How Eminem brilliantly proves the illegitimacy of Hate Crimes Legislation.
April 18, 2001
The supporters of white rapper Eminem have now gone so far as to suggest that he is brilliant. I suppose that they are referring to his brilliant “talent” for rhyme and rhythm. He is especially skilled in the lyrically demanding genre of poetic misogynistic homophobia. I’ll give him that. But that’s not all. The controversy surrounding Eminem has brilliantly proven the illegitimacy of hate crimes legislation, as well. (And you thought he was just some punk rapper with a bad attitude and a habit of flipping the bird.)
Hate crimes legislation is quite simply an attempt to base the sentencing of lawbreakers on evidence that can never be fully obtained. Or, in other words, to punish criminals based not just upon the severity of one’s crime, but on the supposition of one’s motive. Even after gathering as much anecdotal and circumstantial evidence as is available, even if we are told by the perpetrator himself what the motive was, we are still left with a decision: to either believe what he says or reject it; to believe what the evidence points to or not. We can never definitively “know” what the true motive was at that time the crime was committed.
Enter the beautiful and talented Eminem. No one questions whether his message is filled with hate and anger. There is no ambiguity in his lyrics. He raps of rape. He raps of murder. He raps of all manner of violence and assault and death and destruction. And his favorite targets are women (including his own mother and wife) and, lest we forget, gays. So why is Eminem not the poster boy for federal hate crimes legislation? If ever there was proof that hate exists, and that it is marketable to the masses if packaged correctly, it is the startling success of Eminem’s album, The Mis-Education of Marshall Mathers, which has sold more than a million copies so far. But instead of furthering the cause of hate crimes legislation, the controversy wrought by Eminem’s album has instead shown the impotence of such legislation.
At the recent Grammy award show, Elton John, long-time openly gay musician and activist, first performed with and then held up the hand of Eminem on stage in a twisted, confusing and (for the gay rights activists picketing outside) infuriating show of solidarity. Ironically, many were wondering just what Elton John’s “motivation” was for interjecting himself into the Eminem saga at all. Was he attempting to protect the artist’s first amendment right to think up, write down, and then perform lyrics depicting the beating of innocent people based upon their gender or sexual orientation? If so, I don’t remember him raising the hand of Dr. Laura. Her bible-based orthodoxy was universally denounced as evil by the whole of the homosexual community, though she simply articulated age-old biblical teachings and never even hinted at violence or intolerance at all.
Or was Elton John, along with many other Hollywood leftists, showing support for Eminem simply because they think that he doesn’t mean it. They believe Eminem when he says that his motivation is not hate. Fame, maybe. Money, certainly. But hate, no. But what of the gay rights picketers outside the show? They don’t seem to believe him. Or are they simply against his right to free speech at all, if it means the professing of an uncomplimentary opinion of the homosexual lifestyle?
In the end, though Elton John and his ilk and the gay rights picketers are in total disagreement where Eminem is concerned, both groups can claim intellectual consistency within the bounds of their respective lunacy. For both groups base their support –or lack thereof– on the supposition of Eminem’s “motive”. But, through their disagreement, they unwittingly prove the illegitimacy and utter unfeasibility of creating a criminal hierarchy of motivation. If gay rights activists themselves cannot agree whether Eminem is motivated by hate –when he explicitly promotes such in his lyrics, when he involves himself in violent behavior in real life, when all evidence points in that direction– how can they suggest, with any credibility at all, that such subjectivity and conjecture should be taken into serious consideration during the sentencing of actual crimes? They can’t. Thanks to the brilliance of white rapper and moral philosopher, Eminem.
Your Meeting With Pierre Trudeau
A letter from Sejal Patel
October 7, 2000
I just read your article about your initial meeting with Pierre Trudeau. It moved me. While I cannot claim to understand exactly what he meant to you and your countrymen, I can understand that he was a very powerful force and impact for you personally and for the Canadian state. [You stood] in the presence of a truly great man.
While I have had brushes with famed and powerful figures, I do not believe they have had as much of the impact as [did Trudeau on] that young boy, two school friends and their teacher. It amazed me to read about your encounter.
Somewhere in Massachusetts, USA
A letter from “The Lone Zoogy”
Hello, I just stumbled upon your article addressing the now-always-referenced Columbine massacre/trenchcoat issue, and I must say that I wholly agree with you.
