Author Tags: Poetry, Travel
Born in Yorkshire, Trevor Carolan immigrated with his family to New Westminster, British Columbia in 1957. He began writing at 17, filing dispatches from San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury music scene. For three years he travelled Britain, Europe and India before mastering in English at Humboldt State University in 1978. He studied with Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, was the first Executive Director of the Federation of BC Writers, and served as literary coordinator for the XV Olympic Winter Games in Calgary.
His published works include non-fiction, memoir, poetry, fiction, translation, stories for children, and anthologies. A contributor to Shambhala Sun, The Bloomsbury Review, Choice, Nguoi Viet, and Kyoto Journal, he travels widely in Asia. Active in Pacific coast watershed issues, he lives in North Vancouver where he served for three years as elected municipal councillor. He has written as a civic affairs columnist for the North Shore News and taught English and Asian Religion at University College of the Fraser Valley near Vancouver. He has also been affiliated with the Department of International Relations at Bond University, Queensland, Australia.
His travel novel The Pillow Book of Dr. Jazz is published by Anchor. Giving Up Poetry: With Allen Ginsberg At Hollyhock is a memoir of his acquaintance with Allen Ginsberg. Return to Stillness: Twenty Years With a Tai Chi Master (Marlowe & Co., New York) is an account of his 20 years as a student of the traditional Chinese wisdom path with Tai Chi Master Ng Ching-Por in Vancouver’s Chinatown. He has collaborated with composer/pianist Mark Armanini as a librettist and has twice gathered excerpts for International Writers Calendars. He has been a research associate with the David See-Chai-Lam Centre at SFU, he has written regularly for Shambhala Sun magazine and he has edited a collection of writing from the Fraser Valley entitled Down in the Valley. In 2005, Trevor Carolan began co-producing a revival of the Pacific Rim Review of Books with Richard Olafson of Ekstasis Editions in Victoria. In 2006, Carolan accepted a new position as Banff Centre director of Literary Arts and republished The Pillowbook of Dr. Jazz: Travels Along Asia's Dharma Trail, recalling the Japanese Pillowbook of Sei Shonogan. The story follows the travels of a late-night deejay, Dr. Jazz, and his girlfriend Nori as they backpack their way through Asia including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Nepal, Burma and Japan. Carolan resigned from his Banff position on a point of principle and returned to the West Coast in 2007.
Another Kind of Paradise from Boston-based Cheng & Tsui Publishers includes writers from Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Bangladesh and elsewhere, with brief introductions to each author’s works and life.
Trevor Carolan guest-edited Cascadia: The Life and Breath of the World (2013), a collection of environmental writing from the B.C./U.S. Pacific Northwest region that was cited as a "Notable Special Edition 2013" by the selectors of the annual Best American Essays in the U.S. It includes work by writers, poets, and orators such as Hugh Brody, Wade Davis, Robert Bringhurst, Gary Snyder, Rex Weyler, Jan Zwicky, Susan Musgrave, Barry Lopez, Charles Lillard, Theresa Kishkan, Eve Joseph, John Schreiber and Red Pine The collection was published as special book edition of Manoa Journal from University of Hawaii in Honolulu, partly because Hawaiians share an old affiliation with B.C. Recruited by the Hudson's Bay Company in fur-trading days, and known as "Kanakas", some settled at old Fort Langley and at Stanley Park and were used in helping portage canoes up the wilder reaches of the Fraser River. Place names in the area still bear evidence of this old connection—Kanaka Bar on the Fraser, Kanaka Creek and, in Maple Ridge, there's Kanaka Drive. First Nations authors from B.C. in the book include Lee Maracle, Richard Van Camp, Eden Robinson, Richard Wagamese, Chief Dan George and Chief William K'HHalserten Sepass. Artwork is by Emily Carr from her original journals when she first visited the old native villages up the B.C. coast in the early 1900s. Permission to reprint these sketches came from the Provincial Museum and Archives.
