George McWhirter

An interview

Gerard Beirne

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George McWhirter was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He has lived and worked in England, Germany, Spain and Mexico. He is the author of ten books of poetry, eight books of short and long fiction, and four books of translation. Literary recognitions include the Commonwealth Poetry Prize (shared with Chinua Achebe), the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, and the F.R. Scott Translation Prize. He served as the inaugural Poet Laureate of Vancouver.

Gerard Beirne: As I understand it, you studied at Queens in the late 50’s with Heaney, Robert Dunbar and Seamus Deane. Were you writing at this point and was Queens a fertile ground for writing? Were you friends with the writers and critics mentioned?

George McWhirter: Yes, and we were friends and still are, those of us who are still alive. Seamus Heaney was part of our 1957 crop in English. I met Robert (Bertie) Dunbar just a couple of years ago in Dublin, where he lives, like quite a number of our year. Both Seamuses went down to Dublin. (I’ll initial the Seamii’s surnames where their first names might confuse the two…Seamii is how John Wilson Foster dubbed our famous pair.) Seamus H after going freelance and quitting the good job at Queen’s that Professor Butter gave him, and Seamus D. after coming back from Oxford and not that long after he left Queen’s. Peter Mullen, who went up to Derry to teach and was much involved with theatre there, was part of the our bunch. The big bringer-together for us was Larry Lerner and his tutorials. Seamus D. was in mine and Seamus H. in another of Larry Lerner’s. Bertie Dunbar may have also been in the one I was in. As Seamus H. said to me later, when he came over from Victoria to UBC to give a Vancouver reading, ‘What must that wee South African gentleman have thought when he saw he had to teach us barbarians?’ Especially with our accents. My Shankill Road one and Deane’s Derry. Our mumbled iterations and Larry Lerner’s fluting, high to low, theatrical delivery were packed into the one wee office in the first house, corner of University Square and University Road. Larry’s body language was théâtre pure, right out of Beckett. For emphasis on some point or other, or to get a change of direction in the discussion, he’d grab his trousers at the knees, lift his legs and drop his feet into a drawer he would open in his desk. Oh, It drew our attention and muffled amazement.

     Well, I was a bit of a show, too. I had a motorbike and I remember I came in with a white helmet,  black leather jacket, speedway riders’ lace up boots with shods. Good job I didn’t drop those in a desk drawer. Add to that, when the white helmet came off and was set on the floor, there was my hair, cut to an 1/8th of an inch and singed at Paddy Maguire and his brother’s barbers opposite the Falls Road Baths.

     Our group from all over Ulster — from Derry, Belfast, Belaghy, Dunseverick, or Newtownards — it didn’t matter, we got on very well together. By 2nd year and 1st year honours, which Professor Butter ( the new department head who couldn’t say no ― or as described by Seamus H ― ‘the soft Scot’) let me into, Bertie Dunbar was like a border collie with the group, checking everybody out, what we were up to, how our papers went. I didn’t have the critical smarts of my peers. Larry Lerner once commented on something I wrote, ‘You’re supposed to write an appraisal, and appreciation, not a poem for a poem. Alas, that persisted. I wanted to write like every writer I read, whereas Seamus H. would surround a piece, absorb  and shape a clear-headed response to whatever it meant and what it was doing. Deane was the perfect surgeon of literary criticism, he could cut through a piece, take out its vitals and with a touch of language so smooth, never leave a scar unless he wanted to.

     Larry Lerner did a course on American Poetry with us that was memorable. He thought Wallace Stevens’ “Sunday Morning” was the greatest poem in the English Language. Even then, Seamus H. had a thing for Lowell, I marked, learned and inwardly digested every word of Archibald Macleish’s “Ars Poetica” like the Apostles’ Creed. Lerner was also good on the Metaphysicals and the thing/image/idea combo entered our consciousness for the duration. Geoffrey Carnall was fine on the Baroque, Crashaw, especially. The permutations of the conceit tickled me and touched a “similar” in my sensibilities, a tendency to repeatedly illustrate one thing into a multiplicity, the honeysuckle outside my window here in Point Grey, Vancouver, for example.