I myself have liked trenchcoats (especially black, since they look so much better) well BEFORE the incident, but it’s still considered a “bad thing” to wear, even after more than a year since the shooting. A few months ago I wore one to school, and went through about a dozen or so comments like “Hey, Mr. Columbine” or “Look! It’s the trenchcoat mafia!”.
Probably what I find most interesting about the subject is that the two individuals who killed the students were NOT affiliated with the Trenchcoat Mafia (which isn’t even a violent group), but instead just decided to wear long coats which could conceal weaponry. This is certainly NOT the first time this has happened! There have been several cases in movies and in real life where people have used trenchcoats to conceal a variety of things, yet we choose to bring it up now. It’s disgusting that, as we now approach the year and a half anniversary, we still can’t give up this hatred against a fashion statement. To cite an example, www.trenchcoat.com, a site simply for selling the coats, was banned after the incident. The person who ran it took it down, but he did leave all the hate mail or “join applications” that he received.
Truly terrifying how ignorant people can be.
Well, sorry if that was a long spiel. I just really did agree with you.
Somewhere in California
Plans for Parallel Conference of the OAS
by Prema Oza
May 28, 2000
Various social justice groups from Ottawa, Toronto, Windsor and Detroit are busy making last minute preparations for alternative events and counter strategies in response to the preparatory meeting of First Minister’s of nations belonging to the Organization of American States (OAS). While some groups are busy planning a parallel conference, other groups merely want to shut down the OAS event.
The OAS is a governing body similar to the United Nations. It holds an annual General Assembly with lower level First Minister’s to discuss policy formulation and implementation to be followed by a Summit meeting of heads of state to develop implementation strategies. It touts itself as “the western hemisphere’s principal forum for political, social, and economic dialogue.” Currently, there are 35 members that comprise the OAS, including such economically and culturally diverse countries as: Canada, Ecuador, Haiti, Spain and Panama.
According to the international organization’s website, it’s mandate is to work collectively to safeguard democracy, human rights, peace and security while “expanding trade and tackling complex problems caused by poverty, drugs and corruption.” In addition, the OAS claims to have made a commitment to a “focus on education [and] justice….”
While social justice groups may differ on approach, both sides agree that the OAS is not living up to its lauded mandate.
“Human rights, social and cultural rights and environmental sustainability need to be treated as superior to corporate rights,” said Jim Porter, one of the meeting organizers.
While some groups want to shut down the meeting altogether, others merely want to enhance dialogue, etc., and have organized a parallel conference to take place around the OAS meetings themselves.
Historically, parallel conferences to international meetings of such bodies as the UN and IMF are seen as an ideal venue for social justice groups, also known as non-governmental organizations or NGOs, to raise awareness among both citizenry and the media. They are viewed as a an alternative source for grassroots knowledge that often gets pushed aside in the hustle-and-bustle of high and mid level meetings among politicos.
Vito Signorelli, a member of the MAI Coalition, appeared to echo many of the sentiments of those in attendance when he said, “I don’t wanna shut it down, I wanna kick it in the ass. We should be drawing attention to the fact that they’re not doing their job.”
Regardless of the movement’s intent, local law enforcement officials are taking no chances, and are stepping up security precautions to avoid what the media is hyping as another potential “battle in Seattle.”
Social activists argue that the OAS has ignored its own mandate by becoming a rubber-stamping organization that pays mere lip service to the countless lives it is supposed to be protecting. The OAS, similar to the UN, lacks enforcement abilities. Detractors claim that it also suffers from social myopia where corporate greed often supercedes individual and collective rights and freedoms.
Angela Ventura of the Salvadorean Association of Windsor encouraged the meeting to engage in dialogue with the OAS in the hopes of working together.
“We need to work closely with the agenda of the OAS,” she said. “We should request the OAS to be part of the agenda of the (parallel) conference.”
There were some well-placed concerns over preaching to the converted with regard to the agenda of the parallel conference. The steering committee will look at a platform for a debate of issues and not just an opportunity to hear speeches and declarations.
The parallel conference has garnered some pretty major support in leading labour and social justice circles. Among the tentative list of speakers are Maude Barlow of the Canadian Labour Congress. In addition, the conference itself is largely being coordinated by the Montreal-based International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development (ICHRDD) – the brainchild of former NDP federal leader Ed Broadbent.
