The next Open Poetry Mic at the library will include a special double bill showcasing two acclaimed First Nations writers on Thursday, March 7.
Featured poet Philip Kevin Paul is a member of the WSÁNEC Nation from the Saanich Peninsula. His third book of poetry, I’m Still Your Pitiful One, will be published by Nightwood Editions this year, while his second book, Little Hunger, was shortlisted for a 2009 Governor General’s Literary Award. In addition to writing poetry, Paul works with the University of Victoria’s Department of Linguistics to ensure the preservation of the SENCOTEN language.
Paul is joined by Haisla and Heiltsuk novelist Eden Robinson, the author of Monkey Beach and a two-time Giller Prize finalist. Robinson will present Trickster Drift, the follow-up to Son of Trickster and the second book of her Trickster trilogy.
Reached at her home in Kitimat, Robinson talked about coming from a family of storytellers who were always trying to one-up each other after dinner. Stories about the trickster in particular would come at increasingly fast and funny rates.
“When I started writing Son of a Trickster it would bring me back to that time,” Robinson said.
Her Trickster trilogy was partly born of a wish to pass on the stories to the next generation in a context that would make sense to them. She started with a short story and soon realized she had much more to say, as well as an attachment to the web of characters and their relationships.
Robinson’s writing is hugely influenced by her own physical and emotional state. She said there is a noticeable break in Blood Sports where everything starts to go wrong for the protagonist, and it coincides exactly with quitting her two-pack-a-day smoking habit. (This book was deemed too dark for international publishers and Robinson said no one in her family has been able to finish it.) Jared’s wild childhood, zero-boundary mother and supernatural craziness seem partly influenced by the fact she did all her writing for Son of a Trickster between the hours of 4 and 5 a.m., because that was the only time available to her in that period.
“There’s less of a censor at 4 a.m.,” Robinson reports. “I considered not writing but it brings a sense of creative satisfaction that I can’t find anywhere else.”
A sharp wit with a generous disposition, Robinson comes from a culture that places high value on word-play: the ability to pun is considered very high art in Haisla. And while her characters are coming of age into broken families where substance abuse is prevalent and violence is a constant threat, Robinson’s later work in particular finds a way to balance darker themes with her keen sense of humour.
“It always makes me grateful that I write for CanLit, because in CanLit I’m about medium-level darkness,” she laughed. “Usually the stories I’m attracted to are the darker stories anyway — usually in my heart of hearts I’m still the teenage goth girl. It’s just a personal quirk.
“As I get older I’m also drawn to the goofy, so that has been an interesting element. That’s not where I expected to be.”
The March 7 event includes the regular poetry open mic format, with reader sign-up at 6:45 p.m. and open mic at 7. Featured author readings begin at 7:30.
For more on this story, see the Feb. 27, 2019 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.