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Week 10: Wah’s _Waiting for Saskatchewan_

November 12th, 2012 by Colin Martin

Wah’s book shifts gears in many ways: what are some of them and how do they affect your reading of the text? Don’t forget that Fred Wah will be performing at the “Poem of the Season” event this Thursday at Pages Books in Kensington, and you can come see Canada’s Poet Laureate in person (and perhaps get your books signed).

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  • I hope I’m not the only one who is struggling to understand Fred Wah’s “Waiting For Saskatchewan”. It seems to jump around all over the place and I end up feeling quite lost most of the time. Maybe he does this on purpose. But, one thing I found interesting is that in the “from Breathin’ My Name with a Sigh” section is that Wah speaks about his father in over half his poems. Wah compares himself to his father on pg. 7 “that look on his face / appears on mine…my father / their father”. Wah speaks to his dead father on pg. 10 as if he was trying to update him on everything he has missed, “father it is fall…I’m over forty now…mother took a trip to China”. Wah also shows a longing to return to be “IN THE ARMS OF MY FATHER” on pg.13. But then on pg.15 he shifts his focus. He puts the words right in the middle of the page and doesn’t speak about his father for the following six poems. Maybe he is trying to separate these poems from the others by placing gaps in the top and bottom of the page to give them the image of standing on their own and not being affected by his issues with his father. In these six poems his language softens and is more focused on nature and comfort. The poems give images of a red-breasted robin, flowers, love, dancing, playing, music and the “warmth of a rocking chair”. This seems like a dramatic difference from the “hard embedded rock” or “scarlet letter” descriptions of the poems with Wah’s father in them.

    Justin Neufeld

  • Reading Fred Wah’s poem, i was enlighten because i thought writing a poetry between two worlds is not always easy. However, Fred makes it look so much easier than i thought. Although, i am still learning how to write a poem in my own dialect. One thing that really struck me most is how he is able to relate Chinese people like he lives in China. Fred is an hybrid who was born in Canada, in a classic cultural settings of Saskatcewan,but going back to your root that is China and linking this historical facts and ideas together is not always easy. For example, he says “So I ‘ m Chinese too and that’s why my name is Wah”. He enjoys his Chinese heritage while in China although he did not have the privilege to express this pride when he was growing up in Saskatchewan. This makes me realize that every race or ethnicity have something to give to this great nation of Canada. Furthermore, looking at page 75, the poem is written like a novel, full of hybridity and linkage between two global villages:England and Canton China without any disruption to the flows. This kind of writer’s get everyone involves.

  • Fred Wah’s
    father dying
    dancing one
    minute. loving
    wife, happy
    time – lying
    on the
    floor the
    next
    dying
    dying
    dead.
    taken too
    soon. Breaking
    the heart
    of a son
    forever changing
    his life.

    My mother
    cancer
    eating her brain
    her body
    withered leaving a shell losing
    the strength
    that made her my pillar
    gone
    gone
    gone too soon, leaving a
    hole where
    there
    used to be a fire that warmed
    us all
    gone
    gone
    gone too soon, seeing her
    in the hospital alone
    suffering
    in her
    bed
    there/not there
    gone but still hanging around
    like a ghost in the shell
    sometimes
    she
    is
    still….
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    |
    |
    |
    |
    |
    |
    |
    |
    |
    |
    end.

  • November 26, 2012

    The four different sections in “Waiting for Saskatchewan” show many different styles of poetry and ways of writing. I think it is interesting of Fred Wah used these techniques to tell stories on the different aspects of his life.

    In the first section, the poems mainly take the form of a hyphen but there are a few poems with different writing styles where there are gaps in between, and different usage of line structures. He ends the section with three poems called Horse #1, Horse #2 and Horse #3 consecutively. In these poems, Wah uses the word “horse” in different forms to make it relevant to his story. Horse is no long referring to the animal but instead it is a quality.

    The second section is what Fred Wah calls a poetic diary. It is a collection of poems that have some context about the poem before the poem is actually written. It allows the reader to make sense of the poem without actually taking away from the poem. These poems show Wah’s journey in travels during a summer he had. The poems show his trip to China and at first they seem like random events but as I read through the poems I could see them all fit in together. The poem that stood out to me was on page 41 because it showed Wah’s realization and memory of a difficult time in his father’s life. I though the poem had a lot of power and meaning yet it was written in a simple way. The rest of the poems in the section continue on this journey with the remembrance of his father.

