Rachel Rose is easily one of the most important poets to emerge in B.C. in the early 21st century, having twice received the Pushcart Prize (2014, 2016) and also having won the Pat Lowther Award and the Audre Lorde Award for her third collection, Song & Spectacle (2012).

A dual Canadian/American citizen, Rachel Rose returned to Vancouver with her family after many years in Seattle, Montreal, and Japan. She was appointed Poet Laureate of Vancouver for 2014-2017 on the strength of her relatively small but distinguished output that has been accorded numerous other awards [see below] and critical acclaim.

Rachel Rose was also the librettist for an opera about forbidden love and fundamentalism, When the Sun Comes Out, that premiered in Vancouver in 2013 and was remounted in Toronto in 2014. Having been affiliated with the SFU Writers Studio, Rose has also been published in journals in the U.S. and Canada, including Verse, Poetry, This Magazine, The Malahat Review and The Best American Poetry.

Rachel Rose received her second Pushcart Prize for a poem called 'White Lilies'. It appears in a re-titled version in her fourth collection as 'Living on Islands I'. Awarded since 1976 from the U.S., a Pushcart Prize honours the best "poetry, short fiction, essays or literary whatnot" published by small presses over a preceding year.

Rose's fourth collection, Marry & Burn (2015), has been described as "a searing collection of poems on the subjects of love, loss and addiction." In addition to intimate struggles, she writes about the unexpected heartache of losing an entire hive to the global bee epidemic and reconciliation process that was engendered to heal the wounds of racism in Canada with regards to mistreatment of First Nations constituencies. Marry & Burn was shortlisted for the 2016 Pat Lowther Memorial Award.

In The Dog Lover Unit, Rachel Rose introduces readers to police dogs and their handlers in the United States, Canada, Britain, and France (where their group's official name translates as "the dog lover unit"). She's there to catch a criminal with Constable Matt Noel and Blackie; to patrol with Sheriff Gene Davis and Gunner; and writes movingly about the tragic funeral of Constable Dave Ross, and its impact on other K9 teams.

Her collection of short stories, The Octopus Has Three Hearts (D&M $22.95) is about various damaged people who all have better relationships with animals than humans. The pet companions include an octopus, rats, deer, bats and the more traditional dogs and kittens.

DATE OF BIRTH: September 20, 1970

PLACE OF BIRTH: Vancouver, B.C.

OTHER AWARDS: Best American Poetry 2001, A.M. Klein 2000 Award for Poetry, Finalist for the Gerald Lampert Award and the Grand Prix du Livre de Montreal. Winner of the 1997 Bronwen Wallace Award for Fiction and the 1993 Peterson Memorial Prize for Poetry.

BOOKS:

Giving My Body to Science (McGill/Queen's University Press, 1999)
Notes on Arrival and Departure (McClelland & Stewart, 2005)
Song and Spectacle (Harbour, 2012) $18.95 978-1-55017-585-1
Marry & Burn (Harbour 2015) $18.95 978-1-55017-718-3
Sustenance: Writers from BC and Beyond on the Subject of Food
Edited and with a Foreword by Rachel Rose (Anvil Press 2017) 978-1-77214-101-6 $25
The Dog Lover Unit: Lessons in Courage from the World's K9 Cops (Thomas Dunne / St. Martin's Press 2017) $26.99 9781250110749. Memoir
The Octopus Has Three Hearts (D&M, 2021) $22.95 9781771622882. Short stories

[BCBW 2021] "Poetry"

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The Dog Lover Unit: Lessons in Courage from the World's K9 Cops by Rachel Rose (St. Martin's/Macmillan $28.99)

Rachel rose's the dog Lover Unit: Lessons in Courage from the World's K9 Cops is a surprising departure from her previous publications of poetry. On the surface, her study of police dogs and their handlers seems an unlikely subject for Vancouver's poet laureate (2014 to 2017). Rose demonstrates, however, that perhaps only a poet can interpret the human-animal connection in such an insightful and articulate way.

Rose's research was conducted over a four-year period and takes her to canine units (K9 in police vernacular) in four countries. As she states, "I go wherever the dogs take me,"; and she gains access to units that few civilians are afforded. Rose "tracks"; along with the units during investigations, and volunteers to allow the dogs to "take a bite"; of her during their training. She interviews the dog handlers and researches some of the more controversial issues facing police forces today, such as the harassment of female police officers and the use of deadly force, making for an informed narrative.

