The Salmon’s Leap

Invited by Nancy Lange to write a piece for Eau Secours! a water aid charity in Quebec, about Les Trois Soeurs, or the Three Sisters – the York, Dartmouth and St-Jean rivers in Gaspé, running from the Chic-Choc Mountains to the Baie des Chaleurs, famous for their salmon.

I don’t know much about rivers, in all honesty. I have never lived so far inland as I do now. The smells I recognise most on the air are of salt and seaweed and shifting winds. Not this running silt, this mineral smell of bulrushes and murky water. Not these culverts, streams, brooks and creeks, watercourses and tributaries.


But salmon? I know a little of salmon. The Celts all have their stories of salmon. Wales has the giant salmon of Lyn Llyw – which set against the story I’m about to tell you here, provided the most well-natured and vociferous argument I’ve ever had about the provenance of mythology outside a doomed railway pub on a rainy night in Cardiff. Glasgow City bears two salmon on its coat of arms. And in Ireland, we have the greatest legend of them all (yes, Iestyn, I’m still claiming it), the legend of Fionn, later Fionn mac Cumhaill, leader of the Fianna, the greatest warrior of them all, and his encounter with An Bradan Feasa, or Bradan an Eolais, or the Salmon of Wisdom, if you prefer.

What is a legend but a story that has fought its way upstream to the source of us all? A story that might just tell us who are, collectively. The stories that we tell. The stories that return as the salmon so, as the salmon return to remind us that stories must return to their source, to born again, and carried out to the world anew.

Did you know that the word salmon comes from the Latin salire – ‘to leap’. The salmon’s leap, I have heard, is a mighty thing to behold. The most charismatic of fish, all determination and desperation and fidelity to the land. Out to the world and back again, like the rainfall to the mountains to the rivers to the sea.


We do have our rivers in Ireland. The Lagan and the Foyle, the Bush, the Blackwater. The Quoile and the Shimna. The Six Mile Water, the Kells, the Bann. Along the banks of the last grew nine hazel trees. Nine trees, with nine nuts on each, with all the knowledge of the world in them. That grew and fell and grew again. All the knowledge of world, cycling through.

This then becomes a story of the druid poet Finegas, who lived along the River Bann with one endeavour in his mind. To be the first to catch and cook and eat of the Salmon of Knowledge, who had spent its centuries eating the hazelnuts from the trees along the Bann, and held in its flesh and its juices all that wisdom. And for seven whole years, Finegas tried to catch that fish. Oh, he tried.

The lifespan of the clever, desperate salmon. Born as fry in fresh sweet river, swept down the watercourse to become smolts in the salt and tumble of the sea, and then striking out to the deep water alone. So far, so much with gravity and with currents. But then – but then. Clever loyal fish. Some silent impulse calls, and they must go back home, up the course of the same river. The salmon leap and the salmon fly, desperate crash of bodies against current and water, all spun muscle and flickering rainbow oil. And they spawn and they breed as the cycle renews against the flow of the river water, and eggs hatch, and the cycle continues.

And the sweet oil of the effort is the trick. Finegas, our Druid poet, so hungering for salmon. And after all that work of finally – finally! – catching the famous, fabled fish – he went to lie down. To leave the last job, the menial task of the gutting, the preparing, the roasting, to his apprentice Fionn. The boy Fionn. And as the huge fish lay crackling on the fire, a blister first formed on the charring silver skin, and then broke, and the hot oil of the fish, the oil of the effort that slips around the world, spat out and burnt the thumb of the boy – and he put his finger into his mouth to suck it.

And so it was Fionn, the boy, the lowly apprentice, the cook, who became the first to taste of the Salmon of Wisdom, not Finegas, the elevated Druid poet. And so it was Fionn who gained all the wisdom and the knowledge of the world. By chance? By fate? By grace of the hard work often overlooked and left behind? Who knows.

And so the cycle renewed, and the child became the leader, and the water flowed its course, from source to sea, and back again. And so it goes, and goes again, and goes.




‘You could never declare love like that in English.’

It’s nearly three full months since I landed in Montreal. For good, I think. I hope. There hasn’t been a lot of new writing yet, just scraps. But a lot of reading, and a lot of trying to listen, and trying to work a country out. More so than I probably ever did in Scotland, or England, or Northern Ireland, for that matter. It takes time. Not to be too quick to judge. Particularly when trying to live in French, not just as a matter of courtesy but as a matter of culture. 

And this is in English. But it’s more of a letter home. Whereever that continues not to be.

Some of the reading, in the meantime, from Montrealler Heather O’Neill’s ‘The Girl Who Was Saturday Night’ (2014). Who probably knows more.



‘I took out a pen to jot down some notes. Why did Quebec want to separate this time? We were the original descendants of the losers of the war between England and France for Canada. We had been shit upon for generations. But we were proud and we had finally built our own culture in the sixties. We became urbanized, and in apartments we sat up late reading philosophy books. We got rid of the church, but we stuck to our nationalism. Many of us wanted to leave Canada.