One can assume that the parallel conference will be large in scope and attendance, atracting a number of NGOs from across Canada and the world, as well as dignitaries and the press.
Concerns over representation were raised by Refugee committee member, Sungee John, who said that the organizing should be reflective of the nations being represented.
The goals of the parallel conference are simple, its task enormous. How do you make a bunch of stuffed shirts see that any and all trade agreements and social policies must comply with human rights laws? According to the ICHRDD’s current president, Warren Allmand, “Canada can and must exercise its leadership. Human rights should not be viewed as a ‘trickle-down’ effect of international trade.”
Among the tentative events that will comprise the parallel conference are various guest speakers from Canadian and Latin American labour and social justice groups, debates on current concerns of OAS member countries, awareness raising events in the preceding days of the actual meeting (dubbed the International Days of Action), a rally at Dieppe Gardens, a peace concert and an Earth Day gathering.
The actual First Minister’s meeting of the OAS will be a Windsor first in terms of scale, and is set to take place here June 4-6th. The location of Windsor is no coincidence due largely to the political pull of our Deputy Prime Minister, the Honorable Herb Gray, who lobbied to have the conference held in his home riding. According to the organization’s protocol, the June meeting will yield various policy initiatives which will then be ratified by the actual OAS meeting of world leaders in Montreal next year —where yet another international protest is more than likely.
The Reluctant Sheriff
by Sejal Patel
April 12, 2000
The United States has emerged as the most influential superpower since the Cold War. To call the United States the Reluctant Sheriff is an understatement, as it has usually only dipped its hands in waters where its own interests are furthered and concerned. As the United States has imposed sanctions against rogue states such as Libya, Iran, Iraq, Cuba, and North Korea, it has not only hindered U.S. interests economically and politically, but those of other countries as well.
What gives the U.S. the right to subjugate its own elusively guarded diplomacy measures upon third-party states? It must not maintain the same stance as it did during the Cold War, that of if you are not with us, you are against us. As the U.S. stresses the need for a more unified and egalitarian world, it must check itself for the hypocrisy of its actions. It values its relations with China, for example, yet lambastes that country for its human rights violations.
Richard Haass points out that the international arena has seen a plethora of activity economically, politically, and socially since the end of the Cold War, as it makes its way towards achieving multipolarity. While other countries, institutions, and groups become more dynamic on the international stage, the United States needs to downplay its supposed hegemony in order to remain a superpower.
While progress and capitalistic changes are being effected in the post-Cold War era, one must ask what the world has achieved –or is turning into. In its quest to define itself within the realm of international relations after the cessation of the Cold War, the U.S. has reflected on many contending theories and paradigms to assess its role. Samuel Huntington sees the world fragmented into large pieces characterized by commonalities of civilization, such as similar religious and cultural backgrounds. On the opposite sphere is a theory offered by Robert Kaplan, which states the world is falling into smaller fragments of nation-states, such as those found within the former Yugoslavia, representing a meltdown of civilizations and society. Francis Fukuyama offers a brighter outlook on the direction of the world in the post-Cold War era. Fukuyama states that the end of the Cold War has victoriously brought liberalization of political and economic ideas in which state relations are consonant.
(Wilsonianism takes Fukuyamas theory a bit further, in which promotion of democracy will make the world a more prosperous, stable, peaceful and better place. While idealistic, one wonders if these two similar theories will ever truly be achieved, since the world will always have some form of dissent.)
John Mearsheimers view that present day Europe, without two nuclear superpowers with similar military force, may lead to hypernationalistic violence is quite pessimistic and perhaps archaic with formal institutions such as the EU and NATO trying to integrate Europe. Charles Krauthammer theorizes that the post-Cold War era is unipolar, with the United States as that unipolar power. Another theory holds that the world in the post-Cold War era is multipolar, and that the balance of power, for the most part, is stable. Benjamin Barber and John Lewis Gaddis offer a theory that the world is integrating and fragmenting (what a contradiction) at the same time. While all of these theories offer merit, they also suffer from many gaping flaws.