Anyone who loves dogs will enjoy this book. One of the first things readers learn is that police dogs are highly trained working dogs, not pets. No one should pet or touch these animals except their handlers, who are referred to in the canine unit as a dog's "mom"; or "dad."; Rose discovers the close and loving connection between police handlers and their dogs. The two live and work together and most handlers keep their dogs long after the dog is retired, and often until death. This relationship begins as early as eight weeks, when puppies are tested to determine whether or not they have the personality to do police work, a fascinating process and one of the most interesting chapters of the book.

Once the puppy passes muster, a handler is assigned. Handlers, too, are subject to intense periods of physical training and years of voluntary work with police dogs before being selected as members of a canine unit. The dogs are issued with a regimental number and are considered partners with their handlers, an indication of their value in police work.

In The Dog Lover Unit, rose manages to capture the personality of each dog and describes in detail their ability to do what they are trained to do. The dogs she meets are experts in water recovery, searching for drugs in prisons, locating cadavers, finding missing people, and chasing down suspects, to name a few of their responsibilities. As a reward for their obedience, the dogs are always highly praised by their handlers and allowed time to play.

Rose supplements these stories with photographs of many of the dogs she meets along with their police parents. Although the dogs are happy to be working, few of us consider that they are also exposed to danger. For example, they may inhale an illicit drug such as heroin during a search. They can also die in the line of duty, often while defending their handler. This was true of Chip who, along with RCMP officer Doug Lewis, was stabbed multiple times by a violent suspect during a foot chase. Chip did not survive, and Lewis almost lost his life.

We also learn more about how police forces in other countries use canines. In France, for example, the public has a general fear of police dogs. This is because the Nazis used dogs to control the population during the occupation of France in the Second World War, a factor still ingrained in the minds of many French citizens. To this day, French police officers muzzle their dogs while in public.

In the United Kingdom, most of the dog handlers are men, though Rose just happened to visit a squad with a majority of women. In contrast, few women make it into canine units in Canada. Rose notes that many women canine handlers in the RCMP face "years of discrimination and bullying."; In the RCMP, this gendered viewpoint also extends to female dogs, which are considered a liability because they are thought to lack aggression. The majority of the canines used by the RCMP are male.

But The Dog Lover Unit is about more than police dogs and their work. It is also a book about crime and punishment in western society, a weighty issue that appears alongside Rose's own experience as a "righteous victim"; of sexual abuse as a child. It is this victimization, first introduced in the prologue, that leads Rose on her journey with the canine units. Questions about loyalty, fear, violence, and human injustice in her personal life emerge and are confronted the more she learns about police dogs.

Rose also discovers that police officers are people too. Readers will realize this as well, largely because Rose is so adept at asking the officers relevant and meaningful questions such as "What made you who you are?"; "How do you handle negative publicity?"; "What's your normal routine?"; and "What do you wish people knew?";

These conversations provide insight into the thoughts of the men and women who place their lives on the line for their communities on a daily basis. In the process, Rose distills some of the more recent controversies involving the police over issues such as the appropriate use of force. She compares the public's perceptions of the police with the "situational awareness"; skills that all police officers are trained to use, and she offers alternative ways to look at these issues and the work police officers do.
Rose acknowledges in the epilogue that people will be conflicted over her conclusions. She ruminates that she finds herself caught in between two groups: between her "leftie circle"; of friends in the arts community who she anticipates "will not support this work"; because of its focus on policing, and those people "on the right politically [who] likely will not support me, either personally or ideologically"; because she is from that community.

Politics and ideology aside, Rose insists that we are all part of the conversation, noting that there is "danger"; in adopting any one "single story"; when it comes to justice. It is a powerful reminder that not only stirs our admiration for Rose's honesty and courage, but makes for challenging but engaging reading. 9781250110749

Review by Bonnie Reilly Schmidt, an RCMP officer between 1977 and 1987. She wrote Silenced: The Untold Story of the Fight for Equality in the RCMP (Caitlin Press, 2015). She recently retired from NightShift, a non-profit that feeds the homeless and those with mental illness and addictions in Surrey.

[BCBW 2018]

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REVIEW

Sustenance: Writers from BC and Beyond on the Subject of Food
Edited and with a Foreword by Rachel Rose
Published by Anvil Press
978-1-77214-101-6 $25
Reviewed by Caroline Woodward

As Poet Laureate for the City of Vancouver from 2014-2017, Rachel Rose wanted a community project which offered another world view than the muttering and braying about walls to keep out the Other, meaning Muslims, Mexicans, and desperate refugees the world over.

