MONTREAL MASSACRE 25TH ANNIVERSARY VIGIL (TORONTO)

100_6281Montreal Massacre 25th Anniversary Vigil (Toronto)

By Jorge Antonio Vallejos

I have been attending the “Women Won’t Forget” vigil for the 14 women killed in the Montreal Massacre in 1989 for seven years.   I started going because I’m opposed to violence against women but also to bring attention to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in the land now known as Canada.

“Women Won’t Forget”, and the hundreds of vigils held across the country every December 6 since 1989, forgot they were on Indigenous land and forgot about the thousands of Indigenous women murdered or gone missing.

To be clear, systemic isms and phobias are the reasons many different women were, and are, left out of the countrywide vigils: Indigenous, Of Colour, Sex Worker, Transgender… Because of this I made and carry the yellow sign you see above in the banner of my website.

Things have gotten better.  Indigenous women now open the vigil with a smudge, teaching, and songs.  And the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is talked about.

In the last seven years I have missed one vigil (2012) to participate in a Candlelit Conversation about December 6th at York University alongside Zaianab Amadahy and Kim Katrin Milan.  What I have noticed since 2007 is numbers in attendance going down drastically.  And it’s not because of the weather.  This past Saturday, the 25th Anniversary, saw the lowest numbers in my short history of attendance even though it was a warm night.  Many people were wearing vests, and many jackets were unzipped.  Still, there was a maximum of 100 people.

In 2007, my first vigil, there were close to 300 people braving the cold: shivering, teeth chattering, and standing in solidarity to challenge violence again women and remember women no longer here because of violence.  I remember standing with a group from the Centre for Women and Trans People University of Toronto that night.  We huddled close together, held signs and lit candles, listened, and remained spiritually and mentally present although our bodies wanted to leave.

What happened to this strong presence?  What happened to those numbers?  What happened to the solidarity?

It’s more than low numbers that made this Saturday, the 25th anniversary, a disappointment.  It was sad to see phobias and isms still in play: racism, sex work phobia and a total erasure of Trans women (via no mention throughout the vigil) minus my yellow sign.

Two speakers, Angel Wolfe (daughter of Brenda Wolfe, one of the many woman murdered by Robert Picton) and Katarina McLeod (a survivor of forced sex work and violence that came with it) spoke against sex work and Toronto organizations who support sex work. Wolfe’s and McLeod’s stories are true and they have the right to tell them.  But with no mention of Trans women all night (Trans women experience violence 6x more than cis gendered women, especially Trans women of colour), and no voice for sex workers who view the trade differently than Wolfe and McLeod, I felt like I was at a right wing conservative “Focus on the Family” conference and not a vigil.

When names of women murdered in Ontario in 2014 were read two sex workers were mentioned: Evelyn Burmatay Castillo and a woman’s name who I could not catch, my apologies.  Their work was described respectfully: “service provider”, “services”, and “sex work”.  Whoever wrote their descriptions chose to see their work as positive and not make negative assumptions as is commonly the case.

Adding to the transphobia, racism came into play in different forms.  The first being a white man (who I will not name so as not to give him any publicity) invited to sing on the mic.  Him being white was not the problem; it was his lyrics and not checking his white privilege.  Poorly rapping about women of colour who experienced violence and his plans to save them with his fists launched at their attackers, the tirade was another “The White Man Saves the Day” performance.

When did the vigil become about stopping violence with violence? When did the vigil become about men saving women, in particular white men saving women of colour?

One angry vigil attendee said, “Where did his Jamaican accent come from?  He got on the mic and introduced himself in his regular voice and then all of a sudden he turned Jamaican!”

That in itself was racist.  Was there an accent used during the song not original to the performer?  Yes.  But to label all non-white accents (put on or not) as Jamaican was racist.

Her critique of racism was racist.

And the racism continued.

