Rebel Women
poems by Vancy Kasper

Print: 978-1-92670-896-6
ePUB: 978-1-92670-897-3
PDF: 978-1-77133-047-3

112 Pages
April 01, 2013
Poetry All Titles

*
Share:

Rebel Women poems by Vancy Kasper

2014 Finalist for the Raymond Souster Award

Rebel Women begins by moving in and out of women's kitchens, parlours, meetings and wagon-rides on the eve and throughout Toronto's 1837 Rebellion. The poems let the reader eavesdrop on the loves, fears, hatreds and courage of these feisty pioneers as they are engulfed by an uprising some did or did not support. The poems are based on the stories, gossip, and rumours that Kasper's grandmother, Statira Catherine Shepard – the granddaughter of Joseph Shepard, a prominent leader of the Reform Party (after whom Sheppard Avenue is named) and the youngest daughter of Rebel Joseph (jailed for insurrection with his three brothers) – shared with the poet when she was growing up. Almost nothing has been written about the women who supported, opposed or endured the failed December Rebellion of 1837—certainly not in poetry. This collection honours these daring women, what happened to them, and how they took charge of their lives. This volume also features poems about Kasper's impoverished, eccentric family and provide a glimpse of Toronto when it was still considered a "hick town."

Rebel Women

Vancy Kasper is a Toronto poet, author and journalist. Her work includes her first poetry collection, Mother, I'm So Glad You Taught Me How to Dance; the best-selling Young Adult novel, Always Ask For a Transfer and Y.A. novels Escape to Freedom (First Honourable Mention, Canadian Library Association) and Street of Three Directions, also published in Italy. Her poems have been published in Fireweed, Canadian Women's Studies, Quarry, Waves, and Landscape and have been broadcast on Bravo TV, CKLN and the University of Toronto radio station. She has Poet in Residence in various Ontario schools. One of the first members of the Women's Writing Collective, she was a features writer for the Toronto Star for nine years. She is included in Greg Gatenby's Literary Toronto.

Historical and Personal: Vancy Kasper's Rebel Women
Arc Poetry Magazine, January 30, 2014
Reviewed by Katerina Fretwell

Immerse yourself in Rebel Women and experience both Toronto’s Rebellion of 1837 and the death of Vancy Kasper’s friend, poet Ayanna Black. The first section of Kasper’s book enlivens the Rebellion through historical, sensory and familial details so that readers live through the privation, persecution, grief and, above all, resilient courage that plants Kasper’s own matrilineal line within our hearts. Kasper’s second section, on the other hand, poignantly chronicles cancer’s fatal progression in her treasured friend. Rebel Women’s two parts do a pas de deux through intertwining imagery, themes and poetic forms.

Kasper’s Introduction contextualizes the Rebellion: defeated by trickery in the 1836 election and deprived of an appeal mechanism, MacKenzie’s Reform party mimics the armed protest that had led to Britain’s Great Reform Bill. However, The Family Compact Tories jail and hang the Rebels and torch their properties because “armed rebellion [is] an act of treason” (“Historical Notes”). Ancestral photographs deepen the immediacy and potency of the impact of Kasper’s work; however, a family tree would have helped to clarify who’s who in each generation. Kasper’s brilliantly distilled imagery and evocative details situate the reader in media res. The dashed dreams and the dailiness of living within a revolt not only become contemporary, but also emblematic of any polarizing situation. For instance, Vancy’s matriarchal great-great grandmother, whose photograph portrays an indomitable spirit, is introduced as fixing “to roll the Christmas pies.” This household image is linked to the conflict: “The icy ground … is thickened by their Rebel sons” (“Rebel Women”). Just as pie filling thickens, so do atrocities under grievous differences. Throughout the collection, Kasper connects common activities with the dislocation and tragic results of particularly divisive viewpoints.

