July 5, 2023
(edited and lovingly maintained by rob mclennan)
Helen Hajnoczky writes about my influence on her career as a poet
Helen Hajnoczky : Pauline Le Bel : My First Real Poet
I don’t remember meeting the first poet I met. Instead, Pauline Le Bel forms a part of the vignettes of my early childhood memories – those types of early memories that are lit with a soft warm light and shuffled around like photos in a shoebox. Memories that are saved and sorted by emotions and impressions, rather than by a sense of external chronology or a date stamp.
In one memory my family is visiting Pauline in Edmonton. Her home comes in and out of focus – I remember it feeling like the home of a writer and artist – an inviting kitchen, expressive furniture and décor. In sharp detail I remember a claw foot tub, the floor underneath decorated with seashells, as if Pauline had somehow conjured a stretch of ocean into this windswept, landlocked winter.
In another memory, an evening storm – or was it a gentle sunset? – envelops North Glenmore Park in Calgary. We walk along the bluff, the wind pulling at our hair or the low sun glinting off it, my mom and sister not far away. I recite the stories for my Old Tales for Tender Years book tape to Pauline, and remember her being engaged with the strange and winding story. A writer and performer, she seems to recognize this impulse I have to memorize and recount tales. The sort of early support that underpins my confidence to pick up a pen and write my own stories and poems.
I remember her being my pirate sister, though not quite why. Again, a park – I think. Again, Pauline’s ebullient creative spirit bringing a story into the world, allowing us to be enveloped by it. A tale and a bond I can’t quite remember, but that I can feel, like the salt wind blowing, filling the sails of our ship as we head off on an adventure.
I remember her performing as Edith Piaf – I think I remember – or is this a blend of fact and memory – I seem to remember her singing. She is at a piano or no – someone else is playing the piano and she is singing. Her voice clear and evocative, like a songbird.
I remember the screening of The Song Spinner in Calgary. Floored at how Pauline not only wrote this incredible book about the power of art, but how it was also somehow made into a movie. The film is beautiful, moving, sinking deep into my soul, reinforcing my hunger to be a writer and artist, assuring me of the importance of self-expression and beauty. Her role in the film reflects how I see her in my life – someone who opens ideas, someone who lets the music in.
Other memories are fogged not by the veil of childhood but by grief, while others are pristine and sharp for the same reason.
My father is sick with his final illness – the kind of life experience that causes me to reflect on our shared memories and relationships, like that with Pauline. Of our shared values, like the importance of art and expression, a value that evokes thoughts of Pauline as well. I write to her and order all her books and CDs. My father is still at home, resting on the sofa. I sit across from him, reading aloud to him from Pauline’s poetry. This memory is crystal clear, bright sunshine scattering across the living room. Later we are in the hospice. This memory is in a haze. Pauline sings to my father over the phone from her home in Bowen Island. She sounds so present. He is happy. My heart bursts.
A few years later, the Bowen Island Rotary Club hosts a Zoom presentation where Pauline recounts the story of her life and work, from early childhood to her life in Edmonton, her Edith Piaf show and The Song Spinner, moving to Bowen Island and becoming intimately engaged with that place and it’s beauty. Her work with local people from Indigenous and settler communities, her ongoing exploration of the end phases of life through her work. Her presentation reframes my own memories of her work. I’m inspired not only to know her and her work better – more clearly – but by her lifelong and unwavering commitment to writing and art. To letting it flow into every channel of life, to let it dapple every day in it’s necessary and restorative light.
Pauline Le Bel’s work and spirit have been of deep, life shaping importance of me. I don’t remember meeting her, and I can’t imagine not having met her. My life and art have been moved by Pauline in ways I can’t express, but that I feel, like the waves crashing against the prow of our pirate ship, each time I sit down to write or make art. The Song Spinner explores a world without music – without expression. With Pauline in my life this is a world I have never had to know.
