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#198 Trevor Carolan

November 21st, 2017

LOCATION: Chinese Benevolent Association former headquarters.

500-block Main Street, Vancouver

In Return To Stillness: Twenty Years With A Tai Chi Master (2003), Trevor Carolan has detailed his his 23-year apprenticeship with Tai Chi master Ng Ching-Por and recalls Chinatown in the 1970s. “I met Sifu Ng, the master of these tales, after he arrived from Hong Kong. I was searching for harmony in my life and he was a Taoist of 75 who moved like a small, alert dragon. The community loved him for his humility and the supple grace of his movements—like wild rye weaving in the wind. Sifu taught a small group of disciples upstairs at the Chinese Benevolent Association— landscape scrolls on the walls, cabinets of antiquities, gongs, lion-dance costumes, and the Peking Opera band’s instruments jammed every nook. He always instructed by example. Some things, he said, we can only comprehend with our heart.   ‘Fong sung, fong sung,’ he’d repeat: ‘Make it soft…’  “For years we studied and moved in rhythm together like shadows after the ox, like water flowing over the mill… Our old school was like a family.” Watershed conservation activist and professor of English at University of the Fraser Valley, Carolan is a Buddhist who has written many books and co-translated The Book of the Heart and The Supreme Way from Chinese.


Trevor Carolan was born to Yorkshire Irish family and settled in B.C. in 1957, at New Westminster.  He began writing at 17, filing dispatches from San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury music scene. For three years he travelled Britain, Europe and India before mastering in English at Humboldt State University in 1978. He studied with Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, was the first Executive Director of the Federation of BC Writers, and served as literary coordinator for the XV Olympic Winter Games in Calgary.

His published works include non-fiction, memoir, poetry, fiction, translation, stories for children, and anthologies. A contributor to Shambhala Sun, The Bloomsbury Review, Choice, Nguoi Viet, and Kyoto Journal, he travels widely in Asia. Active in Pacific coast watershed issues, he lives in North Vancouver where he served for three years as elected municipal councillor. He has written as a civic affairs columnist for the North Shore News and taught English and Asian Religion at University College of the Fraser Valley near Vancouver. He has also been affiliated with the Department of International Relations at Bond University, Queensland, Australia.

Trevor Carolan

His travel novel The Pillow Book of Dr. Jazz is published by Anchor. Giving Up Poetry: With Allen Ginsberg At Hollyhock is a memoir of his acquaintance with Allen Ginsberg. Return to Stillness: Twenty Years With a Tai Chi Master (Marlowe & Co., New York) is an account of his 20 years as a student of the traditional Chinese wisdom path with Tai Chi Master Ng Ching-Por in Vancouver’s Chinatown. He has collaborated with composer/pianist Mark Armanini as a librettist and has twice gathered excerpts for International Writers Calendars. He has been a research associate with the David See-Chai-Lam Centre at SFU, he has written regularly for Shambhala Sun magazine and he has edited a collection of writing from the Fraser Valley entitled Down in the Valley. In 2005, Trevor Carolan began co-producing a revival of the Pacific Rim Review of Books with Richard Olafson of Ekstasis Editions in Victoria. In 2006, Carolan accepted a new position as Banff Centre director of Literary Arts and republished The Pillowbook of Dr. Jazz: Travels Along Asia’s Dharma Trail, recalling the Japanese Pillowbook of Sei Shonogan. The story follows the travels of a late-night deejay, Dr. Jazz, and his girlfriend Nori as they backpack their way through Asia including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Nepal, Burma and Japan. Carolan resigned from his Banff position on a point of principle and returned to the West Coast in 2007.

Another Kind of Paradise from Boston-based Cheng & Tsui Publishers includes writers from Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Bangladesh and elsewhere, with brief introductions to each author’s works and life.

Trevor Carolan guest-edited Cascadia: The Life and Breath of the World (2013), a collection of environmental writing from the B.C./U.S. Pacific Northwest region that was cited as a “Notable Special Edition 2013” by the selectors of the annual Best American Essays in the U.S. It includes work by writers, poets, and orators such as Hugh Brody, Wade Davis, Robert Bringhurst, Gary Snyder, Rex Weyler, Jan Zwicky, Susan Musgrave, Barry Lopez, Charles Lillard, Theresa Kishkan, Eve Joseph, John Schreiber and Red Pine The collection was published as special book edition of Manoa Journal from University of Hawaii in Honolulu, partly because Hawaiians share an old affiliation with B.C. Recruited by the Hudson’s Bay Company in fur-trading days, and known as “Kanakas”, some settled at old Fort Langley and at Stanley Park and were used in helping portage canoes up the wilder reaches of the Fraser River. Place names in the area still bear evidence of this old connection—Kanaka Bar on the Fraser, Kanaka Creek and, in Maple Ridge, there’s Kanaka Drive. First Nations authors from B.C. in the book include Lee Maracle, Richard Van Camp, Eden Robinson, Richard Wagamese, Chief Dan George and Chief William K’HHalserten Sepass. Artwork is by Emily Carr from her original journals when she first visited the old native villages up the B.C. coast in the early 1900s. Permission to reprint these sketches came from the Provincial Museum and Archives.

