“A Brief, Shining Centrifugal Force”

Chelsea Pastorchik on The Literary Storefront
Pacific Rim Review of Books, Spring 2016

For a younger writer like me, reading The Literary Storefront is akin to reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses – the pages are full of legends. Carolan’s history of Vancouver’s first literary centre is populated by many of the defining names of the West Coast scene. The book however, is not really about the people; instead, it strives to capture the movement and the mission of the Literary Storefront: “It was the Gastown donkey engine in the West Coast’s arts scene, chugging along indomitably toward the Word, the Sound, the Beat.” Founded by Mona Fertig in 1978, the Literary Storefront offered readings, workshops, newsletters, and community for writers of all stripes until 1985.

In the book’s introduction, Carolan explains that the impetus for writing this book came from the
realization that the history of the Literary Storefront, as well the people who could tell it, was disappearing. This reality stood in stark contrast to Fertig’s original determination to preserve as much of this history as possible: “We were documenting something that was unique and I had a feeling that it was important to retain evidence of the dream.” This book both honours Fertig’s wish and makes powerful use of the materials she and others so painstakingly collected. The book is filled with copies of photographs, posters, newsletter covers and letters collected over eight years. For me, the highlight is a copy of two guestbook pages, signed by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Margaret Atwood and Christie Harris – three authors who occupy pride of place on my own bookshelves. These copies, as well as the bold chapter cover pages, type-writer inspired flourishes and glossy cover make the Literary Storefront a book worth displaying.

Those who choose to explore this book beyond the rich visuals will be rewarded with an equally rich history. Carolan, with what can be described as an obsession with context, has turned the story of the Storefront into the story of Vancouver during the late seventies and early eighties – the history picks up threads from all over the city’s social, political, and geographical landscape. Each event is recounted with precision and detail. Unfortunately, this dedication to detail results too frequently in long lists of names, agenda items, or budgetary considerations – minutiae that do not exactly grip the imagination of all but careful scholars.

One of the greatest strengths of this book is the mosaic of voices Carolan has sought out and woven together into a comprehensive account. Often, the story of the Storefront is told through quotations from the volunteers and writers who lived the history. Adding to this sense of living history is the inclusion of Carolan’s own voice as witness – his occasional personal anecdotes provide a welcome change of pace from the carefully researched narrative.

The reader knows from the start that the Literary Storefront would not last. It is difficult to read about the decline of the Storefront, to watch an idea that started with so much optimism get bogged down in the petty realities of finances and politics. Carolan softens the blow by exploring the many legacies the Storefront left behind. He also acknowledges, however, that the Literary Storefront’s particular contribution to Vancouver’s literary scene remains unmatched, quoting Dona Sturmanis: “There has
been no place like it since, nor will there ever be, for its spontaneous cultural centrifugal force.”

* * *

NEW WORLD DHARMA: Interviews and Encounters with
Buddhist Writers, Teachers and Leaders (SUNY Press)

Congratulations to Trevor Carolan for creating a wise and excellent sequence of essays, accurate historical information, and interviews which provide very useful insights and Buddhist time-tracks to both Buddhist and non-Buddhist readers and researchers.

- Ed Sanders, poet and historian 

* * *

THE LOTUS SINGERS: Contemporary Stories from Contemporary South Asia
Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered, National Public Radio, Washington, USA. Aug. 29, 2011

Alan Cheuse reviews a collection of short fiction from authors in South Asia, called The Lotus Singers. The stories are from writers in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh — among other countries.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: A good book doesn't have to be science fiction to transport us to distant worlds. A new anthology of stories called "The Lotus Singers" accomplishes that. It features the work of writers from a variety of South Asian countries, and Alan Cheuse finds the authors' perspectives well worth visiting.

ALAN CHEUSE: First, let me do some numbers for you. The Lotus Singers gives us nearly 20 contemporary pieces of short fiction from a number South Asian nations mainly India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh; stories either written in English or translated by various hands from the Urdu, Bengali, Hindi, Gujarati, Bangla and Marathi.

None of the writers included here in this volume has much if any reputation at all in the U.S. But their subjects are pressing: Hunger, rape, feudal oppression, struggle among castes and social classes, the struggle of women to achieve a modicum of equality, civil war; overbearing matters, yes. But there's some incidental joy here, too, as in the powerful story "Emancipation" written originally in Urdu by Pakistani writer Hasan Manzar in which we read of the emotional and legal turmoil of an Indian wife on a pilgrimage.