Rose had already spent years volunteering with Burmese families in Surrey, shopping for food, shampooing hair, attending graduations, weddings and funerals. Her genuine Canadian hospitality imbues her book project, Sustenance, too.

A good portion of the money raised by sales, as well as every single writer's honorarium, is donated to the BC Farmer's Market Nutrition Coupon Program so that low-income families will have access to fresh, locally-grown food.

There are 151 tidbits to savour from writers who live in Vancouver, where Poet Laureate Rachel Rose envisioned this highly collaborative book, and from elsewhere around the world. There are contributions from renowned poets like Lorna Crozier, John Pass and Susan Musgrave, nearly-anonymous librarians who write like angels, celebrated chefs like Karen Barnaby, Meeru Dhalwala, Vikram Vij and Frank Pabst, thoughtful children and wise elders, some speaking Arabic and Cree. There are farmers, beekeepers, fishers and backyard gardeners, First Nations, Metis, refugees and members of their welcome committees.

Sustenance doubles as the Poet Laureate's inspired love letter to the city.

The selected writings, as you'd expect from an editor and award-winning writer of Rose's stature with an abiding focus on human rights, is unfailingly eloquent. This is not a book written by or for people scampering off to find the trending mustard de jour.

As well as thoughtful pieces, we have the hilarious (Jane Silcott's Cooking Class & Marriage Lessons' and Karen Barnaby's Blackberry Fever'), the heart-breaking (Sophia Karasouli-Milobar's Fava Bean Stew' and Elizabeth Ross' Milky Way'), the sensual (Jeff Steudel's Recipe'), the life-affirming (Brian Brett's I Want to Serve Food to Strangers') and the carnivorous.

The voices are as diverse as the forms: interviews, memoirs, recipes, both literal and figurative, prose and poems of all kinds, some as paeans to moose meat, bees, bread, beer, tomatoes, rice, beloved grandmothers, salmon, maple syrup, elk heart and fresh berries. The writers tackle subjects as difficult as anorexia, obesity, starvation, sugar, animal deaths, and allergies, real and possibly, imposed (see the delightful, plaintive essay, Check the Ingredients!' by Charles Dickens Grade 6 student, Ayla Maxwell).

What makes this book important and substantial to me begins with the obvious, universal fact: we all must eat to survive. Secondly, food is served on a platter of emotional connections to people, place and experience, the things that really matter to each of us therefore,the writing packs a visceral wallop. Food, sustenance, is intensely personal as well as political (read Billeh Nickerson's smart, incisive poem A Baker's Dozen: 13 Vancouver Food (In)Securities').

The final words, amid the cornucopia of offerings at this banquet for humanity, go to ten-year-old collaborators, Bodhi Cutler and Gus Jackson, who both attend Charles Dickens Elementary School in Vancouver. Their short, sweet and perfectly apt essay which sums up Sustenance.

"Every dish is unique because every Vancouverite makes it a tiny bit different. We all have our styles and our ingredients, our suppliers and our equipment. There are restaurants who will probably make great pasta with the best calamari. Your mom can make a great homemade meal she invented herself. No two meals taste the same because they are like humans, unique and great.";

As a former bookseller, I'd say this book will appeal to gardeners who sigh happily over the new batch of seed catalogues arriving in late January; cooks who read cookbooks like other people immerse themselves in books of short stories. Amateur and professional chefs; readers and writers of compressed, powerful poetry and prose. Those who appreciate photography and will discover Derek Fu's gorgeous work... just for starters.
Caroline Woodward is a versatile author, an ardent cook and a lightkeeper at Lenard Light Station near Tofino.

978-1-77214-101-6

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The Octopus Has Three Hearts by Rachel Rose
(D&M $22.95)

by Gene Homel

My cat insists that I read to him now and then, especially short stories, as his attention span is not all that it could be. But after reading him a couple of stories about the badly damaged people and their animals that make up Rachel Rose’s new collection The Octopus Has Three Hearts, he meowed for Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit. My cat definitely didn’t care to hear about the “burlap sack of kittens” taken to a pond to be drowned.

I understood his reluctance to continue with Rachel Rose’s painful stories. The beastly humans in this book are typically society’s cast-offs with few apparent prospects for recovery, and their beasts in each story are not your pampered ragdoll cat. Yet the animals—dogs, parrots, pigs, chameleons, chickens, rats and others—sometimes seem to exist to provide relationships with their humans, links that may help people cope, or at least connect, with their miseries and terrors.