Learn more about Pauline Le Bel’s work here: https://paulinelebel.com
Helen Hajnoczky is the author of the books Frost & Pollen, Magyarázni, and Poetsand Killers: A Life in Advertising. She also has a handful of above/ground press chapbooks. She shares her writing and art on her website https://www.ateacozyisasometimes.com/
(What a beautifully written, poetic piece by Helen, full of evocative images. I had forgotten about the seashells under my bathtub (typical of my style of decor). I am honoured to have received any credit at all for Helen’s mastery of poetry. Oh, and I will have to tell her about the pirate sister thing. Fun story. She was only three. Wouldn’t expect her to remember.)
In January, Quills Poetry Magazine (https://www.quillspoetry.com/) published my poem, Blessing the Body, in their latest issue, Volume X11, Writing Through the Chaos. The launch took place in a beautiful home in Vancouver, the home of the publisher, Byron Sheardown. Bonnie Nish, who edited this issue, organized a wonderful evening. A real treat to be in the company of poets. Here’s the poem:
Blessing the Body
After more than a year visiting my sister
tending to her frail body with gentle massage
it seems natural to wash her body after I close her eyes.
The night nurse offers guidance.
I offer song as I place the washing cloth
in warm water and slowly cleanse her cooling body.
I wash her hands, graceful in prayer
in the convent many years ago,
hands correcting French essays
writing irregular verbs on the blackboard.
I wash her face, so much like mine
slim now from the illness,
free of worry.
I wash her pilgrim’s feet that travelled
to museums, art galleries and architectural digs
and dry them with her favourite towel.
I’ve been told the sense of hearing is the last to go
so I believe she heard my improvised songs,
my words of gratitude and endearment.
Dear face, you were loved.
Dear hands, you were loved.
Dear feet, you were loved.
Dear belly that birthed two children, you were loved.
Dear bright laughing spirit, you will always be loved.
When we finish washing her body
the way an infant is washed at birth
we dress her in the multi-coloured caftan
sewn by our older sister.
I have no training in this ritual.
I have not learned the perfect prayers.
When they take Suzanne away
I walk to her living room
sit at her old upright piano
and in the best way I know
say goodbye again.
Guest Speaker Bowen Island Rotary Club Zoom
November 14, 2022. 7:15 pm. I was invited to be a guest speaker – talking (and singing) about my role as an artist in the community. Plus a good conversation on the role and responsibility of artists in community life. They posted a video on their website as well as on YouTube:
Way To Go! Poetry, Music and Conversation on the End of Life
November 20, 2022 Sunday 1:30 – 3:30
Weaving Our Way Into Reconciliation
On June 26, 50 islanders – aged 5 – 90 – came to the Bowen Island Library to learn the ancient technique of Squamish Nation twill weaving. Under the masterful guidance of Cheximiya, we created this weaving, which we decided to name “Chenchenstway” (We lift each other up.) It now hangs in the Library Annex for all to enjoy. A wonderful memory of an afternoon of learning and appreciation. Thank you Cheximiya!
Knowing Our Place events for June
August 6, 2022 Write on Bowen Festival
Thrilled to announce I will be a presenter at the Gala on Saturday evening, August 6th, at the Cove Commons on Bowen Island. I will be telling my poetic, musical story of the evolution of the Universe, with the audience making the sounds we hear in the Universe.
It promises to be a wonderful festival – August 6 and 7 – with all manner of writing genres. Fiona Tinwei Lam, Vancouver’s Poet Laureate, will be offering a workshop as well as a reading at the gala. https://www.writeonbowen.com/
Response to the discovery of unmarked graves in Kamloops Residential School
My response to the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the Kamloops Residential School: https://www.bowenislandundercurrent.com/opinion/opinion-time-to-set-aside-the-fantasy-version-of-who-we-are-3870147
Opinion: Time to set aside the fantasy version of who we are by Pauline Le Bel
And time to get to work
Jun 13, 2021 7:00 AM By: Pauline Le Bel / Contributor
A memorial for the 215 children at Parliament Hill in Ottawa saw hundreds of little shoes and teddy bears to remember the stolen children. (Colette Coughlin Photo)
It seems our country is finally ready to have the difficult conversation. To set aside our fantasy version of who we are. Like many others, the discovery of the unmarked graves of 215 children on the site of the Kamloops (Tk’emlups) residential school left me sad and angry.
