Loss & Lost Voices

Oct 27, 2018 | 10:45 AM - 12:15 AM | Loft 1

Tita Kyrtsakas, MA  University of Windsor

Good Grief: Loss as a Language in Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere

In her 2010 young adult novel The Sky is Everywhere, writer Jandy Nelson’s main character Lennie Walker grieves after her sister’s sudden death. With this grief comes a loss of language, an inability to communicate. Lennie explains she needs “a new alphabet, one made of falling, of tectonic plates shifting, of the deep devouring dark” (p. 12) to even begin to understand her grief. In my paper, I aim to explore Lennie’s struggle grieving as an individual amongst family members also mourning the loss, and the subsequent guilt she feels for attempting to move on. Lennie’s main coping mechanism surfaces through producing poetry, her newfound language to express her pain. Whereas prose offers a way to see the exteriority of the world, poetry offers a more efficient way to communicate Lennie’s interiority.

Ultimately, I argue that turning to a poetic language and experiencing the therapeutic qualities of writing poetry during mourning produce both healing and growth. By utilizing examples of Lennie’s reactions in light of psychology scholarship, this paper elucidates how grief is not a quantifiable experience and illuminates the importance of a family’s reconstruction of identity post-mortem through open communication. Overall, this paper argues the significance of poetry as a language to grieve, while championing the use of young adult novels in and outside of the classroom to teach about grief, including its potential positive effects such as the discovery of a new language for communication and the strengthening of self.

Gunter Schaarschmidt, PhD   University of Victoria

Language and Peace: Sinixt and Doukhobor Russian

The Doukhobors are a pacifist ethnic minority in Canada whose belief system developed when they split off from the Russian Orthodox Church, possibly as early as the mid-seventeenth century, a period of considerable dissension in that organization. The Doukhobors do not have churches, priests or pastors but assemble in community halls where their communal singing of psalms signifies the essence of their belief system. In 1802 Tsar Alexander granted them a homeland in the fertile Crimea. Less than 50 years later Tsar Nicholas banned them to barren Transcaucasia where the group created a huge bonfire of weaponry in 1895 as a gesture to the government that they opposed conscription. Fearing extermination for the group, Leo Tolstoy with the aid of the Quakers in Great Britain enabled the Doukhobors to leave Russia and settle in Canada in 1899. They settled first in the Province of Saskatchewan in the vicinity of settlers of Ukrainian origin which proved to have a lasting effect on their Russian language. Following a dispute with the Government on land leasing conditions, about half of the Doukhobors moved to the Province of British Columbia where they were able to buy land. What was probably not known to them was that a First Nation minority, the Sinixt, also laid claim to the land.

This is where the pacifism of the Doukhobors ended. They chased the Sinixt people off their land, dug up their burial grounds, and built a fence to keep out the Sinixt. The dispute between Doukhobors and Sinixt has since been resolved by dedicating the MIR centre in Selkirk to ritual activities for both groups, and this seems to work well. The MIR centre itself was renamed to “MIR Centre for Peace” (the noun mir in Russian means both “world” and “peace”). Another instance where a sub-group of the Doukhobors, the so-called svobodniki (Freedomites) completely put aside their Pacifist roots was when the Canadian government went back on their promise given before the group settled in Canada that the new immigrants should be able to continue with all their activities in the Russian language. Instead the Government now enforced schooling in English as it had with the First Nations languages.

The svobodniki protested when their children were taken into residential schools by undressing publicly and were therefore banished to two camps, one for males, the other for females, on Piers Island off the coast of Vancouver Island. There are currently probably no more than 20,000 Doukhobors living in Canada. In the late 1990s language maintenance was estimated to be at 60%. No doubt that percentage has in the meantime shrunk considerably. Since its formation in the early 1800s,  Doukhobor Russian had been transmitted orally from generation to generation,  both in its colloquial style based on a South Russian dialect and in its ritual style based on Russian Church Slavonic as recorded in 1906. The oral language began to be recorded by linguists in the late 1960s. It is now facing a certain death if not revitalized and maintained. It seems that at least the Doukhobor community in British Columbia is leaning towards preserving the oral language for cultural functions while the number of compentent speakers in Saskatchewan is too low to encourage any revitalization efforts. This paper constitutes a continuation of earlier research as presented in Schaarschmidt 2012; 2013.

