In 1999, current Victoria Poet Laureate Yvonne Blomer had just finished teaching English in Japan. Wanting to take the long way home, she and her husband Rupert planned a three-month, 4000-kilometre bicycle trip through Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Malaysia. Twelve years after the trip, Blomer began writing what is now Sugar Ride, a memoir about their experience.
Blomer said much has happened since that trip. She went to graduate school, wrote several books of poems, and became a mother. The extra time allowed her some distance from the event.
“I think I was overcome by all the details” said Blomer. “Letting the main moments and memories come to the surface was important.”
Blomer was born in Zimbabwe to British parents, and moved to Canada as an infant. Both were British colonies, but Japan did not share the same colonial history. During her bicycle trip, she saw the effects of French colonialism and the Vietnam War. Blomer said the extra time allowed her to weave in themes of colonialism and concept of being an “other” in Southeast Asia (being one of the few white people in the area at the time).
“Had we come from Canada, we would have had a different mindset,” said Blomer.
As a Type I diabetic, Blomer and her husband took diabetes supplies, including 460 injections of insulin, in four panniers (two on each bike). They were hard to find while Blomer was in Japan, and that rang true as they went further south.
“In early drafts, I barely mentioned it,” she said. Only later did she realize it was a big part of the trip.
Blomer wrote a series of poems, Bicycle Brand Journey, about the same bike trip, and said the poems “ignited and re-engaged me with the trip.”
Due to her role as Victoria Poet Laureate, she often begins public readings with some poems, even if she’s touring her memoir, because “part of my responsibility as poet laureate is to bring poetry to as many places as I can.”
Her four-year term (designed to match the local election cycle) is coming to a close, but Blomer said it has been “wonderful and eye-opening” to bring poetry to events that are not strictly literary.
Some highlights for her included reading at Mental Health Awareness Day at Royal Jubilee Hospital, and for children at the Royal BC Museum on New Year’s Eve.
“People approach poetry a little bit like mathematics, a little bit scared, with an assumption in front of us that we’re not going to understand it, and I don’t think that’s true,” said Blomer, saying she wishes children read more modern-day poetry instead of just poems of the past.
“They might understand everything the first time, but they might come away with a feeling or an emotion, and that’s what they can trust in poetry.”