Accurately, and angrily pointing out that the names of the 14 women murdered in 1989 were not read out loud (yes, you read correctly), the same attendee, a white woman, wanted to take the mic and say their names.  At this point several Native women had started drumming.  “Lets grab the mic before they start singing!” said the attendee.  The disconnect between white and Indigenous cultures was on display.  To her, no lyrics meant no song.  And white women were more important than Indigenous women.

The song was in play, lyrics or not.  And a white person, any person, had no right to disrupt.

“This is Indigenous land.  Respect the drummers and singers,” I said four times.  She stood their livid.

The entire vigil lasted just under 35 minutes; very short compared to years prior.  The intro, two speakers, a racist rap, naming of the women murdered in 2014, forgetting to name the 14 women killed in 1989, an outro and the night was done!

I asked one of the organizers why the event was so short.  She explained that traffic and TTC complications stopped performers Renee Ashanta Henry and Charmie Deller from coming.  Although some members of the Raging Grannies were there they did not perform.

I’m glad the vigil happened.  I’m not glad about some of the incidents that happened.

My yellow sign is old, creased, and taped up.  It’s time to throw it out and make a new one; one that has all the women previously listed with “Sex Workers” added.  I’ll bring that sign next year and do my best to forget this years vigil.

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KISSING KEEPS US AFLOAT: A TALK WITH POET LAURIE MACFAYDEN

Laurie MacFayden holding her bookKissing Keeps Us Afloat:

A Talk With Poet Laurie MacFayden

By Jorge Antonio Vallejos

“Writers make shit up,” says Laurie MacFayden, author of the new poetry collection Kissing Keeps Us Afloat. “I’d like to say it’s all true but my life is really nowhere near that interesting.”

Born in Hamilton and raised outside Burlington, Ontario, MacFayden found poetry to be a source of healing from her constant feelings of being different from her peers.

“I knew from an early age that there was something different about me and not just in terms of sexual orientation and queerness; I just felt disconnected from the world and everyone in it.

“While the girls down the road were playing with dolls and house I was always in the bushes playing spy and army and cops and robbers with the boys,” says MacFayden. “I was very much a tomboy.”

Her poem Different is informed by her childhood experiences. The poem starts with something familiar to many queer folk:

there was something different

about the daughter

the mother didn’t want to know

but always suspected

Later, with great use of alliteration and repetition, MacFayden confirms her mother’s suspicions:

she didn’t get married

didn’t get pregnant

didn’t get the shower gifts

didn’t get respectable

she was not who she was supposed to be

Now fifty-seven years of age, the above stanza reflects MacFayden’s lived experience as a lesbian long before queers were able to get legally married and have kids.

“It might be that my poetry is where it is now because I was forced to confront my sexual orientation at age twenty and deal with it and become comfortable with it. When I was coming out it was the late 70s, it was nowhere near the safe climate it is now,” says MacFayden.

Poetry being the form in which she came out first MacFayden says, “I finally felt free to be completely honest about who I was writing about and not trying to camouflage it anymore.”

Living in Edmonton for the last twenty years MacFacyden is a journalist, artist, and poet with two collections to her name, White Shirt and Kissing Keeps Us Afloat, both published by Frontenac House, a queer friendly press based out of Calgary.

“I think I’m coming of age as a writer and as an artist,” says MacFayden. “The kind of stuff I had to face probably made me a better writer.”

Understanding solace and being silenced and knowing the benefits of poetry in her life, MacFayden created an all queer spoken word event for the Edmonton Literature Festival in 2011 and 2012: “Shout It Out!”

“I created a queer spoken word event for that festival primarily because I wasn’t seeing one,” says MacFayden. “I wish there was more openly specific queer stuff going on.”

With no need to hide from anyone anymore MacFayden’s poems are definitely open and have lots of queer stuff going on: Liars Motel is a steamy poem about adultery;

Before The Next Conversation is about two lovers who know they should not be with each other but can’t stay away from one another; You At My Door brings the reader to a see-saw relationship based on lust.

Of the title, Kissing Keeps Us Afloat, Macfayden says “I think that love does keep us afloat and kissing is a big part of that. It’s the simple concept that kissing is lovely and sweet and we should all do more of it.”

