Book tour coming up and I’ll be re-visiting both Victoria, B.C. on Vancouver Island and the Toronto Islands (see last posting). I lived 14 – 15 years in Canada, the entire time on one or the other of these two islands. They’re beautiful and seductive places… Poets Sean Virgo and Susan Musgrave were among the first people I met in Victoria (I arrived in 1969 to teach at UVic). Born and raised in Chicago, I had no idea what “Lotus Land” meant… but that’s how they described Victoria. Turned out they were right. And it was the 1970s and I partook, consuming… lotus to the left of me, lotus to the right… lotus, lotus all around.
Term comes from the land of the lotus eaters in The Odyssey, where people ate lotus flowers and ‘A single taste of this native fruit made my soldiers forget everything they had ever known; where they were from, where they were going, everything.’ A contributor to the online Urban Dictionary writes, ‘It is in reference to Vancouver’s laid back attitude and prominent drug culture (especially the large scale use and acceptance of marijuana).’
“Hey, I’m going to Lotus Land.”
I’m old and uncool… but… just writing this puts me back in the time.
Then, when you want to leave, that’s when the fun begins. I’d come to the University of Victoria to give a 45-minute poetry reading. Also to visit and teach a couple classes. The 45-minute reading turned into a job offer, a good job offer. I accepted. Lots of money, for me anyway. Plus moving expenses. I arrived with the idea of staying one academic year. Then got re-hired and stayed another year. Then got promoted to Assistant Professor and hired to stay two more years. Bought a house on Saint David Street. My daughter was born.
Ten years after the 45 minute reading I was still there. Along the way the Department decided my poetry was incomprehensible and, further, that my teaching “controversial.” They objected to my holding classes at my home. Left the University. Started building the publishing house, Soft Press (“The spirit in man is soft. It can go anywhere.” It was William Stafford who gave us the name for the press and we, in turn, published his book, In the Clock of Reason.
Then, in 1979, on to another Island. An archipelago. The Toronto Islands. A sometimes sub-zero lotus land. Surrounded by water. Above high tide, well, not always. Isolated from other significant land masses. Yes. The Toronto Islands met the definition. And, like Vancouver Island, very very hard to leave once you got there. Islands. Proceed with caution.