After gently urging me for years to create a Facebook site as a writer, my talented, lovely, and wonderfully-thoughtful wife, Lee Ellen, realized I would never undertake that task, and decided to create one for me. Having been raised by grandparents who reminded me at least once a week that they’d lived through the Depression and, therefore, I should never waste anything, especially gifts from other people, I have resolved to heed Lee Ellen’s words: “Now that you have a Facebook site, put it to good use, write and post something.”
I can’t think of a better focus for my first post than the new collection of haiku, earthshine, by my dear friend of almost fifty years, Chuck Brickley. I met Chuck when we were working at the legendary Duthie Books on Robson Street in Vancouver. I’d moved there from San Francisco in 1968, and Chuck and his wife, Kim, natives of a San Francisco suburb, had recently immigrated. Chuck was a musician (saxophone), devoted student of literature, and haiku poet. Kim, one of the most beautiful spirits I’ve been blessed to know, would become a gifted pre-school teacher and then college teacher in early childhood education. We formed a fast friendship.
That friendship grew when Kim and Chuck, wanting to live in the countryside, moved in 1971 one hundred miles east to Hope, where the Fraser River, after rushing south through breath-taking canyons, bends west to the Fraser Valley carved by the river as the glaciers melted. Surrounded by mountains on three sides, Hope was a destination in the 1970s for back-to-the-landers and draft dodgers. There was a Sasquatch cave tourist trap. The pool tables in the hotel pub were surrounded by loggers and highway construction workers. Sto:lo members of the Union Bar First Nation would appear on your doorstep at night with salmon, from their stretch of the river, which the government forbade them to sell. Over Chinese food in the Kan Yon, the newcomers spoke of close calls with semis – long-haul drivers dazed from sleeplessness and wired on Coke and bennies – in two-lane tunnels of the canyon. (“Never gonna drive that stoned again.”) On the town’s tennis courts and baseball fields, the afternoon winds tunneling up the valley from the ocean added to the challenge of hitting lobs and tracking down fly balls, while dare-devil hang-gliders leapt into those winds off Hope Mountain. In the marsh near Kim and Chuck’s log lodge, owned by UBC as an occasional field study location for Biology students, red-winged blackbirds trilled in the cattails.
I often visited Chuck and Kim on weekends, then moved to Hope in 1974, to a small cottage on Kawkawa Lake three miles from town, Hope Mountain looming overhead.
Chuck, I tell people, was the first serious and high-quality writer I became close friends with. If we’d gathered the countless hours we talked – often while hiking and bird-watching – about writing, poetry and fiction, religion and philosophy, music, nature and ecology, and political and economic philosophy, and devoted that time to mastering and playing the stock market, we’d be multi-millionaires today, and otherwise profoundly impoverished. As with such friendships, there is so much mentoring going on – and as with the best friendships, the flow of mentorship was so constant and equal in both directions that it was impossible to know at any moment who was the teacher and who the student.
Nonetheless, I know that Chuck, and Kim, suffered generously and encouragingly through my early attempts at poetry and fiction. Chuck brought his erudition and antennae for poetic technique and form to his critiques, while Kim brought the lucidity, sensitivity, and wisdom of her glorious inner eye.
Chuck also gave me the life-long gift of playing recorders. Wanting to play an instrument that blended in more gracefully than a sax at the frequent music parties where folk and folk-rock dominated, Chuck bought and quickly became adept at recorders. I’d grown up playing clarinet and also honked rather poorly on a sax. In Vancouver, I bought a rosewood alto and a grenadilla soprano recorde, and was thrilled that I could now glide into the musical flow when people were playing Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison. I also learned a great deal from Chuck about jazz, as well as rock.
I owe an enormous debt to Chuck for introducing me both to the poetry and essays of Gary Snyder and the music of The Band – for opening my mind both to Basho and Bruce Cockburn.
When it came to haiku, other poetic forms originating in Japan, and the aesthetic and philosophical traditions underlying those forms, I definitely sat as pupil at Chuck’s feet. Though he would, in his great modesty, vigorously deny that. I remember Chuck saying that, while he loved the Beat poets, and the German poet Rilke, and some modernist poets, he found himself unable to write in those modes. He’d been drawn from a young age to haiku and other Japanese forms… to the “haiku experience.”
Over the years, his mastery of haiku steadily grew, and he caught the attention of Robert Spiess, the revered editor of Modern Haiku, the premier magazine of English-language haiku. Not only did Spiess publish Chuck’s poems, he invited Chuck to be associate editor, a post Chuck served in from 1980 to 1985.
I left Hope in 1977, after attending the Summer Writing Program at The Banff Centre, working with Canadian writers such as W.O. Mitchell, Sylvia Fraser, and Eli Mandel, and deciding that I wanted to go to grad school and study Canadian literature. Chuck and Kim remained in Hope until 2006, when they moved back to San Francisco, into Kim’s childhood home, and to care for her aging father.
earthshine is a selection of Chuck’s hakiu written from the early 1970s to the present, and sequenced over a single year. In the afterword, Chuck writes, “Gazing at a crescent moon on a clear night, one may sometimes notice that the section not directly lit by the sun is graced with its own subtle shading of light. This faint glow is actually sunlight reflected from our planet. It is called earthshine.”
Chuck has always been a proponent of considerable flexibility and inclusiveness when it comes to haiku’s subject matter. He introduced me, for instance, to Michael McClintock, now a distinguished poet and scholar, who shocked much of the haiku world in the 1970s with powerful poems about his experiences as an American soldier in Vietnam. But McClintock helped transform and enrich the haiku tradition, and so has Chuck Brickley.
The natural world, keeping with the haiku tradition, is ever-present in Chuck’s poetry. But his focus often moves among the human world – more precisely, in that unity of human experience and nature which is foundational in ecology. To what Snyder called our Earth House Hold. Thus, there are poems without human presence, apart from the invisible poet…
one by one the last geese
lift into dawn
a hummingbird draws up
to a rainbow
As well, Chuck gives us:
the grandchild waves once more
at the empty road
her long drive home
through spring rain
Indian summer night
I call up my stepfather
to hear his laugh
saw switched off
the Douglas fir lingers
in the breeze
the gleam of a bullet shell
the only sound
and about his wife’s mother:
still out there weeding
in her sunhat
If you want to read more, you can buy earthshine from Snapshot Press (UK) or directly from Chuck’s website
This first post is also my Christmas present, after all these years, to Chuck and Kim.
Writer, editor, educator.
Wow! Thank you so much. That is an amazingly thoughtful present that will be cherished for ever. We have such sweet and wonderful memories of youthful times together, and they still nurture us. Looking forward to getting together in the future.
Thank you for sharing this Lee Ellen, and making Richard a website so more of the world can savor his lovely writing.
What a wonderful gift, Richard. Out of the blue, straight to my heart. Your memories spark mine. At the moment, I am literally giddy with the past. Inspiring, to realize that our times together may have had as much influence on you as they’ve had on me. I have always admired the depth of knowledge on a wide array of subjects that you have worked hard at developing over the years—the whole time remaining grounded by a strong sense of humanity. That I could be considered as having even the slightest bearing on your masterful poetry, and prose, is indeed high praise. Please accept my heartfelt gratitude, loving hug, and solstice prayers for—in spite of all indications—a better year ahead.