Since the world is not an inherently stable place (governments and institutions are known to disintegrate, as seen in the U.S.S.R.s downfall in 1989), the best approaches to follow are the ones that offer the most realistic and pragmatic views to the post-Cold War world.The world has adopted a multipolar stance in recent years, evidenced by the interconnectedness of global economies. Also, along with the integration of multiple economies, there is a growing movement towards democracy (since the strongest economies seem to be placed in democratic countries that favor the ideologies of capitalism). Barber and Gaddis theory of ambiguous contradictions also offers a more pragmatic and realistic outlook within the current time.
The emerging world is a color of contrast, and not as black-and-white as it was in the Cold War era when the dominating forces were the United States and the U.S.S.R.Todays world is less structured, as communications and technologies have run rampant, and information has exploded at such a rate that governments cannot regulate (and wonder if they should) the changes fast enough. In the Cold War era, the psychological war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. was regulated by the governments, as Haass points out. The media (television, radio, press) were controlled nationally, telephone communication lines being run by operators; and direct confrontation and intervention were through the government institutions. Today, communications and technologies, such as the Internet, offer far more information than ever before. (In minutes or seconds, people can actually access blueprints of how to make weapons, and privileged government documents.) This could be quite dangerous since the threat posed to the security of governments and formal institutions is broader than before. One wonders if the plethora of accessible knowledge, due to the advancement of communications and technologies, offers any form of stability in a potentially unstable world. As Haas points out, in order for any system to enjoy stability, there are two criteria that need to be achieved: a balance of strength (similar to a balance of power), and a consensus (direction) of change by all.
Since the United States would like to remain an actor on the world stage, it must also give in gracefully to balancing its strength with other actors. The most beneficial changes for the good of humanity come from the diffusion of power, where there is an emergence of new centers of decision. Indeed, the United States must ask itself whether it wants to maintain a stance of unilateralism or multilateralism in international relations. Forcing sanctions upon any one country, such as Cuba or Iraq, also unfairly forces other countries between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Sanctions do not resolve any problems, and persuasive diplomacy takes a further step backwards as external (third) parties view the United States as the aggressor in the situation by hindering trade and humanitarian progress. While it is true that an advantage of unilateral behavior is the essence of time (the ability to act within a certain amount of time), a major disadvantage that occurs is whether the decision to act rationally was achieved. Similarly, the major disadvantage of multilateralism is the essence of time, yet an advantage of that is the ability to present a rational and worthwhile change. The situation with Bosnia –too little done too late– was an act of indecisiveness on the international communitys part. If the United States wants to act as a sheriff of the international community, it should also be consistent within its agenda.
The United States cannot hide in isolationism as it did before WWI. If it retreats back into such a state, it will only hinder its own self interests. As a country that promotes globalization efforts in the world economy, the United States would suffer dramatically if it tended toward isolationist behavior. If the United States wants to remain a superpower, it cannot give in to the obsolete whim of isolationism. The citizens of the United States need to take a more active hand internally, as many of them remain apathetic to international affairs unless such issues concern them directly. Change begins at home. If the American public does not get involved with its own politics (the last presidential voter turnout in 1996 was less than 44%), then the politicians will tout their own agendas abroad (take, for example, the illustrious Senator Jesse Helms) at the American publics expense. I am frightened that the presidential candidate from Texas, George W. Bush, might find himself in the executive seat of power when he hasnt an inkling of who the other heads of state are in some politically unstable countries.
The United States has also had a topsy-turvy view on the environment. While it claims the importance of preserving biodiversity and etching environmental concerns in the international community, the citizens of the United States consume more than a third of the worlds energy and fuel. Actions speak louder than words, and if the United States believes in environmental causes, maybe it should take a page from the famed Greenpeace slogan think globally, act locally. The U.S. governments actions remain inconsistent with the causes in which it claims to believe.
If the United States wants to remain the international communitys sheriff, maybe it should practice the art of empathy. It should not play sheriff unless it knows exactly what the job description calls for. Partiality and favors are always made –have always been made– by the United States. Perhaps the United States should redefine its goals and stick to them. It has already lost face with the international community through its reluctance to help in certain situations when it could have made a difference for the better. If the United States touts itself as sheriff, it should clearly define its goals and assert itself: that its own self-interests economically are far more important than those of humanitarian and environmental change. While this may be a dark view on American foreign policy, it is a pragmatic and realistic view.
Unfortunately, I am an idealist at heart concerning changes in the international arena. This paper is a reflection I had after reading The Reluctant Sheriff by Richard Haas and was written to spark some comment from others.
