Repopulating Poplar Island
April 28th, 2015
Reflecting the history of Poplar Island in New Westminster, Cecily Nicholson’s collection of ‘documentary poetry’, From the Poplars (Talonbooks), has won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize in 2015. The site B.C. Rabble.ca hailed it as “a compelling blend of poetic research, personal infusion, and historical subjectivity while remaining urgent and insightful. It’s a call to arms for environmental consciousness, and a text monument of loss and shame.”
Located at the east end of the North Arm of the Fraser River, unpopulated Poplar Island was a part of three reserves relegated to the “New Westminster Indian Band” in 1879 by the federal government. After some 27 acres of reserve land became a smallpox quarantine area for Qayqayt First Nations, reducing their numbers from about 400 to 100, the remaining Qayqayt mostly joined the Musqueam Band, making it much easier for the B.C. government to enable New Westminster Construction and Engineering Company to build a large shipyard on the island in 1916. By 1936, only fisheries warden William Albert Bowcott and his family lived on the island. In 1945, the city of New Westminster allowed the island to be used by forestry giant Rayonier Canada. In 1995, the provincial government declared the island was part of its “nature legacy” program. Cecily Nicholson’s poetry book is partially inspired by the efforts of the revived Qayqayt First Nation to regain control of the island. They assert they are the only chartered First Nations government in Canada without any land base.
As a community organizer who has worked in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside since 2000, and who has administered the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, Cecily Nicholson wrote a first book of poetry, Triage (Talonbooks, 2011), that presents “a polyvocal narrative of human communities struggling at the brutal margins of the neoliberalized state.” It examines and supports women’s creative resistance to both physical and systemic violence.
As the administrator of Gallery Gachet, she continues to engage with conditions of displacement, class and gender violence. Cecily Nicholson was also a contributor to Anamnesia: Unforgetting (VIVO Media Arts, 2012).
Triage (Talonbooks 2011) 978-0-88922-657-9 $16.95
From the Poplars (Talon 2014) $16.95 978-0-88922-856-6