WAKAN, Naomi




Author Tags: Poetry, Publishing

In 2014, Naomi Wakan was appointed the first Poet Laureate of Nanaimo.

Born in London, England, Naomi Wakan was introduced to works of George Bernard Shaw and the Fabian socialists by her older sisters by the time she was seven. She graduated with a degree in Social Work from Birmingham University. She immigrated to Canada in 1954 and brought her family up in Toronto. She worked as a psychotherapist, specializing in early childhood traumas. She came to Vancouver in 1982. She remarried to the sculptor, Elias Wakan, and travelled extensively including living two years in Japan, a stay that began with a two-week holiday. During their two years teaching ESL in Japan, they took 6,000 slides. Upon returning to Canada, they were pleased to discover Japan had been introduced into the B.C. Ministry of Education Grade 6 Curriculum. They developed a series of slide shows on Japan and Peru, also a Grade 6 subject. The couple formed a small publishing house, Pacific-Rim Publishers, to produce educational books, many of which Naomi wrote and illustrated. Their first title was Food in Peru with a print run of 100 copies. It eventually sold 1,000 copies. They produced 23 unsubsidized titles, the last being Telling Tales on the Rim. Wakan and her husband moved to Gabriola in 1996 and opened a studio, Drumbeg House Studio, where he makes wood sculpture and Naomi Wakan paints, writes and does fabric art as a member of Gabriola Fibre Artists. Wakan has moved from writing books geared to children to books for adults, including Haiku - One Breath Poetry. Her essays and poetry have appeared in Resurgence, Geist, Room of One's Own, Kansai Time Out and Far East Journal. Her advice to emerging writers past the age of fifty, Late Bloomer: On Writing Later in Life, was followed by personal essays about her literary life, Compositions: Notes on the Written Word, and a summary of her reading habit over the course of one year, Book Ends: A Year Between the Covers (Poplar Press, 2010).

With more than 30 books behind her, at age 80, Wakan released a collection of often humourous essays, A Roller-coaster Ride: Thoughts on Aging (Wolsak and Wynn 2012), in which she considers subjects that include death, retirement homes, elder abuse and what to call people after they're past retirement.

[photo © Beverly Deutsch, 1980]

CITY/TOWN: Gabriola Island

DATE OF BIRTH: July 20th, 1931

PLACE OF BIRTH: London, England

ARRIVAL IN CANADA: 1954

ARRIVAL IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: 1982

EMPLOYMENT OTHER THAN WRITING: Artist and fabric work

BOOKS:

Images of Japan (Pacific-Rim Publishers, 1989)
Japanese--An Appetizer (Pacific-Rim Publishers, 1990)
Inca Scrapbook (Pacific-Rim Publishers 1991)
Reading About Japan (Pacific-Rim Publishers 1992)
Haiku - One Breath Poetry (Pacific-Rim Publishers 1993)
Puzzling on the Rim (Pacific-Rim Publishers 1993)
One day a Stranger Came (Annick, 1994)
Telling Tales on the Rim (Pacific-Rim Publishers, 1995)
Healing Bag (Lightsmith Publishing, 1998)
They Came from China (Pacific-Edge Publishing, 1999)
Haiku Bag (Lightsmith Publishing 1999)
Memory bag (Lightsmith Publishing, 1999)
Musicworks, Gardenworks (Artmonsky Arts, 2002)
Drumbeg Park (Pacific-Edge Publishing, 2004)
Segues (Wolsak & Wynn, 2005) - poetry
Late Bloomer: On Writing Later in Life (Wolsak & Wynn, 2006)
Compositions: Notes on the Written Word (Wolsak & Wynn, 2008).
Book Ends: A Year Between the Covers (Poplar Press, Wolsak & Wynn, 2010).
Sex after 70 and other poems, Bevalia Press, 2010. 978-0-9782868-8-0
Reflections: response tanka, (with Sonja Arntzen) Pacific-Rim Publishers, 2011. 978-0-921358-25-1
On Poetry (with David Fraser), Ascent Aspiration Publishing, 2011. 978-0-9736568-9-3
Think Colour, (with Ruth Artmonsky), Artmonsky Arts, 2011. 978-0-9551994-8-6
Nostalgia & The Attic (with Alice Rich). 2011, 978-0-9865253
A Roller-coaster Ride – Thoughts on Aging (Hamilton: Poplar Press, 2012). $19.95 ISBN 978-18949876-4-6
Naomi in Nanaimo (2014)

Plus the 'Work' Series - Loveworks, Artworks, Designworks, Foodworks, Bookworks

[BCBW 2014] "Poetry" "Publishing"

A Roller-coaster Ride: Thoughts on Aging (Poplar Press / Wolsak & Wynn $19.95)
Review (2012)



Born in London, England in 1931 as Norma Rudd, Naomi Wakan was introduced to the works of George Bernard Shaw and the Fabian socialists by her older sisters by the time she was seven. She graduated with a degree in social work from Birmingham University and immigrated to Canada in 1954, having married and become Norma Deutsch, raising her family in Toronto where she worked as a psychotherapist, specializing in early childhood traumas.

She came to Victoria in 1982 after having divorced and married her second husband, the sculptor, Elias Wakan. They chose their own names when they wed; Eli became Elias, and Norma became Naomi. The couple travelled extensively and lived for two years in Japan, a stay that began with a two-week holiday. During their two years teaching ESL in Japan, they took 6,000 slides. Upon returning to Canada, they were pleased to discover Japan had been introduced into the B.C. Ministry of Education grade 6 curriculum. They subsequently developed a series of slide shows on Japan and Peru, also a grade 6 subject.