Trevor Carolan has long balanced his literary life with his spiritual concerns. Five years after the Beatles famously hung out with the Maharishi and Mia Farrow in India, Trevor Carolan first encountered Buddhism in Calcutta in conversation with a pilgrim monk on the banks of the Hooghly River. Having since written and edited an excellent history of the Literary Storefront in Vancouver, Carolan has revisited his Buddhist affinities with New World Dharma: Interviews and Encounters with Buddhist Teachers, Writers and Leaders (SUNY State University of Albany Press 2016). Including his encounter with Allen Ginsberg on Cortes Island, Carolan has chapters on Gary Snyder, the Dalai Lama, Governor Jerry Brown and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, among others. In a 2016 message to Alan Twigg, Carolan wrote, "This one’s a kind of generational legacy document that I wanted to leave for those interested in how Buddhism has percolated into North American life in our time. I figured a good university press would have the reach to get it into libraries and SUNY in New York was excellent to work with. You’ll see the preponderance of writers among the interviewees. Less theological and more cross-cultural/literary/ethical. Thich Nhat Hanh, Robert Aitken-roshi, and HH the Dalai Lama take care of the doctrinal material. Interesting to see Sulak Sivaraksa’s influence on John Ralston Saul here in Canada. About Nanao, his importance to 1960s culture will probably be the focus of someone’s PhD somewhere. Snyder was introduced to the southern Japanese island commune (Banyan Ashram) Nanao had gathered and he was writing about this when he returned to San Francisco during the Haight-Ashbury phase. Gary wasn’t the only one talking about “Back to the Land” just then, but he was a strong voice for that generation and the lessons he got from Nanao were important. He’s also introduced Allen Ginsberg to the commune there too, and Allen later helped found a community in New York state. So it’s an interesting trans-Pacific connection that a Japanese proto-hippie deserves at least some mention in that whole late-Sixties cultural revolution. Nanao also knew the rad Tokyo poet Kazuko Shiraishi, who was born in Vancouver, so he was no stranger to the town when he arrived here first time. He’s certainly also been a heroic figure for some folks in Vancouver’s/B.C.’s Japanese-Canadian community. I remember Takeo Yamashiro, the shakuhachi player, and I seeing Nanao off at the train station on Main St. bound for Seattle. These guys were shouting Banzais! to each other like something out of an old novel." $75 978-1-4384-5983-7
Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Making Waves: Reading BC and Pacific Northwest Literature
New World Dharma: Interviews and Encounters with Buddhist Teachers, Writers and Leaders (SUNY State University of Albany Press 2016). $75 978-1-4384-5983-7
The Literary Storefront, The Glory Years, Vancouver’s Literary Centre 1978-1984 (Mother Tongue 2015).
Along the Rim: Best of Pacific Rim Review of Books, Volume 2 (Ekstasis 2014) Anthology co-edited with Richard Olafson. $22.95 978-1-897430-66-8
Cascadia: The Life and Breath of the World (University of Hawaii Press 2013) $20 U.S. 978-0-8248-3936-9. Co-editor with Frank Stewart.
Making Waves: Reading B.C. and Pacific Northwest Literature, ed., (Anvil Press, 2010) 9781897535295 $20.00
Another Kind of Paradise: Short Stories from the New Asia-Pacific, ed., Cheng & Tsui, 2009. 978-0-887276-84-2 $19.95 U.S.
Against the Shore: The Best of the Pacific Rim Review of Books (Ekstasis, 2009), anthology co-edited with Richard Olafson. 978-1-897430-34-7 $22.95
The Pillow Book of Dr. Jazz: Travels Along Asia’s Dharma Trail, Ekstasis, 2006
Down In The Valley: Contemporary Writing of B.C.’s Fraser Valley, ed., Ekstasis, 2004
Return To Stillness: Twenty Years With a Tai Chi Master, (non-fiction) Marlowe, NY: 2003
Celtic Highway: Poems & Texts, Ekstasis Press, 2002
Giving Up Poetry: With Allen Ginsberg At Hollyhock, (memoir) Banff Centre Press, 2001
The Supreme Way: Inner Teachings of the Southern Mountain Tao, (co-translation with
Du Liang), North Atlantic, Berkeley, l997
Big Whiskers Saves The Cove, Concorde, Vancouver, l995 (children’s environmental mystery)
The Colours of Heaven: Short Stories From The Pacific Rim, ed., Vintage, New York,
1992. Foreign editions, '96 (anthology)
The Book of the Heart: Embracing the Tao (with Bella Chen) , Shambhala Pub; Boston,
1990; foreign language editions, 1994. Canadian ed., Heron Press, Vancouver, l988
Closing The Circle, Heron Press; Vancouver, l985 (poetry)
[BCBW 2014] "Poetry" "Travel"
Return to Stillness & Giving Up Poetry
In the late 1960s, Trevor Carolan travelled throughout Europe and Asia. Upon his return to Vancouver, he could only find a job filling graves. “The job couldn’t have been quieter,” he recalls, “and was custom-made for daylong meditations on the transience of this physical world.”