    The third section is short and consists of ten poems called Elite 1, Elite 2,…,Elite 10. The poems in this section are very powerful and have a lot of context within the poems. It tells specific stories and events that occurred in different places. In some of the poems it seems like Wah is directly talking to his father and is asking him questions.

    The last section in the book is called “The Dendrite Map: Father/Mother Haibun”. These poems were interesting and pleasant to read. There were a total of 21 poems and each was called Father/Mother Haibun #1, Father/Mother Haibun #2 and so on. Each poem ended with a Haiku but it isn’t written in the traditional three lines instead it was intended to be written in one line and sometimes carried into the second. These poems are related to life and living. Each poem talks about change and growth in some form and they emphasize the growth and learning of culture.

    Alyssa Mitha

  • For this blog post I wanted to discuss a particular line in one of Fred Wah’s poems. The line is from the poem Father/Mother Haibun #13, and is as follows:

    “I get up and look, no sky today, just the fog. How one can one be?”

    I found this line really resonated with me because of how it could have multiple meanings. These meanings could be both potentially positive and negative. Firstly he asks his question after describing fog, fog is so homogeneous and has absolutely no sense of individuality whatsoever, suggesting the answer to his question is that no one can truly be one. In his life this could be due the fact that he is a hyphen, he is not fully this or that, not fully Chinese or Swedish, therefore he and all other hyphens are not one. Although this is a valid point, not everyone is a hyphen – take myself for example – I am a pure breed, but does this quote still apply to me? I believe it can because even beyond race, I think association shapes us too. We become a part of what we surround ourselves by and therefore the media shapes us too. There is no way to truly be an individual when we are all surrounded by the same images of what is right and wrong, of what we “need” and what we don’t, we are all very much the same.
    I later began to think more about this quote, and how I could challenge Fred Wah’s view on the subject of hyphens relative to this quote. I though about how in class we discussed how most countries around the world have one very dominant type of people – therefore virtually no hyphens. This would include places like China, Germany, and Greece. In places like those where everyone is literally “the same” his haiku would also be very relevant because everyone is of the same background, so no one is really one. Therefore being a mixed breed would in fact make him truly unique and even more so individualistic than non-hyphens.
    Clearly this quote can take on so many different points-of-view and that is why I think it stuck with me – but can there really only be one correct way to look at it?

  • As I was going through the second section of poems, I really began to got a sense of what Wah was going through. I rarely get the chance to read about the experience of losing a loved one, which helped me to admire the heart that Wah puts into his poems.
    His poem on Page 51 which struck me because of how he transitioned from seeing glimpses of his father to being his father. “eyes deep within the common view so that I see what you saw sometimes” gave me an image of a movie called “The Eyes” which highlighted the idea that a recipient of an eye transplant can see what the donor saw. Wah pictures the living essence of his father living inside him.
    But on the same day in the Mongolian grasslands Wah’s thoughts jump to the lovely Mongolian girl he sees in front of him. We see that he is more than just a little attracted to this girl. Wah sexualizes the Mongolian girls, but maintaining his respect because of his family.
    This transition really bothered me. I don’t know why he threw this poem into the middle of his laments. He was really beginning to convince me of the impact his father’s death had on him, and then he throws this poem into the mix. My only explanation is that Wah had expected that his laments would lose meaning when they follow one after another. I didn’t receive that feeling though.

    Raymond Luong

  • Perhaps one of the biggest shifts in Waiting for Saskatchewan comes when he switches to a more diary entry like form. When it switches to the diary form it is much much easier for me to read and understand. The background information is often helpful to understanding the work that follows, and sometimes even sets up a mental image for the poem, almost a theme or a location at times. Wah also tends to jump around and shift times and places, these diary entry like poems give a better understanding of time and place, many of them also include the date which is helpful. This is very different from the second poem in the book. Even though it is written by the same poet it feels completely different and is very difficult to understand. After a discussion in class I found out it is actually about a family tree. It feels more like a collection of words. Without some background information, or something to organize it a little it is very hard to understand.

  • When I first picked up Fred Wah’s “Waiting for Saskatchewan” I thought to myself, this looks like a fast and easy read! Well I was wrong. Yes it was short small poems but it was by no means easy. I could not comprehend the direction he was going in other than he was talking about his father. He changes his train of thought in each poem taking us to a different place each time. And yet, it all ties together in some way. It’s as if he wrote down every thought in his head, how his mind can pick out the small things in one thought and then transform them into another. I find I do that myself from time to time where I could be thing about Saskatchewan and end up thinking about something as silly as Peter Pan. In Wah’s case, he wrote down these thoughts without telling us how he connected the two and yet it works. His works jumps all over place from his ideas to the time and place he titles his entries. The one thing that was always constant was that he kept seeing his father although his father has been dead for many years. “During the trip I saw you often…” page 45. He always saw his father as a young man which would make sense because he wouldn’t know what his father would look like as an old man. I feel as though this book was to preserve his memory of his father and to remember him as he was.