Trevor Carolan has long balanced his literary life with his spiritual concerns. Five years after the Beatles famously hung out with the Maharishi and Mia Farrow in India, Trevor Carolan first encountered Buddhism in Calcutta in conversation with a pilgrim monk on the banks of the Hooghly River. Having since written and edited an excellent history of the Literary Storefront in Vancouver, Carolan has revisited his Buddhist affinities with New World Dharma: Interviews and Encounters with Buddhist Teachers, Writers and Leaders (SUNY State University of Albany Press 2016). Including his encounter with Allen Ginsberg on Cortes Island, Carolan has chapters on Gary Snyder, the Dalai Lama, Governor Jerry Brown and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, among others.

Trevor Carolan, Nanao and Ed Varney on Grouse Mountain, 1995.

In a 2016 message to Alan Twigg, Carolan wrote, “This one’s a kind of generational legacy document that I wanted to leave for those interested in how Buddhism has percolated into North American life in our time. I figured a good university press would have the reach to get it into libraries and SUNY in New York was excellent to work with. You’ll see the preponderance of writers among the interviewees. Less theological and more cross-cultural/literary/ethical. Thich Nhat Hanh, Robert Aitken-roshi, and HH the Dalai Lama take care of the doctrinal material. Interesting to see Sulak Sivaraksa’s influence on John Ralston Saul here in Canada. About Nanao, his importance to 1960s culture will probably be the focus of someone’s PhD somewhere. Snyder was introduced to the southern Japanese island commune (Banyan Ashram) Nanao had gathered and he was writing about this when he returned to San Francisco during the Haight-Ashbury phase. Gary wasn’t the only one talking about “Back to the Land” just then, but he was a strong voice for that generation and the lessons he got from Nanao were important. He’s also introduced Allen Ginsberg to the commune there too, and Allen later helped found a community in New York state. So it’s an interesting trans-Pacific connection that a Japanese proto-hippie deserves at least some mention in that whole late-Sixties cultural revolution. Nanao also knew the rad Tokyo poet Kazuko Shiraishi, who was born in Vancouver, so he was no stranger to the town when he arrived here first time. He’s certainly also been a heroic figure for some folks in Vancouver’s/B.C.’s Japanese-Canadian community. I remember Takeo Yamashiro, the shakuhachi player, and I seeing Nanao off at the train station on Main St. bound for Seattle. These guys were shouting Banzais! to each other like something out of an old novel.” $75 978-1-4384-5983-7

Review of the author’s work by BC Studies:
Making Waves: Reading BC and Pacific Northwest Literature


New World Dharma: Interviews and Encounters with Buddhist Teachers, Writers and Leaders (SUNY State University of Albany Press 2016). $75 978-1-4384-5983-7

The Literary Storefront, The Glory Years, Vancouver’s Literary Centre 1978-1984 (Mother Tongue 2015).

Along the Rim: Best of Pacific Rim Review of Books, Volume 2 (Ekstasis 2014) Anthology co-edited with Richard Olafson. $22.95 978-1-897430-66-8

Cascadia: The Life and Breath of the World (University of Hawaii Press 2013) $20 U.S. 978-0-8248-3936-9. Co-editor with Frank Stewart.

Making Waves: Reading B.C. and Pacific Northwest Literature, ed., (Anvil Press, 2010) 9781897535295 $20.00

Another Kind of Paradise: Short Stories from the New Asia-Pacific, ed., Cheng & Tsui, 2009. 978-0-887276-84-2 $19.95 U.S.

Against the Shore: The Best of the Pacific Rim Review of Books (Ekstasis, 2009), anthology co-edited with Richard Olafson. 978-1-897430-34-7 $22.95

The Pillow Book of Dr. Jazz: Travels Along Asia’s Dharma Trail, Ekstasis, 2006

Down In The Valley: Contemporary Writing of B.C.’s Fraser Valley, ed., Ekstasis, 2004

Return To Stillness: Twenty Years With a Tai Chi Master, (non-fiction) Marlowe, NY: 2003

Celtic Highway: Poems & Texts, Ekstasis Press, 2002

Giving Up Poetry: With Allen Ginsberg At Hollyhock, (memoir) Banff Centre Press, 2001

The Supreme Way: Inner Teachings of the Southern Mountain Tao, (co-translation with
Du Liang), North Atlantic, Berkeley, l997

Big Whiskers Saves The Cove, Concorde, Vancouver, l995 (children’s environmental mystery)

The Colours of Heaven: Short Stories From The Pacific Rim, ed., Vintage, New York,
1992. Foreign editions, ’96 (anthology)

The Book of the Heart: Embracing the Tao (with Bella Chen) , Shambhala Pub; Boston,
1990; foreign language editions, 1994. Canadian ed., Heron Press, Vancouver, l988

Closing The Circle, Heron Press; Vancouver, l985 (poetry)

[BCBW 2017]

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