In 1978 Trevor Carolan attended a poetry reading by Allen Ginsberg and was advised, “Forget about ambition. Just write for yourself and for your friends and anyone who’ll listen. Forget about ambition. It’s better to be a loser.”
Taking Ginsberg’s advice to heart, Carolan eschewed ego and expanded his awareness of eastern philosophies by trying to take Tai Chi classes at a suburban high school. A cigarette-puffing Chinese instructor discouraged his entry. ‘Too full, too full! No room!’ he coughed.
Then Carolan found Ng Ching-Por.
“It was a rainy Tuesday,” he says, “and I arrived at an overcrowded classroom with desks piled up against the walls. An elderly Chinese gentleman who spoke no English led the class.” After ten weeks with Ng Ching-Por, forty-nine students had dwindled to two. The school was slated for demolition; there would be no more classes.
The 75-year-old Ng offered to teach Carolan—at the master’s own house. After a trip to New York, Carolan decided to take Ng up on his offer but had lost his teacher’s address. “I was utterly unable to locate Master Ng… Searching the phone books drew a blank. The school where he’d taught was a vacant lot heaped with rubble.”
One afternoon Carolan took refuge from the rain in a Chinatown restaurant. “I barged in and took my regular booth. Fifteen minutes later, slurping hot broth, I noticed a pair of hands lower a newspaper two booths farther down. With a holler, I threw my arms wide for joy: Master Ng was beckoning me to join him.”
He began classes: five hours a week in Chinatown, half-days on Sundays, and an hour each morning at home. Ng Ching-Por was affectionately called Sifu, or master, by his students. Carolan recounts his 23 years studying with Sifu in Return to Stillness (Marlowe $14.95 US). In thirty chapters, described by Carolan as ‘small epiphanies,’ Master Ng is both companion and idol. “This man had become as dear to me as the grandfather I’d never had.”
Often the sole western student in Master Ng’s classes, Carolan talks about the roots of Tai Chi, his motivation to study, and how he dealt with frustration and competitive urges. “When the chi is flowing, and the music of the spheres is in attunement, we experience the sacramental.”
Carolan had a similar, but briefer tutelage with the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) that resulted in Giving Up Poetry: With Allen Ginsberg at Hollyhock (Banff Centre $16.95), an account of a week-long retreat at Hollyhock Farm on Cortes Island in 1985. The memoir begins with the grandfather of Beat poetry propositioning Carolan, a Taoist translator, in the swimming pool. It includes vignettes from Ginsberg’s friendships with writers such as William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac.
Carolan grew up in New Westminster, having immigrated with his family from Yorkshire, England in 1957. He attended California State U and reported on the Haight-Ashbury music scene in San Francisco during the 1960s. He first traveled to Asia at age 23, and worked as the literary coordinator for the Calgary Olympic Games. He was elected as a municipal councilor in North Vancouver (1996-99) and is a research associate with the David See-Chai-Lam Centre at SFU. He writes for Shambhala Sun magazine. Return 1-56924-487-1; Giving 0-920159-83-4
Banff Centre appointment
Press Release (2006)
B.C. writer Trevor Carolan appointed Banff Centre director of Literary
The Banff Centre has appointed B.C.-based writer and educator Trevor
Carolan to the new position of director, Literary Arts, responsible for
overseeing all literary programs and the Banff Centre Press.
