Author puts faces to the poor among us

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@idirect.com)
Sat, 24 Apr 1999 05:12:52 -0400


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The Toronto Star
Saturday, April 24, 1999

By Jim Coyle

Author puts faces to the poor among us=20

 IN ITS TIMING, today's publication of Pat Capponi's latest book is =
really quite exquisite.=20

Earlier this week, the New Yorker magazine hit the stands with a special =
issue on money - articles on the getting, growing and spending of it =
tucked between glossy ads for the choicest cars, clothes, jewelry, =
vacations and blue-chip investment firms.=20

On Tuesday, a book was released in Ottawa, written by economic =
consultant Monica Townson and funded by Health Canada, reporting that =
the healthiest people aren't found in the richest countries, but in =
those with the smallest gap between rich and poor.=20

Now, Capponi's book, The War at Home: An Intimate Portrait of Canada's =
Poor, goes a long way to completing the picture of society's two =
solitudes.=20

Capponi, invariably cowboy-hatted and denimed, is one of this city's =
originals, a 49-year-old former psychiatric patient who survived abuse, =
depression and suicide attempts to become a mental-health advocate. Even =
now, she lives in one room and is most at home among the urban poor, =
despite being a member of the Order of Ontario and an acclaimed author =
who heads out next week on a national book tour. She's been more =
fortunate than most who live poor, in that her writing, the platform it =
has provided and acclaim it's earned, have won her entree into circles =
that others of like background seldom see.=20

``Most people living in poverty only know others in the same =
circumstance,'' she has said. ``People who cannot even provide temporary =
relief from the empty pockets and empty shelves. For most, poverty is a =
closed circle.''=20

Deliciously, among the praise she's received over the years is a =
congratulatory letter from Mike Harris, then leader of the third party, =
for her 1992 book Upstairs at the Crazy House.=20

It is a valued, if unlikely, keepsake given that her second book, =
Dispatches from the Poverty Line, published in 1997, began as a series =
of open letters written for NOW magazine denouncing Harris for his =
policies after becoming premier.=20

The first book chronicled her own life and the existence of others in =
one of Toronto's rooming houses for psychiatric patients. The second =
depicted life on the margins, where the numbing banality of need exacts =
endless daily indignities and countless petty calculations over even how =
much toilet paper to use.=20

Still, there is no self-pity or blame about Capponi. She believes in =
choice and consequence. But she brings to the notion a broader =
definition.=20

``I believe people make choices and should accept consequences. That =
includes abused kids who grow into abusers, poor kids who take out their =
poverty on the property of others, men who batter their fears into the =
faces of women. It also includes communities that create the =
circumstances that foster abandonment, neglect, poverty, ignorance and =
fear.''=20

Her newest book, The War at Home, deals with all of that. She travelled =
across the country putting faces and stories on the statistics, =
spotlighting society's forgotten and, perhaps most important, showing =
ways in which some are trying to regain control over their lives.=20

And she does not spare, in the telling, the ``bloated and often =
irrelevant system of social services that has played a large part in =
creating the universe of pain that belongs to the poor.''=20

If nothing else, this book should be a much-needed antidote to the =
smugness, judgment and condescension the haves increasingly seem to feel =
for the have-nots. There is now a permanent underclass of desperately =
poor and disaffected in Canada who will not disappear, Capponi writes, =
``though many of us wish they would.''=20

``They suffer and their children suffer and then grow into their own =
angry lost adulthood. Those whose fathers who, instead of tucking them =
in at night, got into bed with them. Those whose parents were lost to =
addiction: alcohol or drugs. Those whose mothers were brought up in =
abusive situations and found themselves always choosing men to whom =
violence was more common than conversation.''=20

Two years ago, after publication of Dispatches, reporter Michael =
Woloschuk wrote in the Ottawa Citizen that he had been taken in as a =
battered orphan 25 years ago by a Montreal group home Capponi then ran. =
Without her, he wrote, ``I'd probably be dead.''=20

``I left the group home and went my own way; but that way that had been =
pointed out to me by this remarkable woman who, for four years, loved me =
more than anyone I had ever known.'' And if the landscape of her books =
is invariably bleak, at their core is always that kind of love, =
resilience and hope.=20

In her last one, Pat Capponi closed with the terse but triumphant =
sentence: ``I go on.'' With this newest, she surely has.=20




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<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN">
The Toronto Star
Saturday, April 24, 1999
 
By Jim Coyle
 
Author puts faces to the poor among us

 IN ITS TIMING, today's publication of Pat Capponi's = latest book=20 is really quite exquisite.
 
