It’s been a good month for Nelson poet Jane Byers — not only did she receive the Richard Carver award at the Kootenay Literary Competition gala on March 14, but seven days prior to that her first book of poetry was published by Caitlin Press.
The 46-year-old has had many of her individual poems published in Canadian anthologies and magazines. She’s a three time winner of the Nelson and District Poetry Competition and can regularly be seen reading her work at local literary events. But after her accomplishments these past weeks she tells the Nelson Star, “maybe I can finally start calling myself a writer — I’m not sure.”
But the judges from the Kootenay Library Federation, who selected her for the Richard Carver award, wouldn’t hesitate to give her that title. The award, now in its second year, recognizes an emerging Kootenay writer and includes a $400 prize from the Nelson and District Arts Council, which Carver was president of when he died suddenly in 2009.
“It’s really a vote of confidence to get the award,” Byers says, recalling how she often used to see Carver at literary events. “It’s amazing to see that his family is carrying on his legacy of supporting local writers.”
Byers first started writing poetry in high school, then gave it up while she was working on a science degree at university. She returned to it as an adult, after taking a continuing education course with a poet in Toronto, where she lived for 14 years before moving to Nelson in 2006.
Byers says since settling here she’s received a great deal of support from the many experienced writers in the community. In particular, she credits Susan Andrews Grace for helping her organize her poems into a cohesive collection that would appeal to a publisher.
Her book, Steeling Effects, includes some 65 poems she wrote over the course of the past decade. A theme running through the collection is that of human resilience, examined through the context of raising children, lesbian and gay issues, sexism, local geography and health and safety in the workplace.
“Why do some of us turn out to roll with the punches and some of us not so much?” Byers asks. “I’ve explored that through some questions of my own life. With my own almost dying at birth and some traumatic events I lived through, how is it that I’m all right?”
With her book now on display locally at Otters Books, Byers says she’s feeling a mix of accomplishment and dread. The latter because, “There’s some pretty personal stuff in there that people will probably want to ask me about when they see me on the street.”
Still it’s a milestone for her and one she hopes to repeat soon. Byers says she’s already well into her second manuscript, which she’s been writing mostly between the hours of 5 and 6:30 a.m. while her wife, Amy Bohigian, and their six-year-old twin children are sleeping.
“Now that I’ve had one book published, it feels much more possible to think about a second one,” she says.
There will be a book launch for Steeling Effects at the Nelson Library on April 17 at 7 p.m.