Former Poet Laureate: Alan Hill (2017-2020)

Poet Alan Hill was chosen in February 2017 as New Westminster’s fourth Poet Laureate. Mr. Hill is a resident of the Glenbrook North neighbourhood of New Westminster. He is co-manager of the Poetry New West reading series and has been a regular on the Vancouver reading circuit for over ten years. He has been published in North America and Europe in numerous print and online journals. Publishing highlights in Canada include having poetry included in Event, CV2, Canadian Literature, Vancouver Review, Antigonish Review, Sub-Terrain, Poetry is Dead, Quills and Cascadia Review. He has also published two collections of poetry, ‘The Upstairs Country’ (Silverbow 2012) and ‘The Broken Word’ (Silverbow 2013). In 2007 he featured in the ‘Rocksalt’ anthology (Mother Tongue), the first BC wide anthology of poetry for over thirty years. Alan immigrated to New Westminster from the UK after meeting, and being sponsored by, his Vietnamese-Canadian wife while working in Botswana.

Remembrance During a Pandemic
Remembrance Day 2020
We need our dead, those that never came back
the body parts of our boys, not quite men
we left on the beaches at Dieppe, Normandy, 
the never to be lived dreams of the perpetually young 
that were left out to wither, disappear 
in the deep-set lanes, arthritic hedgerows of the 
Italian interior, sun shot Ortona back lanes.
You would have thought we had asked enough of them.
But no, we cannot let them rest.
We come back again, then again,  
to ask them how we must be, what courage is
how we would recognise it, know it for our own 
how to be resilient, compassionate, face aging, illness
those things that they will never have to face
because of what we took from them, insist they give. 
The dead, those changed by war 
will never let us down, never have
when we come to them, insist they tell us how 
to live. 

To Our Indigenous Veterans 

Remembrance Day, New Westminster, 2019 
What does it mean to fight for a country that wants you gone
that sees you an as anachronism, throwback, embarrassment-  
at the very least, has no interest in your survival 
will not recognise your worth, unless it is the time to kill…
unless it is a time when those that can hunt, know weaponry 
can be utilised, are now needed? 
I do not know how to answer those questions…
yet, 7000 indigenous people DID answer them… 
found a way to serve in World War One, Two, Korea  
often came home, disenfranchised, wanted by nobody, to poverty
off the reserve too long to keep their status, not 
white enough for veterans’ benefits.  
Each of those 7000 must have had their reasons to enlist, particular 
to their lives-
…perhaps for a way in, a way out, tradition, pride, belief 
in our common humanity 
or a pathway out of debt, or to see the world 
…perhaps a few had even come to find a compromise  
with the many headed beast, the Empire that was killing them. 
I would like to think my grandfather, who 
fought for four years on the Somme
in Belgium, France in Turkey, who
joined the trade union for a better world, would
have seen these indigenous men and women 
as his brothers, his sisters, as his comrades 
Again, I can’t answer that. I have nobody left that can tell me.  
Yet I know it is not too late; 
we are family, Canadians, there is no time left for secrets 
no more time for lies. 
Let us celebrate how we have worked, we can still work 
let us remember all the sacrifices made, 
remember what we would have never had, who would not be here, if 
fascism has not been defeated   
remember ALL of those that fought, how they must be honoured 
how we must go forward together, beyond the gas, the guns and shells  
into our suburbia, our glittering city in its greatness-  
yes, all of us, together now. 

It is Time 
Canada Day, New Westminster 2019

Hold this fire in your hands, this day of us.
Let it burn, purify.
Let it clean the spaces where we live
the gaps between us, where we are real
that cannot be seen.
Let our anthem carry your breath
straighten your tongue,
temper it into a truer intent   
unleash the words of what we have achieved
let them lose onto the air. 

It is time to share,
this good fortune, who we are

It is time to be ourselves, become us,
reconciled, in reconciliation
with what we have done, what we can become.  

It is time to show our love in what we have achieved,

celebrate what we have won
through our work, enterprise, good government

It is time now to admit, that it was more than that

that there are stains, shadows,
there is a darkness we must face

there are people that have not come with us,
that we left behind
the dead, living, that we must learn to remember

that are here now, in this our home and native land,
where we must be reconciled, in reconciliation

For What Is Within Us
City of New Westminster, May Day Gala, 2019

To prod our dank, unwilling, thoughts into the sun

the tethered cattle of our passions into light

into air still smeared with Easters saints.

This dark interior mountain range of what we are

can finally begin to bud.

The vast and lonely shore of death denied once more.

Spring begins to linger like a restless teen

that is learning

to trace the contours of his fathers laugh

become his mothers calming hands

to wrestle off the carcass of the winter brute

pay homage to the bleak grey stones

the monuments of our people

dance under a trimming of stars

for a moment take the shadows of ourselves, the

doubts, the fears; slip out of them like skin.

The Undefeated
Remembrance Day, November 2018

“The Battle of the Atlantic was not won by any Navy or any Air Force, it was won by the courage, fortitude and determination of the British and Allied Merchant Navy”
Rear Admiral Leonard W. Murray: Royal Canadian Navy.

Incinerating oil
the Atlantic, Artic freeze, the few brief moments before the ship blew, rolled over.
If you were down below, you knew it, you had no chance.
A door that would not open, gangway blocked spelled death.
Most accepted that, it was the bargain you had made.
You knew there would still be terror, you would still burn, call for your mother
when the boilers burst, the water forced your mouth.

