Last time Jane Byers launched a poetry collection at the library it was a packed house, and this time around they’re expecting more of the same.
“Jane has a healthy following that goes well beyond the local,” said organizer Anne DeGrace. “Readers have been waiting for this volume with anticipation.”
In Steeling Effects, Byers’ first poetry collection published in 2014, the Nelson poet explored her experience with resilience in the face of personal challenges.
In the poems in Acquired Community she investigates seminal moments in North American lesbian and gay history, and reflects on her own coming out experience in the context that larger picture.
“That’s what came to me about two-thirds of the way through writing this book, is I’ve gone from writing about individual resilience to a community’s resilience,” she previously told the Star. Byers said when she was younger she was too self-absorbed to realize the significance of the AIDS epidemic going around her.
“My experience at that point is I was realizing I was a lesbian and all that goes with that, and it was fairly self-consuming. What will people think? Will I be tossed out of my family? I was writing some personal poems about that time, and this project grew from there.”
Overall, Acquired Community examines and celebrates community resilience.
“You can’t compare people’s pain, but I always wonder why some of us bounce back after adverse things come our way, and others don’t. Why am I all right? Why am I functional? I think that strength comes not so much from hardening, but from being more flexible, pliable, able to adapt,” Byers said.
“This is the history you didn’t learn at school. These poems are based on stories that are rich with grace and humour in the face of oppression.”
The book features such historical figures as outspoken homosexuality opponent Anita Bryant at one end of the spectrum, and gay academic Michael Lynch (who died of AIDS in 1992) on the other.
“He had an enormous influence. He started the AIDS community in Toronto and we started three or four of the main organizations doing that sort of work.
“It’s amazing how people did amazing things in such super short lives, because many were dying in their early 30s.”
Byers has had poems, essays and short fiction published in a number of books and literary magazines in Canada, the US, and the UK, including Grain, Descant, the Antigonish Review, the Canadian Journal of Hockey Literature, Poetry in Transit and Best Canadian Poetry 2014.
She is a recipient of the Richard Carver Award for Emerging Writers.
The reading will be at the Nelson Public Library on October 6 at 7 p.m.