In 1980, after the loss of the first referendum, our premier Rene Levesque had famously said ‘A la prochaine fois‘. Then Quebec didn’t sign the new constitution that was drafted in 1981. Rene Levesque had the Quebec flag flown at half mast.

Finally, a few years ago, Quebec made some propositions for constitutional amendments. We wanted it in writing that we were distinct, that there was something weird and special about us. Since we didn’t have our own country, at least we could have some sort of other protection. But Canada said no. They scoffed. We had asked for a consolation prize and they had laughed in our faces.

If they didn’t think we were going to react badly, they were mistaken. We were going to react badly…We were leaving this damn country that went around calling itself the greatest country in the world.

We would go off on our own. We just wanted to speak French in peace. We wanted to whisper dirty things to our loved ones in French. There was a certain kind of love that could only be expressed in this way.

There was no difference between the expression I like you and I love you in French. You could never declare love like that in English.

We loved in a self-destructive, over-the-top way. A way that was popular in sixties experimental theatre and certain Shakespeare plays. We loved like Napoleonic soliders in Russia, penning beautiful letters while seated on the corpses of our dead horses. We were like drunk detectives who carried around tiny notebooks full of clues and fell for our suspects. We were crazy about the objects of our affection the way that ex-criminals in Pentecostal churches were crazy about Jesus. We went after people who didn’t know we existed, like Captain Ahab did. We loved awkwardly and hopelessly, like a wolf ringing a doorbell while wearing a sheepskin coat that is way too small for him.

They didn’t want to hear these words from a young, silly girl, pregnant with her first child. They wanted to hear it from a man with a huge nose and wild hair. Who tossed women aside and went out into the fray. Everybody wanted Cyrano to show his ugly face and scream his beautiful words. We all knew what a revolutionary looked like, the same way that we knew what a lover was supposed to look like.’


‘Where does a mythology come from? Who are the mythological figures in Quebec culture? They were brand new. Whereas the Greeks had Zeus and Athena, we had people who still lived in Verdun. They had a lot to bear on their shoulders. They had to invent the whole world themselves. They were supposed to have supernatural powers and achieve sainthood. When really they just found themselves peering into the mirror above the bathroom sink, looking to see how they were aging. Sitting in the bathtub, smoking a cigarette, terrified of death like the rest of us.’

Heather O’Neill, ‘The Girl Who Was Saturday Night’ (2014)


Janis, Patti, Viv, Bjork, Carrie & Amanda

(*Sylvia, Frida, Tracey Emin, Georgia O’Keefe, Sinead Morrissey, Marina Carr, Doris Lessing, Simone de Beauvoir, Carson McCullers, Joan Didion, Angela Carter, Charlotte Bronte, Anneliese Mackintosh, Kay Ryan, Elizabeth Bishop, Naomi Shihab Nye, Rachel Amey. Iris Murdoch. )

(learning to be a woman)


Carrie Browstein, ‘Hunger Makes Me  A Modern Girl’ (2015)

‘I had very little desire to be present, only to be presentational or to pretend.’

‘My story starts with being a fan. And to be a fan is to know that loving trumps being beloved…to be fan is still to be a participant, and to participate is to grant yourself permission to immerse, to willingly, gladly, efface and subsume  yourself for the sake of the larger meaning but also to provide meaning…This is what it is to be a fan: curious, open, desiring for connection, to feel like art has chosen you, claimed you as its witness.

I always think about these moments when fans approach me, or write letters, or send messages on social media. I try to recall the sturdiness that comes from recognition…These are the ways fans maneuver through the world, with flimsy connections and strong hopes.’

‘Thus, I decided to retreat, to put the energy further into the performance. My persona would not be about artifice or flamboyancy, it would not be alien or otherworldly, it would be about kineticism, it would be about movement. Again, I returned to the notion that my salvation was to be in motion. I would be galvanic onstage, so that offstage I could try to figure out how to eventually live with a stillness, with myself.’

‘”Little Babies” is a song that sounds like it’s about the fans, and maybe it is. But later I realized that it was probably also about me, some confluence of Corin’s caretaking role toward both me and the audience, feeling taken for granted and misunderstood by both. The role of a woman onstage is often indistinct from her role offstage – pleasing, appeasing, striking some balance between larger-than-life and iconic with approachable, likable, and down-to-earth, the fans like gaping mouths, hungry for more of you.’

‘Musicians, especially those who are women, are often dogged by the assumption that they are singing from a personal perspective. Perhaps it is a carelessness on the audience’s part, or an entrenched cultural assumption that the female experience can merely encompass the known, the domestic, the ordinary. When a woman sings a nonpersonal narrative, listeners and watchers must acknowledge that she’s not performing as herself, and if she’s not performing as herself, then it’s not her who is wooing us, loving us. We don’t get to have her because we don’t know exactly who she is. An audience doesn’t want female distance, they want female openness and accessibility, familiarity that validates femaleness. Persona for a man is equated with power; persona for a woman makes her less of a woman, more distant and unknowable, and thus threatening. When men sing personal songs, they seem sensitive and evolved; when women sing personal songs, they are inviting and vulnerable, or worse, catty and tiresome. [catty??? bad language…]

‘We wanted to be a sonic call to action, anthemic, to either join in or get out, to be shaken from indifference – not only the listeners but ourselves.’

