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Halfway to the East

by Marusya Bociurkiw

Throughout her first collection of poems, Halfway to the East, Marusya Bociurkiw, a Vancouver-based media artist, displays the gifts of a first-rate social observer.

Bociurkiw is mainly concerned with two subjects, the immigrant and the gay experience. She skillfully juxtaposes these two sensitive and highly charged issues and demonstrates their common denominators: both deal with displacement and the need to belong. Although both topics have been explored previously, she movingly articulates her own experiences with freshness. Bociurkiw does not flinch at judging a society that at times is unwilling to accept its differences. Her highly imagistic work comes through subtly but provocatively, evidence in part, perhaps, of her film background.

Her grandmother’s arrival from Ukraine and her attempt to establish roots in an alien land, while desperately trying to maintain old world traditions, are lovingly and skillfully charted. The simple rituals of baking and blessing Easter bread become lessons in living. Although her family may practise the rituals, they do not embody the message of forgiveness and acceptance associated with this holy season: the poet shares a gentle but ironic rebuke when her brother orders her to stay away at Easter because she is a lesbian.

In “Road to Christmas,” the poet encounters a similar kind of hostility. “The waitress at Smitty’s in Kamloops beams when we enter hand-in-hand, voice hardens from treacle into ice as she does a double take.” Bociurkiw’s 22 poems are thought-provoking, and though they deal with two vastly different subjects, they aptly capture the predicament of both groups as outsiders trying to fit in.