When my daughter was five years old, I used to accompany her on the 10-minute walk, across a busy street, to the bus that took her to kindergarten. I would meet her off the bus a few hours later. One day, she wasn’t on the bus. The bus driver looked as worried as I felt. I ran home and called the school. She wasn’t there. My story has a happy ending. But if you magnify a thousand times the fear and guilt I experienced, you will begin to taste what it was like for many Indigenous parents who went to the residential school to get their children and were told they weren’t there.
The federal government has known about the horrors of residential schools since 1907 when Dr. Peter Bryce, a medical health officer reported to the Department of Indian Affairs, calling the schools “a breeding ground for illness.” He was shocked by the overcrowding, poor nutrition, hard physical labour, the numerous deaths, and healthy children sleeping next to children with tuberculosis. He was given the boot. Why? Because the Indian Act was designed to dispossess Indigenous people of their lands, in order to facilitate the exploitation of their forests, waters and mountains. The fewer Indigenous people, the easier to accomplish this colonial quest. Dr. Bryce later published his findings in the 1920s in the pamphlet, “A National Crime.”
Four years ago, I began a reconciliation initiative on the island with the support of the Bowen Island Arts Council and the Bowen Island Library. The purpose of “Knowing Our Place” was to educate ourselves about our true history with Indigenous People, and to work toward respectful, mutually enhancing relationship. Things slowed down a bit because of the pandemic, although we did celebrate last June 21st with Squamish Nation Elders, the blessing of the sign with the Squamish Nation name for the island, Nexwlélexwm.
I won’t diminish the importance of our events, workshops and the book club; but they were baby steps. It’s time to grow up and take some big steps. Reconciliation needs to include putting back what was taken away and there was plenty taken away. Language, culture, rights, governance, health, land, education, and most egregiously, the children.
What can we do?
Educate ourselves. If you have a strong stomach, read the TRC – Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, 2015. The commission was funded by the residential school survivors, using one third of their financial settlement. It took me months to get through the report – five pages a day – the tears kept getting in the way. An entire chapter talks about missing children and unmarked graves. Read the 94 Calls to Action. After six years, only eight of these Calls to Action have been addressed. Read books by Indigenous authors; the library has a list. Or ask me for one.
Watch the NFB Film “We Were Children.” Go to aptn.ca – Aboriginal Peoples Television Network – and see the world through their eyes. Go to the Reconciliation Canada Facebook Page and watch the videos which were recorded a few days ago with Chief Robert Joseph, his daughters, Karen and Shelley, and guests. These videos helped me channel my anger and grief: facebook.com/pg/ReconciliationCanada/videos/?ref=page_internal.
Listen to CBC Radio Cross Country Check Up, recorded June 6: cbc.ca/radio/checkup/what-conversations-are-you-having-with-family-and-friends-about-the-kamloops-grave-discovery-1.6054089.
Make a donation: Indian Reservation School Survivors Society: irsss.ca/donate.
First Nations Child and Family Caring Society: fncaringsociety.com/donate.
Contact Patrick Weiler, our Member of Parliament: 604-913-2660; Patrick.Weiler@parl.gc.ca. Thank him for voting yes to Jagmeet Singh’s non-binding motion to drop a pair of court fights involving First Nations children. Tell him you want the federal government to stop spending your tax dollars in this way. Tell him you want the government to fund investigations on all residential school sites for unmarked graves, and to allow each nation to take charge of the proceedings. These children need to be returned to their homes for proper burial. Tell him you want the same quality of water, housing and education for Indigenous people.
Demand of all levels of government (including our municipal government) that they implement UNDRIP – the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – adopted in 2007 – and the Calls to Action of the TRC.
If you are a member of a church that ran these schools, pressure them to release records of the children so they can be identified.
Reconciliation is a long, ongoing process. It’s messy and uncomfortable. We are bound to make mistakes, but we must keep going. It’s up to us to acknowledge our dark history and our dark present so the future will be brighter for everyone.