Currently in an 18year relationship with the same person, MacFayden acknowledges six lovers being written about in her new book and that most of the hot and sexy poems are stretched truths.

“That’s what writers do, you take those exciting bits and you write about them and you exaggerate them, or extrapolate them, enhance them,” says MacFayden.

Although feeling isolated and othered in her youth, MacFayden’s spread her wings on the page, bringing joy to many readers, and showing the power of transformation via the written word.

The end to her poem Different shows one thing is certain:

who she was supposed to be

she was exactly

Kissing Keeps Us Afloat

Laurie MacFayden

$16, 120 pages, Frontenac House 

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FACEBOOK BLOCKED ME!!!

Wednesday November 26, 2014

Dear Readers,

The FaceBook ban on peoples not using their birth given, legal names has caught up with me.

Two months ago an acquaintance of mine warned me about FB blocking people from using their service if they didn’t use their ‘real’/legal name.  Being Black Coffee Poet on FB (both as a personal account and an FB page) has me violating FBs new legal name policy.

If I want to continue using my account I have to scan some legal ID with my real name.  To that I say, “Hell NO!”.

As of yesterday I have been blocked.  No access to my personal account or my page.

Legally, in the FB sense of being ‘legal’ (their rules), I am supposed to be allowed to run a page as the one I have: the Black Coffee Poet page.  Pages do not need to be under a ‘real’/legal name.

Being that I’m blocked from both accounts, FB is BREAKING their own rules.

I have no way of contacting FB so I’m no longer on FaceBook having me not be in contact with almost 3000 FB friends.

It’s Twitter time!

I’ve been procrastinating on learning how to use Twitter.  Now is the time.

Add me @BlackCoffeePoet

If you can help with my FaceBook situation, or you can help me learn how to use Twitter, please contact me: click CONTACT.

Thanks for your support!

Peace, Prayers, Poetry,

Jorge Antonio Vallejos

Black Coffee Poet

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LOVING QUEER WOMEN OF COLOUR: A TALK WITH POET AKHAJI ZAKIYA

Akhaji Zakiya holding bookLoving Queer Women Of Colour: A Talk With Poet Akhaji Zakiya

By Jorge Antonio Vallejos

“I love me some women of colour who are queer,” says Akhaji Zakiya.

The Toronto writer recently launched her new book Inside Her in front of a large, queer people of colour crowd at Glad Day Bookshop, the oldest queer bookstore in the world.

Inside Her, Zakiya’s first book, is a small collection of linked short fiction and poetry focusing on four women of colour living in Toronto.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, tell stories of lesbians of colour living in urban settings,” says Zakiya.

Zakiya follows the writing adage “write what you know”:

“They say writers write what they know. As a first project I definitely kept it in the realm of the familiar,” says Zakiya.

For those who might ask why the focus on women of colour Zakiya says, “That’s my world, the world I’ve chosen for myself is women of colour. The social scene that I’m part of and that I sort of came of age into is diverse women of colour. These are the stories I want to write.”

Such stories are not published or celebrated enough. Publishing houses such as Sister Vision and Women’s Press who focused on women of colour are now defunct. And with the closing of Toronto Women’s Bookstore in 2012 women of colour writers are not featured to the same degree as mainstream writers at big chain bookstores.

Fighting for the visibility of queer people of colour has been big a part of Zakiya’s life. “I’ve been in Toronto’s queer scene for twenty-five years, before people of colour were marching in [Queer] PRIDE, when we had to fight so we can march in PRIDE!” says Zakiya.

Recalling her activist days in the early 90s Zakiya talks of the “Proud and Visible” coalition who fought to include people of colour in PRIDE. “Thos are my origins. You’re gonna see a history of queer culture in my writing,” says Zakiya.

