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Week 11 Wah

November 18th, 2012 by Colin Martin

On Thursday the 15th, our class got an amazing opportunity to see Canada’s Poet Laureate, Fred Wah, perform his work. Knowing that we’re currently reading his book _Waiting for Saskatchewan_, Prof. Wah actually read a number of pieces from that book and gave a shout out to our class. It is unfortunate that so few students attended the reading. I hope that those who did got something cool out of the experience.

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  • Of all the poets we have read so far, I identify most with Mr. Wah. Like him I am a hyphen, I have lived all over canada, and now more than ever I think of the past. Fred Wah spends a lot of time in this book thinking on his childhood. From walking the streets of Swift Current, to the mountain valley’s of BC. All of this is tied together by the sadness of losing his father. One tragic thread to tie the whole works together. The trip to China, where he saw the face of his father everywhere he went. To walking the streets of Swift Current as an adult, and vividly remembering the town from his childhood. I take a gem of joy from knowing that his father must have been a good one, nobody morns the wicked. Like Fred Wah I have many warm memories of my father, memories I will hold for the rest of my life. I am sorry for Mr. Wah’s loss, even though it was years ago, it seems to still effect him greatly. In terms of the long poem, I am glad that Canada has something that makes us stand out in the world of poetry. And I am not afraid to add that we are fortunate that these poets are still alive, and that their work is relevant to our lives today.

  • November 26, 2012

    Unfortunately, I was unable to attend Wah’s reading due to a prior commitment. It would have been great to see him read pieces from Waiting for Saskatchewan. His poetry is very heartfelt and brings out a number of emotions. When reading his poetry I wondered how he would recite it since they are a recollection of his memories.

    I really enjoyed reading “Waiting for Saskatchewan”. I was able to relate to some aspects of the book like being a member of different cultures but I was unable to relate to other aspects. I have never lost a close member of my family so even though I think I know what it would feel like, it is still difficult to imagine the pain and the loss Wah felt. Wah had a complex relationship with his father and we can see it throughout the poetry.

    In “Waiting for Saskatchewan”, we can see different ideas of movement and place as well as ideas of culture and race. His poems have a rhythmic flow and they draw you in. They bring in foreign ideas and unique concepts that tie into everyday life. Waiting for Saskatchewan is a beautifully written work. Wah’s memories of his father and his life show the great relationship he had with his dad. His poetry emphasizes the importance of building memories and having lasting relationships with those who are close to you.

    Alyssa Mitha

  • I think the poems that tend to resonate with people most are ones they can relate to on a personal level. In “Waiting for Saskatchewan” I think the two biggest standout themes that people can relate to are the idea of a hyphen and losing a loved one. Personally I can’t relate to either. I am not a hyphen, both my parents are from East Africa and have an Indian heritage, and they both share the same religion too. I have also never lost anyone close to me, not even a grandparent. Despite this, while reading “Waiting for Saskatchewan” I still felt like I could somehow relate to Fred Wah. I had genuine empathy for him and felt like I could feel some of the emotions he felt. When he describes “seeing” his father in China, I felt the momentary joy, followed by the overwhelming sadness once reality kicked in that it was not actually his father. I think this shows the outstanding nature of Fred Wah’s poetry. Although I made no personal connections with the poetry, his words still moved me.

  • I remember when i first came to Canada as a teenager, there were many questions i asked myself because i could not fit in. I asked myself, how can i talk like Canadians so that i might have someone to play soccer with. Then another question i asked myself is that, how can i make friends or create a social environment that is lively for me?. It was a struggle because my english was not fluent enough, sometimes people have dificulties understanding me.Men, it was fustrating because all i do is watch Family shows, Sienfield, Will Smith comedy so that i might know about North American cultures. Though it helped, but it was not good enough because i need to learn a whole new system of education again. why did i share this? Wah had to learn North American culture again because he had just returned from China after a long absence from Canada. He is more like an immigrant because his dad ship him there.This is a great story for all immigrants because Fred overcome the obstacle of being an alien in a country and become an expert in promoting the Canadian culture that should make someone proud because there is nothing impossible.

  • From the pictures I’ve seen of my grandparents in China, I found that even the pictures of China were not as enticing as Wah’s poetic description of the Summer Palace, which definitely made a fitting end to Wah’s second chapter. When Wah talks about the peach as “the symbol of ‘lucre'” I immediately thought of a room decorated with peaches upon peaches. Then I read that there’s not repetition, with each peach distinct from the others. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to wonder how you could make 5000 peaches look different.
    Next, we enter Mao’s Mausoleum. I’ve studies a bit of Mao’s ideas, and I have to say I do agree that creating a communist state was a good direction for the People’s Republic of China, but Mao just poorly implemented his plans. Wah mentions the connection between Mao and his father, which basically becomes the moment of reconciliation of the trip. So much must be going on in Wah’s mind. I’m sure I can’t comprehend everything, but I was able to get a sense of closure from Wah’s character.

    Raymond Luong

  • For me Fred Wah’s poetry is hard to connect to. Both my parents were born in Canada, as well as my grandparents. Of my relatives that came from overseas many of them came from Europe; England, Russia, Poland and Germany to name a few. Because of this I’ve never considered myself half anything, more a mixture of things. I however at first always think myself as Canadian. Perhaps the only part that does connect me to Wah’s work is the fact that i was born in Saskatchewan and lived most of my childhood years there. When he talks about small towns, landscape or the dinners i can connect to that, I’ve been to places like that. I can also relate to him seeing his father’s characteristics in other people. It however doesn’t happen as often for me as it does for Wah however and this is most likely because of his loss. Other than these connections most of it is foreign. I have never lost a close family member nor seriously contemplated my own imminent death.

