about doing the work

Rethinking Canada this new decade

One of my preoccupations as a creative worker: what does it mean to be Canadian?

What layers of being make identity complex: citizen-settler-immigrant—Canada was/is a promised land, a paradise, but it is jagged.

I was born in a city the British named Poona, now Pune, in the state of Maharashtra, India. My parents brought me to Newfoundland and then to Labrador, and then to Northern Quebec and Ontario and then we moved across this country.

For several years of my earliest growing up, I didn’t know I wasn’t Indian like the Cree children I played with while my parents taught in schools in places like Fort George and Deer Lake. I still remember the day my mother explained to me that we were “not that type of Indian,” when I came home crying because I couldn’t attend a birthday potlatch for my friend.

Years later, my father enrolled as a divinity student at McGill. He would be ordained into the Quebec conference of the United Church. He was one of only a few South Asians to minister to “white” congregations. We were at that time sent to Saskatchewan.

All those hymns I learned. I was a Sunbeam in choir and when older, I wore a CGIT midi uniform. (Canadian Christian Girls in Training).

Christian Girl in Training Pin from the 1930's.
Christian Girl in Training Pin from the 1930’s.


We can know things in our minds.

We can study, nod our heads. We can watch the news on TV, scroll our phones for what’s trending.

We can hear the word, Truth.

And then there are moments that become epiphanies.

Meeting Chief Robert Joseph as a guest of Dr. Mark Winston.

Nodding my head. Earnest and smiling. Listening and crying.

Hosting a UBC Book Club meeting: around the table we sit and read and study the words of Chief Bev Sellars (They Called Me Number One): all these moments resonate. Or, they resonate and then life intervenes. All our busyness.

And maybe then the moments return because they are not yet done with us.

Nov. 6, 2019, at the Residential School History and Dialogue Centre:


“He refuses to this day to step inside a church.”
(As told to me by my friend JW about Bill Wilson).


“…I’m curious, was there not one instructor who was helpful to you?”
No, no one in that whole school.”

(Geoffrey Carr, July 25, 2013: Interview with Chief Robert Joseph, in Witnesses: Art and Canada’s Indian Residential Schools, September 6 – December 1, 2013), Morris and Helen Belgian Art Gallery, UBC.

Maybe this is how deeper change happens—for some time now, as I read and listen to Indigenous writers such as Jordan Abel, Joanne Arnott, Billy Ray Belcourt (A Country is How Men Hunt), Therese Mailhout (Heartberries) and many more; as I observe the pain and discomfort this word and concept, “Canada” carries for many—as I read and reread documents about Indian Residential Schools, I’m becoming more and more uneasy with my own implication in structures, and systems.

And this comes to me: Language is a structural system.

So, this new decade: thecanadaproject, my lifelong poem chronicle, will now be thecanada?project

Moment to epiphany to reflection to memory, hold the door, a threshold, and we take first steps, howsoever small and imperfect—one punctuation mark at a time——


June 23, 2020: The 35th Anniversary of the Air India 182 Bombing

…All the years just wash over and it’s true what remains is, for me, a sense of love for the families who remember and for those who have stood with us…

Photo credit: Adrian Dix

A CBC article published today, “35 years on, Air India bombing to be remembered at private gatherings, online memorial Social Sharing” An excerpt:

“Families of the Air India bombing victims are moving from group memorials to small, private gatherings and online condolences as they commemorate the 35th anniversary of the worst mass murder in Canadian history during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Physical distancing rules and restrictions on gatherings of more than 50 people have resulted in a shift from the in-person memorial services that are held annually in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Vancouver.

Air India Flight 182 disappeared from radar off the coast of Ireland after a bomb exploded on the airplane on June 23, 1985, killing 329 people.

Among the dead were 280 Canadians and 86 children.

Renée Sarojini Saklikar, who lost her uncle, Dr. Umar Jethwa, and aunt, Zebunnisa Jethwa, in the bombing, visited the memorial in Vancouver’s Stanley Park on Monday to mourn them privately.

