fred wah

Fred Wah: River Hunger, Home to E(ar)th

Jan 21, 2016

Dear Larissa, Thanks for asking me to write something on ethics, aesthetics, justice, form (the words tumble around getting drier and drier) for this blog. As you know, I’ve been out of the academic loop for awhile so such terms feel distant, part of another thinking (clinking) world from elsewhere. Now, in trying to renegotiate the possible tracks of writing, I frequently find myself up against an old wall; been there done that kind of feeling. I’ll be playing with some notion and then I’ll recognize a strange familiarity (Novalis?) – I’ve been here before, been through this thinking before, nothing new now. So then I think writing has been like a fast-moving river 				watch the river from the bridge 				 					– you move, river stays  and what I need to do now is to paddle upstream, staying close to shore to catch the back eddies. So I find myself going over old territory, realizing, for example, when I passed that term “ethic” years ago I was going fast downstream, just trying to steer. This isn’t just a metaphorical river. One of the current projects is the Columbia River, so while getting into “river” mode, I come across all kinds of dendrita floating along the surface from old poems, old gestures at mapping the possible. Maybe a large part of this recognition came with assembling 30 years of early work (Scree: The Collected Earlier Poems 1962-1991) where I recognized some of the imagic and ideological paradigms that, duh, are still there. Ok. So looking at your call re ethics and form, I revisit a little boulder garden of poetic thinking (paradigmatic thought suffixing) that started for me when I wrote the fascicle Earth for the Curriculum of the Soul series in the early 70’s. See how it rhymes – earth, eth – and then a poem from that book spins it back into use:  Eth means why any one returns every one all over the place they are in entwined into the confluence of the two rivers into the edges of a genetic inscription and our homes and loves now night spreads out up the valleys into the many-forgotten messages and arrangements carried there the character sticks hunger  Now when I see that word “hunger” I hover in a wide pillow of reflection around Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s “Mother, I am hungry, I want to come home” (I think that’s it, from Dictee; can’t find it right now). Though I stumbled into that “Eth” long before I read Cha; literally, the rhyme with “Earth.”. Through a variety of poetic ways, “home” surfaces later for me, in “Music at the Heart of Thinking Ninety”:  On the weekend I got into anger talk about landscape and the hunger of narrative to eat answer or time but space works for me because place got to be more spiritual at least felt now this watery genetic I suspect passions like anger suprafixed to simply dwells I mean contained as we speak of it believe me I'd like to find a new word-track for feeling but language and moment work out simply as simultaneous occurences so I don't think you should blame words for time-lapse tropism eg ethics is probably something that surrounds you like your house it's where you live.  See, that’s what happens when I revisit some of those words. Then it gets complicated (in my writing through it) as I wade into the thought suffixes still dendrite in the layers of different currents. It becomes anagogical, for a layering of –isms (idealism, positivism, moralism, etc) that is a working out of “where you live” in terms of that other obvious (to me) tumbler, “ethnic.” So a kind of bifurcation, which needn’t be resolved, in the quest for Truth-slash-El Dorado, into the poetics of other, difference, reterritorialization, what I called then “alienethnic,” and, more recently, because my mom died in dementia, memory. To memorize, to repeat, to rehearse, to prepare. It all spreads out, there, in front of the words as they reveal their possibilities for an ethos. In conversation with Roy Miki about one of his Ste. Agathe collages, we’ve come upon a frame of thought configured as “Remembering the Future.” Is Montreal poet Emilie O’Brien right: “Our ancestors forgot us long ago”? Did they? Will we? Sorry, this little foray vis-à-vis your request for ethics and aesthetics doesn’t get us any further. Maybe that’s all we can do, retrace the river. Eg, Cha again:  Like birth like death. Unlike birth, unlike death, this redeemed through a future and a past through own memory and presumes a separate conclusion.  cheers, Fred
Wah Dear Larissa (blog 2015) - 2
Wah Dear Larissa (blog 2015) - 3


Fred Wah was born in Swift Current, Saskatchewan in 1939 and grew up in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia. He presently lives in Vancouver. His book of prose-poems, Waiting For Saskatchewan, received the Governor-General’s Award in 1986 and So Far was awarded the Stephanson Award for Poetry in 1992. Diamond Grill, a biofiction about hybridity and growing up in a small-town Chinese-Canadian cafe was published in 1996 and won the Howard O’Hagan Award for Short Fiction. A collection of essays, Faking It: Poetics and Hybridity, was awarded the Gabrielle Roy Prize for Writing on Canadian literature. Scree: The Collected Earlier Poems, 1962-1991 was published by Talonbooks in 2015.

Image credit: Pat Morrow


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