Earlier this week, the New Yorker magazine hit the stands with a = special=20 issue on money - articles on the getting, growing and spending of it = tucked=20 between glossy ads for the choicest cars, clothes, jewelry, vacations = and=20 blue-chip investment firms.
 
On Tuesday, a book was released in Ottawa, written by economic = consultant=20 Monica Townson and funded by Health Canada, reporting that the = healthiest people=20 aren't found in the richest countries, but in those with the smallest = gap=20 between rich and poor.
 
Now, Capponi's book, The War at Home: An Intimate Portrait of = Canada's=20 Poor, goes a long way to completing the picture of society's two = solitudes.=20
 
Capponi, invariably cowboy-hatted and denimed, is one of this = city's=20 originals, a 49-year-old former psychiatric patient who survived abuse,=20 depression and suicide attempts to become a mental-health advocate. Even = now,=20 she lives in one room and is most at home among the urban poor, despite = being a=20 member of the Order of Ontario and an acclaimed author who heads out = next week=20 on a national book tour. She's been more fortunate than most who live = poor, in=20 that her writing, the platform it has provided and acclaim it's earned, = have won=20 her entree into circles that others of like background seldom see. =
 
``Most people living in poverty only know others in the same=20 circumstance,'' she has said. ``People who cannot even provide temporary = relief=20 from the empty pockets and empty shelves. For most, poverty is a closed=20 circle.''
 
Deliciously, among the praise she's received over the years is a=20 congratulatory letter from Mike Harris, then leader of the third party, = for her=20 1992 book Upstairs at the Crazy House.
 
It is a valued, if unlikely, keepsake given that her second book,=20 Dispatches from the Poverty Line, published in 1997, began as a series = of open=20 letters written for NOW magazine denouncing Harris for his policies = after=20 becoming premier.
 
The first book chronicled her own life and the existence of others = in one=20 of Toronto's rooming houses for psychiatric patients. The second = depicted life=20 on the margins, where the numbing banality of need exacts endless daily=20 indignities and countless petty calculations over even how much toilet = paper to=20 use.
 
Still, there is no self-pity or blame about Capponi. She believes = in choice=20 and consequence. But she brings to the notion a broader definition. =
 
``I believe people make choices and should accept consequences. = That=20 includes abused kids who grow into abusers, poor kids who take out their = poverty=20 on the property of others, men who batter their fears into the faces of = women.=20 It also includes communities that create the circumstances that foster=20 abandonment, neglect, poverty, ignorance and fear.''
 
Her newest book, The War at Home, deals with all of that. She = travelled=20 across the country putting faces and stories on the statistics, = spotlighting=20 society's forgotten and, perhaps most important, showing ways in which = some are=20 trying to regain control over their lives.
 
And she does not spare, in the telling, the ``bloated and often = irrelevant=20 system of social services that has played a large part in creating the = universe=20 of pain that belongs to the poor.''
 
If nothing else, this book should be a much-needed antidote to the=20 smugness, judgment and condescension the haves increasingly seem to feel = for the=20 have-nots. There is now a permanent underclass of desperately poor and=20 disaffected in Canada who will not disappear, Capponi writes, ``though = many of=20 us wish they would.''
 
``They suffer and their children suffer and then grow into their = own angry=20 lost adulthood. Those whose fathers who, instead of tucking them in at = night,=20 got into bed with them. Those whose parents were lost to addiction: = alcohol or=20 drugs. Those whose mothers were brought up in abusive situations and = found=20 themselves always choosing men to whom violence was more common than=20 conversation.''
 
Two years ago, after publication of Dispatches, reporter Michael = Woloschuk=20 wrote in the Ottawa Citizen that he had been taken in as a battered = orphan 25=20 years ago by a Montreal group home Capponi then ran. Without her, he = wrote,=20 ``I'd probably be dead.''
 
``I left the group home and went my own way; but that way that had = been=20 pointed out to me by this remarkable woman who, for four years, loved me = more=20 than anyone I had ever known.'' And if the landscape of her books is = invariably=20 bleak, at their core is always that kind of love, resilience and hope. =
 
In her last one, Pat Capponi closed with the terse but triumphant = sentence:=20 ``I go on.'' With this newest, she surely has.
 

 
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