Inside Her is set in Toronto and takes the reader on a journey through the lives of four women: Jaka, Nina, Tashi, and Sean. Love, conflict, and lust run through Zakiya’s linked poems and stories. Controversial topics such as coming out as queer, bi-phobia, and being queer enough are also explored. Zakiya’s dialogue is sharp and challenging. In the story Beyond, Jaka, the book’s main character, lashes out at her friend Nina:

What do you know of the lezzie world? Of adults, I might add. Wanton, random college-girl munching to get back at mommy and daddy is not the same thing.

Zakiya’s poetry is just as piercing. Cleverly linking the poems to the stories, Tashi, Jaka’s love interest, is the author of the poems. “The poems are Tashi’s poems in the context of the fiction of the novel. She’s writing a love poem to her partner Jaka [and] writing about her experiences of coming out,” says Zakiya.

Fictional poems written from a non-fiction mind set by a poet who writes fiction and poetry. Brilliant!

In On Coming, Tashi writes about coming out:

on coming

into

the stillness of self

and spiritual sustenance

we

abandon acceptance

embrace exposure

risking solace…rejection?

seeking truth…transformation

Poetry opens up doors that other genres do not. Although written in a fictional context Zakiya uses poetry as a tool for healing just as Tashi does.

“When I came out as a lesbian poetry was a wonderful way to connect with people and share ideas and emotions,” says Zakiya.

Four women, four stories, a few poems, and many layers, Inside Her is a prelude to big plans by Zakiya: “I plan to write a series of novels and a web series telling the journey of the characters through their life.”

What can people expect from Inside Her? “I want people to know first and foremost that it’s fun. That it’s sexy. That their sisters are familiar. That Toronto will be featured as a character…I want people to know that this is a distillate of my life; I love loving women of colour,” says Zakiya.

Inside Her

Akhaji Zakiya

$10, Createspace

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For a taste of Akhaji Zakiya see This Lesbian Poem:

 

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THRIVE: OUR VOICES RISING! FORUM

THRIVE: Our Voices Rising! by METRAC

Forum for the 16 Days of Action Against Gender Violence

For Women and Trans Peoples

Saturday Nov. 29, 2014 in Toronto, Canada

10:00am-3:00pm (registration starts at 9:30am)

Metro Hall, 55 John St. -Room 308/309 (King & John, 2 blocks east of Spadina)

FREE EVENT – FOOD – ASL – NOTE-TAKING – CHILDMINDING – GENDER NEUTRAL WASHROOMS

Join THRIVE on Saturday November 29, to LEARN, DISCUSS and ADDRESS the various ways gendered violence impacts our lives and the ways we can resist.

LEARN about the work of different groups who are engaged in resisting colonization, racism, environmental degradation, etc.

ENGAGE in discussion circles, tool building and different well-being activities. And CONNECT with other community members and people working towards positive change.

KEYNOTES:

Stopping the Violence: It Starts With Us by Sheryl Lindsay, No More Silence

Anti-Black Racism

WORKSHOPS:

Prison Industrial Complex by Najla Edwards (PASAN)

Environmental Violence is a Reproductive Justice Issue by The Native Youth Sexual Health Network

Gender and Housing

Twitter Hashtag: #ThriveTO14

Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/60251…

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HOW TO RUN A BLOG

How To Run A Blog

By Jorge Antonio Vallejos

This post is a starter for others but also a reminder for myself.  September 18, 2014 made it four years that I have been running blackcoffeepoet.com.  Four years!  This past year I have fallen off the keyboard: irregular postings and discontent readers because of my irregularity.  For three years I posted 3x a week.  Time to get back to that schedule.  The next few points are a reminder of what I have to do to get back to there and what novice bloggers can learn from my experience.

Post Consistently

Readers generally don’t visit blogs and sites that post irregularly.  Why visit and outdated blog or website?

Post consistently!

Choose days that work for you to publish work and let your readers know your schedule. After setting your schedule stick to it!  Nothing irritates readers more than coming to a site and seeing an old post they’ve already read.  In this day and age readers like new content and consistency.

Stick To Your Guns

In other words, stay on topic.  What is your blog about?  I run a literature blog.  But I’ve always stated that I mix my politics with my writing, and my writing is my activism (poetry and essays).  Hence the special weeks about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Trans Day Of Remembrance, December 6th

Readers like to know where they are going and what they are going to get: focus.