‘It was unnerving to venture back into a world where we might yet again have a label or indexer placed before the term ‘band’. We had spent years attempting to exist free of excess and arbitrary labels that were not descriptions of our music: female, indie, queer. Riot Grrrrl, post-Riot Grrrl music. Now here we were with the potentiality of being a ‘political’ band. But in the interim years we’d realized that denial is its own form of compliance and self erasure. Plus, it’s exhausting. We would go out on the road and play these songs and people could interpret them however the hell they wanted.’

‘certainly the affectlessness remains, the gutlessness…Entitlement is a precarious place from which to create or perform – it projects the idea that you have nothing to prove, nothing to claim, nothing to show but self satisfaction, a smug boredom….It’s an inverted dynamic, one that sets performers up to fail, but also gives them a false sense of having already arrived. I don’t understand how someone would not push, challenge, or at least be present, how anyone could get onstage and not give everything.’


I do not have my weapons here.

I do not have my weapons here.

Montreal, July 2016.


The men appraise here. Walking down the street. The first thing is that they catch your eye and – the stare. No catcalls. But a stare. And you can feel the eyes. This happens from park benches. From cars. They stop the cars to let me run past (I run here, I am trying to remind my body what it can do) and I can feel their eyes track me.

I talk about this with J. ‘It’s the village mentality. Everyone is checking each other out in the summer. Whose sister has had a baby, whose brother is dating someone new, where did they get that shirt, bag, apple?

‘But this isn’t everyone. It’s the men. It’s me. I’m not used to this.’

Well…yeah. People have also been covered up for seven, eight months of year, so when there is a little less clothing, they look. But they won’t say anything. You’re safe.’

‘I don’t feel safe. This is not safety, to me.’



The two jackasses in plaid shirts on the subway, Joliette station, Hochelaga. Stoned at 11am, passing a can of energy drink or bug juice or something. Stumbling. And loud, so loud. They’re anglo speakers, in a very French neighbourhood. I do not think I have noticed before how quiet the francophone speakers are. But these voices – or perhaps because I can understand them, and their crudeness, and their leering and staggering, grates like fingernails on a blackboard. My brain is shuddering.

My headphones are half in. I am slowly aware. Something something ‘SQUIRT! SQUIRT!…your fucking girlfriends, man…I wanna meet your fuckin’ girlfriends.’

In the subway car, I watch them (they are aware of this). A girl, a black girl gets on, white jeans. She stands in front of them. Something is said, a snickering, falling about. She flinches and moves to sit on the side of the carriage. It looks like she may have moved so they will no longer amuse themselves with comments about her ass.

Language is a colonial choice here. An imposition. An aggression. A claiming of space. And they are so loud and obnoxious and unnecessary.


I don’t have my weapons here. My words, in French, are stumbling, unsophisticated and more than anything, slow. It takes me seconds to process what is being said, seconds to understand, seconds to formulate a response. Which is often imperfect and so we start again.

My body, my body which I have relied upon to be strong, is oddly clumsy. As if I’m in a different gravity, one where I move too quick, too hard, constantly misjudge space. I’m bruised on my calves from walking into the hard corners of things, I spill water, wine, pickle juice constantly.

(I am not pregnant, before anyone gets any ideas).

I get lost, all the time. I am disorientated, can’t tell North from East, turn the wrong way up streets and constantly get distances wrong.

Then I have to ask directions. And the whole thing starts again.


In Edinburgh, I am fast and sure and strong on my feet. I wear hard black boots and black skinny jeans and dramatic coats and my hair is short. I know where I am going, and I know what to say when I get there. This doesn’t always make me the most sympathetic of humans. It lets me get things done. I enjoy being like this, most of the time.

I do not often – not never, but not often – feel like I have to fight for space there. I am a middle class white woman with a career profile that means I receive some professional recognition. I know what this means.

In Scotland, I had this idea that the claiming of space – aural, visual, physical, online space – did not have to an adversarial act. That somehow there was enough space.


The photograph of Iesha Evans in Baton Rouge. Space held. For a second.



We’re on our way to Nova Scotia. Nouvelle Ecosse. I’m puzzling over a conversation with J’s brother before we left, about a piece of history I know little about, that of Acadie.

In Moncton, it becomes clear. I think of Nova Scotia as the final destination of the thousands of crofters forcibly and brutally removed from the Highlands to form new colonies on Nova Scotia, amongst other places. Cape Breton with its estimates of 25,000 Gaelic-speaking Scot immigrants arriving between 1775 and 1850.
Before Nova Scotia, it was Acadie. French speaking – and strategically valuable – settlements from which tens of thousands of French speakers were forcibly removed to France and to the United States (primarily Louisiana) in mid 1700s, as France treatied with the British Empire, who wanted the land. Le Grand Derangement.