May the words of Chief Robert Joseph, hereditary chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation, motivate you as they have motivated me: “Little ones, we see you, we feel you.” You have “triggered us to think differently about who we are as Canadians, as human beings.” You “will help to transform this country.” You “are giving us an opportunity to change.”
For immediate assistance to those who may need it, the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.
June 2021 project: a two-minute video of my poem about finding a mate for a 150 year-old Chestnut Tree in Davies Orchard on Bowen Island:
On June 21st, 2020, as part of my Knowing Our Place reconciliation initiative, and in collaboration with the Bowen Island Library and the Bowen Island Arts Council, a sign with the Squamish Nation name for the island, Nexwlélexwm, was unveiled in Snug Cove. Here is a short documentary on the meaning of the event, which includes highlights of the sign blessing ceremony.
Brand New Book and Book Tour
I am thrilled to announce my new book:
Whale in the Door: A Community Unites to Protect BC’s Howe Sound
Pauline Le Bel, a resident of Howe Sound, embarks on a journey of discovery to find out what is special about the Sound, its wild nature and its people, to witness the cultural and spiritual revivals taking place. Her research, interviews, and travels compel her to abandon antiquated ideas about wilderness and community, and to arrive at a new appreciation for the genius of her home.
“Thanks for thinking of using our legend and my words to put it into a modern context.”—Chris Lewis, Councillor & Spokesperson, Squamish Nation
“This is a story that was begging to be told, and Le Bel tells it in a unique voice that ranges from mystical through scientific to activist.”—Dr. Julie Gardner, Adjunct Professor in the School of Community and Regional Planning at UBC
“I loved it! It is inspirational. I’ve learned so much.” — Robert J Balantyne, Chair, Board of Directors, BC Spaces for Nature
Launches, readings, workshops and signings:
January 26, February 16 , Knowing Our Place Book Club, Bowen Island
February 24, Galiano Literary Festival https://galianoliteraryfestival.wordpress.com/2019-galiano-literary-festival-schedule/
March 1, Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, screening Sound Water, a documentary about Howe Sound in which I am featured. https://vimff.org/film/sound-water
March 3, Knowing Our Place Book Club, Bowen Island
April 12, Whale in the Door Reading, Salt Spring Island Library
April 15, Whale in the Door Reading, Galiano Island Library
May 5, Workshop, Creative Non-Fiction Collective Conference, University of Victoria, Toronto: Building Bridges, Respecting Boundaries: Narrative and the Relationship Between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians
June 13, Reading Whistler Public Library
June 21, Knowing Our Place celebrating National Aboriginal Day, Bowen Island
October 1st, Gallery at Artisan Square , Bowen Island 3-5 pm, Chris Corrigan,host
October 24, Sunshine Coast Arts Centre, Sechelt, 7 pm, Ric Careless, host
October 26, North Vancouver Museum and Archives, 5-7 pm
November 1, Gabriola Island Library, 1-3 pm
November 3, Bolen Books, Victoria, 7-8:30 pm, Mark Leiren-Young, host
November 9, Co-op Bookstore, 1391 Commercial Drive, Vancouver
A New Photo:
My friend, Virginia, book designer and photographer, brought me outdoors for a photo shoot. Here is my favourite:
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN 2017
WHAT’S HAPENING IN 2016
Writing, writing and more writing….
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN 2015
Becoming Intimate with the Earth workshop, Bowen Island 10 am – 4 pm,
Information and Registration: http://bowenislandyoga.com/workshops-and-events/
I will be reading from my book, Becoming Intimate with the Earth, as part of the Creative Non Fiction Collective Conference in Victoria at the Bard and Banker at 3 PM
I will be reading from my book, Becoming Intimate with the Earth, at the West Vancouver Library, 7 – 8:30 PM Admission Free
TELLING A NEW STORY FOR OUR UNCERTAIN TIMES – Vancouver Workshop
10 am – 4 pm, VanDusen Garden, Information and Registration: www.earthliteracies.org
TELLING A NEW STORY FOR OUR UNCERTAIN TIMES – Victoria Workshop
10 am – 4 pm, Friends House, Information and Registration: www.earthliteracies.org
June 4 – 7 Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization
I will be a presenter at this conference in California
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2014
Becoming Intimate with the Earth workshop
Imagine spending a day at the exquisite VanDusen Garden, to immerse yourself in Earth’s beauty and generosity, and to experience how you are embraced by, and embedded in, the natural world. Pauline Le Bel’s workshop, Becoming Intimate with the Earth, invites you to do just that. With wisdom, song, and poetry you will be guided through the Ways of Intimacy described in her book of the same title: The Ways of Wonder, Emptiness, Imagining, Transformation, and Community. We will move through and out of the old stories that told us we were separate, independent, isolated beings, and breathe in the new stories – scientific, cultural, and economic – that illuminate our interdependence and responsibility to all life.