Without a them and focus I would not have the worldwide following that I do.

The Title Says It All  

A title lets the reader know what your post is about.  Titles are also picked up by GOOGLE search (I’m still learning about this).  Good titles matched with good writing are win win!

Over the last four years my titles have not been the best in terms of attracting GOOGLE.  I’ll be going back to change titles and using the topical titles to let my readers know what they are in for.

Bad titles I have used in terms of GOOGLE have been my interviews.  Example: “Interview With…”.  The persons name would be best to start off with.

Good titles I have come up with have been:

Reena Virk (1983-1997): A Poem and Roundtable in Remembrance

The View Needs To Widen Their Scope on Jenna Talackova: Discussing Transphobia While Being Transphobic

Remembering Helen Betty Osborne

Response Equals Respect

If your readers comment on your blog the best thing to do is to respond.  For the first two years I did not do that.  Bad move!  Readers I have started to interact with have been coming back to my blog.  Response equals respect.  I may not agree with all peoples who read my blog, or comment, but I respect the fact that they took the time to visit, read, and write me.

Feature Your Best Posts

Good posts should not be left in the past.  Feature your most successful posts on a special page on your blog.  Click on my page Popular Posts.  New and old readers visit several of my posts that are now two and three years old.

Be A Good Host: Direct Your Readers To Places You Want Them To Visit

A Popular Posts page and a search bar (look to the right) help your readers go back in the past.  Again, old posts are not bad posts.  With the important topics I highlight I want readers to have access to them at all times.

Hold Off On Holding Off

Convicted!

The whole purpose of this post is to remind me not to be away from my readers to long periods of time.  If you want to lose regular readers or new readers visiting your blog stay in active.

We are going full circle here: Post Consistently!

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REENA VIRK (1983-1997): A POEM AND ROUNDTABLE IN REMEMBRANCE

Reena Virk picReena Virk, a 14 year old South Asian girl living in British Columbia, Canada was murdered in a racist attack by schoolmates in 1997. Today, November 14 2014, makes it 17 years since Reena was killed. The poem Reena is written by Toronto poet and activist Gitanjali Lena in honour or Reena Virk.  May Reena always be remembered.

Trigger Warning: the poem below deals with different forms of violence.

Reena

By Gitanjali Lena

Pounced upon by paleness

Set upon by mean girls of mixed races

And a boy for good measure

Who circled you like a titanium bangle

And kicked pleasure out of you

Gorged on your body

One November night in Saanich

Cracking bones burning bindi holes in your brown skin

Trampolining on your back until you were broken

You weren’t pristine

Your swagger spirit already soaked in spit, shame and

Too intimate touches from daddy

Fueled by mickey courage maybe you fooled around with someone at a party

How dare you? Lafungi besharam

You weren’t a delicate flower

With your broad Punjabi nose and masculine jaw

But “ugly” girls need protection too

Was the moon your only witness?

The stars your silent back up crew?

You needed us like brass knuckles, uppercuts and hugs for when you crumble

Standing at your memorial

I wished I could have stood by you in real time

Scattering daddy and Ellard into shards

We’d be that kindred sister posse that the coloured girls longed for

Post-mortem – details of the past rising to the surface like bubbles in bottle of Fanta

Denial of the community pushes back

Because to tear off scabs exposes raw flesh

And no one wants to be vulnerable in this land

You dared.

Gitanjali Lena is a mother, activist, poet, lawyer, an all around awesome person with good politics and a heart for community.  See Gitanjali read her poem Who Was Reena Virk? here.

The roundtable below provides much needed information NOT provided my mainstream media: 

To learn more about the Reena Virk murder and the court case that followed please click on the appropriate links below:

Review of Reena Virk: Critical Perspectives On A Canadian Murder

Interview with Mythili Rajiva, co-editor of Reena Virk: Critical Perspectives On A Canadian Murder

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