A House Does Not Denote A Home - GTEC Green Technology Education Centre

Each day is a journey and the journey itself home… Basho

In memory of Tami Sanders (1962-2023)


I acknowledge struggling with multiple tensions writing this piece. I have always had a home; I have never been homeless. I have a sister living in Toronto (Toronto has the highest concentration of homeless persons in Canada) who once upon a time owned a home in Toronto’s The Beaches neighbourhood. My sister, for years dependent upon opiates after having been prescribed Oxycontin by a physician, now lives in a supported living accommodation. Having experienced homelessness for years, she now subsists on a disability income augmented by financial support from two of my other siblings. I have a brother who existed for years on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. At one point in his life, he owned and lived in a heritage designated home in Oak Bay, Victoria. With an evolving drug dependency, he ended up living in a tent at Vancouver’s Crab Park. Another brother of mine, deceased, was homeless towards the end of his life, leaving a beautiful home he had constructed himself in an affluent neighbourhood in Winnipeg. This brother died from overdose one day after being released from jail, where he had been given methadone.

I recognize owning a home is a privilege; I write from a position of privilege.


Poiesis; from the Ancient Greek, “to make”; “an act of creation” the dictionary informs us. For the philosopher Heidegger, poiesis referred to a “bringing-forth”, an emergence, a making. “The Greek for ‘to bring forth or to produce’ is tikto. The word techne, technique, belongs to the verb’s root, tec. To the Greeks techne means neither art nor handicraft but, rather, to make something appear, within what is present, as this or that, in this way or that way” (Heidegger, 1977/1993. P. 361).

Home as a made-up place intentionally cultivated. A place emerging from the chaos of everyday living, cultivated amid unpredictability, amid uncertainty. Cultivated, relationally constructed, co-created, brought forth from the un-known, the not-yet-known. Ex nihilo, from no-thing emerges some-thing.

Gaston Bachelard informs us, “An entire past comes to dwell in a new house. The old saying, ‘We bring our lares with us’ has many variations” (1969, p. 5). Lares: guardian deities. As mytho-poetic storyteller Martin Shaw observes, home and hearth are populated by all others who have preceded us, by our ancestors. James Hillman refers to these presences as the invisibles. “The ancient home gave plenty of place to the invisibles that live in a family, propitiating and domesticating its daimones, which it acknowledged as rightfully belonging” (1969, p. 203).

Home: a confluence of myriad energies, tensions, contradictions, uncertainties, mysteries. Meditating on home: home, architecture of images, magic thresholds (Walter Benjamin), the divinities of the hearth (Heidegger) the magic of home. Vesta, Roman goddess of the hearth, goddess of fire and the divine light immanent within us.


Within this imagined and intentionally cultivated space, our home, all is evocative: the sea shells speak to me, the driftwood images resonate, the Celtic crosses enshrine, a black Madonna and child Jesus, stars, a tapestry we purchased for Gail’s birthday years ago in Bruges, my own paintings upon the walls, vibrant plants, firewood, kindling in an old apple packing box, stones from the west of Ireland, where we celebrated our spiritual wedding. Heraldic guardians.

Home: a site in which memories become created, a site in which celebrations occur and rituals are observed. Home being a site of pre-sense, but also one of absence. Home: a site in which we re-member those who have departed, and a space in which we puzzle over and contemplate those from whom we are currently alienated and estranged.


Bachelard observes “… if I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house, I should say: the house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace. Thought and experience are not the only things that sanction human values. The values that belong to daydreaming mark humanity in its depths”.

But the house may also be the site of terror, of nightmare. For many persons, dwellings or houses they have abided within have represented varying versions of hell; these places having represented sites of neglect, emotional cruelty, physical abuse, violence, and violation. Many persons can’t wait to leave these houses they are detained within, and many persons with such experiences become literally homeless. Poverty, mental illness and drug dependency are major co-occurring factors challenging and impacting persons who find themselves homeless.

Years ago, I collaborated with a fellow participating in a housing research project I worked on whom I will call Paul. Paul had lived in many houses, foster homes and “reform school” institutions, experiencing none of these places as home.

Paul’s mother, impoverished, marginalized, violated, succumbed to heavy drinking and became a sex trade worker. Paul was sexually violated by a priest. He hitchhiked to Vancouver where he lived on the streets and developed a heroin dependency. Paul spent many years living in the deep woods of Stanley Park. He informed me that living in the forest felt like home. Close to the ocean, he could hear the waves at night. Sharing space with chipmunks, raccoons, ravens, eagles geese and seagulls. Feeling safe.

