Saturday, October 3, 2009

Awoke this morning to emails requesting a copy of the speech I gave at the SFU Writer-In-Residence reception, one that segued into a reading from my new book (the same reading I gave at Word on the Street). Below is that part of the speech pertinent to the Writer-In-Residence Program.

I would like to begin by saying a few thank yous. The first person I’d like to thank is the person who introduced me tonight, Jeff Derksen.

Jeff was among the first to encourage my writing, and to understand what I was getting at in pursuit of what was, early on, a collagist approach to making books. Not an interest in the line, per se, nor an inquiry into our ideologically-saturated language, but the overall composition, what was at the time a conflation of the poetry book and the ethnography. It was Jeff who reminded me that what I was doing with poetry was not unlike what Dorothy Livesay said of the documentary poem, “a conscious attempt to create a dialectic between the objective facts and the subject feelings of the poet” (“The Documentary Poem: A Canadian Genre,” 267). But more than that, it was Jeff who gave me a chance to express my ideas about what I thought I was doing through an invitation to present my work at the Kootenay School of Writing, in 1992, an opportunity I admitedly wasn’t ready for, given what little I knew of the conversation that was/is contemporary reading and writing, but one I learned from. This is a conversation I would like to think I am now part of, and I think my invitation to be this year’s Ellen and Warren Tallman SFU Writer-In-Residence is an acknowledgement of that.

So thank you, Jeff, and thank you to the rest of Writer-In-Residence Committee – Clint Burnham, David Chariandy, Steven Collis, Tom Grieve, Christine Kim, Graham Lyons and Sophie McCall.

Next I would like to thank Roy Miki for his work in creating this position, for seeing in it the potential to improve not only the SFU English Department, by making it more diverse and accessible to a public, but to improve the material conditions of writers who, as much as anyone, require time, space and money to research and write their books, and who can only benefit from working in a university environment. For me, Roy Miki provides a model for my own aspirations -- as artist, scholar, culture worker and public intellectual. Someone for whom giving is the first line of engagement.

I would like to thank President Michael Stevenson, who has taken a personal interest in this program, and who has, in many ways, all of them affable, gone out of his way to support it. And to that, I would like to extend a thanks to Michael’s partner, Jan Whitford, who, as a literary editor and agent, knows something of the lives of writers and writing, and who would have, through conversation, shared that knowledge with Michael.

Finally, I would like to thank the Ellen and Warren Tallman Fund, and its pilot, Sarah Kennedy, for sustenance. Not just financial, but in lending the names Ellen Tallman and Warren Tallman to the SFU Writer-In-Residence Program. Like the late Alvin Balkin and Abraham Rogatnick, who also came to Canada – to Vancouver – in the mid 1950s, and started Vancouver’s first contemporary art gallery (New Design), Warren and Ellen Tallman brought with them an enthusiasm for the wider world – a world of ideas, different ways of thinking, reading and writing. They did not bring Modernism to Vancouver – Modernism was already here, as Lionel Kearns pointed out last month, in this very room, during Steven Collis’s The Line has Shattered conference. What they did bring was what Balkind and Rogatnick brought earlier, and that’s fresh air, air that allowed our local moderns an alternative to an older fustier British ideal, one that had, as George Bowering pointed out at Steven’s conference, George Barker an Stephen Spender as the leading voices our time. The Tallmans contributed through the usual channels – invitations, conferences -- but they did something else: they opened their family to visiting writers and students by providing a salon in their home. As someone who does not hold an academic position, the Tallmans have helped to create a situation whereby I have been invited into the academy, to a room overlooking a city they not only helped to build but renovate as well. So to them, Jeff, the SFU Writer-In-Residence Committee, Roy, Michael and Jan, I give thanks.

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