Featured Poet: Carol Shillibeer
Carol Shillibeer lives in the Salishan territories, or as it is better known, the west coast of what is now Canada. She appears a white woman, but with Interior Salish family. She is an atheist, but with pagan and Jewish heritage. A mixed bag, her wider family, both European and North American, remains quite phenotypically diverse.
Mobility and learning have been her life’s raison d’être, but in the last 15 years, literary, and more recently visual art, have taken over from mobility, providing the fundamental generatrix to the things she wishes to learn. An anthropologist by training and a systemic thinker by choice, her poetry and art reflect these multiple influences. For example, she publishes under many names. She has 2 books out, neither under Shillibeer. She has a third coming out in the fall of 2016 that won’t have an authorial name at all. She has Pushcart and Best of Net nominations. She has been interviewed. She edits other people’s work. All under a variety of names.
Naming, after all, is an act of power, and any member of any marginalized community will recognize that naming has wide social origins and impacts. Despite our love affair with celebrity culture and the idea that we are individuals, we actually live in webs of interdependence. There are no radical individualists, no matter how self-deluded or famous, who don’t need their shirts washed, their food grown, their medicines compounded, their books written, edited, printed, stored, read, and discussed. We are social animals; we live as groups. That’s the core truth her Salish relatives and education made clear. Her heteronyms keep her working for the art and not for the name, for the family as a whole, and not for the “me”.
And yet, we are social animals; we want to share. So artists publish and make webpages. Shillibeer’s poems, prose, photos and visual art exemplify her human (and therefore miscegenated) nature and as a consequence they appear to vary wildly in style and subject and are often considered “difficult.” In a time of fear-based morality and anti-intellectualism, the twin charges of elitism and inaccessibility seem the white feather of our cultural wars. She’s been feathered more than once. But onward: this here human just makes a practice of saying yes to the multiplicity of existence, sometimes using big-assed words, and sometimes, she rants and swears like a mutherfucker, then calls it a poem.
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Brutal as a tombstone1
in the stone faces of various regions’ petroglyphs;
this daughter’s origins, their lithic character,
her nature crystallizes in the shifting storms of 17922.
The English and mobile Jews, Romany women casting river stones,
the Interior Salish in the final years of their salmon-river summer-homes,
—from these I rise stubbornly, still undefined.
and the as-yet-undiscovered, all of them with their blades
wings, memorial dates and 18th century graffiti marking
was wet, but the stones remained hard, their carved faces,
in meadows, on river banks, crossroads and tradeways,
impressing on time and matter, from England to Sp’q’n’i
dreams & desires, the dead5 and yet-to-be-living.
But this is all nothing, the underbelly of history.
What matters: the sea otter skins
were still heaving upon ships running fast to China,
horses had finally reached the last of the tribes,
with iron kettles, knives;
the salmonberry bloomed
a little later than it does today.
This is what matters.
This daughter, her origins 2226
cradling the small stone
years into their beginning, 7
, the sharp knife8
by the moment sun-napping
amongst the Asteraceae9 of Useless Bay.
– Origins first published by Typehouse Literary Magazine, Issue 3, September 2014
1 The quotes in italics are from Rosario Castellanos.
2 In May of 1792 George Vancouver’s ship “Discovery” gets laid on its side by low tide, and in his spinning ire, he
names the place Useless Bay.
3 John Shillibeer, born this year, would later sail on the HMS Briton, and as an artist would draw Patuki with his
war club. They would, together, undergo a ritual name exchange.
4 By the end of berry season, Vancouver visited the Tsa Kwa Luten, a Salish group living on a cliff above Cape
Mudge. They got along famously, although the northern neighbors, the Lekwiltok, had been readying their new
guns and their old war canoes. The Tsa Kwa Luten were shortly to receive a visit, and as a result, move south.
5 The French introduced the guillotine to its first use. It was so successful that its last use wasn’t until 1977.
6 The aunties would not have said that the number sequence 2-2-2 meant I was on the right track. If they’d talked
about it all, and not just given the twitch-lip stare, they’d have talked about that being lots of responsibility.
7 Origins: latest incarnation, ~60 million years ago
8 Origins: blade, ore smelted before the year of my birth (how long is still unknown); the antler (discarded) which
became the handle, mule deer, birth and death dates unknown.
9 Specifically, Symphyotrichum chilense (Nees) G.L. Nesom var. chilense aka aster chilensis aka Pacific aster.
Origins: evolution of Asteracacea family 42-36 million years ago. Growth form: rhizomatous. Lifespan: