In Victoria for a few days. A wonderful event at Russell Books last night where Sarah de Leeuw and my husband John Pass gave gorgeous readings from their new books and where I distinguished myself by whacking my head on a low beam as I opened the event with my own reading. But a warm and generous crowd, old friends among them.

I was a child, then a young woman, in this city. Returning is always a little fraught, an object lesson in the twinned powers of memory and nostalgia. I think it’s true that nostos, the root of nostalgia, carries in it not only the notion of return (in epic poetry, from war or extensive journeys on the part of the hero) but also the sense of the restoration of one’s central identity. A longing for home and who you were there.

So here, in Fairfield, where my daughter and her boyfriend live, I can almost see the annex of Sir James Douglas Elementary School where I attended for two years — grades one and two — and where I learned to take such joy in books. Yesterday we walked downtown and I saw the old library on the corner of Yates and Blanchard where I received my first library card the summer before grade one. My older brothers taught me to write my name (I could already read) and most Saturdays my family visited the library for our week’s quota of books.

Walking back to this apartment yesterday, I recocgnized the tiled road signs set in the sidewalk and remembered my delight in them as a child. I could sound out their letters and know where I was.

I’m still doing that.


by hand

Yesterday we participated in the Alcuin Society’s Wayzgoose, held every two years in the Alice McKay Room of the Vancouver Public Library. It’s a fair, really, featuring the work of letterpress printers, book artists, papermakers, marblers, and others involved in one or another (or many) aspects of the book arts. We have a couple of old platen presses — a Chandler and Price and a smaller Adana — and we print poetry broadsides as well as ephemera. Our production has slowed down in recent years as we concentrate on our own writing (and somehow there just isn’t as much time, it seems, though where it goes is an ongoing mystery to me). We’ve printed wedding invitations (two weddings, both our sons, in 2012) and one little birth announcement (a poem John wrote for Kelly); I know there’s musing about a second birth announcement, for grandson Arthur, born 3 1/2 weeks ago. So although we’re not printing as much as we did in previous years, we go to the Wayzgoose to see what others are doing and to offer interested parties a chance to look at and even buy our backlist. We still have sets of our Companion Series, for example: we asked twelve Canadian poets to respond to a poem of their choice and we printed the two poems side by side. Here’s the prospectus (and if you are unable to zoom in on it and you’re interested in learning more about the series, just send me a note):


(The email address on this prospectus is an old one. If you are interested in learning more about the Companions broadsides, you can email me at the address provided on the Contacts link on the menu on the right-hand side of my home-page.)

It’s always so inspiring to see what others are doing. Phyllis Greenwood spent the day demonstrating the art of marbling paper. In the past I’ve bought sheets of her marbled paper and I keep thinking they’ll be perfect for a project — end papers for novellas, maybe? Or that essay series I hoped to publish under our High Ground imprint — chapbooks of single essays, printed digitally, but with letterpress covers. And marbled end-papers? Hmmm. (Again, where does the time go? Why haven’t I done this? Another of those dreams I wake in the night from and wonder why I don’t simply get to it.)

There are grand projects on display at the Wayzgoose, and smaller ones; and this time it was the smaller ones that spoke to me so clearly. Frances Hunter of Red Tower Bookworks had the most beautiful notebooks, all handbound, and many of them with covers of handmade or marbled papers. I bought several of the latter, though it was the former that intrigued me. She is making paper using invasive species — Daphne laureola, or spurge-laurel, gathered in the woods surrounding her home at Prospect Lake, near Victoria; and yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus). The Prospect Lake area is one I know well, having spent my teen years at nearby Royal Oak, and having ridden my horse many Sunday mornings out to Prospect Lake where old farms and the general store held stories of the colonial settlement of the Saanich peninsula. Frances is working on projects involving moths and their association with plants of the Garry oak meadows of the peninsula; readers of my book Mnemonic: A Book of Trees will know how dear those meadows are to my heart.

This morning I put two of the notebooks on my maple cutting board (that’s a strip of spalted maple you can see running down the heart of the board) and took their photographs. Somehow the notebooks speak to me of possibilities, their blank pages ready and willing.


saffron spine

High Ground Press

The other evening, John had the honour of speaking at the Alcuin Society’s Annual General Meeting in Vancouver. His topic: “The Printing of Poetry, the Poetry of Printing”. In 1980, he went with a friend to Prince George in a rented van and brought home an ancient Chandler and Price platen press which became the basis of our High Ground Press. John’s idea was to print poetry broadsheets in limited editions and for 30 years he’s done this in the belief that “poems warrant singular lives in the light, no less contemplative (and as compelling) as their lives in books, voice or imagination.”

It was interesting for me to watch as he showed images of our print-shop,

our presses (for the C&P was joined by a small Adana from England a few summers ago),

and a couple of the broadsheets he’s printed. This one was part of our second series of broadsheets and the image isn’t particularly crisp but the poem, by Jan Zwicky, is beautiful and I love the design:

And this broadsheet is from our Companions Series, for which we asked Canadian poets to respond to a poem in the canon. Sue Wheeler chose a poem by Don McKay (who had a poem in an earlier series so the sense of companionship extends into our printing history as well as in this series…):

In Mnemonic: A Book of Trees, I write about the history of printing and type in an chapter about my grandfather’s origins in Bukovina, and I say this about John: “My husband labours in our print-shop over type, chases, ornaments, and the unwieldy nature of ink. There are far more convenient ways to transfer texts to paper, this suits his meditative nature, and mine too, for I love to think of the slow work of poetry finding its way to a broadsheet. Paper impressed with ink, like a kiss, a tattoo.”