Poetry + Christmas at Kogawa House with George McWhirter, Christine Lowther and Joy Kogawa

Poets George McWhirter, Christine Lowther
and Joy Kogawa give a special reading
at Kogawa House

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Joy Kogawa with Beth and Christine Lowther… old friends reunited. – photo Todd Wong

It was a special Christmas present for supporters of Kogawa House, when author/poet Joy Kogawa spoke to Christine and Beth, the daughters of her long deceased friend and fellow poet, Pat Lowther.  Joy spoke of light and dark, ugliness and beauty, of carrying things in our lives that won't go away, and how we become stronger through our transitions.

The atmosphere sparkled with anticipation and friendly greetings.  Kogawa House board members came early to set up food and drinks.  Supporters of Kogawa House came to witness a special event, and to come see a rare appearance of the house by Joy Kogawa.  Friends of Christine Lowther came as she launched her new book MY NATURE, and read poems from the book for the first time in Vancouver.  George McWhirter and his wife came because they love Kogawa House, and we love them.

Greetings and introductions were made by Todd Wong, president of Historic Kogawa House Society, he introduced the board members and thanked them for helping to create this special event, especially Ann-Marie Metten, the executive director, and chief volunteer.  Todd explained that this was a special one-of-a-kind event, because reunions were happening, new friendships were being made and first time events were going to happen.

Tamsin Baker, the Vancouver Area Manager for The Land Conservancy of BC spoke about the next stage for the house restorations.  She explained that heritage assessments had been done by Donald Luxton and Associates, and we were ready to move towards a restoration of the main floor.  The idea is to re-create and restore features of the house to what it was like when a 6 year old Joy Kogawa lived in the house with her older brother and parents, before they were sent off to internment camps in the BC Interior during WW2.  Tamsin also shared with the audience that City of Vancouver has agreed to a grant for $25,000 if we can secure matching funds.  2011 will be exciting, as we have waited four years since the purchase of Kogawa House, to be able to take out the added bathroom to restore the size of the living room, and to return the French doors to the Music Room, also to help enhance event space, and to restore the house, prior to renovations by the last owner.

George McWhirter was the first poet to read.  Todd and George spoke about the first time they met, right after George had been named Poet Laureate of Vancouver in 2007, and Todd had invited him to speak at the 2007 Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Dinner, that Todd organizes each year as a shared fundraiser for Kogawa House.

George read two poems from The Anachronicles, a collection that moves backwards and forwards through time. reimagining the West Coast, from the view of the Spanish explorers as they explore and see the future simultaneously.   McWhirter prefaced his reading by talking about the magnificent sockeye salmon that happened in the fall, and how life must have been like for the First Nations with such bounty.  The poem is also cheeky, because it imagines that the Spaniards comment on the the beach where the movie 10 was filmed, and also about Bo Derek.

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Christine Lowther reads at Kogawa House, while Angela Mairead and George McWhirter look on – photo Todd Wong

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Christine Lowther explained that she lives outside of Tofino, on a float home, and so she writes about Nature a lot.  She described the beauty of the last unpaved road in Tofino, and the sealife and beaches.

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Joy speaks about light and dark, and how it's important to acknowledge the ugliness sometimes.  It was a very thoughtful and emotional moment as she channeled the role of sage, as she spoke with the audience.  The subtext is the internment of the Japanese Canadians, and the untimely death of Pat Lowther.  Joy made the transition seemlessly to say “Now we are in this house.  And it's saved.  And we are happy.  And our joy has come through our tears.”

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Joy read a poem from the anthology Verse Map of Vancouver, edited by George McWhirter.  George explained that after the house had been saved.  Joy sent out an email expressing her happiness.  McWhirter saw the poetic potential of the words… and arranged it by lines.  This was the first time that Joy had read this poem in public.  A magic moment.  Happy Birthday House!

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