good-bye to a beautiful and talented yukon writer

I only met her a few times when I was in Whitehorse, Yukon, last year, but my spending time with her, whether in conversation, or at Bean North Coffee with The Yukon Writers’ Collective, or having a meal with her at the home of writer/travel guide Elizabeth Weigand was all too short. Later, when I had read her novel From Ice to Ashes, and worked with her (and Kathy Munro) on Body of Evidence,  a collection described in the following article, I realized that someday I would like to meet her again.  Hearing of her passing was a shock that brought me great sadness.

A eulogy/article written by Erin Linn McMullan was published in the winter issue of the superb magazine YUKON: NORTH of ORDINARY.

She and Jessica’s husband Mike, as well as Tara McCarthy, editor of YUKON magazine, have given permissions to reprint Jessica’s photo and the article from the magazine.

In Memory of Jessica Simon

1964–2017

The Yukon mourns the loss of author Jessica Simon, who recently died of unknown causes after returning from a four-day hike with her dog, Curly.

“It is hard to understand that somebody so full of life passed away,” writer Elke Reinauer says. Simon was planning a gathering of Yukon writers to attend the 2020 Frankfurt Book Fair and working on the German translation of her novel From Ice to Ashes.

“Jessica was all about creating a writing community,” writer Jerome Stueart says, “whether it was the Cramped Hand [writing sessions] so people could come and write together, featuring local writers in parking lot readings, or her columns in What’s Up Yukon.” Simon also exported the Cramped Hand workshops, developing sessions in Germany, Norway, and Namibia.

Earlier this year, Simon helped pioneer the literary component of the Atlin Arts & Music Festival and published Body of Evidence: A Collection of Killer ‘Ku with writer kjmunro.

She also completed another mystery novel, Adventures of Talking Stick, featuring her fictional protagonist Markus Fanger. She excitedly shared her whiteboard outline of the novel with me during a Skype tour of her new home built with her husband, Mike Simon.

“I think Jessica’s shown us the bar,” Stueart says. “That bar being that a Yukon writer is about investing in the writing community, growing and celebrating it, giving of yourself.”

Simon called the Yukon home for over 30 years, working as a journalist and editor, and previously as a minister’s executive assistant in the Yukon Legislative Assembly. She won a number of short story contests and contributed to many publications, including What’s Up Yukon, Outdoor Edge, San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, Yukon News, and Yukon, North of Ordinary.

“I miss her laugh and her company,” says friend Norma Shorty.

Written by Erin Linn McMullan

I miss her too, though I knew her for so short a time. I was in the process of arranging a reading here in Ottawa for Jessica when I heard of her passing. I would so much have enjoyed seeing her again. Thank you Mike, Erin and Tara, for letting me share Jessica Simon, her smile and her spirit, with an even wider group of writers and readers. Here is Jessica Simon at Bean North writing on a Wednesday afternoon in May, 2016, as a member of The Yukon Writers’ Collective.

 

 

enter the frog, or haiku from the Haiku Canada Review

20170215_153331It could be the snow, or the grey sky, but something is drawing me to post about haiku recently published in Haiku Canada’s most recent publication, the Haiku Canada Review.  Perhaps I’ll do anything to stop me from going downstairs and having another piece of the custard cake I made earlier; I’d never tried this before and thoughts of literally diving into its creamy custard are very strong. So it’s a good day to write this post, one I’ve wanted to do for a while, on the power of very short haiku.

LeRoy Gorman has edited the Review for forever. Each issue usually includes a few broadsheets called Haiku Canada Sheets by selected poets. It’s an honour if he chooses to produce one with your haiku as it gives you the opportunity to have a small collection of your poems out in the big wide world. Each issue also contains tanka, renku, haibun and other Japanese form poetry, as well as reviews, essays, and as they say, more. Members can submit artwork which every issue includes, often lovely drawings like the frog on this issue’s cover, and at the head of this post, drawn by Brent Partridge.

Many of the poems are quite wonderful, but I have a special place in my sensibilities for the very short ones that work. This issue begins with an essay by Vicki McCullough about Allan Brown and his poetry; Allen passed away in 2016. One of his shorter poems is:

it is too dark to hear

the loon’s cry

The poem was written after his wife Pat died. Ms. McCullough has done wonders bringing Allan’s philosophy to the fore. After all, 99.99999999 % of people wonder what the big deal is, with haiku, anyway. She quotes some of his thoughts about his relationship with haiku. He has learned from Issa, he said, “a little…about the fashioning of both delight and despair.” In the poem above, I can be with him in the dark, the dark being much more after Pat’s death than an indigo sky; this dark is the dark that makes us think the light can never come back again. Some might say that the poem makes little sense- how can the dark make you unable to hear. That’s the power in this poem. A good haiku brings you into it, makes you want to spend time with it, to be where the poet is, and to expand the insight that comes into one that enters one’s own life.  Nine words, and they could have been the whole eulogy at a memorial service.

