Gwen Hauser, 1944 – 2012
What you remember from the farm
is the annual slaughter of steers,
the screams of pigs being castrated,
your father’s blood-streaked hands working
the sausage machine, is your own mother
reduced to someone less than human.
And being piss-poor, always piss-poor.
Of your high school years in Medicine Hat
you remember — can never forget —
the provincial mental hospital,
whose doctors prescribed medications
you refused to take. You fled the Prairies
and that hard-scrabble farm for Toronto,
running all the way, to find what?
A girl does not run from something;
she runs to something. Toronto.
In the Big Smoke you found Bergman’s Silence,
that pervasive Swedish despair.
You found men who would not love you enough,
and a hard-scrabble life on the streets.
Poor Gwen, we sympathized, poor Gwen,
but sympathy and gentle thoughts
have never healed a broken heart.
And, yes, you found poetry and courage
to speak it: a strong voice, and true.
Early this morning I learn of your death
and watch winter’s rain soak the fallen leaves.
You hammered out poems laced with pain
— yours and the sufferings of those you loved —
a poetry of survival on the margins;
I pray your divided heart’s been healed.
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December 7, 2013
Late last night this came in from our old buddy Krisantha. Best thing that has come my way since I spread the news of Gwen's death. It captures Gwen and her total commitment to poetry. Thought you might like to post it.
. . . James
I woke up this morning in Colombo to this, telling me of Gwen's possible 'cease and desist'.
Still trying to digest. Are you sure she has passed away? She has a way of showing up in unexpected ways and in new disguises.......:)
I guess I first met her in 1976 at the Parliament Street Library where Ted Plantos would do a regular gathering, and she was an active presence.
Funny but I had a dream just the other day of another PSL poetry partaker who I barely knew who then jumped off the Bloor Viaduct. I remember Gwen talking about her situation and writing about what may have driven a young woman to do such. She had truly 'Canadian experience' of the horrible treatment of 'mental' patients. She also would openly take on those who wrote sexist or fascist crap.
I also remember an argument between her and the CP cartoonist Mike Constable (with Mike arguing Canada was 'liberal' and Gwen insisting it was truly 'fascist'!)
Gwen wrote about the city, and about work in factories and laundries, and yes, of Toronto and Alberta and Canada in ways no one else did. Ardent is the second word that most comes to mind. And yes, it's a tribute to Fred Cogswell, that despite the wasteland of vapidity of what he or others usually published, that he published her).
We worked together putting readings at the grey 519 (former Granite Club!), (in fact, Partisan organized an early gathering there where I read) and then together we did a huge (100? I exaggerate perhaps) Toronto Festival of Poets in 1978 (?), and also did another (crazy) day long fest called the Goldflower Festival (named after a Chinese red feminist) in 1979, but was ahead of its time in the sheer compass of the people involved. We also helped facilitate the set up of the women's poetry sessions at the 519 as well... And it is through her I met Himani Bannerji and Dionne Brand, etc......and then came the 'multivultural' 1980s.....
After I launched my last poetry book, Cheqpoint in Heaven, in Toronto in 2005, she came and read some poems, brilliant in many ways and as always – but I did disagree with her take on history ( I thought she had taken to defending the Nazis versus the Soviets!) ..she had also taken to going to church, which I thought odd, even tho it was the MCC....
Still, her commitment to writing about the here and the now and what she thought would come next, was truly inspiring, and regardless of who remembers her and how, she was more than anyone I knew a truly 'Canadian' and 'Toronto' poet, for she talked of real people and real things..
I hate writing about people after they have passed away. But I do think she will still jump out of bush and hit someone with one of her many bags overflowing with poems.
Funny, I am about to go to a monthly poetry gathering Poetry P'lau we organize in Colombo (called by most people, Kolamba) and I woke up early to send a final note about it, and now, I am not sure I can go back to sleep....
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