Monday, April 21, 2014

REBEL WOMEN - Vancy Kasper (Inanna Publications) - 2014 Raymond Souster Award Nominee

For the month of April this blog will be looking at the nominees for the 2014 Pat Lowther Memorial Award, Raymond Souster Award and the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award as recognized by the the League of Canadian Poets.

The Pat Lowther Memorial Award is given for a book of poetry by a Canadian woman published in the preceding year, and is in memory of the late Pat Lowther, whose career was cut short by her untimely death in 1975. The award carries a $1,000 prize. It is presented each year at the League’s Annual General Meeting in May or June, with the shortlist announced in April.

The Raymond Souster Award is given for a book of poetry by a League of Canadian Poets member (all levels, dues paid) published in the preceding year. The award honours Raymond Souster, an early founder of the League of Canadian Poets. The award carries a $1,000 prize. It is presented each year at the LCP Annual Poetry Festival and Conference in June, with the shortlist announced in April.

The Gerald Lampert Memorial Award is given in the memory of Gerald Lampert, an arts administrator who organized authors’ tours and took a particular interest in the work of new writers. The award recognizes the best first book of poetry published by a Canadian in the preceding year. The Award carries a prize of $1,000 and is sponsored by the League of Canadian Poets. It is presented each year at the League’s Annual General Meeting in May or June, with the shortlist announced in April.


Today's book of poetry:
Rebel Women.  Vancy Kasper.  Inanna Publications.  Toronto, Ontario.  2013.

Vancy Kasper has been a feminist for over 30 years.  That's a long time to spend making oneself heard.  Luckily for us Rebel Women calls upon the voices of generations of women.

Sunday in the Wartime Nursery

Aunt's fingers,
nicotined and yellow
match the chalk lines
on the fabric.
A smooth dart is not in the pinning.
A flat dart is not in the sewing.
She pulls and stretches,
lays the material under the needle.
It's in the pressing.  All in the pressing.
Her feet rock the treadle
back and forth         back and forth.
Then she holds up the pressmitt and spits on the iron.

Her niece, climbs up off the floor,
heaving and rumpled with cheap green garbardine
She is here for a reason
she only partially understands.

On weekdays, three floors below,
her aunt's hands, stiff and blue-veined,
beat egg whites with a fork.
Floating Island pudding for 67 children
whose fathers could be driving jeeps,
or mothers, lured by ambulances,
at the Bellevue Avenue Wartime Day Nursery.

Had her wrists forgotten those seven years
at the Berlin Conservatory?
She barely remembers her salad days;
her mildewed flat on Lindenstrasse
or Hans, whom she had kissed,
married and then left.

She's abandoned Greta, Reiner and Carl
whom she'd hugged, studied with, watched perform.
Her fingers still argue with Wagner
but she's misplaced any memory
of the Carnegie Hall debut, the ovations, reviews.

Her son volunteers for the RCAF.
Now at 18 he flies a Lockheed bomber,
low over Berlin blackouts.

She waits -- lights another cigarette --
every Sunday, teaches her niece to be a tailor.
An international profession.


These poems are rich with strong, independent women telling us about the social history of our world and times - because recorded history, until very recently, was "HISstory", and generally concentrated on the deeds of "Great" men.  Kasper brings life to the poignant sounds of several generations of women as they discuss their lives with passion.  These are lives full of hardship and loss, lives where women have borne witness and now Kasper animates their voices.

Big Black Sunshiny Day

for Ayanna Black

My friend is wearing her brand new cap
as she lifts her arm, now savaged of flesh.
We are toasting the biggest black day in history.
"Remember that time I offered you South African wine?" I say.
"And you said, 'I hope you choke on it.'"
Our laughter has patina
on Obama's election day.
She sips - and these things within her, sip too.
She leans forward - her stick-like fingers
reach for some of my roasted garlic.
"When we met you had short hair," I smile,
as she fails to pat shorn dreadlocks.
Her cap falls off, as bald-headed now,
she looks up at the waiter, and orders quiche.
She knows these things inside
will enjoy eggs and milk so alien
to her 90 pound once rigid vegetarian body.
"You don't have the look, yet," I say.
"You got rid it of it."

"But I eat for two or three now" she says.
"Here's to Obama, and to me not getting the look."


Vancy Kasper has published one previous volume of poetry, Mother I'm So Glad You Taught Me How To Dance, as well as award winning Young Adult fiction.  Kasper, a former reporter and magazine feature writer, brings a high level of professionalism to her poetry, but never at the cost of a loss of passion.

Rebel Women

for Catherine

There are herbs, Catherine,
my Great-Great Grandmother was told --
tansy can slow a heart,
hibernate the trouble.

She had tied a Rebel ribbon around
her son's arm and knew it was too early
to roll the Christmas pies
- apple, sparse, crabapple.
Give us this day, our daily --
slap hard on the board for
Mrs. Lount, 30 miles north-east --
her arms aching from the waving,
roll and roll for Mrs. Matthews.
The Lord is our Shepherd
Does she have a letter too?
Crouching between candlesticks,
sealed against defeat, penned
by her sons, like mine?
Anointest their heads with oil,
flute the apples for Mrs. Anderson

Dear God, do we have enough pennies for the eyes?

The icy ground between the oak and birch
is thickened by their Rebel sons,
their fathers, brothers and husbands,
who stumble with courage -- towards York.

Forgive them their trespasses

Eerie winds this December
deafen these Rebel mothers, wives and sisters
with pitchforks under, piles on, their tables.
They do no look out
at wind and ice bending pines
wood for coffins.


These characters aren't bigger than life, they are life, the rich unrecorded lives of our mothers, sisters, daughters, friends.  All of these women know their own horrors of conflict whether it is war and rebellion or in the home.  Vancy Kasper has given them a voice.

Vancy Kasper is a Toronto poet, author and journalist. Her work includes her first poetry collection, Mother, I'm So Glad You Taught Me How to Dance; the best-selling Young Adult novel, Always Ask For a Transfer and Y.A. novels Escape to Freedom (First Honourable Mention, Canadian Library Association) and Street of Three Directions, also published in Italy. Her poems have been published in Fireweed, Canadian Women's Studies, Quarry, Waves, and Landscape and have been broadcast on Bravo TV, CKLN and the University of Toronto radio station. She has Poet in Residence in various Ontario schools. One of the first members of the Women's Writing Collective, she was a features writer for the Toronto Star for nine years. She is included in Greg Gatenby's Literary Toronto.

In Rebel Women, Vancy Kaspar compellingly calls up the voices and stories of her grandmother and great-grandmother, women who were part of the 1837 Rebellion.  She inhabits these "Rebel mothers, wives and sisters" back in time, these women, "...eyes blue with poems," and writes with searing passion and unrelenting yearning of their everyday lives.  Vancy's heartfelt words and authentic photographs bear witness to these women's lives, full of fear and hardship, disgraces and lost dreams, but strength and resilience, too.  And what also emerges as these women lay Vancy "to sleep on a bed of poems" is a portrait of another strong woman, who in the last portion of this collection, sings remembrances of mother, father, friends, with love and sensitivity.
     Renee Norman, author of Martha in the Mirror

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