Rich, ripe, resonant, Kasper’s poems showcase a poet in her mature and creative prime. The reader is there, “with pitchforks under, pies on, their tables” (Rebel Women, 10). And we/she “…will ride slowly …down the Family Compact Street / past men who spit on the ground at her” (“Catherine Shepard, January 1838”), will wade “through ashes buttering her house” (“What a Rebel Woman Knows”). Significantly, buttering here revisits the initial pie-making image.

Vividly, readers are also by Ayanna’s bedside: “As [Ayanna] lifts her arm, now savaged of flesh. / We are toasting the biggest black day in history [Obama’s win]” (“Big Black Sunshiny Day”). The violence of the word savaged echoes the Rebellion. Another historic link: Britain’s Great Reform Bill and Obama’s reformist triumph. More food and combat connections: “She knows these things inside [cancer cells] / will enjoy eggs and milk so alien / to her 90 pound once rigid vegetarian body.” Ayanna also has “a little German … blood thrown in” (“Bequests”), which reverberates with the German in the Rebellion poems: “God breathes hope into us, liebchen” (“Maria Van Egmond, January 1838”).

Kasper’s portrayals of the Rebellion and Ayanna’s death transcend time and place to all battles and to the women worldwide who

… dream of wood violets,
trillium thick enough to wash their hands in,
with their men home, turning fresh earth,
grinding axes, mending watches;
root and wild rose
clambering, modest, free. (“What the Women Knew About Tory Champions of Law, Order”)

Kasper’s exquisite lines encompass us all, simply desiring to live our daily lives, left in peace. The sensuous beauty and elegance of the poetry amply serves its historical and personal mandate. The multiple connections are deeply satisfying in their flawless symmetry.

Katerina Fretwell’s seventh poetry collection, which includes her art, Class Acts, was launched in 2013. Her sestina “Kissing Cousins” was shortlisted for the Winston Collins Poetry Prize 2012 and Class Acts is included in Kerry Clare’s “Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2013: Poetry.”

- See more at: http://arcpoetry.ca/?p=7723#sthash.93qorZwl.dpuf

---------------------------------------

Feminist Caucus, League of Canadian Poets
August 2013 / Review by Katerina Fretwell

"Immerse yourself in Rebel Women and experience the Rebellion of 1837 in Toronto and the death of a dear friend. Vancy Kasper enlivens the Rebellion through historical, sensory and familial details so that the reader lives through the privation, persecution, grief and above all, resilient courage that places Kasper's matrilinial line within our hearts. Ancestral photographs deepen the immediacy and potency of the impact; however, a family tree diagram would clarify who's who in each generation.

The second section poignantly chronicles cancer's fatal progression in her treasured friend, the warm and accomplished poet Ayanna Black. Rebel Women's two parts do a pas de deux through intertwining imagery, themes and poetic forms. Noteworthy, Part Two's breakout magnificent wallop, WidowSong (96) shows the poet won't wear Ayanna's jewelry, fearing a spontaneous combustion!

The Introduction contextualizes the Rebellion: defeated by trickery in the 1836 election and deprived of an appeal mechanism, MacKenzie's Reform party mimicked the armed protest which led to Britain's Great Reform Bill. However, The Family Compact Tories jailed and hung the Rebels and torched their properties. But armed rebellion was an act of treason. (Historical Notes, 6). Timely, one thinks of the Robo-calls of Canada's last Election. Confession: ex-Yankee, this reader knew nothing about the Rebellion and thrilled to its exegesis through vibrant poetry.

Kasper's brilliantly distilled imagery and evocative details, partially serving as unforgettable and historic 'character tags', situates the reader in media res. The dashed dreams and the dailiness of living within a revolt not only become contemporary, but also emblematic, for any polarizing situation.

For instance, Vancy's matriarchal great-great grandmother, whose photograph portrays an

indomitable spirit, is introduced as fixing “to roll the Christmas pies.” This household image is linked to the conflict: The icy ground ... is thickened by their Rebel sons, and extended: ... these Rebel mothers ... do not look out/ at wind and ice bending pines/ wood for coffins. (Rebel Women, pages 9 – 10). Just as pie filling thickens so do atrocities under grievous differences.