Sejal Patel has an all-encompassing fascination with international relations (since it was her major in college). In her spare time she likes reading Henry Kissinger’s memoirs, gardening, and dreaming up idealistic solutions for a utopian future.
Don’t believe the hype!
by Andrew Hui
March 21, 2000
I was watching some financial show with Garth Turner where he was interviewing this 20-something yahoo about e-retailing. This num-nut had no idea what the hell he was talking about. He kept blathering on about how e-retailing would save money by reducing rent and staffing costs. As the old (and wrong) argument goes, since a company that sells on-line uses a web site, it doesn’t need a storefront or people in the store. Therefore, it saves money and can sell for less.
Bollocks! I’ve never heard such a pile of crap. Ok, wait a second, I should be fair. I did believe it myself, but, after thinking about it, I realised that e-retailing is going to do very little. In fact, I wrote a paper about it. You can check it out at http://www.geocities.com/ahui.geo/other/essays.htm. It’s called: “Will the Internet mean the end for intermediaries?”
Basically, there are 4 reasons for why e-retailing isn’t going to make a big dent:
1. The “savings” aren’t real.
Sure you don’t need the store and the sales staff, but you do need a big warehouse and staff to take care of inventory. The advantage with retailing is that your staff act as sales people and inventory people. With e-retailing, you just have inventory staff. So basically, the staffing changes and rental changes are not significant.
Also, it goes down to very basic economics. It is often cheaper to ship 1000 goods to 1 location that it is to ship 1 good to 1000 locations. With the Internet, your distribution system is the latter and therefore, it is more expensive for the e-retailer to get the goods to the customer. Furthermore, since the onus is on the consumer to buy the good, the cost will be paid, in full, by the customer. That’s why most e-retailers such as Chapters Online have a $10 shipping fee.
Some argue though that I should have included the travel time and the line-ups as part of the equation in that they represent a cost savings. I would argue that the amount is so little and the expense is so hidden that it doesn’t really factor into the equation. I mean, does anyone know (or care) how much it costs to drive to the corner store?
2. The advertising factor
If a tree falls in a forest does it make a sound? That’s the kind of idea for e-retailing. The Internet is just so big, and competition is so fierce that it is impossible for a startup retailer to generate enough buzz to generate enough traffic. I mean, even “successful” e-retailers such as Amazon.com have yet to make a profit!
Regular stores are useful because they let people go to one place and browse. With the Internet, there aren’t enough central locations for people to go. And when there are, they will either be too big (i.e. too many affiliated retailers listed) or too expensive (the site charges too much “virtual” rent).
3. The human factor
Shopping is such an engrained tradition among citizens of most Western societies. Marketers have long recognized this as part of the buying process. Simply said: people like to go out and be with other people. E-retailing negates this. This is not to say that no one will be attracted to e-retailing because they don’t go out, just that there are not enough of these people right now to make it profitable.
4. Some goods can’t be sold on-line
Can you imagine test-driving a car on-line? Or maybe buying an engagement ring online? Generally, unless you have more money that Bill Gates, these goods need to be tested and touched before a sale is made. Commodities, on the other hand, such as pop and toilet paper, can be sold this way since they are fairly generic and low risk. But therein lies the problem. Competition will be fierce for these products, and the value-to-volume ratio is just too low to justify selling it online. Basically, there is almost no money to be made selling commoditized goods.
Anyway, I’ve bored you all enough. Those four reasons are basically why e-retailing isn’t going to revolutionize anything. As per usual, if you think I’m off the deep-end, let me know!
A Question of Voice?