One of the Haiku Canada Sheets features the poems of Charlotte Degregorio from Chicago (for Haiku Canada has members all over the World) whose books and blog, among other media, show that this lady knows what she is doing. Her tiny poem caught my eye:

grandfather…

the well

in his eyes

And without knowing the background story, I knew a background story, I knew a moment, I knew his eyes, and I was a granddaughter remembering my grandfather’s face, remembering his hands, and the way he sat, how his attempts at speaking English are still in my ears. The poem grows as you spend time with it. A lyric poet with the same set of circumstances would have written stanzas, a sonnet, used reams of words to get in every wrinkle, every good deed, every special time with her grandfather, but these nine words contained all of that, and more.

An even smaller big poem of hers is:

ashes…

I scatter

his life

It’s what we would be thinking in the same situation, but that she has captured that moment in five words fills me with awe. Read it again, and again. It will stick with you and come back to you when you need it.  It’s the kind of poem that sticks for there is no stress about remembering it. You know already that it is part of you.

Not quite as short, but equally full of things to ponder, is this poem by Jennifer Hambrick:

evening fire

thoughts flicker

in his words

The comparison of flickering flames and flickering thoughts is clear, and, at first, the poem looks rather light as compared to the previous ones. But our deepest thoughts need not be about sad times, they don’t have to make your emotions run up and down the scale. This poem is a quiet one and brings to mind the times when people are together trying to share thoughts, when those people might wonder about what a person’s words might mean. It’s a poem of uncertainty. Flickering thoughts could indicate doubt, or hesitation. They could be very important in any kind of relationship and are sometimes hard to pin down. These flickering thoughts, and the image of the person’s face in the flickering light…even that image is strong enough to be frightening, or calming, or loving, or simply an exchange of philosophical ideas. This little poem is packed if you take time with it.

Edward Cody Huddleston wrote this poem:

whether I give it

or not

eulogy

A serious decision, and these seven words express the problem. The poem suggests everything that goes through a person’s mind when the question of giving a eulogy comes up. Seven words that say it all, the guilt, feelings of duty, feelings of love, the last chance to say what you want said, the fear of not saying it completely, of letting people down, of what others see as your responsibility, and more. There, it’s taken a paragraph to begin getting into this one. For behind it are all the commonalities, the losses that have already been experienced, the idea of funerals and memorials, possibly a fear of speaking in public, all those eyes and ears in the room or chapel, that you may not believe in eulogies, that giving one may take all the strength you have.

At first Debbie Strange’s one-liner seems simple, and light compared to the poems already mentioned, but

a butterfly wing beneath my boot autumn

tugs at me. A boot is crushing the most delicate of creatures, those brilliant dusty wings, or perhaps just a torn off wing. It calls into question why a butterfly is on the ground, the heavy boot that possibly means a hike, a good thing in autumn air,  but oh, doesn’t it bring to mind innocents in all parts of the world that are under the ‘boot’. This poem comes very close these days as our neighbours to the south are losing healthcare, and the right to live their own lifestyle, when everything good is endangered, even our earth. It is the refugees who are walking to Canada through the snow.  Enough said, the poem says it all, and much more if you let it seep into your self.

The next poem, a one-liner, at first seems jus clever and humorous. You might read the poem quickly, smile to yourself in response to the wordplay, and go on to the next haiku. But I find, along with the cleverness, that kjmunro’s poem

in ten(t)se camping in bear country

has more to offer; she gives us the romance of camping in a northern wilderness, and its inherent dangers. The poet lives in Whitehorse, Yukon. She is a woman who experiences the possibility of having only canvas between her and a grizzly, so images of long curved claws haunt the poem. She would not have been alone, most likely, and would have taken all precautions. After all, bears are fairly common around where she lives. There is even a bear incident map that indicates all human-bear conflict in the Whitehorse region. The danger is real. This word play contains a recognition of danger, but the poem also shows the spirit of an adventurer, one who will not give up having great experiences because there is a possibility of risk. We have here, the Yukon version of climbing Everest, one small bit at a time. I like the levity, the devil-may-care quality of these few words. These few words are more ‘intense’ than an initial reading may have suggested.

So thank you, thank you, LeRoy, for what you’ve done for Haiku Canada, for selecting and publishing poems all these years. Because of the Review we know our fellow poets across Canada and many places in the world, and have been kept aware of the development of Japanese form poems as they develop outside of Japan.  No one else could have done it, but you did. Months of collecting, making decisions, doing layout, mailing out hundreds of issues.

And thank you poets, for writing these very brief, but wonderful, poems.