From Oscar of Between, Part 25 Excerpt

Betsy Warland

– 1 –


Oscar began referring to herself as a “recovering romantic” sometime after her second big break-up—break-a-way, break-into, break-neck, break-through, breakdown, break-a-part—it was some of all of these. Two twelve-year, back-to-back lesbian relationships, both fueled by a potent mix of family and artistic interface. Both aberrant relationships within the literary community complicated by silent judgment.

Now nine years on her own seeking another way Oscar wonders: Have I recovered from its illusions, its spectacular wounds?

– 2 –

Vancouver’s Dead Poets’ Reading Series. Oscar a featured poet invited to read from a deceased poet’s work held in esteem. Oscar choses Adrienne Rich.


1976. Rich’s Twenty-One Love Poems flung the door of lesbian desire open to the public world.

“No one has imagined us. We want to live like trees,
Sycamores blazing through the sulphuric air,
dappled with scars, still exuberantly budding,
our animal passion rooted in the city.”
Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

1984. Oscar and Daphne ablaze on a cross-country book tour reading from their erotically charged books. It had never happened before.

Nor since.
– 3 –

2003. Shock. Press Gang (a major feminist publisher) bankrupt. Rita and Oscar organize the Press Gang Authors Benefit Reading.

The Western Front is packed.

Below, the sidewalk is filled with those who couldn’t get in but refuse to leave. After each set, the authors go down and give their readings again.

During the intermission, several younger feminist writers seek Oscar out and ask, “This is amazing! Why doesn’t this happen more often?”

Oscar replies, “We used to have readings  all the time.”

Puzzlement passes over their faces

–Oscar taken aback –

so few years have passed and it’s as if it never happened.

– 4 –

Adrienne’s earlier collections reignite that intoxicating time when poetry was elemental as air.

As Oscar reads through all of Rich’s collections, she feels she’s stumbled upon letters written by a former beloved and realizes how much she’s missed Adrienne.

“It doesn’t matter what you think.
Words are found responsible
all you can do is choose them
or choose
to remain silent.”
– 5 –

Palpable. Rich’s fierce encounter with the reader. As she voices Rich’s poems there’s an intense sensation of “I-need-to-hear-this” in the room.

and Oscar tremors.

“Silence can be a plan
Rigorously executed
the blueprint for a life
It is a presence
It has a history   a form
Do not confuse it
With any kind of absence”
Poet Adrienne Rich

Poet Adrienne Rich

Photo Credit: Jacob Markiewicz

Photo Credit: Jacob Markiewicz

Guest Writer:
Stephen Collis

Vancouver, BC
Stephen Collis at SFU


A small bird
Outside my office
Window turns itself
Inside out over
And over again
The sky the
Colour of the
Inside of a
Large jar quavers
As some large
Hand perhaps grips
And twists the
Planet though I
Don’t believe in
God it’s more
Likely just capitalism
And the travails
Of small indistinct
Birds living under
Its long regime

Photo Credit: Raewyn Adams

Photo Credit: Raewyn Adams


Waking that voice
That talks to you
Always just alongside
Or under skin of self
Always that presence
Of some others
Within or nearby
Sadness that thickens
Saying you might be
Forgiven for thinking
It can’t get any
Darker than this
That just around
The intricate social
Corner those old
Strains of utopia will
Sound or final
Stores from harvest
Break open in
Winter feast as we
Spend these reserves
Knowing daylight cracks
On its axial tilt
Towards renewal

But you’d be
Mistaken the voice
That talks to you
Not gloating or
Even sad really just
Noting how we
Can’t breathe arms
Up don’t shoot
Another black man
Down another law
Passed to protect
Police from our
Witnessing and
Criminalize our
Dissent boost
Budgets for new
Wars and the
Regulatory skids
Greased for every
New energy
Project that accumulates
Displacements while
Lining select pockets

The voice that
Talks to you is
And isn’t without
Optimism or not
Hope exactly but
Some residual knowledge
Or perspective gained
By time spent
Amongst communities
Of resistance so
While this might
Not yet be the
Bottom of our
Descent we know
Each lower layer
Reveals new pockets
Of resistance new
Sparks and embers
Glowing against the
Long night of Empire
Host that voice
Invokes from edges
Of dream how you
Entered the street
And with love of
Companions rocked
A cop car back and forth
Until it rolled over
With a loud
Crunch and cheer

Photo Credit: Unknown

Photo Credit: Unknown


I still don’t know
How to write the poems
I should probably have been
Writing all along—small
Yet commodious spaces
Just off public areas
Where they may have
Gathered and now mill together
Hesitating to inhabit
Fluctuating urban winds
Through view corridors
Or the air above height
Restrictions someone has
Yet to buy

Or short walks taken
Alongside abandoned factories
Warehouses unremarkable docks
Or littered suburban forests
Where birds of one kind
Or another can still
Be heard and personal reflections
Added to the false and
Seemingly accidental productions
Of runaway system
Its gaps and ruptures
Provoking both thought
And feeling—access and
The incommunicable faltering
Of the little we can bring
To the fastenings and unfastenings
Of our temporal being

Photo Credit: someone

Photo Credit: Melanie Siebert


Featured Reader:
Ali Blythe

Victoria, BC

I read Oscar’s Salon because

5. I’m always here now, looking. 4. I read part 19A first, and for many months and for some reason mostly in the shower, would feel the missing posters moving in the wind. 3. I had been given directions to this Salon when I cornered Betsy at the after-party. 2. We met as “Queer Panelists” earlier that day. She had spoken about holding a space that’s In Between. 1. Arleen Paré said something to me once: “Like Betsy and her Oscar.”


Ali Blythe’s poems have been published in literary journals and anthologies in Canada and Germany. A first book, Twoism, is forthcoming this fall with Icehouse Poetry at Goose Lane Editions.

Blythe completed a residency at the Banff Centre and a writing degree at the University of Victoria, receiving the Candis Graham Writing Scholarship from the Lambda Foundation for excellence in writing and support of the queer community.

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