There is no mention on the monuments of the fate of local First Nations Mikmaq people. Except how they saved the first German and Welsh settler families of Moncton during the first winter, with knowledge of maple syrup, samphire, salt marsh grass. No mention beyond this brief saviour role.

Looking around the red clay river banks, I wonder about space and defense and weapons and violence. The most prominent sign we can see is for the local Staples, Tim Horton’s, Subway. Huge great warehouses of them, equally huge car parks. Taking up so much space.


The other photographs of the suppression of the Black Live Matter protesters in Baton Rouge. Sweat and concrete and pressure.


On the subway, I keep staring. I don’t say anything. I am wearing a full length green floral dress, enormous cats-eye sunglasses. They fidget. Show off. Shove each other around. By accident – not entirely by accident – I follow them up the escalator at Berri UQAM. I follow them onto the platform. Then onto the train. They are aware of me now. I realise that I am on the wrong train, the wrong line entirely. I toy with the idea of staying further, seeing if I can actively freak them out but slip out before the doors before they close, walk serenely down the stairs. I like to think that they’ve been successfully freaked out, but I don’t know if they have. If I am only pleasing myself, with the thought that watchful silence can be enough of a weapon.

Aggression and defense. Space and displacement. Action and reaction.

I do not want to need my weapons here. I do not have my weapons here.

Doin’ a Show (pt 1)

First note. I’ve had these notes sitting here for a month but until I got the first show out of the way, and it went okay, I couldn’t have been brave enough to put these out there. 


Second note. Trying to bring a show together occasionally causes loss of perspective. About everything else. In the world.

Third note. None of this matters. It’s just a bloody poetry show, at the bloody Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Where everyone is telling their story. And yours is no more important than anyone else’s.

Day 1.

Is this a (very long) set or a ‘show’? A script? A story?

Storytelling? Theatre? Live art? Spoken word live art theatre storytelling performance show?

It’s an HOUR. What the f**k am I going to talk about for an hour (How am I going to memorise this?) ? How boring will this be?


I have the attention span of a concussed gnat.
I wonder what the attention span of a gnat actually is?

I would rather do ANYTHING than this.
Oh god, there is a Collective.
I am not pulling my weight. Other people are doing more things. I’m lost, what am I supposed to be doing again?

I know nothing about how to do this.

Maybe I should do something else.

Like break my legs.


Start with the poems. They’re all you’ve got, anyway. Work out the story. There is one. Trust it. Go on. Now just do patter, patter away the show.

Now make it interesting.


(this is not interesting)
I hate every single one of these poems.

I just keep saying the same thing in different ways.

Everyone has heard these a million times before.


‘brief lifeline’ though.

That is a good phrase. I don’t care if it doesn’t make sense. Listen to the sounds of it. Those ‘f’s make it make sense.

Don’t they?

I’m going to draw a picture of a shifty raccoon now.



Is this safe? Acceptable? Timid? Does this ASK ANYTHING ABOUT ANYTHING? I want fierce and awkward and uncomfortable and difficult. ‘We do not live in an age where poetry should warm the heart’ (Miriam Gamble). I fear this is ‘lovely’ and will be delivered in ‘dulcet tones’.


Walking Through Concrete (repost)

This is a repost: I had deleted it when I changed the blog. It’s not where I am at this moment, not at all. But I think maybe it’s okay to put it back. Originally posted 09 February 2015, after a shitter of a January. That I’d managed to write it and dared to (quietly) make it public was a sign that it was going to get better, that it was over the hump. But I think it’s useful to remember that these things come around, and it’s the same thing, it’s not the end of things, that these things have been before.


The bad days are the ones when every step is like pushing through concrete. The bad days are the ones where all there is in my chest is a gaping hole. The bad days are the ones I know are coming because I lose my words. The bad days are the ones where I buy ankle length white leopard print coats. The bad days are the ones where I can’t stop talking. The bad days are the ones where I can’t go to sleep because then I have to wake up to another bad day. The bad days are the ones where I can’t get out of bed because. The bad days are the ones where I can’t. The bad days are the ones where I shove you back as hard as I can because I can’t bear another endless conversation about you, you selfish cow, and can’t you hear the screaming that is going on inside my skull? The bad days are the one where you aren’t allowed to touch me. The bad days are the ones followed by the bad nights where I might as well keep drinking and hopefully I’ll bash my fucking head in on the way home. The bad days are the bad nights where I am so bright and so loud and so brash I hurt to look at. The bad days are the ones where my response to everything will be ‘I don’t care. I don’t care what they do, or he does, or she does, or we do. They can do what they want. I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care.’ (If I’ve ever said ‘I don’t care’ to you in conversation, I’m having a bad day). The bad days are the ones where it all goes hollow. The bad days are the ones where I can’t even meet your eyes because you might just see that they’re only mirrors reflecting the light and masking the fact that it is just empty inside the skull. The bad days are the ones where the screaming stops and becomes whistling through space. The bad days are the one followed by the nights where I can’t stop crying silently and I can feel your concern through my back and I can’t even speak to you because I have nothing to say. The bad days are the ones where I’m afraid you will realise I have nothing to say. The bad days are the ones where I am so afraid of everything I can’t cross the street without waiting for the traffic lights. The bad days are the one where I expect to fall off a kerb and break. The bad days are the ones where I can feel my teeth shattering to stumps again. The bad days are the ones where the rat has gnawed through to my ribcage, and the hag is riding my back and raking my scalp, and I can feel that dark hound pacing behind, and I am so scared to turn around. The bad days are the ones where the concrete has reached my knees and I just want to lie down on the pavement. The bad days are the days I can’t. The bad days are.