‘There is always this reminder of the senselessness of these sorts of acts. The violence of it is always brought home to me,’ she said.”

Read the Full Article


Featured Reviews

Gibson’s poetic pyrotechnics, The Ormsby Review

These past few months, before COVID-19 struck us hard, I had been reading and contemplating a remarkable book of poetry, How She Read (Caitlin Press, 2019) by Chantal Gibson. As soon as I saw this book, I knew:

  • that I wanted to suggest the poet to Lunch Poems at SFU—was thrilled when our Lunch Poems crew agreed and we were so happy to hear Chantal read from her book.
  • that this book was going to be a game-changer and sure enough, it’s been duly nominated as a finalist for a raft of book prizes:

I was therefore delighted, to be invited to review How She Read for The Ormsby Review:

How She Read Chantal Gibson

It’s a pleasure to be able to find publication space to “go deep”. Little did I know, that I’d be polishing and editing my piece during those opening fraught weeks in March as COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. Yes, that was way harder than I imagined: hard to concentrate, hard to shut out the world…. Glad and grateful, though, to have persevered, and to have had the privilege to do so. To have spent time with this compassionate, fierce, skilled poet and author.

I’ll be thinking about this book for a long while yet….

Read the Full Review Here

Lunch Poems at SFU

Lunch Poems at SFU: rob mclennan and Christine McNair


Lunch Poems Feb 2020

Lunch Poems at SFU is a unique opportunity to celebrate the spoken word and is held the third Wednesday of every month, 12 p.m. to 1 p.m., in the Teck Gallery at Simon Fraser University’s Vancouver Campus.

The raison d’être of Lunch Poems is to invite and welcome everyone to enjoy poetry in a relaxed and casual atmosphere: whether you are new to poetry or have had a long romance with it. We invite you to join us to lunch on words and feed your soul. No fees or registration. Just bring your lunch, curiosity, open mind and love of words.

More Details Here

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PS Flight 752: Two Articles on Violence and Public Mourning

The missile strike against a civilian plane, PS Flight 752 on January 8, 2020 triggered grief and memories of a much earlier bombing on June 23, 1985.

Here are two articles that contemplate violence within the context of history and solidarity, as we both grieve for the families who lost loved ones and offer a few thoughts:

My Aunt Died in the Air India Bombing. The Iran Plane Crash Brought Back My Grief

I grew up reading Chatelaine, an iconic Canadian magazine geared to a female readership. This week they contacted me to write about grief and here’s a little of what I said:

Iran plane crash flight 752 memorial
People gather to remember victims of the plane crash in Iran in Vancouver, B.C. on January 11, 2020. (Photo, Mert Alper Dervis/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

I hate flying and will do anything to avoid air travel. Well-meaning friends often tease me, offering self-help tips: take melatonin, or a red-eye flight so that you can sleep.
I nod and smile, but inside, there’s a familiar sinking feeling, the same pit-of-the-stomach contraction that happens whenever images of plane crashes pop up on social media. Like they did on January 8, as the terrible news of the missile strike on Flight 752 began to saturate the media…”

Read the Full Article at Chateleine

Canada’s collective grief over the Ukrainian plane crash brings to mind the 1985 Air India tragedy

Dr. Angela Failler at the University of Winnipeg, recently published this very thoughtful piece at The Conversation about public mourning and the linkages between the two tragedies:

Flight PS752 Remembrance
A member of the Iranian community in Calgary lights a candle during a memorial for the victims of Flight PS752 crash. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol.

And so, as further details of the tragedy in Tehran unfold and political players in and beyond Canada negotiate their stakes, I expect that public memory will shift along with it, including how the incident and its casualties are remembered and understood.

This is how public memory works: When new information and investments become present, we tend to revise how we make sense of the past.”

Read the Full Article at The Conversation