Paul died a couple of years after finally being able to live in his own ground floor apartment, bed bug and rodent free, which he decorated with found objects, candles, books, and paintings. Paul’s apartment had sliding doors opening onto a small patio, where he planted tomatoes and sweet peas. At home, finally; experiencing safety and security, rolling his cigarettes, drinking the occasional beer, not using heavy drugs, drawing pictures for the toddler son of the building’s caretaker.


Heidegger: “To be a human being means to be on the earth as a mortal. It means to dwell. The old word bauen, which says that man (sic) is insofar as he dwells, this word bauen, however, also means at the same time to cherish and protect, to preserve and care for, specifically to till the soil, to cultivate the vine” (emphasis in original, 1977/1993, p. 349).

Heidegger: “Man’s (sic) relation to locales, and through locales to spaces, inheres in his dwelling. The relationship between man and space is none other than dwelling, thought essentially” (p. 359).


I cannot imagine ideas, concepts, and philosophies relating to home and to place without considering three poets who have provided me with solace and meaning over decades. I speak here of Robert Duncan, Robinson Jeffers, and W. B. Yeats.

McDowell (2019) quotes Duncan on his notion of household: “ ‘The household Jess and I have made I have seen as a lone holding in an alien forest-world, as a campfire about which we gathered in an era of cold and night’ “ (p. 48 McDowell).

McDowell (2019) observes, “Duncan and Jess’s household was a refuge, a made place in which they imagined and inhabited the terms of their life” (p. 17); as Duncan explained, “‘I’m a householder…My whole idea of being able to work was to have a household’ “ (McDowell, 2019, p. 5). Having lived in a number of homes, including one in Stinson Beach and one on the island of Majorca, they eventually purchased a home in the Mission District of San Francisco. I interviewed Duncan in the summer of 1980 regarding the early history of his years as an evolving poet in this home (Sanders, 2012).

We conversed and drank coffee at the kitchen table where he wrote many of his poems. Cats came and went, while carpenters constructed more bookshelves sawing and hammering upstairs. McDowell (2019) noted the Duncan/Jess household contained over five thousand books and over five thousand record albums. Towards the end of our interview, Jess arrived home with groceries, silently depositing the bag in the kitchen then disappearing.

Writing of The Berkeley Renaissance (Sanders, 2010), I recalled, “Meeting with him [Duncan] that August in the San Francisco home he shared with Jess Collins, one could not help but be entranced by the extraordinary environment they had created within their home. Jess’ collage and other works were on display, as were their sculpture, ornate lamps, distinctive vases, elaborate shades, intricately woven carpets, candelabra, and an abundance of books on mysticism, philosophy, art, history, and poetry” (Sanders, 2010, p. 46).

Poet Robin Blaser observed that entering into the Duncan and Jess household “‘…a visitor would be startled and drawn in by the imaginary conversation among the ‘things of the house…A household of the imagination. The imagination of the household’ “(Sanders, 2010, p.46).
“For Jess and Duncan, the animations of household gods and self-generated genealogies were integral to their processes” (McDowell, 2019, p. 37).

From the prose poem “At Home”: “Since we have had the telephone removed, the interrupted spirits of the household have begun again, or we hear again their storytelling. In these counsels of objects, animals and ourselves, these concentrations and exfoliations of language, we have our source. When silence blooms in the house, all the paraphernalia of our existence shed the twitterings of value and reappear as heraldic devices” (Duncan, p. 664).

Robinson Jeffers' Tower

Robinson Jeffers’ Tower

Regarding home and place, Jack Spicer, who along with Duncan and Robin Blaser initiated The Berkeley Renaissance, so embodied being a North Beach San Francisco poet he refused not only to copyright his work but refused to publish his books outside of California. Spicer admired Yeats and his experiments with automatic writing, believing his own poetry was dictated to him. Speaking of place, Spicer often hosted Blabbermouth Nights at the North Beach bar on Grant Avenue called The Place, where Spicer was mentor to poets Joanne Kyger, George Stanley, and Richard Brautigan amongst others.

About two hours south of San Francisco, towards Big Sur, poet Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) built a home at Carmel-by-the-Sea. Jeffers’ land and seascape writings inspired many writers, particularly William Everson, and the eco-poetry of Gary Snyder. Everson’s Archetype West: The Pacific Coast as a Literary Region (1976) situates the west coast’s importance as place and describes the allure and enchantment of the temperament and challenges, the chaos and beauty, of the coast.

Jeffers built Tor House, as he called his home, over a period of several years. Tor means craggy knoll, the tor upon which Jeffers constructed the home created for his partner Una and their twin sons.

W.B. Yeats' Tower 1

W.B. Yeats’ Tower 1

Irish poet W.B.Yeats also spent time living and writing in a stone tower. Thoor Ballylee is an Hiberno-Norman tower constructed in the fourteenth century upon the banks of the Streams town River, near the town of Gort, County Galway. Irish poet Seamus Heaney referred to Thoor Ballylee as “the most important building in Ireland”.