Their small publishing company, Pacific-Rim Publishers, began to produce educational books, many of which Naomi wrote and illustrated. Their first title was Food in Peru (1988) with a print run of 100 copies. It eventually sold 1,000 copies. They produced 23 unsubsidized titles, the last being Telling Tales on the Rim (1995). When the Wakans moved to Gabriola in 1996, Pacific- Edge Publishing took over distribution of their Pacific-Rim titles. On Gabriola they opened Drumbeg House Studio, where Elias makes wood sculptures and Naomi writes and edits.

Naomi has since moved to writing books for adults. Her advice to emerging writers past the age of fifty, Late Bloomer: On Writing Later in Life (2006), was followed by personal essays about her literary life, Compositions: Notes on the Written Word (2008), and a summary of her reading habits over the course of one year, Book Ends: A Year Between the Covers (Poplar Press, 2010).

With more than 40 books behind her, at age 80, Naomi has now released a collection of often humourous essays, A Roller-coaster Ride: Thoughts on Aging, in which she considers subjects that include death, retirement homes, elder abuse and what to call people after they’re past retirement.

On Gabriola Island, Naomi Wakan maintains her self-image as the “bouncing, precocious, naïve, imaginative kid” she has always been. In her garden, she has waited to take her place as a senior, elder, crone even “lovely old biddy” (as she once overheard herself described) but it hasn’t happened. At the beginning of her new book, she explains: “I do not seem to have moved into the calm and wisdom that people promised me old age would bring. My life is more like a roller coaster. Some days I feel totally part of the universe. Life seems interconnected and meaningful and the words flow from me as if coming from a deep source.

“Death slots in naturally as all things come into being and pass away. Other times everything falls to pieces. The world outside seems menacing and fearful and death a losing game… Many of my friends have not matured noticeably in the years I have known them; I really have not done much in the way of maturing myself.”

Wakan’s work portrays a life continuing to be well lived, as evidenced by her most notorious and very funny poem, “Sex after Seventy.” Similarly, A Roller-coaster Ride is not a book about being old. “I did a lot of research for the book,” she says, “then tore it up and threw it all in the air, realizing I was not any kind of an authority on aging and shouldn’t pretend to be one.

“I wanted to fill A Roller-coaster Ride with all the things I love to do best that have taken me so happily into old age—my poetry, my personal essays (reaching towards belle-lettres) and my love of reading and reporting what I read when I find bits I want to share. I don’t have much wisdom, myself, but have a quick eye for others’ wisdom when I read it.”

In this roller-coaster of brief chapters, with poems scattered throughout, she addresses the “small and personal,” with no big dramas and a lot of questions, confronting head-on the expected questions such as memory vs. nostalgia (her mother rearranging the family album, herself associating memories with poems and colours), generational warfare (with a nightmare image of young folk attacking a retirement home), ageism (which she challenges indignantly—“Why can’t the elderly be allowed anger?”), health and medicine, (“Preventive medicine is wasted on the very old anyway and makes the young into invalids”), loneliness and euphemisms (“I swear that I will cry if I hear ‘passed on’ one more time!”).

With common sense and humour, she does offer a few suggestions—she would hesitate to call them advice—supported with checklists and appendices. Only in her final chapter, “Hank’s Wake,” does she allow herself to approach the elegiac in her contemplation of friendship and community.

With the success of her poetry collection Segues (2005), Wolsak & Wynn realized Naomi Wakan’s energy could not be contained within a single genre, and, after 25 years of publishing mainly poetry, the imprint initiated Poplar Press to accommodate Wakan’s essays for Bookends – a year between the covers (2010).

When Wakan told me the working title of her thoughts-on-aging book, Licorice and Lavender, I sighed and accepted the implication: we who are no longer young, faintly floral scented, lightly tinted, are nostalgic for the carnival candy of our childhood. At the same time, I was not sure Naomi fitted the image; I hoped I did not. So what a relief to find that somewhere along the way, Naomi and Wolsak & Wynn scrapped candy and flowers, and went for the carnival itself. The title became A Roller-coaster Ride: Thoughts on Aging. A black roller-coaster ups and downs its way across the cover with lots of pink, a sunset or a rainbow, and careens on through the book in the slightly dizzy design of the chapter headings. If life is a cabaret, why shouldn’t aging be a ride above and below and above and below … the amusement park?

Besides her trade-books, she brings forth a steady flow of chapbooks and other slim, and not-so-slim books, some in cooperation with other writers and artists. She contributed to five titles in 2011, Nostalgia & the Attic, collaborating with the artist Alice Rich; Reflections with the scholar of Japanese mediaeval literature, Sonja Arntzen; Tidepools: Haiku on Gabriola with participants in the haiku weekend which she hosts annually; On Poetry with Nanaimo poet, David Fraser; and Think

Colour with her twin, Ruth Artmonsky, in celebration of their 80th birthday. She also contributes regularly to Senior Living Magazine, Canadian Teachers Magazine blog, and Still Point Arts Quarterly. Wakan has four more books in the works: an introduction to haiku, a collection of quotations about healing, a series of essays on creativity and art forms, and Some Sort of Life: a fictional autobiography. 978-1-894987-64-6

Phyllis Reeve writes from Gabriola Island

[BCBW 2012]