“Astronaut Family”

for my friends who have left Vancouver

“Growth and development” sounds like
something my mom used to worry about
when I was little. Now I say it
when applying for grants. Before that
one of my favourite dead people told me
that it begins with language. Since then
I have found lots of dead friends
saying the same thing in different ways.
What was once my mom’s, then mine,
then mine through the words of others
are now the words of the forthcoming
Lululemon on Hastings Street, Escala luxury
homes in Burnaby. This is the quality of dust.
It filters through us, because we’re made of it,
the language I mean, my friends know it too
when they land in Los Angeles, Montreal,
New York. No wonder we bought
New Balance before parting ways,
making excuses for the comfort worn by our grandparents —
this is the quality of dust: it takes us dancing
into houses and galleries until six in the morning,
it keeps us here, this expensively repressed sympathy
in sneakers and secret locations that separate us,
like when I message you on Facebook, and it’s three in the morning
but seven for you, but you gotta go because you’re writing
a condo ad for work, even in Brooklyn and Toronto, even though
it started here where we began to love each other, and I think that we still do
because we come back every summer, and the smiles come increasingly quick —
which is not to say that we’re eager to meet, or that this is the sudden light
of friendship, but more than this — this is the construction of an act of love.

Questions and Answers

As a published writer, what are your tips or words of motivation for the aspiring poet?

I’ll offer “writerly” tips because I think it’s important to be motivated in terms of writing and not publication:

    • Keep close the words of those who have moved you and made you think. I mean plaster them all over your house, type them into your gadgets, bookmark them somehow; begin to keep documents of these passages, lines, poems, words, gestures. These “bookmarks,” or research notes, or whatever you want to call them will be helpful on the days when you don’t feel like writing; they’ll revive the important questions for you, so they’ll remind you why you’re writing and they’ll make you want to write. My mentor Meredith Quartermain emphasized the importance of this process and I’m glad I listened to her.
    • Talk to other poets. Meet with them to discuss poems and writing and publication. Even if you don’t exchange work on a regular basis, talking with other writers could motivate you to keep going.
    • If you need deadlines to make you feel motivated to write, create constraints for yourself e.g. “submit to [journal titles] in the [season].” I know a writer who creates an Excel sheet with a list of award and contest deadline dates and works towards these dates to keep motivated.
    • Don’t take tips from other writers like me; be honest with yourself and you’ll know what to do.
What inspired or motivated you to write this poem?

The language around the housing crisis was very interesting to me. I was interested not only in marketing language like “growth” and “sustainability” but also language used in social media and the news. I noticed the way the phrase “astronaut family” could also describe the changed structures of my relationships; many of my friends are cultural workers who left Vancouver because of the housing crisis, and many cultural workers are also implicated and involved in creating the very thing that we are trying to critique. For example, some writers and artists are hired to make condo ads, but some writers and artists also struggle to live in this city and don’t benefit from condo developments. As a working-class poet, I find myself thinking about the cost of living in this city far too often, and I wanted to write a poem to explore this double bind. I wanted to see if it’s possible to take language back and make it mean. In the reading and writing of my poem, I hope that I created space to make meta-communicative statements that were not possible to make in the double binds of culture production in creative industries.

This poem ““Astronaut Family”” originally appeared in Emerging Scholars 2. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 228-229 (Spring/Summer 2016): 226.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.