Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Alan Girling: radical precarious

On the Trains in Tokyo

The polite, droning voice I hear . . .
asking, telling, letting me see:

commuters in a queue
studying watches, the station clock,
and a space as yet empty
where the automatic doors
will soon open;

bashed, squeezed and pinned,
risking the loss
of a bag, a shoe, even a sock;

blue-suited Salarymen,
knees squeezed,
speed-reading inches-thick comic books,
or passport-thin, rice-paper novels;

wool-suited housewives,
squeezed between feet shopping bags
from Mitsubishi and Marui department stores;

benches of light grey
labeled Silver Seats,
a courtesy to the old,
who are known
by the color of their hair;

placards hawking
drink elixirs, English Conversation,
wedding / honeymoon packages, four-day European vacations;

no one over twenty speaking to or looking at
anyone else over twenty;

no one at all munching a snack
or sipping a beverage;

two schoolgirls in sailor suits,
hands over mouths, giggling in whispers about
the (butter?) smell
of a nearby foreigner,
evidently myself;

two schoolboys in military collars,
speaking openly about
the stupendous height
of a nearby foreigner,
evidently myself;

a teetering, middle-aged Salaryman asleep,
swaying in slow rotations,
held upright by
indifferent bodies,
people who are there and not there;

a young Office Lady in
a beige corporate uniform,
her eyes say entrapment
as she stands among
the bodies,
the men in blue suits;

a woman, as ancient in
her weathered skin
as in her brittle bones,
draped in kimono, gray stripes on navy,
severely bent toward the floor,
a cloth-wrapped bundle as large as herself
balancing upon
her osteo-humped back;

a boy, no more than six,
wearing short gray flannels, a blazer and glasses;
on his back a stiff, black leather rucksack that contains,
the serious business of his life;

a gliding, jittering rocker from Yoyogi Park,
zippered, black leather, stovepipe, roll-cuff jeans,
a voluminous, greased, duck-tailed pompadour jutting forward
like the bow of a tall ship;

traces of black dye among
the quivering beads of perspiration that grace
the brow of an older Salaryman;

a lone strand of black and silver hair fluttering upon
the sweat-stained sleeve of my white shirt,
the one I wear as I travel to and from my jobs teaching
English Conversation to
the Salarymen and the Office Ladies;
the polite, droning voice I hear again,
asking us to wait for the doors to open, to
watch our step, watch
and to not forget,
telling us
to not forget

Chiba City, Japan 

What did the old man on his bicycle think he had seen that evening? Peddling past me beneath the streetlamp cone of light, he twisted his whole body around, craning his neck, and his face seemed to crack aghast under the weight of my foreignness. Was it great heights, distant snags, long slopes glimmering white and familiar like an extinct Fuji-san? Or rather, was I some new devil burning rivers through his still and ancient world -- nose, eyes and hair set to inflame the locals? I saw the fissures, their gape, and, in an instant, a swerve, a wobble of wheels, a wild limb-splay portending natural disaster. Then, righting himself, he burst back into the darkness and, lava-singed, rode roughly on.

Alan Girling writes fiction, plays and poetry, these days mainly poetry. 

Alan lived in Japan from 1984 to 1990, and visits periodically~ top image is a photo he took on a visit last year. A Richmond-based writer, he shared the above poems at a recent World Poetry Richmond event. I enjoyed his examinations of foreigness, his attentiveness to detail.
Alan & I will be co-hosting the upcoming WPR gather on Oct 6. 

Here are some answers he gave to two questions, from an interview published in SmokeLong Quarterly (2005) alongside his piece, Arks

How has teaching writing led to your own growth as a writer?
The writing I teach is not 'creative' writing. It's the academic variety, formal and largely rule-bound. My goal there is to help international students succeed in their college courses. However, the experience has made me acutely aware of just what writing rules can mean in a certain context and from there how 'rules' inform my own choices in how I write creatively, whether they be rules I follow or, more interestingly, rules I discover.

What vision of the world emerges from Richmond, British Columbia?
If you asked me this a few weeks ago, I would probably have talked about Richmond as a suburb of Vancouver, a destination for Asian immigration, a farming community or the like. But now I find myself thinking how this town is built upon sand, sand which makes up the Fraser River delta, and though hurricanes never reach us, we are, historically, vulnerable to floods. More worrying, however, would be an earthquake... which would instantly turn the region to quicksand. My vision of the world from here then? Radically precarious.

Alan's work can been found in such places as FreeFall, Lichen, Memewar, Blue Skies, Hobart, The MacGuffin, Smokelong Quarterly, Ken*again, Six Sentences, Qarrtsiluni and Ink, Sweat and Tears
Alan was a finalist for the 2003 Larry Turner Award for non-fiction and winner of Vancouver Co-op Radio's 2006 Community Dreams Poetry Contest. His short play, ‘Whatever Happened to Tom Dudkowski’ was produced for Vancouver's 2007 Walking Fish Festival.

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