She's assaulted on a train by a conductor. But just before that life-changing event, the train crosses a bridge over the river Ganges and the woman notices how the orange iron girders suddenly rose to high heaven and just as swiftly swooped back down reverberating with strange noises. Just then, she says, I would think of all the kids in our city who had never seen a bridge sway in this manner. They could not have been more unfortunate.

And there's the bliss that comes with understanding in the story by the Delhi writer Manjula Padmanabhan called "A Government of India Undertaking." Here, the narrator discovers one of life's great mysteries in an office filled with paper documents about birth and death.
No tour like a serious anthology such as this one to show you how a distant part of the world seems so foreign and yet so close to home.

* * *

Cascadia: The Life and Breath of the World
Michael Hayward, Geist 92, Nov. 2014

Co-edited by Trevor Carolan and Frank Stewart, Cascadia: The Life and Breath of the World (University of Hawai’i Press) is a collection of pieces—the table of contents groups them into Essay, Fiction, Oratory, Poetry and Memoir—that “help us to address the bio-cultural region called Cascadia,” a region described on the cover as “stretching in a great arc from Southeast Alaska to Cape Mendocino, California.” Cascadia is filled with evidence of the heightened awareness of “place” that can come to those who follow Gary Snyder’s injunction to “Find your place on the planet and dig in”; reading Cascadia confirms the arbitrary nature of political boundaries: those who share a watershed are connected in ways that transcend politics. There are some wonderful pieces here: a poem by Susan Musgrave titled “The Sex Life of Sand”; “In the Great Bend of the Souris River,” a short story from Barry Lopez; Theresa Kishkan’s essay “Marine Air: Thinking About Fish, Weather, and Coastal Stories,” which begins with a visit to the cabin on Oyster Bay on the Sechelt Peninsula where Elizabeth Smart wrote her modernist masterpiece By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, then segues into a meditation on the salmon that spawn in the stream feeding that estuary. My one complaint about the anthology—and it’s a minor one—is that it would have been nice to have a detailed list of the original sources; many—most?—of the pieces collected here have been published before. Still, I’m pleased to have them all gathered between the same covers. 

​* * *

Return To Stillness: Twenty Years with a Tai Chi Master
"A colorful journey into the Tao of tai chi. Carolan is the perfect guide to a world where "the wind blows through the plum blossoms" and "the fish leaps over the dragon gate." It's a world where stillness comes from motion, teachers appear whether or not students are ready, and magic happens when you let go of effort. Full of lasting wisdom and insight." 

Leza Lowitz, author of Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By [Return to Stillness]

"A carefully constructed and gracefully elucidated work. After twenty years of practice, the author comes to cherish the peace, the calm, and the measure of grace in the rhythms and routines of daily life." 

Frederic Brussat, Spirituality & Health

"Conveyed with humour, realism, and understated reverence, Carolan shows that with patience and an open mind, these arts are open to all who want to live a long, full, and enriched human life. Moves progressively towards a personal meditation on the deep transmission of knowledge and mutual concern between master and student, while avoiding the slavish adoration that misconstrues Chinese martial arts as a form of cult or a competitive path to superhuman abilities" 

James Ferguson, The Culture Mandala

 * * *

Other Works
"An enormously impressive and important book ... Has its sights set on tyranny of any hue."
South China Morning Post (The Colours of Heaven)

"Suggests the East will remain inscrutable only if we choose not to know it." 
Cleveland Plain Dealer (The Colours of Heaven)

"The stories have been scrupulously chosen ... While none are directly about politics, all are about political facts which shape local lives." 
Donald Richie, The Japan Times (The Colours of Heaven)

"Destined to be a modern classic of Taoism. This lucid and subtle translation can be read again and again: for pleasure, for guidance, for simple, direct contemplation." 
Diane di Prima (The Book of the Heart)

"Clean, clear poems out of the New World--Asia and western North America - they embrace large space and fine detail." 
Gary Snyder (Closing the Circle)

"This may well be the shape of art to come in our ethnically diverse city...The real strength flows from Carolan's poetic texts: the use of language is intensely musical."
Michael Scott, Vancouver Sun (The Music of the Stones)

"A Canadian breakthrough rare in the beauty of its presentation of contemporary images and scenes of life on the West Coast." 
Patricia Osoko, Victoria Times-Colonist ("The Calgary Suite")

* * *