The following is a Q&A between the Undercurrent and Bowen Island poet Jude Neale.
How many books is this now?
I have written ten books now. This was my most difficult one to write by far. I chose to write what I thought were haiku…unfortunately the 5/7/5 syllable structure I had learned was wrong! It took six months of research and many hours speaking to haiku masters to even have an idea of what a true haiku is—a glimpse, a gesture, a snapshot of a fleeting moment. This beautiful art form is something I began to understand. Twenty drafts later, I finished these 60 apparently simple three-lined poems!
Inside the Pearl is from your time at Joy Kogawa House – to start, who is Joy Kogawa?
Joy Kogawa is a Japanese-Canadian woman whose family was interned during the Second World War. They were imprisoned from 1942 to 1946 in the Slocan valley. Her home and all her family’s possessions were sold by the Canadian government. Joy was one of 22,000 Japanese Canadians who were sent to camp, completely displaced. Her parents’ gift “was to not bruise us with bitterness”. She became a gentle articulate activist who demanded justice. In 1981, Joy wrote her now classic and startling book called Obasan. It was her ‘fictitious’ account of life in an internment camp through the eyes of a child. She is a recipient of the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia, as well as being instrumental in the Canadian Government recognition and apology extended to her fellow Japanese Canadian citizens. She writes and lives in Toronto and wrote a gorgeous blurb for my book! Joy Kogawa is a national institution. She took out the disgraceful Canadian complacency and shone a spot light on it.
What do the poems tell in this book?
Well , this is a book of seeing something in just the corner of your eye. A piece of wainscotting, a tin, a calligraphy brush, a calendar, a trunk were just some of the subjects I examined on every level. One of my favourite ones is:
small fingers choosing
So a simple image can be read many ways. It should leave a hint of the image, like a fine perfume.
These poems are truly of the moment.
What was the most difficult element to capture?
The whole thing, Bronwyn!!! I had to pare down my usual 40-line narratives into 10 words. To become the tip of a brush. The stroke of a hand.
In relation to your earlier works, what was it like working on this book?
It was a beautiful thing to be writer in residence at such a historic house. To be given complete freedom to explore every part of the house, in and outside. To sleep in Joy’s little bed and see the white lace curtain blowing in the breeze as she did. And most amazingly, to open a suitcase and find all the things the family took with them to the Slocan. Every day was a gift that inspired and illuminated.
This is a collaboration between you and husband Paul Hooson– was this your first time collaborating on a book? What was that like?
No, I’m the Queen of collaboration in writing. Two and a half years ago Bonnie Nish and I wrote a book together in just 50 days, me using my phone while camping in Southern Oregon and Bonnie on her computer in Vancouver. It was published soon after and was called, Cantata in Two Voices. Paul and I knew what we were going to do six months before we got there…he would take photographs, many at my suggestion, and I would write a poem about it. It gave him the freedom to look in every nook and cranny allowing me to see things like the original white picket fence stored in the garage. That inspired a poem for sure! The photographs and poetic imagery fit together really well!
The title of the book – what’s the “Pearl”?
Interesting question. I chose the title about a year before I went, when I had been accepted into being writer in residence. I always thought we were going to be given the opportunity to go to a place where precious gems would be found. Then I thought of Joy Kogawa House as the oyster and the stories ‘the Pearl’.
Neale is holding a multimedia book launch Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m. at the Hearth Gallery.