Yeats in his poem “My House” (1922/1923) wrote, “An ancient bridge, and a more ancient tower, / A farmhouse that is sheltered by a wall, / An acre of stony ground, / Where the symbolic rose can break in flower…”; and “A winding stair, a chamber arched with stone, / A grey fireplace with an open hearth, / A candle and written page…”.


Jeffers and Yeats both felt deep connections in relation to the land and places where they dwelled. Jeffers poetry decried the urbanization of place, as in his poem “Carmel Point”: “The extraordinary patience of things! / This beautiful place defaced with a crop of suburban houses – “(p. 676). Jeffers, reflected in 1938 on his initial encounter with the Monterey coast: “…for the first time in my life I could see people living – amid magnificent unspoiled scenery – essentially as they did in the Idyls or the Sagas, or in Homer’s Ithaca. Here was life purged of its ephemeral accretions. Men were riding after cattle, or plowing the headland, hovered by white sea-gulls, as they have done for thousands of years, and will for thousands of years to come. Here was contemporary life that was also permanent life; and not shut from the modern world but conscious of it and related to it; capable of expressing its spirit, but unencumbered by the mass of poetically irrelevant details and complexities that make a civilization” (Jeffers p. 715).

Yeats through his involvement with the Irish Literary Renaissance contributed to the revival of Gaelic in addition to cofounding Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, where productions celebrating the common folk, folktales, myths and legends were revived.


Upon being born one enters into a pre-existing confluence of histories and interrelationships, some welcoming, loving, nurturing, endearing and others not. Family dramas, nefarious relations, conflict, strife, unkindness, and the working out playing out of archetypal stories and myths ensue. “We emerge into life as creatures in a drama, scripted by the great storytellers of our culture” (Hillman, 19p. 206).

Unpacking the “happy families” motif, one reveals the myth of the nuclear family. Hillman is informing here.  “The notorious ‘nuclear’ family of statistics, sermons and advertisements – two parents, two siblings, a family car and pet – does not correspond with the Latin word from which family derives. ‘This famous word…is inseparable from the idea of land settlement, and is therefore essentially the house itself, with the persons living in it…And thus the religion of the familia will be a religion of practical utility, of daily work, of struggle with perils…It is not the worship of an idea of kinship’ (W. W. Fowler, The Religious Experience of the Roman People, Macmillan)” (p. 202).

Thus, the acting out and performing of family dramas, the familial dilemma of R.D. Laing’s relational “knots” and entanglements, and Gregory Bateson’s “double-bind” confounding our perceptions and experiences, our relationships. Hillman: “Not honor your father and mother, but blame them and you will come out strong…” (p. 197). An old story, of the home torn apart, asunder, of discord, rebellion, expulsion.


Dusk…bird song, robins, crows, a couple of dogs barking, tree boughs still, no wavering, no wind this evening; a commotion of thoughts, contemplating dwellings, houses, and what constitutes a home. Home…the place from which these words emanate, indwelling.

Authors note: Thanks to Shauna Klein for editorial assistance, appreciated.


  • Bachelard, G. (1969a). The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Bachelard, G. (1969b). The Poetics of Reverie: Childhood, Language, and the Cosmos. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Duncan, R. (2012). The Collected Early Poems and Plays. Berkeley CA: University of California Press.
  • Everson, W. (1976). Archetype West: The Pacific Coast as a Literary Region. Berkeley: Oyez Press.
  • Heidegger, M. (1977/1993). Basic Writings. New York: Harper Perennial.
  • Hillman, J. (1989). A Blue Fire: Selected Writings. New York: Harper Perennial.
  • Jeffers, R. (2001). The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers. Stanford CA: The University of Stanford Press.
  • Sanders, C.J. (2012). Beat Scene In C. Wagstaff (Ed.). A poet’s mind: Collected interviews with Robert Duncan, 1960-1985. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
  • Sanders, C.J. (2010). The Berkeley Renaissance: Its Influence in Context of the “Pacific Nation,” in Appreciation of Robin Blaser’s The Holy Forest. In T. Carolan (Ed.) Making Waves: Reading BC and Pacific Northwest Literature.

Yeats, W.B. ((1992). The Poems. Everyman’s Library. London: J. M. Dent & Sons.

Colin James Sanders PhD, lives with his partner Gail and their creature companions on the unceded traditional lands of the Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw and the shíshálh Nation on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast. In addition to learning from his grandchildren, reading, writing, painting, and travelling, Colin is a member of the Editorial Board of The GTEC Reader.