Art, Activism, Ceremony… and Grief?

This edition honours Maria Worton, a cherished Montreal poet and activist from Eau Secours and Échec à la guerre. Maria served as our editor and played a vital role in the Salon Rouge writers’ group for numerous years.

Every child matters - Montréal rally for National Truth and Reconciliation Day - Photo Jody Freeman

Welcome to our new issue. Shé:kon.

This issue is dedicated to Maria Worton, a beloved Montréal poet and activist with Eau Secours and Échec à la guerre who was one of our editors for many years and an active member of the Salon Rouge writers’ group. In her “Tribute to Maria Worton,” novelist and journalist Janet Singleton describes Maria as “fearless, compassionate and committed to social justice […] funny, brilliant and sometimes enraged.” Maria left us far too soon last winter.

Distilled grief and a drive for justice are definitely fuel for activism as the planet and the fight to save it heats up. Earlier this summer we asked our far-flung Serai community: What pulses below the surface of our art? What drives our activism? Is ceremony a live force? Does grief put the surge into insurgent?

Contributors to this issue responded to our call with poetic gusto and a dash of Bear Clan humour, challenging us to sink our feet into the soil we stand on and embrace the dark night sky.

In “Reflections on Starry Skies,” Montréal spoken-word artist Ian Ferrier, musician Louise Campbell and visual artist Sarah Beth Goncarova discuss Dark Sky Preserves – and their book and album of the same name – with fellow artist and musician Susan Dubrofsky. Dark sky preserves are protected areas around the world that reduce light pollution and support the migration patterns, circadian rhythms and life cycles of birds, insects and animals, including humans.

Iranian-born artist Gazelle Bastan offers us luminous artwork in “Whispers of Rebellion: Women in Bright Shadows,” paying “homage to the unwavering spirit of Iranian women through the ages, and the recent movement of Woman, Life, Freedom…” 

Kanienke:haka writer Tahieròn:iohte Dan David seamlessly takes us from Samoa to Kanehsatà:ke through the warp of his short story, “It’s My Party,” poking around some cultural notions about how to prepare as we approach our “best before” date.

In “Dark and Bright,” multimedia artist Allie Duff comes cresting in out of the blue from St. John’s, Newfoundland, with poems and photos that pull us into their undertow: “We’re the ones screaming, Is this the real / life, is this just fantasy? at the funeral, / because that’s what he wanted.”

Emma Lesur, a Mexican-Dutch artist, writer and researcher based in the UK, ponders her own “mythologies as a transgender woman about wanting to ‘ascend’ away from the distress that came with being feared and aggressively scapegoated in conservative narratives.” Her poster art entitled “Heaven is empty and all the Angels are here” proposes an alternative approach to trying to escape upwards: rooting ourselves in the earth and in one another.

Gatineau-based author Truong Thi Huong Thuy portrays a young Vietnamese girl’s creative resistance to unfair punishment in her short story, “School Ends.” “I had tried my best. But how could I be good enough for them when the boredom they imposed on me only grew each day? It didn’t ebb and flow with the seasons like the water in the river.”

In “Transposing,” poet and musician Kathryn Jordan carves into the bones of grief. “… The pain is salt. I’d give / you a drink but it’s me who wants one. Instead, I find my Cuban guiro / so that you might rake your nails along its grooves and ridges.”

Writer Joseph Kary interviews novelist Caroline Vu in “Memories of Vietnam,” digging right in with a question about loss of home and place, and “how art and writing serve to cope with or transform loss.”

Two poems in “Rites and Writings” by Katharine Beeman trace an intimate ceremony with tobacco and cedar, honouring a loved one near a painted ceiba tree, and affectionately recall the late Steven Kaal, who cofounded the effervescent Abya-Yala bookstore on Boulevard St-Laurent with his partner, Lesvia Vela.

In her review, “A hard look at woke,” Serai’s intrepid Maya Khankhoje encapsulates the essential concerns raised by philosopher Susan Neiman in her controversial book, Left Is Not Woke: “… Neiman expressed regret about the abandonment of three basic principles essential to the left: ‘commitments to universalism, a hard distinction between justice and power, and the possibility of progress.’”

Poet Sheila Stewart “remembers the necessary distance between lovers” in “Each body,” and the fragility of new life (hatched or born)… “everywhere in the world / a baby coming.”

In “Wilde rozen,” poet, curator and activist Ilona Martonfi recalls “what we are losing / the sea around us / bleaching the coral” and “the ancient boreal forests / regrowing back as aspen …”

Musician, singer and composer Catherine Herrmann bends the genre of book review in her lush reader’s response to Elana Wolff’s book of poetry, Shape Taking. “To experience this sensuous and bright book, I had to dive fully in and swim around the poems as in a vast coral sea shot through with rays of light and currents from the dark depths beyond its edges.”

Our special thanks to Ian Ferrier and his partner Sarah Beth Goncarova, for sharing their words, art and music and calling down the stars.

We also want to remember Joyce Echaquan and her family, and ask readers to honour her legacy by endorsing “Joyce’s Principle.” Her Atikamekw community in Manawan, Québec is calling for concrete public support to eradicate systemic racism from our health and social services, and make all services inclusive and welcoming.

To find out more about Joyce’s Principle and pledge your support, please visit I support Joyce’s principle.

To contact the Atikamekw office overseeing Joyce’s Principle:

Together, we can make this change.
With love,

Jody Freeman

Jody Freeman is a member of Montréal Serai‘s editorial team.