Laura Quirk, PhD  Conestoga College

When Silence Speaks: Reanimating the town of Indiana, Ontario

How we lose our words, our culture and our voices is a topic that is well illustrated by the town of Indiana, Ontario. Indiana was the largest industrial town in Haldimand County, in the 19th century and it was like many small towns of the period that grew up and prospered along a river. It had mills, houses, two churches, craftspeople, laborers and farmers. If you had visited the town in the 1860s you would have heard the call of French, German, Scotch, Irish and English voices. But like so many towns of this era, Indiana eventually fell into obsolescence. For nearly 150 years, memories of the town were slowly erased as farmers plowed their fields and nature eroded what was left of the town. Today, Indiana no longer exists except in scant historical references and scattered archaeological traces.

When I first learned about Indiana, almost immediately I knew I wanted to reanimate the town - or to put that another way, to create mental images of what the town would have once been like. But perhaps more importantly to me, I began to ask questions about the people who existed in Indiana. Who were they? Why were some historically silent – was it because they were illiterate or could it have been because their histories were not considered important enough to preserve? I wanted to understand how the items that people left behind could tell stories about their lives and experiences. And, I wanted to see if the letters, documents, business journals and various historical threads could tell me anything about the everyday experiences of those who lived in Indiana. In other words, my paper will focus on ways to consider how the townspeople lost their voices through time and how we can learn to listen to them once again.


Tita Kyrtsakas, MA

Tita Kyrtsakas holds a M.A. in Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies from the University of Toronto and a B.A. in English Literature and Drama from the University of Windsor, where she is currently earning a Bachelor of Education. After graduation, she plans to write, teach, and pursue a doctoral degree in English with a concentration in Young Adult literature (YAL.) Her research interests include the act of characters writing poetry in YAL especially as a therapeutic response to grief, the application of Age Studies as a lens to study literature and theatre, and the construction of familial and romantic love in contemporary YAL. She is also fascinated in the employment of YAL in the classroom setting to strengthen literacy and inspire reading outside school. She has published an article on Instagram poetry in Shameless magazine and is a volunteer book reviewer for the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE. She works as graduate assistant in the drama department at the University of Windsor and as a tutor at Oxford Learning. In her spare time, she finds joy writing her own creative manuscript about a young teenager who falls in love and turns to poetry as her primary language when that love is lost.

Gunter Schaarschmidt, PhD

Gunter Schaarschmidt studied Slavic and English philology at the universities of Greifswald, Leipzig, and Mainz (all Germany). After settling in Canada in 1962, he obtained an M.A. in Russian at the University of Alberta (Canada) and a Ph.D. in Slavic Linguistics at Indiana University (Bloomington, USA). He taught Russian and Slavic Linguistics at the University of Alberta from 1963 to 1979; Linguistics at Indiana University from 1968-69; and Russian at the University of Victoria (British Columbia, Canada) from 1979 until his retirement in 2004. In 1975, he served as a Canadian exchange scholar at the Academy of Sciences, Section Structural Linguistics, in Moscow, USSR. Apart from numerous articles, highlights in his publishing career include: A Manual in Contrastive Contrastive Linguistics (The Structures of Russian and English), Edmonton: University of Alberta, 1966, Pp. 106; The Historical Phonology of the Upper and Lower Sorbian Languages, Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1998, Pp. 175; and two books on Upper Sorbian Grammar, Munich: LINCOM, 2002, 20042, Pp. 80. For the past 15 years, he has published a number of articles and chapters, and has a book in preparation, on the language of the Doukhobors in Canada.

Laura Quirk, PhD

Dr. Laura Quirk completed her PhD under the supervision of Dr. Cynthia Commacchio at Wilfred Laurier University. Her dissertation was entitled: The Thompson’s Town: Family, Industry and Material Culture In Indiana, Ontario 1830-1900. Her research interests include Canadian History, Historic Archaeology, Gender, and Family Studies. She completed her MA in Anthropology at the University of Western Ontario, on The Bridgeport Site: Small-scale Manufacturing in Ontario. She is a Professor of Liberal Studies Conestoga College and is also Chair of the Research Ethics Board. She has participated in numerous workshops, conferences, and presentations since 2000.