Desire Path

My dad loves to remind me that I once described Langley, where I grew up and where my parents still live, as “the place where romance goes to die.” Needless to say, I am not a fan of the suburbs. As a poet, I love writing about place, but these places are always cities. I have one poem about my hometown and it reads more like an instruction manual: “leave suburb / make new home.”

So I came to Taryn Hubbard’s debut poetry book Desire Path published by Talonbooks in 2020 with curiosity, aware that it’s about growing up in Surrey, BC, and I was impressed. A whole book devoted to the suburbs—that’s commitment. I couldn’t do that for Langley. I kept looking for the speaker’s attitude towards the suburbs, towards this awkward adolescent place rapidly changing from rural to urban, and it wasn’t obvious. Sometimes she felt critical, other times accepting, and in this evocative description from “In the Afternoon,” mournful:

Commuter hearts
start like the engines of diesel
trucks when field across
station, free for all-day parking
gets dug up.

Hubbard pays attention to Surrey. Even the gas stations, parking lots, and fast-food joints—things that don’t often make it into my poetry. I once had a writing teacher say that “parking lot” isn’t a very poetic phrase to put in a poem so Hubbard’s book feels like a middle finger to that teacher. Yes, she can write “parking lot” in a poem and do it well. She can write an introductory poem (“Heirloom”) that begins, “I was born across from the first / McDonald’s in Canada” and hook me immediately. Hubbard can use a ubiquitous landmark to anchor her self and her work.

Over the past couple decades, attention has shifted from major metropolises like Vancouver and turned towards outlying cities growing up in their shadows like a younger sibling. After Hubbard’s debut, there can be no talk of a body of literature about Surrey (from a growing coterie that includes Leona Gom, Kevin Spenst, Veeno Dewan, Phinder Dulai, Fauzia Rafique, Heidi Greco, Renée Sarojini Saklikar) without mentioning Desire Path.

Construction near City Centre Library, Surrey, in 2011. Photo by Charlene Kwiatkowski

Hubbard summarizes the plight of the suburb in her poem “Wayfinding”:

it’s hard to find
the idea of here
and there
from a form
that grew only
with the idea of
car & home

For this reason, the “here” of Surrey could be the “there” of Oshawa, for the nature of suburbs is wash, rinse, repeat, something echoed in the structure of Hubbard’s collection that has four repeating poems aptly named “Repeat (I) (II) (III) (IV).” The poet has a hard task cut out for herself then in writing a whole poetry book about the suburbs and maintaining the reader’s interest. In “Markers,” she writes:

“The streets are empty, the houses are far apart including the empty lots saved for a rainy day when it will be more advantageous to redevelop them into something with suburban density, which is code for a strip of three-story townhouses cut apart like pieces of bread.”

Fortunately, Hubbard largely avoids the suburban cookie cutter (or shall I say bread cutter?) fate by varying her poetic forms. She scatters prose poems between free verse poems while also including a fifteen-page poem of fragments called “Attempts” near the end, about being pregnant during wildfire season. The poems that are most successful in standing out from the rest are ones where the speaker removes her distance glasses and gives us more personal details linking her to this no-where/every-where. For this reason, “Heirloom,” “Weighted Keys,” “Dear 203B,” “Shadeless,” “Boarded-Up Strip Mall Church,” and “Little Holubtsi” are my favourites. 

Overall, Desire Path is a tight collection that boldly asserts a place like Surrey is worth paying attention to, not in spite of, but because of its contradictions; its tension between past and future, rural and urban; its identity crisis; its complicated role in shaping a speaker from here to there, then to now, child to mother.

There is something to be said for really knowing a place, for taking the time to pay attention to it. It’s a form of love. This love is perhaps most evident in “Flagpole” where Hubbard begins: “One summer I walk the same path each day with the idea of creating a folded corner on a very specific patch of grass.”

I dog-eared a few poems in this book, folding back the corners of the pages like she folded the grassy path that led us here.

Views from the Southbank I

Hi everyone, just wanted to say a (very) belated Happy New Years! With my engagement and then Christmas and then the beginning of wedding planning, let’s just say things have been more than a little crazy.

Unfortunately this blog has been a little dormant as a result. But hopefully for not much longer!

Low Clouds by Nicoletta Baumeister.

Low Clouds by Nicoletta Baumeister.

Tis the season for a lot of new art exhibits. Since I now work at the Surrey Art Gallery and our big opening reception for 3 exhibits is tonight, I thought I’d say a little about it and plug it for all you last-minute planners who may even want to check it out!

As You Were by Micah Lexier. Photo by artist.

Installation of Micah Lexier’s A Project for Surrey. Photo by the artist.

It’s the Gallery’s 40th anniversary this year, and in celebration of that, the curator has chosen exhibits that focus on Surrey and its surrounding area. Vancouver art gets a lot of attention as the new Mainstreeters: Taking Advantage, 1972-1982 exhibit that just launched at the Satellite Gallery indicates, but art from/about the suburbs isn’t always so hot.

But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be! 25 artists from across Surrey, Langley, Delta, and Vancouver are represented in Views from the Southbank I: Histories, Memories, Myths – the first of a series of 3 installations that will run throughout the year. Surrey has the reputation of being a very young & rapidly-growing city with tons of new development, especially in the City Centre, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have deep history.

Payal 128th by Ravi Gill.

Payal 128th by Ravi Gill.

Sean Alward, Nicoletta Baumeister, and Polly Gibbons are a few of the artists who explore the deep roots of place, and the connections with memory, perception, and identity – collective and individual.

Surrey Urban Sprawl by Roxanne Charles.

Surrey Urban Sprawl by Roxanne Charles.

There is an astonishing variety of art mediums packed in to the Gallery’s space, from Roxanne Charles’ new monumental wall relief “Surrey Urban Sprawl” that weaves together cedar bark, construction tape, copper, brass, wire, polyethylene, vinyl siding, nylon, and synthetic fiber to Brian Howell’s large photograph of a conveyor system at the Kennedy Heights Printing Plant in Surrey (now shut down) where the Vancouver Sun and the Province used to publish their newspapers. And then there are large paintings by White Rock artist Jim Adams in the manner of Edward Hopper, featuring dramatic lighting, stormy skies, and a look into neighbours’ lives through their windows that reminded me of a scene in The Great Gatsby.

Here are some before & after shots. As you can see, there is literally art everywhere, from floor to ceiling!





The other 2 shows you can see/listen to are:

The opening reception goes from 7:30-9:30 pm on Saturday, Jan 17 with formal remarks at 7:45 pm. If you’re not able to make it out tonight, it runs until mid-March so make sure you see it before it comes down!