     Meanwhile, we drank together and gabbed, made group boozing expeditions to Dublin with other Derry and Tyrone lads along, friends that Seamus H. wrote about in one of his later poetry books. I remember Seamus D. telling me in Hamilton, I think it was, at a Canadian Association of Irish Studies conference how Barrelo had fallen off a bar stool and died not long before. Barrelo was one of our booze-bunch. His nickname was pronounced more like “Bar’lo”. He got compared to a barrel in school because he was as tubby and round as one. He’d slimmed by the time he entered Queen’s It’s a wonder we all didn’t suffer that fate much earlier, given what we drank and the amount we drank on our Dublin sorties.

     On one, in UCD, on a stair that Seamus D would have ascended and descended a lot when he taught there, we were confronted by a group of Pioneers and a gale of sober disgust at us living examples of the perils of poteen. Besides that, those abstemious boyos smelt two Prods in the group (Ian Bell and myself) and they laid the League of Empire Loyalist rap on us. I knew about the Orange Lodge, the LOL’s, but nothing about an LEL.

     No need for us to respond, Deane and the Derry fellas lit into them for being obnoxious and presumptuous (these couple of nice words disguise what they actually called the Pioneers). For this defence of fellow Ulstermen, we all got called “Ulster blackmouths”.

     On the literary side, the 57-ers one real gathering place was in the magazine, GORGON. Bertie has a copy of it, perhaps the others do, I don’t. My piece reflected my real influences, which we’ll probably come back to ― Spanish poetry. My subsidiary subject at Queen’s was Spanish with Professor Llubera and Arthur Terry, but I’d been translating poetry from the then-new OXFORD BOOK OF SPANISH VERSE in Upper Sixth for Thunder Brown at Grosvenor High School. Everything from the anonymous “Lament of the Moor who Lost Granada through Gongora to Antonio Machado and the Generation of 98, then Lorca, Rafael Alberti, Jorge Guillen, Juan Ramon Jimenez…. more contemporary Spanish poetry than the English we had done in school.

     But, alas, as Larry Lerner let me know, I was an erratic student.

     One of the things that fascinated my peers and went with my pet ShankillRoad-ness was that on Mondays in my later years at Queen’s after I got rid of the motorbike, I would go down Northumberland Street where I lived, cross the Falls into Albert Street to Francy Collins’ Fruiterers. I’d cadge a lift off Fra, Francy’s son and great friend of mine, in the Collins’s van, which was free because the family didn’t do any of the markets on a Monday.

     The target for my errant , erratic scholarship was the seafront that ran from Helen’s Bay through the lovely Crawfordsburn beach  (named the Second Sands) to Carnalea, where we had a bungalow and lived in the summer and most weekends. Mondays I was supposed to be at Queen’s. The cast of characters who gathered there to light fires all winter gave me tales of great antics and eccentricities to share over a table filled with Red Hand Guinness bottles in the pubs near Queen’s. There was Fra (of course, the handsomest best tanned creature of a man), Harry the Drain, Willie the Wham, Zeke, Jungle Jim, a plumber who employed by  the city’s Gasworks and on disability at every opportunity) and Tommy, who came on a bicycle, Monday…his day off, too. He read every new novel as soon as its paperback hit the shelves. I remember him sitting with a first Penguin edition of the LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE.

     Great stuff for whacko pub talk and future fiction, but hardly any help for a degree in English Language and Literature.

     Still, I wonder how I managed to entertain my budding literary buddies, for as Seamus H. said at one time ― he barely understood a word of what I said, and at another, not a word. Perhaps that is why José Emilio Pacheco, one of the Mexican poets I translated, had me always speak Spanish. (José Emilio was the other half of a Mexico/Ireland exchange with Seamus H. to commemorate the centenary of the St. Patrick’s Brigade martyrs). Like Seamus, JEP  probably couldn’t understand a word of what I said in English. In school, you see, I had learned to speak Spanish properly, getting the equivalent of Spanish elocution lessons. Then again, just imagine me in the Honours English viva voce, being questioned by profs in hard, polite English accents. I froze, like I always did, even for written exams. I have a poem about my ineptitude, the dummy of the bright bunch’s lament:

#At Swim

“What does dufan mean?”—

examiner to me

in Anglo-Saxon portion

of Honours Oral.

I was already drowned,

brain and ears jammed,

out of my depth.

And if I could

I would have said back,

“It throve and rose

out of the cold

in a season of lost desire,

the dove

and the boy who dove

into the Lough water.”

GB: How did you end up in British Columbia? Did you expect to end up living there? Did you ever have plans to return to Ireland?

GMCW: We were living in Barcelona. We had gone there because of my Spanish. Franco was alive and the Catalans we knew kept telling us there would be chaos, civil war again when he died. We, my wife―Angela and I―thought, oh no, not that on the horizon again, and besides for Angela to have a baby in Spain would prove an excruciating experience in the Monte de Piedad hospital. A friend from Bangor, Raymie Blair, and a bunch from Queen’s were in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Raymie was our best man, and he wrote describing the lie of the lovely mountain-and-sea land in B.C., no house older than fifty years, and other great things that were “happening”. As you know, it was all happening, then, on 4th Avenue in Vancouver, and he lived on 2nd, in the thick of Skitsilano (as the Kitsilano district came to be called on account of the LSD and its effects). It wasn’t our scene. Angela and I got teaching jobs in Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, and ended up living at Sproat Lake for two years. If you’re a swimmer, it’s the greatest lake in the world. (my opinion). Our daughter, Grania, was born in Port Alberni hospital and I suppose that put cement into our boots. Port and Alberni (unamalgamated, twin cities when we arrived) were mill towns. The MacBlo pulp mill sat smack in the middle of the two on the Somass River. The people were rough and friendly, open as the Somass. We just fell in love with the place and the people. Our plan to go on West till it became the East in Australia stopped there.

GB: Did you keep a close connection with the Irish “writing scene” after you left? How easy or difficult would that have been? Has your work been available in Ireland?

GMcW: I picked up a subscription to THE HONEST ULSTERMAN  for a start. That was the main way. Seamus Heaney came up to Vancouver when he was down at Berkley with Marie in the spring of 71. The time he came, Marie’d just fought off muggers. Real Ulsterwoman. Seamus’s Liadan, as is this mccuirithir’s wife, Angela, another fierce Ulsterwoman. Seamus filled me in on a lot of what was going on, about his relationship with Hobsbaum and the Queen’s writing group with Michael Longley and others. All that. I’d had a similar relationship with J. Michael Yates here at UBC.

     Seamus Deane was editing a magazine in Dublin, early on during his time at UCD. Then again, I met up with Seamus at a Canadian Association of Irish Studies Conference, which I often attended and I subscribed to their magazine. I also contributed reviews, one for it on an early Paul Muldoon book, MULES. I think I said something like ― his imagination and poetry will take off from the Moy and the “murials” on the Belfast gable walls and end up God knows where. John Wilson (Jack) Foster started teaching in the English Department at UBC. Direct lines to the maelstrom of Norn Iron creativity and destruction were there. I also had Seamus Heaney’s anthology, SOUNDINGS 72, that Blackstaff put out and thanks to Seamus had a couple of my QUEEN OF THE SEA, H&W Belfast shipyard and workers poems in it.

GB: Are there any striking differences between Irish and Canadian writing or is that a foolish question?

GMcW: There may have been before, but not so much now. Writing has become more internationalized through creative writing courses, festival circuits, books in worldwide circulation, in original English or English translation, and writers, as they always do, pick up on the latest trends from wherever. Punctuation in prose will disappear again after a Saramago season in the limelight. Raymond Carver’s blue collar could go around the necks of writers from Manchester, Lancashire, as well as Manchester, New Hampshire. Carver’s famous story, “Cathedral”, appeared in LONDON MAGAZINE when Alan Ross was editing, way back.

     Again, I have to say, any differences aren’t so much between various writers in various nations. There are more differences stylistically. ‘The fat poets and the thin poets,’ as Larry Lerner categorized them. Those who use lots of words and those who use few, who go for minimal effects or maximum effect. Understaters and overstaters. The difference between the Fielding’s and the Jane Austen’s, the Rushdie’s and Paul Auster’s of prose, for example, stretches across the globe and time.

     Perhaps regions make another kind of difference. The geography gets in and plays a major part in the unfolding of a story. Landscape permeates the imagery of the poetry. Yes, I think the scenes outside the writers’ windows in their different heimats make the most identifiable differences. More snow in Quebec writing simply because their “pais c’estl’hiver”. Maybe the editor of a magazine on the Northwest Pacific Coast put it best in his description of what class of content they favoured, ‘We’re Doug Fir kind of poetry people”. The Douglas Fir tree being ubiquitous in the Northwest Pacific.