Au Bout Du Monde/At The End Of The World – Haiti, Pt 3 (pt ii)

The last two and a bit days

Hear how the mouth,

so full 

of longing for the world,

changes its shape?

(Mark Doty ‘Difference’ – from My Alexandria)

Friday 8th

Atelier de performance with Guy, Moe and Louis-Karl, trickster energy all round. They’re well met by the young male Haitians, ‘la performance aquatique’, passing of the water bottle a performance in itself.There is one in particular, with a face like Loki, a hook in the nose, a chin that curls slightly up. He’s vocal, provocative, knowledgable and a huge fan of Josephine’s poetry. They talk about Situationism. Mischief recognises – and challenges – mischief.

At one point, we all get up. I roll in the dirt a bit. I’m feeling grotty, but also in need of a stretch. It feels good.


On the way back, traffic jams. It’s hot and bright. So we form a band in the van. Of course. Voila Tribe Called Sauge.* Wilkins, our driver, is patient, endlessly long suffering.

*it is a universally recognised fact that at least three new bands will be formed during any prolonged conference/festival/event, no matter where you are in the world, or in what language.

Back at the hotel, service is a little slow. We wait over an hour for an omlette, a sandwich. It’s verging on painfully hot. L’heure de chaleur.

More events, the Cafe in the evening.  Another performance, then home. We have a big day tomorrow. We sleep early.

Saturday 9th

This is the big day. Camille successfully wrangles the poets before 8am, into minibuses and to Parc De Martissant, in the Martissant Quartier. It’s a long, hot, packed drive – Saturday morning traffic hornet-buzzed – up to the hills above the city. Suddenly there are trees, wide and quiet streets.

The Parc is beautiful. Peaceful and lush. Rebuilt as a tranquil place for the local community (they have problems with gangs, particularly for the children) after the earthquake. There is a library, vegetable gardens, outdoor stone pods – les oeufs D’Aida – separated by running water, over tiled waterways. An exhibition of dancer Katherine Dunham. A staff of over 70, funded by, among others, the Haitian Government, the George Soros Foundation, the EU. We wander, cooing at plants, pathways, tiny green quick lizards. We have an hour or so before the children arrive for the performances.

On the top of the hill, a tree hung with mirrored faces (the work of Pascale Monin, director of the Centre D’art). I’d been loitering behind and come up to find the female poets arranged in the branches. It’s something magical.



After, a circle is formed, hands held. Sharings from Josephine, Natasha, Jean Sioui, Rita. A giving of thanks to Haiti. It’s powerful.

Bibliotheque. Performance for les jeunes with Virginia, Jean Sioui, Louis Karl and Jonathan. Jonathan and I have worked on a translation into French of one of my pieces, the one that I think might translate, have some meaning, here – ‘Are the Kids Alright?’. We perform together, weaving the French and English. It’s good. He meets me halfway.


Then the day becomes very long, more and more and more kids arriving. Another performance, to younger children, which does not translate. They’re too young, and it’s just some random person talking to them in a different language. Jonathan appears and we perform again, a rescue of sorts that redeems it. But it’s getting hot. I wander out to the gardens, all poets pressed into service. They’re here. We’re here. So, it’ll happen.

IMG_0885 IMG_0891

Back to the hotel. We head to the supermarket, buy cheese, crackers, mangoes, hot sauce. A picnic on Maryan’s balcony with Bella, Jonathan. We’ve discussed the best vegetables to buy, shrink wrapped, in the supermarket. A penknife comes in handy. Tonight, there is to be a grand finale at FOKAL, although exact details are a little hazy. Moe and Jonathan go on ahead to set up, plan the evening.

I swim a little with Bella, then wait with the others at the hotel restaurant. We wait, and wait. No one seems quite clear what’s going on.

Eventually, to FOKAL. And it is amazing. A packed audience of Haitians, musicians, a series of young Haitian slam poets who leave my heart jumping out of my chest. Moe ‘CLICK CLACK POW WOW’ and Jonathan keep things running, performances from Natasha and Marie Andree, Louis-Karl, Guy. Jonathan and I perform ‘Kids’ for the third time that day. A whooping, wild audience, finishing with drums, dancing, shouts through the crowd.

