NOYES, Steve

Author Tags: Chinese, Fiction, Poetry

Steve Noyes and poet Catherine Greenwood of Victoria were overlooked when B.C. BookWorld published a list of thirty-five B.C. couples in which both partners are authors.

Winnipeg-raised Stephen Noyes was educated at Carleton University's School of Journalism and UBC's MFA program. After stints in China teaching English at Chinese universities, Noyes spent more than a decade as a policy analyst in the BC Ministry of Health. He has since pursued a Ph.D in Writing at the University of Kent, in Canterbury, England.

Noyes' eighth book, November Radio (Oolichan $19.95) reflects his China/Victoria professional divide. After two lovers break-up in Victoria, Wendy travels to China where she becomes involved in the intrigues of two, bored, rebellious Chinese performance artists who seek to undermine the Chinese state by producing a dystopian holograph. Back in Victoria, Wendy's abandoned lover Gary is a provincial government bureaucrat in the Ministry of Wellness who is assigned to evaluate a clearly dangerous, anti-anxiety drug called Euphoritril--to which he happens to be addicted. Gary discovers suppressed research. His bosses want the drug approved. Meanwhile the state in China is corrupt in its own way, suppressing dissent and art, making life exceedingly dangerous for Wendy's disaffected, sophisticated and neurotic new friends.

Although the Chinese characters do not elicit our empathy, Noyes’ novel is hugely original by virtue of his depiction of this disaffected, internet-savvy sub-culture known as the 'fen qing' or angry youth. “Oddly, many of them were fiercely patriotic,” he says.

Noyes taught English at Qing Hua University in Beijing and in Dong Yan Jiao, a small village outside of Beijing, in 1997-1998, and those experiences have resonated in earlier books. Ghost Country (Brick Books, 2006) is a collection of poetry set in modern China. It has been described as poems that "spring from the intense anguished observations of the lover of a culture who is also, inescapably, the outsider." In Noyes' first novel, It Is Just That Your House Is So Far Away (Signature, 2010), a divorced English teacher in 1990s China falls in love with a local woman who has something to hide.

Rainbow Stage-Manchuria is an odd, three-tiered offering in which Steve Noyes first presents a 1973 rock concert in real time by the psychedelic Winnipeg band The Next as "a broad wink at the conventions of rock and the silly cosmologies of the seventies." A middle section called The Marais, not mentioned in the title, offers a mixed bag of poetry. The final section called Manchuria is a long and sarcastic lament by an exiled woman in Northern China.

Noyes's Cities of India (Ekstasis, 1994) is a collection of eleven short stories concerning self-discovery. In the title story, a tourist couple in Bombay must deal with the death of their teenage son on the street.


Backing into Heaven (1986) - poetry
Cities of India (Ekstasis, 1994) - short fiction
Hurriya (1996) - poetry
Ghost Country (Brick Books, 2006) - poetry
It Is Just That Your House Is So Far Away (Signature, 2010) 1-897109-42-3 - novel
Morbidity & Ornament (Oolichan) poetry
Rainbow Stage Manchuria (Oolichan 2013) - poetry 978-0-88982-288-7
November's Radio (Oolichan 2015) - novel $19.95 978-0-88982-311-2

[BCBW 2015] "Fiction" "Poetry"

Morbidity and Ornament by Stephen Noyes (Oolichan $17.95)

from Hannah Main-Van Der Kamp

Whereas Stephen Noyes’ previous collection Ghost Country (Brick 2006), was set entirely in China, about one-third of the new poems in Morbidity and Ornament are China-based. His other locales include a Vancouver mosque, a festival on Hainan Island, Esquimalt, the Prairies, the Philippines and North Africa.

A Mandarin scholar and traveler, Noyes avoids the pitfall of so much contemporary travel: the more we do it, the more shallow our experiences. So how to avoid consuming the world like a product, the Disneyfication of cultures?

Now everybody is from
they climb in tee shirts,
jeans and sunglasses
from their dusty jeeps,
and troop past
the rows of concrete shells,
the junked cars
and satellite dishes to the
one hotel.

By staying in one place, by living in Beijing, Noyes goes deeper. Knowing and loving the language helps, as does his respect for Buddhism and Islam.
At 120 pages, his Morbidity is a hefty book by current poetry publishing standards. Divided into eight sections, each prefaced by a short poem in Mandarin ideograms, the poems are mostly longish.

Noyes captures the intense contradictions of China as well as his regard for it. Labourers work in totally unsafe worksites; bland puppet bureaucrats dream of a condo in Richmond. Simplicities of peasant life (washing the pig) are contrasted by delirious spring festivals.

Back in Victoria, where Noyes works in the provincial bureaucracy, he recalls the blossoms of Chang’an and his own dream of himself there as a successful scholar. A nightmare about the accidental death of a sewage worker contrasts with a quiet poem about an empty temple.

These highly accomplished poems, varied in form and richly textured, include pieces on sheep and slugs, basketball, Chaucer (in Chaucer-ese), addictions and his teenage gymnast daughter.
Sometimes inscrutable but always interesting, Noyes captures the quirky grammar of transliterations from Mandarin into English, “the terrorists in swiftest coruscation incensed two erections.”

Any reader, who still holds the notion that it’s a good idea to erase Islam and insert secular prosperity, please read the final poem ‘As Was.’ A brass beater in a tiny, dusty town observes the foreign travelers. He knows he has traveled further because he travels in narratives.

Without complaints about the constraints of his life, he ends with praise,

“At least, at last, the clouds and darkening hills are sweet instances of how He, insinuator, penetrator, sole divisor, has lent shape from shadow from His generosity, makes stones swim underground and falcons plummet, made the shifting gift of water, and against the formless void will have sketched the constellations.”

[BCBW 2009]