Some of these folks have been damaged physically, for example, the woman stabbed in the abdomen on the street by a strange man with the resulting need for a colostomy bag in the first story, Of Rats and Men. Or the child victim on a Gulf Island whose grade-four brother “came home from school and took out his sister’s left eye with a screwdriver.”

Most are also damaged psychologically. Some are aggressive abusers of both people and drugs, some are victims of various kinds of abuse, some are both perpetrators and victims and some are suicidal. But the key is that many have a distinctive relationship with animals that provides some opportunity for, if not grace, then a kind of bare sustenance.

Take Troll for example. Marino is a homeless man who lives troll-like under a highway bridge in Miami, where “Americans always want to know the worst thing you’ve ever done.” His buddy has just bolted into the path of an oncoming semi to commit suicide. Marino is damaged goods, having been raped by priests, and he’s served prison time for assault and sexual interference with a minor. But Marino develops a bond with a couple of dogs while wheeling them about in a shopping cart. A monk at a Buddhist temple with a “Mona Lisa smile” and stock Asian accent tells Marino that “maybe the doggies rescue you” from a miserable life and suicidal wishes; maybe a dog is a “Goddess of Mercy.” Passing children in a fenced-in pool, Marino utters a Catholic prayer he hasn’t said since he was a boy.

In You’re Home Now, Roxanne, a woman whose husband died of a heart attack and whose daughter was murdered by her own husband, experiences a chance to forgive and recreate members of her unlikeable family when her dead husband comes back as a wiener dog and her dead daughter comes back as a poodle. The murderous son-in-law reappears as a pit bull with a broken leg. “I knew these dogs were not actually human members of my family,” says the woman. “They were obviously dogs. But sure as I was breathing, I knew the human members of my family were trapped inside these dogs… It’s called reincarnation, and it is an ancient, respectable religion.” After initially attempting to kill the pit bull, Roxanne forgives him, reimagining him as an earlier boyfriend who was kind to her daughter.

The plot element of drowned kittens in burlap bags returns in the story Jericho set on Honey Island (Hornby?), the same Gulf Island locale of the gouged-out eye. The protagonists are “happy hippies… grooving to the jumble of music” at a mini-Woodstock. A young woman named Destiny lives in a cabin with her two boyfriends, who jealously take turns having sex with her, dodging child care for her three-year-old and getting stoned. “You need to chill out,” one boyfriend advises Destiny. “You’re laying some heavy shit on our son.” The three-year-old runs off at the music fest, losing himself in the crowd, while Destiny revisits in her panicky thoughts her father’s criticism of what he might have called her “lifestyle.” Her father, killed with his wife when they were accidentally struck by a car, “was a good man, a man who drowned kittens,” which was standard procedure on this island—no mention of animal rescue there, so probably not Salt Spring.

Meanwhile Destiny is looking after a couple of kittens that delighted her child, kittens picked up by one of her boyfriends. Fortunately, the three-year-old boy is located on the music site by a lake, not drowned like a kitten though he easily could have been. A relieved Destiny realizes her life and the father of her child are “unbearable,” and prays to a nun who’d expelled her from a Catholic school “for lewd behaviour behind the chapel.”

Despite the horrors of the characters’ lives, there is an element of sentimentality about the animals that seems to sit uneasily with the rough language and attempts at what some might consider gratuitously shocking or distasteful descriptions. (However, there’s nothing here to match, for example, D.M. Thomas’s description of the Nazi slaughter at Babi Yar in The White Hotel.) A reader may think of a couple of Ian McEwan’s story collections in the 1970s in which it seems he was attempting deliberately to shock the English bourgeoisie—those books don’t sit well compared with McEwen’s fine subsequent work.

We know that some animals are not benign, that they can unsentimentally turn on people and damage them terribly and sometimes fatally. Not Rose’s animals, though.

If one recognizes, as does philosopher Peter Singer, that there’s a moral principle of equality between humans and other animals, that both have the capacity to suffer or to enjoy their lives, one might question the role that these animals seem compelled to play in the lives of Rose’s humans. Should the dogs and chameleon have sufficient equality to avoid relieving these people of their suffering? Should these animals have the right to be left alone, to reject a role as possible therapists?

Perhaps in keeping with the disturbed lives of these often marginal people, their language is impoverished, so some readers may find the poverty of fresh and striking language appropriate to the characters, or not.

Well, it’s back to Beatrix Potter for my cat, but for readers who want to peruse the lives of damaged folks and the animals that intersect with them and may sometimes even interact with them, Rachel Rose has got some tales for you. 9781771622882

Gene Homel has been a faculty member at universities, colleges and institutes since 1974.
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