IMG_0915 SamediFOHALMusique 11101829_10101236121589831_1436228525735229517_n 11258027_10101236121599811_8380059794897247356_n

Later that night, we eat, dance, and walk back through the warm streets of Port-Au-Prince after midnight.

Sunday 10th

There is little time. Too little. My flight at 2pm, Miami, Heathrow, Edinburgh. Retrace steps. The rest will stay in Port-au-Prince tonight, fly back to Montreal the following day. We have been invited to brunch at the house of Yanick Lahens. My case packed, both lighter and heavier than before. I feel warm, calm, a little stunned. I rub the heat deeper into my skin, asking it to stay with me. It does.

My case tucked under the seats of the minibus. We go up through the hills and find another side of the city: the suburbs. The houses here are bigger, still with high walls and barbed wire but with a more relaxed air. The streets are wider, less busy. There are shopfronts. Yanick’s bungalow is serene, elegant, full of art and tiles and light.

I say my goodbyes, quietly, to each person. The hugs are fierce.

The airport. The journey through Port-au-Prince passes more quickly than I remembered. And then I leave.


Josephine Bacon, Natasha Kanape Fontaine and Naomi Fontaine will be appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Saturday 29th August in a joint event with Anna Crowe, Rachel McCrum and Jennifer Williams. This is part of a wider collaboration between the EIBF, the Scottish Poetry Library and the Maison De La Poesie in Montreal, which will see the three Scottish poets performing in Montreal in May 2016. More on the EIBF events here.

Les Nuits Amerindiennes is a festival celebrating First Nation literature, poetry and performance from Quebec and Canada, organised by the Montreal based publishing house Memoire d’encrier, and encompassing performances, readings, workshops, lecture, book launches and more. The 2015 festival in Port-au-Prince was the first in what is hoped to be a global series of Les Nuits Amerindiennes.

Au Bout Du Monde/At The End Of The World – Haiti, Pt. 3 (pt i)

It’s now been over a month since I left Haiti and if I concentrate hard, I can just remember the last traces of heat of my skin. And this last post has to talk about all the rest, from the night of Wednesday 6th May to the flight leaving Port Au Prince on the afternoon of Sunday 10th May. How to tell it? (in two parts, it turns out. Of course).

Wed night, 6th

The reception, after the performance in the theatre of FOKAL arts centre. A homage in poetry to Josephine, performance, drums, sage. Introductions to Les Nuits Amerindiennes, music from Chloe Sainte-Marie. The others have performed, I recognise that mood. Elation, a lightness, smiles. I smoke, watch, still unsure, but less unsure. I also let go. I’ll go where I’m told to, this is someone’s elses party. I just have to be here. Be present.

I’d been asked earlier by Rodney – warm, generous, a huge presence – to perform something at l’hommage a Josephine but either we run out of time, or he is being kind, realises I have misunderstood the brief, and do not have something appropriate to perform at the show. I’m somewhere between relieved and disappointed. At the back of my head is the thought that if I can read something, I can show, a little, what I do, who I am, why I am here. I tuck this thought back, to think more later.

We’re hustled to the cars, jump in the back of the pick up truck, crammed in. Drove through the streets – there are no street lamps here, but Port-Au-Prince is still full of life. We pass a pile of rubbish on fire, a burnt out bus. People, stalls, still. We stop at Cafe Vandalou, pass through the gate to the courtyard. A huge tree, tables, oil lamps. Rum sours, okra fritters. Wine appears. We sit, loosened, talk. There are other ways to share meaning: food, wine, dancing. It’s lovely, a little giddy

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Talk of politics, in English and French, of Quebecois and Scottish nationalism and seeking independence, of Northern Ireland of the rise of First Nation literature in Quebec, particularly since 2005. The relationship between that and nationalism. The claiming of ancestry (whether First Nation princesses or the Kings of Ireland). I’m sat between Jonathan Lamy and Louis-Karl Picard, who dip in and out of English (and Quebecois slang), and across from Simon, with whom I get into deep into politics. I’m aware of the General Election looming in the UK, we talk of that, and I, with a bitter taste in my mouth, bet Simon a dollar that the Tories will get back in (oh, I wish I’d lost that bet…).

Back to the hotel. It’s still warm. We dive for the swimming pool, plunge in and out and round the water, some shrieks and giggles, still talking. It’s midnight in Haiti, and I’m in a swimming pool. The self consciousness is beginning to sluice from my skin.


Thursday 7th

The Tories. GodDAMNit. Even this far away, that rises like bile. The SNP majority in Scotland. Even that doesn’t feel like a triumph for democracy. The map blue and yellow.

Up and out and into the vans. Into the streets, for real this time. So many PEOPLE. And everyone has something to sell.

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La Bibliotheque National. The book fair again, a white room, lectures and talks. My comprehension isn’t quick enough to follow the flow – while my brain is translating the last sentence, the conversation moves ahead two more. But I can grasp phrases, ideas. And it’s full of Haitians.

