Friday, October 17, 2008

Kathryn Soloveoff-Robbie—a reluctant poet


Last week Kathryn Soloveoff-Robbie of Ootischenia launched her chapbook, "If Memory Infuses Dust and Other Poems" at the Mir Centre for Peace at Selkirk College in Castlegar.

Kathryn is what you might call a reluctant poet, at least as far as publishing goes. During the Q and A session after her reading, she admitted that she has written for years—decades, now—and she writes strictly for herself. She ruminates on something for awhile, up to a year, sometimes, then jots down the ensuing poem on an envelope or a paper bag and after reading it to a few friends on the telephone, she stuffs it into a drawer. She may, or may not, be able to find it if you ask.

But what poems! I first heard her read at the Brilliant Cultural Centre in 1995. It was a Doukhobor celebration/event, and she was one of the presenters. She got up and read four or five poems and she knocked my socks off. Later, I found out it was the first time she had read in public.

We were in a writing group for a few years, together with Judy Smith, who's living in South Korea now, and Suzanne Schurmann, who's in Newfoundland, Barb Little, now living in Revelstoke, and Judie Gray, who's still in Castlegar. I was new to town, Kathryn's kids were still young and she was just getting over burying her husband.

She does not pursue publication; it comes to her because she has friends and colleagues like Myler and Linda Wilkinson who know how important her work is. A professor in Russia is in the process of translating several of her poems into Russian, and they will be published there in a literary journal.

Three generations of Soloveoff-Robbie women were at the Mir Centre last week. "I'll tell you a story," said Kathryn, prefacing a poem, and we were drawn into a labyrinth of story, of words, of how they come about and why they matter. Someone in the audience said she'd never been to a poetry reading before and wondered if it was okay to request a poem that hadn't been read yet. I wanted to tell the woman that if she ever goes to another poetry reading, she shouldn't expect it to be anything like the one she'd just experienced. Kathryn is the real thing.


Kathryn Soloveoff-Robbie

Twitching in a skin that no longer fits
convulsing against the chrysalis of my past
—who am I?

Disturbing, going to a neighbor's house
—their skin for mine,
their garden fits like somone else's shoe
—who am I?

Naked, my skin a parchment hung over bones I don't own.

I write to invent myself — each part of my surface
marked in a new way — deliberately
I take indigo ink and illustrate my feet
write new roots for this rootless one.

I write blue snakes over my wrists,
beween tendon and bone the snakes pulse
my hand falters...

I write my breasts
withered and spent upon the strength
of my three daughters.

I write my womb
the place where I invited the future.

My pen leads me back along
the fan-shaped stories of my eyes

I write until I become the night sky

I close my eyes.


Thursday, October 02, 2008



In the distance you can just make out "God's belly-scratcher", the spire Purdy refers to in his poem, Wilderness Gothic, which you can read here.

October already, and I just mailed my letter supporting Jean Baird's initiative to save Al Purdy's A-Frame home on Roblin Lake in Ontario from being torn down. Here's the text of my letter:

To Whom It May Concern:

I’m writing to express my support for the drive to preserve Al Purdy’s house in Ameliasburgh, Ontario. Al Purdy is one of our best poets, in every sense. He wrote of the land. He wrote with humour and passion. He won awards. Earlier this year, a bronze statue of him was placed in a Toronto park.

In June I traveled to Ireland and took in such tourist attractions as the Irish Writers’ Museum in Dublin, the James Joyce Cultural Centre, the truly awe-inspiring library at Trinity College, and a literary pub tour. No, the pub tour wasn’t all about drinking; in fact, at the end of the tour there was an Irish literature quiz which was won by a fellow from Vancouver. After Dublin, I went to Sligo where I spent a lovely day visiting various Yeats-related sites.

This may seem like a digression from the subject at hand, but the point I’m making is that there are those of us who seek out the places where writers have written. We like to wander about where writers who have gone before us have wandered, imagine we’re traveling the same path, in both a physical and metaphorical sense. To walk such paths is to walk through history, for it is through words and images and sounds and movement we are able to discover vestiges of our commonality as human beings, a sense of our place in the world as it is now, and a glimpse of where we may be in the future.

Geographically, Canada is huge. Compared to other places on the planet, it is still a very young country. But already our writers have made an impression in the world, and it is not beyond the realm of possibility that future travelers in Canada—from within this huge land as well as abroad—will make their way to the former haunts of some of our artists, if we have the foresight to preserve them.

Over dinner the other night, I mentioned to my husband that I was writing a letter to support the initiative to preserve Al’s house. “I went there once,” he mused, “it was 1972, the summer Judie and I drove across Canada with the kids. She grew up around there so we were able to find the place. Al wasn’t home, but his wife was, and she opened her house to us as I explained how I’d taken courses from Al at Simon Fraser and was a big fan of his poetry.”

This is how Al’s house has always been, according to those who have found their way there. I hope it can continue to be.

Yours truly,

Linda Lee Crosfield


The pictures on this post were taken by Ted Crosfield when he and Judie and the kids were at the Roblin Lake house in 1972. That's a young Anthony and Shannon on the dock together, and there's one of Anthony, fishing. Ted thinks it was a neighbour's boat.

For those of you who are so moved, a trust has been set up and you can send a donation in a cheque made out to:

The Al Purdy A-Frame Trust

and mail it to:

Jean Baird
4403 W. 11th Avenue
Vancouver, BC V6R 2M2

Any amount is welcome.