     The old sixties conflicts between the different schools of poetry have died. More’s the pity, where did all the passion go…? In the sixties, the Black Mountaineers with the Donald Allen version of their bible, THE NEW AMERICAN POETRY, took their protest against Brit-beat and academic poetry to the poetry reading (and listening) public through TISH, a magazine, put together by Frank Davey, George Bowering, Fred Wah, Daphne Marlatt and a group in Vancouver and UBC. Many of them went on to a preferred postmodernist calling, better suited for the study of their work in academia. There were surrealists like Stanley Cooperman, Michael Bullock (who was with the Sir Herbert Read English surrealist group) came over to UBC to teach Literary Translation. Quite a few, such as Pat Lowther and Pat Lane, were much influenced by Neruda’s poetry and politics. Everybody had a poetic, but one other thing that was endemic to West Coast poetry, apart from the “movements”, was and is wilderness. J. Michael Yates, Charles (Red) Lillard, Pat Lane, Ken Belford went deep into the “bush” with their stuff ― the divine paranoia of the eye in the sky and the eyes in the trees, the imminence of dangers from the big animals and the land filled their vision. Never mind the dangers from their own wildness when it was let loose. Over in Victoria on Vancouver Island, Robin Skelton (the Yorkshireman) had his poetry coven. He was a practising Wiccan, an inch or two short of a warlock, and in poetry, really Yeatsian ― as he described his lines for “Night Poem: Vancouver”: ‘Same length as a Yeats’ line, only halved’. He was a true mixture of mystic and craftsman. He drilled into his followers the incantatory roots and powers of poetry ― the music of the list in order to begin at the beginning. Not a bad thing.

GB: As well as a writer of poetry and fiction, you are an award winning translator of poetry from the Spanish language, can you talk about your approach to translation and its relationship to your other writing?

GMcW: I’ve talked a bit about this already. How from Thunder Brown’s Advanced Senior Spanish and the then-new OXFORD BOOK OF SPANISH VERSE edited by Sir Quiller Couch. I haven’t mentioned prose. Like those who had the traditional education in Greek and Latin and learned the art of rhetoric through translation, reproducing the form and the syntax word for word in English, I began to learn by doing this from Spanish, late. Rainer Schulte, who edited MUNDUS ARTIUM in Ohio, had me translate (from manuscript) a piece by Carlos Fuentes, “Deed”. Lots of dune and desert in that piece and rhythmic prose. There was also Mario Arregui with a story called “The Cat” ― much more spare and equally mesmeric and menacing. Two different styles that I had to match, and not only word for word ― for as with rhetoric, it was timing I had to learn to match: the dramatic syntax of events moving through the words, controlled through the clauses, sentences and paragraphs. How to handle the internal climax in a phrase or sentence without it inhibiting what went on in the next.

     My first big prose project in translation was by Marco Denevi, the Argentinian and literary comedian, at least in his Falsificaciones/FALSIFICATIONS that I was working on. Marco could also be serious. His SECRET CEREMONY won the Kraft Novel prize and later became a movie with Elizabeth Taylor in it, but in Falsificaciones, he’d spoof Kafa with prose (in Spanish) which could easily have been confused with a Spanish translation of a Kafka story. I had to do the same in English. Marco punctuated FALSIFICACIONS with these spoofs and allegories about a paragraph and a bit long. They moved in a series of actions or an accumulating list of things, adding drama as the series or the list grew to a finale. These were divided by commas, the finale or clincher coming at the end of a sentence, the sentences mounting to a climax at the end of a long paragraph. I had to learn how to orchestrate these in English. The order of listed things and comma-ed sequences of events most often had to be changed to get it right, but since many of the actions divided by commas were carried out by a single verb, I loved it ― me being the verbaholic that I am.

     That’s how I really learned to write like somebody else, by studying how somebody else’s writing worked and reproducing it in English. I can’t tell you how important this was for the number and variety of students and styles I would encounter and had to respond to in UBC’s Creative Writing.

     Take the difference in the poets I was translating, too: Octavio Paz, his Blanco – impossible title to render in English since it means “target” and “white” in Spanish; José Emilio Pacheco, Alejandra Pizarnik (the Argentine Sylvia Plath). José Emilio, in many ways, was trying many things out, becoming many poets as a reaction to Octavio (Paz), his mentor. His working with Octavio culminated in the seminal Mexican poetry anthology, Poesía en movimiento, on which Homero Aridjis (someone else I translate) and Ali Chumacero also served as co-….well, more like associate editors. As did I for J. Michael Yates on CONTEMPORARY POETRY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA. I think Seamus H., Michael Longley and the rest were spared being go-fers for a Hobsbaum edited anthology

     I managed to get a handle on José Emilio’s tight, acerbic, aphoristic shorties with their stifled whimpers of nostalgia and regret, then I encountered his next book, Reposo del fuego, which is long and wild, full of the “frenesí” that Marco Denevi thought poetry should possess. The English of “frenesí” is so close – no need to translate.