The Literary Arts department has a distinguished history at The Banff
Centre, dating from the days when W.O. Mitchell led it. In recent years,
innovative programs such as Wired Writing, the Banff International
Translation Centre, Literary Journalism, and Science Communications have
been developed, leading to the current rich array of course offerings.
In announcing Carolan's appointment, Vincent Varga, executive artistic
director of Fine Arts, noted, "Trevor Carolan brings such a broad range
of experience - from journalism to poetry to teaching and publishing -
which will be a real asset. He also has an ability to encourage a
deepening of national and international collaborative opportunities for
the Centre's arts-based learning culture."
Carolan began his career in the arts as a printmaker, going on to
complete a Master's in English Literature from Humboldt State University
in California in 1978. He recently completed interdisciplinary PhD
studies in International Relations at Bond University in Queensland,
The Literary Storefront: The Glory Years (Mother Tongue $29.95)
from BCBW (Autumn)
Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Edward Albee. Tennessee Williams. Earle Birney. George Faludy. Brian Moore. Margaret Atwood. Audrey Thomas. All appeared at Mona Fertig’s Literary Storefront in Vancouver from 1978 to 1984. Trevor Carolan has produced a richly illustrated history, The Literary Storefront: The Glory Years (Mother Tongue $29.95), to enshrine the community centre for posterity. It’s an intriguing tribute, only missing the true story about the time Al Purdy urinated in the sink. One of Fertig’s two locations in Gastown will be added to the forthcoming Literary Map of B.C.
On the Trail with Nanao Sakaki
Trevor Carolan’s first encounter with the Zen poetry of Nanao Sakaki (1923-2008) was back in 1985 when he heard Gary Snyder read an unforgettable poem entitled “Break the Mirror” by his friend Sakaki.
Five years later, Carolan wrote to Nanao and asked if he could include that poem in an anthology. Nanao graciously replied and mentioned he hoped to one day see British Columbia’s wilderness.
Then in 1995, when Trevor Carolan found himself standing in an Albuquerque airport line-up, he noticed a lively looking Japanese elder coming towards him. This stranger asked Carolan about his unusual, gnarly walking-stick. Something about the old man’s long white hair and beard seemed familiar.
Sure enough it was him. The two men compared mythologies en route to Phoenix. It turned out that Nanao was meeting Snyder to go desert-walking near Tucson; and Carolan had just been desert-walking near Santa Fe.
“A few months later,” Trevor Carolan recalls in his new book, New World Dharma: Interviews and Encounters with Buddhist Teachers, Writers and Leaders (SUNY Press 2016 “Nanao landed in Vancouver with a backpack filled with outdoor gear: ice crampons, all-weather clothing, the lot. Ten memorable days followed, filled with snow-country hiking, herb-picking, rascally dharma talks, singing and chanting, joking with the kids, and living well. Nanao lived the dharma without talking about it much. Alas, even vagabond dharma bards need dental work, so Nanao and I collaborated on a piece of writing to pay some of Nanao’s bills.”
Joseph Roberts at Common Ground magazine originally published the following article called How To Live On The Planet Earth.
[Including his encounter with Allen Ginsberg on Cortes Island, Carolan’s new book also includes chapters on Gary Snyder, the Dalai Lama, Governor Jerry Brown and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, among others.]
by Trevor Carolan
In l945, Nanao Sakaki, a young radar officer in Japan's Imperial Navy, tracked an American bombing raid headed successfully for Nagasaki. A short time later it was feared an earthquake or even a volcanic eruption had struck. Within days, Japan lay in unthinkable defeat. The nation's samurai code demanded mass military suicide but, at American command, the emperor intervened to reverse the order. Radarman Sakaki was spared his life. Demobbed from service, he viewed atomic bombsites where human beings had been vaporized into shadows on cement. In revulsion at anything remotely connected to militarism, Sakaki abandoned mainstream society; since then, with but a brief war-end stint in publishing that introduced him to many writers, he has led a vagabond life in the tradition of Japan's wandering Zen poet-storytellers. For five decades he has walked the length and breadth of the Japanese islands, writing poems and speaking out against nuclear technology and industrial degradation of the environment. In doing so, Sakaki emerged long ago as the underground leader of his nation's anti-establishment culture—no small thing in Japan’s ultra-conservative society.
