Geomantic riposte: 'From the Poplars'

Cecily Nicholson is the administrator of Gallery Gachet and has worked with women of the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood of Vancouver, BC since 2000. Her work, both creative and social, engages conditions of displacement, class, and gender violence. Nicholson is the author of Triage and From the Poplars, and is a contributor to Anamnesia: UnforgettingIn a Jacket2 interview with Jules Boykoff, Nicholson spoke about her first book Triage:

I realize that the book has become a tangible point of entry for me to level critique, roundly, that includes myself.  I think that my experiences and mobility are pretty limited. For the text to be grounded it necessarily contains my everyday life, including paid work and organizing.  I prefer poetry that documents, witnesses, reveals structure, talks back and raises questions in ways that are not closed or irrelevant to my friends, family, allies. I’ve learned to reference cultural production with a specific interest in its process and public, and not simply the object/outcome. I relate best to work being produced under hard conditions and in active solidarity with directly impacted communities. If my poetry is relevant to the work of organizing then that’s a fortunate convergence. 

Nicholson’s latest book From the Poplars, traces multiple layers of historical memory, the site-specific poetic sediment on an uninhabited island in New Westminster, BC, an unmarked, twenty-seven and a half acres of land held as government property that is known as Poplar Island. The traditional territory of the Qayqayt First Nation, it was later to be quarantine for indigenous smallpox victims, and then clear-cut for shipbuilding during the First World War. Reminiscent, at least in spirit if not form, of Gary Snyder's Turtle Island, what is most unique and refreshing about Nicholson’s book is the amount of lyrical complexity she maintains throughout her activist solidarity, in which her meticulous reportage allows language itself to reveal the cruel ironies and paradoxes of our place in the world, even at a place we pass every day in transit without ever really seeing it.

From the Poplars by Cecily Nicholson (Talonbooks, 2014, Page 26)


sweat to wools loading cargo

cannery crates of sturgeon and roe


packing it in at the company’s dock

garden at homes


moorage, a snag in the water

before plastic


           bridges, small-dot passages

centre-span arch under construction


devastated, may day, temporary stores

after the fire




pictured at the centre of the image: the Onward


Geomantic Riposte:  Company Romance*


with all the means in his power so that the C_’s enter-

prises  should not fail the C_ exhorted them to devote

themselves to activities more profitable than such fruit-

less war parties      the C_ found it necessary for fear of

eventual failure the C_ was preoccupied with Canadian

penetration did the C_ succeed in imposing its tutelage

over those territories        the double plan that resulted

in the C_’s creation      the C_ was concerned       the C_

did not contemplate remaining entirely immobile     in

this fragmentation of [the C_’s] forces  the C_’s officers

refused to believe in the existence of horses     the C_’s

adversaries the C_ was to escape for a while       the C_

itself hampered     the C_ resumed possession    the C_

gradually turned away forbidden access to the C_’s the

C_ set out to stabilize its positions in the interior     the

C_’s tardy entry that in size equalled the C_’s enterprises

were inspired by the idea of Protestant crusade     the C_

in fact never completely overcame its feeling of mistrust

toward the native peoples contested  openly the legality

of the charter held by the C_ and the right the C_ invoked

to sole occupation of the territories the C_ does not seem

to have taken account of difficulties service in the interior



* courtesy of The Métis in the Canadian West, Volume I

by Marcel Giraud (translated by George Woodcock)