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Red Zone: Where Will YOU Sleep Tonight?

RED ZONE by Kim Goldberg

Pig Squash Press $18.95

“I can no longer discern where the political ends and the personal begins. The deeper I push into this swollen red midden of hidden box springs and open books, the more my own flesh burns…”                                                                

—from RED ZONE

Regardless of your political orientation, the new poetry of Kim Goldberg cries out for careful reading and reflection. And arguably revolution.  

Following on Ride Backwards on Dragon, shortlisted for the 2007 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, this verse collection is as street raw and incendiary as the cold flame of the crack cocaine pipe. 

Cracking the spine of her book RED ZONE, you find yourself at the intersection of an verse map assemblage of unusually concern-provoking and often moving verse, laced with wry imagery from a lens in the accomplished hands of an urban poet-artist, with an uncommonly principled backbone. 

As British Columbia plays host to the 2010 Winter Games, far from Whistler’s fantasyland, and the pre-game glow of the passing torchbearers’ Olympic flame, Nanaimo’s Kim Goldberg offers the world a Google streetview zoom-in of the blurred, sun-blistered faces of those who live, hide, and die in Nanaimo’s “Red Zone.” 

Aptly named, it marks an exclusionary 40 block swath perimeterized to safeguard the seaport’s downtown businesses from exponential growth in homelessness created by government dismantling of poverty programs. 

Goldberg, the sensitive guide and poet-occupant smack in the middle of the Red Zone lock down, tracks and laments the dreams never dreamed. She unlocks in throbbing, hot-wired artistic realism an inner-city in the fullness of ceaseless social decay, and the lives of those who struggle on the margins, in riverside gullies, park hedgerows and hidden underpass tunneled fortifications.  

Her ‘samizdat’ poetry challenges the hopelessness of the underpass squats and unfettered corporate greed that engulfs her and her neighbours on every side. 

/ plastic surgeon remodeling of this declining milltown / swelled with mallbloat / 

/ swollen fleshworms nodding aimlessly in their cinnabar chamber / blind as whips. / 

We laugh, cry, and get angry with this intermediary and interpreter, as we feel and follow her presence as empowered homeless encampment memoirist and friend, whilst tying together their many poetic life-threads into a whole, like the visual mantra of graffiti taggers. Turning denial into acceptance, and acceptance into urban manifesto. 

No punches pulled. No asskissing. Rather, a masterful poet’s full cranial-cardio inversion crackles bearing witness to energetic irreverence, streetlife defiance, and alleyway sexuality: by turns, verses of pain, fragile yet resilient self-identity, worth and dignity, rare and treasurable, far from the often esoteric poetry subjects of academe.  

Her unbelievably haunting, dispossessed, addicted, and misfortunate neighbours are shown respect for their gritty dignity and she heroically validates their broken lives: 

/ We Are. / We Are More. / 

and in turn, they entrust her to provide us with a limited, yet compellingly hypnotic exposure to what we all unconsciously fear in these dark times of wrenching social and environmental hardship: to hit rock bottom, and fall hard to a life on the mean streets. To be, one day memorialized (or not at all) as yet one more, forgotten cold corpse in a dead-end park. 

Clearly, the urbanscape in which Nanaimo’s Ginsberg dwells (figuratively and literally) is a febrile breeding ground for a future Sitting Bull, a Louis Riel, a Tommy Douglas. 

         /  I was out sowing the seeds of revolution in the clarity of February’s heatless sun

     when I saw her yarding on a pipe wrench, trying to pop the head off a parking meter. / 

/ I poked through the abandoned furnishings: collapsible lawn chairs, burnt tin pot,        Rubbermaid tote for table, pine shelf unit lashed to rebar to keep it high and dry, loaded with boots, sneakers, platform heels, blue jeans, can opener, chipped plates, Canucks sweatshirt./ 

Goldberg, herself an Oregonian red zone-like exiled émigré from childhood past,

in selections in this collection, allows us to re-live her own unapologetic experience and unvarnished insights, many unabashedly personal, political, and at times confessional.  

To Goldberg’s credit (and relief of the faint-hearted), she counterbalances the countless weeping sores found in the heart of this port city with standout comic riffs, and finely-honed aesthetic use of street-witty journal entries, pictograms, and weathergrams. Other formal and experimental poetic devices break the rules (or make her own), rightfully knocking this sensory feast out of the parochial town father’s no-go zone.  

This unique book has made a great space for itself on the shelf of Canadian poetry. May Goldberg’s mid-career switch from non-fiction author and freelance journalist, to rich poetic genius persist. 

For if this poetry collection were swallowable at local food banks, it would richly delight the hungry lives in the hub-city labyrinth it portrays. Use this book to feed and nurture you: Kim Goldberg is surely the luminous streetlamp to the Kafkaesque worsening climate and poverty darkness facing us all. 

deserves to be nationally distributed and anthologized regularly to alert us all that cold, ugly shopping cart graveyards mark the forgotten lives of a subterranean subculture, often racist born, and growing -- from restless squat to shadowed underpass, from coast to coast. The insurgent tipping point they represent may be much closer than we think. 

Howard Breen is an environmental and social justice activist living in Victoria, British Columbia.

Kim Goldberg

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