     Homero Aridjis also became many poets, writing many kinds of poem. I suppose I have become that, too, by translating their many poets in the one. Marco Denevi’s quirky and theatrical humour helped me handle the rise and fall of José Emilio’s laments in Reposo del fuego, its eruptions and whimpers circulating with the fire through the stanzas. In many ways the fire which descends and comes to roost in the poem presages the 85 earthquake in Mexico. It helped that I was with him in Mexico City in 1986, shortly after, working on my version of it, much of which went into THE SELECTED POEMS OF JOSÉ EMILIO PACHECO for New Directions. (James Laughlin — of Laughlin Steel family, from Warrenpoint originally — was behind ND taking the book. The long Reposo was like many of José Emilio’s short pieces run together, but with the drama and the emotions amplified, let loose, like a bat’s wing and its mad flutterings held by finger and thumb in a cave by a blazing fire with the poor bat permitted the merest squeak in every other stanza.

GB: You were head of the Creative Writing Department at UBC for ten years, how did you find that experience and did you enjoy the academic life?

GMcW: The headship?

     Right… I was appointed Head of the Department of Creative Writing Department at UBC in 1983― more power to me, you might say, but there was none, just the responsibility to keep the faculty happy and get money for the students, especially the grad students. I was appointed Head when the era of lifetime Heads was brought to an end. My contract made it clear in writing that I was “appointed at the pleasure of the Board of Governors”. From that, no illusions of grandeur grew. At the same time British Columbia was being called the Alabama of Canada because the Premier, Bill Bennett  (son of WAC Bennett, a former premier, which meant Bill was dubbed Mini-WACK by the press)… he wanted to pass Bill 42, which would allow the government to fire anyone in its employ “without cause”. University Faculty were included as employees of the government. The education minister, a UBC brain researcher, wanted to abolish tenure because his had been toyed with so much at UBC when it came his time for his promotion and tenure. Mini-WACK also cut back the civil service by 25%, whack, whack. It was so bad the RCMP went into the woods to deliver pink slips to the province’s foresters. Universities had to cut back by the same amount. So, I had to defend our Department at the get-go from cut-backs and the rest of the Departments in the Faculty of Arts wanting to get rid of us to pay the Faculty’s bills that way.

     Didn’t happen, as Donald would say.

     The main thing about my headship was I could get on with my two predecessors as Head, who were… um… at loggerheads, neo-national Canadian versus American literary-coloniser stuff. Universities had been full of the establishment of Canadian Literature as a primary focus for English Studies for over a decade. And even though UBC Creative Writing is an entirely workshop based program, it had lots of American as well as Canadian grad students. So content and attitudes came from both neck of the woods, and it was painful if there was any attempt to put a noose around the neck of the American intake.

     What can I say, I lived the crazy conflict at home in Belfast, and made my way between both sides, mainly by swimming in the Falls Road Baths and playing water polo with the fellas from Clonard and Cathal Brugha on our old decadent and kooky Belfast Amateur team, whose fellas wanted to be opera singers, ballet dancers, poets, even music-hall, Palladium style song and dance men, not water polo champions. A bit more various than the members of my weightlifting club in Sandy Row, where they all wanted to be Mario Lanzas. In Sandy Row slang I was known as the Boald Nineteen Forty for Geordie. Needless to say, I knew hefty punters with artistic ambitions well.

     Besides being able to deal with division in the CrWr Department, I had also been running the Grad Assistantship money for a long time (the only discretionary kind of funds, not fixed by contract), which went to student editors of PRISM international magazine. In 1977, grad students took over the running of it with me as Advisory Editor (i.e. publisher, overseeing production, the funding for the mag and salaries while a student Managing Editor kept book on subscriptions and worked with the content editors and myself on preparation of grant submissions). I’d also been in charge of curriculum and had introduced new courses and programs. I worked for a long time to get the Writing of Children’s Literature (when our kids were growing, naturally) and we had Sue Ann Alderson come in and teach the courses. The last program, Lyrics & Libretto, I finally got our faculty and the Faculty of Arts to push through a year or so before I retired. I wasn’t Head by then, just obsessed and fairly well devoted to Creative Writing at UBC.