During the early l960s, Sakaki also befriended American writers Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district and the three became lifelong friends. Snyder himself joined Sakaki in building a loose, ecologically-attuned agricultural community on a volcanic island in the East China Sea, and his account of this “Banyan Ashram” in Earth House Hold became a critical text in North America’s cultural revolution of the late ‘60s.
A vivid, weather-bronzed figure of seventy-two, Sakaki is an outstanding naturalist and a seasoned raconteur. A careful listener, he responds in good, musical English. His renowned humor is offbeat and infectious, yet there is no escaping his essential commitment to retooling the engines of modern culture, east and west.
Clear as creekwater and rich in nature wisdom, Sakaki’s poetry reads like medicine. His sense of presence is palpable and, almost unconsciously, people around him become more mindful of small communal responsibilities. It is difficult to describe precisely why this happens, but as Kolin Lymworth of Vancouver’s Banyen Books put it after an informal meeting, “Maybe Nanao just reminds us of that wonderful, wise older person we all seem to want, or need, to know.”
A recent hike in southwestern British Columbia’s Cascade Range offered Nanao an opportunity both to study the local vegetation and to elaborate further on what his work has to say to contemporary readers. En route, Sakaki relates that his passion for the wild began after reading Sir Laurens Van der Post’s classic Sands of the Kalahari. “I was so excited after reading it in the British Council Library that I couldn't sleep for almost three days,” he says. “It was so new, so different. Here’s this hostile desert environment of lions and poisonous snakes. But Van der Post wants to understand the bushmen so much he finally comes to comprehend their philosophy, which is, “There is a dream that is dreaming us.” That’s very interesting to me! It’s also a little similar to Chuang Tzu’s butterfly dream in Taoism. So, as a young man, I had to think, what’s real?—because the evolution of this idea is that we must go with the dream; there is no other choice.
“In my work later on,” he continues, “I came in contact with Aboriginal people from Australia and Tasmania, and with Navajo people from the American Southwest who share almost this same idea. They live in timeless landscapes. That’s good for me, you see, because I’m crazy for wild landscape; always I wish to see the desert or volcanoes, or Alaska—big space, pure like [the] empty mind of Buddha. But Japanese business[es], for example, they are cutting down Tasmania’s forests for toilet paper. Terrible!”
Sakaki is uncompromising in his defense of nature and has worked for decades at heightening awareness in Japan of his nation’s environmental policies. Few things have been as effective as his campaigns in the US when literary friends such as Snyder and, formerly, Ginsberg have rallied other prominent writers and artists to spotlight events needling Japan’s hyper-sensitive government. The external media pressure gets results.
“Our work for the twenty-first century will be reversing dams and big energy projects, replanting forests and cleaning water,” Sakaki says. “Already in Japan we are seeing legal cases where representatives of endangered species are suing the government. Japan, remember, still has rich wild spaces and two thousand black and grizzly bears, where in an island ecology like Britain’s they have disappeared.”
The critical shortsightedness typical of commercial planning leaves Sakaki at a loss. Remote Banyan Ashram for example, which drew visitors from around the world, is no more. Its low-tech success tempted Yamaha Corporation to offer local islanders the promise of jobs, enabling Yamaha to buy up the commune site for a glitzy tourist resort. Beauty is relative, however; what worked for remote islanders and back-to-the-land longhairs didn’t translate quite as well when visiting Tokyo honeymooners found themselves subject to periodic showers of volcanic ash. Now, both projects lie defunct.
Here, the inevitable question seems to be, “What does this say, then, of our Western myth about Oriental societies taking a longer, shrewder, generational view of things?”
“About Asia, I’m not so sure,” replies Sakaki. “The one example I have seen of this is among the Hopi people. They believe you shouldn’t make an important decision unless you think through its effects for seven generations. This means we have to imagine how we, and the consequence[s] of our actions, fit in the scale of things. If you think of trees, they usually live longer than humans: harvesting a tree can be like meeting your own great-grandfather. So rightly, we should think, what’s the appropriate thing to do here?”