Throughout the collection, Kasper connects common activities with the dislocation and tragic results of particularly divisive viewpoints. Again, in the eponymous first poem, Kasper adroitly pits fragments of the Lord's Prayer, Psalm 23 and Catherine's prayerful plea: Dear God, do we have enough pennies for the eyes? (10) against religion's futile backseat to the escalating divide.

Short, deft strokes braid several narrative threads: jailed Rebels: The dank and shivering Rebels ... with skeletal bones peered/ from jackets hanging loose as/ aged eyelids, historical detail: carved their Prisoner Boxes, and Rebel women: dry-eyed with courage/ push soldiers back (Nancy Wilket Shepard, 30) into a memorable portrait of suffering, valour and period accuracy.

Rich, ripe, resonant, Kasper's poems showcase a poet in her mature and creative prime. The reader is there: with pitchforks under, pies on, their tables. (Rebel Women, 10). And we/they ... will ride slowly ...down the Family Compact Street/ past men who spit on the ground at her (Catherine Shepard, January 1838, 11), and we/she wades through ashes buttering her house (What a Rebel Woman Knows, 13). Buttering revisits the initial pie-making image.

With her Aunty Tare, who once dreamt of being a concert pianist, Vancy herself is vividly present: I'm touching again the cheap gabardine/ we cut out for my jumper that afternoon. (No Whiskey for Remembrance, 56). Again, a domestic metaphor, which also speaks to economizing, and is further amplified by the mention of Pond's Cold Cream (MotherMemories, 69), which resonates with older readers, such as this reviewer, also hungry for memories of you, mom. (69). Another heart connection.

The reader is there by Ayanna's bedside: As (Ayanna) lifts her arm, now savaged of flesh./ We are toasting the biggest black day in history (Big Black Sunshiny Day, 78) [Obama's win] and the lyrics: bright sunshiny day roll into mind [I can see clearly now]. Also, the violence of the word

savaged echoes the Rebellion. Another historic link: Britain's Great Reform Bill and Obama's reformist triumph. More food and combat connections: She knows these things inside [cancer cells]/ will enjoy eggs and milk so alien/ to her 90 pound once rigid vegetarian body. (78). Ayanna's a little German ... blood thrown in (Bequests, 84) reverberates with the German (Maria Van Egmond, January 1838, 45): God breathes hope into us, liebchen (45) and Black's: Oh, Vancy, if I can live for a year, I'll be happy. (Ayanna's Slow Dance, 82).

Kasper's portrayal of the Rebellion and Ayanna's death transcends time/place to all battles and to the women worldwide who ... dream of wood violets,/ trillium thick enough to wash their hands in,/ with their men home, turning fresh earth,/ grinding axes, mending watches;/ root and wild rose/ clambering, modest, free (What the Women Knew About Tory Champions of Law, Order, 54). Kasper's exquisite lines encompass us all, simply desiring to live our daily lives, left in peace. The sensuous beauty and elegance of the poetry amply serves its historical and personal mandate. The multiple connections are deeply satisfying in their flawless symmetry."

-------------------------------------------

Michael Dennis, July 13, 2013
http://michaeldennispoet.blogspot.ca/

"Vancy Kasper has been a feminist for over 30 years.  That's a long time to spend making oneself heard.  Luckily for us Rebel Women calls upon the voices of generations of women.

These poems are rich with strong, independent women telling us about the social history of our world and times - because recorded history, until very recently, was "HISstory", and generally concentrated on the deeds of "Great" men.  Kasper brings life to the poignant sounds of several generations of women as they discuss their lives with passion.  These are lives full of hardship and loss, lives where women have borne witness and now Kasper animates their voices.

These characters aren't bigger than life, they are life, the rich unrecorded lives of our mothers, sisters, daughters, friends.  All of these women know their own horrors of conflict whether it is war and rebellion or in the home.  Vancy Kasper has given them a voice."

Copyright © Inanna Publications. Site development by In the Lost and Found & Nicole Chung.