     Where else could you find a Creative Writing outfit in a university that offered every form of writing. Of course, Screen & TV are the star attractions, but there’s also the almost extinct Radio Play & Features, and still very much alive Stage Play along with the meat and potatoes of Poetry, Long and Short Fiction, and Creative Non-fiction (all separate, which bugs me because poetry has more forms than prose, but prose gets gussied up by each of them calling themselves a distinct “genre”).

     Petty gripes aside, the plus for me was that Creative Writing wasn’t academic. Meaning, it didn’t involve learning about, studying and writing about literature, it was all learning by doing, producing it. Our purely production based program put us at odds with the rest of the Faculty of Arts, where Creative Writing resides administratively. UBC, alas, still has no Faculty of Fine Arts like UVic.

     As I said I still have no critical smarts where writing about literature is concerned. Jack Foster read one of my attempts, I think it was for the Canadian Association of Irish Studies magazine) and his opinion — ‘That’s a writer’s review, not a proper critic’s.’

     Plus ça change, pas ça change — is that what the French say, or is it plus c’est le même chose?

     Meanwhile in CrWr UBC, I could write a poem for a poem, which is what we were all about as a department. On the teaching side, it was a dream after teaching school with 210 pupils to deal with at Alberni District Secondary School, or about 120 back in Co. Down at Kilkeel or Bangor Grammar. And that number pretty much on a daily basis with regular assignments. Creative Writing workshops were limited to 15, there was a manuscript submission process, and we got to choose who got into our workshops. This meant I was dealing with a lot of very talented young and older writers, coming from all kinds of backgrounds. This was especially so with grad students, again chosen on the basis of manuscript submission. First degrees could be in anything. We had/have engineers, architects, medical doctors, accountants and financial advisers from lots of different countries. One grad, a medical doctor ― Kevin Patterson ― sailed here from Hawaii, solo. He goes locum in Nunavut and other icy practices.

     Say no more. It was a privilege.

GB: You were Vancouver’s inaugural Poet Laureate for a two year term, what stood out for you and how useful a position do you think the Poet Laureate is? Is it a position other jurisdictions should create?

GMcW: I suppose an illustrious name distinguishes and marks a country, state, province  or city on the literary and historical map. What if the Laureate is not so illustrious? How does a poet put the city that appoints him or her as laureate on the literary map?

     There’s a wonderful Historical Atlas of Canada: from the beginning that Cole Harris did with concise descriptions of the events in history associated with the places on the map. My project as Vancouver’s Inaugural Poet Laureate was inspired by this. A verse map of the city, made up of poems about its places and illustrated by photographs. The anthology opens with a map marking the places that have poems and photographs associated with them. I would send the poems I got for the places to Derek Von Essen, the photographer, and he would go and take a photograph that fit. Often, we would go together, which was great.

     The hard bit was to get the poets to understand. Most poets are used to having anthologies represent them and their poetry, but the place, not the poet was the focus of this one. Anvil Press, Vancouver, put it out A VERSE MAP OF VANCOUVER with help from Yosef Wosk’s Poet Laureate Fund and the City buying copies to hand out to visitors. It was enormously expensive, but the copies Anvil had for sale sold out.

I also set up a web site with the history of poetry and poetry groups in Vancouver, also poetry by a sample of Vancouver poets. I’d hoped each Poet Laureate would add their slant and knowledge of Vancouver poetry to it. Alas, it wasn’t taken up by successors. Too much of an imposed task, I think.

Those were my two markers for anyone looking at Vancouver through the eyes ― or harkening through the ears of poetry to its beat.

GB:Reflecting on your writing life, are there any thoughts you would share?

GMcW: I have something very simple to share. Make it a force of habit as early as you can. Don’t stick yourself with a single project, if you can help it, and don’t make writing your everything you do every day. Get a partner, fall in love, squabble as partners do, make up, or if you go off on your own, join a political party or an indoor bowling, lawn bowling or curling team. Any kind of team to get you out of yourself and into the place where you live, so that you come back to the page with …as Homero Aridjis put it in the title of one of his books —Ojos de otro mirar, which I translated as EYES TO SEE OTHERWISE.