Grabbed again by Camille. I’m going to…a school? Okay. This wasn’t on the schedule (the schedule will loosen more as the week goes on). But if Camille says ‘Venez’, I come. Get into the bus. Rita, Virginia, Natasha, Jean Sioui, Maryan with her camera.

The streets, stalls of shoes, wine and rum and champagne, spare times, spare parts for cars and buses. Baskets of plantain slices, balanced on heads. Steel drums full of white starch. God, the heat.

A public school, concrete classrooms, fans. I’m shuffled in with the others, forty odd teenage faces, expectant, grey uniforms. Oh fuc…….. I’m standing in line with the others, introducing myself. Explaining myself. It’s okay. I sit, watch. The others read and perform. Mobile phones appear from blazer pockets, held high to film. Plus ca change.


Hotel. Shower. Change. Back to the restaurant. Back to the minibuses. To the Centre D’Art with Virginia Bordeleau, Moe Clark, Guy Sioui-Durand. We get a little lost. Eventually pull up in front of a garden, a low spiked railing (noticably less formidable than the feet high concrete walls with barbed wire fortifying, concealing, preserving most of the other buildings). A garden, a couple of lushly painted shipping containers, murals, an open shelter draped in fabrics, seats inside, project, laptop. A scattering of folk watching a film. An external drum sculpture made of car parts, which we immediately go crazy for. We can talk in bashing and rhythm, Moe, Guy and I blamming out some basic rhythms. Which is of course immediately distracting to those watching the film, and we’re told to shut up. Eejits. Look around.

I love this place. In the corner, someone is gardening. Another man brings him a bucket of earth. I LOVE this place. It’s public and open and relaxed and it’s full of art, and it’s being used by people. That blue green again, everywhere. Pascale Monin, the director, dynamic, strong, sparkling.


Virginia, Moe et Guy explain their practice, demonstrate. Painting, performance, all with a discourse behind it. It’s strong. Guy gives out cards to audience, animals and mottos.

For me I turn it over. Badger. Blaireau. I bare my teeth to the rest of the audience, mimic claws to show what it is, demonstrate stripes. It doesn’t seem a natural fit to me. But the mantra ‘Soyez responsible de votre vie. Foncez – Faites confiance a vos aptitudes.’

Virginia, from the other side of the room, audibly agrees with this.

Later that night, in the Cafe. People are performing, poems and songs. I ask Camille if there is space for me to read. She beams. Yes, of course. So. If I can’t quite manage in conversation, this is how I can communicate. At least show a bit of myself. I work out some introductions in French, a choice between la mer, ma mere, a little cute but to engage, to try.

It seems to work. Rodney bear hugs me (he gives excellent hugs), grinning.

Elation all round. Rum sours all round. Swimming all round. Rum in the swimming pool. Moe and I hang off the side of the pool, chatting. I swim to Josephine, we talk. What would you like to see when you come to Scotland, Josephine? She roars. Three things – mountains, whisky, Gaelic poets. We can do that.

It’s a beautiful night.


The plan, l’idee, was to unfurl all this in real time. To document strangeness and immediacy as it happened, without reflection, without a bit of a cute tightening to narrative, to a story…but it happened too fast. Events and things and panic and sensation and the need to just get in the back of the pick up truck without questioning, to close yer eyes and duck yer hair into the flow without completely understanding, and most importantly, to let the flow grab you and your elbows and ankles and go. With open eyes and a quiet brain. Just get in the back of the van, and ask questions later. So now, I’m sitting in my flat in a cold, dank Edinburgh, a week later. Raising my eyebrows, and remembering the heat, a little, on my skin.

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So. This is not immediate. This becomes a reflection, something tidy, an arc.

Where did we get to? I have arrived at the hotel. It’s like a fort, huge iron gate, guardsmen. And having seen the chaos of the streets, my reaction is relief. A shameful but welcome security. I’m greeted by Camille, from Memoire D’encrier, the literary press in Quebec. She is slight, quick, beautiful, concerned and to me, incomprehensible. My heart is now drumming so hard in my ears that I can’t understand anything. Give me a room. Give me Wifi. Let me hide. Let me breathe.


Camille introduces me to a table of bright faces: Moe, Marie-Andrée, Natasha, les autres. I am panicked. ‘Il faut pratiquer son français‘ or something, brightly. Christ, yes. Or just give me some air conditioning, a shower, a bed. A grave. Why am I here?