  • I found the shift from solely concentrating on the death of his father to a more racially oriented focus very refreshing but still difficult for me to relate to. In the poetic diary section of the book, Wah’s work becomes considerably easier to follow and understand. I found it very interesting that much of the racial discrimination that he experienced was when he visited China. This was also very hard for me to relate to as I do not come from a mixed background, or from a culture that really puts a great deal of stock in race.
    I did find it eye opening that there are still struggles to be had throughout the world when it comes to racism, and I believe that Fred Wah has effectively shone some light on what barriers still remain in some cultures.

  • To my understanding, Waiting for Saskatchewan is about finding his place in Canadian society while still embracing his Chinese background. His father plays an important role in his life and he seems to look up to him, even after his death because he understands and appreciates his father taking his Chinese background into Canadian society.

    Aingela Carlos

  • With Fred Wah’s book \Waiting for Saskatchewan,\ the idea of hybridization was emphasized and Wah does that with his writing. He mixes different writing styles; the first section comprises of poems, the second having diary entries of mixed prose poetry, the third section is more of prose writing and the last is a sort of prose adapted from haiku.

    Much of the context were difficult to understand and relate to. However, I did enjoy the third section, \Elite,\ the most, but not necessarily the section I understood the most. Wah’s reminiscences of his father and descriptions of his hometown in this section were just more vivid.
    For me, the diary entries were the easiest to understand simply because the language was simpler. Wah’s internal thoughts were reflected but there is always that curiosity as to who the characters are that Wah mentions in his entries. One can only guess and that was what I found myself doing throughout the book.

    I understand the concept of sort of having two ethnicities that one identifies with and the idea of being in a liminal space. I do not know if it was just because I could not relate to Wah but I am sort of on the fence with this book. It was not difficult to read nor was it the worst book we studied. Maybe it is just because I did not really get the whole picture; I struggled to put together ideas of the four sections. I guess this book is really open to one’s interpretation. There is no right idea or correct interpretation. If anything, the most truthful information would only be from Fred Wah himself.

  • In Fred Wah’s poem “Waiting for Saskatchewan” speaks about having both a Swedish and Chinese heritage. In my opinion, he goes in depth on the times he encountered while traveling to China. In page 43, Wah describes the way the Chinese treated him when he says, “They look at me. I’m pulling their leg.” Suggest the fact he is treated in the eyes of the Chinese because he is not full Chinese they see him as an outcast, “When you’re not “pure” you just make it up.” It feels that Wah sees himself and both Swedish and Chinese and yet he embraces both, but the Chinese think otherwise because he does not fully look like them.

    Daniel Feng

  • Fred Wah, the writer of “Waiting for Saskatchewan”, posses an interesting mix of Swedish and Chinese culture. Being half Chinese half British my self, I can relate to some of the topics discussed in “Waiting for Saskatchewan”. As Daniel Feng noted on page 43 above, he is not fully accepted within the Chinese culture due to his split culture. Being both British and Chinese I practice traditions from both cultures. From Chinese New Year, to being a passionate English soccer fan one could say I get the best of both cultures. Fred Wah is much the same way as he states in “Waiting for Saskatchewan” he “embraces both”. Although he feels he is not fully accepted by the Chinese culture because he “embrace both” the Chinese culture is changing and evolving from their strict traditions. Presently, many individuals possess interesting mixes and get to experience traditions and practices passed down through both cultures. These mixes are shaping our communities and building new traditions that will be passed down through generations.

    William Maunsell

  • It is very interesting to see the differences in writing style within one book of poetry. These changes are always intended, as everything in poetry is intended. Wah’s book “Waiting for Saskatchewan goes through several changes throughout. Wah writes some poems with this sense of a hyphen. Here he writes in relation to his multi ethnic background. He can’t simply call himself a Canadian. One other change is when he writes in more of a diary format. This provides a more personal experience and can allow the reader to possibly relate or maybe understand a bit more of Wah’s history. They create a sense of time and place, which too is relatable.

    Graeme Howard