  • I drew a real sense of sadness from this book because not only is Wah treated as an outsider by everyone, but he also lost his father. He tells that he’s 45 in this book, but there is still that childish longing for a male parent to look up to and this relates to the idea that his memory of his father is an image frozen in time. On page 10, he writes “father” twice and it feels like he thinks his father might drift away somehow because of the distance between life and death.
    On page 17, “father” is written in a space further out than the other words. Though this speaks of the image and memory of his father that never ages, it has made me wonder if Wah- the father- ever left that state of liminality, or if he died in it without ever coming out of the ‘transitional’ phase.

    The idea of a person being “less than one and double” is really interesting and it links to George Elliott Clarke’s ‘Whylah Falls.’ In his poem ‘Solitude,’ he speaks of the quest for an identity that he created for himself. Then he begins to see himself reflected in many things in almost the same way as Wah sees recurring images of his father. But what he sees and hopes is his identity turns out to be his “watery double” -nothing more than his imagination.

    In China (‘Aug 4’ pg. 38), where he should be accepted, Wah is still “looking for something to connect with,” and even here, he remains lonely and a foreigner. Interestingly, the way he hurriedly shifts his focus in the poem to something else is similar to Clarke’s gull which “soars again alone.” There is a sense of disappointment and resignation because he leaves without perching, and this is why I think Wah (the father) may have never been separated from that feeling of being outside but began to reconcile himself to it.

    Fred Wah, however, seems to use this identity in a different way. Even though it might not be a matter he constantly thinks about, when thoughts of it resurface, they probably bring with them a certain kind of pain which he communicates in this book. I imagine the old pains probably hit him in the same way that gods struck people with ideas, and so he uses them as a form of inspiration.

    Maybe liminality isn’t always a bad thing. Many important people in the bible can be described as liminal. Jesus, for example, came as the son of a virgin, and without a human father, he was already an outcast before he was born. The priests who had spoken of his coming refused to acknowledge his presence. Then his disciples denied and betrayed him, so he was neither seen to belong to the religion nor to the fully outside it. But many people now identify with him.

    So maybe sometimes, liminality could be a way for the ‘victim’ to find themselves and to recognize their individuality, because it is not in belonging to a crowd that a person finds themselves, but in solitude.

  • I am sad to say that I was one of those who did not get a chance to hear Fred Wah read his poetry in person. I do feel that it would have been an experience well worth while due to the fact that Fred Wah’s poetry makes so little sense to me most of the time. So in order to somewhat get a sense of what it would have been like, I looked up one of his live readings of his poem ‘count’. I must admit that even though I did not have this huge revelation where I understood his thoughts, the ideas seemed to be better grouped when I heard him speak them.The way in which he groups certain words and the way in which he singles out others made the main ideas make more sense to me. For example in the poem ‘count’ when he says \ I must have been Chinese\ , when I first read this the line stood out to me but not enough to think about it very deeply. However once I heard him read this poem and I heard what emphasis he put on that line, it made me think of that part of the poem more. I started thinking about this phrase deeper and to what degree this little saying alone singles him out from the rest of Canada.Hearing Fred Wah read his poetry out loud is an experience that I sadly missed but it has led me to look up this live reading and learn that there is more to be learnt from hearing poetry come from the mouth from which the idea originated. I will definitely take advantage of opportunities such as this one when they arrive in the future.

  • I recently watched an interview with Fred Wah on youtube. Here is the link if you are interested. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_J_-NSOWVrg The interview in itself isn’t anything to amazing, but it focuses solely on racism. Wah would recount events of being discriminated against as a child and teenager and how unjust it was and shaped him during his childhood. Wah doesn’t even look Chinese and I found it interesting that he is ½ Swedish and only ¼ Chinese but is labeled as Chinese. I couldn’t help but get the feeling that there is still some of the animosity that was around during the 1800’s in Canada when thousands of Chinese immigrants were shipped to Canada to build the railroad and other labor-intensive projects. The same kind of discrimination that F.R. Scott spoke about in All the Spikes but the Last.

  • I have struggled with Fred Wah’s book “Waiting for Saskatchewan”, as I have trouble relating to the content of the book. I am a born and raised Calgarian, as are both of my parents. I have also never lost a parent, so connecting with Fred Wah’s content has been difficult for me. Hearing Fred Wah read his poetry was actually very helpful as the emotion of the poetry came alive. Like when we listened to the recording of Robert Service, hearing an author read their poetry can have a great impact on how it comes across. Unlike Robert Services reading of “The Shooting of Dan McGrew”, I found that Professor Wah was able to make his poetry much more impactful when he read it.

  • I utterly regret to say that I wasn’t able to make it to Fred Wah’s appearance in class.

    On a personal level I cannot find many similarities between me and Mr. Wah. I don’t feel I am considered a hyphen because I am simply Canadian. both my parents were born in Canada, My dad’s parents were born in Canada, and my Mom’s parents are from England but they now live in Canada. Because of my all my Canadian blood, I find it difficult to relate to Wah’s poetry. I haven’t experienced anything remotely close to what Wah’s life has been like.

    Graeme Howard