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Reviewed by:
  • Transcanada Letters, and: Pacific Rim Letters
  • Donald Goellnicht
Roy K. Kiyooka . Transcanada Letters. Edited by Smaro Kamboureli. Afterword by Glen Lowry. NeWest Press 2005. vi, 378. $34.95
Roy K. Kiyooka. Pacific Rim Letters. Edited, with an afterword, by Smaro Kamboureli. NeWest Press 2005. viii, 360. $34.95

Significant attention has been paid to the work of Roy Kiyooka since his death in 1994: Roy Miki published his magnificent edition of Kiyooka's poetry, Pacific Windows: Collected Poems of Roy K. Kiyooka in 1997, the same year in which Mothertalk: Life Stories of Mary Kiyoshi Kiyooka, edited by Daphne Marlatt, appeared; in 1998, the Catriona Jeffies Gallery presented a solo exhibition of Kiyooka's Photographic Works 1970–1994, followed in 2000 by a solo exhibition of his Filmic Works 1978–80; in October 1999, the Roy Kiyooka conference was held in Vancouver, with transcripts and papers from the conference subsequently published as All Amazed: For Roy Kiyooka, edited by John O'Brian, Naomi Sawada, and Scott Watson in 2002; and an important interdisciplinary conference organized by Smaro Kamboureli and Roy Miki in Vancouver in June 2005, 'TransCanada: Literature, Institutions, and Citizenship,' gave an obvious nod in its title to Kiyooka's transcanada letters (1975), although the conference did not focus specifically on his work. This reissue [End Page 378] of Transcanada Letters, along with its 'sequel,' Pacific Rim Letters, was launched at the TransCanada conference, a wholly fitting venue for the interdisciplinary polymath Kiyooka – painter, sculptor, and musician, poet, photographer, and performance artist – whose thought and art on local-global issues, on Canadian cultural theory, on modernism and postmodernism, and on racialization and official multiculturalism are as relevant today as they were prescient when they were produced between 1965 and 1985.

Transcanada Letters, the first of the two companion volumes, covers 'letters' written from 1965 to 1975, while Pacific Rim Letters, edited by Smaro Kamboureli from a typescript Kiyooka was compiling but left unfinished when he died, covers 1976 to 1985. The term letters is used very loosely to encompass a mélange of materials, best described by Kiyooka himself in an introductory poem in the second volume that reads like a recipe:

'76/'85: the hive of those years:the erstwhile politics as it veers in onone man's life in art inside themaelstrom of these covert ideological times.together with (a matrix of) yeslove letters rooted in one man's eroticconfabulations. where 'polis' touches'eros' and both touch 'art' is tosay the least where you find me. followthe precincts of a chronology as positedby the dated letters: enfold blocksof other writings, obsessions, truculentthoughts from other contexts to bearin upon callit a weaving/wavering narrative.. . .these letters i've kept in duplicatethose that i never mailedtogether with those i wrote ostensiblyto myself. all of them andmore: a biography of self cast uponthe study wall.

'A biography of self,' a vivid collection of life-writings addressed intimately to their recipients but always already duplicated with the intention of sharing them with a wider audience – us? The phrase, together with 'a weaving/wavering narrative,' vividly captures the nature of these texts, which range from the poetic to the mundane, from the aesthetic to the political, from the commercial to the erotic, [End Page 379] from the private and familial to the broadly public and cultural, from the intensely local to the wildly diasporic.

Roy Kenzie Kiyooka, a Japanese Canadian born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, in 1926, was displaced to Alberta as an 'enemy alien' during the Second World War, before he had finished high school. After the war, he attended the Institute of Technology and Art in Calgary to study painting, followed by a period of further study in Mexico in the mid-1950s before he returned to Canada to take up various teaching posts. He criss-crossed the country several times and made a number of trips to his ancestral Japan, but he spent most of his adult life in Vancouver, the city with which he is closely identified and where he had a profound influence on the local artistic scene, including his...


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