Feb. 27, 2000
|The other day as I grabbed a jar of curry paste from the fridge to add to chickpeas heating on the stove, I was met by a look of puzzlement on my roommate’s face. She, an international student from Delhi, explained to me that she does not buy packaged curry in India, be it paste, spice or powder. What I refer to as curry is her equivalent of cooking with cumin, turmeric, ginger, garlic and onions. As she is speaking, I stare at her in amazement, my mind wandering to how the developing world is represented in the West. The next day, as I watch my roommate swirl cumin seeds in hot oil with a soft brush of her long handled spoon, and as the aroma meets my nose, I realize how her curry cooking cannot be captured in a Western jar of curry paste. So much is lost in the “translation” and I can sense a gulf between her and I because of this experience.In one of my Sociology classes the following week, a parallel occurrence takes place. Our class is studying the conceptualization of nationhood and the spread of nationalism. Though I find interesting how print capitalism coincided with the rise of nationalism and imagined communities, an element in the discussion prevents me from being fully engaged. From my perspective, the classroom and textual discourse cannot grasp the passion behind why people die for their country, especially in the developing world. As in my realization the week before of how curry cannot be represented fully in the Western world, our discussion on nationalism cannot be communicated with full integrity. The courage and resilience of thousands of people who fought against colonialism in the name of freedom seem lost in this academic discourse, as is the impact of brutal violence inflicted on the colonized by colonizers. I am under the impression that we are studying what Filipino nationalist scholar Renato Constantino calls “history without tears.” As the discussion on imperalism and colonized societies continues, I find another element missing – the complex heterogeneity of experience that exists among the colonized, especially based on gender and sexuality. What happens to these voices when they are not represented in text?
In Writing Diaspora (1993), Rey Chow distinguishes the discourses of the colonizer from the colonized, relegating the act of “speaking” to a well-defined structure and history of domination. According to Chow, there is a chasm between the two discourses because of the “essential intranslatability” from one to the other. In other words, the colonized cannot be represented fully in imperialist discourse because of what is lost in the translation. In Thinking Through (1995), Himani Bannerji broadens this discussion when she speaks of the difficulties with regard to centring “Third World” voices in Western cultural production – when such voices are present, they are usually out of step with the rest of the expressive enterprises.
Bannerji’s words resonate with me as I recall my sense of frustration when sitting through studies of nationalism in a Western classroom. I first learned about nationalism through the performing arts. For ten years, I studied under my late uncle, a political activist in the Philippines who formed a popular theatre group when he immigrated to Winnipeg. His signature piece, Walang Takbuhan (No Running Away) comprised a cast of twelve who enacted the real lives of activists with whom he worked alongside in solidarity. In assuming these roles, we knew each of their names and their history of resistance. My uncle impressed upon us the seriousness of who and what we represented. And what I learned about nationalism through song, dance, storytelling, improvisation and movement could never be grasped in talks taking place within graduate studies seminars. I understand now that Western academic texts can never capture what is communicated through a clenched fist, the circular composition and dispersion of bodies on stage or the slight rise in my grandmother’s voice when speaking of surviving Japanese occupation in the Philippines.
As we traveled across Canadian and US cities to perform Walang Takbuhan, I sensed the pain my uncle experienced each night in watching pastiches of his life performed on stage. This was not a study of history without tears. Instead, we learned about Philippine history through a lot of tears – a lot of anger, frustration, pride and joy, too. And through it all, I learned not to be detached from this history of revolution passed on to me from previous generations.
As these thoughts run through my mind, I am more and more waging a struggle in the classroom. In discussing nationalism in a Western academic context, I feel forced to compartmentalize my intellect from my feelings. I want so much to approach the subject matter more holistically, to be a full-embodied being in the classroom, to be present, to be visible But in this moment I sense a divide that separates me from everyone else in the room because the information I want to share about nationalism cannot be translated entirely to Western academic and imperialist discourse. I can only communicate such knowledge through a forceful kick in the air, a pirouette in lightly lit space and the outstretch of a hand. I realize then that the question is no longer who can speak. Instead I ask, who can hear and who will listen?
|Loreli C. Buenaventura is the Arts Editor of Pagitica magazine.|
The Podium is a platform for free speech. All opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors, and not necessarily reflect the positions of the owners, editors, or other writers on this site.
