Post Your Opinion
A Review of: Being Here
by Ernest Hekkanen

There is poetry which transports one to sublime heights and then there is poetry which dumps one in an abyss of despair, and Being Here by Robert Meyer definitely belongs to the latter category.
In the tradition of Cline's Voyage to the End of the Night, Bukowski's Confessions of a Man Insane Enough to Live with Beasts, or, more recently, Bruce Serafin's Colin's Big Thing, Being Here is an unremitting, caffeine stare into the face of destitution at "Main and Hastings", the title of the second poem, where "the sidewalk deals/cards out to the game."
The title poem of the collection is a line in length and serves as the poet's motto, as well as a riddle he tries to unravel, "Who'd expect." Robert Meyer, who purports to have been an English teacher and a Lecturer in English Language and Literature at colleges and universities, now finds himself in what has been described as "the worst third-world slum in North-America." Who'd expect it, indeed.
How has Meyer come to be here? Perhaps the poem "Elegy" offers us a clue; it describes a collision between a child crossing Alma Street and a city dump truck that has gone through a red light.

Flat as a pancake
her yellow raincoat blue rubber boots
her red hat her red hat

I lay myself down
for the rest of my life
this child this child
no longer playing dead

Alma Street is on the Westside of town, in the upwardly mobile UBC area of Vancouver, a continent away from skid row. Lost innocence is the subtext of Being Here. A poem called "Skid Row" follows upon the heels of "Elegy" and skid row, as we come to learn, is "a concentration camp though as far/as I'm concerned."
Being Here isn't eloquent, unless we rework the meaning of the word eloquent.' It is a harsh slap in the face by a concrete sidewalk, the jagged cut of a broken beer bottle to middle-class conscience. Relief aid misses this community, and misses it big time, but "Hollywood North" doesn't. It comes "north to the ghetto/with its quaint buildings from the previous century" But all that can be hoped for by locals "is to be an extra."
But, in the Downtown Eastside, everyone is an extra.

Moored to no one
they flicker in the light
on and off like beacons
close to the poverties of their positions
like the sheets of a cold bed
far from the regions of hope
("The Icebergs")

I happen to know that "Robert Meyer" is the pseudonym of a poet with great lyric gifts, a poet who wishes to maintain his anonymity because he still has "to walk the streets of [his] neighborhood." I'm not sure how he came to reside in the Main and Hastings community, but I do know that "the horizon run[s] like a thread/with its needle/through the whites of [his] eyes." ("The Icebergs")
Reading a man in middle-age who finds himself contemplating the fall' which has led to his current life circumstances, but who nevertheless clings to his dignity and humanity, is a little bit like watching "Little hands reaching for the umbilical cord/trying to fly a placenta like a kite." ("Gallery Gachet") Just the same, the poet, aka Robert Meyer, keeps "calling/to let the classically dead know/I'm still here under the fallen pine needles." ("The Calling")
Being Here called on me like a painful twinge where once I was deeply wounded. It arrived in the mail on January 19, 2005, with the explanatory note: "Some time ago you expressed some interest in the book I had been writing about the Downtown Eastside."
I can't recall whether I actually expressed such an interest. No matter. Being Here took me firmly back to the late '60s, when I arrived in Canada as a draft dodger and took up residence on the Lower Eastside and again, in my late thirties, when I became a homeless person for three years. This short collection of poems reminded me, and humbled me.

Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us