Date: Sat September 20, 2014 Time: 10:00 – 4:00 Cost: $65. Includes Garden admission fee. Please bring your lunch. Refreshments are included. Location: VanDusen Botanical Gardens, Cedar Room, 5251 Oak St.
November 1 – Victoria
Becoming Intimate with the Earth workshop
Sponsored by Earth Literacies
Description: We have a new sacred narrative for the world – a scientific cosmology that redefines the role of humans and offers hope in these challenging times. Pauline Le Bel, in her book, Becoming Intimate with the Earth, offers powerful ways to live inside that story. With wisdom, wit, and poetry, she will guide workshop participants through the Ways of Intimacy described in her book: Wonder, Emptiness, Imagining, Transformation, and Community. There will be many opportunities for group interaction as we look at the stories that have led to our isolation and separation from the natural world, and unwrap the new stories – scientific, cultural, economic, environmental – that demonstrate how intimately we are connected to everything in the Universe. The workshop includes storytelling, Intimacy Practices, and one or two of Pauline’s Earth-honouring songs
Date: Sat November 1, 2014 Time: 9:30 – 3:30 Cost: $65. Please bring your lunch. Refreshments included
Location: Friends Meeting House, 1831 Fern Street
April 10 – Vancouver – Pauline will read from her book, Becoming Intimate with the Earth, at Banyen Books. Free Event. Thursday, April 10 from 6:30 – 8:00 pm
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2013
January – March – Pauline will complete the final draft of her book, Becoming Intimate with the Earth, to be published later this year by Collins Foundation Press. (more info about book launch to come)
February 10 – 3 PM – Pauline will sing with a valentine flavour at the Bowen Court Open House, with guitarist, Teun Schut, and wild cellist, Corbin Keep.
March 8 – 7 PM – Telling a Better Story – Pauline is joined by biologist, Paul Fast, for an interactive presentation that takes the audience on a fascinating evolutionary journey. Through poetry, song, and story they present the scientific creation story of the birth and evolution of the Universe, a story that offers us a bigger picture of who we are and why we are here. This will be followed by a Storytelling workshop. The Gallery at Artisan Square, Bowen Island. Admission by donation. All proceeds to the David Suzuki Foundation.
September 27 – 7 PM – Literary Café – Pauline will join other local writers to read her poems and sing a song or two. At the Gallery at Artisan Square. Admission by donation.
October 15 – Publishing date for Pauline’s new book, Becoming Intimate with the Earth.
October 27 – 1:30 – 3:30 PM – Becoming Intimate with the Earth book launch. Pauline will be reading from her new book published by Collins Foundation Press. At The Left Bank Bistro on Bowen Island. Music. Refreshments served. All welcome. A great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
December 21 – 7 PM – Winter Solstice Concert with Pauline and her many musical friends. Cates Hill Chapel. (more info to come)
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2012
|January 28 – An evening in Paris– Pauline is featured in this French Cabaret, a fundraiser for Island Pacific School. Tix $35 at IPS and PhoenixMarch – Science, Wisdom and the Future – Pauline’s chapter, “Sing Two Songs and Call Me in the Morning” on the science of music is included in this book, published by Collins Foundation Press. www.collinsfoundationpress.com/April 3 – Elder College, Capilano University – Telling a Better Story – Pauline is joined by biologist, Paul Fast, for an hour-long interactive presentation that takes the audience on a fascinating evolutionary journey. Through poetry, song, and story they tell the scientific creation story of the birth and evolution of the Universe, a story that offers us a deeper understanding of the role of humans, inspires respect for the natural world, and motivates us to take action so that future generations may thrive on a flourishing Earth. The presentation is part of a six-part series, Issues & Ideas, sponsored by the David Suzuki Elders. For information and to register: www.capilanou.ca/ce/eldercollege/north-shore-ec/Tuesdays/April 7 – 5:00 pm – Interview with David Essel – Pauline, a contributing author in the book, “Science, Wisdom and the Future” will be interviewed about the science of song. How do lyrics and music move us emotionally, intellectually and inspire us to create a new, dynamic life? How can we create the life we desire through the use of music and song? David Essel ALIVE! Transformational Talk Radio on XM Satellite 168 is also Streaming Live Online (no subscription needed) at www.talkdavid.com.May – December – Pauline will be working on her book, Becoming Intimate With The Earth to be published in spring 2013 by Collins Foundation Press. Check back later for more details.December 21 – Pauline will perform her Song for the Winter Solstice and read from her novel, The Song Spinner at a fundraiser for the Bowen Island Community Hall. Cates Chapel.WHAT HAPPENED IN 2011
January 26- March 2 – 7:30 – 9:00 pm. Vocal Playshop – Pauline will be giving a series of 6 vocal classes for all levels of singers. The classes focus on playful sound making, range, resonance and interpretation in a non-traditional way to increase confidence and expressiveness no matter what genre of music. Maximum 10. Beginners welcome. Location: Bowen Court Hall 1070 Miller Rd. For information and to register, email:email@example.com.
February/March – Pauline is in the studio recording her amusing songs for her 5th CD, DEEP FUN – Songs about Science, Food and Sex. She is accompanied by cellist, Corbin Keep; guitarist, Teun Schut; and bassist Susanna Braund, with Pauline on keyboards. The CD will be available in May
May/June – Pauline is planning a concert tour of Vancouver/Vancouver Island/Gulf Islands to promote her new CD. She will also be offering vocal playshops. Visit her blog for more information paulinelebel.wordpress.com/.
May 5 – Vocal Playshop – for singers at all levels. Beginners welcome. 7-10 p.m. The Gallery at Artisan Square, Bowen Island. Adults – $35; Seniors – $30. For information and to register email: firstname.lastname@example.org
May 7 – Deep Fun Concert – Pauline performs her amusing songs about science, food and sex at The Gallery at Artisan Square, Bowen Island. For information and reservations email: email@example.com
May 12 – Deep Fun – Pauline will perform her amusing songs about science, food and sex at the Silk Purse in West Vancouver. 10:30 a.m. For information and reservation: www.silkpurse.ca
May 20 – Deep Fun Concert – Salt Spring Island. Please contact Samantha Sanderson firstname.lastname@example.org
June 15 – Deep Fun Concert – Courtenay, BC. Please contact Nancy Morrison email@example.com
June 25 – Vocal playshop at “Human Be Herd” – an Equine Facilitated Personal Development workshop at Gavin Lake Forestry Centre, near Williams Lake BC. For more information, check the website: www.humanbeherd.com or email Thea Fast at firstname.lastname@example.org.
July 9 – Write on Bowen! Gala Pauline will read from her book of short stories, I Sang for My Father: a Memoir. Cates Hill Chapel. 7:30 p.m. Sponsored by the Bowen Island Arts Council. For tickets and more information: email@example.com.
October 2 – Whidbey Island. Unitarian Universalist Church Pauline will present her musical poetic telling of the scientific creation myth with the congregation making the sounds of the Universe.
October 18 – Vocal Gym. Pauline’s popular vocal class for all levels of singers. The Gallery on Bowen Island 7-9 pm. For information: firstname.lastname@example.org
November 15 – Breath, Sound and Movement – for singers and non-singers. The Gallery on Bowen Island 7-9 pm. For information: email@example.com
November 24 – Suzuki Elders Forum. Pauline will open and close the forum with song. Vancouver Public Library – Central Branch