When art reflects life

Kara-lee MacDonald, author of Eating Matters. | Photo courtesy of Caitlin Press

Jane Byers and Kara-lee MacDonald will be reading their poetry at the Notional Space in East Vancouver, on Feb. 22, along with Elizabeth Bachinsky and Leanne Dunic.

Both poets found their form of expression through poetry that speaks of resilience. Byers writes about LGBT history in her new book, Acquired Community (Caitlin Press, 2016) while MacDonald details her struggles with bulimia in her own collection, Eating Matters (Caitlin Press, 2016).

Acquired Community

Jane Byers, author | Photo courtesy of Caitlin Press

Byer’s Acquired Community makes references to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). A great portion of the poems she wrote takes place during the AIDS epidemic.

“That crisis brought people together and we acquired our community that way,” says Byers.

A community of people came together in a time that was one of its darkest in history. What Byers strives to recall within her poems is a remembrance of LGBT history both in good times and in bad.

One of the poems she will be reading at the Notional Space is called “March on Washington, 1993,” which she considers a pretty topical piece right now. Her book contains what she calls parade poems and is the genesis of her book.

“I was writing about parades and how much of an impact they had on coming out,” says Byers. “It’s our collective stories, and I’m looking at how resilient we are as a community.”

That community has grown and, though Byers says progress has been meandering rather than linear, her poems are a call for people to remain steadfast and fighting.

“My friend is an ally and she asked, ‘Why do we need a Pride Parade in Nelson?’ It was really interesting for me to ponder that question,” Byers says. “In a way, this book is my response to that. It’s our history, and people don’t know it.”

Acquired Community earned Byers an opportunity to work as a Simon Fraser University (SFU) writer-in-residence for the Archives of Lesbian Oral Testimony (ALOT). Elise Chenier, Ph.D., director of ALOT, offered Byers the position after doing projects in Nelson where she was attempting to get the lesbian community there to document their stories.

“Lesbians have been excluded from the historical record, and [ALOT] is a way we can have the collective records there for people to access,” explains Byers. “The oral part is important because it’s essential to have people’s stories recorded and the archive reminds us there is a place for us.”

Poetry as power

Acquired Community by Jane Byers. | Photo courtesy of Caitlin Press

MacDonald uses her experience with anorexia and bulimia to highlight her healing process. For her, poetry was a sense of control over her situation and an outlet to express her feelings.

“What I was trying to do when writing was identifying concrete feelings and dealing with bigger ideas and concepts,” MacDonald says. “Poetry allows me to use things like metaphors and play with language. I felt like it gave me a power over it.”

The power she received from writing has been helpful in aiding her progress, says MacDonald, who is still on the road to recovery from her eating disorder. Her favourite poem, which is an imagined dialogue between herself and the ghost of the late Princess Diana, shows the theme of perseverance throughout her collection.

“It’s a positive and powerful poem about picking yourself up again and carrying on,” MacDonald explains. “I like to read a couple [of poems] that make people laugh because it tends to be a pretty heavy subject matter. You can see it in their faces that it’s hard to hear sometimes.”

The combination of her experiences along with the dark humour she puts into her poems allows them to resonate deep within her readers. MacDonald notes that though not everyone may have a full blown eating disorder, weight and body image is still something that affects society, but what helps her heal is writing and time.

“Every day you have to wake up and make that decision,” MacDonald says. “We don’t have a lot of time, and every time I think that I want to binge, I just think about our limited time and how it’s not worth it.”

For more information, visit www.plenitudemagazine.ca or www.caitlin-press.com.