor John Carroll was next to take the stage. Oddly, he was alone, even though the program noted he and fellow professor Rajnish Dhawan would be reading together. To our amusement, Dhawan’s untimely arrival to the stage was all part of the act. He stomped down the bleachers and out of the audience yelling, “Is this the Literary Café?”
The hall burst with laughter as he took his place next to Carroll and they continued into their hilarious script. Dhawan wrapped up the act with a call for actors needed for roles in a play directed by Carroll on the Komagata Maru incident.
“To me, it is not one story, but 376 stories,” Dhawan said. “We need all roles, all ages, all ethnicities!”
“Don’t sound so desperate,” whispered Carroll, next to the microphone.
When Elza asked what kind of role she would play, Dhawan joked, “A bitchy, racist, white woman.” And just like that, the humour was restored for the next speaker.
Just as notes of memory were fresh early in the evening, it seemed humour would finish it off. UFV’s Hope Centre coordinator Michelle Vandepol read from her short fiction collection Stories Your Mother Never Told You, and, like Dhawan and Carroll’s act, it had the audience laughing. It brought up memories of our own experiences with overprotective mothers, which ended the evening with both unexpected themes tied together in a perfect ribbon.
Editor’s Note: Katie Stobbart is Editor-in-Chief at The Cascade.