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Massy Interviews / Harbour Centre 5 including Robbie Chesick, Rebecca Holand, James X. Wang, Jaeyun Yoo and Christina Shah

On Tuesday, October 25, join Massy Arts, Massy Books, and local poetry collective, Harbour Centre 5, for the launch of Brine—a debut poetry chapbook offering a wild ferment reminiscent of a Steely Dan album. With readings by Robbie Chesick, Rebecca Holand, James X. Wang, Jaeyun Yoo and Christina Shah, attendees are invited to gather in celebration of this work through a reception and Q&A. Following the launch, the authors of will also be available for book signing.

Registration is free, open to all and mandatory for entrance.

Purchase Brine by Harbour Centre 5 at Massy Books.

To celebrate the launch of Brine, Romila Barryman interviews Harbour Centre 5 for Massy Arts–including Robbie Chesick, Rebecca Holand, James X. Wang, Jaeyun Yoo and Christina Shah. In this lighthearted conversation, the group discusses how they “super-collided” and their literary lineage.

You mention that members of Harbour Centre 5 (HC5) “super-collided” at a SFU’s Poetry Series for the Weekend Student. What were the elements—shared experiences, overlap in value, moments of understanding—that magnetized the poetry collective together?

HC5: The timing was so interesting, as we all met in Jan. 2019–we had no idea what was to come. A number of us wanted to start a writing group to continue workshopping once a month after the course was over. Five of us stayed committed to regular online meetings throughout the pandemic. We all seriously wanted to become better writers (and readers!) and we had good chemistry. Despite being at different stages of development, we were all on the verge of a breakthrough in terms of getting our poetry out into the world. After a bit of fermentation, here we are.

Rolling Stone titled Steely Dan, “perfect musical antiheroes” of their time. Brine seems to be populated with such characters: shoreline lovers, travelling preachers, worm people and warrior women. Why was it important to offer a literary world for the unconventional protagonist with rogue ideals?

HC5: To respond to a reference with another reference (this time from the 80s’ teen epic, The Breakfast Club)‒ “but what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question?” These characters (and their creators by extension) are engaged in small acts of colouring outside the lines in a world that seeks to extinguish our humanity in so many ways. These are people who just want to live.

Share with us some of the inspirations behind these characters.

CS: At least for me, there’s that thread of characters who’ve had a rough ride. In each of my poems there is the theme of going underground, then metamorphosis.

JY: I am inspired by the various people and experiences that populate my life. My poems in Brine include characters derived from my own family or even the neighbourhood restaurant that shut down due to COVID-19.

JW: My fascination is with places, not just the abundant obscure exotica, but also the in-between spaces and all of their benthic inhabitants who come out at dusk.

RH: I’d say many of my characters are taking a moment to evaluate their role in the reality of life as they’re experiencing it.

RC: Rogues, radicals, recluses— when characters do pop up in my poems, it’s usually because they emit some compelling emotional perfume or pose a question about norms, conventional mental attitudes, or perspective.

As Brine invites the reader under the microscope, I’m curious what macrocosms HC5 pulls from to build its miniature world? What is HC5’s (and its poetry members’) positionality within it?

HC5: We’re all in there somewhere- either writing about our own experiences or observations. Relationships, cultural heritage, the mystical life, nature, work, street life. We all come from different walks of life, so I’d say we’re all committed students of the human condition.

HC5 cites Fiona Tinwei Lam and Evelyn Lau as its literary lineage. Tell us how their course helped shaped what we see in Brine? (And, perhaps, in what way it deviated?)

HC5: It gave us the framework and the tools for developing a writing practice. Each session was divided into two halves- poetry theory and mechanics (and analysis/exercises) in the morning with Fiona, and workshopping with Evelyn in the afternoon.

The course inspired us to embrace our individuality while encouraging a sense of community. In that way, we haven’t deviated from the values of our mentors, but rather have grown into our own poetic voices!

Anything else readers should know?

CS: Interests–I myself like long walks on the beach.

JY: Speaking of long walks, my idea of fun is going on multi-day backcountry hikes carrying a 30lb backpack. Coming home with mosquito bites is not so fun.

JW: I know Christina has strong opinions about pretzels. I’m more of a fruit person myself. I can’t contain my exuberance when I find a rare (in Canada) fruit that I haven’t tried. Last month, I picked up a few salaks from a market. Maybe they’ll make their way into a poem.

RH: Admission of inner fears is cathartic, and a daily task, like walking the beach or brushing something – your teeth, your hair, a cat.