Philip Kevin Paul

Family, life in his community inspire Paul

Although he could be called an up-and-coming poet, Philip Kevin Paul seems to have no grand aspirations in that direction.

A 37-year-old First Nations writer and University of Victoria graduate, Paul seems content working away at his writing outside going to his day job and “digging around his yard with his dog” on his time off.

The Central Saanich resident just released his second book of poetry, Little Hunger. It’s the second part of what he calls a trilogy centred around the Saanich Peninsula and his family. The book follows Taking the Names Down From the Hill, his 2004 debut which won that year’s Dorothy Livesay poetry prize.

Paul admits he still doesn’t own a copy of his debut. His focus has been solely on his homeland, he says, and paying respect to his relatives and ancestors, one way in which is through his writing.

“I’ve had the same phone number and address my entire life and I live on the land that, who knows how long my family has been living on it,” says Paul, a member of the Sencoten (Saanich) First Nation.

“Really, you can track it back to the early 1700s, it’s just not a confusion in my life, I know where I’m from.”

Paul is a former writing instructor at UVic and worked with the university’s linguistics department to preserve the Sencoten language, which had less than 50 fluent speakers in 2004.

Paul says he’s extremely happy and proud of his heritage.

“The particular family I come from, the families I come from, really shaped my way of seeing and I was lucky,” he says. “Unlike a lot of people – to have a very traditional upbringing, a lot of tradition around me, all the time – that influenced my way of thinking and it’s represented in my poetry.”

Little Hunger features earthy, stripped-down poems about Brentwood Bay and the Peninsula and makes many references to family: mothers, uncles, brothers, fathers and animals.

Working on the poems while attending UVic, Paul was helped by one of Greater Victoria’s most established poets, Lorna Crozier, who heads the writing department at the university.

“Kevin has a unique voice and brings a wisdom to his poems that he’s always sort of had even as a younger man,” says Crozier. “He always knew these things deep inside his bones, and you can tell it’s from someone who’s listened to their elders growing up on the reserve and worked to keep the language alive.”

Paul says Crozier and her husband, fellow poet Patrick Lane – he just released his debut novel Red Dog Red Dog – have been a welcome influence to his work, without overpowering his own style and theme.

“They’ve been delicate enough that they haven’t barged in with their elbows into my poetry or anything like that.

Paul also cites Bill Jensen, a retired writing and English instructor at Camosun College, as another mentor.

“He encouraged me towards a simplicity in my poetry rather than getting all convoluted like a lot of poetry tends to be these days, trying too hard.”

Currently working on a number of writing projects, including a third book of poetry, I’m Still Your Pitiful One, which will wind up the trilogy, Paul is a tad cryptic when asked about his career.

When it comes to writing, he says, he’s not one to formulate or plan out much of a future for himself.

Paul has, however, thought about writing a novel. “It’s always been a plan,” he says. “I’ve already written a book of parables, I’ve written some children’s stories, I’ve written plays and screenplays. I’ve got all those things in my computer, half of them on my broken computer drive which is going to take forensic recovery to get everything out.”

Little Hunger is available at local bookstores.

By Patrick Blennerhassett, Victoria News