It was 50/50 if your ship was hit. You knew it.
Sometimes, if you survived, got to the ocean alive, you were left.
Too dangerous for other ships to stop, rescue you, as if you were still human.
No blaze of glory, just a lonely, terrifying end.
There were no uniforms, no proper pay, the ships were often old
rusted hulks not fit for the job, converted great lake steamers
semi retired coast huggers.

It was that we had family, community, a bond across continents
brothers, sisters, that knew the same farm, factory, history.
There were people, our people
that we would not let starve, become victims, prisoners of power sniffing little tyrants
of a self-appointed master race.

We were one people then.
Our religions, ethnicities all pooled in strength to defeat a tyranny
welded, pressed with the same rivets, floated in the same kind of love
its broken fingered, imperial, imperfection:
Because our sailors died, served, sometimes partly survived
we are still one people. We are here, undefeated, ready.

Some Words for the Young 
City of New Westminster, May Day Gala, 2018

This is more than the dance; this is being alive.
In your life, there will be hard times, disappointments, yet
you will always have this

every May for ever. Every time the sunlight comes again, that
life returns, the world is young once more. 

This is something that is ours, yours. 
Nobody can take it 
anymore than they can steal the fuse
that forces the flower through the field

or they can pocket the heavy thatch of thickened blossom
or take the rain, invest it, live from the surplus labour of the clouds
claim light, air, as their own
or steal away how springtime hardens in your blood
coagulates your thoughts, pushes you out into the world

to be with others, friends, community, in the
parks and forests of tomorrow
in a ship less ocean, empty sky, with
the springtime that has laid its box of chocolates at your feet.

Poem Read for National Poetry Month Proclamation - March 2017 

The King of Glenbrook North    

First my parent’s garden
its Eden of children’s parties   
filthy knees

perpetual summer ecosystem,
of sugared up boys
microclimate of budded hormones     
punctured soccer balls.

Then the garden I tended as a student.
Industrial grade carrots,
cannonball sized cabbages
between which my fiancé Michelle    
in her wedding dress, netted herself
in front of the unsteady flesh
of the neighbours fence-
her peasant’s hands, bony and white
from the lack of a ring
that even then, I knew, I
was to never acquire for her. 

Then this garden I have now- small
secret, suburban

each corner
a continent overcrowded with trees
Laburnum      Pine      Magnolia
pockets of Spring light    
that only I have seen-
uncharted silences in the raspberry canes:

bordered by a pelt of rough cut lawn
shimmying itself shyly     
towards the back of the house   

squared up    
to the edge of the known world. 

Poem Read at the May Day Gala - May 24th 2017

May Day- New Westminster

This Maypole, middle world axis
for the earth to turn
lighthouse inside us, hormonal summer vision
bringer of buds, idolatry, difference
for us to wrap ourselves, pull the ribbons tight
climb back in the box of who we are.

Twist and turn, step around each other, avoid each other
each in our way, our role, individual, team
learning to be, to welcome it back
what is bigger than us, this god, or gods
law of nature. law of science
what it is we are, that we cannot know
maybe do not need to know

whatever that it is that gives us everything
owes us nothing
life in its cruelty, beauty, indifference, magnificence. 

We watch our children dance
these ones that will replace us
each hand held to the next like a thirst in need of
Breath in their joy, charge on it
in the knowledge that they understand, know a little now
of what we are, where we come from

that whatever world they make
what we give them now will not be in vain

that in this dance
whichever way they run they will be back
meet in the middle, weaved, stitched, more complete. 

Poem Written for Canada Day- July 2017  Canada Day
New Westminster, 2017

This City will not die.
The torn moon stitched tight
fire swept backwards into
the pocket of an Edwardian morning
river rooted around the sky into
a tree of smoke.

Our forefathers could hate
left the hard stumps of the excluded

They could also build
brought us the lung lines of our streets
the verdant foliage of the
collective head
schools, churches, temples, the
knife sharp shopping of our being

the fields and factories of tomorrow
palaces of the nine to five
hard shipping of Pacific
bleached, bloodied in Panama sun
Atlantic salt

our people
sprinting from the River edge
multiplying in grids.

Own this history, what has been done
has yet to come

no barrel bombs or gas

the barbed wire from around the heart
then all that is left of us is love.   

The Hunger Winter

Dedicated to Gert Heijkoop – Consulate General Vancouver

Kingdom of the Netherlands.   

A mad man under Berlin 
tap danced on his pyramid of skulls

his armies shifted, regiments paraded
peopled died -

the old, children, the ill
those that the utopians, the pure, master race
had no function for

who were not the right height, weight, colour
religion, shirt size
who spoke the wrong language.

People had to be murdered
for someone else’s fantasy of paradise.

Isn’t that always the way?  

All we had left to give, us Canadians, British
was our children

Eighteen, twenty years old’s.
Men then, who would be kids to us now.

We sent them out with guns, tanks
food they swapped for flowers

with bullets, their lives
that they bartered for a country

to give it back to those that owned it.  

In the slice of bread, spread of butter
there is a meal we will always share
a life we built together, will keep on building

Not heaven,
not the world of jumped up little fascists
with their answers, uniformed corpses

just this acceptance of ourselves
honouring of who we want to be
hope we can be better in what we do
how we include, value, honour

There are some
that would simply call this love.  

Alan Hill – Poet Laureate, City of New Westminster, November 11th, 2017.