Why Feminism is Evil
by Andrew Hui
Feb. 10, 2000
A version of this article first appeared on Andrew Hui’s website on Nov. 27, 1996
Here is my anti-feminism rant that you have all been:
Review of Archive for Our Times: Previously Uncollected and Unpublished Poems of Dorothy Livesay edited by Dean J. Irvine
by Linda Morra
Jan. 14, 2000
|In the editorial postscript to Archive for Our Times: Previously Uncollected and Unpublished Poems of Dorothy Livesay, Dean J. Irvine quotes a portion from Livesay’s own foreword to her Collected Poems (1972): “Because publishing poetry in Canada during the thirties, forties and fifties was nothing like what it became in the sixties–a bonanza!–my books that surfaced had layers of poems beneath them which were forced to remain submarine” (251). Irvine patently wishes to surface these poems from the vast archival depths and to display his salvaged finds as a kind of “archaeological exhibition” in the form of a collection. In so doing, he observes, he is following her own “practice of selective recovery from her unpublished and uncollected oeuvre“(250).To some extent, then, Irvine must shadow and anticipate what would have been Livesay’s own practice and artistic motivations: such a self-imposed task suggests how much skill and sensitivity is required and also how much Irvine as editor must act as a creative counterpart to Livesay. Fortunately, he is apt in the selection and the thematic organization of the poems, even if some of the poems themselves are less of a felicitous discovery. Divided into seven sections which follow chronologically Livesay’s own writing history, the collection includes an opening tribute by Miriam Waddington and an afterword by Di Brandt, and moves from Livesay’s work in the early 1920s in “In Her Cupboard” to work from the 1980s in “Anything Goes.” The title arises from this final section: “Above all / a poem records speech: / the way it was said / between people animals birds / a poem is an archive for our times” (245). Unfortunately, not all poems in the collection proffer such richness. As a whole, they provide an interesting narrative not only of twentieth-century persons and events, but, more pointedly, of Livesay’s perception of these events in relation to her personal life. Irvine thus correctly argues that his approach obliges one to overlay several of her histories to contextualize her work properly: “her writing history, her publishing history, her personal / professional history, and the history of her archive” (251).
Irvine has selected and arranged the poems so that the ideas within play against one another not only when juxtaposed back to back, but also from one section to another, even as they show her development in thought. In the first three sections, many poems address the notion of silence and the difficulty of articulating experience. For example, the titular poem of the first section is recalled when one encounters “In the Cupboard” in the section “I Keep Preparing” and is most certainly echoed in “Osmosis” in which Livesay hears “the voice” of her husband “echoing from the cupboard” (236). At the same time, the “dumb expectancy” of shoes in “In Her Cupboard” reverberates thematically with the “unspoken words” in “The Gardener,” the “silence” of the priest in “The Priest,” and “the silence [of] the heart” in “She Justifies Herself” (16;15;18;25). The notion of silence is counterbalanced with the inefficacy of language as explored in “Invitation to Silence”: “Words! I am ashamed to use words, you have so abused them / They were lovely once: now they have been corrupted / Crushed under the weight of too may meanings” (47). Although the struggle against silence and the difficulties of articulating experience are the central focus in the first two sections, the overflow of language and meaning become increasingly the focus in the latter half of the collection. In “Thoughts after Meditation,” for example, Livesay wonders “how to close out words / once language has / seized the brain” (224).
Irvine’s organization of the material is judicious, yet not even such insightful editing can disguise some of the poems which are of lesser interest and quality. Livesay’s assertion about the publishing world already referred to earlier would suggest that the poetry scene in the early half of the twentieth-century imposed greater restrictions: her comment suggests that such constraints were akin to some espionage movement which, by coercion, “forced” some of her poetry to remain in hiding. Irvine seems to corroborate such an idea when he argues “every poem” in this collection “was once silenced in the process of selection” (257). Yet some of these restrictions (not ones which suppressed political or gender concerns) probably demanded greater poetic rigour, and thus, many of the poems were suppressed because they were either incomplete or artistically weak. Her own frustration with editors, as expressed in “Carman and His Editors,” could easily applied to Livesay: “Come off it, [Livesay], how could you write that line?” (170).
Despite some of the mediocre poems, others are delightfully–and typically–evocative. One example is a jewel of poem titled “Spain,” found in the second section, “Invitation to Silence: the 1930’s.” Not the “Spain” found in other anthologies, such as Gary Geddes’ Fifteen Poets Times Two, it is worth quoting in its entirety:
Beckon like wine to birds who winter with us;
See how the tree has clenched her ripening fruit
As though a thousand fists were offering
Their tangible testimony to withstand
All winter’s bullying blasts.
Stands so, as firm
And in the clenching of her fists
A harvest yield is spread
For those who’ll not take flight, but stay
And winter with us. (54-55)Livesay is at her best here; if some of the poems in this collection are inferior, they are a reminder that even when Livesay is not at her best, she is still a much better writer than many who are publishing poetry today.