Why am I here? Fair question. It’s to do with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and their theme of Translation for the 2015 Festival, how they’re putting that into practice. It’s awesome, superbe, outward looking – and all will be revealed at the June EIBF launch. I’m not even just blowing smoke up their juxters because they’ve sent me to an island. Meanwhile, I’m Kim Philby. But I was always going to be a crap spy. I smile too easily. This festival, Les Nuits Amérindiennes, it’s part of an exchange between First Nation (Innu, Wendat, Cree) writers based in Quebec, published by the Montreal based press Memoire D’encrier (a Rodney et Camille), francophone, and a number of arts centres in Port Au Prince. It’s spectacular, and particularly centred around an Innue poet, Joséphine Bacon. She is a formidable woman, a stunning poet, and a wonderful, generous presence. Come, come see…

The Haiti connection? There is a strong link between Montreal and Haiti. There are some incredible arts centres in Port-au-Prince, working with Haitian artists (The Haitian Slam Poets! More on that later…) : Fokal, Centre D’art, Parc de Martissant, et encore. So. It’s a Festival Les Nuits Amerindiennes, en Haiti, with First Nation poets, performers, artists, scholars de Quebec presenting performances, readings, workshops, discussions in various Port-au-Prince venues over 4 days, 6 – 10 mai. C’est superbe, c’est incroyable. La poésie, la politique, les livres, et puis…

…Aye so. I’m here. Northern Irish born, Scotland based, the only person from the other side of the Atlantic.  I’m the outsider, étrangère. I’m also…no, seriously,why the fuck are you here, in the nicest, most quizzical way? Um. Edinburgh International Book Festival? To meet some Québécois writers? This was the best way to do it? Yes. Okay. But I’m here. I do speak the language (I mean, sort of, but just enough for banalities, la vie quotidienne). But I don’t know these stories. I really don’t know these stories. So. I have some talking to do. And these people? These poets, these artists? This is something else. Performances like you haven’t known.


Pull your socks up (it’s too hot for socks) and tie your hair back, Violet. Because you’re used to opening your mouth back home, and now, you’re going to have to listen. I have a line worked out: Je suis ici pour observer, pour écouter, pour apprendre.

To watch, to listen, to learn.

If that doesn’t make you sound like a zoo inspector.

But you’re probably going to try and open your mouth at some point.

Le Singe Est Dans L’Arbre (or, Tie Your Hair Back, Violet)

#2 Miami – Port Au Prince – L’Hotel De Plaza, Champs De Mars.

The hotel wake up call is for 4am local time. According to my body, it’s really 9am. So I’m sure it should feel okay. I jolt awake in a bed the size of an ocean, swimming in white sheets.

Dark and warm, with a wind. Ta ra, Miami.

On the plane. A fluttering as I realise the French parts of the safety announcment are incomprehensible. It sounds like French in places. I glance up at the screen because I have, of course, been half heartedly ignoring it: wanting to be world savvy, nonchalant, cool, of course but lacking the courage to openly read my book and risk the ire of a conscientious/sadistic air steward. Anyway. It’s not French. Creole, I hazard a guess. Oh God. Mon Dieu. If this is the dominant language. My school girl/au pair language fumblings are not going to hold up. Shit. Mon Dieu. Merde.

Headphones in. Dive for French dictionary. Rehearse. Push play on familiar voices. Keep me safe Withered Hand, Billy Liar, Hailey Beavis, Franz Nicolay, A New International and The Starlets. Tie your hair back, Violet. Breathe.

Port Au Prince airport. I’m on the aisle seat, can just make out mountains, haze. Suitcase fine, passport fine, customs fine. None of the usual bumpf of shops, cafes every two feet. It’s efficient. A huge tourism poster for Sans Souci Palace in the North. I’ve read about that one. Pink bricks, placed one by one by slaves with the utmost cruelty. Or indifference.



And then I’m out. To a small lobby, just concrete and glass, and outside is heat and pale hard yellow dirt, corrugated shelters and an iron rail barrier. And so many people, waiting, leaning, walking slowly.

I search for a sign with my name, hands on suitcase. I’m praying that my details got through to Camille and Rodney, that they made sense, that I wrote them correctly.

Flanked by two faces, one male, one female. They’re professionally dressed, with identification, and they’re adamant that I’m not going outside until I know what I’m doing. They try to persuade me to order a taxi with them. I don’t feel hustled, just a concern. I am so very obviously strange here.

I try.

Merci, mais j’attends quelu’un, je suis ici pour un conference litteraire.

This seems understood. I’m not moving anyway. Neither are they. We all face the window, staring hard at the makeshift signs.

C’est quelle heure? Ah oui, je suis un peu tot. Je vais rester ici justqu neuf heures et demie, et puis…peut etre

I see a pale sign arrive. R….Mc…

C’est moi! C’est moi!

I’m excited. They’re excited. It’s all going to be fine.

The man takes my bag to the car, the driver smiles but is silent. I try some French again but it’s either too horrible, or he speaks Creole. Which is more likely. I settle for silence. There is too much to look at. So many faces. Concrete, thrust through with wires like exposed nerves, tendons. Colour everywhere. A particular shade of blue green, the colour of the sea over white sand before a reef. The streets are rubble.


The traffic is crazy, and there are no rules although also, miraculously no accidents. The dominant vehicles are minbuses, packed with grave faces. They come complete with carnival armour, welded or nailed on. Mad Max on acid, a fairground apocalypse. Over the windscreen, on the bumpers, a variation on the following phrases.

Vision de l’eternite

Don a Dieu


Patience, au nom de Jesu.


Still fluttering. But it’s going to be okay.