Discussion of right practice and livelihood leads inevitably to the consideration of what role Buddhism, or Japan’s Zen path, may have for modern Western culture. Sakaki’s response is enlightening.
“Most Japanese Zen is uninteresting to me,” he says. “It’s too linked to samurai tradition—to militarism. This is where Alan Watts and I disagreed: he didn’t fully understand how the samurai class with whom he associated Zen were in fact deeply Confucian; they were concerned with power. The Zen I’m interested in is China’s Tang dynasty kind with its great teachers like Lin Chi. This was non-intellectual. It came from farmers—so simple. Someone became enlightened, others talked to him, learned and were told, ‘Now you go there and teach; you go here, etc.’ When Japan tried to study this, it was hopeless. The emperor sent scholars, but with their high-flown language and ideas they couldn’t understand.
“Today,” he adds, “many young people have lost their way. They’re looking for salvation, checking many gates. They read Zen anecdotes, see Zen pictures—it seems perfect! Then they think about achieving enlightenment, but it’s not so easy . . . About enlightenment I always say, just forget about it. Everybody’s already enlightened: people work at their jobs, the traffic moves along, so things are okay. A mother looks after her children, she makes their lunch, does her job well. That’s enlightenment: just doing a good job.”
For Sakaki, this version of right-mindedness extends without compromise to the last inning. “Once, hitchhiking in Southern Japan,” he says, “I met my cousin who told me my father was very sick. Okay, we went to the hospital where I saw my father. He was surprised to see me.
“I said, ‘So you are going to become Buddha!’ You see, in [the] Amida sect of my family we say that when you die, you’re becoming Buddha. My father, he kind of half-smiled. His face brightened. He said, ‘Yes, I'm going to become Buddha, looks like!’
“So when my friends tell me, ‘My father is sick, my mother is dying,’ I say, congratulations! They are becoming Buddha!
“That’s it,” he concludes. “When it’s time to sleep, just sleep; when you’re sick, just be sick; when you’re going to die, just die! Enlightenment!”
About the specific values that Buddhism may offer the contemporary West, Sakaki answers in terms of compassion.
“This is a big subject,” he responds. “Tibetan, Zen, Pure Land—there are many good gates in Buddhism to the empty space within. You see, in original Buddhism there is no competition, but Western society is strongly rooted in just this thing; it moves aggressively onward. Real compassion goes beyond human society—to animal life, trees, water, rock. It’s easy to relate to the environmental movement. Buddhism says we are all the same and the West, I think, is missing this. There is an Indian Sutra teaching—Paticca Samupadda—that discusses the perfect wholeness of all things and how they are joined. The Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Diamond Sutra, they all talk about this.”
And the way to compassion?
“Slow down,” Sakaki smiles. “Slow down the metabolism, the whole mental image. Compassion is like a shadow—like the Hopi thinking seven generations on.
“After all, how we work out our difficulties is a social question, not spiritual or mental,” he explains. “As a society, if we have no vision, all we’re left with is bureaucratic process. That’s too sad! Artists, poets have a responsibility for landscape, for wild nature. As a poet I feel my poems are also Sutra, in the way that a painter’s good work is also drawing Sutra. And as listeners, if we meet a good poem, or discover a new landscape, we must have a good answer. In the end it becomes spontaneous, like question and answer. It’s like hearing good music, really; it calls to me, I start humming, moving—I find I'm dancing! That’s Zen: not thinking, not stopping halfway, not copying landscape but finally becoming the landscape.”
Deep Cove, BC
[Nanao Sakaki’s Collected Poems were published in 2014 (Blackberry).]
“Oriental people say two ways to escape and be happy. Downtown—very busy, crowded place. Just be lost among many people, stay in a slum. Another is in high places. Live in a mountain cave. I’ve tried both…Try walking mountainsides, the north. I love walking these places. That’s me personally. Probably there is no solution. It’s a good idea: no solution! Much wider perspective. If you have a solution, you’re trapped in solution network.” -- Nanao Sakaki